Science and Math

Innovations Science and Math curriculum is baed on "Best Practices" in Science Education.

To promote meaningful science learning, six practices designed to engage students in science as an important, stimulating topic that affects them everyday are used by Innovation's instructors.

These practices synthesize the "National Science Education Standards" (National Research Council, 1996) and the results of several national evaluations of science and math programs and curriculum materials. The evaluations were conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Eisenhower National Consortia, the National Diffusion Network, and the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. The best practices for science education are:  

Student-Centered Instruction

Hands-On/Minds-On Learning

Authentic Problem-Based or Issue-Based Learning

Inquiry Approaches

Emphasis on Communication Skills

Ongoing, Embedded, Authentic Assessment

 

The following section defines the practices and provides curriculum resources that support each of the practices in the classroom setting. (Source: Best Practices in Science Education by Judith Sulkes Ridgway, Lynda Titterington, and Wendy Sherman McCann)

Student-Centered Instruction

Student-centered instruction is at the heart of current research on how children learn. This approach allows kids to identify the paths they find most fruitful in constructing their scientific knowledge. Instruction is based on what children know and what they need to know, and children are encouraged to choose topics of study from their everyday lives, interests, and needs.

By controlling the selection of classroom topics, children realize that their thoughts are valued, feel more of an investment in the lessons, and therefore have greater motivation to learn. Student-centered instruction stimulates children's curiosity, requires them to think analytically and creatively, and requires them to use logic to make sense of the information and experimental data they gather in science class. Therefore, kids rely on their scientific reasoning to answer their own questions.

Teachers can implement student-centered instruction by relying less on lectures and computer tutorials as methods of science instruction. Instead, most of the course content should be gathered and presented by the children. Teachers can engage children by allowing them to conduct investigations, often in groups. For example, kids can gather information from the Internet or conduct their investigations within the virtual world of a simulation. Teachers can facilitate investigations by providing children with the materials they need, by asking them questions that help focus their study, and by allowing them to discuss and test their ideas.

Even though the class is student centered, the teacher is always watching, guiding, and assessing the children. The student-centered classroom can contain quite a bit of commotion, so teachers need to listen carefully to ensure that kids are discussing scientific ideas, not socializing.

Hands-On/Minds-On Learning

Many people might say, "Gee, those sound like buzzwords to me. Do they have any substance?" The answer is yes. If children are generating their own ideas in a student-centered classroom, they need the freedom to be physically active in their search for scientific knowledge. How can children begin to understand the nature of the world in which they live if they experience it vicariously? For this reason, the majority of the activities that kids perform should be physical explorations. Physical explorations not only make the concepts more tangible but also appeal to children's diverse learning styles and take advantage of their multisensory strengths. If children are physically involved, they are more apt to be mentally engaged.

Depending upon the age of their students, teachers can incorporate many types of hands-on activities. For example, children can design experiments, collect data, and apply scientific reasoning to analyze and learn from their results. Computers and application software can assist children in this process. In addition, hands-on learning often leads kids out of the classroom to collect data--children are not tied to their chairs when they engage in hands-on activities.

Authentic Problem-Based or Issue-Based Learning

Neither student-centered learning nor hands-on learning is as effective when children confront concepts that are not applicable to their own lives. This supports the idea that knowing a concept is being able to apply it; indeed, scientific information and its applications do become more meaningful when children can tie them to their real-life experiences. Children engaged in authentic problem-based learning apply their science knowledge to questions they have about why things happen in their world, and they discuss the social ramifications that are often associated with scientific concepts.

Sometimes logistics prevent teachers from placing children in real-life situations to study. In these instances, kids can use computer programs, videotapes, or videodisks to study authentic problems. In addition, children can answer their questions about real-world phenomena by using the Internet to collect data. However the teacher facilitates the children's investigations, the activities should be nested in authentic, real-life problems.

