Journal of Science Teacher Education

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 297–322 | Cite as

Best Practice in Middle-School Science

  • Alandeom W. Oliveira
  • Kristen C. Wilcox
  • Janet Angelis
  • Arthur N. Applebee
  • Vincent Amodeo
  • Michele A. Snyder


Using socio-ecological theory, this study explores best practice (educational practices correlated with higher student performance) in middle-school science. Seven schools with consistently higher student performance were compared with three demographically similar, average-performing schools. Best practice included instructional approaches (relevance and engagement, inquiry, differentiated instruction, collaborative work, moderate amounts of homework, and integration of language literacy and science) and administrative practices (nurturing a climate of opportunity to succeed in science, offering professional development based on data and dialogue, engaging teachers in standards-based curriculum revision and alignment, and recruiting the right fit of teacher). It is argued that best practice entails multiple levels of teaching and administrative praxis that together form a school-wide socio-ecological system conducive to higher performance.


Best practice Science Middle school Student performance Inquiry teaching Socio-ecological theory 


  1. Abell, S. K., Bryan, L. A., & Anderson, M. A. (1998). Investigating preservice elementary science teacher reflective thinking using integrated media case-based instruction in elementary science teacher preparation. Science Education, 82, 491–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aikenhead, G., Calabrese, A. B., & Chinn, P. W. U. (2006). Toward a politics of place-based science education. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 1, 403–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baines, L. A., & Stanley, G. (2000). We want to see the teacher: Constructivism and the rage against expertise. Phi Delta Kappan, 82, 327–330.Google Scholar
  4. Banilower, E., Heck, D., & Weiss, I. (2007). Can professional development make the vision of the standards a reality? The impact of the national science foundation’s local systemic change through teacher enhancement initiative. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44, 375–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Banilower, E., Cohen, J., Pasley, J., & Weiss, I. (2010). Effective science instruction: What does the research tell us? (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.Google Scholar
  6. Bempechat, J. (2004). The motivational benefits of homework: A social-cognitive perspective. Theory into Practice, 43, 189–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bianchini, J. A., Johnson, C. C., Oram, S. Y., & Cavazos, L. (2003). Learning to teach science in contemporary and equitable ways: The successes and struggles of first-year science teachers. Science Education, 87, 419–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bowen, C. W. (2000). A quantitative literature review of cooperative learning effects on high school and college chemistry achievement. Journal of Chemical Education, 77, 118–121.Google Scholar
  9. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development. In T. Husten & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education (pp. 3–27). Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  11. Browne-Ferrigno, T., & Fusarelli, B. C. J. (2005). The Kentucky principalship: Model of school leadership reconfigured by ISLLC standards and reform policy implementation. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 4, 127–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chang, C.-Y., & Mao, S.-L. (1999). The effects on students’ cognitive achievement when using the cooperative learning method in earth science classrooms. School Science and Mathematics, 99, 374–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  14. Colburn, A. (2000). An inquiry primer. Science Scope, 23, 42–44.Google Scholar
  15. Cooper, H., & Valentine, J. C. (2001). Using research to answer practical questions about homework. Educational Psychologist, 36, 143–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cooper, H., Lindsay, J. J., Greathouse, S., & Nye, B. (1998). Relationships among attitudes about homework, amount of homework assigned and completed, and student achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 70–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cooper, H., Jackson, K., Nye, B., & Lindsay, J. J. (2001). A model of homework’s influences on the performance of elementary school students. Journal of Experimental Education, 69, 181–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research. Review of Educational Research, 76, 1–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Crawford, B. (2007). Learning to teach science as inquiry in the rough and trumble of practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44, 613–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Solving the dilemmas of teacher supply, demand, and standards: How we can ensure a competent, caring, and qualified teacher for every child. New York, NY: National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.Google Scholar
  21. Davis, E. A., Petish, D., & Smithey, J. (2006). Challenges new science teachers face. Review of Educational Research, 76, 607–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (1995). Introduction: Entering the field of qualitative research. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Elmore, R. F. (2004). School reform from the inside out: Policy, practice and performance. Cambridge: MA, Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  24. Epstein, J. L., & Van Voorhis, F. L. (2001). More than minutes: Teachers’ roles in designing homework. Educational Psychologist, 36, 181–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fishman, B. J., Marx, R. W., Best, S., & Tal, R. T. (2003). Linking teacher and student learning to improve professional development in systemic reform. Teaching and Teacher Education, 19, 643–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Friedrichsen, P. M., Munford, D., & Orgill, M. (2006). Brokering at the boundary: A prospective science teacher engages students in inquiry. Science Education, 90, 522–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fullan, M. (2007). Change the terms for teacher learning. Journal of Staff Development, 28, 35–36.Google Scholar
