on May 27, 2000
We have really wrestled with the science content issue. In order to teach
in an inquiry manner, even guided inquiry, a teacher must have a reasonable
comfort level with the content presented. The teacher must be ahead of the
students. Many elementary teachers are able to keep just a few steps ahead
of their students. Because they have seven to nine or more subjects to
teach, there can be a scramble to know enough to teach any particular
content in an engaging and meaningful way.
I think it is imperative to teach the content along with the pedagogy. In
our Summer Institutes we have graduate and post-doctorate scientists from
the University of Washington team teach with our Science Resource Teachers.
They plan the course many weeks before the Institute. The scientist takes
the lead on the content and the Science Resource Teacher takes the lead on
the pedagogy and overall structure of the classes. We have found with many
of the units it is best to separate the "adult content" from the "student
content". In some of the classes they actually teach the pedagogy and
"student content" in the morning and the "adult content" in the afternoon.
We have also found it does not pay off to try to move the teachers too fast
in the content. We have to take them where they are and try to motivate
them to ask for more. Their needs are pretty much all over the map. Some
want more and end up attending courses such as the six- week sessions
offered by the Physics Education Group at the U.W. Other teachers are ready
to learn just enough to get through the unit. The goal, of course, is to
get them to be receptive to learning more.
In our second Summer Institute for the teachers, we offer a physical
content course that is about 100% content which is directly related to their
second unit. In the third summer, we offer life science content which is
directly related to their third unit. They have taught these units at least
once when they take these content courses. Many teachers find this
The feedback from the teachers is that they truly enjoy working with the
scientists. The scientists choose to work with us, and they truly care
about helping the teachers and in the long run, the children. On a daily
feedback form a fifth grade teacher wrote "I think that the two scientists
are great. They are so patient and helpful, and I really appreciate their
help. This is complex stuff, and it is easy to get frustrated, but they
seem to understand that." A fourth grade teacher wrote, "This class is
getting more and more interesting. I'm glad to be getting the information.
I didn't think I would have ever understood electricity."
It seems it may take a few generations to deal with the content issue.
Hopefully, over the years the teachers will master more science content.
And, hopefully, children getting inquiry-based science starting from
kindergarten will know so much more by the time they become teachers.