Missed opportunities for observation-based ecology in the Next Generation Science Standards

Eileen G. Merritt, Nicole Bowers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Observation-based ecology (OBE) generates critical knowledge about the health of ecological systems and human impacts on these systems. Systematic observations of organisms and processes from an early age can help children develop ecological knowledge and skills, and deepen their connection to the natural world. Yet recent educational reforms may privilege other scientific and engineering practices (SEPs) over OBE methods. We used lexical analysis of Next Generation Science Standards documents to identify instances of observational methods suggested in the SEPs and ecology-related performance expectations (PEs). We identify where observations are included and omitted in these documents. Only 16 of the 175 (9%) learning progression descriptions for the SEPs explicitly mention observations. Nine out of 142 (6%) PEs related to ecology require observations. OBE opportunities were particularly scarce in middle and high school years, and missing entirely from PEs for disciplinary core ideas related to ecosystems and human impacts on ecosystems. We consider how these missed opportunities may constrain place-based learning in natural environments, and reflect on implications for educators, students, and nonhuman others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-640
Number of pages22
JournalScience Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Next Generation Science Standards
  • ecological literacy
  • environmental education
  • observation-based ecology
  • place-based education
  • scientific practices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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