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Pennsylvania has updated the Science, Technology & Engineering, Environmental Literacy & Sustainability Standards, otherwise known as STEELS. This is Pennsylvania’s first revision of the state’s Science standards since 2002. Because of this 20-year gap between revisions, there are significant shifts that teachers will need to consider as they begin to redesign curriculum to align to the new standards. There are many changes, but three primary shifts within the standards:

Shift 1: Focus on Phenomena

The new STEELS standards overall focus is the concept of sensemaking, and what better way to engage students’ senses than with the study of phenomena? The focus on phenomena shifts traditional Science standards from general knowledge skills into real world application and relevance for the 21st century. This approach engages students, elicits curiosity, and sustains student investigation and observation within their natural world.

[The new Standards] prioritize a shift away from memorization of facts to having students productively participate in scientific discourse and practices, involve students in sustained investigation to support deeper understanding, and recognize that even young children are capable of more sophisticated scientific reasoning than originally thought.
-Pennsylvania Department of Education

Shift 2: Three Dimensional Learning

Pennsylvania STEELS is closely aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which focus on three dimensions of Science Learning. This includes Practices, Cross Cutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs).
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Differences as well as similarities between STEELS and NGSS:

  1. The Disciplinary Core Ideas in NGSS have 4 Science Domains for K- 12. This includes Life Science, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science, and Technology and Engineering. The PA STEELS mirror these 4 Domains but have also included a 5th Domain for all grade levels called “Environmental Literacy and Sustainability” which are organized under the following three core ideas: 1) Agricultural and Environmental Systems and Resources; 2) Environmental Literacy Skills; and 3) Sustainability and Stewardship.
  2. Similar to NGSS, PA STEELS have further details to each individual standard which are called foundation boxes. They can be found in the PA STEELS Hub and are linked within the PA standards document, as well as within Atlas (see below). They also highlight science connections that are specific to the state of Pennsylvania as well as PA career ready skills.
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  3. Color coding in PA STEELS is different from NGSS which can be confusing if you have been using NGSS. Please make note of the differences:


Practices = Blue
Disciplinary Core Ideas = Orange
Crosscutting Concepts = Green

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Practices = Green
Disciplinary Core Ideas = Blue
Crosscutting Concepts = Purple

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  1. Standards are designed to build skills progressively across grade bands and focus on increasing sophistication of students thinking from K-12. The standards can also be referred to as “Performance Expectations” shifting the focus from rote memorization to asking, “What can my students do with their knowledge and skills?”.

Shift 3: Supports Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in Science

When comparing the 2002 version of the standards to STEELS, you can see the intentional equitable design within the learning approach and language of the new standards framework. Success for all students includes a partnership between students, parents, educators, post secondary institutions, legislators, and career focused industries.

Instructional Approach

The new standards were created with an asset-based approach focused on what students can do rather than what they cannot do or areas of weakness. Instruction should include various learning pathways for students that builds on the skills they already have. Reflection, iteration and feedback are essential to this approach. PA is committed to providing educators with the necessary support, guidance and professional development to be successful in creating an environment where all students belong, build confidence and find success within Science Education.

Content Area Shifts

Shifts in equity, inclusion and sustainability is not only evident in the language woven throughout the performance expectations but in the chosen focus strands such as “Influence of Society on Technological Development”, “Sustainability and Stewardship”, “Human impact on Earth Systems”, “Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience”. Teachers can find further guidance within the standards foundation boxes to help design inclusive curriculum.

How are the standards organized in Atlas?

The PA STEELS are now available for teachers to begin aligning units to the new standards. Here is how they will appear when selecting standards within your units:

For support updating your Atlas or ManageBac site’s Adopted Standards list to include the new STEELS standards, please reach out to [email protected].

Also make sure to visit the Pennsylvania STEELS Hub for additional instructional and curriculum resources as well as prerecorded professional learning.

About The Author

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Lianne Petrocelli
Standards and Services Team
Faria Education Group

Lianne Petrocelli manages our Standards and Services team for Atlas and ManageBac. She procures copyright from Standards Organizations and helps maintain our Standards database. She also manages the team at Faria that provides standards customization and curriculum mapping services for Atlas and ManagBac clients. With over 20 years of experience in both the public and private sector of education she brings a wide array of knowledge from Early Childhood Education to High School.

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