for K-8 Science
Science education in kindergarten through eighth grade needs a new formula. After decades of education improvement efforts and only modest gains in science performance, the need for change is clear. And the looming mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which says that states must measure students' annual progress in science beginning next year, makes the issue all the more pressing.
A new report from the National Research Council has called for major shifts in how science is taught in these grades, as well as changes in commonly held views of what children know and how they learn. Doing science entails much more than reciting facts or being able to design experiments, the report says. To be proficient, students must understand scientific ideas and demonstrate a firm grasp of scientific practices. Furthermore, the next generation of science standards and curricula at the national and state levels should be centered on a few core ideas, which should be expanded upon each year at increasing levels of complexity across grades K-8. Teachers also need more opportunities to learn how to teach science as an integrated whole -- and to diverse student populations.
All children, the report adds, have reasoning skills, personal knowledge of the natural world, and curiosity that teachers can build on to achieve proficiency in science. Educators should no longer consider children simple thinkers whose minds are little more than empty vessels. Research shows that children think in surprisingly sophisticated ways.
Four intertwined and equally important strands comprise the study committee's definition of proficiency in science. First, students should know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world. Second, they should be able to generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations. Third, they should understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge. And finally, students' work should include active participation in scientific collaboration and discussion.
The four strands, plus current scientific understandings of how children think, should be the basis for new science standards, assessments, and curricula, the report says. And teacher training programs ought to focus on boosting teachers' knowledge of science and how students learn the subject.
Education leaders and other officials also need to tackle persistent gaps in science achievement among different groups of students, such as those between white students and non-Asian minority students and between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students. The problems can be traced, in part, to inequities in learning opportunities and differences in how children are taught, the report says.
-- Vanee Vines
Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Committee on Science Learning: Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade, Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (2006, approx. 352 pp.; ISBN 0-309-10205-7, available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $49.95 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).
The panel was chaired by Richard A. Duschl, professor of science education, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J. The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Merck Institute for Science Education.