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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 10 Supporting Science Instruction Main Findings in the Chapter: Student learning of science depends on teachers having adequate knowledge of science. Currently, K-8 teachers have limited knowledge of science and limited opportunities to learn science. Furthermore, undergraduate course work in science typically does not reflect the strands of scientific proficiency, focusing instead primarily on Strand 1 and, in a limited sense, on Strand 2. In order for K-8 teachers to teach science as practice, they will need sustained science-specific professional development in preparation and while in service. Professional development that supports student learning is rooted in the science that teachers teach and includes opportunities to learn about science, about current research on how children learn science, and about how to teach science. Achieving science proficiency for all students will require a coherent system that aligns standards, curriculum, instruction, assessment, teacher preparation, and professional development for teachers across the K-8 years. We have described four intertwining strands of scientific practice that almost all K-8 students should be able to master given well-structured opportunities to learn. Robust opportunities to learn science exist when students are presented with challenging academic tasks that draw on these four strands. What would it take to ensure that all students have regular access to such opportunities to learn science? The factors impinging on the quality of
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 classroom instruction in science include powerful influences outside school (e.g., Lareau, 2000), within school systems at the state or district level (Spillane, 1996, 2000), and at the school and classroom level (Cohen, Raudenbush, and Ball, 2001). We acknowledge this broad range of factors and choose to focus here primarily on the conditions that support student learning at, and immediately surrounding, the classroom level. In this chapter we review what researchers have found about the influence of three critical components—teacher knowledge, teachers’ opportunities to learn, and instructional systems—on students’ science learning. Two questions guide our discussion of the literature in this chapter. First, what are the implications of research on student learning for school and classroom-level supports for instruction? Second, where do empirical links between classroom and school-level supports for instruction and student learning exist? KNOWLEDGABLE SCIENCE TEACHERS It is a truism that teachers must know the content that they are to teach. While no teacher could adequately support student learning without first mastering the content of the curriculum herself, effective teaching requires more than simple mastery. Quality instruction entails strategically designing student encounters with science that take place in real time and over a period of months and years (e.g., learning progressions). Teachers draw on their knowledge of science, of their students, and of pedagogy to plan and enact instruction. Thus, in addition to understanding the science content itself, effective teachers need to understand learners and pedagogy design and need to monitor students’ science learning experiences. Knowledge of Science Research findings generally support the notion that higher levels of teacher subject matter knowledge contribute to higher student achievement (Chaney, 1995; Goldhaber and Brewer, 1997, 2000). This finding holds across a range of measures of teacher knowledge. Having a major or a graduate degree in a subject contributes to a teacher’s effectiveness and higher student achievement (Goldhaber and Brewer, 1997, 2000; Chaney, 1995). Monk (1994) found that the number of postsecondary courses that mathematics and science teachers have taken is associated with incremental gains in student scores. Although there has been less research on the knowledge of science teachers (and of elementary science teachers in particular), the existing evidence supports this pattern. In a meta-analysis of 65 studies, Druva and Anderson (1983) found that student science achievement was positively related to both the number of biology courses and the overall number of science courses
