Science for All through Reflective Interactions: Analyzing Online Instructional Models, Learning Activities and Virtual Resources

Science for All through Reflective Interactions: Analyzing Online Instructional Models, Learning Activities and Virtual Resources

Jennifer J. Neakrase (New Mexico State University, USA), H. Prentice Baptiste (New Mexico State University, USA), Ashley N. Ryan (New Mexico State University, USA) and Elsa Q. Villa (New Mexico State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-071-2.ch006
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One of the goals of science education is to ensure that the discipline of science is accessible to all individuals. By many organizations this has been termed “Science for All,” and those who promote this idea also advocate the connection to science literacy. Teaching science in the online environment has been one way to offer science content to many different individuals, who do not necessarily need to be in the same location. Discourse in the science classroom is framed under situated cognition theory, whereby interactions between individuals are part of the normal culture of the classroom. For science knowledge to be adequately constructed by a student these interactions must be meaningful ones. This is especially important in an online science course where typically learning occurs through interactions between the students and the instructor, the students with one another, and within the individual themselves. As part of these online interactions, good reflective practice includes the different forms of feedback and the quality of this feedback. However, even with quality reflective interactions, there are barriers to science concept construction in an online environment. These barriers are discussed, and future research directions are suggested based on this review.
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Science education reform efforts in the U.S. emerged following the launch of Sputnik in the late 1950s to enable American competitiveness in the space race. In the aftermath of this event and with funding from government agencies, scientists and educators collaborated in developing hands-on science programs to equip young Americans with the necessary knowledge and skills to address this challenge. While many school districts adopted these materials soon after their release, these materials soon faded in all but a few districts across the nation (National Science Resources Center (NSRC), 1997). In the 1980s and 1990s science education reform efforts re-emerged in response to the Reagan administration’s publication of A Nation at Risk, which underscored the challenges of public schools in adequately preparing students in mathematics and science to meet the technological workforce needs of the nation. National efforts in reforming mathematics and science education re-emerged to address this mandate. One such effort was the establishment of the NSRC by The National Academies and the Smithsonian Institute.

In 1997 the NSRC published Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District to facilitate the establishment of science education programs grounded in research-based pedagogy and materials. Another effort, titled Project 2061, founded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) produced a publication called Science for All Americans, which outlined benchmarks of scientific concepts and processes that students should master at strategic grade levels and upon exit from high school (AAAS, 2008). This publication provided the impetus for creating national science education standards, which have been integrated into most states’ science education standards (NSTA, 2009). “Science for All” then is a vision for all Americans to acquire scientific literacy by the 21st century. Scientific literacy embodies the ability of individuals to use scientific reasoning in making decisions for personal and societal benefit. “Science for All” also promotes the discipline of science as being accessible to all individuals, regardless of culture, socioeconomic status, gender, or other barriers to the learning of science.

To achieve this vision of all Americans attaining science literacy, these aforementioned organizations and others support a pedagogical strategy informed by sociocultural and constructivist theories of learning; that is, learning is a process whereby learners derive meaning from, and make sense of, science phenomena through observation, research, questioning, and dialogic encounters with peers and experts (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Fosnot & Perry, 2005; Vygotsky, 1978). In this pedagogical approach, teachers are guides and facilitators of learning who understand that learners use prior knowledge, social interaction, and critical reflection in their construction of deep understanding of science concepts.

With the recent technological advancements in online education, a plethora of instructional models are available to enhance the classroom experience in exploring science phenomena. This fact notwithstanding, face-to-face classrooms in progressive educational communities have been able to utilize state-of-the-art materials and effective pedagogy to increase student learning in science. While many such communities are in affluent areas such as Silicon Valley and Montgomery County in Maryland (NSRC, 1997), one notable community where progressive science teaching and learning happens is Imperial County, California located on the U.S. and Mexico border. This school district successfully implemented a reform effort with financial support from the National Science Foundation. Five recommended elements for successful reform were infused into the curriculum, instruction, and district policy: 1) high quality curriculum; 2) sustained professional development; 3) materials support; 4) community and administrator support; and 5) program assessment and evaluation (NSRC, 1997). This particular school district dramatically improved their science achievement and increased literacy scores (Klentschy & Molina-De La Torre, 2004). While these communities thrive under these reform efforts, too many American communities continue to struggle, particularly with the demands of standardized testing with its emphasis on low-level skill development (Sleeter, 2005).

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