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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Presentation at Mathematics and Science Education Conference Center of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education East Tennessee State University May 31-June 1, 2007. Background on the Study.

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taking science to school learning and teaching science in grades k 8

Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8

Presentation at Mathematics and Science Education Conference

Center of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education

East Tennessee State University

May 31-June 1, 2007

background on the study
Background on the Study
  • 30-Month NRC Consensus Study -- five meetings beginning in November, 2004
  • Sponsors: NSF, NICHD, Merck Institute for Science Education

Recent NRC Reports

  • Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Snow, Burns & Griffin (1998)
  • How People Learn. Bransford, Brown, & Cocking (1999)
  • Knowing what students know. Pellegrino, Chudowsky & Glaser (2001)
  • Adding it all up. Kilpatrick, Swafford, & Findell (2001)
  • How students learn history, mathematics and science in the classroom. Donovan & Bransford (2005)
  • America’s lab report: Investigations in HS Science. Singer, Hilton & Schweingruber (2006)
committee members
Richard Duschl (Chair) Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Charles “Andy” Anderson

Michigan State University

Kevin Crowley

University of Pittsburgh

Tom Corcoran

University of Pennsylvania

Frank Keil

Yale University

David Klahr

Carnegie Mellon University

Daniel Levin

Montgomery Blair High School

Okhee Lee

University of Miami

Kathleen Metz

University of California, Berkeley

Helen Quinn

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

Brian Reiser

Northwestern University

Deborah Roberts

Montgomery County Public Schools

Leona Schauble

Vanderbilt University

Carol Smith

University of Massachusetts, Boston

Committee Members
committee charge
Committee Charge
  • What does research on learning, culling from a variety of research fields, suggest about how science is learned? What, if any, are “critical stages” in children’s development of scientific concepts? Where might connections between lines of research need to be made?
committee charge1
Committee Charge
  • Given a comprehensive review of this research, how does it help us understand how to teach science in K-8 classrooms? How can the existing body of research that is applicable to K-8 science learning be made useful for science educators, teacher educators, professional organizations, researchers, and policy makers?
  • What other lines of research need to be pursued to make our understanding about how students learn science more complete?
what is science
What Is Science?

Science is built up of facts as a house is of stones, but a collection of facts is no more a science than a pile of stones is a house. -Henri Poincare

  • Science involves:
    • Building theories and models
    • Collecting and analyzing data from observations or experiments
    • Constructing arguments
    • Using specialized ways of talking, writing and representing phenomena
  • Science is a social phenomena with unique norms for participation in a community of peers
scientific proficiency the four strands
Scientific Proficiency: The Four Strands

Students who understand science:

  • Know, use and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world.
  • Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations.
  • Understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge.
  • Participate productively in scientific practices and discourse.
important ideas in the strands
Important Ideas in the Strands
  • The four strands are interwoven in learning. Advances in one strand support advances in the others.
  • The strands emphasize the idea of “knowledge in use” – that is students’ knowledge is not static and proficiency involves deploying knowledge and skills across all four strands.
  • Students are more likely to advance in their understanding of science when classrooms provide learning opportunities that attend to all four strands.
conclusion children starting school are surprisingly competent
Conclusion: Children starting school are surprisingly competent
  • Children entering school already have substantial knowledge of the natural world much of it implicit.
  • Young children are NOT concrete and simplistic thinkers.
  • Children can use a wide range of reasoning processes that form the underpinnings of scientific thinking
children s knowledge of the natural world
Children’s Knowledge of the Natural World
  • Some areas of knowledge may provide more robust foundations to build on than others.
    • Physical mechanics
    • Biology
    • Matter and substance
    • Naïve psychology (theory of mind)
  • These appear very early and appear to have some universal characteristics across cultures throughout the world.
  • Earth science and cosmology – not early and universal
children s reasoning
Children’s Reasoning
  • Can think in sophisticated, abstract ways
    • Distinguish living from non-living
    • Identify causes of events
    • Know that people’s beliefs are not an exact representation of the external world
  • Reasoning is constrained by:
    • Conceptual knowledge
    • Nature of the task
    • Awareness of their own thinking (metacognition)
conclusion prior knowledge and experience are critical
Conclusion: Prior knowledge and experience are critical
  • Competence is NOT determined simply by age or grade
  • What children can do is contingent on prior opportunities to learn
  • Knowledge and experience influence all four strands of proficiency
  • Prior knowledge can be both a resource and a barrier to emerging understanding
prior knowledge and misconceptions
Prior knowledge and “misconceptions”
  • Children’s understandings of the world sometimes contradict scientific explanations. These often described as misconceptions to be overcome.
  • Students’ prior knowledge also offers leverage points that can be built on to advance students’ science learning.
  • Emphasis on eradicating misconceptions can cause us to overlook the knowledge they bring
conclusion proficiency in science is more than knowing facts
Conclusion: Proficiency in science is more than knowing facts
  • Students need to know facts and concepts, how these ideas and concepts are related to each other, and their implications and applications in the discipline.
  • This is NOT a simple accumulation of information
  • Often involves large-scale reorganization of knowledge (major conceptual change)
conceptual change
Conceptual Change
  • Some kinds of conceptual change occur naturally, some require intentional effort.
  • For many ideas in science, students are unlikely to arrive at an understanding of them without explicit instruction (for example, understanding atomic-molecular theory or genetics).
  • Major changes in conceptual frameworks are often difficult and are facilitated by instruction – they take time!
  • Caveats: We may not see linear improvement across grades. An individual’s understanding can vary across contexts.
  • Young children are more competent than we think. They can think abstractly early on and do NOT go through universal, well defined stages.
  • Focusing on misconceptions can cause us to overlook leverage points for learning.
  • Developing rich, conceptual knowledge takes time and requires instructional support.
  • Conceptual knowledge, scientific reasoning, understanding how scientific knowledge is produced, and participating in science are intimately intertwined in the doing of science.

