The conflict between the amount of material to be addressed in high school science classes, the need to prepare students for standardized tests, and the amount of time available forces science educators to make difficult pedagogical decisions on a daily basis. Hands-on and inquiry-based learning offer students more authentic learning experiences with benefits beyond test scores. However, these alternative teaching/learning techniques can be more time consuming than textbook use and exacerbate the conflict between pedagogy and time. The study reported in this article questioned 2712 college Biology students about their high school science experiences. Analyses indicate that the amount of time spent reading biology texts does not influence learning outcomes.
In 1985 the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1 998) developed a long-term STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education reform initiative, Project 206 1. This initiative became part of a national movement brought on by reports like A Nation at Risk, (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) which warned of a national education crisis. Project 206 1 set goals for the systematic advancement of science for all Americans. Educators and researchers alike have tried to find the best methods to meet these goals and improve student learning. In response, there is a great amount of research demonstrating the use of alternative teaching and learning techniques in science classrooms in place of general textbook use. For example, the research based k-8 science curriculum developed at the University of California at Berkeley, FOSS (Full Option Science System) is in use in every state in the United States and it is the first non-textbook based curriculum to make the California State adoption list.
Another example of a widespread reform effort is STS (Science-Technology-Society) etc.), which approaches science education in combination with technology and society and focuses on how the three influence one another in an effort to develop scientifically literate individuals (Yager, Yager & Lim, 2006). The notion that alternative techniques offer some benefit beyond what can be attained by textbook curricula has fueled the creation of instructional kits and manuals as well as computer based lessons and internet sites to aid teachers in implementing alternative techniques in the classroom (Bentley, 2000; Handelsman, et al., 2004; Huber & Moore, 2001 ; Kenneil, 2000; McGlashan, 2007; Science Museum of Virginia, 1999; Stone, 2007). Teachers have been left the task of sorting out the details to determine the best use of precious instructional time.
The influence that alternative methods have on student learning is still unclear. Some research has demonstrated benefits of the various techniques. In 1 996, Cofer found students who participated in science servicelearning enjoyed science more than those who did not. A study in a high school in Kenya, for instance, demonstrated a significant difference in student understanding of Cell Theory for students who experienced the use of computer-based simulation over those students who did not (Wekesa, Kiboss, & Ndirangu, 2006).
Benefits have also been reported for the use of alternative methods with diverse groups. McCarthy (2005) demonstrated that instructional methods that use hands-on science activities resulted in significant improvement in science learning for students with disabilities. Lee, Buxton, Lewis, and LeRoy (2006) reported that students from less privileged backgrounds and more educational challenges (low SES, English language learners) improved their science inquiry abilities to a level closer to more privileged students when they were exposed to an instructional intervention using inquiry.
When testing is considered, the findings about alternative assessments are mixed. Pine et. al (2006) compared student learning in 41 different classrooms located in 3 different states. …