Science for All


Even before the landmark publication, Science for All Americans (1993), the needs of diverse learners was evident, through local initiatives and through larger scale legislation such as the varied versions of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, beginning in 1965 and continuing through the current Federal No Child Left Behind Act (2000). With increasing diversity in the classroom, the issues of gender, English Language Learners, cultural backgrounds, special education and gifted continue to challenge science educators. This section will explore resources to assist educators in equitable strategies for preparing scientifically literate citizens.



Importance - Why is Science For All Important?

As stated in the introduction to Science for All Americans (1993), "What the future holds in store for individual human beings, the nation, and the world depends largely on the wisdom with which humans use science and technology. And that, in turn, depends on the character, distribution, and effectiveness of the education that people receive." Almost two decades later, global scientific problems and opportunities are reaching critical levels, while United States student performance on international tests such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) remain stubbornly in a mediocre range.  This has been particularly evident for some sub-populations including students from minority, and those from low socioeconomic status. 

Unfortunately, increased emphases on basic skills in reading and mathematics has led to less science being taught at the elementary level, leaving middle and high school students inadequately prepared with concrete experiences to assist them to address more abstract concepts. Despite ongoing calls for the use of inquiry, science can often remain a list of vocabulary and facts to memorize, often without essential hands-on experiences. This emphasis can be especially problematic for students struggling with language or students with learning disabilities.  Other students may loose interest due to the lack of relevancy within the content. In addition, science has often been viewed as male and European dominated. This often has made many students feel left out. 

Science has long since left the image of being an elitist subject behind, and should be appropriate for all students, not only the traditionally college bound. By following best practices, scientific literacy can and should be accessible to all learners.



What is Science for All?

Science for all learners envisions a classroom where all students are able to productively engage in learning scientific concepts, skills, and habits of mind to enable them to become productive citizens, informed voters, and wise consumers. Providing high quality science instruction for all learners requires the combined efforts of policy makers, administrators, teachers, institutions of higher education, and community members alike.

While many of the other best practices in instruction are inherent in establishing an inclusive classroom, this section will address specifics with regard to differentiation, special education, English language learners, gifted and talented, and gender. Important aspects of daily planning, such as articulating essential core concepts and skills, planning ongoing formative assessments to inform instruction, as well as performance assessments that meet a wide range of skills and abilities is an important beginning. The use of a lesson design such as the 5Es that actively engages students and encourages ongoing formative assessments will help meet individual student needs.

The advantage the science classroom provides is the ability to meaningfully integrate reading, writing, mathematics, and technology skills within an environment where concrete, hands-on examples are present. The scientifically designed environment is also one where small groups, active discourse, problem-solving, and questioning closely mimics an authentic science environment. All viewpoints should be welcomed and appreciated, believing that more voices in the room provide for a richer, broader discussion. There is no question that foundational skills and knowledge are essential for such discourse, but the means of developing them should be sensitive to the unique skills, backgrounds, and interests of the learners.Planning & Instruction
How do I intentionally target the needs of ALL students as I plan science instruction?

As you are making decisions about your science program, there are several different ideas you need to consider to meet the students at their level and provide science instruction that is meaningful and connected for each student. These ideas will be discussed below.

Science Literacy
Project 2061 (AAAS) sets forth the goal of creating a scientifically literate populace, defining it as, "the belief that the science-literate person is one who is aware that science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and limitations; understands key concepts and principles of science; is familiar with the natural world and recognizes both its diversity and unity; and uses scientific knowledge and scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes" (SFAA). Part of the problem achieving this goal rests with the evolving nature of such literacy, as the definition changes in an increasingly complex, technological society. A continuing issue rests with a perceived view of the content of science as a challenging, difficult subject, mastered by only a select few (Crovrther & Bonnstetter,1997). Scientifically literate citizens need to be able to evaluate claims and evidence presented to the public by media, within the political arena, and by special interest groups. This skill requires scientific habits of mind, such as curiosity, openness to new ideas, and informed skepticism. When science is presented as a series of facts and vocabulary to memorize, little opportunity exists for students, at any level, to retain core concepts needed for scientific literacy. By providing options for students to rehearse skills used in scientific inquiry and scientific discourse, students can be immersed in the habits of mind that can be long lasting.
In order to engage in the non-fiction reading and writing inherent in the science classroom, multiple levels of reading materials should be available. Matching background reading to the student's reading level enables all students to contribute equally to the discussion. Advanced readers can peruse newspapers or journals, looking for claims and evidence, while lower level readers can contribute from news sources written for younger students. Likewise, student's journals can be written with pictures, clozed sentences, or more detailed writing. Coupled with concrete examples, vocabulary can be developed within a meaningful context, rather than in isolation.


