Click for next page ( 8


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 7
The Value o' Science Education The utilization of subject-matter found in the present life-exper7~ence of the [earner towards science is perhaps the best illustration that can be found of the basic principle of using existing experience as the means of carrying learners on to a wide more refined, and bet- ter organized world. John Dewey, Expenence and Education, 1938 Every fall, several million chil dren mark the beginning of their formal education by entering kindergarten. These five-year-olds are full of enthusiasm and ex- citement. They will ride the school bus like the big kids and have a chance to see what school is all about. Parents, too, see this mo- ment as a turning point. School provides an opportunity-for chil- dren to discover the answers to questions they often ask, such as, How are rocks made? and Why do ships float? All those close to children hope that school will continue to spark children's natur- al love of learning. 7

OCR for page 7
Building a Foundation for Change Teachers use many strategies to keep that love of learning alive. To stimulate their students' natural curiosity, some teachers arrange field! trips to wetIancis, rivers, and lakes as part of their study of natural ecosystems. To keep young imaginations flourish- ing, other teachers bring duck eggs to school anti encourage stu- clents to care for them and imagine what the ducklings will be like when they hatch. To instill a love of experimental inquiry, teach- ers use materials such as batteries and bulbs or rocks and minerals as the starting point for asking questions, experimenting, devel- oping theories, and communicating their ideas. All of these learning activities are part of inquiry-centered science, sometimes called simply inquiry. Accorcling to the National ScienceEd- ucation Stanclards, inquiry involves "making observations; posing questions; examining books and other sources of information to see what is aIreacly known; planning investigations; reviewing what is al- ready known in light of experimental evidence; using tools to gather, analyze, and interpret data; proposing answers, explanations, and predictions; and communicating results." These activities are deeply rooted in both the scientific tradition and educational theory. Nonetheless, inquiry represents a new approach to science education to many school districts and teachers. The reason that inquiry appears new is that many districts have come to rely on textbooks as the major vehicle for conveying information to stu- dents. While textbooks may include basic information about a sci- ence subject, they typically overemphasize vocabulary and factual information. Because teachers fee] pressured to make sure that students "get it all," they often ask students to memorize these words and facts. Experience has shown that memorizing words and facts not only neglects the most important parts of science but also seems boring and irrelevant to young learners. To illustrate some of the pitfalls of the passive learning environ- ment created by a textbook{lriven science class, consider the following example, which is excerpted from a monograph written by Howarcl Hausman, Choosing aScaenceProgramfor the E~mentarySchool:2 Twenty-six third-graders are seated at tables. The teacher asks Carla to read aloud from page 56 of the textbook, which shows a picture of a farm with animals and a windmill. Carla 8

OCR for page 7
The Value of Science Education reads that the farm has many animals and that they need water. However, the picture shows that there is little water on the land, implying that the water will have to come from wells powered by windmills. She reads the question directly from the textbook, 'what does the windmill do?" The teacher repeats, "Can anybody guess what the w~nd- mill does? Yes, joey." Joey, who has been skimming to the next paragraph of the text, says, "The windmill turns from the force of the air and works a pumping machine. This lifts water from the well into a water tank for the animals." 'Avery good, Joey," says the teacher. "Now Carla, can you read the next paragraph?" Carla proceeds to read: "The w~nd- mill turns from the force of the air and works a pumping ma- chine. This lifts water from the well into a water tank for the animals." She reads on about windmills operating machines to supply electric power. Then come other examples of "en- ergy from moving air." Several children are moving restlessly, playing with pen- cils and whispering. The teacher calls for attention, as he has done twice before. 'cheat work was being done?" the teacher asks. No an- swer. "Did the wind do any work?" "It blew a windmill," some one says. The restless movements persist. There is another call for order, a period of enforced quiet. The books are collected and shelved. The Limitations of Traditional Classrooms Why did this lesson fail to hold the children's interest? Why were the children restless and seemingly unmotivated to explore the ideas presented during the science lesson? For one thing, the children did not do science. They did not examine objects, observe phenomena, design experiments, collect data, or discuss their ideas. There were no opportunities for inde- pendent thinking and problem solving. Instead, they simply read about science. The children gained very little, because the book they were reading was describing things they knew or cared little about. Most children today have never seen a windmill firsthand and have no idea what a pumping machine is. The fact that a wind- mill can generate electricity is also meaningless to these children; 9