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 their biology teacher had taken. Monk (1994) found similar effects in mathematics and physical sciences but not in the life sciences. Goldhaber and Brewer (2000) used data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 to conduct a multiple regression analysis of 6,000 high school seniors and 2,400 mathematics and science courses. They found a relationship between teachers holding a mathematics degree and student performance, but no relationship between teachers holding a science degree and student performance. These results may have been affected by the high percentages of high school science teachers who teach out of their field, that is, a teacher with a biology degree teaching chemistry or physics. The optimal level of subject matter training for a teacher is unclear, and there is some evidence suggesting a threshold effect—a point after which further course work provides no additional measurable impact on student learning. For example, Monk (1994) found that after a teacher had taken five college mathematics courses or four physical science courses, additional courses were not associated with additional gains in student achievement. Findings from several studies suggest that the impact on students of having a teacher with a subject matter major might vary with the level of the grade taught; the achievement of middle and high school students appears to be affected more by the amount of subject matter preparation of their teachers than that of elementary students (Rowan, Correnti, and Miller, 2002; Hawkins, Stancavage, and Dossey, 1998). Interpretation of these results, however, must consider the generally poor alignment of the content of college courses taken by teachers with the curriculum that they are expected to teach as well as by the ceiling effects in the achievement measures used in the studies. If college courses were aligned with school curriculum and if higher quality measures of student achievement were available, one might find that there are no threshold effects or that they must be higher than suggested by these studies. There is also evidence from case studies of science teachers that teacher knowledge influences instructional practice and, in particular, that classroom discourse—an integral component of science learning environments—is sensitive to teachers’ knowledge of science (Carlsen 1988, 1992; Hashweh, 1987; Sanders, Borko, and Lockard, 1993). For example, Sanders and colleagues (1993) conducted an in-depth analysis of three secondary science teachers teaching inside and outside their areas of certification. They reported that when teachers had limited knowledge of the content, they often struggled to sustain discussions with students and found themselves trying to field student questions that they could not address. Even more than quantity of knowledge, the qualities of teachers’ understanding of science are also important. If teachers are to help students achieve science proficiency, they too need to achieve proficiency across the four strands. Yet undergraduate science curricula, like those in K-12 science, tend to be biased toward conceptual and factual knowledge and reflect impover-
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 ished views of scientific practice (Trumbull and Kerr, 1993; Seymour and Hewitt, 1994). Not surprisingly, undergraduates’ and prospective science teachers’ views of science reflect this emphasis on science as a body of facts and scientific practice as mechanistic applications of a sequential scientific method. Hammer and Elby (2003) in their analysis of undergraduates’ perspectives on learning physics found that, in contrast to the “modeling game” of practicing physicists, many undergraduate students “view physics knowledge as a collection of facts, formulas, and problem solving methods, mostly disconnected from everyday thinking, and they view learning as primarily a matter of memorization” (p. 54; see also Elby, 1999). Prospective teachers typically view scientific practice in a similarly narrow light (e.g., Abd-El-Khalick and BouJaoude, 1997; Aguirere, Haggerty, and Linder, 1990; Bloom, 1989; Pomeroy, 1993; Windschidtl, 2004). For instance, Windshitl (2004) studied the views of pre-service science teachers as they designed and conducted studies in the context of a secondary science methods course. Study participants included 14 pre-service teachers with earned bachelors’ degrees in a science. Windschitl tracked their thinking about science through regular journal entries for one semester and conducted interviews with them on their experiences in science from middle school forward. He analyzed their efforts to develop inquiry projects (beginning with formulating questions through presentations to peers) and found that they had a common folk view of science. Among other features, folk science entails construing hypotheses as guesses that have little bearing on how problems are framed and examined. Furthermore, scientific theory assumes a peripheral role in this view of science, relegated to the end of a study as an optional tool one might use to help explain results. Observed limitations in K-8 teachers’ knowledge of science are not surprising given the mixed and generally low expectations laid out in teacher certification policy at the state level. Although 80 percent of states require demonstration of subject matter competence for obtaining an elementary school certificate, most states do not stipulate what that means in terms of the content that teacher candidates should study, nor the clusters of courses they should take. Delaware, Maryland, and Maine register on the high end of requirements. Delaware and Maine both require 12 semester hours in science. In Maine, which offers a K-8 certificate, teachers must have at least 6 semester hours in science. In contrast, Hawaii and Kansas are states that do not require credit hours in science or other subject areas. Other states use tests to assess subject matter knowledge. In Arizona, for example, elementary school certified teachers must take and pass a subject knowledge assessment—although it is not possible to ascertain what proportion of any state assessment test covers science. There is scant evidence on how elementary and middle grade teachers are typically prepared in science, as well as few controlled analyses of how
