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The Innovation of STEM Readiness Levels

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Mar 15, 2016

Readiness levels speak to where a student is in terms of being able to access and work with curriculum content.


Awareness ready means they are mindful that the subject exists and of what scientists and engineers do; knowledge readiness means they have a framework of understanding about it; performance ready means they can interact with the material in the same context they've already learned; and mastery ready means they can take that material and use it creatively, evaluatively and analytically in any context. 

Readiness levels are somthing every teacher should become familiar with, and understand, to ensure classroom resources align with their student learning goals under Next Generation Science Standards.

There are four levels of readiness: awareness, knowledge, performance and mastery. Awareness-ready resources are designed to create awareness. What does that mean, you’re wondering? It means students can raise their hand and say, "Hey, an engineer solves a problem. A scientist answers a question.” They understand the roles expected of each. Maybe they learn all about how science is done at this company, or they go to that museum. Traditional museums are classic awareness resources, and they also produce awareness resources. Students can go to the museum and learn all about this scientist or that engineer, see an electric show and become aware of the subject.

However, none of this means students are particularly knowledgeable about the discipline to really go beyond awareness. That’s where knowledge readiness comes in. Knowledge readiness develops as something we often associate with textbooks: knowing what scientists and engineers have produced to date, knowing which questions have been answered, knowing how things work. While important for later development of critical thinking, knowledge readiness is fairly low level, and is mostly geared toward remembering and understanding. When we get to performance readiness, it’s finally time to apply knowledge to problems and activities.

Performance readiness is learning how to carry out a task, and performance readiness resources can be, for example, kits. So if you want to find out how hard a mineral is, you carry out a hardness test. But even if a student knows how to perform this test, performance readiness isn’t widely applicable, because students cannot yet look at a situation they haven’t been trained for and use their skills and knowledge to answer (or even pose) a question.

Here’s a classic example of mastery readiness. A city is deciding how to design a walkway and whether they should use brick or concrete in the design. A student with mastery readiness could delve into his or her tool kit and pull out the appropriate practices and processes. These would enable that student to understand the problem, assess the available resources and think about a prototype for the sidewalk. The student could decide how to build it, what the best material might be and how to test its strength considering the conditions it would experience. These tests, most importantly, would need to mimic the actual conditions the sidewalk might experience in real life.

Consider a walkway in Salem, Massachusetts, where KnowAtom is headquartered. In a normal year, that sidewalk would have to be able to withstand:

  • Temperatures ranging from -10 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Sun and freezing rain
  • Salt, ice and snow plows during winter months
  • … and more.

So the test students run will need to reflect these conditions to determine whether their walkway could meet environmental demands. Then they would need to be able to reflect back on their solution to see if it really was able to solve the problem. If they can do this, they possess mastery readiness.

Mastery of NGSS performance expectations is all about developing transferable skills, the ability to use and develop knowledge within new and unfamiliar contexts.

Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, STEM, Readiness Levels, Evaluating Curriculum

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