The impacts of science and engineering are evident in how scientific and technological advances have proliferated and now permeate most aspects of life in the 21st century. It is increasingly important that all members of a democracy are able to rely on the skills developed and honed through engaging in scientific and engineering endeavors to make evidence-based decisions affecting a civic way of life. Additionally, learning how to construct explanations for the causes of phenomena1 or designing evidence-based solutions to challenges can serve students well as a way of thinking about future personal and societal issues and needs. These students can then contribute to decisions, such as those about health care or about the use of engineering solutions to improve energy efficiency in the home and community.
Because of the focus on reading and mathematics at the elementary level and uneven access to outside-of-school science and engineering experiences, the majority of Americans learn most of what they know about science and engineering as middle and high school students (Pianta et al., 2007). A Framework for K–12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as the Framework; National Research Council, 2012) calls for educators to consider the progression of student learning of science and engineering from kindergarten through grade 12. The committee recognizes the key role that Framework-aligned instructional approaches should play in engaging and preparing elementary students, who have been shown to be capable
1 Throughout this report, the term “phenomena” is used to refer to natural science events and processes as well as human-engineered solutions.
of learning and understanding surprisingly complex science and engineering ideas. As the focus of this committee is on the middle and high school years, we hope that others will take on future work that focuses on learning by younger students. In considering our charge, the committee recognizes the importance of attention to the middle and high school years as they are a key time to foster students’ agency in their own learning in association with their developing identities, connections to the larger world, and thoughts for their futures (Meeus, 2011). Middle and high school students can become engaged with and identify with science and engineering in a practical and meaningful way through substantive experiences with doing science and engineering (Hirsch et al., 2007). These grades are generally the first time students have teachers and courses where the central focus is on science and engineering subjects. Learning how to strengthen their abilities to ask productive questions, analyze data, and design solutions helps students to make sense of the world around them and provides useful skills for gathering, evaluating, and engaging with evidence when they make decisions as adults. Students’ school-based experiences during these important formative years can shape their future interactions with science and engineering, including the ways they interact with data and evidence in their daily lives, whether they choose to pursue additional educational opportunities in science, and the types of careers that they may choose to pursue (Maltese and Tai, 2010; Tai et al., 2006). In addition, learning science and engineering can contribute to their understanding of the world and enjoyment of life.
Many decades of education research provide strong evidence for effective practices in teaching and learning of science and engineering that can be used in teaching science and engineering (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Duschl and Osborne, 2002; Elby, 2000; Gay, 2010; Krajcik, 2015; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Michaels and O’Connor, 2012; Miller and Krajcik, 2015; Reiser, 2004; Rosebery, Warren, and Conant, 1992; Watkins et al., 2018; Wild and Pfannkuch, 1999; Windschitl et al., 2012). Adoption of evidence-based practices in middle and high schools can help address present-day and future national challenges, including broadening access to science and engineering for communities who have traditionally been excluded or neglected, as well as fostering the development of students’ ability to think critically, question deeply, engage with others to refine ideas together, and draw from evidence in all aspects of their educational and life experiences. As will be discussed in Chapter 5, educators have the opportunity to use instructional approaches that make learning more relevant, meaningful, and enduring for all students. Student-centered, inclusive approaches to science and engineering provide students with interesting and engaging opportunities. This report offers guidance on designing appropriate classroom experiences and how to prepare and support teachers in their implementation.
Recent years have seen advances in the understanding of how students learn that have contributed to changes in how science is taught. Learning research provides more information on what motivates students and how to foster deep engagement in learning science and engineering (Krapp and Prenzel, 2011). This report presents ways that science investigation and engineering design can provide students with learning opportunities where they use their knowledge and skills to engage in ongoing systems of exploration, production of artifacts, discussion, and reflection to facilitate deep conceptual understanding of the natural and constructed world. Science investigation and engineering design can allow students to participate in science as a social enterprise and help them to connect science and engineering concepts and principles to their own experiences and ideas. It should be noted that the term investigation is used in this report in a broader sense than the practice of “planning and carrying out investigations” described in the Framework (National Research Council, 2012). In this broad interpretation of investigation, students work together to ask questions and draw on evidence as they make sense of science and engineering and develop deeper understanding of the nature of their own learning and interests. Specific aspects of science investigation and engineering design are discussed in the later chapters of this report, for example, in Tables 4-2 and 5-1.
