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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 Part I INTRODUCTION
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 1 Science Learning Past and Present This report comes at a time when both science and science education are regular topics of national media attention and urgent policy debates. Scientists have used the discovery of DNA to help map the human genome, can prevent diseases like polio and rheumatic fever, and have landed probes on Mars. Today the scientific knowledge to see and manipulate atoms is available, whereas just 100 years ago people debated the existence of atomic matter. Major public policy issues, such as cloning, climate change, and alternative fuels, require a scientifically informed citizenry as never before. Underrepresentation of women and minorities in the sciences is a widely recognized problem of increasing concern amid policy debates about the adequacy of the nation’s scientific and technical workforce. Yet as scientific knowledge develops and grows, as new scientific tools and technologies emerge and work their way further into civic life, there is grave concern and debates about the quality of science education. After 15 years of focused standards-based reform, improvements in U.S. science education are modest at best. International comparisons show that many U.S. students fare poorly relative to their peers in other countries. In addition, large achievement gaps between majority students and both economically disadvantaged and non-Asian minority students persist in all school subjects, and they are especially strong and persistent in science (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000, 2003). These trends in achievement take on even greater significance with the looming deadline in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which mandates state-level assessments in science beginning in the 2007-2008 school year. Meanwhile, state and local school boards around the country, backed by large numbers of citizens, are em-
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 broiled in battles over the teaching of evolution. Science educators continue to debate the place of inquiry approaches in the teaching of science. The convergence of these factors has thrust science education into the center of national concern. Thus, there is an urgent need for a concerted effort to examine and improve science education. Science education has been a perennial issue of national concern, and its recent history warrants attention, a stock-taking of the current knowledge base and the prospects for promising directions in the future. THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF U.S. SCIENCE EDUCATION The current context of science education is shaped by initiatives undertaken over the past few decades. We briefly review these trends with an eye toward how they can inform future directions. The 1950s and 1960s saw the first federal foray into science teacher education and curriculum reform under the auspices of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) summer institutes and curriculum development projects. A milestone in science education, the NSF curriculum development projects focused on upgrading the teaching of science by modernizing the content of science courses. These projects laid the foundation for the succeeding decades of science education research and reform. The reform of science education, however, was not devoid of controversy. In the 1970s serious challenges were raised to NSF that, through its curriculum programs, a national curriculum was being advanced. NSF-sponsored teacher professional development programs ceased to operate for several years. In the 1980s, policy makers examined K-12 student achievement rates and declared the nation “at risk” of economic catastrophe. They prescribed ramping up high school graduation requirements, especially in science and mathematics, a recommendation that was a precursor to the standards-based reforms of the 1990s. These crises and the reforms they stimulated are milestones that have defined and redefined the landscape of K-8 science education. They continue to influence the practices and attitudes of educators, researchers, policy makers, and the public. The Legacy of the 1960s Science Curriculum Reforms At the height of the cold war, the American scientific establishment enjoyed a lofty but uncertain status. On one hand, scientific productivity was seen as essential to U.S. security, and federal science spending was on the rise. On the other hand, postwar science entailed large-scale, coordinated efforts involving hundreds of scientists. It required a steady flow of well-trained students, scientists, and scientific workers to maintain growth. Policy
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 makers worried that, without large numbers of well-prepared high school graduates to fill the science pipeline, the United States could lose ground to Soviet science, weakening its cold war position (Rudolph, 2002). While policy makers worried about security and the economy, the scientific community had a slightly different concern. Scientists saw limited public understanding of their work, and in particular, they cited a common misperception that science was equivalent to technological innovation. As they saw it, the public failed to appreciate the value of basic knowledge production. The scientific community recognized that expanding science programs would require a pipeline of new scientists and that growing science budgets would require popular support. The goal was to broaden and deepen the public’s understanding of scientific knowledge, inquiry, and institutions. With this public engagement agenda in mind, NSF by 1964 sponsored some 20 innovative large-scale K-12 science curriculum development projects, such as the Physical Science Study Committee, ChemStudy, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, and the Earth Science Curriculum Study (Duschl, 1990). Under the leadership of natural scientists working in collaboration with psychologists, these curricula aimed to provide students with early exposure to “authentic” science. Developers hoped such exposure would both bolster public understanding of science and attract talented students to advanced study. Dubbed “science for scientists,” the curricula broadly aimed to help students learn to think and act like scientists, a dramatic departure from contemporary instructional practice and its emphasis on final form science and textbook-driven instruction. The curricula were also novel from a policy perspective. This was the first effort to influence curriculum nationally, traditionally a local issue. National curriculum was (and still is) a politically contentious notion, which further complicated an already immense implementation challenge. The NSF curricula called for an active learner who engaged in hands-on activities. As characterized by scientist and philosopher Joseph Schwab (1962), science education should be an “enquiry into enquiry.”1 The various curriculum development teams, comprised primarily of scientists, envisioned students learning science by reasoning from direct observations of natural phenomena. Federal funds were made available to school districts for the construction of science teaching laboratories. Teachers could then set up hands-on or investigative science experiences through which students would encounter empirical truths, much as a scientist might in the lab. Curriculum developers believed that opportunities for students to engage in direct observations of phenomena illustrate the process of basic 1 Schwab chose this variation on the spelling of “inquiry.”
