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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms 8 A System That Supports Science Learning Understanding what it takes to teach and learn science effectively is very different today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. We now know that young children bring a strong foundation of knowledge and skills to school with them, including knowledge of the natural world, the ability to engage in complex reasoning about the natural world, a basic understanding of data sets, competing ideas about different science concepts, and the ability to apply their own thinking to a particular scientific domain as it evolves over time. They also have the ability to work collaboratively with classmates and teachers in ways that approximate practices in the scientific community: posing informed questions, representing ideas to one another using a range of methods, and critically appraising and incorporating diverse ideas and observations in order to build a common scientific understanding. With this foundation, young children entering school can begin to build and extend their science knowledge as they advance through the grades. Good teaching is critical to students’ understanding and mastery of scientific ideas and practices. Students need to work with scientific concepts presented through challenging, well-designed problems—problems that are meaningful from both a scientific standpoint and a personal standpoint. They need to be challenged to think about the natural world in new and different ways. They need guidance in adopting the practices of the scientific community, with its particular ways of seeing, building explanations, and supporting claims about knowledge. Good science teaching and learning must draw from all four of the strands of scientific proficiency. With carefully structured classroom experiences, instructional support from teachers, and opportunities to explore and connect important science concepts over extended periods of weeks, months, and years, elementary and middle school students can make valuable gains in science learning.
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms The typical practices in today’s science classrooms do not reflect the most recent findings regarding effective science teaching and learning. Current curricula tend to cover too many disparate topics in a superficial manner, and many are based on an outdated understanding of how children learn. They do not build on the core ideas of science in a progressive fashion from kindergarten through eighth grade. The research outlined in this book carries immense implications for the education system as a whole, as well as for individual educators working in the system. The system includes standards, curricula, assessments, professional development, teacher preparation—all of which should be reexamined in light of current thinking about teaching and learning science. Systemic goals are, of course, large scale, and it will take years, as well as political will and investment, to realize them. When the different parts of the education system are conceptualized, designed, and implemented in a coordinated fashion, there are positive effects on teachers, schools, and student learning.1 For example, promising results have emerged from schools and districts participating in the local systemic change initiatives funded by the National Science Foundation, which were designed to support meaningful systemwide change.2 In order to achieve this kind of success, clearly developed standards and goals for learning must be defined, and they must drive both the organization of the system and deployment of resources. This book supports a coordinated systems view, adding to it by sharpening the focus on science learning. We examine what it means to understand science, what children do when they learn science, and what educators can do to support and encourage children’s science learning. Both the system itself and the individuals in it must reorient themselves to support current understanding of science learning. New knowledge about science learning should form the foundation of such a system in the following ways: Standards should be revised to stress core scientific concepts. They should outline specific, coherent goals for curriculum and practice, organized around these core ideas. Curricula should enable these goals to be realized through sustained, progressive instruction over the K-8 years. Instruction should engage students in the four strands of scientific proficiency in challenging and stimulating ways.