Many recent efforts to improve science education in schools are based on the ideas described in the Framework (National Research Council, 2012), which describes a way of teaching and learning science and engineering grounded in evidence from the education research literature. In this approach, students participate in science and engineering learning by making sense of phenomena through exploration, reflection, and discussion, in a process that involves the interactions of three dimensions2 that are defined as
- science and engineering practices,
- disciplinary core ideas, and
- crosscutting concepts.
The 2006 precursor to the current study, America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science (National Research Council, 2006),
2 The three dimensions of the Framework describe knowledge and practices scientists use to learn about the natural world and engineers use to build models and solutions (practices), ideas that apply across the disciplines of science such as patterns, structure/function, change, energy (crosscutting concepts) and important organizing concepts or key tools relevant to physical science, life science, earth and space science, or engineering, technology and applications of science (disciplinary core ideas).
is based on much of the same literature as the Framework, but does not use the same language about the three dimensions because it predates the Framework by about 6 years. America’s Lab Report helped science educators shape their instruction by linking evidence-based teaching approaches to desired student outcomes. Over the past decade, there has been a shift in the way the education community thinks about the role of the teacher and about the nature of student work. In addition, the Framework brought engineering into the conversation as a fundamental discipline complementary to science that should be included in K–12 education. The centerpiece of the vision of the Framework is engaging students in making sense of phenomena and designing solutions to meet human needs, and that is the focus of this current report.
The current report revisits the issues discussed in America’s Lab Report. It builds on the approach of the Framework, includes recent changes in thinking about science education, and provides guidance for classroom-based investigations and design projects and the role they should play in helping middle and high school students learn science and engineering. It expands the scope of America’s Lab Report to include middle schools and engineering design as well as high school science.
As discussed further in Chapter 2, some previous attempts to reform science education focused on the students who were expected to become the future scientific and technical workforce and intentionally or unintentionally excluded others. Beginning in the late 1980s, reports began to include language about educating all students, but they fell short of providing strategies for inclusiveness or failed to recognize that not all students start from an equal footing. Many reform efforts did not consider the significant ways in which expectations and institutional structures would need to change in order to provide opportunity to all students, nor did they consider how the complex context outside of the classroom could limit efforts to make quality educational experiences and preparation for technical careers accessible to all. The way that society thinks about equity, especially in regard to race, gender, ethnicity, and disabilities, is undergoing a shift. These changes go beyond noting the increasing diversity of the country and especially the school-age population and extend to the recognition that concerted action is needed to include all students because of the growing recognition that the historical and current inequities of broader society are still reflected in schools and other institutional structures.
Our work attempts to explicitly recognize the extensive inequities in science education that currently exist and acknowledges that previous attempts to improve science education may have called for science for
all students, but ultimately failed to meet all students, teachers, schools, and districts where they were. Many previous reform efforts incorrectly assumed that all students and all schools begin at an even starting point for change, but this is generally not the case for students from groups historically underrepresented in science and for students from families of low social and economic status. Students from these groups have not been in a position to fully benefit from reform efforts. Therefore, providing equal resources to students and to schools that started out at a disadvantage could not result in equitable outcomes. Equitable outcomes require attention to how people think about student access, inclusion, engagement, motivation, interest, and identity, and about the actions and investments required to achieve such outcomes.
This report includes information on using inclusive pedagogies to improve education so all students in all schools can fully participate in learning science and engineering through engaging in high-quality experiences with science investigation and engineering design to make sense of the natural and designed world. Inclusion is often discussed in relation to including special education students in general education classes, but our use of the term is much broader. This report uses the term “inclusive pedagogies” when discussing instructional strategies that are designed to make education more inclusive of students from many types of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Engagement in science investigation and engineering design can help to prepare students to better participate as informed members of society in daily decisions (such as those related to their own health care, the environment, and use of technology), to contribute to civic life of their community and government, and to prepare the next generation of science and engineering professionals. To ensure that these opportunities and pathways are open to all interested students, the committee addresses issues related to providing science investigation and engineering design to all students at all grade levels, including both boys and girls and those from all ethnic and racial groups, those who are English language learners, and those with disabilities. Mechanisms for ensuring these opportunities are available to all extends beyond the scope of this report and includes topics such as the decisions about which students attend which schools, the science learning experiences available to students before they enter middle school, and opportunities for outside-of-school experiences in science and engineering (National Research Council, 2009).