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 scientific research. This seemed a plausible strategy both for attracting more students to science as a career and countering popular views of science as isolated facts. An important feature common to the curricula—especially those designed for elementary students—was the emphasis placed on general learning, the development of “process skills” that would theoretically generalize to one’s thinking across the sciences and beyond.2 Such skills include making observations and measurements of natural phenomena, articulating hypotheses, and designing and carrying out experiments. These curricula specified behavioral outcomes (e.g., able to make predictions, work with one or two variables) that, according to then-emergent thought in developmental psychology, could be learned in the abstract, retained, and applied across a range of settings irrespective of students’ substantive understanding of content areas. Although influenced by the psychology of the day, the NSF curricula were driven by theories of teaching, and less so by theories of learning explicitly. For example, the Science Curriculum Improvement Study proposed the “learning cycle” (Atkin and Karplus, 1962). The learning cycle included (1) exploration of a concept, often through a laboratory experiment; (2) conceptual invention, in which the student or teacher derived the concept from the experimental data, usually during a classroom discussion; and (3) concept application (Karplus and Their, 1967). The curriculum framed discrete actions for teachers and students to create interactive science classes. However, it did not anticipate students’ entering ideas, nor did it envision teachers as diagnosticians of student learning and codesigners of instruction. It presumed that given a cycle of instruction, student learning would unfold rather unproblematically. These curricula had substantial reach, and in 1977 some 60 percent of U.S. school districts reported using one or another of the NSF-sponsored science curricula (Rudolph, 2002). However, further distribution and use was limited by the cost of curriculum reform. Publishers shied away from the materials, as the estimated costs to school systems far exceeded typical curriculum budgets. Furthermore, they presented new approaches to teaching and learning that would be hard to pitch to their market and that would also require expensive teacher training. The new curriculum also carried hefty political costs. These were linked to the challenges of promoting a national curriculum, and they were exacerbated by the fact that these curricula, rooted in the disciplines, presented 2 This was also the case for some of the middle grades curricula, though not all. The middle grades curriculum Integrated Physical Science, for example, certainly paid attention to disciplinary conceptual structure. The secondary curricula (physics, chemistry, biology) paid a lot of attention to disciplinary conceptual structures and their justification.
