Science education is founded on attitudes, learning strategies and skills

In a recent Studies in Science Education article, authors Eric M. Anderman , Gale M. Sinatra & DeLeon L. Gray address exactly the area I have been wondering about in terms of junior science (hooray!). Their interest is in the “complex set of cognitive, affective and motivational strategies and skills” required to learn science. The authors explore these strategies and skills in terms of adolescence, understood as a period of human development (and I think this approach impacts directly on what early years teachers might describe as ‘science education’). Eric M. Anderman , Gale M. Sinatra & DeLeon L. Gray write:

As the first decade of the twenty-first century comes to a close, we are faced with enormous scientific challenges that the youth of today must confront. … When discussing the need for scientific innovation in his State of the Union address, US President Obama (2011) indicated that, ‘This is our generation’s Sputnik moment’ (para. 26) in the sense that improving our scientific workforce will ‘strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs’ (para. 26). Still, adolescents learning about science in school face critical challenges. This is particularly important to keep in mind since entry into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics careers is often determined by children and adolescents’ experiences with science” (p.89)

“There have been many important recent developments in the study of adolescent cognition and motivation and this knowledge has much to add to the enhancement of science education. Learning about science requires the coordination of a complex set of cognitive, affective and motivational strategies and skills. Specifically, research from educational, cognitive and developmental psychology can contribute greatly to our understanding of how adolescents acquire and process scientific knowledge; overcome unsupported beliefs about scientific processes; learn the discourse of scientists; learn to think and reason like scientists; evaluate sources of scientific information; and reconcile personal beliefs (e.g., religious and political beliefs) with science content (Newcombe et al., 2009).” (p.90)

The authors point out that, because “variability in cognitive development at a given chronological age is quite typical (i.e., some children may already be demonstrating some of the early hallmarks of adolescent cognition)…, we have adopted the definition of adolescence suggested by Steinberg (2008): ‘adolescence is defined, roughly speaking, as the second decade of the life span’ (p. 7).” (p.90)

“The NRC report [i.e., The National Research Council (NRC) published Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8 (NRC, 2007)] serves as an excellent platform from which to begin considering the unique needs of older adolescent learners. It is important for science educators to prepare younger learners for the types of science instruction that students will encounter as adolescents.” (p.90)

In this article, as the authors explain, Eric M. Anderman , Gale M. Sinatra & DeLeon L. Gray “examine what adolescents should be capable of doing within the following domains identified by the NRC as critical for an promoting scientific literate workforce: adaptability, complex communication/social skills, non-routine problem-solving skills, self-management/self-development and systems thinking. We then describe the types of educational environments and instructional practices that are needed in order to facilitate the development of abilities within these domains.” (p.91)


The current pace of change in scientific knowledge is unprecedented in human history.” (p.91) “The fast tempo of knowledge generation in today’s society requires that students be more adaptable in their thinking than ever before (Burbules, 2010). The abilities and attitudes needed to adapt to the ever changing landscape of scientific ideas are myriad and varied. As we discuss in this section, adaptability as a trait of adolescent science learners can be described in terms of: adolescents’ likelihood of considering alternative explanations and points of view; adolescents’ ability to activate and use prior knowledge, to engage in effortful thinking; and adolescents’ tendencies to engage in scientific argumentation. The ability to think adaptively and reason about complex problems requires weighing issues and arguments and considering alternative points of views.” (p.92)

Recognising the need to change and the willingness to change one’s thinking are hallmarks of adaptability. This requires a view of knowledge as changing and an open-minded attitude toward knowledge change. Sinatra and Chinn (2011) argue that developing students’ epistemic cognition is both possible and necessary for the development of thinking and reasoning skills in science. Drawing on the work of Osborne, Collins, Ratcliffe, Millar and Duschl (2003), they propose teaching aspects of the nature of science to support a change in students’ abilities to think and reason about scientific information. These include topics such as the nature of certainty and uncertainty in science, analysis and interpretation of data, making predictions and testing hypotheses.” (p.93)

Complex communication skills

“Most scientific investigations are conducted by groups of researchers. These diverse individuals must be able to communicate clearly and efficiently, both within working groups and with other constituencies. In the twenty-first century, more often than not, interdisciplinary teams must work together to advance knowledge. Research indicates that communication skills are extremely important in the field of science.” (p.93)

“…most important is the adolescent’s ability to learn to communicate effectively about science.” (p.94)

“Effective writers need to learn and master several different skills and strategies, for example, they need to learn self-regulatory skills (e.g., the ability to plan writing beforehand and revise writing afterward) and skills that are specific to the actual writing process (e.g., complex sentence construction, writing within the genre of science). In addition, effective writers need to have knowledge about writing (e.g., the intended audience, information about the topic etc.) and effective writers need to be motivated to write (they need to feel self-efficacious).” (p.94) Note: the authors also discuss the need to develop oral communication skills.

Non-routine problem solving skills

Scientific problems of import require non-routine problem solving. That is, most problems worth solving are ill-structured and required ‘thinking outside the box’ for an effective solution strategy. In general, successful problem solving requires domain-specific knowledge and skills (Chi & Glaser, 1985) and the procedural and conditional knowledge to know when and how to apply those skills (Paris, Lipson, & Wixson, 1983). Non-routine problem solving requires the ability to metacognitively monitor and self-regulate relevant skills and strategies. Effective problem solvers also need the ‘will’ (the motivational goals, attitudes and interests) to attend to the problem and persist in the face of difficulties.” (p.95)

“In their examination of the reasoning skills required of adolescents to engage in classroom inquiry, Chinn and Malhotra (2002) cautioned that overly simplistic forms of inquiry do not promote the reasoning skills scientists engage in during authentic inquiry. Their detailed analysis illustrates that too few of the cognitive processes required by scientists’ reasoning during inquiry (such as planning, systematic control of variables and constructing explanations of results) are required of school-based inquiry tasks.” (p.96)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Eric M. Anderman , Gale M. Sinatra & DeLeon L. Gray (2012): The challenges of teaching and learning about science in the twenty-first century: exploring the abilities and constraints of adolescent learners, Studies in Science Education, 48:1, 89-117
To link to this article:

Abstract: In this article, we critically examine skills that are necessary for the effective learning of science in adolescent populations. We argue that a focus on twentyfirst-century skills among adolescents within the context of science instruction must be considered in light of research on cognitive and social development. We first review adolescents’ emerging abilities in terms of five domains identified by the National Research Council Board on Science Education: adaptability, complex communication/social skills, non-routine problem-solving skills, selfmanagement/self-development and systems thinking. We next describe practices that science teachers can use to enhance the development and use of emerging cognitive abilities in adolescents. We conclude by providing seven researchbased recommendations for adolescent science instruction.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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