SCIENCE INSTRUCTION IN THE MIDDLE AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS

 

Science Instruction in the Middle and Secondary Schools. By Eugene L. Chiappetta and Thomas R. Koballa. 2002 Merrill/Prentice Hall. (ISBN 0-13-019734-3). 337 pp. Paperback.  

 


This science methods textbook is in its fifth edition and has its roots as a methods book authored by Watler A. Thurber and Alfred T. Collette, which was first published in 1959 titled Teaching Science in Today’s Secondary Schools.  Obviously, the present textbook has had remarkable success as a pedagogical resource in science teaching for over 40 years.  Perhaps its major strength has been the clear expression of ideas, using historical information and research, along with many practical suggestions on how to teach science effectively.

 

The first chapter of the textbook addresses the nature of science, providing the reader with many ways to view science.  The chapter begins with the purpose of science, which is to understand, explain, and apply knowledge that is produced by the scientific enterprise.  It then describes what scientists do in their work, which includes using creativity, logical reasoning, empirical data, and publishing findings.  The four themes of science literacy form a powerful framework to plan, carry out, and assess science instruction.  These ideas include: science as a way of thinking, science as a way of investigating, science as a body of knowledge, and science and its interactions with technology and society.

 

The second chapter addresses the history of science education, national standards, and innovative programs.  Those interested in a brief history of science education can find this in the chapter, which extends from the early 1800s to the present.  The authors provide highlights from the current national reform documents in the United States.  They summarize the major aims of Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council; and the Scope, Sequence and Coordination Project from the National Science Teachers Association.  In addition, the chapter provides descriptions of innovative programs for middle and high schools that can be used by teachers who wish to infuse activities into their curricula that reflect the science education reform movement.

 

The third chapter focuses on key issues in science education that relate to the nature of diverse adolescents and learners and their schools.  As history unfolds, more nations are becoming more diverse with the influx of people from other countries.  These minority groups generally appear at the classroom door with different values and background knowledge, which offer a big challenge for science education.  The authors provide a good discussion of factors that affect success in science, such as equity and gender issues, cultural based deficiencies, multicultural education, learning disabilities, and behavior disorders.  These factors cannot be ignored in the development successful of science programs that include students from diverse backgrounds.

 

Chapter four focuses on learning in grades 6-12.  It places heavy emphases on cognitive approaches and strategies for teaching science.  The chapter begins with a discussion of constructivism, with a vignette on how a science teacher is successful in teaching students who are not interested in science, by beginning with what the students are familiar with and then moving into a related science topic.  Attitudes and motivation are addressed along with Piaget’s ideas of equilibration and contradictions to stimulate thinking.  Alternative conceptions are discussed and the importance of prior knowledge.  Meaningful learning and concept mapping are presented to reinforce the importance of helping students to make connections between what they know and what they are expected to learn.  A section follows this on the use of analogies and models in science instruction.

 

Inquiry and teaching science is chapter five and forms a very important section of the methods book. Inquiry has been a focal point of science education in the USA for more than 40 years.  The authors begin by comparing general inquiry with scientific inquiry, and then discussing school-based inquiry or student inquiry.  They provide insights into the relationships between content and process in how these conceptions relate to the student inquiry.  The authors also provide the reader with many techniques and strategies for initiating and carrying out inquiry in the science curriculum.  They point out that there are many ways to engage students in the process of finding out, such as asking questions; using science process skills; presenting discrepant events; participating in inductive and deductive activities; gathering information from people, printed material, and the Internet; engaging in problem solving; and conducting science projects.  These approaches to inquiry-based science are accompanied with examples and vignettes that center around the classroom.  There is also a section devoted to group and cooperative learning, which can be used to facilitate inquiry instruction.

 

In chapter six we find suggestions on how to present lectures, lead discussions, and conduct science demonstrations in an effective manner.  The section on science demonstrations is especially useful, because this is a strategy that science teachers should use to good advantage.  Science demonstrations offer a way to gain and hold students’ attention during classroom instruction and to illustrate abstract science concepts and laws.