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms Assessments should provide teachers and students with timely feedback about students’ thinking, and these assessments should support teachers’ efforts to improve instruction. Professional development and teacher preparation should focus on effective methods for teaching science, understanding how students learn science, and helping teachers understand core scientific concepts and how they connect. Although this new way of understanding science learning requires the involvement of many in the education system, it is the classroom science teacher who has the most frequent and direct impact on students’ classroom experiences. In this chapter we focus on the particular knowledge and skill that teachers need in order to teach science well and the ways in which the system should shift to support teacher learning and development. Teachers as Learners At the Rosa Parks Community School in the South Bronx, the teachers have been working together to change how they teach science, with support and guidance from their principal, Marianne Goldenada. The entire faculty, including the principal, assistant principal, and all pre-K through grade 8 instructional staff, have decided to make science learning a primary focus of their school improvement plan. In order to do this, they decided to focus more attention on student learning, including exploring together how students learn, what supports student learning, and examining student work and performance. While they’ve made a commitment to follow the district’s science standards, they’ve also decided to create what they call “grade by grade learning trajectories” that are built around a set of core science concepts that they will build on in each successive grade. This year, all of the teachers in the school will be working together to deepen their knowledge and create linked instructional activities around a central topic in physics—the nature and structure of matter—and a central topic in the life sciences—biodiversity, biological variation, and change within and across populations. The teachers will work both in grade-level “study groups” that meet once a week and as an entire faculty meeting once a month, to plan units together, compare notes, read articles and curriculum reports, and present both problems and successes to each other. School principal Goldenada inspires the teachers at Rosa Parks to learn right alongside their kids. She visits their classrooms, sits in on study group sessions,
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms runs interference when teachers need extra materials or time, and circulates shared readings and examples of student work at the monthly faculty meetings. The teachers trust her and feel comfortable sharing problems with her. As a former special-needs teacher and later a science coordinator for the school, Ms. Goldenada considers questioning, theorizing, modeling, collecting data, examining evidence, and changing one’s mind (she calls it “revising”) as important as getting the right answer. And she’s a big believer in building on what learners already know. She helps students trust in their own ability to figure things out collectively, ask questions, and share their expertise, as well as their problems, with one another. Ms. Goldenada wants to make teaching science both challenging and fun. But it’s not easy creating a confident, fearless staff of teachers. None of the teachers at Rosa Parks majored in the sciences in college. Only a few took advanced science or mathematics courses as undergraduates, and those courses were of limited value for teaching science to elementary school students. At the time Ms. Goldenada became principal at Rosa Parks, many of the teachers were wary of teaching science. The school was large (nearly 900 students in pre-K through grade 8) and more than 80 percent of the students received free or reduced-price lunches. More than 40 percent spoke a language other than English at home, and there was a fair amount of student attrition. Students’ abilities in science varied widely—some had been doing science intensively since kindergarten, and some were completely new to inquiry-based science. Ms. Goldenada is a believer in the value of teachers as investigators and learners, like their students, and with so many teachers representing so many different grade levels, she felt it made sense for them to try to master a few key concepts rather than covering many concepts superficially at a fast pace. It was Ms. Goldenada who proposed the monthly faculty meetings, called “science breakfasts,” which later evolved into monthly breakfasts plus one after-school “science symposium” per month. These meetings focused on a few central science concepts, and the idea was that the faculty would learn about science together, investigate common topics, focus their collective attention on what their students seemed to know about these topics, collect and share examples of student work, discuss ways of responding to that work or examining it for evidence of what the students understood, and track the students’ deepening knowledge and expertise across the grades. Under Ms. Goldenada’s leadership, the entire faculty agreed to work on science curriculum planning and development, drawing on good materials that were
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms available and adapting them to meet their own students’ needs. They planned to build a coherent and increasingly sophisticated set of units around a central concept in science that they would all explore together, in grade-level teams, with one unit to be undertaken in the fall and another in the spring. That way they could compare notes across the grades, focusing on a multiweek unit, examining what their students know and can do in each successive grade, and building up concepts over years rather than weeks. They would track what worked and what didn’t, sharing materials and techniques and maintaining an ongoing, schoolwide conversation. The teachers and staff at Rosa Parks weren’t starting entirely from scratch. In their preparation they drew on many excellent national reports, such as the National Science Education Standards, Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards, Selecting Instructional Materials, and Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Ms. Goldenada often started breakfast meetings by passing around a photocopied vignette from one of these reports. Everyone would read the vignette and discuss it in light of ongoing work and the school’s science goals. That way the teachers would continue learning, from year to year, along with their kids. Strong instructional leaders like Ms. Goldenada appreciate the complexity of teaching science well and create regular, recurring opportunities for their staff to build their knowledge and skill. There are many ways to build teachers’ knowledge and skill in addition to the school-level efforts described above. Opportunities for teacher learning can also be organized in university- or museum-based courses, teacher study groups, and mentoring. However it is organized, it is important to note that teacher learning is focused on important conceptual goals and that it encompasses features of productive teacher learning environments. To teach science well, teachers must draw on a body of knowledge that can be divided into three broad, partially overlapping categories: knowledge of science, knowledge of how students learn science, and knowledge of how to teach science effectively. Knowledge of Science In order to teach effectively, the teacher must first understand the subject being taught. There is a growing body of evidence that what a teacher knows about science influences the quality of instruction and has a powerful effect on the success and type of discussions that teachers can engage in and sustain with students. It is important to pay close attention to the particular things teachers
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms know about science, not only the “level” of knowledge (as indicated by number of science courses, degrees, certificates) teachers need to teach science. Without careful attention to what teachers need to know to teach science and how they can learn it, solutions are often limited to adding more courses to a given sequence, program, or credential requirement. The strands of science learning, presented in Chapter 2, provide a useful rubric for analyzing the kinds of science that teachers currently learn and identifying the aspects of science proficiency that current professional development is unlikely to support. Two recurrent patterns in undergraduate science curricula emerge when considered in light of the strands. First, much like many current K-12 science curricula, undergraduate science curricula tend to emphasize, most heavily, conceptual and factual knowledge (Strand 1). There is some emphasis on doing investigations (Strand 2), although typically through contrived experiments in which both process and results are clearly spelled out for students. Undergraduate science rarely emphasizes reflection on scientific knowledge (Strand 3), and participation in science (Strand 4) is rarer still. Not surprisingly, undergraduates’ and prospective science teachers’ views of science reflect these emphases. They often view science narrowly as a body of facts and scientific practice as nothing more than the application of a sequential scientific method. An example of this narrow view is discussed in Mark Windshitl’s study of the views of preservice science teachers as they designed and conducted studies in the context of a secondary science methods course.3 Study participants included 14 preservice teachers with earned bachelor’s degrees in a science. The study tracked teachers’ thinking about science through their regular journal entries for one semester and conducted interviews with them on their experiences in science from middle school forward. When researchers analyzed the teachers’ efforts to develop inquiry projects (from formulating questions through presentations to peers), they found that they had a common “folk view” of science, meaning that they viewed hypotheses as guesses with little bearing on how problems should be framed and examined. Scientific theory assumes a peripheral role in this view of science, relegated to the end of a study as an optional tool one might use to help explain results. Many elementary and middle school teachers, like many college-educated adults in this society, have only a superficial knowledge of science. Inadequate undergraduate courses, as well as inadequate teacher education or credentialing programs, and insufficient professional development opportunities all contribute to the problem.
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms What kind and level of scientific expertise are required to teach science effectively? Asking this question leads to still more questions: What does it mean to understand a concept well enough to teach it well? What do teachers need to know in order to design engaging and rigorous instruction, orchestrate activities so that students make their reasoning visible, build on what students already know, and create an environment in which all students are equal participants in the scientific conversation? What are the best ways for teachers to learn what they need to know? In order to work toward and achieve the new vision for K-8 science education described in this book, those involved in defining the content and practice of teacher education will have to wrestle with these questions. How Students Learn Science Effective teaching requires that teachers understand what students do when they learn and what cognitive, linguistic, and emotional resources they bring to the table. While we often think about teaching from the perspective of the teacher, it is important to emphasize education as a process that is fundamentally concerned with