Science lessons and the accompanying assessments can be differentiated through content, process, or product, with respectful tasks, flexible grouping, and ongoing assessment, according to the student's interests, abilities, or learning styles (Tomlinson, 2001). In classrooms where inquiry is integral, choices can be provided to best meet the needs of the learner. Rather than all students following a step-by-step worksheet on simple machines, for example, students can create inventions for purposes matching their interests, incorporating one, two or more simple machines. More advanced students can calculate and explain mechanical advantage, while others can use a simple tool such as a spring scale to measure effort.

Gifted and Talented:

The traditional view of gifted is commonly the top 2% of students academically. When working with the academically gifted, Tomlinson (2001) recommends asking three essential questions:
1) Could all students of this age do this activity?
2) Should they have to do this activity?
3) Do they want to do this activity?
Multiple areas of giftedness exist, however, and should be considered. When thinking about differentiation in science, it is important to not rank and sort students by ability, but rather to provide options for students based on their individual strengths, as the expansion portion of the 5E lesson design requires. Students are regularly offered choices that align with their own learning profile. Howard Gardner's eight multiple intelligences can provide a lens for individual gifts of students. Students may move in and out of group roles depending on their unique strengths.

The teacher's role within a differentiated classroom moves from the traditional role of a dispenser of knowledge to the facilitator of learning opportunities. By providing choices for students, tasks can be differentiated for individuals or groups.

Special Education:

Special education includes a wide range of learning disabilities from severe to moderate and has many different labels to differentiate a student's disability. Research has shown that all students can achieve in effective science learning environments and that teaching science well to all children is essential for a future higher quality of life. (Ready, Set, SCIENCE!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms 2007). Science instruction for special needs students should reflect current effective science teaching strategies. As Haskell (2000) summarized, "Strategies which are effective for both the students with learning disabilities and the general education student are cooperative learning, integrated units, concept maps and Classwide Peer Tutoring." Students need to be provided with opportunities to learn science, engage in scientific inquiry, and apply content knowledge with process skills to achieve scientific literacy. Certain physical or academic accommodations may need to be made based on individual student learning plans. Collaboration between the special education teacher and the science teacher can be effective and benefit all students. (Haskell,2000) Segregating special needs children in separate classrooms has shown to have a negative effect on both academic performance and social adjustment. (SciMathMN Minnesota K-12 Science Framework, 1997). Including special needs students in mainstream class should be an important goal.


English language learners can enrich the science classroom by providing students the opportunity to experience applications from diverse cultures. Since science is often seen as having a language all its own, the importance of hands-on, concrete examples coupled with that vocabulary is even more essential.
Lee (2002) described the importance of instructional congruence, i.e., an environment where the students' language and cultural experiences are meshed with the core concepts and skills to make science accessible, meaningful, and relevant. ELL students may have not had prior experiences or exposure to practices common within a science classroom. Michaels, Shouse, and Schweingruber (2008) suggest treating them as honored, highly intelligent diplomats, as you offer them explanations on local procedures and customs. The authors explain, "An assumption of competence makes it easier to build on and promote students' contributions, even if those contributions are incomplete, not entirely explicit, or are expressed in a nonstandard dialect."
From a constructivist perspective, the student will be developing understandings based on their own background experiences, and it is important to establish communication links rather than making incorrect assumptions. A word in isolation may seem unfamiliar, but in the context of a concrete experience quickly evoke the identifying word in the student's own language. Placing vocabulary within a meaningful context reduces the likelihood of developing misconceptions or misunderstandings.

