What works in science teaching

Schoolchildren and teacher in science classAchievement in lecture- and textbook-dominated science classes was compared with the achievement of classes using inquiry-based, hands-on experiments in science.

140 studies carried out over a 30-year period were analyzed. All content areas of middle and high school science were represented. The majority of studies involved at least 100 students and there was equal representation of urban, suburban and rural schools. Assessment of student achievement was done with subject matter tests including problem solving and science thinking-skill measures.

Kevin C. Wise, Southern Illinois University/Carbondale, reports that students exposed to more active learning and focused questioning performed better by an average of about one third of a standard deviation or 13 percentile points on achievement measures. He concludes, therefore, that these alternative teaching strategies are more effective than traditional lecture and textbook activities in science instruction.

Wise’s analysis does not pinpoint which strategies are most responsible for the increase in achievement but he describes various alternative strategies that yielded the largest increases in achievement test scores:

Questioning strategies involve such techniques as teachers increasing the wait time after asking a question, using more high-cognitive-level questions, and stopping films or student responses at key points to ask questions.

Focusing strategies include alerting students to the intent of instruction, providing objectives or using advance organizers.

Manipulation strategies ask students to work with physical objects, operate apparatus, draw or construct something.

Enhanced material strategies are teachers’ modifications of instructional materials or apparatus.

In addition, frequent testing, discovery learning, and lessons enriched with various media, simulations, games, trips etc. had small positive effects on science achievement.

“Strategies for Teaching Science: What Works”, The Clearing House Volume 69, Number 6, August 1996 pp. 337-338.

Published in ERN November/December 1996 Volume 9 Number 5.

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