The Science of Teaching Science

Eight 90-minute video programs and user guide.
Video content is currently off-line - available January 2020.


The Science of Teaching Science encourages K-8 teachers to explore ways to improve their teaching practices. Each program takes an in-depth look at a real classroom, so that teachers can focus on the issues involved in teaching science. Observing other teachers in unrehearsed situations will provide new and veteran teachers with the confidence to try new approaches to teaching.

Program guides and supporting materials: (PDF)

Produced by:
Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory and
The Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications (MCET)
in partnership with the Annenberg Foundation (1995)

Workshop 1 - Preparing To Teach Science
Many K-8 teachers have not had many science and math courses and often feel as though they didn't get much out of the courses they did have. How can they be expected to teach science topics for meaningful understanding when they themselves are not sure they understand the topics? We'll look at a variety of strategies teachers use to learn as much as possible about a science topic before they teach it.
Workshop 2 - Eliciting Students' Prior Knowledge
Why begin a lesson by eliciting students' prior knowledge? Because as many teachers know, it is essential to know what students believe at the outset in order to provide the instruction necessary to help them move toward a more scientific understanding. There are many ways of eliciting prior knowledge, including strategies such as concept mapping, pretests, and interpretation of a demonstration by students. This program will examine many of these strategies.
Workshop 3 - Creating a Context for Learning: Observing Phenomena
In our videotapes of teachers in classrooms, we sometimes see a teacher open a science kit and ask students to start working on it without any framing or introduction. Students need time to assimilate a problem and make it their own. It helps if they can relate the problem to experiences in their everyday lives, and even better if they can formulate the questions. We will see video clips of teachers trying to incorporate student questioning into their lessons.
Workshop 4 - Supporting Good Data Collection
One of the things that sets science activities apart from other endeavors is the care with which observations are made and data is recorded. If it is possible and relevant, a scientist will measure and quantify: How long did it take? How many are required?, etc. Children need support in collecting careful data. Thinking through the entire process in advance and making sure to provide the students with good tables and charts prepared for data collection can make the task much more manageable. We will look at ways to do this.
Workshop 5 - Summarizing, Comparing, and Interpreting Results
Although students generally work together in small groups in hands-on science classes, there are times when all-class discussions are valuable. Summarizing, comparing, and interpreting often involves the whole class. We will see examples of teachers using both small-group and whole-class approaches to teaching science, and discuss when each may be appropriate.
Workshop 6 - Special Considerations
Hands-on science classes involve all the challenges of regular classrooms with some additional ones besides. This program will focus on inclusivity for all students.
Workshop 7 - Specific Instructional Strategies
We will discuss problem-based learning as one way to approach science teaching in the context of student interests. The problems may range from finding particular information in the library to examining the effects of pollution on animal and plant life.
Workshop 8 - Assessing Student Understanding
Embedded assessment means building assessment into the activities and classroom processes in an integral and natural manner. We will see teachers integrating many different forms of assessment into their lessons.

Copyright (c) 1995 Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory