An Overview of Goals for Science Education
Scientific knowledge, scientific methods, societal issues, personal needs, and career awareness are the goals for science education. In the period 1955 to 1975, these goals were in transition. Between 1975 and approximately 1995, the science education community reformed the goals. The publication of Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1989), Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993), and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) clearly set new goals for science education. The following discussion describes the status of goals in 1975 to 2009 and suggests the direction of change.
Science programs are primarily oriented toward knowledge of the academic disciplines. In the classroom, knowledge goals become the scientific facts, concepts, and principles that reflect the structure of science. Science teachers report that they want their students to understand the subject matter of science. For example, they want the students to know scientific concepts and definitions of scientific words, and to develop inquiry abilities and critical thinking skills. Understanding science is generally interpreted as passing a test.
There is little effort by science teachers to realize the goal of understanding and using the methods of science. For example, teachers do not use questioning techniques or instructional procedures that facilitate the cognitive abilities of scientific inquiry.
However, evidence indicates that students can attain an understanding of scientific inquiry as a process, develop essential inquiry skills, and use these skills to improve their ability to think critically about science-related problems (NRC, 2000).
Several factors hinder the implementation of the scientific methods goal. First, science teachers are neither model inquirers for their students nor have they been educated in methodologies of scientific research. Second, most science teachers lecture for more than 75 percent of the class time, leaving students few opportunities to ask questions. Third, inquiry as a goal of science teaching is generally not seen as productive and is not accepted by most science teachers. Fourth, teachers who are aware of scientific methods as a goal of teaching feel that only bright, highly motivated students can profit from inquiry teaching. Fifth, inquiry teaching is seen by teachers as time consuming, thus reducing the time available for basics, that is, learning facts and getting so-called right answers. The current improvement of science education and national support for the goal of scientific inquiry should change the lack of emphasis on this goal.
Increasing interest in science literacy and societal goals is evident in science programs. Science teachers are including these goals to make science relevant to the concerns of all students.
The goals for teaching science indicate more emphasis on environmental concepts, world problems, decision making, and interdisciplinary studies—all areas related to the goal of teaching students how to deal with societal issues. National Science Education Standards are having a direct impact on state and local frameworks for science education. State departments of education are influencing changes in goals through their legislative and regulatory powers, such as specific requirements to include energy conservation, environmental problems, and health, alcohol, and drugs in educational programs.
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