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 teacher knowledge and skill influence student learning. Without such knowledge, we must rely on credentialing standards to characterize what base-level proficiency means in current practice. Elementary teacher preparation accreditation standards provide a sense of the base-level expectations that certified programs hold for prospective elementary teachers’ knowledge of science. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education standards call for elementary preparation programs to attend to candidates’ knowledge of science and technology (and how they differ), inquiry, science in personal and social perspectives, and the history and nature of science, and they stipulate that candidates should be able to use and apply concepts and inquiry. These categories are defined quite vaguely and suggest very modest expectations for prospective elementary teachers’ knowledge of science. For example, the “inquiry” standard indicates that an “acceptable” elementary candidate would “demonstrate an understanding of the abilities needed to do scientific inquiry” but provides no further definition of what inquiry is, the attendant abilities, nor descriptions of performances that would be indicative of satisfactory understanding. Science specific standards for middle school level credentialing are not typical. However, we can consider the state standards of those that do have such standards to discern what states expect middle grade teachers to know about science. Most of these states require a certain number of credit hours in the subject area of assignment (National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, 2004). Illinois, for example, requires 18 credit hours in the subject area of assignment. Other states are less specific about teaching assignments and instead require prospective teachers to choose from a range of subjects when satisfying subject matter requirements. For instance, Georgia requires 30 semester hours in at least 2 of the teaching areas applicable to middle school, but it does not require teachers to take science courses in order to be assigned to a science teaching assignment. Similarly, in Mississippi, teachers who hold a Middle School Interdisciplinary Endorsement must complete 2 areas of content concentration consisting of a minimum of 18 credit hours in each area. Only about 15 percent of states require a major in the subject area taught as part of requirement to obtain a middle school certificate. Clearly the scientific knowledge of K-8 teachers is often quite thin. Factors likely to contribute to this pattern are narrowly focused undergraduate course work, insufficient teacher professional development, and a credentialing process that requires little of prospective K-8 science teachers. If they are to help students reach national and state standards in science, teachers will need substantial supports in the form of better pre-service training, as well as professional development that will bolster their knowledge of the science they teach.
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 Understanding Learners and Learning Beyond knowledge of science, effective science teachers need to understand the process of learning itself. This report provides substantial evidence that student learning can be harnessed when classrooms are cognizant of students’ ways of thinking, their experience base, and provide challenging problems for them to engage in. Teachers’ understanding of how students learn has important implications for how they structure learning experiences and make instructional decisions over time. We have described learning science as a process that entails developing self-awareness of, and building on, one’s own knowledge of the natural world; participating in scientific practices; and building new understanding in a community through argumentation. Teachers, as instructional designers, need to understand student learners to make good decisions about how to teach them. They need to understand what students do when they learn, as well as the types of experiences that produce engagement and conceptual understanding. They also need to understand the unique qualities of their particular students and the unique demands of particular groups of students in their classrooms. Teachers’ Beliefs About Student Learning Are teachers’ perceptions of student learning commensurate with the learning processes we’ve described? The research on this matter is scarce and of uneven quality, and careful analyses of teachers’ understanding