Throughout this report, the committee addresses the rationale for engaging students in three-dimensional science and engineering performances in order to achieve three-dimensional science and engineering learning;
during these performances, students make sense of phenomena through exploration, reflection, and discussion that simultaneously involves science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.3 This approach draws on decades of research about how students learn (National Research Council, 2000, 2012). Involving and encouraging students to engage in productive struggle helps them make sense of the natural and engineered world—to know that not all questions lead to one clean or “right” answer, that development of multiple models can be useful for understanding a single phenomenon, and that most engineering challenges are amenable to multiple design solutions. Engaging in science investigation and engineering design can challenge students, and in doing so, result in an enduring understanding of science and engineering and of the natural and designed world. Teachers, administrators, professional development providers, and curriculum developers can benefit from guidance on how to implement and support these approaches to learning science and engineering. Meaningful and ongoing teacher professional learning focused on experiences specific to three-dimensional learning via science investigation and engineering design, along with support from administrators, professional development providers, and policy makers, can provide the resources and conditions necessary for change.
Consistent with the evidence-based vision for science education set forth in the Framework, our committee envisions students asking questions as they work to make sense of phenomena and human problems. Students ask questions as part of sustained and relevant investigation to acquire the ability to make sense of the natural and designed world beyond the classroom. They can apply this experience to the challenges they encounter and issues they value in their daily lives to participate in discussion and action related to the societal complexities important to a democracy.
Engaging all students in learning science and engineering through investigation and design benefits from a system that supports instructional approaches that (1) choose phenomena that are interesting to students, for example those that can be examined in contexts relevant to students; (2) provide a platform for developing understanding of three-dimensional science and engineering knowledge; and (3) provide an opportunity for using evidence to make sense of the natural and engineered world beyond the classroom. These approaches can build on students’ natural curiosity
3 Three-dimensional science learning is used here in the same way as the National Research Council report Developing Assessment for the Next Generation Science Standards to refer to the integration of these dimensions; that report explained, “It describes not the process of learning, but the kind of thinking and understanding that science education should foster” (National Research Council, 2014, p. 2). Although we do not explicitly state that investigation and design is three-dimensional each time we use the terms, this report considers the inclusion of three-dimensional learning to be an essential aspect of their definitions.
and wonder and support students in developing a useful understanding of the nature of science. Implementation of investigation and design in the classroom using the identified instructional approaches will require significant and sustained work by teachers, teacher preparation programs, and administrators who can facilitate professional learning experiences. Professional learning that is designed to be coherent, sustained, and consistent with science professional learning standards can equip teachers to effectively engage students in science and engineering performances consistent with how students learn. In this report, we provide guidance for the many interconnected stakeholders in efforts to improve middle and high school science and engineering.
The Amgen Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York requested that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convene a committee to revisit the 2006 report of the National Research Council, America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. The committee was asked to consider the influence of the 2012 publication of the Framework, the 2013 introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States4 (NGSS Lead States, 2013), and the expanded evidence base in this field over the last decade. Additionally, this committee was asked to consider the middle school context, as opposed to just high school, and to explore the ways that both engineering and science are taught to students at these grade levels. The National Academies convened the Committee on Science Investigations and Engineering Design Experiences in Grades 6–12, under the guidance of the Board on Science Education, to address the following charge (see Box 1-1).
The landscape of science education has changed since publishing the original report in 2006. The approaches to teaching and learning science described in the Framework have shifted the conversation toward a larger vision of what and how students should learn in order to engage in science. However, in many ways the perspectives of the committee who authored the 2006 report remain true today. The 2006 America’s Lab Report study noted a growing shift away from viewing laboratory experiences as separate from the flow of classroom science instruction in which students engage in exercises that demonstrate already-proven facts. They concluded that more
4 The Next Generation Science Standards were developed through a state-led process where state policy leaders, higher-education leaders, K–12 teachers, the science and business community and others worked together to agree on science standards that describe a coherent progression of performance expectations for students to learn. They used the vision and the three dimensions of the Framework to inform their work.
integrated laboratories were needed and described necessary steps to initiate that change away from traditional standalone laboratory exercises. In the first chapter of America’s Lab Report, that committee explicitly addressed the many possible meanings of the phrase “science laboratories,” which appeared in their charge. To clarify the scope of their work, they used the term “laboratory experiences,” which they defined as follows:
Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models and theories of science (National Research Council, 2006, p. 31).
They then provided five student activities that would qualify as laboratory experiences: (1) physical manipulation of real-world materials or systems, (2) interaction with simulations and models, (3) interaction with data drawn from the real world, (4) access to large databases, and (5) remote access to scientific instruments. All of these activities can be included in science investigation or engineering design if they are components of examining phenomena or designing solutions in order to learn science and engineering.
The current committee is charged with providing an update to that 2006 report, and thus, we return to this definition in order to frame the scope of our work. Our charge addresses not laboratories, but science investigation and engineering design—this change in language represents the significant shift toward thinking about science education as described in the Framework. Work in laboratories is still relevant but it is a component of the larger investigation or design and not a standalone activity. The
Framework (p. 45) stated that when investigating, “. . . scientists determine what needs to be measured; observe phenomena; plan experiments, programs of observation, and methods of data collection; build instruments; engage in disciplined fieldwork; and identify sources of uncertainty.” In bringing the concept of investigations into the classroom, the report further stated (p. 25) that students must “be actively involved in the kinds of learning opportunities that classroom research suggests are important for (1) their understanding of science concepts, (2) their identities as learners of science, and (3) their appreciation of science practices and crosscutting concepts.” Investigation is purposeful: it is driven by questions about phenomena and engineering challenges. Through engagement in three-dimensional learning via science investigation and engineering design, students make sense of the world around them and also learn about themselves as learners. Because of the inclusion of engineering in the Framework, this committee’s charge includes engineering design as well as more traditional science topics and disciplines. Learning about and experiencing the way that engineers study the world and work to design, develop, and test solutions to meet human needs is another tool for engaging middle and high school students in science and engineering and helping them to see relevance to their lives.
To address our charge, the committee evaluated the existing evidence on middle and high school science and engineering. We approached the task iteratively, gathering information in multiple ways and cycles to inform discussion and deliberation. In building upon the work of the 2006 report, the committee held three public fact-finding meetings, including a public workshop, and commissioned a literature review and six papers5 prepared by experts in the field, as described below. In preparing this report, we carefully considered all these sources of information in light of our own extensive experience and expertise in education. (See Appendix E for committee members and staff biographical sketches.)
Early in the deliberations, the committee decided that an initial mapping of the secondary science education landscape over the last decade would be helpful in laying the groundwork for the study. Therefore, we consulted Policy Study Associates, Inc. to prepare and present a review of the literature, highlighting research areas relevant to the committee’s charge in science and engineering. From the literature reviewed, Policy Study Associates, Inc. identified the following notable strands where they were able to find a body of literature to share with the committee: the potential
5 The commissioned papers are available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/dbasse/bose/science-investigations-and-design/index.htm [December 2018].
of inquiry-based, laboratory instruction to increase students’ knowledge, interest, and motivation for science; strategies to implement laboratory science; engagement of students from underserved and underrepresented communities; and teacher education and professional development. Additionally, at its first fact-finding meeting, the following individuals informed the committee about the core needs of practitioners and the current state of the field: Tiffany Neill, Council of State Science Supervisors and Oklahoma State Department of Education; Al Byers, National Science Teachers Association; and Donna Williams-Barrett, Georgia Science Teachers Association and Fulton County Schools.
Prior to the second meeting, the committee wrestled with the ways in which issues related to equity would be represented in the report. The committee took several steps to expand information within this domain and invited three researchers to present evidence for how to attend to equity in middle and high school science and engineering. Christopher Wright (Drexel University) presented work on the link between engineering and identity in students of color, Rowhea Elmesky (Washington University in St. Louis) discussed the role of science education within culturally marginalized and economically disadvantaged student populations, and Kimberly Scott (Arizona State University) discussed the representation of girls in STEM. Additionally, at the second meeting, Richard Duschl (Pennsylvania State University) shared his expertise on investigations and the nature of science with the committee. Insights from these presentations were used to inform the commissioning of three papers on the following topics: interest and motivation in the learning of science and engineering (Joseph Michaelis, University of Wisconsin–Madison), inclusive pedagogy and investigations (Felicia Mensah and Kristen Larson, Teachers College, Columbia University), and engineering approaches to problem solving and design (Senay Purzer, Purdue University).
Between the second and third meetings, the committee identified other areas in which members could benefit from additional information on science and engineering education in U.S. middle and high schools. This resulted in the commissioning of three final papers on (1) the nature of the teacher’s role (Matthew Kloser, University of Notre Dame), (2) the shifts in the design of curricula in the era of the Framework (Bill Penuel, University of Colorado Boulder, and Brian Reiser, Northwestern University), and (3) the potential affordances through the use of data and technology in investigations (Michelle Wilkerson, University of California, Berkeley, and Victor Lee, Utah State University). At its third and final fact-finding meeting, the committee held a public workshop (see Appendix D for the agenda) where invited presenters and audience participants shared their expert knowledge on a variety of factors influencing science investigation and engineering design in middle and high school. The public workshop
was a pivotal component of the information-gathering process. Taken together, all of these efforts enabled the committee to address the charge with fidelity.
