How to improve science teaching in the early grades? According to a new report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), better preparation programs could help preschool and elementary educators in science education, training that should be followed by long-term support. AIR, a not-for-profit organization, "conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance to solve some of the most urgent challenges in the U.S. and around the world."
AIR researchers analyzed more than two dozen studies of programs designed to improve science teaching from pre-K to elementary grades. They found several key strategies that boosted the efficiency of science lessons, leading to better student outcomes. Previous research has shown that teachers of young students face many challenges in science instruction. The problem is that, even if young kids are generally interested in science, their teachers don't always get the right training and resources to respond appropriately to this early interest.
In many schools, science courses take a back seat so teachers can devote more time on some subjects, in particular, the heavy English and math standards. A 2018 study revealed that kids in kindergarten through third grade were taught science for an average of only 18 minutes a day. Meanwhile, nearly one hour was usually dedicated to math and 89 minutes to the English language.
Teachers in training need a strong foundation in general science, a background acquired best through science courses taught by science professors. Also, while some mentor teachers may have extensive classroom experience, not many are always well-versed in science content themselves. Therefore, they are the first to need bulletproof science training.
Actually, there is generally so little training in how to teach sciences that, according to Danielle Ferguson, a senior researcher at AIR, misconceptions and poor strategies tend to "get passed down from one generation of teachers to the next." The key conclusion is that mentor teachers become more confident with science content and teaching strategies after receiving professional development instruction themselves, in a virtuous cascade.
Picture: A female science teacher in a classroom (ChildUp.com - DALL·E - 2022)