Second, teachers need to understand the current intellectual capabilities and developmental trajectories of their students. As instruction should tap students’ existing and emergent skills and build on their conceptual knowledge base, teachers need to understand how students think, what they are capable of doing, and what they could reasonably be expected to do under supportive instructional conditions, and how to make science more accessible and relevant to them.
Third, teachers need specialized science knowledge about teaching science in order to bring their understanding of science and students’ capabilities together in well-crafted learning experiences. To plan instruction and monitor student progress, teachers need to understand how to elicit and interpret students’ understanding. They must be able to harness their understanding to inform instruction both in real time and throughout the academic year. They need to understand what students find confusing or difficult as well as what they find interesting. Furthermore, teachers need a repertoire of instructional strategies, curricular examples, and knowledge of curricular and reference materials to draw on in planning and providing instruction.
Developing these three areas of knowledge requires professional development that is both rich in science content and closely linked to teachers’ classroom practice.
Conclusion 14: Achieving science proficiency for all students will require a coherent system that aligns standards, curriculum, instruction, assessment, teacher preparation, and professional development for teachers across the K-8 years.
In effective science classrooms, curriculum, instruction, and assessment form an instructional system that is integrated. In these classrooms, students encounter a curriculum that engages them with scientific knowledge and practice in challenging and stimulating ways and flows logically and coherently across grades K-8. Current science curriculum standards have provided some focus and long-term vision for curriculum sequencing. However, they are still too numerous, loosely integrated across topics and aspects of science (e.g., inquiry practices and science concepts), and insufficiently specified to drive a cohesive instructional system. Moreover, new research on student learning suggests that there are areas in which the standards underestimate students’ capabilities to learn and do science.
A well-designed instructional system provides students with opportunities to learn science that are aligned with summative assessments. In these systems, day-to-day instructional decisions are informed by classroom-based formative and benchmarking assessment practices that provide snapshots of students’ emerging understanding.