Academic journal article Science Educator

Providing School and District-Level Support for Science Education Reform

Academic journal article Science Educator

Providing School and District-Level Support for Science Education Reform

Article excerpt

Administrators who are viewed as knowledgeable about the issues and challenges involved in developing scientifically literate students are in a stronger position to promote and facilitate improvements in the science curriculum as well as its implementation.

In this age driven largely by scientific and technological advances we put a premium on rigorous scientific training for our students, and yet our science education currently fails to meet the grade. Data about the effectiveness of U.S. science education has been clear, and discouraging, for over a decade now: our nation's students are not the scientific thinkers and problem solvers they should be. Reports of U.S. students' performance on both the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) echo a dismal message of lackluster performance (Dossey, Mullis, & Jones, 1993; Schmidt, McKnight, & Raizen, 1997). Students fail to demonstrate the skill mastery, depth of knowledge, or ability to inquire and investigate that characterize scientifically proficient students. We are not yet doing the job that we should (or can) do to teach our children to understand and use ideas from science (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000).

In large measure, this failure is due to chronically low expectations for our students and approaches to curriculum and instruction that fail to build active and independent scientific thinkers (Stevenson & Stigler, 1993; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). For example, the typical science curriculum, often described as "a mile wide and an inch deep," fails to provide students with opportunities to engage in authentic scientific thinking. Across the nation, the emphasis has consistently favored the quantity of information presented to students rather than the quality of students' understanding (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990). Teachers spend a significant amount of instructional time reviewing and re-teaching topics from previous years rather than deepening and extending students' understanding. Students spend much of their time memorizing definitions of scientific phenomena and labels for scientific processes rather than learning to engage in disciplined inquiry of important scientific ideas. Their ability to think scientifically is compromised by a focus on the "what?" of science rather than on the "how?" or "why?" (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21 Is Century, 2000). If we are to improve students' science achievement, we must change both the content that students learn and the way that they learn it. We need to give students the chance to study a coherent and challenging curriculum that emphasizes conceptual understanding, problem solving capability, and effective communication of scientific ideas. We must also help students develop "higher order" thinking skills by teaching them to make systematic observations, develop hypotheses, design and conduct investigations, and reason from data.

Reforming science education in these ways will involve making changes throughout the system. Schools and districts will need to identify clear goals for high student achievement, and to apply these goals to all students (Mitchell & Willis, 1995; National Research Council [NRC], 1996). They must plan a challenging curriculum to meet these goals, adopting materials that are both academically rigorous and instructionally effective with a wide range of students (Berns et al., 2001; Goldsmith & Kantrov, 2000; Schmidt, McKnight, & Raizen, 1997). In addition, teachers must participate in high-- quality professional development to ensure that they are well prepared to teach a more intellectually demanding curriculum and to call upon a repertoire of instructional approaches to engage students as active scientific thinkers and problem solvers (Rhoton & Bowers, 2001).

How can principals and other district administrators help promote such changes? …

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