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Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District (1997)

Chapter: 6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science

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Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
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Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
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Page 77
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 78
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 79
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 80
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 81
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 82
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 83
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 84
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 85
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 86
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 87
Suggested Citation:"6. Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 88

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! - Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science If teachers are given ch~ces~re Awed to make decisions- are, in short, treated as both professionals and human beings better teaching and better programs result. When teachers are not "locked" into programs- are not tied into textbook-structured courses of study" their class- rooms are alive and stimulating. - Ronald B. Jackson, Something of Value, 1973 With the curriculum selection process under way, it is time for the district to begin to organize the professional development component of the program. The initial goal of professional development is to introduce teachers to in- quiry-centered science teaching and familiarize them with the spe- cific science modules they will be teaching. This can be accom- plished most effectively by creating a collegial environment in which teachers feel comfortable sharing ideas and working closely with experienced teachers. 76

Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science These don't sound like revolutionary ideas, but in fact they challenge some basic premises on which the American public school system is based. Traditionally, teachers have been assignee! a classroom and have taught their students alone, conferring with few people and making their own decisions about how to imple- ment the curriculum. Many teachers have become accustomed to this autonomy, and some even equate it with professionalism. Car! Glickman calls this situation the "one-room school" s,vn- drome, the tradition of isolationism created back in the days when teachers literally worked alone in their schoolhouses without any contact with other teachers. This tradition has lingered, and it manifests itself in today's schools by the tendency not to "connect staff for purposes of sharing expertise, solving problems, and pur- suing improvement." Given this context, a second, long-term goal of professional development is to foster the development of an en- vironment in which teachers can learn and grow professionally. This chapter discusses strategies that can be used to achieve these two goals. The chapter begins with a discussion of the char- acteristics of effective professional development programs for all teachers, from the novice to those in the "competent" stage to ex- pert teachers. It concludes with a discussion of some strategies for professional development that have been successful in school dis- tricts throughout the country. Characteristics of an Effective Professional Development Program The National Science Education Standards includes as part of its vision for science education reform increased opportunities for teachers to grow professionally throughout their careers. According to the Standards, "Teachers should have opportunities for structured re- flection on their teaching practice with colleagues, for collaborative curriculum planning, and for active participation in professional teaching and scientific networks. The challenge of professional de- velopment for teachers is to create optimal collaborative learning situations in which the best sources of expertise are linkecl with the experiences and current needs of the teachers."2 Research and experience have shown that an effective way to introduce teachers to an inquiry-centere(1 curriculum is to have 77

The Nuts and Bolts of Change them experience each module in much the same way their students will. This approach is based on the assumption that the construc- tivist learning mode! is valid for adults as well as for children. Through the experience of working with the materials, discovering how the investigations build on one another, and encountering their own difficulties with the equipment or the concepts, teachers not only prepare themselves to teach the module but also realize that they can learn along with their students. Teachers who have macle this discovery begin to rethink their role in the classroom and view themselves less as lecturers and more as learning facilitators. The following list highlights strategies that have been effec- tive in helping school districts create innovative professional de- velopment programs. These strategies will also help districts achieve the goals outlined in the Standards. 1. Provide continuous and sustained support for professional development. School district administrators need to send a clear message of support to teachers. The support must go beyond rhetoric and take the form of stressing science as a basic in the school curriculum and of providing teachers with a "safety net" so that they have time to grow professionally. Teachers should have the opportunity to experiment with different teaching strategies and to make mistakes without fear of consequences, with administrators recognizing that this is an essential part of their personal learning process. This learning process is not smooth, and nobody will be- come an expert overnight. Teachers need to have time to reflect on the new ideas that are being introduced and to assimilate them at their own pace. They also need to be aware that because science is considered a basic, they will be evaluated for their science teaching. Other forms of support include providing teachers with the necessary materials on time, offering graduate credit for attending professional development classes, verbally praising teachers' ac- complishments, and publishing their achievements in school pub- lications and the local media. 2. Provide teachers win time to engage in professional de- velopment activities. It is crucial that administrators recognize the key role teachers play in implementing a science program and give them the time they need to become proficient. This means grant- ing teachers time to participate in professional development activ 78

Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science ities during the school day. Unfortunately, given the way time is or- ganizect in the schools, this is no easy task. Program directors and teachers need to be creative in the ways they address this issue. For example, teachers could use the time they have while their students are attending art, music, or physical education classes for their own professional development; arrange to have science when an experienced colleague could visit the class to assist; or invite parent volunteers to help with materi- als management so that the teacher has more time to devote to working with students on substantive issues. Other strategies in- clude communicating electronically with other teachers to discuss science teaching strategies en c] encouraging students to assist with materials management so that the teacher can work with other stu- dents who have questions or need special help. Teachers also have to be aware that involvement in the science program may require them to make additional time commitments. For example, they may need to attend summer institutes or after- schoo] meetings. The incentive to give extra time will be greater if teachers see the administration working hard to make the school clay more flexible to accommodate effective science instruction. 3. Create an environment of collegiality and collaboration. Teachers can benefit tremendously from professional relation- ships that enable them to fee! comfortable sharing ideas, acknowI- edging difficulties, and solving problems they encounter in the classroom. AIthough a certain amount of discussion usually takes place informally among teachers, the best way to foster profes- sional relationships is to institute some formal ways for teachers to interact. In formalizing such discussions, it is crucial that experi- enced teachers assume a leadership role. Discussions can wander unless leaders are present to facilitate them. One obvious way to formalize discussions is to address issues related to inquiry-cen- tered science teaching at faculty meetings. For example, in Huntsville, Alabama, teachers found that their discussions during faculty meetings helped enhance relationships among teachers, making these meetings richer learning experiences. Many (listricts have ensured that there will be opportunities for teachers to share experiences by scheduling at least two meet- ings each semester where they can discuss their progress in imple 79

The Nuts and Bolts of Change Tea chars and a scientist brights collaborate to construct a motor during a workshop on a sixth-grade module. meeting inquiry-centered science modules. Such meetings help new or inexperienced teachers become more comfortable sharing problems and better able to accept guidance from their more ex- perienced colleagues. 4. Incorporate the change process into the professional de- velopment design. In Chapter 4, we explained the stages that stakeholders typically go through as they become familiar with an innovation. Teachers undergo similar stages. For example, their initial reaction may be indifference to the innovation; this is fol- lowed by a concern about how it is going to affect them personal- {y. As their familiarity with the program grows, teachers become more invested in the program and more interested in learning how to use it comfortably. At the final stage, teachers are con- cerned primarily with how the new program is affecting their stu- clents and with developing strategies to make the program even more effective. 80

Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science Those responsible for designing the staff development pro- gram need to be aware of these stages and of the position of their teachers on the continuum of change. For example, if teachers in a particular district are at the "indifferent" stage, the emphasis of the professional development program should be on familiarizing them with the goals of inquiry-centered science. If teachers are con- cerned about who will be responsible for collecting the materials needed for the lessons, program designers need to address this issue and suggest how the materials wit] be provided and managed. In most districts, teachers will be at different places along the continuum. Some teachers may already be comfortable teaching in- quiry-centered science, while others may be afraid even to open the kit. In situations like this, districts may consider "pairing" a more ex- perienced teacher with a less experienced one. This approach has been used in the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System; ex- perience there has shown that pairing increases the confidence and comfort level of the less experienced teacher. Initiating Professional Development at the Right Time in the Right Way Using the strategies mentioned above as a guide, the district must next consider when to begin the professional development pro- gram, who should be involved in the planning, and at what level of professional development to aim the program. The best time to de- velop a professional development program is usually during the six months before inquiry-centered modules are introduced in the dis- trict. As part of the professional development plan, the school dis- trict needs to determine how many schools are going to be phased in over a five-year period, and at what pace. Most districts have found that it is better to start with the teachers in a limited number of elementary schools and then to add more schools in each sul} sequent year. Depending on the size of the district, it takes between three and five years to introduce all the elementary school teachers in the district to all the science modules and for teachers to become reasonably comfortable teaching science through inquiry. In addi- tion, fine-tuning pedagogical techniques, learning more science content, and integrating the science module with other areas of the 81

The Nuts and Bolts of Change curriculum are issues that need to be a continuing part of the teachers' lifelong professional development. The time frame for introducing the professional clevelop- ment program is a complex issue related to the size of the district, the level of resources available, and the current capacity of the clis- trict. All these factors must be taken into consideration so that dis- tricts realize their long-term goal: to establish an effective, thoughtful, and comprehensive professional development pro- gram. Pressure to complete implementation should not interfere with realizing this goal. It's also important to ensure that teachers become involved in the planning of the professional development program and that they become key players in the decision-making process. By mak- ing teachers partners in the planning process, administrators can go a Tong way toward building trust en cl creating a collegial at- mosphere in which all participants acknowlecige that they have much to learn from each other. Levels of Professional Development In (resigning an effective professional development program, it's important to untlerstan(1 the phases that teachers typically under- go in their journey to become highly experienced elementary sci- ence teachers en cl the kinds of professional development pro- grams appropriate for each phase. Research has shown that most teachers go through at least three phases: novice, competent, and expert.3 The three programs described below are tailored for each of these phases. Phase I: The Introductory Program An effective professional development program for novice teach- ers begins with an intensive introduction to inquiry-centered sci- ence, often in the form of a two- or four-week institute held the summer before the new curriculum is scheduled to be introducecl in the classroom. At the institute, teachers become familiar with the science modules they will be teaching during the first six months (usually one or two modules) and discuss basic issues, such as managing the materials anti organizing the lesson so that it can be completed in a timely fashion. In a relaxed setting with their 82

Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science peers, teachers can share common concerns, including the likeli- hood of increased noise in the classroom and how to relinquish a little control and let the children pursue their own interests dur- ing the science lesson. Teachers can help students pursue their own interests by providing them with opportunities to work inde- pendently. For some teachers, encouraging independent work may create a new set of challenges about how to maintain order in the classroom. Teachers new to inquiry-centered science are especially con- cerned about classroom management issues such as these, because one of the greatest challenges of teaching science through inquiry is creating an environment conducive to interactive learning. How, many teachers wonder, does one create a setting where chil- dren fee] challenged, eager to ask questions, and ready to explore their ideas with their classmates? Experienced teachers have found that establishing rules carefully is key; children must understand that they can talk but not shout, that accidents with the materials may happen but they should try to be careful, and that although they will be working independently or in groups, they must be pre- pared to listen to the teacher at appropriate times. It's hard for many teachers to give up their traditional ideas of an orderly classroom. Consequently, even after attending an ini- tial institute, teachers tend to revert to their old teaching strate- gies. They may be reluctant to divide the class into groups that are working inclependently. The first time they teach a module, they will probably rely heavily on the teacher's guide en cl skip many of the optional activities. These behaviors indicate that teachers are still learning how to use the materials and have not yet assimilated them and made them their own. This level of expertise is often re- ferred to as mechanical use. It's essential that teachers new to inquiry have support at their schools throughout the school year. Particularly beneficial at this stage are opportunities for mentoring sessions with more ex- perienced teachers. Phase II: The Competent Stage When teachers begin to fee] comfortable with the materials and are ready to modify the lessons in a science module to reflect their 83

The Nuts and Bolts of Change students' particular needs and interests, they are at the competent stage. It takes most teachers at least five years to reach this level of proficiency. At this stage, the professional development program takes on a different cast. Teachers are now interested in exploring in greater depth such topics as constructivist theory and the learn- ing cycle, cooperative learning techniques, assessment strategies, en cl how to integrate science into other areas of the curriculum. Many teachers are also interested in learning more about the sci- ence content of the moclules they are teaching. At this stage, the school should provide opportunities for small discussion groups for teachers engaged in teaching inquiry-centered science. After being involved in these different professional develop- ment programs, teachers may begin to develop their own ideas for additional activities and extensions and look for other ways to modify the lessons. They may begin experimenting with different kinds of assessments and, if students are interested, with conduct- ing a long-term class research project. Phase III: The Expert Stage The final phase in a teacher's professional development is the ex- pert stage. If we could peek into a highly experienced teacher's sci- ence classroom, we wouIcl notice a few distinguishing features im- mecliately. First, there is the sound of "organized noise" in the classroom. Chilciren may be moving about, discussing ideas with classmates, and taking turns gathering materials at the distribution center. The teacher is moving around, too, listening to students' i(leas, answering questions, and asking questions to help groups take the next step in completing an experiment or organizing re- sults. By now, the teacher is not disturbed by the cup of water that spilled or the soil on the desktops. There is energy and excitement in the room. Such teachers have become what is called "expert." They have reacher! this level through a combination of time, experi- ence, their own enthusiasm, and effective professional develops meet, both in the school and outside. According to the National Science Education Standards, "successful teachers are skilled oh servers of students, as well as knowledgeable about science en cl how it is learned. Teachers match their actions to the particular 84

Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science needs of the students, decicling when and how to guide when to clemand more rigorous grappling by the students, when to provide information, and when to connect students with other sources."4 The goal of professional development is to raise all teachers in a school district to the expert level. Doing so requires time, com- mitment, and energy on the part of both teachers and administra- tors. The next section explores a few strategies for professional de- velopment programs that have helped teachers grow professionally. Strategies for Change The professional development strategies listed below have been used in many school districts throughout the country. These strategies have been tested in a variety of settings en c! have proven to be effective in introducing large numbers of teachers to inquiry- centered science. Lead Teachers Many districts have initiated their professional development pro- grams by beginning with a small group of teachers, called lead teachers or mentor teachers, who have demonstratecl interest and ex- pertise in inquiry-centered science teaching. This group is usually selected by administrators to represent each grade level in the dis- trict. Identifying and training this group of lead teachers is a key step in this professional development strategy. Lead teachers can serve a variety of roles. In some districts, such as Montgomery County, Marylancl, and the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System in Louisiana, a cadre of lead teachers is responsible for conducting professional development activities for other teachers in the district. Those teachers also assist with materials support issues and are available to respond to questions that other teachers have about the program. Some hold work- shops at faculty meetings. Others provide leadership at dis- trictwide institutes. Lead teachers may often be called upon to field-test new modules, serve on curriculum selection committees, work with administrators to expand or modify selected modules, or develop new approaches to student assessment. Although the lead-teacher strategy has been successful in many districts, some teachers and administrators have encoun 85

The Nuts and Bolts of Change tered obstacles in their efforts to implement it. For example, in Huntsville, Alabama, teachers likecl being introduced to the moc3- ules by fellow teachers, but they did not want to view a fellow teacher as a supervisor. In addition, some administrators have been unable to provide lead teachers with the time to actually "lead." These teachers fincI themselves so busy with their own classroom responsibilities that they don't have time to work with other teachers. Without time to mentor other teachers, lead teach- ers can serve only a limited function. Schools nationwide are encountering the problem of teach- ers not having time for professional development. Time will con- tinue to be an issue in a climate of budget cutting, especially in communities where parents exert pressure on the system to limit the number of professional days for teachers. Administrators and lead teachers committed to this approach must be aware that they will be grappling with such issues as they strive to implement the science program. Partnerships Between SchooZ Districts and Research Scientists In the 1960s, scientists' involvement in professional clevelopment consisted largely of having scientists go into the classroom and take over the science class for a specified number of lessons. To no one's surprise, teachers felt intimidated by the scientists, and the scientists often didn't know how to present their subject so that it made sense to their young audiences. To overcome these concerns while still taking advantage of scientists' expertise, many districts have developecl innovative forms of teacher-scientist collaborations. For example, the Pasade- na Unified School District Science Program (formerly known as Project SEED), a teacher-scientist partnership between the Pasade- na Unifiecl School District and the California Institute of Technol- ogy (CalTech), has perfected a strategy in which lead teachers work collaboratively with scientists to introduce teachers to science curriculum modules. Scientists also conduct sessions with lead teachers at institutes, where the scientists serve as content special- ists or in an advisory role, suggesting ways to bring inquiry to the classroom. CalTech scientists also attend follow-up meetings with teachers, where they are available to answer questions teachers 86

Professional Development for Inquiry-Centered Science have after working with the modules. This collaborative approach has also been adopted by City Science, a partnership between the San Francisco Unified School District and the University of Cali- fornia at San Francisco. Some districts, such as Montgomery County, Marylancl, have provided the scientists with some training before they begin their work with elementary school teachers. In a preliminary meeting, scientists learn about the concerns of teachers and some peda- gogical strategies. This training gives scientists important back- ground knowledge about teachers, so it becomes easier for the sci- entists to provide appropriate support and knowledge. Scientists at other institutions, such as science museums, can work with teachers in a similar way. For example, the Buffalo Mu- seum of Science in New York has a partnership with the Buffalo School District, where scientists are involved in professional devel- opment activities and in establishing a centralized science materi- als support center. The Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, played a key role in introducing Philadelphia's public schools to inquiry- centered science. Partnerships with Business and Industry Successful partnerships can develop between school districts and local industrial corporations. These corporations frequently have expertise that can be shared with teachers. Some corporate spon- sors, such as Hewlett-PackarcI, have created on-line computer net- works to answer teachers' questions about the particular topics their classes are investigating. Chapter 9 explores school partner- ships with business and industry in more detail. Some school districts incorporate combinations of these models into their professional development programs. For exam- ple, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Spokane, Washington, use the lead-teacher approach but also make use of university sci- entists for some portions of the professional development pro- gram. Alternatively, a corporate partnership may assist lead teach- ers by providing them with expertise in a particular subject area. In these ways, school districts can modify these strategies to fit their needs. 87

The Nuts and Bolts of Change Am_ . ~,~.~ ~ ~ ~P- ~ Professional development is key to the success of the inquiry-centered science program. Creating an environment of collegiali~cy and collabo- ration, providing teachers with the time to learn, and designing the pro- gram appropriately are among the strategies school districts have used to ensure that the professional development program is effective. Progressive levels of professional development can be designed for teachers new to inquiry, for those at the intermediate stage, and for those who have reached the expert level. Several strategies, including the lead-teacher strategy, partnerships between school districts and research scientists, and partnerships with business and industry, have been used successfully in school districts nationwide. For Further Reading Calwelti, G., ed. 1993. Challenges and Achievements of American Education: 1993 Year- book of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Jackson, R. B. 1973. Something of Value: A Summary of Findings and Recommendations for Improving Elementary Science in Massachusetts. Cambridge, Mass.: Com- monwealth of Massachusetts. Joyce, B., ed. 1990. Changing School Culture Through StaffDevelopment: 1990 Yearbook of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washing- ton, D.C.: National Academy Press. National Research Council. 1996. The Role of Scientists in the ProfessionalDevelopment of Teachers. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Raizen, S. A., and A. M. Michelsohn, eds. 1994. The Future of Science in Elementary Schools: Educating Prospective Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sigma Xi. 1994. Scientists,Educators, and NationalStandards: Action at the LocalLevel. Research Triangle Park, N.C.: Sigma Xi. Whitla, D. K, and D. C. Pinck. 1973. Essentially Elementary Science: A Report on the Status of Elementary Science in Massachusetts Schools. Cambridge, Mass.: Office of Instructional Research and Evaluation, in the Harvard Faculcy of Arts and Sciences, and Harvard Graduate School of Education. W. K Kellogg Foundation. 1993. How to Unravel Science Mysteries for Young Minds Without Unraveling: A Summary of Lessons Learned. Battle Creek, Mich.: W. K Kellogg Foundation. 88

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Remember the first time you planted a seed and watched it sprout? Or explored how a magnet attracted a nail? If these questions bring back memories of joy and wonder, then you understand the idea behind inquiry-based science--an approach to science education that challenges children to ask questions, solve problems, and develop scientific skills as well as gain knowledge. Inquiry-based science is based on research and experience, both of which confirm that children learn science best when they engage in hands-on science activities rather than read from a textbook.

The recent National Science Education Standards prepared by the National Research Council call for a revolution in science education. They stress that the science taught must be based on active inquiry and that science should become a core activity in every grade, starting in kindergarten. This easy-to-read and practical book shows how to bring about the changes recommended in the standards. It provides guidelines for planning and implementing an inquiry-based science program in any school district.

The book is divided into three parts. "Building a Foundation for Change," presents a rationale for inquiry-based science and describes how teaching through inquiry supports the way children naturally learn. It concludes with basic guidelines for planning a program.

School administrators, teachers, and parents will be especially interested in the second part, "The Nuts and Bolts of Change." This section describes the five building blocks of an elementary science program:

  • Community and administrative support.
  • A developmentally appropriate curriculum.
  • Opportunities for professional development.
  • Materials support.
  • Appropriate assessment tools.

Together, these five elements provide a working model of how to implement hands-on science.

The third part, "Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice," presents profiles of the successful inquiry-based science programs in districts nationwide. These profiles show how the principles of hands-on science can be adapted to different school settings.

If you want to improve the way science is taught in the elementary schools in your community, Science for All Children is an indispensable resource.

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