National Academies Press: OpenBook

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

Chapter: 3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary Science

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Suggested Citation:"3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary 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 32
Suggested Citation:"3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary 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 33
Suggested Citation:"3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary 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 34
Suggested Citation:"3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary 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 35
Suggested Citation:"3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary 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 36
Suggested Citation:"3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary 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 37
Suggested Citation:"3. Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary 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 38

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Sharing the Vision o' Exemplary Elementary Science The more we help children to have their wonderful ideas and to feel good about themselves for having them, the more likely it is that they wid some day hap- pen upon wonderful ideas that no else has happened upon before. i! Eleanor Duckworth, "The Having of Wonderful Ideas" and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning, 1987 imagine a science classroom that ~s very different from the one that most adults experienced as chil- dren. The teacher is using the learning cycle to organize the sci- ence lesson. As a result, students are up and about, consulting with their classmates about their thoughts and icleas. In addition to reading books, students are mixing different kinds of soils to dis- cover their properties, observing the weather, and measuring the height of plants growing in the classroom. All children, from the academically gifted to those with learning disabilities, have a con- viction that they can succeed in science class. 32

Sharing the vision of Exemplary Elementary Science The role of the teacher in such a classroom is very different from what most people have come to expect. No longer the source of all knowledge, the teacher is a guide who listens to what the chil- dren say, asks appropriate questions, and designs activities to help these already curious children become interested! in learning more. As the National Science Education Standards explains, "Teach- ers of science constantly make decisions, such as when to change the direction of a discussion, how to engage a particular student, when to let a student pursue a particular interest, and how to use an opportunity to model scientific skills and attitudes." In classrooms similar to this one, students and teachers work together to create learning communities. Creating one school, or even one classroom, that reflects this vision is daunting; creating thousands of such classrooms in districts of varying sizes and re- sources nationwide is even more challenging. School districts may wonder where to begin. They are aware of their overall goal; how- ever, they cannot define the steps or processes they need to engage . . . in to reach lt. Fortunately, there Is a grown, consensus among educators about the elements that are needed to create an inquiry-centered el- ementary science program. Five essential elements have been iden- tified and can be used to construct a model that provides school dis- tricts with a concrete, systematic, and clear-cut path to follow. The Elements in the Strategic Plalluing Mode' Inquiry-Centered Science Curriculum Curriculum materials are the "meat" of the science program- what is actually being taught to children. Although many different kinds of curriculum materials can be used to implement inquiry- centered science programs, one of the most effective approaches is to build the science curriculum around a series of science mod- ules, or units, each of which focuses on a different area of science and technology. A science kit, specifically designed for each unit, includes all the materials needed for a class of students to in-vesti- gate a particular science topic for six to eight weeks. Each kit comes with a comprehensive teacher's guide, divided into 12 to 16 lessons, that describes the activities to be completed within the 33

Building a Foundation for Change module. Student acid cy books, with instructions for conducting investigations and clevelopmentally appropriate reading selec- nons, are part of the kit as well. Professional Development Professional development is the process by which school districts prepare teachers to introduce the curriculum materials in their classrooms. School districts can use many strategies to enhance Early Efforts to Identify the Essential Elements of an Effective Elementary Science Program The current science education reform movement is built on a foundation laid in the 1 960s. At that time, the post-Sputnik national science curricu- lum reform movement produced elementary science curriculum materi- als that emphasized student inquiry. A few school districts started using these materials as the basis for inquiry-centered elementary science pro- grams. These districts included Mesa, Arizona; Seattle, Washington; Schaumburg, Illinois; Fairfax County,Virginia; Multnomah, Oregon; Min- neapolis, Minnesota; and Anchorage, Alaska.Today, these districts serve as a model for those just starting out. Each of these districts initially worked alone and did not communicate with other districts.When they began to share their experiences, they were surprised to discover how similar their programs were. Each found that in order to succeed,the district needed to incorporate the elements described in this chapter into its science education reform plan.What de- termined the differences were local politics in the school districts and the resources available to them. For Charles Hardy, former assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Highline, a suburb of Seattle,Washington, and chief ar- chitect of its inquiry-centered elementary science program, the start- ing point was teachers.A former high school chemistry and physics 34

Shanug the Vision of Exemplary Elementary Science teachers' professional clevelopment. For example, as a way of in- troducing the new science program, districts can hold workshops where teachers become familiar with the science content of the module and discuss how to manage materials such as chemicals, water, soil, and living organisms in the classroom. Over time, dis- tricts can follow these introductory workshops with advanced ses- sions, during which teachers can perfect new pedagogical strate- gies, such as asking good questions, encouraging students to teacher, he came from a tradition of close interaction with his peers, so he decided to try the same strategy at the elementary level. Every opportunity he had, Hardy would go into classrooms to observe what the children enjoyed doing and how the teachers interacted with the children. Using these insights, he then worked with local teachers and curriculum developers to create an inquiry-centered curriculum for the district. Soon after, a materials center, which supplied teachers with the science materials and supplies needed to teach the curricu- lum, was established. "Teacher in-service education was and continues to be a strong ele- ment in our program," judi Backman, Highline's science coordinator for more than 20 years, recalls."We know that the only way for the program to work is if teachers are familiar with the curriculum materials and com- fortable teaching them." Highline's science program began with professional development efforts and quickly expanded to include inquiry-centered science kits and mate- rials support. Now, because of increased national interest in inquiry-cen- tered science, Highline is developing new assessment strategies. "We received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop assessment techniques more in line with inquiry-centered teaching," says Backman."When we started, we knew that paper-and-pencil tests were not adequate, but they were all that was available. Now we have some more options, so we are able to round out this element of our program."

