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Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science (1996)

Chapter: Part 1. Introduction to the Guide

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Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
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Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×

PART 1

Few decisions have greater impact on the effectiveness of science teaching in the nation's schools than the process of selecting instructional materials. This selection determines to a large extent what will or will not be taught to children; it establishes the basis of teachers' professional growth opportunities in science instruction; and it accounts for major budget outlays for school systems.

Yet it is difficult for entire school districts, let alone individual classroom teachers, to find the time and resources to research the ever-growing volume of available curriculum materials, to assess them for scientific content and processes, and to arrive at the combination of materials suitable for their needs. Schools and teachers need authoritative information that addresses the educational and scientific aspects of teaching elementary school science to help make their selections.

In response to this need, the National Science Resources Center (NSRC), sponsored jointly by the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution, has produced Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science—an annotated guide to hands-on, inquiry-centered curriculum materials and sources of information and assistance for teaching elementary school science. This new volume is a completely revised and updated edition of the NSRC's best-selling resource guide, Science for Children: Resources for Teachers. The new edition focuses on curriculum materials published between 1985 and 1995 for kindergarten through sixth grade and on sources of information relevant to teaching science in the same grades.

The goal of the National Science Resources Center in developing Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science is to help teachers teach science more effectively. Thus, the NSRC has brought together in one source a

Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×

list of carefully reviewed and selected materials and resources. These curriculum materials and other resources support inquiry-based science teaching that fosters understanding of science concepts through hands-on student investigations. Teachers, principals, administrators in schools and school districts, science curriculum specialists, parents, and those involved in systemic reform of science education will find the guide a rich source of current information.

The materials and resources listed can be used to improve an existing program or to design a complete curriculum. It should be emphasized, however, that the guide is not a recipe for an elementary school science program.

Contents of the Guide

Following is a brief description of the contents and organization of the volume. It contains four parts:

  • Part 1: Introduction to the Guide

  • Part 2: Elementary School Science Curriculum Materials

  • Part 3: Teacher's References

  • Part 4: Ancillary Resources for Elementary Science Teachers

Part 2 contains about 350 individual entries that list and annotate curriculum materials. (The process by which these materials were selected is described below, in the section on "NSRC's Curriculum Evaluation Criteria and Review Process.") The overview in part 2 is followed by four chapters: chapter 1, "Life Science"; chapter 2, "Earth Science"; chapter 3, "Physical Science"; and chapter 4, ''Multidisciplinary and Applied Science."

The annotations in these chapters are subdivided in the following categories: Core Materials, Supplementary Materials, and Science Activity Books. (The categories are defined in the part 2 overview.)

Chapter 5, "Curriculum Projects Past and Present," completes part 2, with information on major funded projects in hands-on elementary science over the years dating back to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Part 3, "Teacher's References," has an overview and three short chapters of annotations: chapter 6, "Books on Teaching Science"; chapter 7, "Science Book Lists and Resource Guides"; and chapter 8, "Periodicals." Chapter 6 is an annotated list of about 50 volumes that provide background information and a broad range of pedagogical resources for good science teaching. Chapter 7 annotates about 25 directories and guides, including guides to science trade books for children and to materials and other resources. Chapter 8 annotates about 35 periodicals, including some magazines for children. The periodicals in the chapter were selected for their excellence as instructional tools, for the high quality of their articles and stories on scientific topics, for their appeal to children, and for their adaptability to classroom use.

Part 4 of the guide—"Ancillary Resources for Elementary Science Teachers"—contains two chapters that focus on facilities, associations, and federal and other organizations that have programs, services, and materials relevant to some aspect of hands-on, inquiry-based elementary school science education. The resources included in chapters 9 and 10 can significantly enhance the effectiveness of science education efforts.

Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×

Chapter 9, "Museums and Other Places to Visit," identifies almost 600 facilities—for example, museums, zoos, science and technology centers, and children's museums—to which elementary science teachers can take their classes for hands-on science experiences beyond the classroom. Annotations are provided for about half of those institutions—those considered to be making a significant effort to help teachers teach science more effectively.

Chapter 10, "Professional Associations and U.S. Government Organizations," presents annotated entries for about 120 institutions with a wide range of scientific, educational, and professional missions. The purpose of the chapter is to guide teachers to private and public sources of information, materials, and services that support elementary school science both directly and indirectly, and to identify science education facilities and relevant programs administered by U.S. government organizations.

Finally, the appendixes in the volume include a list of "Publishers and Suppliers" (appendix A) for curriculum materials and other publications annotated in the guide. Appendix B discusses and reproduces the NSRC evaluation criteria formulated for use in the review of curriculum materials.

Multiple indexes are provided to help readers access information quickly and efficiently.

