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December 2006/January 2007
| Volume 64 | Number 4
Table of Contents
Understanding the nature of science is even more important than mastering its details, says Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in an interview with Educational Leadership. Among other topics, Leshner discusses the controversy about teaching evolution, and he asserts that demands to include “intelligent design” in high school science classrooms are based on flawed understanding of “what is and isn't science.” Tensions between science and society, he suggests, may be increasing because scientific advances in many fields are beginning to encroach on issues of core human values. Leshner also emphasizes the importance of showing students the excitement and fun of science by getting them involved in scientific problem-solving as early as possible. His most important piece of advice for K-12 educators: “Make sure that whatever science content you're teaching, you are also teaching about the scientific enterprise—its methods, limits, benefits, perils, and pitfalls.”
Kathleen Roth and Helen Garnier
Using the Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) video study, the authors compare science teaching practices in the United States and in four other countries that outperformed the United States: Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands. Their observations of videotapes from 100 8th-grade science lessons in each country revealed two major differences between the higher-achieving countries and the United States. First, each of the higher-achieving countries had a distinct core pattern of science teaching; in contrast the U.S. lessons were characterized by variety. Second, in all the higher-achieving countries, science lessons were content-focused—activities were closely linked to the development of science concepts. The authors recommend that U.S. schools improve their science education by adopting this focus on content.
Harold Wenglinsky and Samuel C. Silverstein
National science assessments and international comparisons indicate that science achievement in the United States is stagnant or declining. Of the many steps needed to improve U.S. science education, the authors write, none is more important than improving teacher training and preparation. Analyses of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in science indicate that students score higher when their teachers have had substantial professional development in laboratory skills, hands-on learning, instructional technology, and assessment. The article describes a professional development program focused on these skills—Columbia University's Summer Research Program for Secondary School Science Teachers. The program gives participating teachers real-world laboratory experience and extensive support in taking their expertise back to their classrooms. Evaluations of the program and of another summer program sponsored by the Alabama Department of Education show that such professional development experiences can raise student achievement.
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Gerald F. Wheeler
The Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) identifies three ways in which the U.S. can improve its science education. The first is to ensure that all science teachers have enough knowledge of the content they are teaching. Second, the science education community needs to improve the science education standards by identifying “anchors” that all states and districts will include in their curriculums. Finally, he suggests that more large-scale programs need to be developed to help all U.S. science teachers, rather than the select few who can participate in the currently available professional development opportunities. The NSTA online Science Objects and its Learning Center are examples of resources that can have a nationwide effect.
Jacqueline B. Clymer and Dylan Wiliam
In addition to any discoveries that teachers might make about student learning while that learning is in progress, they must still assign grades. Consequently, educators need to develop and implement a system that supports both the formative and summative functions of assessment—formative, in that teachers can use evidence of student achievement to adjust instruction to better meet student learning needs; and summative, in that teachers can amass the information to provide a final grade for a marking period. The first requirement of an assessment system that supports learning is a standards-based record-keeping system. The second is a dynamic grading process in which teachers alter students' grades in light of new evidence of learning. A pilot study conducted in an 8th grade physical science class suggests that implementing such a grading system can improve both student motivation and achievement.
Rodger W. Bybee and Pamela Van Scotter
For many, the dominant model of curriculum development in science includes generating a topic, clarifying science content, identifying activities associated with the topic, and figuring out an assessment. Unfortunately, this approach tends to overemphasize activities and underemphasize mastery of science concepts and the process of scientific inquiry. The National Standards for Science Education should stand as the learning outcomes for any science curriculum. However, educators also need to focus on how students learn; on integrating laboratory experiences with other activities in the classroom; and on ensuring rigorous, focused, and coherent content in the context of a curriculum that focuses on the process of scientific inquiry and the acquisition of conceptual knowledge. The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), with funding from the National Science Foundation, offers an effective alternative to the traditional high school sequence of biology, chemistry, and physics. Each year begins with a two-week Science as Inquiry unit, followed by three core units that last eight weeks each in physical science, life science, and earth-space science. The last unit of the year is multidisciplinary and examines compelling issues in science and society. Students who used the program showed average gains in science understanding of 20–25 percent.
Ardi Kveven, Sandra W. Last, Elaine M. Silva Mangiante, Cynthia Fiducia, Elizabeth Keroack, Robert Simpson, Jennifer Richards, Gary Skolits, Harry Richards and F. Ann Draughon
An early college is founded on students asking and answering their own questions. A science school reaches out to the community and forms mutually beneficial relationships. A science specialist tells of how both students and teachers benefit from an in-house mentoring program. A school district uses a historic site to integrate its science curriculum. A university pilot-tests an innovative food safety curriculum targeted at middle school students.Five snapshots show how schools are raising the bar on science instruction and motivating students and teachers alike.
