Science teaching is a complex activity that lies at the heart of the vision of science education presented in the Standards. The teaching standards provide criteria for making judgments about progress toward the vision; they describe what teachers of science at all grade levels should understand and be able to do.
To highlight the importance of teachers in science education, these standards are presented first. However, to attain the vision of science education described in the Standards, change is needed in the entire system. Teachers are central to education, but they must not be placed in the position of being solely responsible for reform. Teachers will need to work within a collegial, organizational, and policy context that is supportive of good science teaching. In addition, students must accept and share responsibility for their own learning.
In the vision of science education portrayed by the Standards, effective teachers of science create an environment in which they and students work together as active learners. While students are engaged in learning about the natural world and the scientific principles needed to understand it, teachers are working with their colleagues to expand their knowledge about science teaching. To teach science as portrayed by the Standards, teachers must have theoretical and practical knowledge and abilities about science, learning, and science teaching.
The standards for science teaching are grounded in five assumptions.
The vision of science education described by the Standards requires changes throughout the entire system.
What students learn is greatly influenced by how they are taught.
The actions of teachers are deeply influenced by their perceptions of science as an enterprise and as a subject to be taught and learned.
Student understanding is actively constructed through individual and social processes.
Actions of teachers are deeply influenced by their understanding of and relationships with students.
THE VISION OF SCIENCE EDUCATION DESCRIBED BY THE STANDARDS REQUIRES CHANGES THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE SYSTEM. The educational system must act to sustain effective teaching. The routines, rewards, structures, and expectations of the system must endorse the vision of science teaching portrayed by the Standards. Teachers must be provided with resources, time, and opportunities to make change as described in the program and system standards. They must work within a framework that encourages their efforts.
The changes required in the educational system to support quality science teaching are major ones. Each component of the system will change at a different pace, and most changes will be incremental. Nonetheless, changes in teaching must begin before all of the systemic problems are solved.
WHAT STUDENTS LEARN IS GREATLY INFLUENCED BY HOW THEY ARE TAUGHT. The decisions about content and activities that teachers make, their interactions with students, the selection of assessments, the habits of mind that teacher
demonstrate and nurture among their students, and the attitudes conveyed wittingly and unwittingly all affect the knowledge, understanding, abilities, and attitudes that students develop.
THE ACTIONS OF TEACHERS ARE DEEPLY INFLUENCED BY THEIR PERCEPTIONS OF SCIENCE AS AN ENTERPRISE AND AS A SUBJECT TO BE TAUGHT AND LEARNED. All teachers of science have implicit and explicit beliefs about science, learning, and teaching. Teachers can be effective guides for students learning science only if they have the opportunity to examine their own beliefs, as well as to develop an understanding of the tenets on which the Standards are based.
STUDENT UNDERSTANDING IS ACTIVELY CONSTRUCTED THROUGH INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIAL PROCESSES. In the same way that scientists develop their knowledge and understanding as they seek answers to questions about the natural world, students develop an understanding of the natural world when they are actively engaged in scientific inquiry—alone and with others.
ACTIONS OF TEACHERS ARE DEEPLY INFLUENCED BY THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS. The standards for science teaching require building strong, sustained relationships with students. These relationships are grounded in knowledge and awareness of the similarities and differences in students’ backgrounds, experiences, and current views of science. The diversity of today’s student population and the commitment to science education for all requires a firm belief that all students can learn science.
Dividing science teaching into separate components oversimplifies a complex process; nevertheless, some division is required to manage the presentation of criteria for good science teaching, accepting that this leaves some overlap. In addition, the teaching standards cannot possibly address all the understanding and abilities that masterful teachers display. Therefore, the teaching standards focus on the qualities that are most closely associated with science teaching and with the vision of science education described in the Standards.
The teaching standards begin with a focus on the long-term planning that teachers do. The discussion then moves to facilitating learning, assessment, and the classroom environment. Finally, the teaching standards address the teacher’s role in the school community. The standards are applicable at all grade levels, but the teaching at different grade levels will be different to reflect the capabilities and interests of students at different ages.
Teachers across the country will find some of their current practices reflected
below. They also will find criteria that suggest new and different practices. Because change takes time and takes place at the local level, differences in individuals, schools, and communities will be reflected in different pathways to reform, different rates of progress, and different emphases. For example, a beginning teacher might focus on developing skills in managing the learning environment rather than on long-term planning, whereas a more experienced group of teachers might work together on new modes for assessing student achievement. Deliberate movement over time toward the vision of science teaching described here is important if reform is to be pervasive and permanent.