Preparing Elementary Education Majors to Teach Science Using an Inquiry-Based Approach: The Full Option Science System

Article excerpt

SCIENCE EDUCATION traditionally has received insufficient attention. As a literature review shows, teacher preparation in science will be best served by improvements in pedagogy and in the content of required undergraduate science courses. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (1993, 1995) and the National Research Council (1993, 1995) have addressed this need in advocating a "science for all" that is highly significant for diverse learners. The No Child Left Behind Act emphasizes that reform of teacher preparation is part of an urgent national commitment to bring high-quality teacher candidates into the classroom. The Gallaudet University undergraduate teacher education program has developed an inquiry-based course that emphasizes integration of the sciences. Acquisition of the Full Option Science System, and its adaptation to and integration into the course, has resulted in specific curricular changes and positive results.

Publications such as Science for All Americans (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) and The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (Trefil & Hazen, 1998) underscore the need for better science education for all adults. This includes prospective elementary school teachers. Most students who earn an education degree in elementary school teaching are extensively trained in formal classroom teaching methodology, pedagogy, and concepts and theories, and they experience field work and student teaching. But they get little if any opportunity for inquiry-based training that emphasizes integration of the sciences. Integration of the sciences is an effort to encapsulate the "big ideas in science" approach to teaching. A big idea is one that: (a) "represents central scientific ideas and organizing principles," (b) "has rich explanatory and predictive power," (c) "motivates the formulation of significant questions," and (d) "is applicable to many situations and contexts common to everyday experiences" (National Research Council, 1993, p. 4).

Tobias (1997) observed that teacher preparation in science will best served by improvements in pedagogy and in the content of the required undergraduate science courses for prospective teachers, and by the reform of methods courses. But science teaching has not received the attention it deserves. Typically, content specialists such as professors who teach science courses are out of touch with elementary and secondary classrooms. The same holds true for education faculty who teach the generic education courses: They are likewise out of touch with advances in science. Caught in the middle are prospective teachers, who must get a bachelor's degree and meet expectations of the state credentialing agency. Moreover, according to the National Science Teachers Association (2003), administrative support in grades K-12 is the key to systematic science education reform. In the areas of science teaching and learning, professional development, science curriculum, and assessment, the full support of the key players in the reform process-the superintendent, the board of education, and the chief state school officer-is required to shape policy and promote collaboration among the science leadership in the schools.

Traditional approaches to teaching have not taken into account diverse learning styles. Even the best and brightest students have difficulties grasping many ideas that are covered in the science textbooks using the traditional approaches to teaching. Using lecture as the only method of educating students fails to convey the big ideas (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000). On the other hand, students who are taught hands-on science-doing experiments or discussing problems-have a better attitude toward science than those who are taught by means of the more traditional combination of lectures and textbook reading assignments (The Bayer Facts, 1997).

A review of the literature illustrates the need for reform in science teaching. …