Professor co-chairs national conference on learning progressions in science, mathematics

July 22, 2011

Michigan State University Professor Charles (Andy) Anderson will help bring together more than 50 leading researchers, educators and policymakers next week in an effort to reach consensus about learning progressions – an emerging approach for reforming science and mathematics education.

Research on learning progressions (or trajectories), which focus on improving how students develop scientific or mathematical knowledge over time, has been growing during a critical time for the field. New common standards in mathematics education are now being implemented by most states, and the National Research Council just released an initial framework for new K-12 science standards Tuesday.

The Learning Progressions Footprint Conference, co-chaired by Anderson and Paul Cobb, a leader in mathematics education from Vanderbilt University, will explore how learning progressions studies have shaped thinking about classroom practice in those subject areas, and what’s next. It will be held July 26-27 in Washington.

“The hope is that learning progressions can create a sound, empirical grounding for establishing new national standards,” said Anderson, noting the research also has implications for changing curriculum and assessment. “We need to be more aware of the issues we face in helping children to learn science.”

Learning progressions focus on developing the competencies – not just facts – all students need to understand how the world works, based on evidence about how children learn at each stage.

Anderson’s work on developing K-12 environmental science literacy has been among the most prominent examples. Other scholars have been working on learning progressions that outline how students master concepts ranging from heredity and biodiversity to rational numbers and scientific modeling. Typically, the projects also produce various instructional resources to support teachers.

The Footprint conference, funded by the National Science Foundation, is expected to establish more connections with education leaders who can help test and implement learning progressions in schools. It will also generate a public report for dissemination to a wider audience.

From early on, MSU professors have been among the foremost proponents of the learning progressions approach. Amelia Wenk Gotwals and Alicia Alonzo, both faculty members in the College of Education, organized the first national conference on learning progressions in science (LeaPS) in June 2009, from which a resulting book will be published this fall.