Gender Considerations:

The field of science has been traditionally male-dominated and gaps continue to exist in science and mathematics assessments between white males and minorities as well as between males and females, most notably in the fields of physical science and technology. In addressing these gaps, it is essential that gender stereotypes are not reinforced. Popular writers have attempted to stereotype gender into simplistic, non-scientific "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" psychology. Such stereotypes can be detrimental, since learning styles do not exist in boxes, but rather along a spectrum.
It is apparent that the traditional didactic style of teaching is not effective for many students, nor is the view that boys are good at mathematics and science and girls are good at reading and writing. What research on the brain is demonstrating is that individual brains develop over time and that prior experiences can play a critical role. The young boy facing a traditional classroom setting where extensive seat time is required and heavy emphasis is placed on reading and writing before the brain pathways have formed a complete myelin sheath may quickly loose interest. Likewise, girls can be confronted with a formula to calculate mechanical advantage for which they have no prior concrete experiences to create meaning. Cleveland (2011) proposes six strategies to help boys learn, which in reality would apply to girls as well, but perhaps for different reasons:
1. Active involvement
2. Compelling situations
3. Direct experience
4. Enjoyable setting
5. Frequent feedback
6. Informal learning
7. Patterns and connections
8. Reflection

Without active involvement, there is no engagement in the learning process. Understanding cannot be transmitted, it must be constructed. Being actively engaged in the learning process helps students create meaning and purpose. Compelling situations assist students in making authentic connections to learning. Research has shown that females often become more involved in science concepts when they are connected to the personal and social perspective, i.e. other people can benefit from their findings. Likewise, males are often engaged when challenging problem-solving skills are required. For females, direct experience can often assist in filling gaps created by limited prior personal experiences, but actually engaging in hands-on, inquiry experiences increases both attention and memory. An enjoyable setting can reduce anxiety for all students, creating a sense of classroom community rather than the "teacher's room". Many students are reluctant to take risks for fear of failing. By providing frequent feedback, the possibility of success seems more attainable. Since science has too often been taught with the assumption of "one right answer," students presuppose that if they know it they are "smart" and if they don't they are "stupid." Active inquiry, investigation, problem solving, and engineering can result in multiple solutions, and frequent feedback can serve as encouragement to continue on the current path, or perhaps consider other alternatives. Informal learning requires the seizing of teachable moments and flexibility on the teacher's part, but can often result in the most lasting memories. Creating patterns and connections assists with consolidation and synthesis of bits and pieces of information that may be apparent to the planner of the lesson, but not always to the student. Brain research has demonstrated that such connections assist in creating meaningful "chunks" that endure over time and can be expanded as new information becomes available. Without reflection on a learning experience, the core concepts can be lost. With reflection, new insights can emerge that will often lead to further exploration.
All students need effective role models, but many fail to have access to them. While incorporating visible women scientists such as Sally Ride is important, access to more local scientists may be more important, especially when they appear from less traditional roles such as engineers, computer designers, and researchers. Providing opportunities to interact with such role models can assist students in developing a lens from which to view their future.



TALK: Reflection & Discussion

■ Describe a science lesson in your classroom where ALL students are actively engaged and developing understandings, rather than merely occupied.
■ How might purposeful lesson design increase opportunities for a differentiated science classroom?
■ How can a teacher use ongoing, formative assessments to better meet the needs of individual students?
■ How can differentiation actually result in higher expectations for ALL students?

DO: Action Steps

■ Select several laboratory activities you currently use in your classroom. Redesign those lessons to provide more opportunities for differentiation rather than "one size fits all".
■ With special education, G/T, ELL staff, and/or other staff such as counselors, collaborate to find opportunities to support each other to provide quality science instruction for every student.
■ With your PLC, develop a Science Writing Heuristic lesson that can be differentiated to accommodate all learners in your classroom.
■ Focus your PLC on how well each individual in your class is succeeding in learning a science concept
■ Select one of the starred books below for a book study for your PLC.


References & Resources
(* items are resources that may be especially worthwhile for teachers)


* Cleveland, K. (2011). Teaching boys. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

* Gregory, G. & Hammerman, E. (2008). Differentiated instructional strategies for science: Grades K-8. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

•Haskell, D. (2000). Building bridges between science and special education:
Inclusion in the science classroom. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 4(3). Southwestern University.

LaMoine L., Motz, J., Biehle, T., & West, S. (2007). Science for all: NSTA guide to planning school science facilities, 2nd Ed. pp. 103-110. Arlington, VA: NSTA.

Lee, O. (2002). Science inquiry for elementary students from diverse backgrounds. In W.
Secada (Ed.), Review of research in education, pp. 23-69. Washington, DC: American
Educational Research Association.

* Michaels, S., Shouse, A., & Schweingruber, H. (2008). Ready, set, science! Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

* Rosebery, A. & Secada, W. (2008). Teaching science to English language learners: Building on students' strengths. Arlington, VA: NSTA.
* Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms, 2nd Ed. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.