In an age when science facts and information are easily available on the internet, it’s not enough to simply understand scientific concepts. Instead, students must be able to use apply those concepts to real-world problems. They must be able to explain phenomena scientifically and use scientific evidence to draw conclusions and make decisions.
U.S. students lag behind international peers in meeting this bar. Only 7.5% of U.S. students reach the highest levels of proficiency in science, compared to 11% in Canada and 27% in Shanghai.
To improve science results, high-performing schools focus instruction on application of scientific concepts. They use projects and experiments to give students the chance to apply science to real-world problems. Given that strong science results are correlated with high instrumental motivation in science, successful schools also show students how science is used outside the classroom, and how they might use science in a future career.
Best Practices in Science Instruction:
1. Increase expectations and rigor. High performing schools review their internal standards to ensure they provide an appropriate level of rigor. Some use the OECD Test for Schools proficiency levels to inform their own standards. They also adjust the science curriculum to ensure that all students have the opportunity to take higher-level science courses, such as physics, before they graduate.
2. Build students’ critical thinking skills. Successful science educators require students to use scientific concepts to solve complex problems. Classroom time is spent not only on lectures, but also on discussion, experimentation, and problem-solving.
To help build problem-solving skills, leading schools emphasize project-based learning. Students learn science concepts by working through a complex problem. To show students the connections between different academic disciplines, some schools design cross-curricular projects that require students to draw on knowledge from across their academic experience.
3. Foster interest and motivation in science by showcasing real-world applications of science. Strong science results are correlated with student motivation to learn. To show students how they might use science later in life, high performing schools expose students to real-world examples of science in action, and create opportunities for students to engage with science outside of the classroom. For example, one high school created a partnership with a local technology company. Students shadowed scientists and engineers to learn more about science careers.