MAJOR ELEMENTARY SCIENCE PROGRAM wps. ELEMENTARY SCIENCE PROGRAM MODELS: LOOKING BACK FOR ... 1957 that caused the most serious attempts at science curriculum ... psychological assumptions

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    Efforts began earlier, but it was the launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in1957 that caused the most serious attempts at science curriculum reform. Dur-ing the twenty-five years after Sputnik, $2 billion was spent to support mathe-matics and science education in elementary and secondary schools. The maingoal then, as many believe it should be now, was to prepare future scientistsand engineers, mostly out of a concern for national defense. As important asthis goal is, we now know that defense issues rise and fall in urgency and thatthis is a goal that is appropriate for only 3 percent of high school graduates,and a goal where we have traditionally spent 95 percent of our time, efforts, re-sources and attention (Yager, 1984, p. 196).

    The Alphabet SoupThe decade after Sputnik is known for its alphabet soup elementary science pro-grams (see Table 11w.1). Three programs developed during that decade are worthmentioning now because of their goals, their effects on childrens learning, and theeventually improved quality of modern textbooks and other curriculum materi-als. Several of the assumptions the programs were based on have been supportedover time by a growing body of research, while other assumptions have fallenfrom favor. The programs we refer to here are known as SAPA, SCIS, and ESS.

    ScienceA Process Approach (SAPA), Science Curriculum ImprovementStudy (SCIS), and the Elementary Science Study (ESS) were regarded as innov-ative programs in their day. Designed and field-tested during the 1960s andthen revised during the 1970s, these experimental programs had several fea-tures in common:

    They were developed by teams of scientists, psychologists, educators, andprofessional curriculum specialists rather than written by single authors orsingle expert specialists.

    Federal funds were widely available for development, research, field testing,dissemination, and teacher inservice training.

    Each project was developed from particular assumptions about learningdrawn from prominent theories and used to form a specific framework foreach project. Behavioral and cognitive-development psychology had majorinfluences.

    Each project was developed from what were assumed to be the ways chil-dren learned best. Specific teaching approaches were emphasized and wereused to help children learn the ways and knowledge of science and to de-velop the attitudes of scientists.


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  • Active pupil learning was assumed to be very important. Each project pro-vided hands-on learning experiences for all children because it was assumedthat manipulatives help children learn best.

    The projects did not provide a standard textbook for each child. In fact, aworkbook for recording observations was as close as some children came toanything that resembled a textbook.

    There was no attempt to teach all that should be known about science. Spe-cific science processes or content areas were selected for each project, thusnarrowing the field of topics to a specialized few.

    Attention was given to the basic ideas of science, the concepts and theories,with the intention of increasing the number of citizens who would seekcareers in science and engineering.

    The programs were conveniently packaged. Equipment was included withcurriculum materials. This made the programs easier to use and reducedteacher preparation time by eliminating the need to gather diverse equipment.

    Mathematical skills were emphasized. The programs were more quantitativethan qualitative. Emphasis was placed on student observation, careful mea-surement, and the use of appropriate calculations to form ideas or reach con-clusions.

    Science was taught as a subject by itself and was not associated with socialstudies, health, or reading. At times, science was treated as a pure subject thatwas believed to have inherent value for all children.

    The teachers role changed. Teachers used such less direct methods of teach-ing as inquiry and functioned as questioners and guides for students. They

    TABLE 11W.1 Examples of Alphabet Soup Elementary SciencePrograms

    SAPA (ScienceA Process Approach), American Association for the Advancement of Science Commission on Science Education, 1963COPES (Conceptually Oriented Program in Elementary Science), 1967ESSP (Elementary School Science Project), University of California, Berkeley, 1962E-SSP (Elementary-School Science Project), University of Illinois, 1963ESSP (Elementary School Science Project), Utah State University, 1964ESS (Elementary Science Study), 1964IDP (Inquiry Development Program), 1962MinneMAST (Minnesota Mathematics and Science Teaching Project), 1966SSCP (School Science Curriculum Project), 1964SCIS (Science Curriculum Improvement Study), 1961SQAIESS (Study of a Quantitative Approach in Elementary School Science), 1964USMES (Unified Sciences and Mathematics for Elementary Schools), 1973WIMSA (The Webster Institute for Mathematics, Science and the Arts), 1965

    Source: Information excerpted from Paul DeHart Hurd (ed.), New Directions in Elementary ScienceTeaching (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1968). Note that dates given are approximate

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    avoided lecturing or more didactic forms of direct instruction. The teacherwas not to be an expert who spoke what children should memorize.