Conclusion: Sustained exploration of core set of scientific ideas is promising approach

  • Many existing curricula, standards and assessments in the US contain too many disconnected topics given equal priority.
  • Need more attention to how students’ understanding of core ideas can be supported and enhanced from grade to grade.
  • Core ideas should be central to a discipline of science, accessible to students in kindergarten, and have potential for sustained exploration across K-8.
sustained exploration learning progressions
Sustained exploration: Learning Progressions
  • Findings from research about children’s learning and development can be used to map learning progressions in science.
  • Steps in the progressions are constrained by children’s knowledge and skill with respect to the four strands.
  • Learning progressions
    • Revisit with increasing depth
    • Bring together 4 strands (building, knowing and applying scientific ideas) vs. separate content and process (content-free skills) learning goals
example core ideas in a learning progression for evolution
Example: Core Ideas in a Learning Progression for Evolution
  • Biodiversity
  • Structure/function
  • Interrelationships in ecosystems
  • Individual variation
  • Change over time
  • Geological processes

Students learn science by actively engaging in the practices of science. [This] includes scientific tasks embedded in social interaction using the discourse of science and work with scientific representations and tools.

teaching science as practice
Teaching science as practice
  • Embedding science in investigations
    • Ongoing investigation, scientific ideas and practices introduced as needed for investigation goal (Edelson, Linn, Krajcik, Kolodner, Reiser, Lehrer & Schauble)
        • Social relevance: What is the quality of the air in my community? How can good friends make me sick?
        • Explaining the natural world: What makes plants grow?
  • Interconnected practices in investigation
    • Argumentation and explanation
    • Model building
    • Debate and decision making
engaging learners in scientific practice project based inquiry
Engaging learners in scientific practice: Project-based Inquiry

IQWST: Investigating and Questioning Our World Through Science and Technology (6th grade bio)

  • Driving question: How do we stop a biological invasion?
  • Task: Assist Great Lakes Fishery Commission in designing plan to stop the sea lamprey invasion.
    • Form/function; food webs; predator/prey; interdependence of species in ecosystems
teaching science as practice1
Teaching Science as Practice
  • All major aspects of inquiry, including posing scientifically fruitful questions, managing the process, making sense of the data, and discussing the results may require guidance.
  • To advance students’ conceptual understanding, prior knowledge and questions should be evoked and linked to experiences with phenomena, investigations, and data.
  • Discourse and classroom discussions are key to supporting learning in science.
scaffolding aspects of practice
Scaffolding aspects of practice
  • Supporting multiple aspects of practice
    • Concepts, strategies
      • Conceptual models to make sense of phenomena (Smith); guidance for inquiry process (KIE, Linn)
    • Social interactions
      • Support explicit classroom norms such as evaluating evidence (Herrenkohl)
    • Language
      • Build science talk on culturally familiar forms of talk (Cheche Konnen)
    • Use of representations and tools
tensions with current practice
Tensions with current practice
  • Science argument is rare in classrooms but central to science; teaching focuses on recall rather than model-based reasoning
  • Classroom norms (teacher, textbooks provide answers) in tension with building scientific models from evidence
  • Curricula and standards “mile wide, inch deep” (TIMMS)
  • Variation in standards works against coherent learning progression; marketplace realities lead to modularity.
but what can i do now
But what can I do now?
  • Immersion Units

Preschool Pathways to Science

Rochelle Gellman, Rutgers University

Event-Based Science

standards curricula and assessment what to teach and when
Standards, Curricula, and Assessment: What to Teach and When
  • Revise standards, curricula and assessment to reflect new understanding of children’s thinking.
  • Next generation of standards and curricula should be structured to identify a few core ideas in a discipline and how these ideas can be grown in a cumulative manner over grades K-8.
  • Developers of curricula and standards need to present science as a process of building theories and models using evidence, checking them for internal consistency and coherence, and testing them empirically.
instruction how to teach
Instruction: How to Teach
  • Science instruction should provide opportunities for students to engage in all four strands. Policy makers, education leaders, and administrators need to ensure adequate time and resources are provided; teachers have adequate knowledge of science content; and adequate professional development is provided.
  • State and local leaders in education should provide teachers with models of classroom instruction that incorporate the four strands.
professional development supporting effective science instruction
Professional Development: Supporting Effective Science Instruction
  • State and local school systems should ensure that all K-8 teachers experience science-specific professional development in preparation and while in service.
  • University-based courses for teacher candidates and teachers’ ongoing opportunities to learn science in service should mirror the opportunities they will need to provide for their students.
  • Federal agencies that fund providers of professional development should design funding programs that require applicants to incorporate models of instruction that combine the four strands, focus on core ideas in science, and enhance teachers’ knowledge.

Report on-line


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