The Center for Mathematics and Science Education Research (CMSER) coordinates research, teacher education, curriculum development and implementation, and dissemination efforts in mathematics and science education, and fosters rich partnerships with educational institutions and organizations throughout the Milwaukee metropolitan area. Although there is much that is not understood about the relationships between development and learning, the evidence is clear that a student’s instructional history plays a critical role in her scientific knowledge, scientific reasoning, and readiness to do and learn more science. Components of the cognitive system (e.g., processing speed and capacity, strategies and heuristics, metacognition) certainly are factors that contribute to a student’s learning history, but so do other mechanisms that are manipulable by educators and constitute the design toolsâ€ that a teacher can deploy to most directly affect science learning.
Governmental guidelines and tests often focus on middle and high school-level STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Yet, many educators believe science education should begin much earlier. Not only does science education teach young learners problem-solving skills that will help them throughout their schooling, it also engages them in science from the start.
A second major problem with assuming children’s learning will unfold without support is that what children are capable of doing without instruction may lag considerably behind what they are capable of doing with effective instruction. Further clouding the picture is that research on cognitive development may not be helpful in illuminating how instruction can advance children’s knowledge and skill. Often, studies in developmental psychology do not have an instructional component and therefore may be more informative about starting points than about children’s potential for developing scientific proficiency under effective instructional conditions.
Carey, 1985; Chi, Feltovich, and Glaser, 1981; Goswami and Brown, 1989; see also the discussion in Chapter 5 ). Not surprisingly, both children’s and adults’ scientific reasoning tends to be strongest in domains in which their knowledge is strongest. Therefore, if the goal is to advance the leading edge of children’s scientific reasoning, their instruction needs to be grounded in contexts that also build on their relatively robust understanding of content. There is also mounting evidence that knowledge of scientific explanations of the natural world is advanced through generating and evaluating scientific evidence. For example, instruction designed to engage students in model-based reasoning advances their conceptual understanding of natural phenomena (see, for example, Brown and Clement, 1989; Lehrer et al., 2001; Stewart, Cartier, and Passmore, 2005; White, 1993; Wiser and Amin, 2001; see also the discussions in Chapter 4 and Chapter 9 ).
The practice of science education has been increasingly informed by research into science teaching and learning. Research in science education relies on a wide variety of methodologies, borrowed from many branches of science and engineering such as computer science, cognitive science, cognitive psychology and anthropology. Science education research aims to define or characterize what constitutes learning in science and how it is brought about.