The Two Great Science Education Mismatches


Students Love Science But Don’t Receive It

Education researchers have confirmed that “in both the hands-on and textbook classes, students rated science higher than any other subject (e.g. math, reading).” (Foley, page 6)

There is even evidence that upon adoption of hands-on science curricula, reading and writing scores improve. (Foley, page 3)

But, over 40% of grade K-3 students and over 30% of grade 4-6 students can go full weeks with zero science instruction. (Banilower, page 53) Further, only 32% of teachers report having basic equipment like batteries and thermometers. (Banilower, page 102)

Students Are Really Good At Science But Are Not Challenged

Research also clearly demonstrates that “children enter grade school with rich knowledge of the natural world and an ability to engage in complex reasoning that provides a solid foundation for learning science”. (Duschl, page 53). At the very least,  “Children lack knowledge and experience, but not reasoning ability (Duschl, page 336)

In response to this updated understanding of how children learn, The National Research Council, in a treatise which served as the primary precursor in the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), made recommendations on science instruction. Some of the of the key recommendations were:

  • Science instruction should encompass all of the practices which define science. (Duschl, page 349)
  • The science classroom should be a social environment facilitating constructive argumentation and collaborative theory building. (Duschl, page 342)
  • There should be adequate time and resources. (Duschl page 349)
  • Teachers should have adequate knowledge. (Duschl, page 349)
  • Science should be presented as a process of building theories and models. (Duschl, page 342)

Yet, schools spend less than $1 per year per student on consumable supplies and only $0.26 on science equipment. (Banilower, page 104 )Most science classes are exclusively textbook or software based. Only 11% of elementary school teachers have a degree in science or engineering. (Banilower, page 11) Roughly 80% of elementary teachers feel very well prepared to teach reading/language arts and mathematics, but only 39%  feel very well prepared to teach science. (Banilower, page 24)

Foley, B.J. and McPhee, C. (2008). Students’ Attitudes towards Science in Classes Using Hands-On or Textbook Based Curriculum. American Educational Research Association

Banilower, E.R., Smith, P.S., Weiss, I.R., Malzahn, K.A., Campbell, K.M., and Weiss, A.M. (2013). Report of the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education. Horizon Research, Inc. Chapel Hill, N.C. 

Duschl, R.A., Schweingruber, H.A., and Shouse, A.W. (Editors). (2007). Taking Science To School, Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. National Research Council of the National Academies

--Michael Finnegan is the founder and executive director of QuantumCamp, a science and math school enterprise sparking the next scientific revolution by taking hands-on classes to kids in schools, kids at summer camps, and kids who homeschool and leading them to discover and own the most profound ideas of our time.