Science is not boring, so why do so many middle and high school
students think it is? According to Cindy Passmore, assistant
professor and an expert on science education, students most often
experience science in school as the memorization of facts and
procedures with little practical utility or intellectual
“This results in an impoverished view of science as an
intellectual enterprise,” said Passmore.
Students should have the opportunity to reason like scientists if
we hope to ensure long-term understanding and inspire greater
numbers of youth to pursue careers in science, according to
Passmore. Model-based instruction, in which students observe a
phenomenon and then reason through experimentation how that
phenomenon occurred provides a different strategy for teaching
science that has demonstrated its value in achieving these goals.
For example, instead of having a teacher describe the water cycle
and then asking students to memorize the terms and processes,
teachers would start with a phenomenon—evaporation—and ask
students to conduct experiments to determine where the water
went, why and how.
“There are a lot of good things happening and a lot of great
teachers, but the challenge is to break out of the cycle of rote
memorization and do things differently,” said Passmore.
Finding ways to answer this challenge is Passmore’s passion, and
what better place to start than with science teachers themselves?
Recently, Passmore received a five-year $1.75 million grant from
the National Science Foundation to fund a unique professional
development project for science teachers. Two cohorts of 30
science teachers will spend three years rethinking their
instruction, interacting with university faculty, and providing
leadership to peers along the way.
“If we can help teachers adopt instruction that focuses on
reasoning and experimentation, our hope is that their students
will be able to make better connections among the content they
study, which will help them retain the knowledge, “said Passmore.
As it stands, students aren’t really learning how to think. “They
get very good at memorization, but that doesn’t get you very far
when you are looking to solve a problem,” said Passmore.
Most importantly, students engaged in real-world science
experience first-hand the excitement of discovery and may be more
likely to pursue science in college and beyond.
Ultimately, for Passmore, this approach helps students realize
that science is, more than anything else, about “making sense of
the world with the tools we have.”