of student learning are rare in the science education research literature. Limited evidence suggests that teachers’ conceptions of student learning are highly dissimilar to contemporary research perspectives. One source of evidence on this question is a large body of research on “teachers’ dispositions,” which examine teachers’ espoused beliefs about science teaching and their instructional practices to make inferences about their views on learning. This research base offers very limited guidance, however. Despite decades of research, studies tend, almost exclusively, to use very small sample sizes (e.g., 1 to 3 teachers) and propose no clear research design (see, e.g., the review by Jones and Carter, in press). What is worse, the research is hobbled by a conflation of learning and teaching, falsely suggesting that good teaching requires highly interactive and “student centered” instruction. While we think that good science teaching necessarily includes student investigations, we reject the idea that teachers who understand learners will necessarily consistently create interactive, student-driven teaching experiences, as this research implies. There is emerging work on “folk pedagogy” or popular belief systems about how others learn and what teachers can do to cause learning in others (Strauss, 2001), which provides some insight into how people generally, and
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 some teachers, think about learning. This work rests on the proposition that teaching is an inherently human practice, that people all continuously are teaching one another, and in so doing they develop working (although often tacit) notions of pedagogy. Much like the folk science of children and adults, folk pedagogy is evident across age spans and diverse populations and represents a shared, working notion of learning. Individuals may not be aware of their own folk pedagogy, and it may even be incommensurate with their own espoused views of teaching and learning, constraining the range of pedagogical moves they will make. An important component of folk pedagogy is a mental model of the learner (Strauss, 1997). In a series of studies, Strauss and colleagues have examined teachers’ “explicit espoused” and “enacted” mental models of learning to try to describe what they believe students do when they learn. For example, in one study of espoused mental models, Strauss administered semi-structured interviews to science and humanities teachers, who explained their strategies for teaching material that is difficult for students. They found a common mental model of learners across teachers. Irrespective of subject matter area (e.g., science, language arts) and level of subject matter knowledge, teachers conceived of learners as consuming small portions of information in relative isolation and trying to link this to their extant prior knowledge. Strauss encapsulates the mental model metaphorically: “the entrance to the children’s minds has ‘flaps’ that are open when children are attentive. If children are uninterested or unmotivated, the flaps go down and the material cannot enter the mind” (Strauss, 1997, p. 380). Given this view of learners, teachers saw instruction as an “engineering problem” in which their task was twofold. First, the teacher needs to get information into the mind of the child. Second, once the information is there, the challenge is how to move it to a place where it will be “stored.” Teachers’ beliefs about student mental models, as described in this research, contrast with research on student learning that we have described in this report. The mental model Straus and colleagues describe calls for teachers to break the subject matter into “chunks” that can be mastered sequentially and made more enticing by manipulating an affective response. In contrast, we have argued that learning science includes participating in scientific practice in which learners engage in meaningful problems over time. In the practice view of student learning, these chunks are framed, from the outset, as important pieces of a whole that, when understood and organized, provide learners with leverage to explain, manipulate, or further explore the natural world. It is this leverage—the promise of new, meaningful ways to act—that entices students to work hard at complex scientific problems. Although there is no empirical research that examines how the teachers’ mental model of students influences student learning, we draw attention