  28. Furtak, E. M. (2006). The problem with answers: An exploration of guided science inquiry teaching. Science Education, 90, 453–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Geier, R., Blumenfeld, P. C., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Fishman, B., Soloway, E., et al. (2008). Standardized test outcomes for students engaged in inquiry-based science curricula in the context of urban reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45, 922–939.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gibson, H. L., & Chase, C. (2002). Longitudinal impact of an inquiry-based science program on middle school students’ attitudes toward science. Science Education, 86, 693–705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hanze, M., & Berger, R. (2007). Cooperative learning, motivational effects, and students characteristics: An experimental study comparing cooperative learning and direct instruction in 12th grade physics classes. Learning and Instruction, 17, 29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hayes, M. T. (2002). Elementary preservice teachers’ struggles to define inquiry-based science teaching. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13, 147–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ingersoll, R. M. (1999). The problem of underqualified teachers in American secondary schools. Educational Researcher, 28, 26–37.Google Scholar
  34. Johnson, C. C. (2006). Effective professional development and change in practice: Barriers science teachers encounter and implications for reform. School Science and Mathematics, 106, 150–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jones, G., Jones, B., & Hargrove, T. (2003). The unintended consequences of high stakes testing. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  36. Katz, I., Kaplan, A., & Gueta, G. (2010). Students’ need, teachers’ support, and motivation for doing homework: A cross sectional study. Journal of Experimental Education, 78, 246–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Keith, T. Z., Diamond-Hallam, C., & Fine, J. G. (2004). Longitudinal effects of in-school and out-of-school homework on high school grades. School Psychology Quarterly, 19, 187–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Keys, C. W., & Kennedy, V. (1999). Understanding inquiry science teaching in context: A case study of an Elementary Teacher. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 10, 315–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41, 75–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Koballa, T. R., & Tippins, D. J. (Eds.). (2004). Cases in middle and secondary science education: The promise and dilemmas (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle Ridge, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  41. Kuhn, D. (2007). Is direct instruction an answer to the right question? Educational Psychologist, 42, 109–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lewis, B. F., & Wagner, N. (2002). Who’s teaching whom? In D. Tippins, T. Koballa, & B. Payne (Eds.), Learning from cases: Unraveling the complexities of elementary science teaching. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  43. Lotter, C. (2004). Preservice science teachers’ concerns through classroom observations and student teaching: Special focus on inquiry teaching. Science Educator, 13, 29–38.Google Scholar
  44. Lou, Y., Abrami, P. C., Spence, J. C., Poulsen, C., Chambers, B., & d’Apollonia, S. (1996). Within-class grouping: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66, 423–458.Google Scholar
  45. Lynch, S., Kuipers, J., Pyke, C., & Szesze, M. (2005). Examining the effects of a highly rated science curriculum unit on diverse students: Results from a planning grant. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 912–946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ma, L. (1999). Knowing and teaching elementary mathematics: Teachers’ understanding of fundamental mathematics in China and the United States. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  47. Marek, E. A. (2008). Why the learning cycle? Journal of Elementary Science Education, 20, 63–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., Norland, J. J., Berkeley, S., McDuffie, K., Tornquist, E. H., et al. (2006). Differentiated curriculum enhancement in inclusive middle school science: Effects on classroom and high-stakes tests. Journal of Special Education, 40, 130–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Maxwell, J. (1996). Validity: How might you be wrong? In Qualitative research design: An interactive approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage publications.Google Scholar
  50. McDuffie, K. A., Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (2009). Differential effects of peer tutoring in co-taught and non-co-taught classes: Results for content learning and student-teacher interactions. Exceptional Children, 75, 493–510.Google Scholar
  51. Merriam, S. (1997). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  52. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  53. National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  54. National Research Council. (2000). Inquiry and the national science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  55. National Research Council (NRC). (2011). A Framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  56. New York State Education Department (NYSED). (1996). Learning standards for mathematics, science, and technology (revised edition). Retrieved March 1, 2010, from
  57. New York State Education Department (NYSED, 2010). New York state grade 8 intermediate-level science test. Retrieved May 21st, 2010, from
  58. Oliveira, A. W. (2009). “Kindergarten, can I have your eyes and ears?” Politeness and teacher directive behaviors in inquiry-based science classrooms. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 4, 803–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Oliveira, A. W. (2010a). Engaging students in guided science inquiry discussions; elementary teachers’ oral strategies. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 747–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Oliveira, A. W. (2010b). Improving teacher questioning in science inquiry discussions through professional development. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47, 422–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Oliveira, A. W. (2010c). Developing elementary teachers’ understanding of the discourse structure of inquiry-based science classrooms. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 8, 247–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Oliveira, A. W. (2010d). Developing elementary teachers’ understandings of hedges and personal pronouns in inquiry-based science classroom discourse. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 103–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Oliveira, A. W., & Sadler, T. D. (2008). Interactive patterns and conceptual convergence during student collaborations in science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45, 634–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Oliveira, A. W., Sadler, T. D., & Suslak, D. F. (2007). The linguistic construction of expert identity in professor-student discussions of science. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 2, 119–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Osisioma, I. (2007). Urban high schools: Factors that enhance and those that impede the learning of science and mathematics. In P. J. Gilmer, J. Osborne, J. Shymansky, & J. Tillotson (Eds.), NARST annual international conference [CD ROM]. New Orleans, LA: National Association for Research in Science Teaching.Google Scholar
  66. Patton, M. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  67. Roehrig, G. H., & Luft, J. A. (2004). Constraints experienced by beginning secondary science teachers in implementing scientific inquiry lessons. International Journal of Science Education, 26, 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rorrer, A. K., & Skrla, L. (2004). Leaders as policy mediators: The reconceptualization of accountability. Theory into Practice, 44, 53–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rutherford, B., & Broughton, M. (2000). Teaching and learning in the middle schools: Lessons from an urban community. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Lab.Google Scholar
  70. Schroeder, C. M., Scott, T. P., Tolson, H., Huang, T.-Y., & Lee, Y.-H. (2007). A meta-analysis of national research: The effects of teaching strategies on student achievement in science in the United States. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44, 1436–1460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Shachar, H., & Fischer, S. (2004). Cooperative learning and the achievement o motivation and perceptions of students in 11th grade chemistry classes. Learning and Instruction, 14, 69–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Stamovlasis, D., Dimos, A., & Tsaparlis, G. (2006). A study of group interaction processes in learning lower secondary physics. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43, 556–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Stigler, J. W., & Hiebert, J. (1997). Understanding and improving classroom mathematics instruction. Phi Delta Kappan, 79, 14–21.Google Scholar
  74. Swango, J. C., & Steward, S. B. (2003). Help! I’m teaching middle school science (pp. 13–17). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.Google Scholar
  75. Trautwein, U., & Ludtke, O. (2007). Students’ self-reported effort and time on homework in six school subjects: between-student differences and within-student variation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(2), 432–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Trautwein, U., Ludtke, O., Schnyder, I., & Nigglie, A. (2006). Predicting homework effort: Support for a domain-specific, multilevel homework model. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(2), 438–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Trimble, S. B., and Peterson, G. W. (2000). Multiple team structures and student learning in a high risk middle school. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.Google Scholar
  78. Trowbridge, L., Bybee, R., & Powell, J. (2004). Teaching secondary school science: Strategies for developing scientific inquiry. Upper Saddler River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  79. Van Voorhis, F. L. (2001). Teachers’ use of interactive homework and its effects on family involvement and science achievement of middle grade students. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WA.Google Scholar
  80. Van Voorhis, F. L. (2003). Interactive homework in middle school: Effects on family involvement and science achievement. Journal of Educational Research, 96, 323–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. van Zee, E. H., & Roberts, D. (2006). Making science teaching and learning visible through web-based “snapshots of practice. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 17, 367–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wilson, C. D., Taylor, J. A., Kowalski, S. M., & Carlson, J. (2010). The relative effects and equity of inquiry-based and commonplace science teaching on students’ knowledge, reasoning and argumentation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47, 276–301.Google Scholar
  83. Yin, R. K. (2005). Case study research: Design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  84. Wilcox, K. C., & Angelis, J. I. (2006). Elementary school best practices framework. Albany, NY: Albany Institute for Research in Education, University at Albany.Google Scholar
  85. Wilcox, K. C., & Angelis, J. I. (2007). What makes middle schools work: A report on best practices in New York state middle schools. Albany, New York: University at Albany.Google Scholar
  86. Wilcox, K. C. (2008). What makes high schools work: How higher performing high schools in New York adapt and thrive. Albany, NY: Albany Institute for Research in Education.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Association for Science Teacher Education, USA 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alandeom W. Oliveira
    • 1
  • Kristen C. Wilcox
    • 1
  • Janet Angelis
    • 1
  • Arthur N. Applebee
    • 1
  • Vincent Amodeo
    • 1
  • Michele A. Snyder
    • 1
  1. 1.Educational Theory and Practice DepartmentState University of New YorkAlbanyUSA

Personalised recommendations