TAKING SCIENCE TO SCHOOL
Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8
Richard A. Duschl, Heidi A. Schweingruber, and Andrew W. Shouse, Editors
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by Grant No. ESI-0348841 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation with support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Support was also provided through a separate grant from the Merck Institute for Science Education. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Taking science to school : learning and teaching science in grades K-8 / Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade ; Richard A. Duschl, Heidi A. Schweingruber, and Andrew W. Shouse, editors.
ISBN 0-309-10205-7 (hardback) — ISBN 0-309-66069-6 (pdf) 1. Science—Study and teaching (Elementary)—United States. I. Duschl, Richard A. (Richard Alan), 1951- II. Schweingruber, Heidi A. III. Shouse, Andrew W. IV. National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade.
Additional copies of this report are available from the
National Academies Press,
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Copyright 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
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Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2007). Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade. Richard A. Duschl, Heidi A. Schweingruber, and Andrew W. Shouse, Editors. Board on Science Education, Center for Education. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
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COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE LEARNING, KINDERGARTEN THROUGH EIGHTH GRADE
RICHARD A. DUSCHL (Chair),
Department of Learning and Teaching, Rutgers University
CHARLES W. ANDERSON,
Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing
THOMAS B. CORCORAN,
Department of Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Pennsylvania
KEVIN J. CROWLEY,
Department of Instruction and Learning, University of Pittsburgh
FRANK C. KEIL,
Department of Psychology, Yale University
Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University
Department of Teaching and Learning, University of Miami, Coral Gables
DANIEL M. LEVIN,
Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, MD
KATHLEEN E. METZ,
Department of Cognition and Development, University of California, Berkeley
HELEN R. QUINN,
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University
BRIAN J. REISER,
Department of Learning Sciences, Northwestern University
DEBORAH L. ROBERTS,
Maryland State Department of Education, Baltimore
Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University
CAROL L. SMITH,
Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Boston
HEIDI A. SCHWEINGRUBER, Co-Study Director
ANDREW W. SHOUSE, Co-Study Director
C. JEAN MOON, Director,
Board on Science Education
VICTORIA N. WARD, Senior Program Assistant
SCIENCE CONSULTANTS FOR THE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE LEARNING, KINDERGARTEN THROUGH EIGHTH GRADE
PETER RAVEN, Director,
Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis
EDWARD C. ROY, JR.,
Department of Geology (emeritus), Trinity University, San Antonio, TX
MAXINE SINGER, President Emeritus,
Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC
SUSAN R. SINGER,
Department of Biology, Carleton College, Northfield, MN
BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION
CARL E. WEIMAN (Chair),
Department of Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder
ALICE M. AGOGINO,
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley
Cognitive Studies in Education, University of Washington, Seattle
Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Washington Office, Washington, DC
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Washington
Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin
SHARON R. LONG,
Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University
BRETT D. MOUDLING,
Utah Office of Education, Salt Lake City
Merck Institute for Science Education, Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ
HELEN R. QUINN,
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University
SUSAN R. SINGER,
Department of Biology, Carleton College
JAMES P. SPILLANE,
Department of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University
WILLIAM B. WOOD,
Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder
C. JEAN MOON, Director
MICHAEL A. FEDER, Program Officer
HEIDI A. SCHWEINGRUBER, Senior Program Officer
ANDREW W. SHOUSE, Senior Program Officer
OLUKEMI O. YAI, Senior Program Assistant
VICTORIA N. WARD, Senior Program Assistant
This report brings together research literatures from cognitive and developmental psychology, science education, and the history and philosophy of science to synthesize what is known about how children in grades K through 8 learn the ideas and practice of science. The resulting conclusions challenge the science education community, writ large, to examine some tenacious assumptions about children’s potential for learning about science and, as a result, the priority of science in elementary schools. We believe this research synthesis and the implications from it have the potential to change science education in fundamental ways.
For example, the repeated challenge from science educators is that science education should be for “all” the children. This has been a difficult challenge to meet. Although there is general agreement that all children will and must learn to read, historically there has been far less agreement that all children will and must learn science regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic circumstances.
That issue is addressed in this report. Taking Science to School speaks in a clear, evidentiary-based voice. All young children have the intellectual capability to learn science. Even when they enter school, young children have rich knowledge of the natural world, demonstrate causal reasoning, and are able to discriminate between reliable and unreliable sources of knowledge. In other words, children come to school with the cognitive capacity to engage in serious ways with the enterprise of science.
