the Benchmarks for Science Literacy, and multiple state standards documents. Teachers are held accountable to particular state and local requirements. It is not the role of this report to specify a list of content to be taught. However, it is important to note that what this report says about science learning always assumes that there is a strong basis of factual knowledge and conceptual development in the science curriculum, and that the goal of any methodology for teaching is to facilitate student learning and understanding of this content, as well as developing their skills in, and understanding of, the methods of scientific observation, experimentation, modeling, and analysis.
It is often said that children are natural scientists. Experts in child development have debated this issue, not on the basis of the basic facts of children’s behavior, but rather on the relation between that behavior and the essential aspects of scientific thinking (Giere, 1996; Gopnik, 1996; Gopnik and Wellman, 1992; Harris, 1994; Kuhn, 1989; Metz, 1995, 1997; Vosniadou and Brewer, 1992, 1994). Rather than attempting to resolve this debate, we simply acknowledge the fact that children bring to science class a natural curiosity and a set of ideas and conceptual frameworks that incorporate their experiences of the natural world and other information that they have learned. Since these experiences vary, children at a given age have a wide range in their skills, knowledge, and conceptual development. A teacher therefore needs to be able to evaluate each child’s knowledge and conceptual and skill development, as well as the child’s level of metacognition about his or her own knowledge, skills, and concepts, in order to provide a learning environment that moves each child’s development in all these areas. A key question for instruction is thus how to adapt the instructional goals to the existing knowledge and skills of the learners, as well as how to choose instructional techniques that will be most effective.
Each of the views of science articulated above highlights particular modes of thought that are essential to that view. These views are not mutually exclusive descriptions of science, but rather each stresses particular aspects. Since students need to progress in all aspects, it is useful for teachers to have a clear understanding of each of these components of scientific development, just as they need a clear understanding of the subject matter, the specific science content, that they are teaching. It is also useful at times to focus instruction on development of specific skills, in balance with a focus on the learning of specific facts or the understanding of a particular conceptual framework.
Thus, if one looks from the perspective of science as a process of reasoning about evidence, one sees that logical argumentation and problem-solving skills are important. Certain aspects of metacognition are also highlighted, such as the ability to be aware when one’s previously held convictions are in conflict with an observation. If one looks at science as a process of theory change, one sees that teachers must recognize the role of students’