Students rely on teachers for educating them in the concepts of science in order that they might become scientifically literate and achieve the goals of Science Education. However, according to the latest available data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) the United States high school science students (15 year-olds) literacy score was lower than the average science scores of their peers in other countries. Whereas the goals of science literacy can give direction to the content of a science curriculum, before instruction takes place teachers must know what it is that students should know, understand and be able to do to become scientifically literate. Teachers must also know how best to teach the information whether through memorization or through thinking skills emphasized through direct or indirect laboratory investigation.
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Project, 2061) a scientifically literate person has knowledge of science, it concepts, theories, and laws and uses them appropriately to solve problems both personally and socially. Additionally, a scientifically literate person has developed science skills that allow him or her to be productive citizens in the workforce and understand the interrelationship between science, technology, and society.
Science literacy is the central goal of teaching science. Therefore, how education is preparing students to think critically, make sense of how the world works, apply science concepts and technology, teach students to make applications and connections to real world problems are questions that can drive the choice of strategies used in the school house in the methods of teaching and learning science. Brain research informs that the human brain is an amazing structure. The brain has the capacity to shape and reshape itself as a result of experiences. Findings in the literature has shown that organizing learning around strategies that develop the brain of students to think critically coupled with teaching the content of science has motivated students to pursue advanced science courses and science careers.
This literature review is an examination of the empirical evidence on the relationship of inquiry-based learning to student achievement and science literacy. Provided in this review are discussions of the present status of science education in the United States; national goals of science education in the United States; and a strategy likely to achieve these goals. This review also identifies data on achievement; data on low/decline interest in science courses, and some consequences of low science achievement and interest in science; and current practices in teaching science. Reviews of the literature on the outcomes of the identified strategy conclude the paper.
The Present Status of Science Education in the United States of America:
What students learn in science in grades four and eight are assessed and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The United States and other international countries participate in several assessments that periodically measures how students are performing in science and compare these findings to their peers in these countries. The 2007 report indicates that compared with participating international countries united States fourth and eighth- graders are lagging behind.
Data on science achievement:
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) annually recognizes and summarizes the status of trends and conditions of learning in the United States. Analysis of science data from the 2007 edition by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) inform that science students in the Unites States are not improving and are scoring lower than their peers for every milestone measurement in science. For instance, the 2007 data showed that the average score was 539 for 4th-graders and 520 for 8th-graders. Although both scores were above the TIMSS average, which is set at 500 for every administration of TIMSS at both grades, neither scores were better than scores earned in 1995 (there was no measurable increase in scores).
Furthermore, another study called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that in 2006, U.S. 15-year-old students' average science literacy score of 489 was lower than the OECD average of 500 for 29 participating countries. This placed U.S. science students in the bottom third of participating OECD nations. These numbers showed that 16 out of the 29 participating OECD member countries outperformed U.S. peers in science literacy.
Data on low/declining interest in science courses:
Several constructs can be attributed to student low/declining interest in science courses. Review of the TIMSS and PISA report reflect data suggesting that academic under-preparedness as a possible reason for low declining interest in science courses. However, findings in literature reviews, case studies, and ProQuest Educational Journals informed that low achievement and interest in science are related to other constructs such as attitude, economic, and social consequences.
Kitts (2009) reported on a study conducted by the Northern Illinois University (NIU) over the span of three years (2005 to 2007) the paradox that students find science to be interesting that their parents would be proud of them becoming scientists yet only a small percentage of these students think they want to choose science as a career. The purpose for this study was to evaluate the attitudes of the students in order that teachers might adjust their methodologies in teaching science. The survey consisted of 10 questions on a 10-point Likert scale covering interest in science, attitudes about sciences and students' confidence and interest in science. 2,535 middle and high school student from urban, suburban, and rural districts participated in the survey. Table I and Table II shows the questions and standard deviations from the collected data respectively.
The goal of the analysis of the survey was to determine whether or not there were any significant differences between male and female responses, school districts, middle school students, and high school students and race. The evaluation of these findings showed no significant differences among any of the groups as determined by Students't- Test (p ≤ 0.05 confidence level). The results in Table two showed no statistical difference in the means of male and female responses. Findings in Table two showed that there is no significant difference between the attitudes of males and females in science. Students find science to be interesting and that their parents would be proud of them should they choose to become a scientist. Additionally, this study showed that parents support their student in science education; however, students' attitude for science and careers in science is still a question among the Geosciences' community in Illinois.