the experience of learners. The strands of science learning characterize things that children do, both cognitively and behaviorally, when they learn science. Previous chapters have described the ways in which children use language and other representations of their thinking to communicate and build knowledge and how their out-of-school experiences influence their thinking about science. In order to recognize and build on these capabilities, it is critical that science teachers not only be students of science but also that they be students of children’s learning. One of the implications of the new findings about how students learn is that everyone involved in the education system must rethink his or her assumptions about teaching and learning science. At the core of teacher professional development, we should focus on challenging conventional wisdom about learners and building a contemporary research-based view. As we have argued previously in this book, several common beliefs about young science learners need to be challenged: (1) Young children are not able to reason abstractly and so should learn about science as observation (not theory building). (2) Science content and process should be isolated and taught discretely. (3) Immersing students in unstructured exploration and “investigation” will teach them scientific principles and concepts. (4) Children’s ideas about the
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms natural world are primarily misconceptions that teachers should aim to identify and correct or replace with canonical science. These beliefs are reflected in standards, curriculum materials, and instructional practice. In order to make progress, we must find ways to challenge these beliefs and support the development of materials and instructional practice that reflect contemporary views of learning science. Knowing How to Teach Science Effectively In order to teach science well, teachers need to understand science differently from the way that scientists do. A scientist understands scientific theory and its historical origins, the questions being investigated, and the ways in which questions are investigated in his or her field. But a scientist does not necessarily know how to convey scientific knowledge to children or other nonexperts, nor how to create appropriately structured opportunities for practicing science. Teachers need to know science in ways that are particularly suited for instruction. In other words, they don’t just need to know the subject matter—they need to know how to teach the subject matter. They need to understand the strands of science learning in a student-learning context. This “pedagogical content knowledge” combines the fundamental understanding of a discipline with an understanding of how students learn. A science teacher also needs to know how to create science learning opportunities; how to select appropriate instructional materials and problems; the appropriate points in an investigation to teach a new skill; and how to help students understand the unique qualities of scientific language and reasoning and how they relate to everyday forms. We could create a long list of science-specific pedagogical considerations, but a concrete example may better illustrate the ways in which a teacher’s knowledge of science intersects with a knowledge of pedagogy. Consider a teacher’s challenges in teaching science investigations, as discussed in Chapter 7. To begin with, the teacher must select a problem to investigate that has meaning from the standpoint of science—that is, the activity has to be clearly connected to scientific concepts and methods. The activity also has to be meaningful from the standpoint of classroom learning—that is, it must provide opportunities for students to connect their knowledge, experience, and interests with the subject. Once students are involved in an investigation, the teacher must be prepared to field students’ ideas and questions about the
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms outcomes, and be prepared for the possibility that students may overlook key events in a demonstration or fail to interpret them correctly. The teacher must be prepared to subtly guide students toward certain insights through effective questioning. Throughout instruction, teachers are challenged to assess which aspects of a problem students are understanding, how their current understanding can be advanced, and what types of experiences will move them incrementally closer to the ultimate instructional goal. This process requires teachers to engage in an internal dialogue between disciplinary science goals and the pedagogical means of determining what children know and how to move their understanding forward. Providing Teachers with Opportunities to Learn Teachers learn continuously from their experiences in the classroom and their informal interactions with colleagues. These exchanges with students and colleagues can be productive when they are organized in a way similar to the experiences described earlier about the staff at Rosa Parks School. Through a combination of peer and administrative support, teachers developed knowledge of science, knowledge of student learning as it relates to science, and how to teach science effectively. The majority of elementary and middle schools, however, do not provide teachers either the time for peer study groups or practice-embedded professional development or the resources, materials, or pedagogical/content knowledge needed to learn science themselves and teach it well. Resources such as effective professional development programs that are sustained over the long term and provide clear, consistent linkages to subject matter and the core tasks of teaching must be made available to teachers. Curriculum-based institutes, mentoring programs, study groups, and teacher coaching can also provide teachers with opportunities to deepen their subject matter expertise and reflect on classroom practice. Thanks to recent studies about professional learning opportunities, we now know a great deal about what works best to support teachers. These criteria emphasize purpose and rigor and suggest that teacher learning is serious business. They acknowledge that teacher learning is the by-product of thoughtful design and systemwide participation. Professional development programs often provide teachers with opportunities to analyze phenomena, think scientifically, represent and interpret data, build models, and engage in claim making
