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September 1998

A Teacher's

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Front Page

New Grades 1–8 Science and Technology is a
Teachers’ Curriculum

This month, Ontario elementary schools begin teaching the new Science and Technology curriculum. The principal authors of the documents that led to this curriculum say the involvement of more than 300 teachers in the process make them confident that all Ontario students can meet the new expectations and that the province’s teachers, if properly supported, can provide appropriate teaching for them.

By Graham Orpwood and Marietta Bloch

The new Science and Technology curriculum has been welcomed by an unprecedented variety of individuals and groups, from teachers’ federations to parents and the media. However, it presents significant challenges for teachers and schools, as Ontario has significantly increased its expectations of students in the areas of science and technology, and it’s not clear that the resources to support their achievement are even adequately planned, let alone in place.

While this curriculum document was handed down by the Minister of Education and Training in March 1998, the similarity with any other curriculum documents developed in recent years ends there.

This curriculum was developed over a two-year period by over 300 teachers in 17 boards co-ordinated by project staff at York University’s faculty of education. It was one of the products of the Assessment of Science and Technology Project (ASAP) that began in 1995 and was completed this summer. The aims of ASAP were to provide teachers with clear statements of expectations for science and technology and assessment materials linked to those expectations.

The curriculum was developed through a process that combined research on science and technology curricula from around the world, The Pan-Canadian Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes and the experience of 300 teachers.

In the research phase of the project, we analyzed science and technology curricula in our partner-boards, in other provinces, and in other countries of the English-speaking world and discovered that our past expectations of Ontario children in the areas of science and technology had fallen much below those of other nations and provinces. But the research also shows that the new Ontario curriculum will now be as up-to-date and progressive as any in Canada or internationally.

Marietta Bloch was both the principal author of the Ontario curriculum and a member of the Pan-Canadian development team, so the ASAP work contributed to the Pan-Canadian project as much as the other way around.


However valuable this analysis of external resources was, the main part of the curriculum development came directly from teachers.

During the 1995–96 school year, teachers from the partner-boards attended over 40 workshops. They discussed ideas for appropriate curriculum for each grade, synthesized and reported, and discussed again.

After a year of these deliberations, a draft document was produced in September 1996 for a further full year’s review both by the teachers and by other interested organizations. At this stage, for example, the technology components of the curriculum were significantly strengthened by the work of a specially created Technology Advisory Group and the environmental aspects were reviewed by the Ontario Learning for Sustainability Partnership. Finally, the York Forum on School Science in May of 1997 brought together a wide variety of stakeholders, from students and parents to teachers and even members of the "quality education" movement, to advise on the directions we were taking.

It is this unique and heavy involvement of teachers at every stage that sustains our confidence in the capacity of all students and teachers to meet the expectations of this curriculum.

Finally, in September 1997, the completely rewritten curriculum was delivered to the ministry, which had joined the project in March 1997, for review, editing and translation. A number of changes were made at this stage. Some were improvements, although a number of compromises were also made, reflecting the essentially political character that curriculum development always has. Nonetheless, we – as authors of the original document – believe that the integrity of what is truly a teachers’ curriculum has been maintained.


The new curriculum has much in common with what many teachers are already teaching and reinforces and builds on many of the basic principles of good pedagogy. The curriculum does not call on teachers to "un-learn" what they have been doing already.

For example, the concept of "expectations" is essentially the same as that of the "outcomes" introduced in the Common Curriculum. The focus still remains results-based and assessment still focuses on evidence of student achievement of the expectations.

The focus on the environment is still very much a part of the new curriculum, as is the need to integrate science and technology with mathematics, language and other curriculum areas. Even the technology sections, which may appear to be very new, build on the sorts of activity found in many primary classrooms, such as designing and building with Lego.

However, the new curriculum is grade-by-grade specific rather than by grade grouping, which is what many teachers were asking for. There is also much that is new. In particular, four aspects call for a significant new focus for professional development. The first three relate to the three goals of the curriculum – the heart of the new document – and the fourth concerns assessment, which is gaining importance both provincially and for teaching and learning in the classroom.


Many teachers are finding the science and technology content knowledge that is called for the most intimidating aspect of the new curriculum. While much of this is new, it also draws heavily on what many teachers have taught in the past.

There is already expertise among teachers that has often not been shared. One of the easiest ways to get started on professional development in this area is to increase the sharing of knowledge among teachers in a school or family of schools. Elementary schools can also draw on the subject matter knowledge of teachers in the secondary panel.

We recommend that teachers start by implementing the content areas they are most familiar with, while they learn about the newer areas for introduction later in the implementation process.


It is critical that science and technology be taught in a way that combines understanding of the concepts and the development of the skills of scientific inquiry and technological design. Science and technology are essentially subjects that emphasize process, as well as content, and teachers need to enjoy the experience of investigations and explorations with their students.

The beauty of this approach is that teachers are not setting themselves up as the experts but as learners along with the students, as both seek to find reasonable answers to authentic problems. Inquiry and design-based learning also provides many opportunities for integrating essential skills from language and mathematics into science and technology.


The third goal of the science and technology curriculum – relating science and technology to the world beyond the school – presents the most exciting challenge and encourages teachers to be creative. It is based on the idea that science and technology exist in the world around us in many forms and that students should learn to relate what they learn inside the classroom to the world outside.

This can be taught in many ways, from bringing newspaper and magazine articles into the classroom to drawing on the experiences of students, their families and members of the community, to assigning problems for family investigations at home and designing tools and structures to meet real needs. Again, this should be integrated with the teaching of concepts rather than be treated as an add-on.

When a teacher begins a lesson with a real-world problem and then proceeds to investigate it or find a solution for it in class, students have a real answer to their perennial question, "Why am I learning this stuff?"


The key to successful achievement of the expectations is in assessment that truly matches the goals of the curriculum. Performance assessment – where students demonstrate what they know through completion of authentic tasks or projects – can be a valuable tool for teachers as both learning coaches and achievement reporters.

Research suggests that it is classroom assessment, much more than large-scale assessment, that contributes directly to improved student achievement, but this is an area that has been sadly neglected in Ontario over the past few years. ASAP has developed a collection of classroom-tested assessment resources linked to each goal, grade and strand of the new curriculum that will be available shortly. However, teachers need to develop their own skills at designing and using appropriate assessment tasks that truly emphasize the full range of expectations in the curriculum.


Over the next few years many organizations such as faculties of education, teachers’ federations, the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO), Let’s Talk Science – a non-profit organization based at the University of Western Ontario – as well as commercial publishers, will be offering special short courses in specific science and technology program areas. Conferences such as STAO’98 in November will also be featuring workshops on many specific content areas.

The key to using these to their best advantage is first, to plan for the long term. We estimate that full implementation of this curriculum will require three to five years and second, to develop a systematic plan for all the teachers within a school.

The new Ontario curriculum gives teachers and students a great opportunity to move forward in science and technology. However, a curriculum is only a start. Resources are being designed to support the implementation of the program and for the professional development of teachers. The ministry, school boards and schools must now show the leadership required to ensure that curriculum development becomes a real opportunity for renewal of science and technology education.

Teachers must see the new curriculum as an opportunity both for personal growth and for their students to excel. And parents and the community need to accept their own responsibility to support the schools in meeting the challenge of change.

Graham Orpwood is a professor of science education at York University’s faculty of education and director of the Assessment of Science and Technology Achievement Project (ASAP). Marietta Bloch is a teacher with the Toronto District School Board who was seconded to York from 1995 to 1998 as research associate for ASAP.

The science and technology curriculum is available at the Ministry of Education and Training’s web site. The address is