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 content that was unfamiliar and occasionally disturbing to parents and educators. In particular, Man: A Course of Study, a curriculum unit on human evolution, elicited a backlash of local opposition across the country (Dow, 1991). Parent groups complained that the curriculum was godless and failed to present the proper moral image of humanity. These concerns eventually reached Congress (Lagemann, 2000) and contributed to a precipitous drop in NSF precollege education funding (Duschl, 1980, 1990; Welch, 1973). The legacy of the 1960s reform is mixed. On one hand, it represented an unparalleled investment in precollege science curriculum and brought disciplinary experts into K-12 science education. The curricula pushed educators to think about what students were doing in class and to portray a broader notion of science to students. However, defining authentic science that could also result in increased student understanding proved more complex than developers had envisioned. Developers seemed to underestimate (1) the influence that students’ prior knowledge and ideas had on meaningful learning; (2) the impact of students’ and teachers’ naïve ideas about scientific inquiry on engagement with investigations; and (3) the tremendous challenge of improving science instruction on a large scale. In the mid-1970s, evaluations conducted to determine the impact of the curricula on science education revealed that the impact was spotty at best, with many teachers (see Crane, 1976) and programs returning to textbook-driven teaching practices (Weiss et al., 2003). The Emergence of Standards-Based Reform There was another spike in attention to science education in the 1980s, as once again pundits voiced concerns about U.S. economic competitiveness (this time with Japan and the Pacific Rim nations) and waning American scientific production (Bloch, 1986). The National Commission for Excellence in Education, a group of university presidents, professors, and K-12 educators appointed by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, offered a grave assessment of U.S. K-12 education. Their report, A Nation at Risk, contended that the “once unchallenged [U.S.] preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation” was being overtaken as U.S. schools had “lost sight of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain” the necessary goals of education (National Commission for Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 5). Scientific and political leaders assembled at the National Academy of Sciences Convocation on Science and Mathematics Education echoed these concerns. In his statement to the convocation, President Ronald Reagan spoke of curtailing a “20-year decline” in K-12 science and mathematics education that could result in “direct harm to our American economy and standard of living” (National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, 1982, p. 1).
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 Policy makers called for a renewed focus on excellence and prescribed ratcheting up course content and high school graduation requirements broadly. Secretary Bell urged attendees to make science “one of the basics” and to provide additional opportunities for students to learn science during the summer and after school. The National Commission for Excellence in Education urged school systems to create a minimum requirement of three years each of science and mathematics for high school graduation and “more rigorous and measurable standards.” By the 1990s reformers rolled out “systemic” strategies to reach national goals for excellence in education. There was a broadly shared sentiment that ambitious national goals like those laid out in A Nation at Risk were attainable only through a coherent, system-wide effort. The “unruly nonsystem” of American education—a concoction of federal, state, and innumerable local policy systems—would be drawn together and organized. Standards for content, instruction, assessment, and professional development would provide a framework for coordinated efforts toward a common goal: offering all students a sufficient level of knowledge and skills across the core academic subjects. Ever aware of Americans’ distaste for centralized education policy, proponents of systemic reform trod lightly in the 1990s. They called for each layer in the education system to play a specific, semiautonomous role within a coordinated policy system, still ultimately driven by state and local decisions. The K-12 subject matter communities, comprised of education researchers, curriculum developers, scientists, teacher educators, and teachers, developed frameworks to guide state and local authorities with curriculum development. In science these were Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993) and The National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996). These two documents served as guiding frameworks for the development or refinement of each state’s own science frameworks, which in turn were used to format the content basis for curriculum and state-level assessments (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1995, 1997). Local education authorities also developed standards and curriculum that aligned with state and national standards, so that they would provide students with opportunities to learn content that would be tested on state assessments. Standards also created a framework for focused science education funding from federal agencies and philanthropic foundations. Prominent among these were the NSF systemic initiatives, including statewide systemic initiatives, urban systemic initiatives, rural systemic initiatives, and local systemic change initiatives. For example, the local systemic change initiatives were “designed to broaden the impact, accelerate the pace and increase the effectiveness of improvements in K-12 science and mathematics education” (Lawrenz and Post, 1999). This program reflected the logic of standards-based reform
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 and sought to help local authorities achieve standards through teacher enhancement, standards-based curriculum, and the broader participation of parents, informal science institutions, business, and higher education. The systemic initiatives, which benefited from concurrent evaluation efforts, showed some promising effects on student learning, which were particularly salient for students from traditionally underserved groups. Furthermore, gains were greater for school systems that had participated in the reform for a longer period of time. Results from the local systemic initiatives further helped identify conditions that supported meaningful system-wide changes across urban, rural, and suburban districts (Boyd et al., 2003). It became clear that instructional improvement could be accomplished through system-wide efforts and that many actors—including teachers, students, parents, administrators, and professional development staffs—were implicated in reform (Kim, et al., 2001). The results across the various initiatives also made clear, however, that system-wide reform is often difficult to initiate and maintain (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2000). Despite recurrent efforts to improve science education through curriculum and standards-based reform, there is still a long way to go. In hindsight, several factors may help to explain the limited impact of these substantial reform efforts. They include the complex