A discussion of how and what science teachers need to learn over the course of their careers must be anchored in an explicit vision of quality science teaching, which itself needs to be grounded in aspirations for students’ learning. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as the Framework) (National Research Council, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards (hereafter referred to as the NGSS) (Next Generation Science Standards Lead States, 2013) describe aspirations for students’ learning in science that are based on key insights from research:
- that science learning involves the integration of knowing and doing (Knorr-Cetina, 1999; Latour, 1990; Nersessian, 2012; Pickering, 1992);
- that developing conceptual understanding through engaging in the practices of science is more productive for future learning than simply memorizing lists of facts (Bruer, 1993; Clark, 2006; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1993; Driver et al., 1996); and
- that science learning is best supported when learning experiences are designed to build and revise understanding over time (Carey, 1985; Gelman and Lucariello, 2002; Lehrer and Schauble, 2006; Smith et al., 2006).
These are not new ideas. The Framework and NGSS build on previ-
ous documents that lay out expectations for K-12 students in science (e.g., National Science Education Standards [National Research Council, 1996], Benchmarks for Science Literacy [American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993], Science Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress [National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2009], and Science College Board Standards for College Success [College Board, 2009]). Yet despite a long history of efforts to improve K-12 science education, rigorous and science-rich learning experiences are not standard fare in U.S. public schools. Too often, local curricular guidance takes the form of long lists of detailed and disconnected facts that teachers must cover in limited time, often leading to instruction focused on memorization instead of deep understanding. As a result, students are left with fragmented knowledge, little sense of the inherent logic and consistency of science, and virtually no experience engaging in genuine scientific investigations and discovery. The current round of reform, catalyzed in large part by the Framework and NGSS, is intended to address these issues. In this chapter, the committee briefly discusses what students need to learn about science and the implications for science instruction, with an emphasis on the Framework and NGSS.
Science educators have struggled with how to characterize school science, wishing to highlight not only the content of science—facts and concepts, for example—but also the doing of science—the habits of mind, skills, and practices that bring science to life and make it a compelling enterprise. The Framework and NGSS articulate three dimensions of science learning: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. But they also go beyond prior standards by urging the integration of these three dimensions into standards, curricula, instruction, and assessment and emphasizing that no single dimension adequately characterizes what it means to know science; taught alone, each can seem empty or irrelevant.
As noted, educators have long argued for an approach to science education that allows students to engage in investigations and teaches fewer topics in greater depth. But these ideals have not been realized in many U.S. classrooms. Instead, students often engage in lock-step, prescribed experiments, and the number of scientific facts they must memorize has continued to expand. As a result, teachers must teach more in less time, and what students are expected to learn has widened instead of deepening. The Framework and NGSS are designed to combat those trends. A major goal of the Framework and NGSS is to shift the emphasis in science
education from teaching detailed facts to immersing students in doing science and understanding the big-picture ideas.
Research has shown that students best understand scientific ideas when they actively apply their knowledge while engaging in the practices of science—for example, modeling, developing explanations or solutions, and arguing about evidence (Bamberger and Davis, 2013; Berland and Reiser, 2009; McNeill, 2011; McNeill et al., 2006; Smith et al., 2000). Without personally engaging in these activities, students cannot come to understand the nature of scientific discovery; instead, they see science as abstract and far removed from the real world. It is difficult for students to understand scientific investigations without opportunities to design and carry them out firsthand. It is also difficult for students to see the relevance of scientific ideas and concepts unless they learn how to use them in building their own arguments and explanations. Thus, a major goal associated with the current vision for science education involves greater emphasis on immersing students in doing science rather than simply learning about science.
Learning through practice helps students of all ages understand how scientific knowledge develops and gives them an appreciation of the wide range of approaches that are used by scientists to investigate, model, and explain the world. Engaging in the practices of science also pushes students to use their knowledge and reflect on their own understanding of scientific ideas. They thereby gain a more flexible understanding of scientific explanations of natural phenomena and can take a critical perspective on scientific claims (Chinn et al., 2008; Duschl and Duncan, 2009; Herrenkohl and Guerra, 1998; Radinsky et al., 2010; Rosebery et al., 1992; Sandoval and Millwood, 2005). Indeed, research demonstrates that in-depth participation in scientific practices can support the development of students’ science content knowledge (Lehrer and Schauble, 2000, 2003, 2005; National Research Council, 2007). The shift toward a tighter coupling of scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts acknowledges that knowledge is used, reinforced, or reshaped in practice, and that the practices by their nature involve learning from and communicating with others. Moreover, this coupling guards against the tendency to have students either memorize
1The NGSS describe science and engineering practices, emphasizing how the two complement one another. Here, in accordance with the committee’s charge (Box 1-1 in Chapter 1), the focus is on science practices.
Practices for K-12 Science Classrooms Described in the Framework and NGSS
- asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering);
- developing and using models;
- planning and carrying out investigations;
- analyzing and interpreting data;
- using mathematics, information and computer technology, and computational thinking;
- constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering);
- engaging in argument from evidence; and
- obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.
disconnected facts or engage in “the scientific method” as a rote set of scripted steps.
Engagement in the practices of science may look different in 2nd, 8th, and 10th grades, but students at all levels have the capacity to think scientifically and engage in science practices (see Box 2-1). It is especially important to note that, under carefully constructed conditions of support, elementary-age students can reason in ways and participate in activities previously considered beyond their developmental capabilities (Metz, 1995; National Research Council, 2007), an observation with significant implications for science instruction in grades K-5.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
Scientific knowledge is constantly evolving. New fields are created, new models are proposed, and new intricacies of the natural world are revealed. Science textbooks have been enlarged accordingly to reflect this new knowledge, making it challenging for teachers to explore any topic in depth or to decide how to prioritize what should be taught—“coverage” has marginalized exploration and discovery. The Framework and NGSS authors confronted this age-old problem by focusing on disciplinary core ideas in four major areas: physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science (National Research Council, 2012; Next Generation Science Standards
Disciplinary Core Ideas
PS 1: Matter and Its Interactions
PS 2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
PS 3: Energy
PS 4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer
LS 1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
LS 2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
LS 3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
LS 4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
Earth and Space Sciences
ESS 1: Earth’s Place in the Universe
ESS 2: Earth’s Systems
ESS 3: Earth and Human Activity
Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science
ETS 1: Engineering Design
ETS 2: Links among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society
SOURCE: National Research Council (2012).
Lead States, 2013) (see Box 2-2). In the life sciences, for example, the first core idea is “From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes,” which addresses how individual organisms are configured and how these structures function to support life, growth, behavior, and reproduction. This core idea hinges on the unifying principle that cells are the basic unit of life.
This emphasis on a focused set of core ideas is designed to allow sufficient time for teachers and students to use science practices to explore ideas in depth so as to develop understanding. It is assumed that teachers and students will circle back to ideas to address misunderstandings, to slow down when things are particularly challenging, and to constantly make new connections as students’ understanding grows. The goal is to avoid superficial coverage of multiple disconnected topics. The College Board has adopted a similar approach in its recent efforts to restructure Advanced Placement science courses in biology, chemistry, and physics based on recommendations in a National Research Council (2002) report. The Framework and NGSS also articulate how disciplinary core ideas
The Framework and NGSS describe the following crosscutting concepts:
- cause and effect: mechanism and explanation;
- scale, proportion, and quantity;
- systems and system models;
- energy and matter: flows, cycles, and conservation;
- structure and function; and
- stability and change.
should build coherently through multiple grades and connect across the life, physical, earth, and space sciences and engineering.
In science, ideas do not exist in isolation but are part of complex webs of meaning. Thus, learning science also involves linking specific disciplinary core ideas to crosscutting concepts that lead to a coherent, scientific view of the world. For example, the concept of “cause and effect” could be discussed in the context of plant growth in a biology class or in the context of the motion of objects in a physics class. The emphasis on understanding the interconnectedness of scientific ideas is not new, as it is reflected in the unifying concepts and processes of the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and the common themes highlighted in the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). The Framework and NGSS draw on these earlier documents to describe a set of seven crosscutting concepts (see Box 2-3). Here, too, the emphasis in the current vision of science education is on explicitly attending to the integration of these crosscutting concepts with practices and disciplinary core ideas.
Support for Learning over Time
The design of the Framework and NGSS is intended to support coherent sequences for learning over multiple grades. Research on learning clearly shows that to develop a thorough understanding of scientific explanations of the world, students need sustained opportunities to
engage in the practices of science and work with its underlying ideas, and to appreciate the interconnections among those ideas over a period of years rather than weeks or months (National Research Council, 2007). This notion of a systematic sequence for learning over time often is referred to as a learning progression (Corcoran et al., 2009; National Research Council, 2007; Smith et al., 2006). Learning progressions are descriptions of both how students’ understanding of an idea matures over time and the instructional supports and experiences that are needed for them to make this progress. Progressions are empirically grounded, hypothetical trajectories for learning across multiple grades. They are shaped by students’ instructional and curricular experiences and are not developmentally inevitable. Also, because students bring different personal and cultural resources to the process of learning science, there are likely to be variations in the paths of individual students that need to be taken into account in instruction (Duncan and Hmelo-Silver, 2009; National Research Council, 2007).
Importantly, these progressions begin in the earliest grades of school. Therefore, the building of progressively more sophisticated explanations of natural phenomena should be central throughout grades K-5, as opposed to a focus only on description in the early grades, with explanation deferred to the later grades. Similarly, students can engage in scientific and engineering practices beginning in the earliest grades.
The Framework offers a concrete illustration of how students might investigate the same core ideas over multiple years through instruction that integrates the three dimensions of scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. The following are examples from this illustration—focused on developing an understanding of “Structure and Properties of Matter” (a component of the physical sciences core idea “Matter and Its Interactions”)—in the early elementary grades and at the high school level.
Grades K-2 Students investigate a wide variety of substances (e.g., wood, metal, water, clay) in multiple contexts and engage in discussion about the substances’ observable characteristics and uses. These experiences begin to elicit students’ questions about matter, which they answer by planning and conducting their own investigations and by making observations. Throughout such experiences, the teacher has students offer explanations of their observations and data. After students observe and measure a variety of solid and liquid substances, for instance, the teacher uses intentional and appropriate questions and prompts during class discus-
sion to make students’ thinking visible, crafting meaningful opportunities for students to focus on identifying and characterizing the materials from which objects are made and the reasons why particular materials are chosen for particular tasks. The teacher then asks students to use evidence to generate claims about different kinds of matter and their uses, as well as interrogate those claims.
Starting in kindergarten (or before), teachers invite students to manipulate a variety of building toys, such as wooden blocks, interlocking objects, or other construction sets, leading them to recognize that although what one can build depends on the things from which one is building, many different objects can be constructed with multiple copies of a small set of different components. Students’ progress in their building efforts advances from free play to solving design problems, and teachers facilitate this progression by asking appropriate questions about the objects that students build, by having them draw diagrams of what they have built, and by directing their attention to built objects outside the classroom.
Teacher-guided student experiences and investigations also help students gain awareness of another important concept about matter—that some materials (not just water but also chocolate, wax, and ice cream, for example) can be either liquid or solid depending on the temperature and that there is a characteristic temperature for each substance at which this transition occurs. The transition from liquid to gas is not stressed in this grade band, however, because the concept of gases other than air, or even the fact that air is matter, cannot readily be developed on the basis of students’ observations and experiences.
Grades 3-5 Students begin to explore matter with greater emphasis on detailed measurements and exploration of changes to matter such as melting, freezing, or dissolving. Through investigations, they come to understand that weight is an additive property of matter; that is, the weight of a set of objects is the sum of the weights of the component objects. They might investigate whether the amount of material remains the same when water or other fluids are frozen and then melted again by recording the material’s weight at each stage.
Through guided investigations and use of simulations, students develop two important ideas: that gas is a form of matter and that it is modeled as a collection of particles moving around. Students need multiple learning experiences to shift their concept of matter to include the gaseous state. These experiences might begin with investigations of air, which is a familiar yet invisible material. Investigations, such as weighing a deflated balloon and comparing its weight with that of an inflated
balloon, provide contexts for students to explore whether gases take up space and have weight.
Students’ understanding of the categories, properties, and uses of matter are refined and expanded over this grade band. Students investigate the properties of different materials and consider how those properties can be used to categorize materials or identify which materials are best suited for particular purposes (such as building a skyscraper or protecting an object from breaking). Across this grade band, students develop increasingly sophisticated models of matter and become more sophisticated in their ability to relate their models to evidence and inferences drawn from observations of actual phenomena.
Grades 6-8 In this grade band, students carry out investigations and develop explanations and models that help them deepen and apply their understanding of the particle model of matter. In grade 6, representations of the states of matter include the concept that the particles are in motion in each state, but the spacing and degree of motion vary among them. The role of forces between particles is also explored. Over 7th and 8th grades, students refine their understanding by comparing their models of matter with empirical observations of such phenomena as transmission of smells or changes of state.
Students also need opportunities to connect their knowledge to crosscutting concepts such as energy and apply their emerging understanding of matter in the context of life and earth science. Ultimately, using evidence collected and analyzed from their own investigations, evidence from outside sources (e.g., atomic images), and the results of simulations, students confirm a model that matter consists of atoms in motion with forces between them, and that the motion of the atoms is dependent on temperature. Students can use this model to defend such claims as that all substances are made from approximately 100 different types of atoms, that atoms form molecules, and that gases and liquids are made up of molecules that are moving about relative to each other.
Grades 9-12 Teachers introduce students to the structures within atoms and their relationships to the forces between atoms. Students’ understanding of the particle model of matter is developed and refined as teachers engage them in investigations and analyses of data, both their own and those from experiments that cannot be undertaken in the science classroom. Teachers support students as they develop increased sophistication—both in their model-based explanations and in the argumentation by which evidence and explanation are linked—by using mathematical and language skills appropriate to their grade level.
Note that for every grade band, the teacher is essential to instruction, intentionally creating and orchestrating experiences that are carefully structured to engage students actively with practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts and discussing the phenomena at hand and related science ideas. To enact this kind of teaching, teachers need to understand all three dimensions (science practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts), and to have a sense of the goals for students’ learning in a particular grade and across the grade band. Working in this kind of an environment requires considerable intellectual and pedagogical proficiency; turning hands-on work into minds-on work requires that teachers be able to hear what students are trying to understand, point students’ attention to critical moments and issues that arise, interject powerful examples and ideas, and manage the unpredictable nature of experience. Moreover, teachers must be fluent in shifting class discussions from rigid question-answer routines to rich opportunities for students to negotiate meaning through productive disciplinary talk—the antithesis of “teacher telling” (e.g., Engle and Conant, 2002; Engle et al., 2014).
Equity and Diversity
One of the guiding principles of the Framework is promoting equity, which means that all students must have access to high-quality learning opportunities in science (National Research Council, 2012). The U.S. student population is increasingly diverse along a range of characteristics, including socioeconomic status, race, English language fluency, and learning disabilities (Kena et al., 2014):
- In 2012, approximately 21 percent of school-age children were living in poverty, compared with 17 percent two decades earlier (1990).
- In the decade from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of white students enrolled in public schools fell from 60 to 52 percent, while the percentage of Hispanic students increased from 17 to 24 percent; the share of black students declined slightly, from 17 to 16 percent.
- The percentage of English language learners in school year 2011-2012 was higher (9.1 percent) than in 2002-2003 (8.7 percent). Among school-age children nationally, more than one in five speak a foreign language at home; the proportion is 44 percent in California and roughly one in three in Texas, Nevada, and New York (Zielger and Camarota, 2014). Among students who speak another language at home, 44 percent (27.2 million) were born in the United States (Zielger and Camarota, 2014).
