Observations by Larry: The FOSS Vision

Larry Malone, Co-Director of FOSS, Lawrence Hall of Science
September 08, 2014 | Observations by Larry

Cover to A Framework for K-12 Science Education

FOSS happened rather by accident. As many people know, Linda De Lucchi and I spent the late 1970s and early '80s developing, manufacturing, promoting, and disseminating a special education science program, Science Activities for the Visually Impaired and Science Enrichment for Learners With Physical Handicaps (SAVI/SELPH). Then one day we had an outlandish and presumptuous notion. We envisioned a grand transformation in our little special education science program. "We can reinvent this program to be a regular science program for all students learning in integrated classrooms!"

We proposed the Full Option Science System (FOSS) to the National Science Foundation and, in 1989, received funding. At that time we envisioned a science curriculum that would be enjoyable, logical, and intuitive for teachers, and stimulating, provocative, and informative for students. Pursuing this vision was informed by research in cognitive science, learning theory, and critical study of effective practice. The modular design of the FOSS program allowed users to select topics that aligned with district or state learning objectives, or simply resonated with their perception of sound and reasonable science instruction. The original design of the FOSS program was somewhat eclectic in scope and sequence, but was at the same time sufficiently comprehensive in terms of coverage. The original FOSS curriculum—the first edition—was unencumbered by externally imposed organizational structure. There were no national standards nor any consistently coherent state or local standards. FOSS was designed to provide real and meaningful student experiences with important scientific ideas and to nurture developmentally appropriate knowledge of the objects, organisms, systems in, and principles governing, the natural world.

The FOSS Revision

That was then...but FOSS has evolved. Now the Third Edition of the Full Option Science System is a fully realized 21st century science program with authentic connection to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The FOSS science curriculum is a comprehensive science program, featuring instructional guidance, student equipment, student reading materials, multiple digital resources and online activities, and an embedded assessment system. FOSS has always utilized an inquiry approach to teaching and learning, but the Framework for K–12 Science Education, on which the NGSS are based, has provided a new way for the FOSS developers to think about and communicate the FOSS message. The FOSS philosophy has always taken very seriously the teaching of good, comprehensive, accurate, science content using the methods of inquiry to advance that science knowledge. But the Framework has allowed us to articulate our mission in a more coherent manner using the vocabulary established by the authors of the Framework. The FOSS instructional design now strives to:

  1. Communicate the disciplinary core ideas (content) of science, while
  2. Guiding and encouraging students to engage in or exercise the scientific and engineering practices (inquiry methods) to develop knowledge of the disciplinary core ideas, and
  3. Help students apprehend the crosscutting concepts (themes that unite core ideas, overarching concepts) that connect the learning experiences within a discipline and bridge meaningfully across disciplines as students gain more and more knowledge of the natural world.

The NGSS describe the knowledge and skills we expect our students to be able to demonstrate after completing their science instruction experience. The expectations are demanding, and include no small measure of ability to communicate scientific knowledge. The ability to communicate complex ideas assumes that students have had a significant amount of experience and practice building coherent explanations, defending claims, and organizing reasoned arguments in the context of their science curriculum. This is where scientific inquiry encounters language arts. FOSS draws on both CCSS for language arts and research data regarding the productive use of student science notebooks. FOSS developers now realize that the most effective science program must seamlessly integrate science instruction goals and language arts skills. This was certainly not part of the original FOSS vision, but central in the FOSS revision. Science is one of the most engaging and productive arenas for introducing and exercising language arts skills: vocabulary, nonfiction (informational) reading, cause-and-effect relationships, and on and on.

FOSS Third Edition is crafted with a structured, yet flexible, teaching philosophy that embraces the much heralded STEM—21st century—skills: collaborative teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving. The FOSS curriculum design promotes a classroom culture that allows both teachers and students to assume prominent rolls in the management of the learning experience.

Now, surveying the this the final and forever edition of FOSS? Well, no, as usual, now that we have crafted all the answers, they once again changed the questions. And now, the FOSS staff is engaged in a process of tweaking and contouring FOSS Third Edition to make the FOSS Next Generation Edition with the connections to the three dimensions of NGSS much more explicit to the user.