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The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce Alberts and Dr. William Wulf are chairman and interim vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.
The Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education was established in 1995 to provide coordination of all the National Research Council's education activities and reform efforts for all students at all levels, specifically at the kindergarten through twelfth grade, undergraduate, school-to-work programs, and continuing education. The Center reports directly to the Governing Board of the National Research Council.
The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Government.
This study by the Committee on Undergraduate Science Education was conducted under National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council's Cooperative Agreement (No. OSR 935574) with the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Science Foundation.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Science teaching reconsidered : a handbook / [prepared by the]
Committee on Undergraduate Science Education.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Science-Study and teaching (Higher)-Handbooks, manuals, etc.
I. Committee on Undergraduate Science Education (U.S.)
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Cover credits: Top: Students in Lab 103 at Princeton University; photographer: Robert P. Matthews. Middle: Gary Alderson, Associate Professor of Microbiology at Palomar College, interacting with students; photographer: Melinda Finn Marchuk. Bottom: Group learning in a large lecture hall at Northern Arizona University; photographer: Stephen Schweitzer.
COMMITTEE ON UNDERGRADUATE SCIENCE EDUCATION
C. BRADLEY MOORE, Chair, Professor of Chemistry,
University of California, Berkeley
ISAAC D. ABELLA, Professor of Physics,
University of Chicago, IL
NEAL B. ABRAHAM, Professor of Physics,
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
GEORGE BOGGS, President,
Palomar College, San Marcos, CA
DENICE D. DENTON, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering,
University of Wisconsin, Madison (After August, 1996: Dean, College of Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle)
MICHAEL P. DOYLE, Professor of Chemistry,
Trinity University, San Antonio, TX
MARYE ANNE FOX, Vice President for Research,
University of Texas, Austin
DOROTHY L. GABEL, Professor of Education,
Indiana University, Bloomington
RAMESH GANGOLLI, Professor and Chair of Mathematics,
University of Washington, Seattle
FREDERICK T. GRAYBEAL, Chief Geologist,
ASARCO, Inc., New York, NY
NORMAN HACKERMAN, Chair, Scientific Advisory Board,
The Robert A. Welch Foundation, Houston, TX
JOHN K. HAYNES, Professor of Biology,
Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA
EILEEN DELGADO JOHANN, Professor of Chemistry,
Miami-Dade Community College, FL
WILLIAM E. KIRWAN, President,
University of Maryland, College Park
PAUL J. KUERBIS, Professor of Education,
The Colorado College, Colorado Springs
SHARON LONG, Professor of Biology,
Stanford University, CA
DOROTHY J. MERRITTS, Associate Professor of Geology,
Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA
JOHN A. MOORE, Professor Emeritus of Biology,
University of California, Riverside
PENNY P. MOORE, Teacher,
Piedmont High School, Piedmont, CA
W. ANN REYNOLDS, Chancellor,
City University of New York
JAMES W. SERUM, Manager,
Advanced Sensor Products, Hewlett-Packard Corporation, Wilmington, DE
DAVID T. WILKINSON, Professor of Physics,
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
BARBARA G. DAVIS, Assistant Vice Chancellor,
Student Life & Educational Development, University of California, Berkeley
NANCY L. DEVINO, Study Director
JAY B. LABOV, Study Director (until July 1995)
PAMELA A. CAMPOS, Research Assistant (until May 1994)
MINNA A. MAHLAB, Research Assistant (until January 1997)
GAIL E. PRITCHARD, Research Assistant
CATHERINE Y. BELL, Project Assistant
STACEY N. PATMORE, Project Assistant (until October 1996)
It is a privilege and a pleasure for me to introduce this handbook, three years in the making, designed to facilitate major changes in the way that science is taught to students in U.S. colleges and universities. A resource of this type would have been much appreciated in 1966, when I began as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University. I had a typical "good teachers are born, not made" attitude about teaching then. My present, very different view is that teaching is a skilled profession, which can only be learned through much study and experience. This view took 20 years to acquire, and it derives partly through my extensive contacts with elementary school teachers in San Francisco. Also influential was my later involvement with the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards, whose 25-page Chapter 3 Teaching Standards should greatly benefit teachers at any level (available at www.nas.edu). Research has taught us a great deal about effective teaching and learning in recent years, and scientists should be no more willing to fly blind in their teaching than they are in scientific research, where no new investigation is begun without an extensive examination of what is already known.
