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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8
One key reason that policy makers and practitioners fail to do this is the complexity and fragmentation of the research literature. The studies we review in this report, drawn from a range of literatures, were mostly short in duration and limited in scope, focusing on a few students or a few classrooms, learning about some small part of the vast domain of science. These studies are also embedded in a research discourse that is complicated and often inaccessible to nonspecialists. There are reasons for the difficulty of the discourse. Science learning really is complex, and the research on learning cannot be reduced to a few “what works” bullet points without losing much of its value.
In Part III, we begin to take up the challenge of interpreting research on learning so as to inform policy and practice in science education. We begin in Chapter 8 with a proposal for reorganizing the K-8 science curriculum in a way that is more aligned with current understanding of children’s learning in science. The hallmark of this approach is the investigation of a smaller set of core ideas and practices in science over an extended period of time. Instructional sequences that weave together the four strands and thereby coordinate conceptual learning with science practices and discourse require adoption of curriculum and assessment models that function over months, years, and grade bands.
In Chapter 9, we turn to a consideration of instruction and assessment. Our review of the research on learning combined with the four-strand framework has implications for how one thinks about the design of the classroom learning environment. Research on learning shows how important it is to include learning opportunities that develop children’s abilities to obtain and reason with evidence, to develop and evaluate explanations, to develop and evaluate standards of evidence, to represent and communicate scientific data and ideas, and to engage in argumentation practices. Thus, although we argue in Part II that children are very capable learners, this does not preclude the fact that carefully thought out instructional supports and mediation are needed to help develop scientific practices and ways of knowing.
In Chapter 10 we broaden our view to consider the knowledge and tools that teachers need in order to enact high-quality instruction. We analyze the knowledge base of current in-service K-8 science teachers, and we describe what these teachers would need to know about science, teaching, and learning in order to teach science as we have discussed it in this report. We also examine the means of advancing teacher knowledge through a range of opportunities to learn. These include programs of professional development, workplace learning, and use of instructional systems that provide clear instructional guidance for teachers and provide them with timely feedback on their teaching and strategies for improvement.