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms Types of Support Teachers Need to Teach Science Well High-quality curriculum or supplementary materials Means by which to have their questions answered (texts, colleagues, outside experts) Time and support to work through science tasks as learners Opportunity to explore a variety of materials and experience problems that students might have Time to think about and assess the knowledge their students bring to class and argumentation about data with peers. Teachers can gain experience with a broad range of scientific issues through such programs. Professional development programs should also demonstrate how teachers can support their students’ learning. Teachers need to learn how students think, have strategies for supporting their thinking as it develops, learn about teaching moves that serve particular functions in their students’ learning, and use their own knowledge to respond strategically to student thinking. Good professional development programs give teachers opportunities to develop these skills. But what does this look like in practice? In Lansing, Michigan, a National Science Foundation grant provides funding for a partnership between Michigan State University and the Lansing School District to provide research-based learning opportunities for teachers. In the PI-CRUST (Promoting Inquiry Communities for the Reform of Urban Science Teaching) project, K-8 teachers have been working in grade-level groups for the past five years. They have been focusing on the science that they teach at their grade level, on children’s usual difficulties in understanding that science, on curriculum analysis and revisions of the inquiry-oriented, standards-based units they have adopted, and on the knowledge for teaching—including knowledge of representations, analogies, and models—that help children construct big ideas. Experienced facilitators from the university and the district lead these professional learning communities, which meet after school every two weeks and during the summer for an intensive study of the scientific concepts in one focus unit. Facilitators also observe and coach in classrooms, often coteaching with teachers and developing improved lessons, based on assessments of students’ understanding. During a recent summer session, the second-grade professional learning community worked on understanding essential concepts and models related to the
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms study of sound. They performed investigations to deepen their understanding; tried multiple representations and materials that might help children understand how sound travels; analyzed the current curriculum unit; rewrote, added, deleted, or resequenced some lessons; read research reports about children’s ideas about sound; and read excerpts from the National Science Teachers Association book Sound: Stop Faking It! Finally Understanding Science So You Can Teach It to enhance their own understanding. Teachers also designed pre-, embedded, and post-assessments to reveal children’s thinking about what makes sounds, how sound travels, and how pitch and volume are changed. The following winter they taught the revised unit, focusing for nine weeks on children’s learning and their own teaching, sharing children’s work across the second-grade classrooms, videotaping and debriefing their lessons, and making modifications both individually and as a unit. The next summer, they met again to refine the unit, based on their documentation, and to share the revised unit with other second-grade teachers in the district. The kindergarten professional learning community found that they already had a fairly successful unit on trash and recycling but lacked some of the resources needed to help students understand where the trash goes after they throw it away in their classroom. Teachers arranged to visit a local trash and recycling company to deepen their own understanding of the issue, and they videotaped their visit. They then enlisted a communications student to edit the videotape so they could show their students how garbage trucks take the classroom trash to a landfill site, where the trash is bulldozed, covered with earth, and layered in specially designed and sealed areas. The videotape also showed the sorting and recycling operation at the landfill site, including the composting of plant materials. Teachers planned to use the videotape to help their students understand the various ways that trash can be handled, recycled, and composted. In both of these examples, teachers focused on understanding, representing, and teaching specific content to their students at specific grade levels. They analyzed the curriculum, revising and adjusting it to meet students’ needs, documented what their students thought about and what they were learning, and shared their resources and experiences with other teachers in the district. Each project yielded teacher leaders who formed a particularly deep understanding of the content and curriculum at each grade level. Each project also yielded resources that other teachers, especially new teachers and teachers new to the district or to their grade level, could use. As one kindergarten teacher put it, “I didn’t know what I didn’t understand about trash and recycling before we took this field trip to the landfill. But now I feel like I can truly teach this unit to my kids, and understand the storyline and how it all fits together.”
