Deborah Roberts-Harris is happiest in the classroom, where she has taught science and mathematics in grades 1 through 8. She has taken sojourns, however, for good cause: to advocate for better science education, conduct research on how to transform kids into highly motivated scientists, and head HHMI's Elementary Student Inquiry Program for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools.
HHMI: ARE WE TEACHING CHILDREN AT THE RIGHT LEVEL WHEN IT COMES
DRH: Children's thinking and capabilities are more sophisticated than we once
believed. Kids know and can do amazing things even before they start
kindergarten. New research is showing that even the youngest children are little
scientists and have critical faculties—they have remarkable abilities to
assimilate information and abstract ideas and make logical sense out of them.
HHMI: HOW SHOULD EDUCATORS MAKE THE MOST OF CHILDREN'S CAPABILITIES?
DRH: We need to build on students' ideas of the natural world and provide experiences
so that they can continue to think and act like scientists. We need to expose
kids to the range of methodologies that scientists use, such as observation and
historical reconstruction. While we want kids to have hands-on opportunities,
science lessons must also be rich enough so that children can have discussions
in which they debate and challenge each other.
HHMI: YOU ARE PART OF NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL COMMITTEE THAT RECENTLY CALLED FOR
SWEEPING CHANGES IN THE WAY SCIENCE IS TAUGHT—REWORKING SCIENCE STANDARDS,
CURRICULA, ASSESSMENT, AND INSTRUCTION AS WELL AS UPGRADING PROFESSIONAL
DEVELOPMENT FOR TEACHERS. THESE ARE TALL ORDERS. HOW WOULD YOU BEGIN ADDRESSING
DRH: The place to start is by coming up with a coherent body of core
concepts—central ideas that can be introduced at varying levels of
complexity over the K-8 years—that is easily integrated into the sciences.
Then we must create materials, methods of assessing progress, and systems of
support for teachers that focus on these ideas.
Photo: Jeff Newton