NSRC's Curriculum Evaluation Criteria and Review Process

Consistent with the NSRC's philosophy of science teaching and with the recently published National Science Education Standards of the National Research Council, the materials included in this guide are hands-on and inquiry-centered. Briefly described, such materials provide opportunities for children to learn through direct observation and experimentation; they engage students in experiences not simply to confirm the "right" answer but to investigate the nature of things and to arrive at explanations that are scientifically correct and satisfying to children; they offer students opportunities to experiment productively, to ask questions and find their own answers, and to develop patience, persistence, and confidence in their ability to tackle and solve real problems.

To produce evaluation criteria for identifying the most effective print instructional materials available, the NSRC drew upon three primary sources:

  • the experience of teachers, superintendents, principals, and science curriculum coordinators across the United States;

  • the quality standards identified by the NSRC for evaluating units of science instruction in its ongoing review of science curriculum materials under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution; and

  • the National Science Education Standards, which were under development at the same time as this resource guide.

The evaluation criteria that NSRC developed were applied in the structured review of curriculum materials. The criteria consist of two sets of questions. The first focuses on pedagogical issues, the second on science issues.

The pedagogical criteria elaborate on the following key questions: (1) Do the materials address the important goals of elementary science teaching and learning? (2) Are inquiry and activity the basis of the learning experiences? (3) Are the topic of the unit and the modes of instruction developmentally appropriate? Additional issues related to presentation and format and to hands-on science materials are then considered.

Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×

The set of criteria on science issues expands upon the key questions of whether the science content is accurate, up to date, and effectively presented. It then focuses on aspects of the way science is presented in the materials—for example, whether the writing style is interesting and engaging while respecting scientific language.

The NSRC evaluation criteria are reprinted in appendix B, "NSRC Evaluation Criteria for Curriculum Materials." Teachers, curriculum specialists, curriculum developers, principals, superintendents, and those involved in various aspects of science education reform may find the criteria not only instructive, but useful as an actual review instrument when the need arises to consider the strengths and weaknesses of particular curriculum materials.

The review process developed by the NSRC for the selection of curriculum materials consisted of two phases:

PHASE I: Teams of experienced teachers and science curriculum specialists reviewed materials for pedagogical appropriateness. Each document received a minimum of two independent reviews. Volumes not recommended in this phase received no further consideration.

Phase I review teams consisted of teachers and science curriculum specialists experienced and knowledgeable in the teaching of elementary school science. Most members of the teams were lead science teachers or master teachers who had taught in school districts with effective science programs. Their backgrounds included participation in numerous science curriculum development activities; they had training and experience teaching children with different learning styles and abilities, and had taught student populations representing diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Phase I teams included individuals with experience and training in cooperative learning, assessment strategies, the integration of curriculum, and the use of modern technology. Reviewers had experience with a variety of instructional materials for elementary school science programs and were able to use the NSRC evaluation criteria effectively to identify differences and to recognize strengths and weaknesses in curriculum materials.

PHASE II: Scientists reviewed the materials recommended in Phase I to determine if their science content is accurate, current, and presented effectively.

Phase II review teams consisted of scientists with expertise in one of four areas—life science, earth science, physical science, and applied science or technology. Every effort was made to match each scientist reviewer with curriculum materials relevant to his or her area of expertise.

The members of the scientist review teams were teaching professors, working scientists, and others with an understanding of precollege science education. Their involvement with precollege students and science took various forms—for example, in judging science fairs, making classroom presentations about science concepts and careers in science, and sharing their science expertise with classroom teachers. Many of the panel members had experience teaching science at undergraduate and graduate levels; some had taught science courses to future teachers.

Materials that passed review by both the teacher and the scientist review panels are an-

Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×

notated in part 2 of the guide. It should be noted that not every individual entry in the guide necessarily meets all the criteria. The NSRC evaluation criteria were designed as a standard to be met, as the ideal level of quality to be sought, and as a working tool that can help inform science curriculum as it is developed. The criteria represent goals—but reachable goals. The curriculum materials included in this guide have accomplished the overall objective of meeting these goals, thereby enhancing the teaching of science through hands-on, inquiry-centered, pedagogically and scientifically sound learning experiences.

The curriculum materials are not ranked or rated here for several reasons. They have all achieved the general objectives set by the criteria. Their inclusion indicates that teachers and scientists have judged them to be effective materials. Beyond that, each item is unique and accomplishes these objectives in its own individual fashion. Ultimately, it is up to teachers and schools to select the particular materials that best fit their needs. Thus, ranking could be misleading—what might be considered exceedingly useful in one classroom might be less so elsewhere because of different needs and circumstances. The full array of materials presented for consideration is meant to offer diversity so that teachers and schools can select what best suits their own needs.

