Science Instruction in Oregon and Washington


I am sorry to report that in the dozens of Oregon schools I have visited in the past four years, the actual teaching of science in grades K-5 is not a lot different from that reported in California. Grades K-2 rarely reported any regular science instruction at all. The norm in grades 3-5 was two 1/2-hour sessions per week (alternating with social studies). The nature of the curriculum was almost universally fact-oriented content while instruction was primarily reading from texts.

That is not to say that I did not see some exemplary teachers doing a lot more instruction, using inquiry techniques, and extending the curriculum far beyond any textbook, because I did. The problem is that they are so few and far between. We only delude ourselves if we believe the state standards have so far done much to improve the quality of science education in Oregon or in Washington (my home state). The real world requires a much greater emphasis on capacity building on the part of elementary school personnel and allocation of some tangible resources to supplies and equipment, but especially to the professional development of classroom teachers.

Some effort also needs to be directed to finding better ways to deliver the instruction to students. Most elementary school classrooms I visit are woefully inadequate for meaningful science activities. Maybe we need to think about the design of classrooms and classroom furniture or, alternatively, the design of school program that allows quality science instruction to take place. The situation is not going to improve much by simply telling schools and teachers to be more accountable for their students’ learning.

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