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 to this finding because it points both to a potential stumbling point for instructional reform and a topic worthy of further research. Teachers’ Perceptions of Diverse Student Learners Another aspect of teachers’ knowledge of learners that can have real consequences for teaching is their appreciation and understanding of student diversity. Teaching that will help all students make sense of science also requires that teachers understand the particular students and the student groups they teach, including those who come from cultural backgrounds different from their own. Both societal and classroom-level factors inform students’ beliefs about science and the degree to which they identify with science. Although it is not always clear how teachers would optimally manage these factors, it is clear that they can play an important role in either limiting or expanding students’ understanding and appreciation of science. In a literature review, Eisenhart, Finkel, and Marion (1996) addressed several societal factors that impinge on students’ views of science. Some of the factors that they identify as contributing to the underrepresentation of women, working-class men, and people of color in science include media stereotypes of scientists, the lack of connection with female and non-Western interests and backgrounds, and the climate of degree programs and high-status scientific professions that systematically exclude women from some fields (Eisenhart et al., 1998). It is important to note that while patterns of underrepresentation and stereotypes may have a negative impact on many students, students’ responses to them are not predetermined. In light of these broad societal factors, some students may position themselves to resist stereotypes by showing their capabilities in science, whereas others may appropriate the messages they receive and conclude that science is just not for them (Brown, Reveles, and Kelly, 2005; Ritchie, 2002; Smardon, 2004). At the classroom level, the teacher may fail to recognize cultural differences or understand how they can impact students’ interactions with science. In their review of the literature on prospective teachers’ beliefs about multicultural issues, Bryan and Atwater (2002) conclude that most prospective science teachers enter their teacher preparation programs with little or no intercultural experience and with beliefs and assumptions that undermine the goal of providing an equitable education for all students. Furthermore, many graduate without fundamentally changing their beliefs and assumptions, despite their experiences in teacher preparation programs. Furthermore, most teachers feel unprepared to meet the learning needs of English-language learners (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). The research findings that draw attention to the importance of vocabulary and discourse in science practice and science learning heighten the chal-
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 lenge of teaching these students. Most teachers assume that English-language learners must acquire English before learning subject matter, although this approach almost inevitably leads such students to fall behind theirEnglish-speaking peers (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1997). The research on how to effectively teach science to diverse student populations is inconclusive (see Chapter 7), yet there is little disagreement that teaching science to diverse student populations presents immense challenges, and that teachers need to be knowledgeable about both classroom-level and broader societal factors that influence students’ science learning. Subject Matter Knowledge for Teaching More than the sum of knowledge about science, learners, and learning, teacher knowledge is qualitatively distinct from that of mature nonteachers and disciplinary experts. Expert teachers have knowledge of subject matter that is peculiarly suited for instruction (Shulman, 1986, 1987; Wilson, Shulman, and Richert, 1987).1 While scientists will understand the canon of accepted scientific theory deeply, the range of questions that are “in play,” and the modes of inquiry in the field, they will not necessarily know how to make this knowledge accessible to children and other nonexperts. That is, “knowing subject matter” is a different form of knowledge than “knowing how to teach subject matter.” The expert teacher must therefore master the fundamental forms of the discipline and combine these with knowledge of students and learning. Although broad in scope, research on subject matter knowledge for teaching is primarily focused on two areas—teachers’ knowledge of students’ preconceptions and misconceptions of science and instructional strategies or representations for teaching science—and these categories are frequently used to describe the literature base (see, e.g., Grossman, Schoenfeld, and Lee, 2005; Hill, Rowan, and Ball, 2005; Smith, 1998; van Driel, Verloop, and de Vos, 1998). Consider how this dual focus on content and how it is learned inform the identification of meaningful questions. In Chapter 9 we argued that quality science instruction includes exploration of meaningful scientific problems, and that teachers actively structure and guide students’ learning experiences through these (even when excellent curriculum materials are available). In order for students to be engaged with meaningful scientific problems, 1 For consistency we use the term “subject matter knowledge for teaching” throughout this section, although others may also use the terms “pedagogical content knowledge” (PCK), “professional knowledge,” and “event-structured knowledge for teaching.”