In school year 2011-2012, 13 percent of all public school students received special education services, and of these, about 36 percent had specific learning disabilities. The current percentage represents a decline from 14 percent in 2004-2005. Prior to that time, the percentage had increased from about 11 percent in 1990-1991.
While there are differences among specific demographic groups in their science achievement and patterns of science learning, robust evidence indicates that all students are capable of learning science when supportive conditions for learning are in place (National Research Council, 2012). There are many challenges, however, to providing all students with equitable opportunities to learn science. Some of these challenges stem from inequities in resources and expertise across schools, districts, and communities. At the same time, instruction can also be more or less responsive to the needs of diverse students. It is increasingly recognized that diverse customs and experiences can be valuable assets in the science classroom and that instruction needs to build on students’ interests and backgrounds to engage them meaningfully. Teachers also need to be aware that students may have different ways of engaging in classroom discussion or expressing their knowledge. The adaptation of instruction in rigorous and meaningful ways is dependent on contexts that are not treated in detail in the brief scenarios offered here; further discussion of contextual issues is contained in Chapter 5.
As this report addresses the learning needs of teachers, the ambitious, challenging, and dynamic vision of science learning presented above—which integrates ideas with concepts and practices and allows students to see the connectedness of scientific knowledge and its relevance to their own lives—serves as a guide.
A major animating idea of this new vision of science learning is that students’ understanding of any idea or concept is intimately related to their having engaged with phenomena through practices. The vision also emphasizes students’ understanding that scientific knowledge is generated by scientists who engage in experiments, field work, and archival research; that the knowledge derived from this work is the result of hypothesizing, testing, and arguing; and that scientists’ explanations of the natural world are revised as new evidence is generated. It follows, then, that science instruction needs to engage all students with a broad array of natural phenomena, support rigorous intellectual work, and facilitate full immersion in scientific and engineering practices over long periods of time. However, such practices include a broad range of intel-
lectual habits—asking questions, developing and using models, analyzing data, and constructing explanations from data. Thus science practices are not synonymous simply with “hands-on” activity.
The new vision for science learning does not specify the universal use of a particular pedagogy. Rather, multiple instructional approaches are likely to be required. While student learning outcomes (i.e., what students should know and be able to do) are made clear in both the Framework and the NGSS, the requisite teaching practices for helping them achieve those outcomes are not spelled out. The learning goals for students do suggest that particular shifts in instructional practices will be needed (see Table 2-1); given the situated nature of teaching, however, it also is likely that teachers will always need to adapt their instructional approaches to the specific needs of their students. That said, many science educators have explored the nature of good science teaching, a literature that also informed the committee’s deliberations.
In a review of the literature on science learning and teaching, Windschitl and Calabrese Barton (forthcoming) identify three common patterns of what they call “ambitious” science teaching, or teaching that “aims to support all students in engaging deeply with science” (p. 3).
The first pattern involves carefully framing the students’ relationship with the intellectual work at hand, including
- teachers having high expectations of students and supporting these expectations in a range of ways;
- students engaging in scientific practices; and
- teachers giving students increasing responsibility for assessing their own understanding and evaluating progress toward important goals.
Metz (2004, 2011), for example, worked with teachers who had high expectations for the ability of elementary students to design and execute independent forms of scientific investigation. These teachers immersed children in a single domain, such as ornithology or animal behavior, for a year or longer. The children developed domain-specific knowledge that, in turn, supported further learning as they engaged in scientific practices. In the early stages of the children’s participation in the study, teachers carefully scaffolded their investigations; as the children learned to pose and answer scientific questions, they were able to understand and apply tools, representations, and forms of data analysis that were particular to the domain (e.g., animal behavior). Later, teachers gave the children increasing responsibility for the design and evaluation of scientific investigations. An analysis of pre- and post-structured interviews and students’ written work demonstrated that the children’s understanding
TABLE 2-1 Implications of the Framework and NGSS for Instruction
|Science Instruction Will Involve Less||Science Instruction Will Involve More|
|Rote memorization of facts and terminology||Learning facts and terminology as needed while developing explanations and designing solutions supported by evidence-based arguments and reasoning|
|Learning ideas disconnected from questions about phenomena||Using systems thinking and modeling to explain phenomena and to provide a context for the ideas to be learned|
|Teachers providing information to the whole class||Students conducting investigations, solving problems, and engaging in discussions with teachers’ guidance|
|Teachers posing questions with only one right answer||Students discussing open-ended questions that focus on the strength of the evidence used to generate claims|
|Students reading textbooks and answering questions at the end of the chapter||Students reading multiple sources, including science-related magazine and journal articles and web-based resources; students developing summaries of information|
|Having preplanned outcomes for “cookbook” laboratories or hands-on activities||Conducting multiple investigations driven by students’ questions, with a range of possible outcomes that collectively lead to a deep understanding of established core scientific ideas|
|Using worksheets||Students’ producing journals, reports, posters, and media presentations that explain and argue|
|Oversimplifying activities for students who are perceived to have less capability in science and engineering||Providing supports so that all students can engage in sophisticated science and engineering practices|
SOURCE: National Research Council (2015).
of science practices had grown. In one study, all student teams in a 2nd-grade classroom and in a mixed 4th- and 5th-grade classroom were able to formulate both research questions and methods for investigating their questions. Some teams even proposed methods for controlling extraneous variables (Metz, 2000).
The second pattern involves anchoring teaching and learning activities around specific concepts and topics by:
- focusing instructional units on subject matter relevant to students’ lives, interests, or curiosity;
- coupling important science ideas with extended investigations of complex phenomena;
- making the explanation of the “hows” and “whys” of scientific phenomena a priority as a learning goal;
- building coherence across learning activities and among the bigger science ideas featured in the unit of instruction; and
- interweaving the development of science skills with the development of conceptual knowledge.
Lehrer and Schauble (2003, 2005, 2012), for example, explored elementary students’ learning of biological ideas related to growth and change in living systems. Participating teachers built on children’s interests by inviting them to represent living things in a variety of ways—through language, drawings, physical models, maps, and patterns. They engaged the children in scientific practices such as quantifying or visualizing biological phenomena and applying concepts of measurement and ideas about data and uncertainty. Through this interweaving of science concepts and practices, the children gained an understanding of biological growth and change and how to represent these concepts mathematically. Early-elementary students learned to use their own representations of plant growth to ask questions about how much more rapidly one specimen grew than another, turning their attention from comparing final heights to noting successive differences in change itself from the day-to-day measurements. In later grades, students used progressively more symbolic and mathematically powerful representations. The investigators document substantial learning effects, with students in grades 1 through 5 outperforming much older students on nationally benchmarked assessment items (Lehrer and Schauble, 2005).
In another example, Roth and colleagues (2006, 2009) posit that effective teachers identify clear and reasonable goals for student learning and craft coherent sequences of lessons related to these goals; the authors refer to these sequences as “coherent science content storylines.” A science content storyline focuses on integrating and sequencing science ideas and learning activities within a science lesson or unit to help students construct a coherent “story” that makes sense to them.
The third pattern involves teachers carefully mediating students’ learning activity by
- identifying clear learning/participation goals and designing individual activities through which to reach these goals;
- adapting the progression of experiences to learners’ current needs;
- designing instruction that uses the diversity of students’ ideas and everyday experiences as resources to further all students’ understanding;
- using supports and symbols to engage students in scientific reasoning, discourse, and other interactions; and
- using classroom discourse for a variety of purposes—for example, to make students’ thinking visible, reinforce the norms of science talk, prompt sense making and reasoning, “seed” conversations with new ideas, make confusion public, and position young learners as competent knowers of science.
In an early example of this pattern, Brown and Campione (1994) pioneered an approach to coupling investigations with other activities so as to cultivate deep content knowledge of targeted science ideas. In their research project with K-8 students in the 1980s and 1990s, the investigators viewed learning and teaching as a social process facilitated by the use of talk, gesture, drawing, computers, and text. Teachers mediated students’ learning activities, introducing a set of science ideas through a compelling and scientifically rich story or video. They encouraged students to ask questions while also guiding the ensuing discussion to ensure that important science ideas related to the learning goals were presented and were later investigated. A primary support used by teachers to engage students in scientific reasoning and discourse was the “research-share-perform” cycle. Students first read and analyzed texts about scientific studies relevant to the domain under study and then divided into small groups to investigate questions or ideas emerging from these texts, such as food chains or food webs. Over the course of their investigations, they were encouraged to develop specialized expertise and to share that expertise with others, as well as to reflect on their own learning and how to support it. Students in these classroom communities routinely outscored learners in control groups in both literacy and science.
It is important to note that much of the research on which Windschitl and Calabrese Barton (forthcoming) draw involved sustained opportunities for teachers and students to engage with scientific ideas and practices over periods of months and years, rather than days and weeks. While the Framework and the NGSS were designed to compel and support this kind of coherence (beginning in the earliest grades), it is not typical of current science teaching and learning in the United States (see Chapter 3 for detailed discussion of current science instruction). Furthermore, the instructional approaches that have been researched were heavily resourced. Quality instruction is not due simply to a well-prepared
teacher with good intentions; it requires ongoing support from others, a solid understanding of the content, well-tested materials, and time. Cohen and colleagues (2003) and Bryk and colleagues (2010), among others, posit that these resources are embedded in a supportive culture for teaching that enables their strategic use.
If the Framework and NGSS are clear on student learning outcomes and less so on specifics of the instruction needed to realize those outcomes, they are virtually silent on other aspects of the larger ecology in which individual teachers might engage in these science practices with their students. For example, they say little about the nature of the school cultures in which these teachers would need to work, or how expertise in science would be distributed across and among the teachers in a school or district. While these standards have emerged from the larger standards movement, which presumes that systems of levers or supports—assessment, curriculum, teacher training—are necessary for instructional reform, the documents themselves do not describe the range of material, human, and social resources that schools and districts would need to enact this vision, or how school, district, and state policies might be used to create the receptive conditions and environments in which all of this innovation would need to unfold. Yet policies on what is taught, how students are assessed, how teachers are evaluated, how schools are judged, how schools are staffed, how the school day and year are organized, how schools are run, and how leaders are supported can have crucial implications for what and how science is taught in schools. These contexts matter to ambitious teaching, a point to which the discussion returns later in this report.
Any decisions made about science teaching ought to be anchored in a well-explicated, empirically informed vision of science learning for all students. Educators, scientists, and education researchers have been working on such a vision—through instructional guidance materials such as standards and through research on students’ science learning—for decades. The current vision, articulated in such documents as the Framework and the NGSS, both build on and extend past efforts, which have yielded important understanding and learning for all students. This vision—one that acknowledges science as fundamental to human understanding and driven by complex, relevant problems—involves learning about scientific practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas in an integrated manner. This conception of science learning reflects the nature of scientists’ work: geologists, physicists, chemists, and biologists explore and extend scientific understanding by calling on their deep knowledge
of fundamental scientific ideas while posing questions, building models, conducting a range of investigations, testing hypotheses, and interpreting evidence. In the sciences, as in all fields, the doing of science goes hand in hand with mastering and using knowledge.
While some might think such an ambitious view of learning is beyond the reach of all students, careful research has demonstrated that challenging instruction is possible if teachers have a clear vision of their goals, well-designed lessons and materials, and—most important—the professional knowledge and skill required to teach to these high standards. But ambitious instruction is not yet standard fare in American classrooms, and the following chapter describes the current conditions that thwart efforts to guarantee that every child learns science in intellectually substantive and exciting ways.
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