This finding leads to a sobering insight: as educators, we are underestimating what young children are capable of as students of science—the bar is almost always set too low. Moreover, the current organization of
science curriculum and instruction does not provide the kind of support for science learning that results in deep understanding of scientific ideas and an ability to engage meaningfully in the practices of science. In sum, science education as currently structured does not leverage the knowledge and capabilities students bring to the classroom. For students from diverse backgrounds, this problem is even more profound.
While sobering, this news also offers hope. At a time when significant resources, thought, and hand-wringing are devoted to the state of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in this country, it is welcome news that children come to school far more ready and far more capable to be science learners than previously thought. Indeed, this knowledge should come as a breath of fresh air, a reason for renewed commitment to science education, and most importantly, an invitation to action on the part of researchers, school practitioners, and state and federal policy makers.
In addition to addressing the issue of children’s capacity to engage in science, this report provides a redefinition of what it means to be proficient in science. It is a compelling and comprehensive framework. It will stretch us to think beyond the artificial dichotomy between content and process in science. It is comprehensive because it attends to the whole of science learning.
Taking Science to School makes an important contribution to science education. It has been some time since science education has received an infusion of knowledge so central to the intersection of learning and science. The Board on Science Education at the National Academies is pleased to have coordinated this study. We think it exemplifies the central purpose of the National Academies and the National Research Council (NRC), to advise the nation on matters critical to science and policy in science, engineering, and medicine. We are especially grateful to the sponsors of this study—the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE). Through their sponsorship, each demonstrated a deep commitment to the importance of science, science education, and learning.
Consulting scientists for this study—Peter Raven, director, Missouri Botanical Garden; Edward C. Roy, Jr., Department of Geology (emeritus), Trinity University; Maxine Singer, Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC (president emeritus); and Susan R. Singer, Department of Biology, Carleton College—made important contributions to the study process for which they deserve special recognition. They provided the study committee and staff with advice and reflections from the perspective of individuals with significant expertise in science content.
Finally, the intellectual leadership demonstrated by co-study directors Heidi Schweingruber and Andrew Shouse in guiding the work of this study committee and the final report was outstanding. The board is grateful for their significant contributions along with those of every member of the study committee. The importance of this report to the science education community was recognized early in the committee’s work. It became a standard to inspire and guide their work throughout the process. We recognize and thank them for their major contributions to the field of science education.
Carl E. Wieman, Chair
C. Jean Moon, Director
Board on Science Education
The consensus report, Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8, would not have been possible without the important contributions from study committee members, NRC leadership and staff, and many other individuals and organizations.
First, we acknowledge the support of NSF, the NICHD, and MISE. We particularly thank NSF senior program officer Janice Earle, whose initial and continuing engagement with the study committee supported and encouraged the development of the report. We are also grateful to Dan Berch from NICHD who encouraged the committee to focus on the basic science of learning (e.g., infant studies, developmental change, and brain mechanisms) as we addressed the goals and agenda for the study committee. Significant recognition and thanks must go to Carlo Parravano, MISE executive director, for his foresight in knowing how central this report would be for science education and for his strong support throughout the process of the study. This report would not have been possible without the collaborative sponsorship provided by NSF, NICHD, and MISE.
Members of the committee benefited from discussions and presentations by the many individuals who participated in our five meetings. In particular, our initial framing of the K-8 science learning domains underwent significant revisions and refinements as a result of the scholarly and thoughtful contributions made by commissioned paper writers, presenters, responders, science consultants, and members of the Practitioner Study Oversight Group. At our first meeting, Clark Chinn, Rutgers University; Christine Massey, University of Pennsylvania; and Ala Samarapungavan, Purdue University, presented their research on young children’s
science concept learning, reasoning, and argumentation discourse processes. Maureen Callanan, University of California-Santa Cruz, and Greg Kelly, Pennsylvania State University, provided thoughtful responses to the three presentations. The three presentations and two responses guided the committee to a discussion on the need to delineate the kinds of research to consider regarding children’s science learning. Jeremy Kilpatrick, chair, NRC study committee for the report Adding It Up, helped committee members grasp the magnitude of the enterprise upon which we were about to embark and comforted us with the information that the NRC leadership, study directors, and staff would, as they most certainly did, provide guidance and acumen in the preparation of the report you have before you.
