The Importance of Teaching and Learning Nature of Science in the Early Childhood Years
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Though research has shown that students do not have adequate understandings of nature of science (NOS) by the time they exit high school, there is also evidence that they have not received NOS instruction that would enable them to develop such understandings. How early is “too early” to teach and learn NOS? Are students, particularly young students, not capable of learning NOS due to developmental unreadiness? Or would young children be capable of learning about NOS through appropriate instruction? Young children (Kindergarten through third grade) were interviewed and taught about NOS in a variety of contexts (informal, suburban, and urban) using similar teaching strategies that have been found effective at teaching about NOS with older students. These teaching strategies included explicit decontextualized and contextualized NOS instruction, through the use of children’s literature, debriefings of science lessons, embedded written NOS assessments, and guided inquiries. In each context the researchers interviewed students prior to and after instruction, videotaped science instruction and maintained researcher logs and field notes, collected lesson plans, and copies of student work. The researchers found that in each setting young children did improve their understandings of NOS. Across contexts there were similar understandings of NOS aspects prior to instruction, as well as after instruction. There were also several differences evident across contexts, and across grade levels. However, it is clear that students as young as kindergarten are developmentally capable of conceptualizing NOS when it is taught to them. The authors make recommendations for teaching NOS to young children, and for future studies that explore learning progressions of NOS aspects as students proceed through school.
KeywordsEarly childhood Nature of science Teaching strategies
We would like to thank Cassie Quigley for her support with work at the urban site and Khemmawadee Pongsanon for her support with work at the suburban third grade site.
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