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms A small number of studies have examined the professional development opportunities available to science teachers who teach predominantly minority or low-income students in urban schools. As noted previously, there is little agreement in the field as to the most effective means of teaching diverse student populations, so these studies examined a range of teacher learning opportunities. Some focused on the unique qualities and challenges of working with diverse student groups, while others reflected approaches that were not solely related to teaching these groups. Despite the small number of studies, professional development for teachers of diverse student populations has shown promising results, including positive impact on students’ science and literacy achievement and the narrowing of achievement gaps among demographic subgroups. Teacher learning opportunities should … Reflect a clear focus on student learning in a specific content area Focus on the strengths and needs of learners in that area and draw on evidence about what works from research Include school-based and job-embedded support in which teachers may assess student work, design or refine units of study, or observe and reflect on colleagues lessons Provide adequate time during the school day and throughout the year for both intensive work and regular reflection on practice. Professional development also needs to span multiple years Emphasize the collective participation of groups of teachers, including teachers from the same school, department, or grade level Provide teachers with a coherent view of the instructional system, from content and performance standards to instructional materials to local and state assessments to the development of a professional community Receive the active support of school and district leaders Teachers of English language learners need to promote students’ English language and literacy development as well as their academic achievement. A limited body of research indicates that professional development efforts have a positive impact on helping teachers integrate science with literacy development for these students. For example, one study that was part of a local systemic initiative sponsored by the National Science Foundation involved elementary school teachers of predominantly Latino English language learners.4 After participating in a five-week summer professional development program, the majority of teachers had broadened their view of the connections between inquiry science instruction and second-language development to encompass a more elaborated perspective on the ways that the two could be integrated. Another study provided professional development opportunities to elementary school teachers serving students from diverse backgrounds.5 Teachers’
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms beliefs and practices in teaching science to language-minority students changed in a positive way. At the end of the school year, these students showed statistically significant gains in science and literacy (writing) achievement, enhanced abilities to conduct science inquiry, and a narrowing of achievement gaps. Another group examined professional development in promoting science and literacy with predominantly Spanish-speaking elementary school students as part of a districtwide systemic reform initiative.6 Over four years, the inquiry-based science program gradually became available to all teachers at all elementary schools in the school district. They were provided with professional development, in-classroom professional support from resource teachers, and complete materials and supplies for all the science units. Results indicated that the science and literacy achievement of language-minority students increased in direct relation to the number of years they participated in the program. Another study examined the impact of standards-based teaching practices—including extended inquiry, problem solving, open-ended questioning, and cooperative learning—on the science achievement and attitudes of urban black middle school students.7 The professional development programs consisted of six-week summer institutes and six seminars during the academic year, with support from the National Science Foundation. The results indicate that professional development designed to enhance teachers’ content knowledge and use of standards-based teaching practices not only improved science achievement but also reduced inequities in achievement patterns for urban black students. Researchers disagree on the specific qualities of science instruction that advance learning in diverse student populations. While the relative benefits of one approach over another are not clear, these studies suggest that, given opportunities to learn a range of new strategies for teaching these students, teachers can improve their practice and improve student learning. The kinds of professional development opportunities described above are not the only option for school leaders. In conjunction with such programs, schools can invest in the resources of specialized science educators, such as science specialists, teacher leaders, coaches, mentors, demonstration teachers, and lead teachers. Science specialists work in a wide variety of capacities in schools. They may work entirely with teachers. Or they may assume instructional duties for science for an entire K-5 school, for example, or for a certain grade level. This latter practice is not common in U.S. elementary schools. But some countries, including some that do better than the United States in international comparisons of student performance, typically rely on science specialists as early as the second grade.
