The authors of the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993), Blueprints for Reform (AAAS, 1998), and Designs for Science Literacy (AAAS, 2001), along with other researchers mentioned below, have studied the different roadblocks which impede efforts to improve the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the United States. Our STRONG prototype is an attempt to address some of these roadblocks.
Roadblock 1: Teacher subject knowledge
Schickendanz et al. (1990) and numerous other scholars (Asoko, 2000) conclude that physical science is neglected because teachers themselves are not well prepared and are often under enormous pressure to teach language and mathematical skills.
Roadblock 2: Student motivation
Kokkotas et al. (1997) observe that teachers tend to repeat the language and information presented in science textbooks while students carry out cookbook labs from textbooks for hands-on learning. Consequently, students complain that learning science in school is boring, seems disconnected from real life, and does not fit the way they learn. As Gagné (1977) observes, this over-verbalized learning can cause several students and teachers to use scientific terms incorrectly without understanding their real meaning. Consequently, students and some teachers are unable to demonstrate an understanding of even simple concepts outside the classroom.
Roadblock 3: Student misconceptions
Students’ rudimentary knowledge of experimentation and problem solving, combined with their deeply held misconceptions, often becomes a hindrance to their learning and conceptual understanding in science. Bransford et al. (2000) remarked that knowledge of students’ incomplete understandings, false beliefs, and naïve rendition of scientific concepts must serve as a starting point for new instruction. Yet, teachers have limited opportunities and instruments to unravel these student preconceptions in a traditional science classroom.
Roadblock 4: Limited student learning
With pressures to cover extensive content from the “laundry list” of topics in the Standards, teachers overlook the importance of metacognition during instruction (Novak, Mintzes, & Wandersee, 1999). It is not surprising, therefore, that studies by Linn (2002) and others found that when students were taught skills in one subject area, they were unable to apply these to other subject areas.
Roadblock 5: Student problem solving skills
When students identify and understand key concepts in the physical sciences, their poor mathematical problem-solving skills prevent them from completing a problem correctly and thus developing their confidence. The problem areas that transfer from mathematics include an understanding of units and measurement, area and volume, ratio and proportion, and the design and interpretation of graphs (Aarons, 1990).
Roadbock 6: Student contact time
The problems are compounded by the relatively short time available for science instruction. Students typically spend only 14% of their time every year in school, while 86% of their time is spent outside school, in their homes or communities, where there is little access to guided learning opportunities (Bransford et al., 2000).