If you are or have been a school teacher, you are probably familiar with the feelings associated with constant changes to the curriculum. You have heard the administration say phrases such as, “last year we did this” or “this year we are doing things differently”, or even “next year we will try that”. It’s a never-changing process. If you are not a teacher please visit Education Week and you’ll understand what I mean. Our profession is a never-ending experiment.
Inconsistencies are the reality of many school districts and even private schools. Some inconsistencies are normal and part of the fact that we work with humans. Other inconsistencies result from poor leadership and lack of planning. Regardless of the reasons, I have noticed an amplified educational pandemic lately. I believe these have negative consequences on our children’s development. Hence, I argue that we must address problems in our field before the damage to children is too great to overcome.
Science education has undergone significant changes over the years, with modifications to curricula and instructional methodologies aimed at improving teaching and learning outcomes. Unfortunately, the majority of these trends do very little in the work of advancing science education. And yet, they keep being pushed by large publishing companies, government agencies, schools, and even academic professors.
We are now entering another science education trend that arguably will also hurt students learning. Why do I say that? Because these trends amplify teacher education problems in our country and current gaps in students’ learning. Furthermore, these trends happen so frequently that many school districts don’t have the financial resources or time to process, train, adapt, and modify curricula.
Before I have a mob of angry people going at me, let me be clear that I am not suggesting the new recommendations are inappropriate. What I am putting forward is that I am tired of “one more thing” pushed into elementary school teachers, specifically. Inconsistent decision-making processes burn out teachers and lead to ineffective teaching. In this article, I share my concerns regarding this new trend.
Steady education always yields better results
than trendy and flashy initiatives.
These inconsistencies are usually adopted in the name of “it’s better,” but the process is usually the same: lack of systematic implementation, evaluation mechanisms, and lack of an improvement plan. Finally, we can’t reject or adopt science education curricula if we don’t understand the teaching methods associated with specific curricula. And, how these relate to new trends.
Science Education Teaching Methods
If you are a teacher, knowing the different science education teaching methods is crucial. Such knowledge allows you to be intentional in the interests of your students. Not all students learn the same way, and it is essential to provide a variety of learning approaches to engage everyone in the learning process. Ultimately, knowing a range of science education teaching methods allows competent teachers (and homeschool parents) to create a dynamic and supportive learning environment that promotes student engagement, curiosity, and achievement.
What are science education teaching methods? I describe them below. But you can find books in my Education Books store.
1. Traditional Teaching
Traditional teaching in science education is a more conventional approach to learning that typically involves teacher-centered instruction, textbook readings, memorization, and retrieval of factual information, supplemented with occasional practical activities. In this approach, the teacher is usually the primary source of knowledge and expertise, while students are expected to follow the teacher’s lead and adhere to predetermined curriculum standards.
This kind of teaching method tends to place heavy emphasis on rote learning and recalling facts, often at the expense of deeper critical thinking skills, creativity, and experiential learning. While this approach can be effective for ensuring that students have a baseline understanding of basic scientific principles, it may not provide children with the necessary skills to engage in the ever-evolving complex world around us.
Criticism: Can be monotonous, passive, and may neglect the needs of individual students.
2. Hands-on Learning
Hands-on teaching in science education is an approach to learning that emphasizes practice or experiential activities, such as experiments, demonstrations, fieldwork, and investigations, rather than passive learning through readings or direct instruction. This method encourages students to explore and manipulate objects, collect and analyze data, and engage in problem-solving activities, often in collaboration with others.
This method of teaching helps to foster students’ natural curiosity, critical thinking skills, creativity, and scientific literacy, as they develop an appreciation for the scientific process and its role in solving everyday problems. In addition, hands-on learning experiences can promote student engagement and interest in science, leading to greater motivation to learn and pursue careers in scientific fields.
Criticism: It lacks depth because it goes from activity to activity without a coherent storyline or phenomena anchor.
3. Inquiry-based Learning
Inquiry-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that actively engages students in the scientific process through self-directed exploration, investigation, questioning, and problem-solving. This approach recognizes that scientists themselves engage in inquiry to understand the natural world around them and seeks to emulate that process in the classroom. Instead of following a predetermined curriculum, inquiry-based learning encourages students to develop their own questions, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusions based on their observations and data analysis.
This constructivist approach emphasizes student engagement and is an effective strategy for promoting scientific literacy. By engaging in this method students develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and can better apply them to real-world problems. The teacher plays the role of a facilitator and creates an environment that encourages students to explore scientific concepts at their own pace.
Criticism: It’s too open-ended and does not provide enough structure to learners.
