Academic journal article Science Educator

Accumulating Knowledge on Elementary Science Specialists: A Strategy for Building Conceptual Clarity and Sharing Findings

Academic journal article Science Educator

Accumulating Knowledge on Elementary Science Specialists: A Strategy for Building Conceptual Clarity and Sharing Findings

Article excerpt

This article offers a framework for supporting identifying and organizing the elements that comprise elementary science specialist models. With these first building blocks, it is the hope of the author to create a foundation for shared language, conceptual understanding and accumulating knowledge about how to bring high quality science education to elementary schools.

Scientists and educators have argued for inclusion of science in the school curriculum from the earliest years of our public education system. In the mid- 1800s, Edward Livingston Youmans suggested that science was the best means of contributing to both "useful knowledge" and "improved mental power" (Deboer, p. 6). Later in the century, Thomas Huxley made the case that science study should be part of schooling as early as possible and that it should focus on direct observation and study of natural phenomena (Deboer, p. 10). The calls that they and other scientists made for inclusion of science in the curriculum focused on student-oriented experiences that engage students in authentic practices of science; a very different type of science education from what we typically find in today's schools.

Distinguished educators have agreed. Nearly 100 years ago in Democracy and Education, John Dewey wrote "... by following, in connection with methods selected from the material of ordinary acquaintance, the methods by which scientific men have reached their perfected knowledge [the student] gains independent power to deal with material within his range, and avoids the mental confusion and intellectual distaste attendant upon studying matter whose meaning is only symbolic" (Dewey, 1916, p. 221). And Charles Eliot, the head of the Committee of Ten suggested that science was an effective way to develop mental abilities and should be taught with "objects and instruments in hand" (Eliot in DeBoer, p. 30). Continuing into the 20th Century, Joseph J. Schwab a scientist-educator from the University of Chicago, suggested that science would be a means for teaching students to actively engage in a process of analysis, look for evidence, and validate their own findings (Schwab, 1962).

Unfortunately, there is yet to be a time when these distinguished individ- uals and others who advocated for the merits of science education would see their positions widely realized in our schools. Elementary science education has enjoyed increased popularity in some settings during isolated pockets of time, but it has not yet made the shift from passing trend to accepted regular practice throughout our country. The closest our nation has come accompa- nied the watershed event of Sputnik. This 1957 moment of perceived defeat sparked an unprecedented commit- ment to science education in the UnitedStates. In the years immediately following, the federal government invested in curriculum programs that engaged children in "doing science" and at their peak, nearly half of school districts surveyed used one of them at the elementary level. Eventually however, their popularity, once driven by a focus on scientific disciplines and the United States' desire to develop more scientists, waned in the face of newly emerging priorities for science education such as scientific literacy, environmental education, and the role of science in society (DeBoer, 1991).

Debates about the purposes of science education have endured as long as science has been present in the school curriculum. Some arguments focus on its competitive utility and contributions to economic development. Others focus on the social elements of science learning such as environmental awareness and health. And still others point to science applications in technology and engineering. Simultaneously, there are differences in views about who should learn science- the gifted elite or the common citizenry, propagating a longstanding tension in public education rootedinthe earliestyears of ourpublic education system.

Now, with over fifty years passed since Sputnik and nearly ten years since the turn of the millennium, the need for science education in our country is greater than ever. …

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