    SAPA, SCIS, and ESS are landmark elementary science programs, still avail-able today. As shown in Figure 11w.1, they differ essentially on two factors: theamount of structure or flexibility each contains in its design for classroom useand the emphasis each gives to science content, attitudes, or thinking processes.Let us explore each program briefly to understand better the legacy that hasbrought positive influences to the options available in elementary science edu-cation today.

    ScienceA Process Approach (SAPA)SAPAs Prime Assumptions.

    Children need to learn how to do science, and this means acquiring the skillsessential to learning and understanding science information. These knowledge-acquiring skills are called cognitive [thinking] skills or process skills and aresimilar to the procedures used by scientists to acquire new knowledge. Processskills may be compared to the program [of] a computer. Computers are incapableof handling information without a program to provide directions; the humanmind does not cope effectively with incoming information in the absence of learn-ing strategies (a program). (Hurd, 1968, pp. 1112)

    The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Commissionon Science Education assumed that a sequential program was necessary for de-veloping a childs intellect. In 1963, a team of scientists, psychologists, elemen-tary teachers, and curriculum specialists developed plans and materials for trialversions of what became ScienceA Process Approach. The program is basedon two assumptions: first, that prepared materials must consider the intellec-tual development of the child, and second, that a total program must use a se-

    FIGURE 11W.1 Structure and Emphasis Comparisons of Landmark Elementary Science Programs

    Note: Each program is available from Delta Education, P.O. Box 3000,Nashua, NH 03061-3000. Phone: 1-800-442-5444.

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  • quential approach for the long-range development of the childs intellectualskills. The first assumption worked well. Materials that were developed on thechilds ability level were appropriate. Incremental advances in the complexityof the materials seemed to help children develop intellectually. However, thelong-term sequential approach proved too rigid to use without difficulty inschools where children attend school irregularly or transfer in mid-year.

    Description of SAPA. SAPA is the most structured of the three programs weexplore here. Its structure arises from behavioral psychology. The underlyingpsychological assumptions were that any skill can be broken down into smallersteps and that children need to learn lower-level skills before they can learnmore advanced skills. Predictably, the original version of SAPA developed intoa set of skills to be mastered through a complex, highly structured hierarchy(see Figure 11w.2) and step-by-step teaching.

    Skill development takes precedence over science subject matter in SAPA.Even after revision and the development of SAPA II, the content of science is im-portant only as it serves as a vehicle for developing thinking processes. The com-plex task of inquiry, therefore, is broken into a series of smaller, easier-to-acquireskills. All skill development is expected to arise from a childs direct experiencesperforming prescribed learning tasks, usually with concrete manipulable ob-jects. Hands-on learning involves children in doing science the way many sci-entists say they do it themselvescarefully planned step-by-step procedures.

    SAPA science process skills are divided into two types: basic and integratedskills. In the primary grades (K3) children develop these basic process skills:observing,


    Effective programs promote scientific inquiry.

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  • using space/time relationships, classifying, using numbers, measuring, com-municating, predicting, and inferring. In the intermediate grades (46) childrenuse the basic process skills as a foundation for developing more complex skills:controlling variables, interpreting data, formulating hypotheses, defining oper-ationally, and experimenting.

    The knowledge explosion in the sciences helps SAPA justify its approach; itis a unique program that emphasizes science skills over content. Creators ofSAPA believe that it is impossible for individuals, including scientists, to


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