makers worried that, without large numbers of well-prepared high school graduates to fill the science pipeline, the United States could lose ground to Soviet science, weakening its cold war position (Rudolph, 2002).

While policy makers worried about security and the economy, the scientific community had a slightly different concern. Scientists saw limited public understanding of their work, and in particular, they cited a common misperception that science was equivalent to technological innovation. As they saw it, the public failed to appreciate the value of basic knowledge production. The scientific community recognized that expanding science programs would require a pipeline of new scientists and that growing science budgets would require popular support. The goal was to broaden and deepen the public’s understanding of scientific knowledge, inquiry, and institutions.

With this public engagement agenda in mind, NSF by 1964 sponsored some 20 innovative large-scale K-12 science curriculum development projects, such as the Physical Science Study Committee, ChemStudy, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, and the Earth Science Curriculum Study (Duschl, 1990). Under the leadership of natural scientists working in collaboration with psychologists, these curricula aimed to provide students with early exposure to “authentic” science. Developers hoped such exposure would both bolster public understanding of science and attract talented students to advanced study. Dubbed “science for scientists,” the curricula broadly aimed to help students learn to think and act like scientists, a dramatic departure from contemporary instructional practice and its emphasis on final form science and textbook-driven instruction. The curricula were also novel from a policy perspective. This was the first effort to influence curriculum nationally, traditionally a local issue. National curriculum was (and still is) a politically contentious notion, which further complicated an already immense implementation challenge.

The NSF curricula called for an active learner who engaged in hands-on activities. As characterized by scientist and philosopher Joseph Schwab (1962), science education should be an “enquiry into enquiry.”1 The various curriculum development teams, comprised primarily of scientists, envisioned students learning science by reasoning from direct observations of natural phenomena. Federal funds were made available to school districts for the construction of science teaching laboratories. Teachers could then set up hands-on or investigative science experiences through which students would encounter empirical truths, much as a scientist might in the lab.

Curriculum developers believed that opportunities for students to engage in direct observations of phenomena illustrate the process of basic


Schwab chose this variation on the spelling of “inquiry.”

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