Science Attitudes Survey Questions
Similar findings reported by Kitt (2009) on another study conducted by Weisfram and Bigler (2006) to determine whether or not increase in the attitudes of high school girls given equal rights opportunities as given to boys and self-efficacy would translate into interest in computer science showed no interest in participation in the science field.
Other studies were conducted to clarify the claim by several authors that methods of instruction could change students' attitude positively toward science. Adesoj (2008) reported finding in which he examined the attitude of secondary students toward chemistry. Adesoj's research was a three weeks study on a teacher directed group, a self directed group, and a control group. The three groups had lecture on the chemistry topic at different times. The Problem-Solving group was taught problem-solving techniques before completing the attitude scale; the Self -directed group completed the attitude scale after they were given systematic approaches to solve problems independently; and the lecture group received lecture and no problem solving- techniques. All three groups were given the post attitude scale. Researchers reported students' attitude toward science on a 20-item Likert-type scale (scale developed by the researcher and tested by three experts in test construction). The researcher tested the hypothesis (there is no significance difference in attitude of students toward chemistry after exposing students to teacher-directed and self-directed problem techniques) the scores from the experimental group and the control group before treatment were analyzed for variance (ANOVA). Results reflected no significant difference in the attitude of the three groups toward problem-solving before treatment. Results after problem-solving treatment showed a significant difference in the attitude of the experimental and the control groups. According to the researcher, problem-solving techniques were more interesting to students hence, their interest in chemistry.
To solve the problem of science literacy, knowledge how students learn in spite of prevailing economic and social consequences could be the necessary teaching method that is needed.
Economics and social consequences of low science achievement and interest in science.
Education is about human condition and how these conditions react with others are predictors of student achievement. Numerous findings in the literature reviews have reported economic and social conditions as possible reasons for students not meeting with success and falling behind in science in inner-city schools. In a review of current research on funding and low-income children, Carey (2002) examined and analyzed a comprehensive report of over 60 statistical data. According to Carey these conditions: the link between school inputs, such as funding levels and student poverty rates; and school outcomes, such as test scores and graduation rates are all related to low science achievement interest in science and scientific literacy in the United States.
With the rapid changes and advances in science and technology the need for science literate populations is at the top of the agenda of many Americans including the Department of Education, Congress, other education policymakers, practitioners, data uses, and the public. PIRLS, PISA and TIMSS are the three international studies that assess students' performance at grades four, eight, and 12. According to the assessment in 2006 and the recent supplement from TIMSS, the United States students are below the international level in problem solving in science (NCES, 2009). To determine some reasons for low performance within the United States TIMSS asked principals to prepare a report to include the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. 75% of students in mathematics and science receive free and reduced-price lunch in the highest poverty public schools in the United States. These and other data construct conversations and arguments to support low performance in science education.
Socio-economically disadvantaged background is one argument in the literature as barriers to achieving excellence in science performance. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report (OECD) listed two reasons for the relationship of poor performance and socio-economic background. One, students of educated parents are in positions to receive richer learning opportunities because their parents have more cultural resources and are financially established than students from less-advantaged backgrounds. Two, children from families of advantaged socio-economic backgrounds have more choices of schools to enroll, and their children often attend schools in which the student populations are also from advantaged socio-economic backgrounds (Education at a Glance, 2009).
Another powerful predictor of student achievement documented in the literature review is social competence (skills students need to be socially adaptable). According to Wentzel (1991) there is a relationship between social competence and academic achievement in early adolescence. Wentzel's (1991) study of this construct comprised a sample of 423, 12- and 13-year old students. The purpose of her study was to determine the correlation between three aspects of social competence: socially responsible behavior, sociometic status, and self-regulatory processes (goal setting, interpersonal trust, and problem-solving status). Results from multiple regression analysis indicated that whenever other aspects of competence related to the student arise, socially responsible behavior immediately intercepts the relations between the student's grade and the other two aspects of social competence. Finding in this study also reported a correlation between socially responsible behavior and peer status. At the elementary level for example, students tend to do better when they are popular than when they are not socially accepted by their peers. Thus low science achievement can be attributed to socio-economic conditions.