At its fourth meeting, the committee carefully vetted and discussed overall findings and conclusions. Consequently, the content of the report and its conclusions and recommendations are the result of an extensive process designed to provide guidance to the field.
In carrying out our charge, the committee examined and synthesized research on the teaching and learning of science and engineering, with a focus on student engagement in doing science and engineering. The committee also consulted the literature and theoretical work on how people learn and adolescent development. In some areas studies were scarce, and the committee therefore examined related research that was not specific to science and engineering or included students younger or older than grades 6–12. We also drew on the broader literature on professional learning, curriculum, assessment, leadership, community connections, education policy, and school reform and improvement efforts.
The bodies of research we reviewed comprise many types of studies, from qualitative case studies, ethnographic and field studies, and interview studies to large-scale surveys and randomized controlled trials. When weighing the evidence from this research, we adopted the stance of an earlier committee that “a wide variety of legitimate scientific designs are available for education research” (National Research Council, 2002, p. 6). According to Scientific Research in Education, to be scientific,
. . . the design must allow direct, empirical investigation of an important question, [use methods that permit direct investigation of the question], account for the context in which the study is carried out, align with a conceptual framework, reflect careful and thorough reasoning, and disclose results to encourage debate in the scientific community.
Recognizing the value of many types of research, we used different types of evidence to achieve different aims related to our charge. We did not automatically exclude studies with certain designs from consideration; rather, we examined the appropriateness of the design to the questions posed, whether the research methods were sufficiently explicated, and whether conclusions were warranted based on the design and available evidence. To provide descriptive summaries and conclusions about the students and teachers involved in science and engineering education in grades 6–12, we relied on all types of research and on state- and national-level survey and administrative data. Descriptive evidence often is essential for understanding current conditions, in preparation for contemplating change. Identifying what changes are needed, however, requires research that goes
beyond description to indicate what new outcomes would be expected to emerge as a result of the changes being considered.
Regardless of the methods used, we considered the quality of the study design and the fidelity with which that design was carried out. To gain additional information, the committee also sought out richly descriptive work. Although case studies and other interpretive work did not lead us to draw causal conclusions, they did help us understand the roles of students, teachers, assessment, curricula, and technology.
This report provides guidance for middle and high school teachers, administrators, curriculum designers, professional development providers, and others. It provides ideas and resources they can use to help middle and high school students build on their inherent curiosity about the natural world so that they can learn via engaging in science and engineering to investigate phenomena and design solutions to human challenges. The report focuses on ways to make this education accessible to all students, especially those who are members of groups that have been previously excluded. It explains why doing science and engineering is beneficial for students and details productive attributes of inclusive learning environments, curricula, and instructional approaches that use relevance to foster student engagement in science investigation and engineering design. It builds upon A Framework for K–12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) and its three dimensions: science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. Immersing students in the doing of science and engineering affords invaluable opportunities for students to deepen their knowledge of science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas in ways that go far beyond the memorization of facts or vocabulary, or the repetition of prescribed laboratory exercises. Students learn to use the three dimensions together to make sense of the complex world around them in a way that is inclusive and relevant to their daily lives. This learning can help them grow into adults who are able to make confident decisions based on a deep understanding of the evolving world around them.
This report explores many issues related to science investigation and engineering design to provide a resource for teachers, professional development providers, teacher education programs, administrators, policy makers, and others so that they can use this information to improve experiences for all students as they investigate science and engineering in the classroom, in the laboratory, in the field, online, and beyond students’ time in school.
Chapter 2 describes the current context of science and engineering education in middle and high schools, including the lack of equal and equitable
access and opportunity for all students to engage in science investigation and engineering design. In Chapter 3, we address how students learn and what motivates them. Chapter 4 describes the nature of putting science investigation and engineering design at the center of middle and high school classes. Chapter 5 focuses on instruction and how the role of the teacher has shifted, whereas Chapter 6 delves into instructional resources. Chapter 7 discusses professional learning for teachers engaged in this new way of supporting student learning, and in Chapter 8, we look at issues related to space, time, resources, and safety. Chapter 9 discusses the educational systems that impact science education reform. The report ends with conclusions and recommendations for practice and questions for researchers to develop better information to guide future decisions.
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