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 teachers must understand science from the standpoint of the learner, selecting and structuring problems that are meaningful in two senses of the word. The problem must be meaningful from the standpoint of science and be clearly connected to a body of knowledge. It also must be meaningful from the standpoint of the learners; that is, it must require something they can do (or are learning to) and they must be able to work on the problem in a purposeful manner. Of course, subject matter knowledge for teaching is not absolute but can be understood as situated. That is, students’ sense of what constitutes a meaningful problem and their approaches to making sense of scientific phenomena are not universal but reflect the varied social contexts and communities (home, school, classroom, etc.) they inhabit (Lave and Wenger, 1991). What is meaningful and stimulating to one group of students may not be for another. Furthermore in any given classroom, students will have a range of ideas and understanding of science and scientific concepts. Accordingly, skillful teachers need to apply their knowledge flexibly in practice in response to this variability (Putnam and Borko, 2000). A skillful teacher is able to draw on a range of representations of scientific ideas, select those that suit the specific instructional setting, and use her knowledge as an interpretive framework to make sense of the diverse ideas and perspectives that students express about science and scientific phenomena. While the logic of subject matter knowledge for teaching is persuasive, there is almost no research on the empirical link between specialized teacher subject matter knowledge and student learning.2 More than three decades of research have resulted in distinct portraits of expert/novice teachers’ knowledge (Munby, Russell, and Martin, 2001) and case studies of teachers’ acquisition of PCK (e.g., Zembal-Saul, Blumenfeld, and Krajcik, 2000; Smith and Neale, 1989). We can point to only one study that examines the influence of subject matter knowledge for teaching on student learning, and it is in mathematics (Hill, Rowan, and Ball, 2005). Hill and colleagues developed measures of teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching, which they defined as “the mathematical knowledge used to carry out the work of mathematics” (p. 373), such as explaining terms and concepts, interpreting students’ statements and solutions, judging and correcting textbook treatments of topics, using mathematical representations correctly in class, and providing students with examples of mathematical con- 2 Lee Shulman, one of the originators of this line of work, made this point in his introduction to Gess-Newsome and Lederman’s (1999) science-specific edited volume on teacher subject matter knowledge. Shulman pleaded: “I hope that those who use these ideas now and in the future give more attention that I did to the connections between teachers’ knowledge and the ultimate consequences for students’ learning and development” (p. xi).
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 cepts, algorithms, or proofs (Rowan et al., 2001). They found that mathematical knowledge for teaching was a significant predictor of student gains and a stronger predictor than all other teacher background variables (mathematics and mathematics education course work, certification) as well as time spent on instruction (Hill, Rowan, and Ball, 2005). This important area of emerging research is in its infancy, but it may ultimately provide important guidance for policy and practice. Research in science is even less developed than research in mathematics. However, science educators could follow the same path: operationalizing scientific knowledge for teaching, developing and validating measures, and carefully designing studies to examine its influence (although science presents an additional complexity in that multiple scientific fields and disciplines make up the science curriculum). In fact, Olson (2005) is working on a small part of this lofty challenge and has begun developing measures of subject matter knowledge for selected topics in physical science. TEACHERS’ OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN Current research on K-8 science learning suggests a model of instruction that contrasts starkly with current instructional practice. To move toward instruction that is consistent with the research base we review in this volume, teachers will need substantial, ongoing, and systemic supports for their own learning. In the previous section we described the forms of knowledge that excellent science teachers draw on to inform instruction. In this section we describe how teachers’ experiences can be structured to support their learning, which in turn enables them to provide quality science instruction. Teachers learn continuously from their experiences in the classroom, their interactions with colleagues, and their professional development activities. Our discussion of teacher learning opportunities reflects this reality. We describe opportunities to learn that take place in the naturally occurring functions of the school, as well as through programs specifically designed to support teacher learning and improved instruction. We first review the evidence for supporting teacher learning and the general qualities of teachers’ opportunities to learn. We then discuss research on organizing teacher learning in the organizational context of schooling and in professional development programs. Next we review the literature on teachers’ opportunities to learn with regard to student diversity. Finally, we discuss the use of science specialists as an alternate means of bolstering science instructional capacity. Effective Teacher Learning Opportunities Well-designed opportunities for teacher learning can produce desired changes in their classroom practices, can enhance their capacity for contin-
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 Benchmarking assessments or curriculum-embedded formative assessments created in the context of a curriculum are designed to elicit student thinking and are referenced specifically to an interpretive framework. While few science-specific studies of benchmarking assessments have been completed, there is a large research base on benchmarking assessment systems in other subject matter areas. Some well-developed programs that are based heavily on benchmarking assessments have shown positive student learning effects. Success for All, for example, uses reading tests at 6-week intervals to determine the effectiveness of reading instruction and to regroup students for subsequent instruction. Instruction based on the principles of mastery learning, a system developed by Benjamin Bloom in which students are allowed to progress on the basis of demonstrating proficiency on a set of formative assessments, has been shown to have a significant positive effects for lower achieving students and for inexperienced teachers (Block and Burns, 1976; Guskey and Gates, 1986; Whiting, Van Burgh, and Renger, 1995). There are a few published studies of science-specific benchmarking programs and others are in progress. Currently the Berkeley Evaluation and Assessment Research Center (BEAR) (2005) is creating embedded assessments for the Full Option Science System. The assessments are being developed to help teachers of students in grades 3-6 assess, guide, and confirm student learning in science. These assessments make use of construct maps, which model levels of student understanding of a particular construct (e.g., students’ ability to reason with evidence) on the way to developing proficiency (Wilson, 2005). BEAR has helped to develop and refine the associated assessment frameworks, items, scoring guides, and other elements of the system and will later provide support in the process of psychometric data analyses. In a recently completed study, the Stanford Education Assessment Laboratory explored Black and Wiliam’s (1998) contention that formative assessment would increase student learning by developing curriculum-embedded assessments for the Foundational Approaches to Science Teaching (FAST) curriculum (Yin, 2005). The first unit of FAST guides students through a series of investigations to culminate in an explanation of floating and sinking on the basis of relative density. Assessments were embedded at key conceptual “joints” in the curriculum, following a developmental trajectory of understanding density that students were expected to experience. Twelve sixth and seventh grade teachers were selected from a pool of FAST-trained volunteers. Teachers were matched in pairs according to school characteristics, and one member of each pair was then randomly assigned to a control group, which would teach FAST as they normally did, while the other was assigned to an experimental group, which would implement the curriculum-embedded assessments. The experimental group teachers attended a 5-day
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 workshop, where they were trained to implement the curriculum-embedded assessments following the interpretive framework for formative assessment. Multiple measures of student learning were administered to all students of teachers in both the control and experimental groups. Pretests consisted of a multiple-choice achievement test and a science motivation questionnaire. Posttests included the achievement test and the motivation questionnaire, as well as a performance assessment, a predict-observe-explain assessment, and an open-ended question assessment. Results of the study indicated that the teachers and their contexts were extremely influential on students’ motivation, achievement, and conceptual change; teacher effects overshadowed the treatment effect. Possible interpretations suggest that some experienced teachers implemented their own informal formative assessment strategies regardless of the treatment group they belonged to; some experimental teachers, despite the 5-day workshop, could not implement the curriculum-embedded assessments as intended. Although benchmarking assessment systems show promising student learning results, the quality of assessment systems is uneven. Stern and Ahlgren (2002) analyzed assessments provided in middle school curriculum materials. The study included only comprehensive middle school science programs—that is those that covered 3 years of instruction and were in wide use by school districts and states. Two two-member teams independently analyzed the curriculum materials and accompanying assessments. With respect to curriculum-embedded assessments, the analysis revealed that all materials received poor scores in terms of providing guidance for teachers to use students’ responses to modify instruction. Those curriculum-embedded assessments that were aligned with the curriculum materials usually focused on terms and definitions that could be easily copied from the text. Few questions were included that were able to sufficiently elicit students’ understanding, and even when those questions were included, the materials failed to provide interpretive frameworks for the teachers to interpret students’ responses. The use of benchmarking assessment is clearly not a silver bullet. Effects are highly dependent on a number of factors. Bangert-Drowns et al. (1991) found in a meta-analysis of 58 experiments that while periodic feedback generally improved student performance, the type of feedback students received had the largest effect. Feedback that helped students to correct errors and reflect on the original learning goals had the greatest positive impact. Comments unique to a particular student’s performance relative to an absolute standard appear to motivate students to achieve at higher levels, while responses that include solely grades or praise (or no feedback at all) seem to have little effect on student achievement, and some evidence would indicate a small negative effect from these types of feedback (Butler, 1987, 1988).
