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 Current curricula tend to cover too many disparate topics in a superficial manner, and many are based on an outdated understanding of how children learn.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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