- Two recent reports from the National Research Council call for significant changes in the way science is taught in elementary school. Unlike previous recommendations, the new suggestions reflect recent findings about how young children think and how they acquire knowledge.
- Research shows that children learn best when they regularly revisit topics, moving from basic to sophisticated views. In keeping with this knowledge, education experts advocate curricula in which students deepen their understanding of a topic—and hone their abilities to practice science—across many grades.
- The most effective teaching expands both the knowledge and the skills needed to engage with science authentically—that is, in a manner akin to how scientists work. To practice science in the classroom calls for problem- and project-based lessons, as well as considerable social interaction. As is the case among scientists, argumentation and discourse help students to refine one another’s ideas and to articulate their own.
We face a real crisis in science education in America. Representative Bart Gordon of Tennessee, chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology, has warned that countries such as China and India will trample the U.S. economy in the near future without major improvements in teaching. Indeed, our schools are falling behind. In the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)—a respected measure of achievement around the globe—the average science score of U.S. 15-year-olds dropped below that of teens in 28 out of 57 participating countries. (In math, U.S. students fared even worse, lagging behind their peers in 34 nations.)
Despite decades of reform, America has made only modest gains in the science classroom, particularly in high schools. Two recent reports from the National Research Council (NRC), however, offer novel strategies. Entitled Taking Science to School and Ready, Set, Science!, they call for changes in the way science is taught beginning in elementary school. Unlike previous recommendations, the new suggestions reflect recent findings from neuroscience and psychology about how young children think and how they acquire knowledge.
This article was originally published with the title A New Vision for Teaching Science.