The U.S. Department of Education has just announced the results of a study comparing what’s going on in 8th grade science classrooms in the U.S. , the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Japan, and Australia.
You will be shocked — shocked! — to learn that U.S. science students did not do as well as their counterparts in the other four countries in the study when it came to learning science content.
The Dept. of Ed. press release, and a wee bit of commentary, below the fold.
U.S. Science Lessons Focus More on Activities, Less on Content, Study Shows
April 4, 2006
Contact: Mike Bowler, (202) 219-1662
David Thomas, (202) 401-1579
Washington, D.C. — A video study of 8th-grade science classrooms in the United States and four other countries found U.S. teachers focused on a variety of activities to engage students but not in a consistent way that developed coherent and challenging science content.
In comparison, classrooms in Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands exposed 8th graders to science lessons characterized by a core instructional approach that held students to high content standards and expectations for student learning.
The National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences today released these and other findings in a report titled Teaching Science in Five Countries: Results From the TIMSS 1999 Video Study that draws on analysis of 439 randomly selected videotaped classroom lessons in the participating countries.
The results of the newly released science study highlight variations across the countries in how science lessons are organized, how the science content is developed for the students, and how the students participate in actively doing science work.
For example, in Japan, the lessons emphasized identifying patterns in data and making connections among ideas and evidence. Australian lessons developed basic science content ideas through inquiry. Whereas in the Netherlands, independent student learning is given priority. Dutch students often kept track of a long-term set of assignments, checking their work in a class answer book as they proceeded independently.
In the Czech Republic, students were held accountable for mastering challenging and often theoretical science content in front of their peers through class discussions, work at the blackboard, and oral quizzes.
In the United States, lessons kept students busy on a variety of activities such as hands-on work, small group discussions, and other “motivational” activities such as games, role-playing, physical movement, and puzzles. The various activities, however, were not typically connected to the development of science content ideas. More than a quarter of the U.S. lessons were focused almost completely on carrying out the activity as opposed to learning a specific idea.
The science report is the second released by TIMSS 1999 Video Study. The first report, focused on 8th grade mathematics teaching, was released in 2003.
To view the reports and for more information, visit http://nces.ed.gov/timss.
It’s not a bad thing that science students in the U.S. are getting hands-on activities, small group discussions, and the like. A lot of science is hands-on work and discussion with other people working on the same kinds of questions you are. But, even if the teachers understand how the activities the students are doing are connected to the activities that are a part of science, the kids don’t necessarily make that connection. Teachers need to set up the connections for them — and help them draw those connections. They need to come out and say, “The reason we’re doing this activity is to learn about this concept, or this methodology, that is very important in this area of science.” If they don’t, the kids may have fun, but they’ll suspect that the activities are mostly intended to burn through the allotted class time painlessly.
With luck, the videotapes of the approaches used in the four other countries in the study will give U.S. educators a wide selection of effective techniques to borrow, the better to connect the activities back to the ideas that science students ought to have in their heads as a lasting effect of having taken science class.