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 In a meta-analysis of 21 studies, teachers who had specific instructional processes to follow based on test outcomes and who had received explicit directions about how to share information with students based on the data from the assessments demonstrated significantly higher growth in student achievement than those teachers who used their own judgment about how to respond to the data (Fuchs and Fuchs, 1986). Teachers may need clear guidance about how to use evidence from benchmarking systems, but there is no “teacher proof” curriculum. Well-designed benchmarking systems are closely integrated with instruction and may lighten its immense cognitive load. But they require informed, professional teachers who make key decisions to structure and support student learning. For benchmarking assessment systems to support quality instruction and improvements in student learning, teachers must understand the desired stages of progression for students of varying ages and skill levels in the particular discipline being taught. CONCLUSIONS Advancing high-quality science instruction that supports student understanding across the strands of science proficiency will require teachers and schools to take action to improve teacher knowledge and practice, support and focus instruction in productive directions, and build systems that measure and sustain ongoing improvement in teaching and learning. Research can guide practice to some extent, although important questions require additional research. Researchers have identified, in general terms, what expert teachers know about their discipline, how to teach it, and, to a lesser extent, what they understand about student learning. Empirical links between what teachers know and student learning, however, are emergent and can be complicated to establish. As research advances in this area, more precise definitions are needed of the knowledge that is necessary for teaching and the aspects of knowledge that provide the greatest student learning return. With this understanding in hand, educators will be better positioned to craft teacher credentialing policy and design teacher learning experiences. There is broad agreement that well-designed opportunities for teacher learning can produce desirable changes in instructional practice and improved science learning for students. Furthermore, research has identified features of quality teacher learning opportunities that can be realized through a diverse array of organizational structures (mentoring and coaching, teacher work groups, expert- and teacher-led programs of professional development) combined with distinct learning outcomes (topic-specific learning strategies, conducting and teaching inquiry science, conducting science discussions, analyzing student work, planning instruction). Well-designed
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Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8 opportunities for teacher learning can benefit diverse student groups, including those that have traditionally been underserved. Although there is abundant evidence to support subject-specific teacher learning opportunities, the comparative advantages of one approach or another are not clear. There may be unique learning potential or capacity to influence practice that arises in teacher work groups, or programs that focus on analyzing student work, for example. Future research will need to examine the potential and comparative advantage of distinct approaches. Given the consensus view that teacher learning should be framed in the context of the science that teachers actually teach, approaches should probably be considered in light of local resources and constraints. For example, given the dearth of K-5 teachers who specialize in science, most elementary schools will benefit from the participation of qualified expert teachers and other science teacher educators. In addition to significantly bolstering K-8 science teachers’ opportunities to learn, schools and school systems can benefit from developing and refining instructional systems that focus and support science instruction. It may be some time before schools have and can use a comprehensive K-8 (or K-12) learning progression like that described in Chapter 7 as the basis of curriculum. However, they can begin to make important steps in that direction by carefully selecting and modifying curricular materials so that they present central scientific ideas across grades. In addition, schools can use existing benchmarking assessment systems that provide teachers with timely feedback on students’ ideas and guidance on structuring instruction in order to build on and advance students’ thinking toward intended learning outcomes. REFERENCES Abd-El-Khalick, F., and BouJaoude, S. (1997). An exploratory study of the knowledge base for science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34, 673-699. Aguirere, J.M., Haggerty, S.M., and Linder, C.J. (1990). Student teachers’ conceptions of science, teaching, and learning: A case study in preservice science education. International Journal of Science Education, 12, 381-390. Amaral, O., Garrison, L., and Klentschy, M. (2002). Helping English learners increase achievement through inquiry-based science instruction. Bilingual Research Journal, 26(2), 213-239. American Educational Research Association. (2005). Studying teacher education: The report of the AERA panel on research and teacher education. M. Cochran-Smith and K.M. Zeichner (Eds.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. American Federation of Teachers. (2002). Principles for professional development. (Report 39-0176). Washington, DC: Author.
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