Rhode Island state education standards provide educators with curriculum guidance and achievement goals for each grade level. In this case study, I examined the RI state standards and expectations for science education. I undertook this investigation in support of the URI Outreach Center and their elementary education program, Learning Landscape Field Trips. Learning Landscape provides Rhode Island teachers with an opportunity to meet state science standards through the medium of hands-on environmental education programs. Through my investigation, I became fluent in the Learning Landscape curriculum, teaching in more than 20 two-hour sessions. As well, I became familiar with the current and upcoming state science standards. The present science standards in Rhode Island are the Grade Span Expectations, GSEs, which will be replaced by the Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, by 2017. On a small scale, some Rhode Island schools are beginning to implement parts of the NGSS. The purpose of my case study was to become familiar with the Outreach Center’s Learning Landscape program and identify the extent to which Learning Landscape aligns with the GSEs and upcoming NGSS.
The shift from the GSEs to NGSS includes a greater emphasis on the application of science to real world situations. The GSEs require that students be able to “describe,” “understand,” or “identify” key concepts, whereas NGSS emphasizes that students use these concepts to “develop a model” or “design a solution.” Learning Landscape is currently well matched to the life science GSEs, but will also need to undergo a shift towards more applied learning in NGSS. This case study includes first-hand knowledge from instructing the program and my recommendations to the URI Outreach Center on ways to best address NGSS in its Learning Landscape Field Trip program so that environmental education can be infused into the school curriculum. This will aid teachers in meeting the state requirements.