U.Va. Professor Partners with National Geographic on K-2 Science Curriculum

October 1, 2009 — An innovative curriculum co-written by Randy Bell, an associate professor in the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, introduces modular science units, sets of easy readers, colorful wildlife and nature photography, inquiry projects and literacy skills to science learning in kindergarten through second grade.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report by Rebecca Arrington:

Bell worked with a six-member team of authors from the fields of science education and literacy, each invited by National Geographic to develop its first core science program.

"To address national concerns about students' scientific literacy, we need to begin developing children's basic scientific knowledge, skills and interests in the earliest grades," Bell said. "The nice thing about this curriculum is that it introduces science within the context of literacy, which is the primary instructional focus in the early elementary grades."

Called "National Geographic Science: Inquiry-Content-Literacy," the curriculum includes a collection of early reader-style student books on science topics that fall within 18 units, including weather and seasons, habitats and life cycles.

The student books look more like books published for a general readership than for the classroom, Bell said, and school divisions can select only the units that fit their state science standards. They also feature National Geographic's signature wildlife and nature photography on every page.

"These books are really more image-rich than text-rich," Bell said, "but not merely for illustration."

Students are encouraged to make observations and inferences about the images, compare and contrast features, and classify what they see. "These books engage students in analyzing and learning from images more than in any curriculum series I've ever seen," he said.

A secondary but explicit goal of the series is to help students develop appropriate understandings of what science is and how scientific knowledge is produced, Bell said. These "nature of science" concepts have been increasingly included in state science standards in recent years, yet few curricula explicitly address them.

Bell was selected for the author team "because of his work around the country to ensure students understand the importance of the nature of science," said Carl Benoit, National Geographic School executive vice president of publishing.

Other science education authors include Malcolm Butler of the University of South Florida, Judith Lederman of the Illinois Institute of Technology and Kathy Cabe Trundle of Ohio State University. The program also has the literacy expertise of two prominent educators, Nell Duke of Michigan State University and David W. Moore of Arizona State University.

Previously, Bell was the primary consultant for the "nature of science" curriculum frameworks that elaborate on the Virginia Standards of Learning. He is also author of a book for elementary teachers called "Teaching the Nature of Science Through Process Skills."

Bell has contributed to more than 150 books across the three grade levels in the National Geographic series, including teachers' guides, oversized books for whole-class reading and supplemental student books on science inquiry projects. A National Geographic series curriculum for grades three through five is currently under development.