New & Radar, 2007; Yatvin, 2004). Teachers need to

New
Approaches to Teaching Science

Various factors contribute to the problem of
unsatisfactory science scores in the United States, among which are failures to
address different learning styles (or multiple intelligences), poor reading
comprehension skills, and emotional conditions (Sternberg, 2006). Problems
relating to the educational system itself and the teaching methods employed are
evident. The educational system in use during the early 1900’s served an
industrial population in America. The dominant teaching method includes
students as passive recipients of information. Such a method is unlikely to
equip students to succeed in a knowledge- and skills-based economy (McCoy &
Radar, 2007; Yatvin, 2004).

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Teachers need to empower students to work
collaboratively, to make their own decisions, to sort through information for
meaning, and to apply complex concepts in daily life situations. In response,
educators and policymakers are turning to new pedagogical strategies intended
to ensure mastery of learning for all students (Brann, Gray, Piety,
Pacuilla, 2010; Guilfoyle, 2006) and to generate the types of
skills needed for life in the 21st century. The pedagogical changes are making
gradual improvements to the educational setting (Corley, 2005). However, there
is no real consensus as to which educational approaches work best. Theories
about how learning occurs, and the most appropriate content and pedagogical
strategies to maximize learning, were issues of debate in the educational arena
for years (Burton, 2000).

Educators have re-examined pedagogical strategies
over time, while changing curricula and assessment techniques (Brooks, 2004),
but developments have been gradual, and there has been no agreement among
educators about how to create quality Grade K–12 education in a world dominated
by science and technology (Hersh, 2009; Trefil & O’Brien-Trefil, 2009).Within
this context, schools and teachers all over the United  States face the challenge of determining which
instructional approaches to employ for the benefit of every learner in all
areas of the curriculum. Teachers struggle to implement classroom practices
that support their ideas on helpful teaching, while they try to equip students with
the knowledge necessary to pass state tests (Brighton, 2002). After trying DI practices,
teachers abandoned the use of DI for test practices. Teachers are also facing unprecedented
challenges of educating an increasingly diverse student population with wide-ranging
learning abilities and needs (Beecher & Sweeney, 2008; Johnson, 2006).

Teaching practices are fundamental to improving
academic performance in the United States; research proves there is a correlation
between science achievement, teacher preparation, and instructional strategies
(Wenglinsky & Silverstein, 2007). Instructional materials, instructional
practices, and the classroom environment must promote a learning sequence that
allows sufficient time for students to explore concepts in depth, to build
conceptual understanding, and to represent their understanding in various formats
(Bybee & Van Scotter, 2007). Teaching methods that are proven effective are
best practices (K. M. Anderson, 2007; Daniels & Bizar, 2005). The use of
best practices in teaching allows meaningful ways for students to explore
content and excel in their learning and academic performance. For example, the
provision of positive feedback by teachers is a form of educational best
practice that engages learners’ learning styles and helps guide the learning
process (Daniels & Bizar, 2005). Other examples of best practice in science
education relate to methods of questioning students and responding to students’
answers in the classroom. Adjusting questions is a technique used in education
settings in elementary and secondary schools. The teacher introduces a
situation that involves the agenda and learning objectives. These objectives
require the synthesis of ideas.

Findings by R. D. Anderson (2002) and Aikenhead
(2006) indicated that questioning techniques increased student achievement more
than traditional instruction. Brooks (2004) and Colburn (2004) contended that
teachers should ask questions that encourage further investigation in order to
promote learning. In traditional classrooms, teachers accept one-word answers
and do not require elaboration or group feedback. Instead of asking students to
name Newton’s laws of motion, teachers should aim to assess conceptual
understanding by asking for examples and explanations of each law. Teachers can
convey that many acceptable answers are available for one question rather than
just yes and no answers. For example, teachers can use comments
or questions such as “I did not think of it that way,” “How did you arrive at
that conclusion?” or “That is creative; can you explain further?” This type of
positive feedback and exploration of students’ understanding creates a
nurturing and safe environment that assures the students that their own
independent thinking is encouraged. In addition, this type of feedback from the
teacher removes the student’s fear of making mistakes (Brooks, 2004).

In accordance with findings by B. Clark (2002) and
Koch (2009), children acquire more expeditiously when learning activities relate
to everyday experiences. The National Science Education Standards call for educational
pedagogy that promotes students to own their learning and to concentrate on
meaningful, real-life situations via student-centered and inquiry-based
experiences (Johnson, 2006, p. 150).

Daniels and Bizar (2005) argued that by constructing
tasks that provide opportunities for learners to choose and communicate
independently, students have an improved chance to achieve academically.
Educators have begun to stress that education should allow children to learn by
following their interests (Yatvin, 2004).

Moreover, an increasing amount of research indicates
that the provision of a variety of opportunities and methods of learning is one
best practice approach to increasing student achievement (Tomlinson, 2003,
2006).