An early college is founded on students asking and answering their own questions. A science school reaches out to the community and forms mutually beneficial relationships. A science specialist tells of how both students and teachers benefit from an in-house mentoring program. A school district uses a historic site to integrate its science curriculum. A university pilot-tests an innovative food safety curriculum targeted at middle school students.
Five snapshots show how schools are raising the bar on science instruction and motivating students and teachers alike.
Susanna Hapgood and Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar
Inquiry-based science instruction can provide a rich context in which to build literacy skills in the elementary grades. The authors discuss the benefits of incorporating reading, writing, and speaking into science instruction. They describe the results of research on two models for combining language arts and science—the Science IDEAS model and the Guided Inquiry supporting Multiple Literacies model—that shows how this strategy can increase both students' science knowledge and their literacy skills.
Courtney C. Zmach, Jennifer Sanders, Jennifer Drake Patrick, Hakan Dedeoglu, Sara Charbonnet, Melissa Henkel, Zhihui Fang, Linda Leonard Lamme and Rose Pringle
Too many middle school students struggle to comprehend their textbooks in science and other content areas. Thus, many adolescent learners lag behind in developing scientific literacy, which the National Research Council has defined as sufficient understanding of the scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic life, and economic productivity. With these concerns in mind, professors and doctoral students from the University of Florida at Gainesville collaborated with two middle school teachers in the 2004–05 academic year to integrate reading instruction and a wide range of science readings into these teachers' 6th grade science classrooms. Their action research team provided students with explicit instruction in reading strategies, exposure to award-winning science books and related activities, and professional development focused on building teachers' comfort with integrating reading into science. End-of-year test results showed that students who received this intervention achieved higher scores in both science and reading than did students whose teachers didn't participate.
Robertson discusses the “perceived dichotomy” that permeates science teaching: teachers can either stress inquiry learning with lots of hands-on experiences or stress content knowledge and swap hands-on inquiry for direct instruction. Although a curriculum of unstructured hands-on science activities leads to shallow content knowledge, it is possible to teach with inquiry methods and still ensure that students acquire required knowledge. Not every item of science content can be taught in this way, Robertson says, but science teachers can and should make it one of their strategies. He holds up the Learning Cycle developed by the Science Curriculum Improvement Study as an excellent inquiry method, and goes through an extended example of following the “Three Es”—Exploration, Explanation and Elaboration—in teaching science concepts. Research on the impact of guiding learners through these three phases is discussed.
George D. Nelson and Carolyn C. Landel
The authors question whether elementary students will have access to effective science and mathematics instruction within the current structure of elementary schools, in which each classroom teachers is expected to possess the expertise to teach all subjects well. They review research showing that good teachers are the key to student achievement and that science and mathematics lessons in elementary schools generally lack the characteristics of effective instruction. They propose the Collaborative Specialists model to restructure elementary school instruction. Under this model, schools form collaborative teaching teams in which teachers who have proven expertise in science, mathematics, or another content area provide instruction for all students in that subject.
Mistilina Sato and J Myron Atkin
Formative assessment has been receiving increasing attention in education. But from a classroom teacher's perspective, changing assessment practices is not always an easy, straightforward process. This article describes the experiences of five middle schools science teachers who met together weekly to exchange ideas about integrating formative assessment practices into their teaching, as part of the Classroom Assessment Project to Improve Teaching and Learning (CAPITAL) funded by the National Science Foundation. Sato and Atkin tell how these teachers helped one another use rubrics and other formative assessment strategies effectively, even when the teachers' views about learning and evaluation differed significantly. The authors present suggestions for how educators conducting professional development can support teachers in bringing true change to their practice.
Margaret Hammer and Barbara Polnick
Many undergraduates seeking elementary teaching certification are uncomfortable with or uninterested in science; however, these future teachers are charged with the responsibility of teaching science to young students. Hammer and Polnick surveyed science methods students at Sam Houston State University and found that only about half of them rated their elementary, middle school, high school, and college science experiences as “good” or “exceptional.” To help future teachers prepare to teach science to young students, Hammer and Polnick advocate giving them hands-on experiences with sciencein their methods class. They share strategies that have helped students at SHSU become more comfortable with and excited about teaching science to their future students.
Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski
Noting the current push for rigor in secondary school curriculums (the lead member of the “new three Rs” of rigor, relevance, and relationships), Washor and Mojkowksi take a closer look at the prevailing conception of rigor. They argue that a narrowly defining a rigorous curriculum as one with more advanced courses and more factual content constrains teaching that could lead to deep learning. The authors define rigorous learning as learning that involves immersion in a subject over time, use of sophisticated resources, and the guidance of expert practitioners. They give examples of rigorous learning and work in school and nonacademic settings. They describe five strategies, used in the Big Picture school reform approach, to bring rigor to student work.
W. James Popham
Thomas R. Hoerr
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