Teaching for Excellence in K-8 Science Education: Using Project 2061 Benchmarks for More Effective Science Instruction

Article excerpt

Teacher educators constantly search for the best models of instruction to help teacher education students become effective teachers. Remembering many failed reform efforts, teacher educators sense the here today, gone tomorrow sentiment that follows their demise. Wheeler (1996) notes, Systemic reform has a temporal character (p. 308). Reform has been on the national agenda in science education for more than a decade, and key leaders have offered their perspectives of progress to date (Rutherford, 1996; Strassenburg, 1996; Vos, 1996). Science educators have little disagreement about the need for reform, but they have little agreement about the specific modes to achieve this reform (Linn, 1992). Most science educators agree that even great materials, excellent summer programs for teachers, and incorporating the best educational methods do not suffice.

A commonly agreed-upon theme for reform in science education is active involvement of learners in the teaching and learning process. As teacher educators embed the principles of science reform initiatives into their classrooms, they must involve teacher education students. Yager (1992) states that teachers are central to solutions and successes for current reform efforts (p. 907). Teacher education students must also be involved.

Professional science associations, including the National Resource Council (NRC) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), have developed national science standards for grades K-12: the National Science Education Standards (National Resource Council, 1996) and Project 2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). Both documents elaborate ideas emerging from Project 2061 (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) and other efforts focusing on the science knowledge and skills literate citizens should possess. Developed by two separate groups, the projects share common goals and recommendations; both aim to develop a nation of scientifically literate citizens.

The national movement has trickled down to state and local boards of education through the development of state and local science curriculum standards. Schools, colleges, and departments of education (SCDEs) across the country are incorporating the curriculum standards into their science methods courses.

The standards movement has specific implications for the preparation of teachers. They provide a map for teacher development of curricula with improved content, teaching methods, and assessment, and a guide for institutions of higher education to refine programs for learning science through inquiry (Close, Miller, Titterington, & Westwood, 1996).

Educational reform in science education is about both what students should learn and how teachers should teach science (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Research Council, 1996). Science instruction should facilitate the development or understanding of science as a way of knowing (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Research Council, 1996; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990). Effective instruction helps students sort and distinguish among a multitude of ideas; the purpose of teaching is to encourage students to actively engage in the process of lifelong learning. The national standards support the development of environments; how teachers teach greatly influences students' learning (National Research Council, 1996; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990). An environment conducive to promoting students' construction of understanding by conveying attitudes and habits of mind enabling them to challenge ideas will empower them with knowledge, abilities, and attitudes conducive to understanding.

Some researchers (Bates & Culpepper, 1991; Ganem, 1993; Keeports & Morier, 1994; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) argue that prospective teachers must understand how science works. …