political and technical aspects of implementation, insufficient teacher preparation and professional development, discontinuous streams of reform, mismatches between the goals of the initiatives and assessments, and insufficient and inequitable material resources devoted to education and reform (Berliner, 2005; Kozol, 2005; Spillane, 2001). These factors are invariably part of the education reform problem and necessarily constrain how theories of teaching and learning are enacted in school settings. While science education reform will necessarily bump up against these material, political, and structural factors, this report focuses on the intellectual, research-driven basis for science education. We draw from current research on learning, cognitive development, child development, and the design of effective learning environments, as well as science studies, among others, in an effort to illuminate both what science is and how students learn science, to point toward clear possibilities for improvement in current instructional practice and to provide a strategic agenda for future research. Underlying any effort to reform science education is a notion, sometimes tacit, of learning. What does it mean to understand science? How do students come to understand it? What do effective science learning environments look like, and what can be done to create and sustain them? These foundational questions are at the core of this report. With the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the federal role in education reform again broadened. This legislation requires schools to report student test scores across demographic groups and to work toward
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 yearly incremental improvements for all students. In 2007 for the first time, the legislation will require science testing to be carried out nationwide. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE, LEARNING, AND TEACHING Research and development in science education, science, and the science of learning have progressed substantially since the first NSF curriculum efforts. Research-based understandings of learning also diverge from that which informed the recent efforts at systemic, standards-based reform. Since the 1960s, philosophers of science have challenged fundamental assumptions about what science is and how it operates. While considerable disagreement exists within the field, philosophers have long questioned the empiricist assumptions of science as pure discovery or the uncovering of truth, ideas that permeated the mid-century curriculum reforms. They, as well as scholars in the history of science and the sociology of science, see scientific inquiry as model or theory based, increasingly conducted by groups and communities of scientists, and influenced by investigators’ conceptual understandings about the phenomena under study. Scholars have also shed light on the elaborate social and technical apparatus on which the conduct of science depends, including instruments, tools, charts and graphs, research articles, journals, research groups, universities, and the larger society. Philosophers, scientists, and social scientists also describe changes in contemporary science itself (Klahr and Simon, 1999). Whereas direct causal models once prevailed as natural explanations, advances in scientific instrumentation, computer technology, and a deepening of scientific knowledge have given rise to statistical models of natural phenomena that are rooted in probabilistic reasoning. What constitutes scientific practices today is very different from the practices just 50 to 100 years ago. Current models of natural phenomena are strongly grounded in mathematical and computational reasoning and rightly challenge intuitive expectations about direct cause and effect. At the core, science is fundamentally about establishing lines of evidence and using the evidence to develop and refine explanations using theories, models, hypotheses, measurements, and observations. Over time, scientists have learned how to learn about nature, deepening scientific understandings and methods of inquiry. The disciplinary boundaries between the life and the physical sciences have blurred, as have boundaries between scientific and technological development, with the emergence of new fields, such as biochemistry, geophysics, bioinformatics, computational biology, advanced chemical synthesis, and nanoscience. The growing sophistication of digital technology and media may also distance people from the everyday experiences that used to hook young
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 people into science. For example, just a few decades ago, it was common for youth to learn to perform repairs on automobiles, a context ripe with scientific concepts (work, efficiency, gas compression and combustion, etc.). Such repairs are impractical now, as automotive systems are governed by microcomputers. Similarly, a malfunctioning iPod cannot be opened and rewired as could a 1960s-era turntable. As the frequency of such encounters wanes, one wonders what the effect will be on children’s interest and motivation to understand the scientific underpinnings of the phenomena at play in designed systems. Expectations of what it means to be competent in doing science and understanding science have also broadened. Beyond skillful performance and recall of factual knowledge, contemporary views of learning prize understanding and application or knowledge in use. Learners who understand can use and apply novel ideas in diverse contexts, drawing connections among multiple representations of a given concept. They appreciate the foundations of knowledge and consider the warrants for knowledge claims. Accomplished learners know when to ask a question, how to challenge claims, where to go to learn more, and they are aware of their own ideas and how these change over time. Understanding of how learners develop ideas about the natural world has advanced considerably in the last few decades. In particular, contemporary thinking reflects an important role for prior knowledge, which was severely underacknowledged in earlier theories of learning. Even young children have well-established ideas about the natural world. These ideas may be more or less cohesive, and they may serve as resources or distracters in children’s efforts to understand and apply new knowledge. The presence of prior knowledge has important implications for instruction and other efforts to influence student thinking. Furthermore, understanding that scientific reasoning is linked tightly to conceptual understanding casts serious doubt on the wisdom of teaching scientific reasoning in the absence of specific content. Learning environments and understanding of them also have changed. Children learn science from books, television, the Internet, visits to museums and national parks, as well as the science classroom and the scientific and technological world around them. These various sites of learning are now sites of research on learning. Looking inside diverse environments where learning happens, researchers point to the cognitive and social dimensions of learning. Young learners, not unlike scientists, use knowledge and language to ask questions and make sense of the world. There is a need to represent their understanding in efforts to challenge and persuade others. Learners talk with peers, classmates, and family members. Through group processes, they share and develop their understanding of, and relationship to, science.