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms Using science specialists may be a particularly useful strategy in schools and systems in which current K-5 teachers lack science knowledge and confidence in their ability to teach science. Not much research has been done on the benefits of using subject matter specialists, and the results of these studies are mixed. Evidence suggests that teacher leaders can have an important influence on their peers’ practice, although such arrangements tend to be more common in schools that are acting on a number of fronts simultaneously. Schools with teacher leaders in science also tend to have students who do better in science, at least when such science specialists are embedded within broader reform efforts. As research has made clear, teachers have not had access to the kinds of professional learning opportunities necessary for effective science teaching. Much remains to be learned about the connection between what teachers know and how their knowledge affects student learning. Future research will need to focus on a range of topics, from the effectiveness of professional learning support groups to the value of analyzing student work. In the meantime, educators and administrators will need to implement good reflective practice until research provides a more definitive direction. Next Steps Many schools and school systems are not currently poised to plan and enact a whole-scale systemic shift to support K-8 science in all of the ways described in this book. But this should not deter progress. Individuals and groups can take steps forward on specific aspects of this agenda. We describe some of the specific ways individuals can make incremental changes to build a system that supports K-8 science education locally. Educational Administrators Administrators play a critical role in supporting high-quality science education. This book describes some of the features of good science instruction that administrators can encourage teachers to initiate and that they themselves can look for in classrooms. Administrators can play an important role in encouraging everyone—teachers, students, curriculum and assessment professionals, and teacher educators—to revisit basic assumptions about science and how students learn it. Curriculum and assessment developers and professional development staff, for
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms example, will need to learn about the four strands of proficiency and consider how the instructional system supports them, how students progress across the strands, and what kinds of teacher learning opportunities they should provide for science teachers. Administrators play a critical role in creating the space, time, and incentives for these actors to engage with the ideas in this book and critically examine their current practice. School-level administrators can help create a school community that actively supports science learning. What this means will vary from school to school. For example, in schools in which science instruction is weak, administrators can share this book with teachers and ask them to think about what small steps they can take to improve science teaching (see below for specific ideas). In a school with a few teachers who are “early adopters” of the ideas in this book, administrators can play a critical support role. They can help educate other teachers, students, and parents about the changes that they observe in these teachers’ classrooms. Classrooms may be a bit noisy at times. The student work that hangs on classroom walls—student-generated graphs and diagrams, lists of working hypotheses, histories of the group’s thinking—may seem strange. Administrators can help build understanding of what early adopters are doing and encourage others to join and support them. Professional Development Staff Professional development is needed to help teachers understand science, how children think about and learn science, and how to teach it. If teachers are to create rich and productive science learning experiences for students, they themselves must have experiences working with the four strands of proficiency over time and in ways that relate directly to their own classroom practice. Teachers must be supported to become learners and investigators—of the science they teach, of their students’ thinking, and of the best ways to orchestrate their students’ learning of complex concepts, tools, and practices. Professional development staff will need to study this book and other current literature on science learning to develop sustained, science-specific professional development. To create and support professional development that is rooted in science and student learning, they should interact with teachers, school administrators, and science curriculum specialists. They may need to lobby their colleagues and supervisors for support and for increased access to teachers. They can premise their arguments for support on the evidence outlined in this book and the study from which it is derived, Taking Science to School.
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms Tools and resources are necessary to sustain teacher learning. District- and school-level professional development staff can play an important role in identifying and sharing resources with teachers. In particular, educators will need access to instances of excellent science teaching that they can study in real time, in texts like this one, or through video and interactive technologies. Professional development staff may need to scour local resources and consult professional networks to find materials that exemplify excellent practice in science teaching. Curriculum Developers The curriculum is a critical tool for improving science education. It articulates goals for science education and characterizes the experiences students should have to advance toward those goals. Yet curricula often fail to identify and support the range of practices that underlie effective science learning. While some curriculum specialists will be part of a system that is ready to tackle a systemic revision of its K-8 science curriculum and to build it in ways resonant with core concepts, learning progressions, and science as practice, others may need to find smaller ways to improve their curricula. They can begin to discern the ways in which their curricula map onto the goals outlined in this volume and identify how to make revisions. They can begin to ask themselves: Does our curriculum present science as a process of building theories and models using evidence, checking them for internal consistency and coherence, and testing them empirically? Are discussions of scientific methodology introduced in the context of pursuing specific questions and issues rather than as templates or invariant recipes? Does discussion of scientific method include a focus beyond experiments and incorporate examples from disciplines of science that employ observational and historical methods? Posing these questions will help curriculum professionals identify shortcomings in their local curriculum on which they can focus their energies. Teachers Teachers may want to know what they can do immediately to improve science teaching, as they go into the classroom tomorrow and plan units of study for the coming weeks and months. Although some of the changes described in this book will benefit from (or require) major changes in the education system, individual teachers can begin immediately to practice aspects of the science teaching described here.
