I know this news appears all bad, and I want to say maybe it isn’t great, but I believe there is hope. Students are able to make observations and report them accurately. What they can’t do so well, is apply those observations through suggesting next steps or change. In other words, there is no depth of knowledge. We are good at memorizing facts but we don’t really understand those facts and we can’t apply them to something else in a new situation. It seems students were better able to predict what the conclusion would be in an experiment than they could explain the reasons for the conclusions reached. The “why” seems to be missing so transfer of knowledge becomes difficult. Perhaps there is a lack of experience with scientific concepts, so logical guessing happens. In other words, almost three-quarters of fourth graders know what will happen to the volume of liquid when ice when it melts, but only a small percentage can tell you why and support their conclusion with evidence.
Students did well when the testing required them to report observations of what they saw in a straight forward way. Applying what they learned from that or reaching conclusions showed weakness. Again, this means to me we are great memorizers but not such great thinkers. The good thing about this test was there was no preparing for the test. You couldn’t memorize definitions or answers. It was for the most part, hands on evaluation and it was the ability to actually “do” science that was measured, as much as possible from a test. So teaching to the test in this case would be preparing students to think. Learn concepts and use them by applying them to real-life situations. End result: depth of understanding. It can take a lot of real, hands-on experience with a concept to understand it. The best way to show what you know is to explain it to someone else and assess if they understand. If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it.
Science education, I hope, is in transition. It must change. We no longer can rely on teaching things that are memorized and repeated back. There must be hands-on skills, the how to and why, whether it is how to build something, how electricity works, chemical properties, or physical principles. It all has to be experienced. Each concept must build on the next, like math. You can’t do algebra if you don’t know fractions or how to multiply. Maybe you can memorize some of the formulas, but in the long run “you will be up the creek without a paddle.” Repetition of concepts through a variety of media will build an understanding. It creates critical thinking opportunities and a depth of understanding. That scenario will lead to innovation. Creativity will happen. You can’t be creative without the tools and the technique. Teach how to use the fundamentals.
I am not sure if you would say that science education is in crisis, but it is nonetheless an opportunity to change for the better. There are schools and teachers who are doing it. We need more. I know the roadblock is money. We need more teachers, more equipment, up-to-date-technology, more support staff, more community involvement and more mentoring. It is an overhaul for sure, but one we must do. We need to create students who are curious and take initiative. WE NEED LIFE LONG LEARNERS.
Creativity is a buzz word these days.
You can’t be creative without the tools and the technique.
This is the article from Education week that discusses the NAEP(National Assessment of Educational Progress) results and has links to other pertinent information.