The debate on how to teach science in US public schools is promising to be a hot topic according to academic standards out Tuesday.

“Next-generation” standards, having been in the works for two years now, push schools to teach fewer topics in a more coherent, integrated way. They call for a larger amount of engineering and asks school to depend less on rote memorization and more on critical thinking, constructing arguments and building demonstrations.

One standard, aimed at kindergartners, asks them to “construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs.” Another, for first-graders, asks them to “use tools and materials to design and build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance.”

The new standards are voluntary, but many states will find them much more demanding than their current standards, said Chester Finn of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank that has looked closely at previous drafts. “There will surely be some states for which they’re better because what they’re using now is abysmal,” he said.

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