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Science teachers in low-income schools face barriers to use of methods

How do you teach students to argue using the scientific method and ethics as compared to arguing emotionally based on heresay? Are some science teachers prejudiced against students they think are not smart enough to be interested in science, whether it's nutrition, biology, healthcare-medicine, chemistry, physics, botany, or environmental/earth sciences?

Science teachers in low-income schools face barriers to use of methods.
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For example, students in public schools may turn to science teachers to explain how antacids work in the stomach, but the teacher may be discussing a topic more abstract in science that the student can't yet relate to family issues at home or school study methods. Science teachers of the past may have acted differently with male and female students in science courses, for example. But today more than half the medical schools contain female students studying to be doctors rather than only doctor's secretaries or assistants.

Perceptions of student ability, testing pressures hinder some science teachers

Boston College researchers find barriers to use of science teaching method. Teachers in low-income schools may experience more pressure to meet testing requirements than educators in schools that emphasize science courses and attract students already enthusiastic about learning science or preparing at the public school level to go on to higher education for careers that use science in various paraprofessional applications such as nursing, dental hygiene, respiratory or radiology therapy, or medical technology.

The report "Scientific Argumentation and the Beliefs of Teachers in Low- and High-Socioeconomic-Status Schools" was honored with the Rubovits Award for Best Paper presented at the annual conference of the New England Educational Research Organization in 2013. McNeill, Katsh-Singer and Loper are discussing their research at the 2014 AERA annual meeting on Saturday, April 5 at 2:45 p.m. For more information about the session, please see this link.

A survey of science teachers finds they support a new approach to science education, but they struggle to believe that all students are capable of exploring science using a method called argumentation, according to researchers from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.

Teaching students to analyze information instead of rote memorizing it

Furthermore, teachers in low-income schools said the pressure to meet testing requirements curbs the use of argumentation in their lessons, according to the findings, which were presented today at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting in Philadelphia.

Moving away from rote memorization and generic worksheets, new science education standards favor a practice known as argumentation -- teaching students how to work with information in order to analyze their own ideas, as well as those of others. It is a hands-on approach that explores science through projects and debate, requiring thoughtful lessons for learners of all abilities.

The value of argumentation: Teachers who think not all students are capable of benefiting from the practice

While teachers surveyed say they believe in the value of argumentation, not all think each of their students is capable of benefiting from the practice, according to a survey of teachers conducted by Lynch School of Education Associate Professor Katherine L. McNeill and researcher Rebecca Katsh-Singer and Lawrence Hall of Science science curriculum coordinator Suzanna Loper.

"Teachers expressed concerns that their students did not have the background knowledge or experiences necessary for argumentation," McNeill said, according to the April 5, 2014 news release, Perceptions of student ability, testing pressures hinder some science teachers. "For example, teachers discussed that their English Language Learners (ELLs) did not have the necessary literacy skills or that their students with special needs lacked basic skills of critical thinking."

In low-income schools, teachers said the pressure to meet performance benchmarks on state tests and other assessments restrict their ability to teach the lessons that argumentation requires

"Teachers in low income schools described their teaching as driven by standards and the need to ensure that students perform well on state tests," said McNeill, according to the news release. "Many of the teachers discussed how their current state tests focus on the memorization of science facts limiting their ability to include argumentation in their classroom instruction."

The researchers report that solutions may lie in providing teachers in low-income schools the types of support they need to manage accountability pressures, and that teachers from all types of schools need support to view all their students as capable to engage in argumentation.

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