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 Immigrants, children of color, and children living in poverty have become an increasing fraction of the U.S. student population, and science achievement gaps persist. For example, while the gap between the average performance of black and white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress narrowed in the early 1980s, white students on average still scored significantly higher than black students on the test administered in 2000. The gap between the average performance of Hispanic and white students has remained relatively stable, with whites outperforming Hispanic students. Furthermore, high-income students consistently outperform low-income students, and the gap in average performance appears to be widening (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000, 2003). The sources of such gaps are complex and include aspects of the structure and organization of schools that go beyond science education, as evidenced by the fact that similar gaps appear in reading and mathematics (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000). However, the emerging body of literature on learning indicates that children from all backgrounds have the capacity to be successful in science and begins to identify the cultural and linguistic resources that nonmainstream students bring to the science classroom. The new and emergent perspectives on science learning raise questions about the appropriateness of the nation’s current approach to science education. Do current standards, curricula, and textbooks reflect an appropriate range of science outcomes? Do they lay out a series of learning goals that reflect the learning capacities of students across the grades? Or are they “a mile wide and an inch deep,” as is often suggested? For example, standards, curricula, and textbooks that do not reflect knowledge about students’ learning of science will limit what they can learn. Similarly, standards and curricula that are too broad will lead to an unnecessarily diffuse instructional effort. Without a reasonable set of learning objectives to target, research capacity is diluted and efforts to inform practice, in a clear and coherent manner about what is known and what can be done to support children’s science learning, will fall short. Many of today’s challenges in science education echo those of the past. Long-standing demands for a better scientifically trained workforce persist, while evidence mounts that scientific literacy is far from what it could or should be. It is essential to bring the best of knowledge to bear on these persistent problems. Other challenges are new, or at least they are salient in ways that they have not been in the past. The historical patterns of inequity in science are no longer tolerable, nor are they inevitable, as children from all backgrounds have the potential to learn science. The standards call for a commitment to all science learners and reflect a moral imperative to make it available in research-supported ways. As educators, researchers, and policy makers tackle these problems, new and old, they will require clear guidance.
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 ABOUT THIS REPORT The Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade, was established by the National Research Council (NRC) to undertake this study. Composed of 14 members selected to reflect a diversity of perspectives and a broad range of expertise, the committee included experts in cognitive and developmental psychology, educational policy and implementation, classroom-based science education research, the natural sciences, the practice of science teaching, and science learning in informal environments. The committee was charged to respond to specific guiding questions (which are laid out in Box 1-1). Scope and Approach The committee carried out its charge through an iterative process of gathering information, deliberating on it, identifying gaps and questions, gathering further information to fill these gaps, and holding further discussions. In its search for relevant information, the committee held three public fact-finding meetings, reviewed published reports and unpublished research, and commissioned experts to prepare and present papers. At its fourth and fifth meetings, the committee intensely analyzed and discussed its findings and conclusions. The report is primarily concerned with characterizing the state of knowledge about how students learn science. However, this interest quickly slips beyond the classroom, museum, or other immediate contexts in which chil- BOX 1-1 Committee Charge What does research on learning, culling from a variety of research fields, suggest about how science is learned? What, if any, are “critical stages” in children’s development of scientific concepts? Where might connections between lines of research need to be made? Given a comprehensive review of this research, how does it help clarify how to teach science in K-8 classrooms? How can the existing body of research that is applicable to K-8 science learning be made useful for science educators, teacher educators, professional organizations, researchers, and policy makers? What other lines of research need to be pursued to make understanding about how students learn science more complete?