Building a Foundation for Change initiate their own learning, and integrating science with other parts of the curriculum. The more proficient teachers become in these areas, the more effectively the science curriculum will be taught and the more children will learn. Other strategies for districts to consider include recom- mencling that teachers attend programs sponsored by profession- al societies such as Sigma Xi or the American Chemical Society en c! providing time for teachers to observe more experienced teachers, attend talks given by other teachers, or work closely with a more experienced colleague. Science Matenais Support A materials support system is needed to ensure that teachers have access to the science kits and everything else they need to present a module in the classroom. By setting up cost-effective systems for sum plying materials and equipment, school districts can remove from teachers the responsibility of inventorying and ordering the materi- als needed for the science lesson and place it in the hands of sum port staff who are trained to carry out these tasks. Implementation involves coordinating myriad cletails. It is crucial to plan the materi- als support component carefully, because a well-functioning system is essential for a successful science program. Assessment A system is neecled to provide appropriate tools for teachers to use to assess student learning. Assessments can include both tradi- tional paper-and-pencil tests and observations of student perfor- mance. The intent is to assess what students truly know and can do as a result of their experiences with the materials. Assessments also serve to guide instruction for teachers so that they can develop more effective teaching strategies. These new approaches to as- sessment are a departure from traditional testing, and teaching teachers how to use them must be one goal of the professional de- velopment program. Administrative and Community Support Building support within the school system and the community is critical to the success of the program. Essential elements of admin 36

Sharing the Vision of Exemplary Elementary Science istrative support include the endorsement of the superintendent and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, as well as the involvement of the director of the elementary science cur- riculum ant! all elementary school principals. Without their sum port, it will be nearly impossible to address the other four elements. In adclition, the program will be stronger if it has broad com- munity support. Keeping parents informed about the new science program is an important part of building community support. Many school districts strengthen community support by creating partnerships with local colleges and universities, business en cl in- dustry, or both. A local corporation may agree to allocate space that can be used to house a science materials center. Scientists and science educators from a local college or university can participate in the professional development program. Corporations also may offer in-kind support or provide a grant to get the science pro- gram started. Different kinds of community partnerships will be discussed in Chapter 9. The five elements just described make up the "system" need- ed for builcling an effective elementary science program. More than 30 years of experience have shown that acIdressing only one or two of these elements the science curriculum or professional development, for example is not enough. All the elements are equally important and must be addressed simultaneously over a sustained period of time at least five years to ensure the insti- tutionalization en cl long-term success of the program. This comprehensive approach to the development and im- plementation of an inquiry-centered science program is called sys- temic reform. By viewing the science program as a system that is maple of individual elements, all of which must be addressecl si- multaneously, school districts can create an environment where all students have an opportunity to learn and all teachers are sup- ported in their teaching efforts. 37

Building a Foundation for Change Creating an inquiry-centered classroom requires making significant changes in the way students learn and the way teachers teach. Five elements are central to the reform of elementary school sci- ence: an inquiry-centered science curriculum, professional develop- ment, science materials support, assessment, and administrative and community support. Although each element must be considered separately, they all must work together to create a new science ed- ucation system. For Further Reading Beane, D. B. 1988. Mathematics and Science: Critical Filters for the Future of Minority Students. Washington, D.C.: The Mid-Atlantic Center for Race Equity. Darling-Hammond, L. 1992. Standards of Practice for Learner Centered Schools. New York: National Center for Restructuring Schools and Learning. Duckworth, E. 1987. "The Having of Wonderful Ideas" and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning. New York: Teachers College Press. Fiske, E. B. 1992. Smart Schools, Smart Kids. New York: Simon & Schuster. Goodlad, J. I. 1984. A Place Called School. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. LeBuffe, J. R. 1994. Hands-On Science in Elementary School. Bloomington, Ind.: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation. Loucks-Horsley, S., R. Kapitan, M. D. Carlson, P. l. Kuerbis, R. C. Clark, G. M. Melle, T. P. Sachse, and E. Walton. 1990. Elementary School Science for the Ups. Andover, Mass.: The NETWORK, Inc., and Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Marzano, R. J. 1992. A Different Rind of Classroom: Teaching with Dimensions of Learning. Alexandria, Nla.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washing ton, D.C.: National Academy Press. Senge, P. M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: Mastering the Five Practices of Learning Orga- nization. New York: Doubleday. Sigma Xi. 1994. Scientists, Educators, and National Standards: Action at the Local Level. Research Triangle Park, N.C.: Sigma Xi. 38

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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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