Inquiry Approaches

This is the most abstract yet most scientific of all of the best practices in science. Inquiry is a method of approaching problems that is used by professional scientists but is helpful to anyone who scientifically addresses matters encountered in everyday life. Inquiry is based on the formation of hypotheses and theories and on the collection of relevant evidence. There is no set order to the steps involved in inquiry, but children need to use logic to devise their research questions, analyze their data, and make predictions. When using the inquiry methods of investigation, children learn that authorities can be wrong and that any question is reasonable.

The most abstract component of inquiry is imagination. Both students and professional scientists have to be able to look at scientific information and data in a creative way. This unconventional vision allows them to see patterns that might not otherwise be obvious.

Teachers can incorporate inquiry approaches to learning, for example, by allowing small groups of students to explore a particular natural phenomenon that might exhibit certain trends or patterns. The children can then reconvene as a class, discuss their observations, and compile a list of several different hypotheses from this discussion. Each group can choose a hypothesis to investigate. Several groups might choose to replicate the same study to reduce the bias effects of any one group's techniques. Depending on their age, children might design their own experimental apparatus, use probes attached to computers, or employ sophisticated software to analyze data or create charts and graphs. Data-based predictions can be the foundation for further investigation.

Emphasis on Communication Skills

Communication is central to any human endeavor, including science. Children learn to share ideas with members of their study group and to report the results of their investigations to the rest of the class. Communication can take the form of casual conversations or more formal presentations, such as oral reports, posters, or written reports. Using the Internet, kids also learn to exchange ideas with experts in the field or with kids in other parts of the world who may be interested in the same questions.

Children need to employ scientific language or terminology to communicate meaningfully. If they are helping each other define a problem, trying to devise the best method to test an idea, or helping each other analyze the results of an exploration, children need to use language that is scientifically appropriate. Teachers can engage children by training them to use the language of science.

The development of communication skills also entails the ability of children to relate science to other school subjects. Teachers can facilitate this process and enrich the learning experience by providing bridges from science to other disciplines, such as art, history, or language arts. This can also help children see that authentic scientific investigations are not isolated from the rest of their school subjects.

Ongoing, Embedded, Authentic Assessment

How can teachers get an idea of what students know and can do in the "best-practices" learning environment? Teachers need to assess children's knowledge and scientific reasoning skills throughout the instruction process. Teachers can gauge preexisting knowledge from the questions that children generate for investigation. This process allows teachers to decide how to help kids realign their conceptions with more scientifically accepted ideas. Similarly, as children are gathering background information and devising their experiments, the teacher is observing their techniques.

No matter how the teacher has designed the lesson, knowledge can be assessed when children are asked to communicate what they have learned. Computers can assist in this process; many simulations have questions or journals embedded in them. Teachers can see student responses to questions or prompts in the program. Teachers also can evaluate children who are using presentation software to communicate their understanding.

Other Practices

All best practices are meant to support the development of scientific reasoning skills in children, and the use of technology can enhance this process. In addition, it is important that all children-- including girls, minorities, and children with special needs, who are typically underrepresented in science study--participate in the various aspects of science learning and assessment. Finally, best practices should lead to children's understanding of the nature of science as a human enterprise.

Conclusion

The teacher's role is to ensure that students achieve their primary goal: meaningful understanding of scientific concepts. The practices described in this article help bring this about in several ways. When instruction centers on students and focuses on hands-on experience with scientific phenomena, science class becomes an exciting place. When instruction concentrates on the investigation of current problems and issues through scientific inquiry, science class becomes a relevant and meaningful place. When instruction emphasizes the development of communication skills, science class becomes an invaluable place for preparing children to tackle the challenges of adulthood. And the education community owes it to its students to assess their academic progress fairly and accurately.

Reference

National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 391 690.

Judith Sulkes Ridgway is a Graduate Research Assistant Abstractor for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is also a doctoral student in science education at the university.

Lynda Titterington is the Senior Science Abstractor for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is also a doctoral student in science education at the university.

Wendy Sherman McCann is the Science Education Analyst and an AskERIC Specialist at the ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is also a doctoral student in science education at the university.

Site last updated February 23, 2001