"Best Practices" of Science Teaching


Student Performance Objectives:


THE AUTHENTIC BEST PRACTICES OF SCIENCE TEACHING: The following four pedagogical practices can be said to be truly best practice according to How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom (National Research Council, 2005). The empirical evidence that supports their use is substantial.

Students do not come into the classroom as "tabula rasa." They are not blank sheets to be written on. Each student comes into the classroom with ideas that often limit what a student can learn. It is critical that student preconceptions be identified, confronted, and resolved.

Organizing information can be a powerful way to increase understanding and retention. For instance, recognizing a pattern can be a powerful adjunct to retrieval. For instance, if you were to ask a student to memorize the following list of number, (s)he would have a difficult time unless the underlining pattern were made visible: 13, 7, 19, 10, 4, 1, 25, 16, 22, 28. If the pattern is made clear by essentially rearranging the information, a rule can readily by established that makes remembering the sequence very easy: 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28. The rule is "Starting with one, it's every third number until 28 is reached." The core concepts of physics are such things as conservation of energy, momentum, charge, matter, etc. These are some of the "big ideas" identified in the National Science Education Standards. Similarly, it would pay dividends for students to received direct instruction to come to know how the "problem-solving process" is conducted rather than through "learning by example."

Students need to be made fully aware of what they know and what they don't know. This can often be accomplished by requiring students to summarize what they have learned. Alternatively, the use of a "sample test" or a "pre-test" can be used to help students become more aware of what they know and don't know. Socratic dialogues can be used to the same end. There are many heuristics that can be used to help students self-assess and then self-regulate.

Cooperative learning should not to be confused with group learning - there are huge differences. Cooperative learning calls for PIG'S FACE: positive interdependence; individual accountability, group processing, social skills, and face-to-face interaction.

THE SO-CALLED BEST PRACTICES OF SCIENCE TEACHING: The following are "best practices" so called; in reality they should be deemed desirable practices; the practices are commonly promoted on the basis of ideology rather than on the findings of empirical research. Even though there may only be anecdotal evidence (craft wisdom) to support the use of these practices, they often are closely associated with student success.Some of the major "best" (desirable) practices for science teaching are the following:

Many of the above "so-called best practices" are summarized and examples are given in the chapter "Guided inquiry in the science classroom" by Minstrell, J. & Kraus, P. found in How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom. (M. Suzanne Donovan and John D. Bransford, Editors) Washington, DC: National Research Council (2005). Other best practices are to be found in Robert Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works.


According to the Illinois Best Practices Framework, the following are some additional best practices associated with school success as measured with IGAP and PSAE tests statewide. Visit the website to find an interactive version of the table below with links providing detailed information about the various practices.

CURRICULUM & ACADEMIC GOALS Align the district curriculum to state standards by grade level and subject area Set targeted academic goals based on analysis of student achievement data Ensure district standards, benchmarks and specific academic goals drive instruction
STAFF SELECTION, LEADERSHIP, & CAPACITY BUILDING Make teaching and learning the primary focus for school administrators Select highly qualified teachers and provide professional development based on students' needs Collaborate focusing on curricular and instructional issues
INSTRUCTIONAL PROGRAMS, PRACTICES, & ARRANGEMENTS Provide programs that are aligned to state standards and have a solid research base Tailor programs, practices and arrangements to address the learning needs of the student population Use assessment data to inform instructional practices
MONITORING: COMPLIATION, ANALYSIS, & USE OF DATA Analyze national, state and district assessment data to monitor schools and identify achievement gaps Monitor teacher and student performance using assessment data and classroom observations Use various assessment methods to continuously monitor student learning
RECOGNITION, INTERVENTION, & ADJUSTMENTS Support schools by communicating successes and providing additional staff and programs for interventions Intervene based on identified students' needs. Recognize academic and behavioral achievement Identify in a timely manner students who need interventions to reach academic and behavioral goals