No judgment should be inferred about any elementary science programs, materials, or sources of assistance not included. The guide presents a selected, not an exhaustive, listing of elementary school science curriculum materials.

What Is Not Included in the Guide

Several kinds of teaching resources are not reviewed in Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Computer software for elementary science, audiovisual materials, science trade books, and elementary science textbooks are not included.

Many excellent science software and audiovisual products exist, can play an important role in the science classroom, and can be integrated with print materials and kits to enrich science teaching. The guide does not undertake to review the vast array of available software programs and audiovisual materials, such as films, videotapes, filmstrips, slides, posters, videodiscs, multimedia programs, and so forth. It concentrates instead on print curriculum materials, although some of these also have a software or audiovisual component.

For current information on software and audiovisual products, readers are referred to a software directory and a variety of periodicals and resource guides that feature reviews of audiovisual and computer software materials. (See chapter 7, "Science Book Lists and Resource Guides" and chapter 8, "Periodicals.")

Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science also does not attempt to review the vast number of science trade books available to enrich children's knowledge and understanding. Many teachers use such books as an integral part of their science curriculum, and the NSRC urges teachers to supplement hands-on activities in the classroom with extensive reading. For sources of current information on science trade books, readers are referred to chapters 7 and 8.

And, finally, elementary science textbooks, which typically include few opportunities for meaningful hands-on experiences, are not included. Although textbooks are at times used successfully as supplements to inquiry-based science

Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×

programs, the NSRC believes that an elementary science program should not be centered on the use of a textbook alone. Science is a process and a way of thinking. Both aspects require active participation by the individual learner. Students need to be able to carry out scientific investigations using a wide variety of concrete materials, set up their own experiments, change variables systematically, make accurate observations and measurements, and record and graph data.

Getting Started

Readers with differing experience in the teaching of elementary school science will no doubt use this volume. The National Science Resources Center encourages those wanting to get under way with hands-on inquiry-centered science teaching as well as those experienced in this style of teaching to explore the wide array of materials and resources described here.

Research has shown that most children learn science better and sharpen their problem-solving skills most effectively through hands-on instruction. To teachers who are just getting started with this approach, the NSRC recommends that they begin by introducing hands-on units one at a time into their science classes in order to become more comfortable with this style of teaching. Time and again, that experience has encouraged teachers to expand their hands-on teaching, for they see their students learning science in a way that engages them and offers lasting educational benefits.

Children take natural delight in "doing" science. The National Science Resources Center offers Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science in the hope that it will encourage more and more teachers to teach hands-on science and that it will help them to do so successfully.

Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
Page 1
Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Part 1. Introduction to the Guide." National Academy of Sciences. 1996. Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4966.
×
Page 8
Next: Part 2. Elementary School Science Curriculum Materials »
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What activities might a teacher use to help children explore the life cycle of butterflies? What does a science teacher need to conduct a "leaf safari" for students? Where can children safely enjoy hands-on experience with life in an estuary? Selecting resources to teach elementary school science can be confusing and difficult, but few decisions have greater impact on the effectiveness of science teaching.

Educators will find a wealth of information and expert guidance to meet this need in Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science. A completely revised edition of the best-selling resource guide Science for Children: Resources for Teachers, this new book is an annotated guide to hands-on, inquiry-centered curriculum materials and sources of help in teaching science from kindergarten through sixth grade. (Companion volumes for middle and high school are planned.)

The guide annotates about 350 curriculum packages, describing the activities involved and what students learn. Each annotation lists recommended grade levels, accompanying materials and kits or suggested equipment, and ordering information.

These 400 entries were reviewed by both educators and scientists to ensure that they are accurate and current and offer students the opportunity to:

  • Ask questions and find their own answers.
  • Experiment productively.
  • Develop patience, persistence, and confidence in their own ability to solve real problems.

The entries in the curriculum section are grouped by scientific area—Life Science, Earth Science, Physical Science, and Multidisciplinary and Applied Science—and by type—core materials, supplementary materials, and science activity books. Additionally, a section of references for teachers provides annotated listings of books about science and teaching, directories and guides to science trade books, and magazines that will help teachers enhance their students' science education.

Resources for Teaching Elementary School Science also lists by region and state about 600 science centers, museums, and zoos where teachers can take students for interactive science experiences. Annotations highlight almost 300 facilities that make significant efforts to help teachers.

Another section describes more than 100 organizations from which teachers can obtain more resources. And a section on publishers and suppliers give names and addresses of sources for materials.

The guide will be invaluable to teachers, principals, administrators, teacher trainers, science curriculum specialists, and advocates of hands-on science teaching, and it will be of interest to parent-teacher organizations and parents.

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