OCR for page 7
Building a Foundation for Change to them, electricity is something that happens when they turn on a light switch. 'Work" and "energy" are abstract ideas that have never been made concrete or meaningful to them. Because these icleas are beyond the realm of their experience, the children have little desire to explore them further. Experienceis the key factor. Research on children's learning has revealecl that when children do not have firsthand experiences with the things they are learning about in school, the information that the curriculum seeks to convey will often not make sense to them. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, devoted his life to observing chil- ciren and drawing conclusions about their intellectual growth. His work laid the foundation for further studies of how children learn, a field that is now callecl cognitive science. One key finding that has emerged from this work is that children learn actively and they do so through direct experiences with the physical world. Part of the pressing need for hands-on experiences stems from the fact that as today's children grow, they have increasingly little contact with the natural world. The lack of concrete experi- ences means that children have fewer resources to draw on in their efforts to make sense of the worm. This is a drastic change from the way things were a few generations ago, when more children lived on farms and had numerous opportunities to experience firsthand many aspects of science, such as helping to plant crops and discovering the importance of rains to the harvest. Children to(lay may see such things on television or explore these ideas by playing games on computer screens, but they seldom experience them directly. As Philip and Phylis Morrison explain: 3 In Abraham Lincoln's day, most of the students were from farm families. They came to school knowing firsthand about birth and death, about the full moon, about how to lever up a heavy rock, how to sharpen a blade, and how milk soured. They didn't have to learn those things in school, because they encountered them all the time. What they went to school to learn was symbols words and forms; how to read, write, and- cipher; what scholars and leaders in the past had said; how to express and reason about the world and themselves. Children still come to our schools with plenty of knowl- edge. They bring a wide visual acquaintance with the world 10

OCR for page 7
The Value of Science Education near and far, a flood of images, fact and fiction. They see print everywhere, too; signs and posters surround them; magazines and books are commonplace, with all their pictures. Televi- sion has made the wide world familiar to children. But what is deeply missing is an inner sense of the world's real con- straints, of the difference between desire and performance. Pushing a button is not like leaning on a crowbar. The symbols still need teaching; the three it's, the histo- ry, the maps, the tales remain urgent. But they lack any foun- dation beyond word and image. The schools have a big new task that they have not entirely realized: it is to bring in the hands-on world, the real uncertain thing that induces ques- tioning, that stubbornly resists or wonderfully confirms what one does. What children need is to grow plants (and see them wilt for lack of water), to complete the cycle by planting the seed they themselves harvest from the plant they grew. They need to build bridges of soda straws that can hold up the weight of many milk cartons. They need to try which connec- tions between bulb and battery produce light, and for how long. It would be an error to blame schools for our growing lack of physical contact with the physical world, but an even bigger error not to do something about it. We are all in this bind together; it is the-result of a maturing technological world where production is taken farther and farther away from the consumer. The capacity to judge from evidence when things are right, when they work or when they don't work, doesn't apply only to circuits or other matters of sci- ence. It also applies to political programs or to buying con- sumer goods. It is an understanding that begins with active ex- perience in the natural and technological world. So let us teach our children how to read, write and ci pher but let us also help them explore something of how the material world works. They need to sense through hand, eye, and mind the limits of what can be done, and how even within stern natural limits new opportunities can open. A Glimpse at an Inquiry-Centered Classroom Many teachers across the country to clay are providing the kind of inquiry-centerecl science experiences that the Morrisons describe.