Goals of science education:
The goals of science education was first established in 1975, reformed in 1995 and published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1989) -Science for All Americans. In 2009 the National Science Education Standards (NRC) revised these same goals written in 1975. Scientific knowledge, scientific methods, societal issues, personal needs, and career awareness are the accepted goals for science education. To carry out these goals AAAS have established standards that explains what students should know, understand, and be able to do in natural science. The content standards are a list of outcomes for students; they do not prescribe a curriculum (National Science Education, 1996).
Nuno (1998) presents a more prescribed elaboration of the goals of science education:
- To develop an understanding of the main concepts, themes, and laws developed within the domains of the biological and physical sciences, an awareness of the interrelatedness of the physical and biological worlds, and an appreciation of the diversity and complexity of the natural world.
- To develop an understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry, the scientific enterprise, scientists and how they work, the multiple methods of science and the role of the imagination and creativity in science.
- To develop a positive attitude toward science and an ability to use the senses to satisfy curiosity about the natural world.
- To develop critical-thinking, questioning, analysis, problem-solving and decision making skills involving natural phenomenon and to develop and an understanding of how hypotheses and theories are formed and tested.
- To develop the ability to find, obtain and process qualitative information and specifically to make, record and present qualitative observations as well as use resources to find background information.
- To develop aptitude in using a variety of measurement tools and methods to obtain, record and process quantitative information.
- To develop verbal communication skills, especially those involved in written reports and oral presentations.
- To develop an awareness of careers in various science disciplines.
The goals of science education that will lead students to become scientifically literate are the established recommendations of the national council for a common core of learning in science education.
The National Assessment Governing board has established standards for student achievement. The purpose of standards is to measures students' performance at the basic, proficient, and advance level. Science standards of achievement are congruent with the National Research Council and with Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning (1956) that describes how students should learn (e.g. Knowledge, attitude and skill). Students are expected to demonstrate higher levels of thinking at each level (age, gender, cultural, ethnic background, disabled, motivated or interest in science) of performance. The standards provide what it means to be scientifically literate that is what students should know, understand and be able to do in science at the various cognitive levels in elementary through high school.
A case for literacy and achievement:
According to the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment Research Council (CSMME) Americans agree that our students need better science education to be scientifically literate and to function in an expanding scientific and technological society. In an attempt to address the quality of education in the United States, the nation's leaders (consultants, reviewers - scientists, engineers, mathematicians, historians, and educators) collaboratively identified and initiated curriculum materials for science literacy. These materials arranged as "Projects" are the learning goals in science for all American children.
Project 2061 is a three phase project designed to span a decade or more. Phase one focuses on literacy; Phase two involves educators and scientists transforming science for all Americans into blueprints for achievement lessons. According to Project 2061 report the main purpose of the second phase is to design curriculum models that school districts can use in the teaching of science, assess teaching and learning, design professional development for teacher education, reform testing, practices and policies, and make it possible for new curricula to work. Phase three involves the collaboration with scientific societies, educational organizations and institutions, and other groups in an effort to move the nation forward toward scientific literacy for all Americans. Project 2061 emphasizes the movement of students toward science literacy, when students are thoroughly educated in science. Students will become aware that science, technology, and society are interrelated (depend on each other), and become knowledgeable in scientific vocabulary, develop science reading skills, develop science writing skills, and become Additionally, students will function in society and the world as citizens, capable of making intelligent decisions, leading and using scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes.
In the book Science for All Americans, are listed suggested steps that must be taken to achieve the goals expressed in Project 2061 and build the kind of curriculum that is compatible with our changing society. Four steps are suggested that should be included: One, a curriculum that emphasizes quality rather than quantity, scientific content that influences critical thinking and a curriculum that incorporate mathematics and technology skills. Two, a curriculum that emphasizes effective teaching of science based on grounded research and experience, lessons that are designed to focus and actively engage students in inquiry processes of learning. Three, a curriculum that emphasizes multicultural education to include all types of learners in all grades and subject. Four, an education reform that brings about collaborative efforts among institutions, organizations, individuals, and governmental agencies. Implementing these steps hold much promise for allowing students to gain the familiarity and knowledge in science education, which they need to become scientifically literate.
Fisher, Grant, and Frey (2009) reviewed a science curriculum in a Pro-Quest educational journal that is built around vocabulary and background. They found that learning strategies that prompts students to read and inquire will give students wide experiences and deep thinking will result in students becoming better readers, thus improving science understanding and science achievement. Such was the case in a seventh-grade science classroom (in this report) in which students in groups were assigned a study on "adaptation." Students rotated though a series of activities such as: book reading, watched DVD, inquiry lab, and guided instruction. Students reported that for each wide reading activity the content of the reading prompted them to ask questions of their peers and of the teacher, to read more in order to understand, to investigate in order to discover, to think deeper and to use other resources in order to get a broader scope of the science concept. Students also reported that wide reading provided them with rich background knowledge and vocabulary comprehension. This report showed that with time and practice students will begin to read, write, and think like scientists (Fisher, Lapp, and Grant 2007).
Importance of teaching strategies:
The importance of teaching strategies is widely acknowledged in numerous brain-based and learning theory literatures since the 1960s. Findings from these theories are now scientifically validating instructional strategies that call for student engagement (Sousa, 2006). This is based on the observations and findings obtained from modern technological advances such as CAT (computerized axial tomography) scans, MEG (magnetoencephalography) scans, PET (position emission tomography) scans, and fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imagining). Neuroscientists are now able to suggest why some instructional strategies engage the brain better than others.
While Brain Research theory is yet young, the concepts are closely related to other learning theories. For example, according to Active Learning theory (Piaget, Bruner and other constructivist), although we can learn through reading, listening and experience the best observed way of learning is when the entire person is engaged. The tables below illustrate the significant effects on how we learn and retain information.
Learning Recall Related to Type of Presentation:
Adapted from: Joyce and Showers 1981.
According to the scientific panel of Phase one - Project 2061, equally important to the content taught is how science is taught. They also reported that the reasons and justification for how science is taught are the teaching strategies that engage the whole person, which affects the goals of science instruction.
Current practices of teaching strategies in science education:
With the growing concern on science literacy in the united States it is becoming increasingly important to craft teaching practices that use strategies that support the learner and his/her schema for learning. According to literature reviews schools are drawing on research into how the brain works and theories about "multiple intelligences." The theories inform that because students are diversified in their talents and abilities, they have different leaning styles. Whereas teachers once lectured while students listen, take notes and memorize information, new approaches involve collaboration with teacher and student and student with student; the teacher ask students to think critically, make inferences and predictions. Teachers model what students should know, understand and should be able to do at the end of learning experiences.
Literature reviews also reported that teachers are using active learning strategies, such as hands-on activities, cooperative learning, real-life metaphors, and longer wait time; longer wait time allow for reflection and processing of information (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000).
Another strategy reported by Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000 is the implementation of "metacognitive" approaches to learning. According to the review these approaches allow students to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them. In Table three are core science instructional strategies that the literature reported received high rating from educators in a Delphi study (Thurlow, Shyyan, Barrera & Liu, 2008).
The outcomes of Inquiry-Based and Problem-Based teaching strategies:
Inquiry-Based learning (active-learning) is a methodology that facilitates student learning though the process of research activities and approaches; seeking for truth, information and knowledge. The task in this process can include case scenarios and different projects which are designed with questions and problems from the discipline of study (Brew, 2006; Kahn & O'Rourke, 2004).
One outcome of inquiry-based teaching strategy found in the literature include Middle-school physics students taught through inquiry, outperformed high school students taught with conventional methods (White, Shimoda, and Frederiksen 1999). Similar findings resulted from a Detroit Public School in partnership with researchers at the University of Michigan where inquiry-based science units were implemented in sixth, seventh and eighth grade classrooms over a span of three years. Over 8,000 students were tested before and after the curriculum were implemented. The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not there would be significant gain in achievement after the utilization of inquiry-based learning. Students were invited to create projects to explore and explain simple machines and the concept of force. Researchers reported that the inquiry-based curriculum yielded significant gains in student achievement without sacrificing state curriculum standards (Marx et al's, 2004).