At the second committee meeting, we extended our explorations of research on children’s science learning though a commissioned paper presentation by Deanna Kuhn, Teachers College, Columbia University, and a presentation by Corinne Zimmerman, Illinois State University. We next took up the topic of “what is science?” with a presentation and a response on “model-based reasoning practices in science” from philosophers of science Nancy Nersessian, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Richard Grandy, Rice University, respectively, and a presentation on teaching “ideas-about-science” from Jonathan Osborne, King’s College, London, England. Also at the second meeting, we had a presentation on assessment practices in science education from Janet Coffey, University of Maryland-College Park, and a response from Dylan William, then at the Educational Testing Service and currently at the Institute of Education, London, England.
For the third committee meeting, we turned our attention to the relationship between instruction and contexts that support science learning. A perspective on early childhood was presented by Rochel Gelman, professor and codirector of the Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Sciences; and the focus on elementary and middle school years was presented by Sister Gertrude Hennessey, (St. Ann’s School, Stoughton, WI). Beth Warren and Josiane Hidicourt-Barnes, both from TERC, presented on the instruction and contexts for science learning issue from the perspective of diverse learners. The committee discussions on assessment were further informed by Senta Raizen from West Ed. Her presentation provided the committee with information on using research on science learning to inform large-scale assessments in science. Science learning in out-of-school contexts was a critically important topic for the committee, and Reed Stevens, University of Washington, and Kirsten Ellenbogen, Science Museum of Minnesota, completed a commissioned paper on this topic, which was presented by Dr. Ellenbogen. Another critical topic was sociocultural perspectives on science learning. The commissioned paper on this topic for the third meeting was one by Ellice Forman and Wendy Sink, University of Pittsburgh, and was quite helpful to the committee.
At the next two committee meetings we were occasionally joined by members of the Science Consultants Advisory Board—Peter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden; Edward C. Roy, Jr., Trinity University (emeritus); Maxine Singer, president emeritus, Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC; and Susan R. Singer, Carleton College. Feedback from our science consultants helped the committee to clarify messages and issues of audience for the report. A special acknowledgment goes to Susan R. Singer, chair of the NRC study committee that produced the report, America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science, who offered sage advice and feedback to the chair and to our committee on the process and procedures of our deliberations.
At the last several meetings, we were also joined by members of the Practitioner Study Oversight Group for the science learning study practitioner book—Sister Mary Gertrude Hennessey, Stoughton, WI; Deborah C. Smith, Lansing Public School, MI; Sarah Michaels, Clark University; and Janet English, a middle school teacher on leave of absence and who is now with KOCE-TV, PBS. We are grateful to each member of the group for providing excellent feedback to the committee as well as compelling examples of exemplar practices in K-8 science classrooms. This practitioner book, sponsored by MISE, will be released by the NRC approximately six months after the release of this formal report.
We also would like to thank Erin Furtak, Stanford University, who completed a commissioned paper on assessment; Mark Olson, University of Connecticut, and Carla Zembal-Saul, Pennsylvania State University, who provided additional expertise.
Many individuals at the NRC assisted the committee. The study would not have been possible without the efforts and guidance of C. Jean Moon and Patricia Morison. Both were active participants in the deliberations of the study committee, helping us to focus on key messages and conclusions from the study. Additionally, they also made profound contributions to the development of the report through periodic leadership meetings with the committee chair and the NRC study co-directors. We are grateful to Victoria Ward who arranged logistics for our meetings and facilitated the proceeding of the meetings themselves.
Jeremy Kilpatrick also informed us at the first meeting about the critical role study reviews have in bringing the report together. How very right he was!
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the NRC. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for
objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Rolf K. Blank, Education Indicators, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, DC; Brian P. Coppola, Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan; Liang-Shih Fan, School of Engineering, Ohio State University; Susan Gelman, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan; Lynda J. Goff, UC Science and Mathematics Initiative, University of California-Davis; Barbara Koslowski, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Cornell University; Richard Lehrer, Teaching and Learning Department, Vanderbilt University; Douglas L. Medin, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University; Brett D. Moulding, Utah Office of Education, Salt Lake City, UT; Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar, School of Education, University of Michigan; Kathleen Roth, Research Institute, LessonLab, Santa Monica, CA; Norman H. Sleep, Department of Geophysics, Stanford University; Cary Sneider, Educator Programs, Museum of Science, Boston, MA; Nancy Butler Songer, School of Education, University of Michigan.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions and recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Catherine Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, and Johanna Dwyer, Tufts University School of Medicine and Friedman School of Nutrition and Science Policy, Tufts-New England Medical Center. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Richard A. Duschl, Chair
Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade