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.