 

The Science/Technology/Society (STS) chapter will help teachers to understand the difference between science and technology.  It provides many approaches to STS instructional practices. Science, Technology, Society has been a conspicuous emphasis in the science education reform movement since the 1990s.  In addition, this chapter devotes  a section on the teaching of creationism and evolution in the science classroom.  Creationism continues to be a controversial issue in public school education.  Frequently, there is at least one school district in America that attempts to give creationism or “creations science” space in the science curriculum.  This methods textbook summarizes many court cases, which indicate that science teachers are under no obligation to teach non-science ideas, such as creationism, in the science classroom.

 

The authors have produced a large chapter on the laboratory and field work.  The contents of the chapter builds upon the inquiry chapter, stressing that there are many ways to investigate in the laboratory and therefore there are many types of firsthand experiences that students can engage in to help them form scientific conceptions.  Science process skill, deductive, inductive, problem solving, and technical skill laboratories should become part of the repertoire of effective science teachers in the middle and secondary schools.  Science teachers should also prepare students for laboratory work through pre-laboratory discussions and close down this type of activity with thorough post-laboratory discussions.  Many examples of these different laboratory approaches as well as how plan and conduct field work are provides.

 

Laboratory safety has become a big issue in many states in the US.  With the push to teach more science, science teachers are advised to provide a safe learning environment for students.  The authors have produced a large chapter on safety in the laboratory and classroom that includes discussion of issues related to liability, animal care, chemicals, electricity, and radiation.

 

Of course computers and electronic technology are addressed.  The authors stress the use of technology in finding out about ideas, analyzing information, composing ideas, and communicating with others.  Managing the learning environment is also a chapter in the textbook.  Beginning science teachers often experience difficulty with classroom management and therefore need many suggestions on how to create learning environments that support instruction and maintain student learning.

 

Chapter 12 centers on planning and teaching science lessons.  It is essential that science teachers learn to plan lessons well.  Suggestions are provided to help teachers instruct students by engaging them in thought provoking activities, helping them to learn important science content.  Examples of different types of lesson plans are provided as well as a feedback and evaluation form to critique a lesson given to peers or students.  The lesson plan chapter is followed by a chapter on unit planning.  The unit plan goes beyond one period of instruction and is a strategy that incorporates many teaching methods and promotes long-term science inquiry.

 

There is also a chapter on assessment with many ideas for beginning and practicing science teachers.  The assessment methods discussed are: performance tasks, open-ended problems, inquiry oriented investigations, concept maps, observation, interviews, journals, drawings, portfolios, and rubrics.  The fifteenth and last chapter in the book is on professional development.

 

The appendices may also be of interest to new and even experienced science teachers.  It contains many activities that can be used to engage and interest students in science.  There is a section on little science puzzlers, science demonstrations, and science laboratories.

 

Even through this methods book has been successful for many years, the authors might consider revising the format and rearranging the content.  The reason for this recommendation is that there is a large need to recruit more science teachers in the urban areas across the United States, because of teacher turnover and the increasing number of school-age children.  Many science teachers are needed in these regions of the country to instruct students who lack a good science background as well as basic reading and writing skills.

 

The authors might consider beginning the textbook with a focus on effective science teaching and the difficulties new teachers will experience in the classroom.  Instead of starting the book with the nature of science, the authors should focus on immediate concerns that inexperienced teachers face, such as large classes of unmotivated students who are expected to pass standardized tests in order to assess their competence in science.  Classroom management, planning science lessons, using a variety of instructional strategies, and constructing tests are necessary for survival in today’s classrooms.  These teachers need to know how to deal with diversity, engage all students in learning science, and at the same time improve reading and writing skills.  New teachers have an enormous challenge in meeting the needs of students for whom matters outside of school take precedent over learning science in school.