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 dren interact with science. In schools, for example, the organizational, human capital, policy, and material considerations that support science learning emerge as influential. This report also delves into particular parts of this broader picture and includes analysis of supports for teaching science (e.g., instructional systems, teacher knowledge, and professional development). Wherever possible we have tried to focus on the qualities of learning and contexts that are unique to science. Consequently, we steer clear of a broad range of factors that have clear implications for student learning of science (e.g., inequitable school funding, teacher workforce), but that are beyond the scope of this study. Focus of the Report This report is an effort to reconcile multiple evidence bases on science learning, in order to render a clear image of what is known collectively about how students across grades K-8 learn science. Synthesizing research from across diverse scholarly perspectives, the report details what is known about how K-8 students learn science in and out of school; what is known about curriculum, assessment, and instructional environments that support learning; and what are the science-specific resources and policies that support instructional systems. The report is intended to inform policy makers, researchers, and education practitioners. This report builds on an earlier NRC report, How People Learn (1999a), which provided a concise description of the state of cognitive research, and it follows in the tradition of a series of reports that focus on learning in specific subject matter areas. These include Starting Out Right (National Research Council, 1999b) and Adding It Up (National Research Council, 2001a), consensus studies on reading and mathematics, respectively. The discussion of assessment of student learning expands on the research synthesis presented in Knowing What Students Know (National Research Council, 2001b). Discussion of large-scale assessment systems to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act is beyond the scope of the current report. This topic is addressed in the report Systems for State Science Assessment (National Research Council, 2005). The current volume also serves as the basis for a forthcoming guide on science learning targeted to K-8 practitioners. Whereas the current report is addressed to policy, research, and practice audiences, the practitioner guide will be addressed specifically to science education practitioners, ranging from classroom teachers, to curriculum developers, and to people who specialize in teacher professional development and assessment. The practitioner guide will focus on the findings from the current volume that are most relevant to practitioners and translate them in a clear, nontechnical manner through extended classroom-based scenarios illustrating how students learn
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 science and constructive practices K-8 science educators can enact in local settings. Organization of the Report The report has four major parts. Part I sets the stage for and includes this introductory chapter and Chapter 2, which addresses the goals of science education and our working model of scientific proficiency. What we call the strands of scientific proficiency are a touchstone throughout the report. We view science proficiency as multifaceted and the strands as interrelated, although for descriptive and analytic purposes we discuss the strands individually. Part II tackles how students learn science. Chapter 3 provides a summary of the building blocks for science learning that are in place before children enter school. Chapters 4 through 7 map roughly onto the strands of scientific proficiency and summarize research that provides insight into how students’ proficiencies in each strand develop and can be supported across grades K-8. Chapter 4 describes children’s understanding of the natural world and how their understanding of scientific explanations can be fostered. Chapter 5 describes the processes involved in generating and evaluating scientific knowledge with specific attention to the role of prior knowledge and experience. Chapter 6 describes what students understand and what they can learn about epistemology and the nature of science. Chapter 7 describes the challenges to engaging students in science and the experiences that can help them become full participants in science classrooms. Part III addresses the implications of research on science learning for educational settings, focusing in particular on K-8 schools. Chapter 8 builds from the research findings in Part II to develop the idea of learning progressions in science, which characterize how student learning of complex scientific notions might unfold given sustained instructional support over grades K-8. Chapter 9 summarizes current research on pedagogy, examining the central features that are common to current research-based instructional programs. This chapter includes a discussion of classroom-based assessment in science. In Chapter 10 we describe conditions in K-8 classrooms and schools that support quality science instruction, including the teachers’ knowledge of science, teaching, and learning; the necessary ongoing opportunities for teacher learning; and a coherent instructional system. Part IV spells out our conclusions and recommendations for practice and research. Drawing from across the volume, Chapter 11 recapitulates the major findings and implications of the current research base on K-8 science learning. Here we also make recommendations for specific actors in the education system and lay out an agenda for the next generation of science learning research.
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