ingful evidence-based argumentation. Through instruction, teachers can take much better advantage of the resources children bring to school than is commonly the case in K-8 science classrooms in the United States. Although K-8 science instruction has long been a subject of research, breakthroughs in research on teaching and learning have dramatically altered understanding of how children learn science and what can be done to structure, support, and develop their knowledge, use, and understanding of science.
In this chapter we focus on the classroom-level implications of the learning and instruction research. The chapter is divided into four sections. First, we begin with a description of typical instruction in U.S. K-8 science classrooms. In the second section we present the contrasting view of science as practice put forth in the instructional research, pointing to promising evidence of student learning when instruction is framed around science as practice. In the third section we look more closely at the common forms of scientific practice that students engage in across different types of instructional design, pointing to the challenges students encounter as they do so. Fourth, we characterize strategies that teachers and curriculum developers can use to promote student learning of science through practice. We close with the major conclusions that can be drawn from current research on science instruction.
In order to have a productive and meaningful discussion of science instruction, we need to be clear about what questions about science instruction research can and cannot answer. First, some pedagogical debates rest on differences in values rather than questions that are answerable through empirical research and, accordingly, cannot be resolved in this chapter. For example, one may be tempted to ask “Is inquiry better than direct instruction?” However, when comparing inquiry and direct instruction, the critical question is “Better for what?” Advocates of one or the other instructional approach may have different underlying visions for what it means to learn science. Thus, we need to be clear about what our goals for science learning are and ask how inquiry and direct instruction compare in reaching specific educational goals.
Second, this chapter does not provide a blanket endorsement of particular strategies for instruction (e.g., group work, computer-mediated activities, hands-on science, explicit instruction). These general instructional approaches are underspecified and gloss over important considerations of instructional goals. Computers, for example, can be used in many ways—to facilitate drill and practice exercises or to provide access to powerful analytical tools and real scientific data sets, such as visualizations of real-time climate data. Group work can be used to simply divide up the work among students (e.g., one handling the experimental apparatus, another taking notes) or groups may work more organically—debating evidence or coming to consensus about interpretations of empirical findings. Depending on the goals of a specific lesson, one or sev-