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms Organizing a science curriculum around core concepts that are revisited in increasingly complex ways over months and years is a central theme in this book. Even without control over the K-8 curriculum, teachers can work with existing curriculum materials and embrace the principles of learning progressions and core ideas. A teacher may choose to begin with a familiar science unit to clarify the central scientific ideas it frames. Teachers will need to use their judgment and available resources to determine what level of understanding is appropriate to target at a given grade. With central ideas and goals in hand, teachers can use textbooks and other support materials to build investigations over several weeks and to identify how the strands of proficiency can be harnessed and particular skills taught within that unit. Again, there are examples of how effective science teachers have done this in this volume, and we hope that teachers will find ways to build on these examples. Examining and listening closely to students’ ideas are crucial components to science teaching. Even novice teachers can begin immediately to find ways to elicit student thinking and connect it with the science curriculum. Throughout this book there are examples of the types of problems and prompts that expert teachers use to get students to express their thinking in writing and diagrams or through spoken language. Teachers may begin to make progress on this by reviewing those examples, creating analogous questions and prompts for the topics they are teaching, and trying these with their students. In classrooms in which students practice science, teachers and students strive to have ideas flow freely, support students’ “first draft thinking,” and encourage critical analysis of their classmates’ ideas. As this book has indicated, creating such classrooms takes tremendous effort and requires that students and teachers alike build and agree to norms for participation. The examples of Ms. Carter and Ms. Wright in Chapter 5 may be particularly illustrative as they depict how teachers can encourage and monitor productive and safe exchange among students. For some teachers, the prospect of students critiquing one another’s ideas may be daunting, and they may wish to start out by creating small periods of time for these discussions. Alternatively, teachers may wish to hold off on extensive spoken exchanges among students until they understand how to establish and monitor norms for participation. They may ask students to write down their thinking about a topic and list students’ ideas in a public space for them to consider. This will allow students to see the diversity of ideas they have about scientific concepts and may form the basis for asking clarifying questions and generating explanations that capture a broad range of observations. Short of helping students generate competing
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Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms explanations, teachers may select texts that characterize historical developments in science and that depict disagreements and how those are handled in science. These initial efforts will not necessarily help students learn how to operate in a scientific community, but they will help them see that argumentation and competing ideas are essential to science. In addition to school system educators, many groups influence science education in the United States. Parents, scientific societies, museums and science centers, universities, publishers, and community organizations can all play an important role in supporting science learning. Each of these groups can work individually and together to advance science education, and we urge them to think about their work in terms of the research basis for science learning. The science teaching and learning taking place in American classrooms today could and should do much more. Students should be able to build on the knowledge they bring to the classroom, pose good questions, find ways to explore those questions, investigate and evaluate alternative models, and argue their points of view. With an increasingly diverse student population and persistent gaps in science achievement, the goal of scientific proficiency for all students may seem difficult to achieve. It is important to remember that young children come to school with a strong foundation of basic reasoning skills, knowledge of the natural world, and innate curiosity. In order to tap into these skills, teachers need to be sensitive to their students’ shared strengths as well as the ways in which each student is different. Teachers need to be willing and able to acquire or deepen their science content knowledge, and they need to be supported to take calculated risks in embracing instructional approaches that have been shown to benefit all students. This is possible when teachers act on the premise that, regardless of previous experience, existing knowledge, and cultural and linguistic differences, each and every one of their students is capable of learning science. Much work still needs to be done to identify the best ways to bring about the kind of science instruction we describe in this book. But enough is known now to begin to move forward in the right direction. Research has shown us how much students can achieve in effective science learning environments. It has shown us what science education can and should be and where it needs to go. So let’s get going! Ready, set, science!