In American schools today, especially in schools that serve large percentages of disadvantaged children, … schools tend to dedicate only limited class periods for science, and the types of activities and learning that take place in them are similarly truncated. Collaboration among students—an essential ingredient of scientific practice—is unusual given the time-consuming mechanics of organizing student groups and skillfully facilitating deep, student-led discussions. There is also insufficient opportunity in more traditional science classrooms for students to engage fully in the process of trial and error, or to observe and examine natural phenomena, because complicated experiments cannot be conducted in brief spurts. Instead, classes tend to take shape as lectures, with teachers imparting information and students dutifully recording it. While this method might use limited time efficiently, such one-way, single-track teaching deprives students of the chance to experience science in action.
Consider the state of science education in America today. Not only have science proficiency rates held flat over the last decade, but these rates are alarmingly low. Only one-third of fourth graders and a mere one-fifth of high school seniors scored proficient on the most recent NAEP test. Meanwhile, time for science has declined. According to one survey, elementary schools devote an average of 75 minutes less per week to science than they did in the days before NCLB. How can we ever hope to achieve greatness in science in the face of these facts?
The National Center on Time & Learning addresses this question in its new report Strengthening Science Education: The Power of More Time to Deepen Inquiry and Engagement.