|"What the future holds in store for individual human beings, the nation, and the world depends largely on the wisdom with which humans use science and technology. But that, in turn, depends on the character, distribution, and effectiveness of the education that people receive."
|Science for All Americans
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
The purpose of teaching science in schools is to prepare children to be scientifically literate. The National Research Council defines scientific literacy as:
|"The knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity."
The AAAS documents on Project 2061 emphasize the interrelationships among science, mathematics, and technology. Mathematics has been identified as the language of science and technology as an outcome of scientific understanding in making modifications in the world to meet human needs.
The United States has led in many areas of scientific advances and achievements. Yet, it is clear that most Americans are not scientifically literate. American students' performance on international and national assessments indicates that U.S. students lag in scientific knowledge and problem solving.
Some of the reasons for the lack of achievement by many students include the following:
- Few elementary school teachers and some secondary teachers have had the preparation and background for teaching science.
- The United Sates science curriculum has been described as a mile wide and an inch deep. A large number of topics are introduced without sufficient intensity to lead to the development of deep understandings.
- The science curriculum is fragmented and splintered into discrete study without a sequence and flow of knowledge and skill development. This is evident in what has been characterized as the "layer cake" high school science curriculum of uncoordinated biology, chemistry, and physics courses.
- The teaching of science parallels the work of scientists in that students need to be involved in active learning or inquiry just as scientists are involved in investigation. A lack of equipment, overcrowded classes, and the teachers' unfamiliarity with inquiry can make it difficult to incorporate inquiry in science classes.
Many efforts are under way to improve science curriculum and instruction in schools. These efforts are generally guided by research on how children learn science. These include the following:
- Understanding science is more than knowing facts. The science teacher expects to demonstrate:
- A deep foundation of factual knowledge.
- Understandings of facts and ideas within a conceptual framework.
- An organization of knowledge in ways that allow for retrieval and application.
- Knowledge and skills in the inquiry process.
- Students build new knowledge and understandings on what they already know and believe.
- Learning is influenced by the social environment in which learners interact with others.
- Effective learning requires that students take control of their own learning.
- The ability to apply knowledge to new situations is affected by the degree to which students learn with understanding.
Science education in the United States is improving, but we must continue to improve science teaching and science literacy. The following sections provide information and ideas that can support the improvement of science education: