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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science
encompassing both “the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world” (National Research Council, 1996, p. 23) and also students’ activities that support the learning of science concepts and the processes of science. In the NRC definition, student inquiry may include reading about known scientific theories and ideas, posing questions, planning investigations, making observations, using tools to gather and analyze data, proposing explanations, reviewing known theories and concepts in light of empirical data, and communicating the results. The Standards caution that emphasizing inquiry does not mean relying on a single approach to science teaching, suggesting that teachers use a variety of strategies, including reading, laboratory activities, and other approaches to help students learn science (National Research Council, 1996).
Diversity in Schools
During the 1950s, as some scientists developed new science curricula for teaching a small group of mostly white male students, other Americans were much more concerned about the weak quality of racially segregated schools for black children. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education was in violation of the U.S. Constitution because it provided black students with “separate but equal” education. Schools in both the North and the South changed dramatically as formerly all-white schools were integrated. Following the example of the civil rights movement, in the 1970s and the 1980s the women’s liberation movement sought improved education and employment opportunities for girls and women, including opportunities in science. In response, some educators began to seek ways to improve science education for all students, regardless of their race or gender.
1975 to Present
By 1975, the United States had put a man on the moon, concerns about the “space race” had subsided, and substantial NSF funding for science education reform ended. These changes, together with increased concern for equity in science education, heralded a shift in society’s goals for science education. Science educators became less focused on the goal of disciplinary knowledge for science specialists and began to place greater emphasis on a liberal, humanistic view of science education.
Many of the tensions evident in the first 100 years of U.S. high school laboratories have continued over the past 30 years. Scientists, educators, and policy makers continue to disagree about the nature of science, the goals of science education, and the role of the curriculum and the teacher in student