In other countries, the approach to science
education is different from that used in the United States. Roth et al. (2006)
examined instructional procedures in Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, the
Netherlands, and the United States. The 1999 TIMSS assessment results showed
that four countries outperformed the United States in science. It was
determined that although many of the instructional strategies were similar in
all five countries, there were two main distinctions between the United States
and the other countries: The advanced countries had their own definite plan for
teaching science, while the United States used a variety of different approaches.
Second, each of the more advanced countries used an approach that included methods
for engaging learners with only science concepts. In the United States, content
was found to play a diminished role or no role at all (Roth et al., 2006; Roth
& Garnier, 2007), with lessons instead centered on engaging students in a
variety of activities (Roth , 2007, p. 16). To date, there is
little evidence that the approaches to science education are having a positive impact
on academic performance in the United States. In other words, these approaches do
not represent best practice (Johnson, 2006).

 

Differentiated
Instruction

Overview
and History

The justification for a different educational
paradigm in the United States relates to numerous factors, including a growing
diversity within the student population and research about multiple
intelligences and psychology. The approach that has emerged with the most
potential for improving academic performance levels is DI (Yatvin, 2004). Many
leading education researchers have expressed the expectation that DI could
enable teachers to improve student academic performance in all content areas
(Darling-Hammond & Brandsford, 2006; Gredler, 2005). DI is regarded as a
teaching method with the possibility of meeting NCLB expectations (Tomlinson,
2008) by enticing learners with many learning modules on different levels (Rock
et al., 2008; Tomlinson, 2008).

In previous years, there have been concerted
attempts in the United States to provide instruction that was modified to the learning
needs of different groups of students (Yatvin, 2004). True DI, however,
originated in the 1960s on a small scale, with practices such as shorter
spelling lists, homework projects with extra credit, projects with varying difficulty
levels, and fun activities, including puzzles “for students with different
levels of academic ability” (Yatvin, 2004, p. 7).

With the modification of curriculum, legislations such
as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004), and the addition of inclusionary
practices, educators began to adapt and adopt instructional methods to aid with
teaching diverse learners. Educators, teachers, and parents began to understand
that children’s abilities and interests develop at different times and in
different directions. By the 1980s, new educational theories, such as social
and cognitive learning theories and MI theories, were influencing policies of
curriculum and instruction and contributing to the increased adoption of DI
(Bredo, 2000; Cosentino, 2012; Hall, 2002).

 

Research
Supporting Differentiated Instruction

In DI, teachers observe the needs of individual
students and recognize that effective learning begins at the student’s academic
stage of ability and provides challenges for learning to develop (Tomlinson,
2006). Differentiation occurs when teachers acknowledge that in order for
effective learning to transpire, a strategy that enhances the potential of all
students at their place of academic learning and promote academic growth must
be employed (Fahey, 2000; McTighe & Brown, 2005). DI is not individualized
instruction; rather, it emphasizes learning from the student’s viewpoint (Rock
et al., 2008). DI is a strategy that many teachers already execute to ensure
that all learners are successful academically.

Teachers who utilize differentiation thus realize
that learners differ in important ways and that they need teaching methods that
are on the readiness or interest level of the students to help them become
engaged in effective learning. To differentiate instruction is to recognize and
accommodate learners on their own academic levels (Hall, 2002). When using DI,
teachers vary instruction and let students select their learning style while completing
tasks. The method involves modifying the pace, kinds of instruction, and tasks,
meeting each student’s academic needs by using methods like cooperative
learning, flexible groups, and giving tiered activities (Erwin, 2004; Tomlinson,
2006, 2009). Differentiation provides all students with the chance to perform
and to develop their own strengths (George, 2005; Tomlinson, 2001; Walpole
& McKenna, 2007). When using DI, teachers improve learning by balancing
instruction with students’ characteristics to create assessments that are
challenging and appropriate for the students. The advantage of the DI method is
that it gives every student access to similar lessons by tailoring delivery to the
students’ needs (Hall et al., 2003; Lawrence-Brown, 2004). Whole-group and
small group lessons are used when appropriate, while accommodations to the
lesson are made by providing for different learning styles (Ghazi, Shahzada,
Gilani, Shabbir, & Rashid, 2011; Lawrence-Brown, 2004).

 

Theoretical
Basis for Differentiated Instruction

The theoretical basis for DI lies mainly in both Gardner’s
(2006) MI theory and Vygotsky’s (1978) ZPD theory. When teachers apply these
theories in combination to develop instructional methodologies, the result is
likely to be DI. The ensuing topics delve deeply into the theories that guided
this study.

 

Multiple
Intelligences Theory

The MI theory, introduced by Gardner in 1983,
supports the use of DI as a way of drawing on students’ strengths. Although
originally created to improve understanding of brain-damaged students, teachers
who use MI are able to determine the mental, physical, and social strengths of
all students (Gardner, 1993, 2006). The theory subsequently developed the
principles, format, and constituent elements of DI (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000).
MI theory argues that it is important to portray a person’s talent in terms of individual
cognitive capacities (Moran, Kornhaber, & Gardner, 2006). The MI theory has
a foundation for students to learn content and demonstrate how they learned the
material (Armstrong, 2001, 2009; Gardner, 2006). Using MI theory, teachers can
give assignments that allow the students to draw heavily on the form of
intelligence that causes learning to be most meaningful for them and easily
understood.