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What Are the 'Developmental Needs' of Young Children in Science? Revision of Developmental Constraints on K-3 Science Education

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR:
Kathleen Metz

CATEGORIES:
Science

PROJECT OVERVIEW:
Background: Curriculum policy documents of both the National Academy of Science (1996, 2000) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1993) place inquiry at the core of science education. However primary science curriculum reveals an impoverished view of inquiry, frequently decomposed and decontextualized, as a result of schemas about developmental constraints on children's scientific cognition. Fortunately we have grounds to suspect that the cognitive developmental literature on which these schemas are purportedly based may seriously underestimate children's capabilities. As AAAS (ibid) has noted, "the developmental studies say more about what students...do not learn in today's schools than what they might possibly learn if instruction were more effective." Consideration of the potential impact of instruction on children's scientific cognition is particularly important, given the robust research finding that the strength of one's knowledge of a domain influences the adequacy of one's reasoning therein (e.g.; Brown, 1990, Carey, 1985, Chi, Feltovich & Glaser, 1981).

Purpose: This research re-examined the key issue of the power and limitations of primary grade children's scientific inquiry from an instructional perspective. More specifically, to what extent can we narrow the gap between inquiry as practiced by scientists and inquiry as practiced by primary grade children in the classroom; cf., to what extent is it necessary to decompose the enterprise to bring it within reach of young children? How can we more adequately optimize science instruction for the purpose of empowering primary grade children's scientific inquiry? What cognitive limitations in the realm of children's scientific inquiry are mutable in the face of more optimal instruction?

Intervention: Development of an instructional intervention was central to the project, as it aimed to investigate the power and limitations of children's scientific inquiry under as optimal condition as we could in the intact public school classroom. Seven design principles informed and constrained the curriculum development:

  1. Maintain the integrity of the goal-focused intellectual enterprise across the curriculum;
  2. Teach science processes and methods as instruments in the context of their purpose & use;
  3. Capitalize on the context of children's engagement in scientific inquiry to reflect on science as a way of knowing;
  4. Develop relatively rich knowledge of the domain within which the inquiry is embedded;
  5. Develop children's inquiry, their knowledge of the science, and the interplay thereof, through a combination of their own investigations, their taking up scientific inquiry thought experiments, and video- and text-based research;
  6. Manipulate the unit of collaboration between whole class with the teacher and homogeneous dyad, to iteratively bring tasks of greater cognitive demand within reach and then to fade support as the children's emergent expertise enables them to assume more responsibility and control
  1. Build knowledge and responsibility to the point where the dyads assume primary responsibility for an investigation of their own.

    The PI wrote two curriculum prototypes based on these principles, one in botany and one in animal behavior. A video record was made as a basis to analyze variations in how the curricula was enacted. Student outcomes were evaluated on the basis of structured interviews.

    Setting: Research took place within public elementary school classrooms in two school districts, one in Southern California (from 1999-2002) and one in Northern California (2001-2003).

    Research Design: Subjects consisted of all of the students in the first, second and third grade classrooms of teachers participating in the project. Fourteen primary grade teachers participated in the project, with the large majority from the Southern California district, selected as a population of predominately low- income and ethnic minority students (67%). Variations in the instructional intervention were measured through analysis of the video record of the curriculum enactment vis-a-vis the intended curriculum as articulated in the curriculum text. Student outcomes were measured through a combination of pre- and post one-on-one structured interviews and structured interviews of the dyads who constituted the unit of collaboration in designing and implementing a research project. These measures were supplemented by strategic analysis of written work students generated in connection with the project. Data was analyzed through development of coding schemas, employed by multiple coders.

    Findings: The elementary school education community has long considered cognitive developmental stage as the primary determinant of the power and limitations of children's reasoning in the elementary school science classroom. Indeed educators interpretations of cognitive developmental stages have been used to conceptualize what can and can't be taught at different age-levels; the potential impact of more adequate instruction on children's capabilities has been surprisingly ignored. The purported repertoire of science process skills available to children at different developmental levels has resulted in a decomposition of scientific inquiry across the K-8 grade span, reflecting an impoverished model of what it means to do science. Project's findings substantiate the mutability of primary grade children's scientific inquiry and understanding thereof under more optimal instructional conditions, as well as the viability of a much more robust science curriculum for children at this age level.

    Given a relatively expert teacher enacting the project's instructional model, curricular decomposition and decontextualization of scientific inquiry proved to be unnecessary. Under these more optimal conditions, even first graders could assume increasing responsibility for inquiry in the domain they studied in depth, to the point where pairs conceptualized and implemented a study of their own. Structured interviews probing their thinking about their study revealed that, with rare exceptions, they could take their study as an object of thought; articulating the question driving their study, how they did it, and their findings. More challenging, half of the first grade subjects under these conditions and a large plurality thereafter could also critically analyze how they could change their study to improve it, formulating strategies and rationales thereof that transcended a naive realism and reflected facets of what Carey and Smith (1993) have termed knowledge problematic. Their epistemic reasoning compared well with that expected of much older subjects, as framed in Leach, Millar, and Scott's (1996) synthesis of this research literature.

    PROJECT PUBLICATIONS:
    Metz, K.E. (in press). Ann Brown s legacy: The synergistic advancement of cognitive developmental, learning and instructional theories. In J. Campione, K E. Metz, & A. Palinscar, [Eds.] Children's learning and the interaction of laboratory and classroom analyses: Essays in honor of Ann Brown. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Metz, K.E. (2004). Knowledge-building enterprises in science and elementary school classrooms: Analysis of problematic differences and strategic leverage points. In L.B. Flick & N.G. Lederman [Eds.] Scientific inquiry and the nature of science: Implications for teaching, learning, and teacher education. Dortrect The Netherlands: Kluwe Publishers.

    Metz, K. E. (2004). Children's understanding of scientific inquiry: Their conceptualization of uncertainty in investigations of their own design. Cognition and Instruction (22) 2, 219-291.

    Metz, K. E. (2001). Elementary school children s statistical reasoning in science. In Proceedings of the American Statistical Association. Aug 5-9 Atlanta GA.

    Metz, K.E. (2000). Young children's inquiry in biology: Building the knowledge bases to empower independent inquiry. In J. Minstrell & E. van Zee (Eds.) Inquiring into inquiry in science learning and teaching. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    Tech Reports:
    Metz, K. E. (2004). Prototype for a primary biology curriculum to scaffold independent scientific inquiry. Part I: Botany. Part II: Animal Behavior.

    Conference Presentations:
    Eslinger, E. & Metz, K. (2005). Teachers beliefs about science and the face of science in curriculum enactment. Paper presented in Symposium on Advances in Elementary Science Teaching: Contributions of Teacher Beliefs, Novel Curriculum and Professional Development. (Available from the American Educational Research Association, CD # 270)

    Ly, U. & Metz, K. E. (2006). Holding beliefs, giving instruction: The influence of teacher beliefs about children s science-learning on curriculum implementation. Annual Meetings of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco (April 7 -11).

    Metz, K. E. (2006). Young children s scientific inquiry: Differentiating mutable from immutable constraints. Colloquium given to the Faculty of Education. University of Cambridge, Cambridge UK. (March 15, 2006).

    Metz, K. E. (2005). Between intended and enacted curriculum: Teachers conceptualization of the problematic. Paper presented in Symposium on Advances in Elementary Science Teaching: Contributions of Teacher Beliefs, Novel Curriculum and Professional Development. (Available from the American Educational Research Association, CD # 270

    Metz, K.E. (2002). The knowledge-building practices of scientists and in elementary school classrooms: Where are the differences problematic? Paper presented in the Symposium on Students Scientific Knowledge: Origins, Development and Pedagogical Goals. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (New Orleans, LA, April 1-5).

    Metz, K.E. (2002). How can instruction empower children's scientific inquiry? Report of an on-going classroom-based educational design experiment. Invitational Symposium Address to the Lawrence Hall of Science. Berkeley CA (March 5).

    Metz, K. E. (2001). Disentangling immutable from mutable constraints on children s scientific inquiry. Invitational symposium on Cognitive Developmental Research and Instructional Practice. Annual Meetings of the Cognitive Development Society. (Norfolk VA, Oct 26-27).

    Metz. K. E. (2001). Elementary school children s statistical reasoning in science. Invited presentation at the American Statistical Association. Atlanta, GA. August 4- 8.

    Metz, K.E. (2001). Children s conceptualizations of uncertainty in empirical studies of their own design. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society (Berkeley CA, June 1-2)

    Metz, K. E. (2001). First and second graders views concerning the generalizability of their findings. Paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Educational Research Association (Seattle, WA. April 9-13).

    Metz, K. E. (2001). Use of educational design experiments for the purpose of disentangling developmental constraints from opportunity to learn. Presentation in the Symposium on Use of Educational Design Experiments and Experimental Designs. (Seattle, WA. April 9-13).

    Metz, K. E. (2001). The relation between theory and practice in Ann Brown s work and legacy. Invited presentation at Symposium in Honor of Ann Brown. Berkeley, CA (January 19-21).

    Metz, K. E. (2000). Symposium on the Strengths and Challenges of a Developmental Approach to Research in Education. Paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans, LA (April 24-28).

    Metz, K.E. (2000). Hypothetical-Deductive Thought in First Graders Interpretation of their Botany Studies. Paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans, LA (April 24-28).

    Warren, J. L. (2005). Examining the contribution of facilitated professional development to innovative science teaching in primary grade classrooms. Paper presented in Symposium on Advances in Elementary Science Teaching: Contributions of Teacher Beliefs, Novel Curriculum and Professional Development. (Available from the American Educational Research Association, CD # 270

    Wong, N. & Metz, K. E. (2006). Visual representation in science: A case study of an exemplary first grade teacher. Annual Meetings of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco (April 7-11).

    ON THE WEB:
    You can learn more about this project by visiting https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/servlet/showaward?award=0196307.