What we do today in our classrooms is much more important than most faculty imagine. Those of us who teach undergraduate science must greatly expand our view of our mission. Our role cannot simply be to teach the basic facts and concepts of our discipline, so as to prepare students for the next science course that they may decide to take on their route to medical or graduate school. Our colleges and universities will graduate approximately two million students next year, only about 15% of whom will receive bachelor's degrees in science or engineering. All the rest will become the citizens who determine—by their understanding and appreciation for the nature and values of science—both the vitality of our nation and the future of our scientific enterprise. It would be fine if all Americans knew about plate tectonics, or the way that cells divide. But it is much more important that they understand what science is (and what it is not) and how its central values—honesty, generosity, and respect for the ideas of others—have made possible the rationalization of human experience that underlies all human progress.
These understandings are important for all Americans, but they are especially crucial for those students in our introductory science classes who
will go on to become the next generation of teachers. It is unreasonable to expect our elementary, middle, and high school teachers to be effective in teaching science as an inquiry-based process, if they have never experienced inquiry themselves. Instead, we can all be expected to teach as we ourselves were taught, which explains why I only lectured at the students as a Princeton professor.
The cycle must end. This handbook is a valuable introductory tool that presents research-based thinking and the practice of teaching by scientists who are committed educators. But Science Teaching Reconsidered needs to be embedded in a much larger process that will change people, institutions and systems. We hope that this handbook will be incorporated into an action plan for reform of undergraduate education, to which the Academy will continue to contribute.
President, National Academy of Sciences
Science Teaching Reconsidered is a practical handbook designed for college teachers who want to explore new ways to enhance student learning. The handbook draws on the knowledge of teachers and scientists with extensive experiences in the natural sciences and a keen interest in effective science teaching. This handbook is designed especially for new faculty members and graduate teaching assistants, but is intended to be useful to anyone interested in teaching undergraduate science, whether it be in a research university, liberal arts college, or community college.
How often do all of us ask ourselves: What do I want students to learn from this course? What are they actually learning? What mix of factual information and conceptual understanding best serves my students' needs? How do I decide which teaching methods work best for my students? How do I measure student learning? This handbook is designed to help you find answers to such questions.
Effective science instruction is an art involving creativity, imagination, and innovation, along with planning, practice, decision-making, and evaluation. Teaching is a scholarly activity, benefiting from research, collective experience, and critical thinking throughout. Yet with all the demands on our time we seldom have an opportunity to think through the entire process. This handbook should help you to review some basic principles underlying current issues in science education, to think about how you might assess your own teaching, and to design ways to increase its effectiveness.
Science Teaching Reconsidered does not focus on scientific course content. Rather, it provides information about successful teaching practices in a variety of science courses. It offers you an overview of current research in undergraduate science education and some practical guidelines for experimenting with and changing the ways you teach. While we believe that the chapters are closely related, we have tried to design each chapter to stand alone so that they may be read in any order. The references and related on-line database listings have been chosen to provide more details about the teaching and learning processes discussed; the list is by no means comprehensive.
Some readers may want more scholarly depth, but please keep in mind that this handbook is a practical guide to help busy teachers learn about and
try new ways to enhance student learning. Continued engagement with these issues may lead you to regular perusal of disciplinary or interdisciplinary journals and/or to participation in local, professional, or electronic discussion groups. Sources listed in the appendices are a good starting point for further study.
The committee expresses its deep gratitude to the hundreds of teachers, from dozens of colleges and universities, who were crucial to the assessment and substantial revisions of two early versions of this handbook. Not only was much of your advice heeded, your obvious dedication to good teaching was inspiring.
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