OCR for page 7
Building a Foundation for Change A Problem-Solving Investigation The students approach the problem by discussing how they could use a model of a simple circuit tester a battery attached to a bulb with wires as a tool to determine what's inside the mystery box. Perhaps,the students reason,they could touch the wires to the ter- minals on the box to see whether the device inside causes the bulb to light. Discovering whether the bulb will light will provide the stu- dents with important information about what's inside the box. Proceeding according to their plan, the students touch the wires of the circuit tester to the terminals on the box.The bulb lights up. From this evidence, they conclude that a wire must be connected between the terminals inside the box. As the students work, their teacher circulates throughout the class- room. She stops to talk with a pair of students.While she com- mends them on their work, she suggests that they take their inves- tigation further.What kind of wire might be inside the box? Is it a copper wire or a nichrome resistance wire? Or could there be a bulb connected to the terminals inside the box?Would copper wire make the bulb shine more or less brightly? The teacher recom- mends that the students think about these questions, discuss possi- ble explanations, and find a way to test their ideas through experi- mentation. She also suggests that the students record their conclusions, either through writing or drawing. The students begin discussing the problem.Through the active ex- change of ideas, they conclude that a copper wire would produce a brighter light than a resistance wire or a bulb. In earlier investiga- tions, they found that both resistance wire and a bulb conducted electricity, but that neither allowed the bulb to burn as brightly as the copper wire did.Therefore, it seems likely that either a resis- tance wire or a bulb is in the box. To test this theory, the students develop the following strategy: First, they will place a piece of copper wire in the circuit tester and observe the brightness of the bulb.They will hook up the circuit 12

OCR for page 7
The Value of Science Education tester to the terminals on the mystery box.They will observe the brightness of the bulb and see whether it is brighter or dimmer than before.They will repeat this process with the resistance wire and the bulb.When the brightness of the bulb in the circuit tester matches that of the mystery box, the students will be able to de- termine what's inside the box. <~ ~/5~ :?( ~7 In\ Testing copper wire with the circuit tester 'it C~_ Testing the mystery box with the circuit tester The students begin working.They notice that the bulb in the circuit tester shines more brightly than the one in the mystery box when copper wire is connected in the tester. This comparison is clear- cut, and the students easily reach the conclusion that copper wire is not inside the box. But com- paring the resistance wire and the bulb proves to be more diffi- cult. In both tests, the bulb is shining dimly, and it is hard to see any differences. After further deliberation, the students begin to develop their conclusions. One student writes a summary indicating that the mystery box contains either a piece of resistance wire or a bulb; the student reached this conclusion because she could not tell, on the basis of the "bulb test," which of these two devices is inside the box. Another student draws a picture showing resistance wire; she feels confident that only resistance wire could create such a dimly lit bulb. When the students open the mystery box, they discover that a piece of resis- tance wire is inside. 13

OCR for page 7
Building a Foundation for Change The boxed example (pp. 12-13) illustrates how some funclamental concepts about electricity can be taught through an inquiry ap- proach. The students, who are in fifth gracle, have aIreacly con- structecl simple circuits using flashlight batteries, wires, en cl flash- light bulbs. They have also explored electrical conductors en cl insulators. In this lesson, students continue their study of electric circuits by teaming up in pairs en cl working with mystery boxes- plain white boxes with two terminals on top that contain an un- known electrical crevice. The stuclents' challenge is to finct out, through experimentation en cl reasoning, what electrical crevice, if any, is connected to the terminals inside the box. The Beneffts of Inquiry-Centered Science For many aclults, science conjures up an image of a research in- vestigator in a white coat testing a mysterious substance in his lab- oratory. They see the scientific process as esoteric, with results as elusive as the potions in the researcher's test tubes. But, as the boxed example shows, science does not have to be shrouclec! in mystery and assumed to be too complex for most of us to master. Simply put, science is the process by which we discover how the world works, "a way of thinking, . . . the method by which the cre- ative mind can construct orcler out of chaos en c! unity out of vari- et,v."4 It is a process in which children have been engaged virtually since they were born, and it is mirrored effectively in inquiry-cen- terecl science programs. For that reason, it is not surprising that in the second classroom clescribecl, chilclren were still engaged in the activity after an hour of intense work. What conclusions about the value of inquiry can be drawn from the boxed example? The following list clescribes several ben ~ ~ . . . edits ot ~nqu~ry-centerec . science: 1. The children are actively engaged. By working with batter- ies en cl bulbs, the chiTclren were thinking, coming up with ideas, developing their reasoning skills, en cl increasing their ability to solve problems. Piaget cliscovered the importance of using materi- als as a vehicle for learning en cl of providing a learning environ- ment that is rich in physical experiences. "Involvement," Piaget said, "is the key to intellectual development, en cl for the elemen- tary school chilcl, this includes direct physical manipulation of ob

OCR for page 7
The Value of Science Education A typical fret-grade classroom today. jects, the kind of manipula- tion so easily achieved in sci- ence lessons."5 Benchmarks for Science Literal, prepared by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), also shares this view: "For students in the early grades, the emphasis should overwhelmingly be on gain- ing experience with natural and social phenomena.... By gaining lots of experience doing science, becoming more sophisticated in con- ducting investigations, en cl by explaining their finclings, students will accumulate a set of concrete experiences on which they can draw to reflect on the process."6 In addition, the National Science Education Standards establishes active learning as one of the under- lying principles of science ed- ucation. The Standards stress- es that "learning science is something students do, not something that is clone to them."7 2. Inqtury-centered science brings the real world into the classroom and into children's lives. By bringing materials like bat- teries and bulbs into the classroom, we are giving children the op- portunity to experience for themselves the work that scientists do. They can work with the tools of science and develop their own questions and ideas. Jos Elstgeest, a science educator from The Netherlands, defines this approach to science education by identi- fying it as "a swing away from the factual syllabus. Instead of teach- ing about scientific facts which are the result of the scientific ac- tivity of others, it becomes an education through doing science. 15

OCR for page 7
Building a Foundation for Change Instead of trying to remember descriptions of the results of sci- ence, it becomes learning how such results are obtained. Instead of hearing and forgetting, it becomes doing and understanding."8 3. Inquiry-centered science promotes teamwork and collabo- ration. Inquiry-centered science requires that students learn to work collaboratively, a skill that is increasingly neecled not only in school but also in the workplace. Corporate leaders have indicated that patterns in the workplace have changed from individual prom lem solving to team problem solving. By working together through- out school, students have opportunities to learn from others en cl to discover that collaboration is essential to effective problem solving. 4. The inquiry-centered science classroom accommodates dif- ferent learning styles. Howard Gardner has clocumentet1 that peo- ple learn in a variety of different ways, including through lan- guage, mathematical reasoning, and visual arts. Gardner writes, "Genuine understanding is most likely to emerge, and be apparent to others, if people possess a number of ways of representing knowledge of a concept or skill and can move readily back en cl forth among these forms of knowing. No one person can be ex- pectecI to have all modes available, but everyone ought to have available at least a few ways of representing the relevant concept or skill."9 Inquiry-centere(1 science encompasses many learning styles -and gives children experience shifting from one mode to another. In addition, students who may not learn most effectively through traditional vehicles such as reading or listening- have other op- portunities to excel. 5. Inquiry-centered science encourages learning in more than one area of the curriculum. Science can be a springboard for ex- ploration in other parts of the curriculum. For example, one stu- dent in our example recorded her results in writing, an effective way to develop language arts skills. The other student made draw- ings to describe her findings, making a link with art. Students also may be called upon to graph their findings or perform calcula- tions to interpret their ciata; both of these activities show the close link between mathematics and science. 6. Children's grasp of new concepts and skills is reflected in their work during the activity. By observing her students as they worked with the mystery boxes, the teacher was able to gain im 16

OCR for page 7
The Value of Science Education portent information about what they really understood about the subject. Instead of relying exclusively on tests at the end of the unit, she could assess stuclents' progress as they worked. She couIcl use this information to create aciclitional lessons that related cti- rectly to concepts students found hard to understancI or to icleas they were interested in learning more about. A key objective in science education is to improve students' thinking skills, and traditional tests are often inappropriate for measuring such skills. Lauren Resnick states that multiple-choice tests "can measure the accumulation of knowledge and can be used to examine specific components of reasoning or thinking. However, they are ill suited to assessing the kiwis of integrated thinking we call 'higher order."'~ To measure the gains made during science class, educators are beginning to recognize that al- ternative assessments are needed. We will explore this issue in Chapter 8. Process Skills and Assessment Tnquiry-centered science has been shown to foster the clevelop- ment of certain skills needed for effective problem solving. These skills, often referred to as process skills, inclucle organizing infor- mation, thinking critically, and applying knowledge to new situa- tions. Tnquiry-centered science fosters the development of process skills because it provides a firm content base from which children can draw. Thinking skills cannot be developed in a vacuum; they evolve while people work on an interesting problem. Resnick echoes this view when she states, "Cognitive research has established the very important role of knowledge in reasoning and thinking. One can- not reason in the abstract; one must reason about something. Each school discipline provides extensive reasoning and problem-solving material by incorporating problem-solving or critical thinking training into the disciplines." Other researchers have performed longitudinal studies in at- tempts to measure the value of inquiry-centered science. For ex- ample, Arthur Reynolds and co-workers at Northern Illinois Uni- versity found that students who had been taught science in inquiry-centered elementary school classrooms were more success 17

OCR for page 7
Building a Foundation for Change ful in middle school and high school science classes than were students taught in more traditional ways, such as by reading a textbook. In addi- tion, students who had expe- rienced inquiry-centered sci- ence were more adept at problem solving than those who participated in tradition- al programs. Another researcher, Ted Bredderman, summarized and analyzed the experiences of 13,000 students in 1,000 classrooms, as reported in 60 studies of science learning.~3 He found that with the use of . . . . nqulry-centerecl science pro- grams, students demonstrat- ed substantially improved per ~ . . tormance in science process and creativity; improved per- formance on tests of percep- tion, logic, language develop- ment, science content, and math; and modestly improved attitudes toward learning science. The benefits of inquiry-centered science for economically disadvantaged students were pronounced. In addition to fostering problem-solving skills, inquiry helps Instill in children a world view that reflects an understanding of the importance of science to their everyday lives. Project 2061 of the AAAS has identified five attitudes that children should acquire through science education. These attitudes are 1) curiosity--(ques- tioning, wanting to know), 2) respect for evidence (open-minded- ness, willingness to consider conflicting evidence), 3) critical re- flection (weighing observations and evaluating what has been observed), 4) flexibility (willingness to reserve judgment and re . Inquiry-centered science offers students time to reflect and work independently. 18

OCR for page 7
The Value of Science Education consider ideas), and 5) sensitivity to living things (respect for life and environmental awareness). Science educators hypothesize that students who experience inquiry throughout school will become questioning adults, inter- estecI in hearing all sides of an argument before passing judgment. They will be keen observers, adept at evaluating what they have seen en c! drawing conclusions about it. Also, they will be more con- cerned about the natural world and more committee! to protect- ing the environment than previous generations have been. Although this hypothesis has not yet been tested on a large scale, there is evidence that inquiry will result in these outcomes for one key reason: It supports the way children naturally learn. Chapter 2 explores further the relationship between inquiry and the way children learn by focusing on the work of cognitive scien- tists. Their research underscores the value of inquiry in fostering intellectual development. 19

OCR for page 7
Building a Foundation for Change ... it. The inquiry-centered approach to science encompasses working with materials, asking questions, planning experiments, interpreting data, synthesizing results, and communicating those results. Inquiry supports the way children naturally learn, a very strong ar- gument for using this approach to teach elementary school science. Inquiry-centered science is easily integrated with other areas of the >~ curriculum, such as language arts and mathematics. Inquiry accommodates different learning styles, giving students who may not learn most effectively through reading or listening other opportunities to succeed. For Further Reading American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1989. Science for AII Amer- icans. New York: Oxford University Press. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for Sci- ence Literacy. New York: Oxford University Press. Dewey, l. 1938. Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books. Dow, P. B. 1991. Schoolhouse Politics: Lessons from the Sputnik Era. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Gardner, H. 1993. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic- Books. Harlan, W. 1985. Teaching and Learning Primary Science. New York: Teachers Col- lege Press. Mechling, K R., and D. L. Oliver. 1983. Handbook IV: What Research Says About El- ementary Science. Washington, D.C.: National Science Teachers Association. National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washing- ton, D.C.: National Academy Press. 20