–Occasional commentary by Robert E. Yager (NSTA President, 1982-1983)
Why is there not more attention for getting all students (and teachers) actually “doing” science in every K-16 science classroom? The faulty assumption is that there is information thought to be accurate that all must “Know” before really “doing” science. Most science teachers continue to use typical science textbooks and lab directions in excess of 90% of the time! Doing science means urging all to personally explore nature with attempts to explain the objects and events encountered. It also means exploring what others have done (and reported) as ways of evaluating their initial ideas as well. Science cannot be done in a vacuum! It takes “doing”, “trying”, “creative thinking”, and “evidence gathering”! Textbooks, lab manuals, and other quick fixes are all opposite examples of actually “doing science”.
Most Professional Development efforts invite persons with current understandings of science to tell, share, and encourage others to remember and repeat relevant research results. This view of doing science is what characterizes presentations for conferences and for most Professional Development efforts which are typically designed to influence the science that is taught. There should be major efforts to produce students who recognize and produce questions and then proceed to investigate them personally. It is finally important to establish their validity with actual evidence collected. Such actions would illustrate “doing science”.
Could not Professional Development efforts (including reports at conferences) start with problems/questions by the attendees followed by varied attempts to answer them? This could lead to collection of multiple responses and encourage the sharing of such evidence in science classrooms? Could there be some focus on results from students as well as changes in teaching noted. These could occur after actual Professional Development sessions or experience with conference “presentations”?
We need more than happy attendees; we need reporting of new approaches to teaching which can be tried and evaluated after each Professional Development experience!
Science is typically taught by sharing explanations and interpretations of others. These are then used to determine what is put in textbooks. Repeating this information is then used for evaluating student learning. Student ideas and involvement are not expected nor are they welcomed. Science is too often like art or drama where teachers admire and/or criticize the performances of their best students. Standardized tests too often require only students to repeat what has been presented or assigned by teachers. The information included in textbooks or directions for laboratories too often only focus on students remembering and/or duplicating performances with no use of questions, possible answers, real investigations, or interpretations.
Such typical teaching does not consider how science can be done better and made a part of efforts illustrating real learning as an experience itself! Treating Professional Development efforts as science (i.e., questions about the objects and events in nature) should not only be a goal for reform teaching but an outcome of a real and personal experience with science.
–Robert E. Yager
Professor of Science education
University of Iowa