QIS Key Concepts for Early Learners: K-12 Framework

Background and overview of QIS K-12 Framework


The world is in the midst of a second quantum revolution due to our ability to exquisitely control quantum systems and harness them for applications in quantum computing, communications, and sensing. Quantum information Science (QIS) is an area of STEM that makes use of the laws of quantum physics for the storage, transmission, manipulation, processing, or measurement of information.

After the passage of the US National Quantum Initiative Act in December 2018 [1], the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (WHOSTP) assembled an interagency working group and subsequently facilitated a workshop titled "Key Concepts for Future Quantum Information Science Learners" that focused on identifying core concepts essential for helping pre-college students engage with QIS. The output of this workshop was intended as a starting point for future curricular and educator activities [2-4] aimed at K-12 and beyond. Helping pre-college students learn the QIS Key Concepts could effectively introduce them to the Second Quantum Revolution and inspire them to become future contributors and leaders in the growing field of QIS spanning quantum computing, communication, and sensing.

The framework for K-12 quantum education outlined here is an expansion of the original QIS Key Concepts, providing a detailed route towards including QIS topics in K-12 physics, chemistry, computer science and mathematics classes. The framework will be released in sections as it is completed for each subject.

As QIS is an emerging area of science connecting multiple disciplines, content and curricula developed to teach QIS should follow the best practices. The K-12 quantum education framework is intended to provide some scaffolding for creating future curricula and approaches to integrating QIS into physics, computer science, mathematics, and chemistry (mathematics and chemistry are not yet complete). The framework is expected to evolve over time, with input from educators and educational researchers.

Why quantum education at the K-12 level?

Starting quantum education in K-12 provides a larger, more diverse pool of students the opportunity to learn about this exciting field so that they can become the future leaders in this rapidly growing field. This is especially important because over the past century during which the first quantum revolution unfolded, the quantum-related fields have lacked gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. We must tap into the talents of students from diverse demographic groups in order to maintain our leadership in science and technology. Early introduction to quantum science can include information on applications and societal relevance, which will hopefully spark excitement and lead more students into later coursework and careers in STEM. Also, starting early with a conceptual, intuitive approach that doesn’t rely on advanced mathematics will likely increase quantum awareness with more students, even those who do not pursue a career in QIS. In the long term, this will potentially improve public perception of QIS, moving it out of the weird, spooky, incomprehensible, unfamiliar realm. 

What are some considerations to take into account when introducing QIS into the K-12 classroom?

As an emerging field that has traditionally been the realm of advanced undergraduate and graduate study with an aura of complexity, educators designing and delivering curriculum should keep the following in mind when integrating QIS into their classrooms.

  1. Because existing materials in QIS are designed for more advanced students, the materials need to be adjusted to be age-appropriate for and build on prior knowledge of target students. As new educational research and data on implementation come in, the materials will change and improve over time.
  2. Because the area may be intimidating, and there is no expectation in college that students have already learned this, motivational goals such as higher self-efficacy and a sense of belonging and identity [5-11] should be on equal footing with technical goals. Therefore, classrooms should focus on the following considerations:
      • Maintain a supportive atmosphere that encourages questions and exploration
      • Offer collaborative, exploratory activities
      • Offer a low-stakes educational setting (e.g. little time pressure without aggressive testing)
      • When relevant to the STEM subject, employ a learning cycle approach to develop models of quantum systems and phenomena, plan and carry out investigations to test their models, analyze and interpret data, obtain, evaluate and communicate their findings
  1. The U.S. National Quantum Initiative: From Act to Action, C. Monroe, M. Raymer and J. Taylor, Science 364, 440 (2019)
  2. https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/announcements/051820.jsp
  3. https://qis-learners.research.illinois.edu/about/
  4. https://q12education.org/
  5. Connecting high school physics experiences, outcome expectations, physics identity, and physics career choice: A gender study, Z. Hazari, G. Sonnert, P. M.  Sadler, M. C. Shanahan, Journal of research in science teaching 47 (8), 978-1003 (2010)
  6. High school science experiences associated to mastery orientation towards learning, K. Velez, G. Potvin, Z. Hazari, Physics Education Research Conference, Mineapolis, MN (2014)
  7. Examining the impact of mathematics identity on the choice of engineering careers for male and female students, C. A. P. Cass, Z. Hazari, J. Cribbs, P. M.  Sadler, G. Sonnert, Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), F2H-1-F2H-5 (2011)
  8. Examining the effect of early STEM experiences as a form of STEM capital and identity capital on STEM identity: A gender study, S. M. Cohen, Z. Hazari, J. Mahadeo, G. Sonnert, P. M. Sadler, Science Education 105 (6), 1126-1150 (2021)
  9. Examining physics identity development through two high school interventions, H. Cheng, G. Potvin, R. Khatri, L. H. Kramer, R. M. Lock, Z. Hazari, Physics Education Research Conference (2018)
  10. The importance of high school physics teachers for female students’ physics identity and persistence, Z. Hazari, E. Brewe, R. M. Goertzen, T. Hodapp, The Physics Teacher 55 (2), 96-99 (2017)
  11. Obscuring power structures in the physics classroom: Linking teacher positioning, student engagement, and physics identity development, Z. Hazari, C. Cass, C. Beattie, Journal of Research in Science Teaching 52 (6), 735-762 (2015)

photo of individual typing on computer

K-12 Computer Science + QIS

The purpose of the QIS K-12 Key Concepts CS Focus Group was to create a document that would be useful to curriculum developers and teachers, providing guidance about places where high school computer science learning goals can be satisfied at the same time as content in the QIS K-12 Key Concepts. 

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students with lasers

K-12 Physics + QIS

The purpose of the QIS K-12 Key Concepts Physics Focus Group was to create an initial set of expectations and learning goals, which will be useful to curriculum developers and teachers seeking to develop physics lessons and activities for teaching QIS K-12 Key Concepts. 

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