Amaral, Garrison & Klentschy (2002) reported on published academic articles whose purpose was to determine the benefits of inquiry-based teaching methods on culturally and linguistically diverse students and students with special needs. They found that Fourth and sixth grade ELLs in high-poverty school districts showed more improvement in science the longer they were enrolled in a inquiry-based classroom.
The National Science Center (NSRC) conducted several case studies, quasi-experiments, randomized- control studies, and meta-analysis in California, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to determine the affect of implementing inquiry-based instruction in elementary, middle and high school science curriculum. They reported that in Fresno, California Students receiving inquiry-based science instruction outperformed students receiving traditional science education. In Imperial County, California where 47% of the students are English language learners coupled with a poverty ranking the highest of all 58 counties, students receiving inquiry-based science instruction significantly outperformed their classmates who had textbook-based instruction. Delaware reported that since implementing inquiry-based instructional strategies the achievement gap has been closing in fourth grade through high school. They reported that at grade four the percentage of students meeting the statewide science standards increased from 80% in 2000 to 90% in 2005 for all ethnic groups. African-American and Hispanic students' performance increased from 73% in 2000 to 87% in 2005.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania reported an increase in standardized scores for students using inquiry-based science programs in grades four through seven compared to students in matched untreated schools. 50 school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania implemented the NSRC model for science reform (inquiry-based instruction) Per the TIMSS report, students in these 50 school districts outperformed their peers in the United States and internationally. The report also informed that these students performed on the same level of achievement as their peers from the highest scoring nations in the TIMSS study.
15 school districts in Michigan used the science instructional strategies and reported students performing better on the Michigan Assessment Program (MEAP) than students in district who did not.
Washington State with eight year of experience using inquiry-based instructional strategies reported an increase in student learning Statewide.
These empirical studies inform us that inquiry-based learning strategies provide "empowering" tools that can assist students in exploring scientific phenomenon, inquiry and discover a better understanding of the world around them through active engagement. These studies also inform us that when teachers match the right strategies with the goals (standards) of Science Education they will create a pathway for student engagement that is loaded with achievement benefits. Benefits that even students with special needs can gain. Additionally, the outcomes tell us that in order to prepare students for the 21st century traditional approaches, memorization, or mediocre teaching will not adequately develop students or prepare them for our scientific and technological society.
Factors that would further the use of teaching strategies.
In the words of Albert Einstein "The deeper we search, the more we find there is to know, and as long as human life exists I believe it will always be so." Current research in the field of education has demonstrated that instructional strategies such as inquiry-based learning are excellent tool for improving achievement and meeting the goals of science literacy. However, factors that would further the use of teaching strategies are teacher preparation and teacher preparation. Professional development in our schools is a purposeful and intentional process that is designed to develop teachers and bring about positive change and improvement (Guskey, 2000). According to Guskey (2000) deliberately focusing on these two factors, developing processes and procedures for carrying out these goals should bring about measurable outcomes and benefits.
Barriers (policy implications) of teaching strategies.
With reform come barriers. However, current research has shown that teachers can be the change in the classroom. There are numerous barriers in science education such as: cultural barriers, political barriers, teacher belief about science, technology barriers, traditional, and current practice barriers. These and other barriers create challenges for education reform. Goetz, Floden & O'Day (1996) reported that although Congress embrace the academic standards of 1989 to improve school performance, reformers have come to realize that supporting school improvement standards are not enough to raise student achievement. School systems, policy makers and stakeholders are challenged with curriculum design, better trained teachers, and the organization and management of schools that are necessary to accommodate education reform.
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An Overview of Goals for Science Education by R.W. Bybee|J.C. Powell|L.W. Trowbridge
Source: Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Topics: Elementary School, Middle School, High School, Science, National Science Standards
Goals for Science Instruction
High School Science
USC Rossier School of Education
CTSE 509: Advanced Science Teaching Methods
February 5, 1998
How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning by John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking, editors With additional materials from The Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino, editors Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education of the National Research Council National Academy Press, 2000 ISBN: 0-309-07036-8 13.
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