education, the secondary goals of preparing the future scientific and technical workforce and including science as an essential part of a broad liberal education remain important. In 2004, the NSF National Science Board released a report describing a “troubling decline” in the number of U.S. citizens training to become scientists and engineers at a time when many current scientists and engineers are soon to retire. NSF called for improvements in science education to reverse these trends, which “threaten the economic welfare and security of our country” (National Science Foundation, 2004, p. 1). Another recent study found that secure, well-paying jobs that do not require postsecondary education nonetheless require abilities that may be developed in science laboratories. These include the ability to use inductive and deductive reasoning to arrive at valid conclusions; distinguish among facts and opinions; identify false premises in an argument; and use mathematics to solve problems (Achieve, 2004).

Achieving the goal of scientific literacy for all students, as well as motivating some students to study further in science, may require diverse approaches for the increasingly diverse body of science students, as we discuss in Chapter 2.

Changing Role of Teachers and Curriculum

Over the past 20 years, science educators have increasingly recognized the complementary roles of curriculum and teachers in helping students learn science. Both evaluations of NSF-funded curricula from the 1960s and more recent research on science learning have highlighted the important role of the teacher in helping students learn through laboratory activities. Cognitive psychologists and science educators have found that the teacher’s expectations, interventions, and actions can help students develop understanding of scientific concepts and ideas (Driver, 1995; Penner, Lehrer, and Schauble, 1998; Roth and Roychoudhury, 1993). In response to this growing awareness, some school districts and institutions of higher education have made efforts to improve laboratory education for current teachers as well as to improve the undergraduate education of future teachers (National Research Council, 2001).

In the early 1980s, NSF began again to fund the development of laboratory-centered high school science curricula. Today, several publishers offer comprehensive packages developed with NSF support, including textbooks, teacher guides, and laboratory materials (and, in some cases, videos and web sites). In 2001, one earth science curriculum, five physical science curricula, five life science curricula, and six integrated science curricula were available for sale, while several others in various science disciplines were still under development (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, 2001). In contrast to the curriculum development approach of the 1960s, teachers have played an important role in developing and field-testing these newer

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement