PAGE 2 OF 2
HHMI: WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF CORE CONCEPT?
DRH: We clearly need to identify concepts that are critical in science, such as
variations in species and how plants and animals adapt to their environments,
and figure out how to build on these concepts over time in ways that are
developmentally appropriate and meaningful to children.
The concept of ecosystems is a good example. Every kid has had some experience
with a variety of ecosystems. We start out with simple ones and then take the
students to higher levels of complexity as they get older. Certain fundamentals
exist in any ecosystem,be they biological, chemical, physical, technological, or
even historical. We could look, say, at a particular species of animal that has
become extinct and talk about the factors that led to this outcome. Or we could
discuss the chemistry of particular ecological issues. On the East Coast, for
example, putting salt on the road in wintertime affects the ecosystem—and
not just in the immediate community: it can have a wide-ranging ripple effect.
HHMI: EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD AFFECTS EVERYTHING ELSE?
DRH: Exactly. We can help kids develop an integrated understanding of the
relationships between things: planting a seed and watching what happens when you
put salt on it, or don't give it any light, or put it in a smoke-filled
container. They can latch on to those ideas if we're building on these core
HHMI: HOW DOES THIS APPROACH DIFFER FROM THE WAY SCIENCE IS TAUGHT TODAY?
DRH: We currently have a fragmented, piecemeal approach—we teach earth science
or physical science for so many weeks and we don't make the connections or build
upon students' understanding. And because of this fragmentation, kids don't
develop a meaningful knowledge of science.
HHMI: WHAT IS YOUR HOPE FOR THIS COUNTRY'S NEXT GENERATION?
DRH: I'd like to see our scientific literacy increase because our children can build
connections that make sense and help them remember—as opposed to learning
things in isolation, promptly forgetting them, and failing to see any
connections whatsoever. I would also be thrilled to see children so excited
about science that they didn't care if their friends thought they were weird for
loving the subject.
Deborah Roberts-Harris teaches fifth grade in Queen Creek, Arizona. For a copy of the NRC report, Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8, visit www.nap.edu/catalog/11625.html.
Interview by Linda Marsa