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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom
cation. The new guidelines include an emphasis on helping students develop (1) familiarity with a discipline’s concepts, theories, and models; (2) an understanding of how knowledge is generated and justified; and (3) an ability to use these understandings to engage in new inquiry.1 At first glance, the traditional science instruction described above appears to fit these guidelines quite well. The first (emphasis on familiarity with a discipline’s concepts, theories, models) appears to focus on what scientists know; the second (emphasis on understanding how knowledge is generated and justified) how they know. If we let students engage in experimentation, this appears to comport with the third guideline (emphasis on an ability to engage in new inquiry). Like Lionni’s fish (see Chapter 1), we can graft the new guidelines onto our existing experience.
But both the new guidelines and the principles of How People Learn suggest a very different approach to teaching. Simply telling students what scientists have discovered, for example, is not sufficient to support change in their existing preconceptions about important scientific phenomena.2 Similarly, simply asking students to follow the steps of “the scientific method” is not sufficient to help them develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable them to understand what it means to “do science” and participate in a larger scientific community. And the general absence of metacognitive instruction in most of the science curricula we experienced meant that we were not helped in learning how to learn, or made capable of inquiry on our own and in groups. Often, moreover, we were not supported in adopting as our own the questioning stance and search for both supporting and conflicting evidence that are the hallmarks of the scientific enterprise.
The three chapters that follow provide examples of science instruction that are different from what most of us experienced. They are also consistent with the intent of the guidelines of the National Research Council3 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science,4 as well as the principles of How People Learn. The authors of these chapters do indeed want to help students learn what scientists know and how they know, but they go about it in ways that are quite different from more traditional science instruction.
The three chapters focus, respectively, on light (elementary school), physical forces such as gravity (middle school), and genetics and evolution (high school). They approach these topics in ways that support students’ abilities to (1) learn new concepts and theories with understanding; (2) experience the processes of inquiry (including hypothesis generation, modeling, tool use, and social collaboration) that are key elements of the culture of science; and (3) reflect metacognitively on their own thinking and participation in scientific inquiry. Important principles of learning and instruction are discussed below.