The growing importance of science in the modern world has focused increased attention on K-12 science education. The development in the 1990s of national standards and benchmarks catalyzed a nationwide conversation about what students need to learn in science and how the education system can support student learning. Standards and benchmarks at the national level provided the basis for state standards and curriculum frameworks that have had a significant impact on what students learn in science classes.

Four Reasons to Teach Science Well

  1. Science is an enterprise that can be harnessed to improve quality of life on a global scale.

  2. Science may provide a foundation for the development of language, logic, and problem-solving skills in the classroom.

  3. A democracy demands that its citizens make personal, community-based, and national decisions that involve scientific information.

  4. For some students, science will become a lifelong vocation or avocation.

These changes have taken us only partway to where we need to go. Research on learning and teaching has now progressed significantly beyond where it was when the standards were being written. Enough is now known for educators, administrators, and policy makers to rethink key aspects of science education. We’ve also come to understand the ways in which standards are used that have implications for how they are designed. As originally developed, the national standards provide very broad guidelines for the content that should be covered in science classes and for instructional practice. But they don’t provide much guidance on which topics are most important. They offer a few instructional exemplars, but they fall short of providing a model of successful instruction.

New research points toward a kind of science education that differs substantially from what occurs in most science classrooms today. This new vision of science education embraces different ways of thinking about science, different ways of thinking about students, and different ways of thinking about science education.

What Scientists Really Do

Over the past few decades, historians, philosophers of science, and sociologists have taken a much closer look at what scientists actually do—with often surprising results. In the conventional view, the lone scientist, usually male and usually white, struggles heroically with nature in order to understand the natural world. Sometimes scientists are seen as applying a “scientific method” to get their results. They are perceived as removed from the real world, operating in an airy realm of abstraction.

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