4. STEM Education
STEM science education is an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. It integrates Science (S), Technology (T), Engineering (E), and Mathematics (M) education. This method acknowledges the need for a STEM-literate workforce that knows how to deal with real-world problems. The goal of STEM education is to provide students with the skills necessary for success in the 21st-century workforce, where jobs in these fields are in high demand. STEM education involves hands-on learning experiences, inquiry-based teaching, and authentic problem-solving tasks that simulate real-world situations. It is often the context of Problem-Based Learning (PBL).
In STEM science education, students develop their analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills while designing solutions for issues faced by society. This education also helps students to develop creativity and collaboration skills, as they often work in teams to solve problems.
Criticism: It forces connections in topics or ages that are inappropriate. And, it relies on secondary sources of information because children don’t develop foundational knowledge.
5. Phenomenon Based Education
Phenomenon-based science education is an approach to teaching and learning science that focuses on real-world phenomena and encourages students to explore the natural world through observation, inquiry, and problem-solving. Rather than memorizing facts and formulas, students engage in hands-on, experiential learning, using their own curiosity and creativity to explore scientific concepts in depth. This approach allows students to develop their critical thinking skills, deepen their understanding of complex scientific ideas, and ultimately become more informed, engaged citizens.
This kind of science education, phenomenon-based, is valuable in helping students to better understand the many complex challenges facing our world today and to develop the skills needed to address these challenges in meaningful ways.
Criticism: It amplifies inequality in underprivileged communities because it requires access to a plethora of resources.
6. Digital Learning
This emphasizes and acknowledges that technological advancements have transformed teaching and learning, making it more interactive and student-centered. Digital learning provides learners with access to vast amounts of digital applications as the primary goal as uses science as the vehicle.
Criticism: The emphasis is on learning how to use digital tools rather than on scientific content.
7. Inclusive Teaching
Considers the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and learning styles of students. It is based on the premise that teachers need to create an environment that is welcoming, supportive, and culturally responsive. This method acknowledges the need to accommodate students with disabilities or students who are underrepresented in STEM fields.
Criticism: All teaching regardless of the subject should be inclusive and attend to the learners in the room. So to bring diversity to the forefront as opposed to the foundational content is detrimental to the field.
Science Education New Trend
Across the nation, in general, science education has made strides by moving away from memorizing facts, which only benefits those students who are good at rote learning, to being more about conceptual understanding. However, the emphasis on standardized tests continues to push for memorization and has led to disinterest in the subject by many students, a situation that can only lead to a decrease in a scientifically literate society.
So inherently, those of us committed to advancing science education have worked towards training teachers and teaching children in ways that are more authentic and meaningful. The new science education lobbying for centering lessons around data addresses one aspect of knowledge construction that some scientists use. But places an additional burden on elementary school teachers.
What exactly is the new trend? The new trend is data science for teaching and learning.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, data science is teaching science with a data mining lens. In other words, creating opportunities in lessons to analyze large groups of data.
The concept of data science is not new and has been used by scientists for decades. For example, aggregates of large data have led to a better understanding of the impact vaccines have against polio. Or, the economic spending trends as ways to think about the supply and demand of goods. Truthfully we have used data science in almost every aspect of our Western culture. Hence, it is an impactful practice in most fields and it makes sense that some science education advocates are urging for the adoption of this practice in schools.
Data science is not a bad scientific practice to incorporate in schools, but it is not appropriate for students in elementary grades. Elementary school students typically don’t have the necessary foundation of knowledge and skills to grasp abstract concepts related to data science and statistics entirely. Additionally, they need more time outdoors playing and are not developmentally ready to engage in the critical thinking and analysis required for data science. It’s essential for teachers to carefully consider the age and needs of their students when choosing to teach scientific practices and to make sure students have a strong foundation in basic skills before introducing more advanced concepts.
In 2012 The National Academies published the report, A Framework for K-12 Science Education revolutionizing the way we thought and practiced science education. We are still trying to catch up to that educational shift.
Unfortunately, science education inequities persist across K-12 schools in the United States. In fact, it is well documented that a significant gap exists between well-resourced schools that have access to cutting-edge technology, experienced teachers, and state-of-the-art facilities and low-income schools, which often lack the basic resources to offer robust science education.
These low-income schools often have limited STEM programs, consistent science education instruction, and educational opportunities that reflect best practices. Hence, it can be assumed that even the “last trend in science education” is not even part of these school curricula.
In conclusion, science education must prioritize providing a complete and practical education for its students with a focus on concept-based learning and critical thinking. Education policies should be reviewed to continue to deemphasize memorization-based learning and place more value on phenomenon-based approaches that resonate with a diverse population.
Let’s stop trying to be trendsetters in science education and let’s aim for consistent instruction that honors children’s developmental needs.
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