Race and ethnicity, language, culture, gender, and socioeconomic status are among the factors that influence the knowledge and experience children bring to the classroom.
Students learn science by actively engaging in the practices of science.
A range of instructional approaches is necessary as part of a full development of science proficiency.
The commonly held view that young children are concrete and simplistic thinkers is outmoded; research shows that children’s thinking is surprisingly sophisticated. Yet much current science education is based on the old assumptions and so focuses on what children cannot do rather than what they can do. Children can use a wide range of reasoning processes that form the underpinnings of scientific thinking, even though their experience is variable and they have much more to learn.
Contrary to conceptions of development held 30 or 40 years ago, young children can think both concretely and abstractly. As with most human characteristics, there is variation across children at a given age and even variation within an individual child. Development is not a kind of inevitable unfolding in which one simply waits until a child is cognitively “ready” for abstract or theory-based forms of content. Instead, parents and teachers can assist children’s learning, building on their early capacities. Adults play a central role in promoting children’s curiosity and persistence by directing their attention, structuring their experiences, supporting their learning attempts, and regulating the complexity and difficulty of levels of information for them. In the sciences, both teachers and peers can and must fill these critical roles.
Children’s rich but naïve understandings of the natural world can be built on to develop their understandings of scientific concepts. At the same time, their understandings of the world sometimes contradict scientific explanations and pose obstacles to learning science. It is thus critical that children’s prior knowledge is taken into account in designing instruction that capitalizes on the leverage points and adequately addresses potential areas of misunderstanding. To be successful in science, students need carefully structured experiences, instructional support from teachers, and opportunities for sustained engagement with the same set of ideas over weeks, months, and even years.
Children’s experience varies with their cultural, linguistic, and economic background. Such differences mean that students arrive in the classroom with varying levels of exposure to science and varying degrees of comfort with the norms of scientific practice. These differences require teachers’ sensitivity to cultural and other background differences and their willingness and skill to adjust instruction in light of these differences. Adjusting for