Are we failing at teaching science to kids?

Teaching science has not been big on the primary school agenda.

I doubt that the results would be any different in Australia, but in a US study released recently, elementary, middle, and high school students failed to demonstrate a deep understanding of science concepts when they performed activity-based science tasks and investigations.

The hands-on tasks required students to use materials and laboratory equipment to perform science experiments.

Tests asked students to predict what might happen in a particular scientific scenario, make observations about what occurred in the scenarios, and explain the findings of the experiments or investigations they launched.

These questions examined how well students could conduct and reason through “real life” science situations and grasp the scientific concepts of what occurred in their investigations.

About 2,000 students in year 4, 8 and 12 were given each test and asked to complete two, 40-minute hands-on tasks or three interactive computer tasks, 20 to 40 minutes in length.

For example, students could have been asked to plan a new, simulated recreation area for a town using part of an existing wildlife area, evaluate the impact different locations for the recreation space could have on local wildlife, and determine which space would be best to build on.

There was no way to memorize for this test and no amount of rote drill and practice that could prepare students for it.

On average, the students were able to accurately report what was happening in scenarios with limited data.
Additionally, the numbers of students able to draw the right conclusions in experiments was much higher than the the numbers of students who were able to provide an explanation or justification for their answer based on the findings.

Seventy-one percent of 4th graders could accurately select how volume changes when ice melts, for example, but only 15 percent could explain why that happened using evidence from the experiment.

The findings were fairly consistent across grade levels, other than 12th grade students’ scoring some 15 percent lower than the younger students.

I doubt this is any different to Australia

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