Restructuring Elementary and Middle School Science for Improved Teaching and Learning

Article excerpt

In all education, especially science, the teacher is the enabler, the inspiration but also the constraint. This problem is reflected in the fact that many elementary teachers although competent and enthusiastic in most of the subjects they teach, simply do not enjoy science and do not feel comfortable teaching it. Furthermore, their instructional behaviors are influences by their attitudes towards science, a fact that does not go unnoticed by students. Thus, training of science specialists or "science teacher-facilitators" may be the best approach to injecting a dynamic, lively and modern science curriculum into the elementary and middle schools. The elementary science specialist should be chosen on the basis of his/her knowledge about teaching science and also her/his ability to communicate positive feelings about the subject to students and fellow teachers. Thus, the science teacher-facilitator acts as a "lightning" rod for enhanced science teaching, sparking enthusiasm and generating interest in the wonders of science amongst colleagues and students.

The goal of this paper is to describe a science inservice course given to twenty-five K-8 teachers from the School District of Philadelphia who were chosen to become the science teacher-facilitators. The primary characteristics of the course consisted of a combination of theory and application, time to reflect and practice, self study and cooperative learning. Teachers need to know both science content and pedagogy to teach science well. As Shulman (1986, 1987) argues, it is not enough to have good generic teaching skills; rather, each discipline requires its own teaching strategies. Hence, teachers' content knowledge as well as their "pedagogical content knowledge" are both issues of concern.

Emphasis was placed on incorporating (1) knowledge about science, science learning and science teaching, (2) strategies that help teachers develop and incorporate that knowledge into their teaching, and (3) structures that involve teachers in decisions about their learning and create an environment in which new knowledge is supported and renewed. The objectives of the course were the following:

1. To facilitate classroom use of instructional techniques that are known to promote and enhance learning.

2. A hands-on, inquiry based science program in K-6 grades.

3. Enhancing attitudes towards science.

4. Strategies to motivate and involve minority students and women in the wonders of science.

5. Incorporate local resources.

6. Involve school principals.

7. Mentoring and support from the Drexal instructional team and scientists.

8. Engage the teachers in contributions to the newsletter.

Description of the Course

Foundations of Science and Fundamentals of Science Teaching

The activities and workshops were designed to develop the knowledge base and teaching skills necessary for each science teacher-facilitator. Emphasis was on the "Fundamentals of Science teaching" as these relate to the mandated science curriculum.

The foundations of science include the knowledge content needed for each component of the science curriculum - Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, Physical Sciences, Environmental Education and the analytical and synthetic skills necessary to see the knowledge content in a unified and integrated fashion. Necessary analytical skills include logical reasoning, and the mathematical skills necessary to construct scientific models and deduce conclusions from them. Necessary synthetic skills include problem formulation, creativity, visualization and model construction. Although the focus of the workshop is science, a prime feature of the program will involve a careful integration of those mathematics concepts that are appropriate to teaching science. For example, in earth science, we tend to cover geometric concepts relating to visualizing objects in three dimensions and related concepts which facilitate spatial abilities (Young, 1982). …