Despite a recent emphasis on providing elementary-school students with stimulating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) content, educators and curriculum designers often miss one essential aspect of science: approaching evidence with skepticism and dealing with conflicting, incomplete data.
Susan Kirch, associate professor of teaching and learning at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, has been awarded a $448,800 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how third and fourth grade students understand the nature of scientific evidence. Kirch, the principal investigator of the project, is joined by co-investigators Catherine Milne, associate professor of science education at NYU Steihardt, and Anna Stetsenko, associate professor of psychology at CUNY Graduate Center.
The two-year exploratory project, entitled “The Scientific Thinker Project,” will involve approximately 50 3rd and 4th grade students at New York City public schools. The researchers will develop and test two science curricular modules that provoke questions about scientific evidence. The modules use real-world problems, such as conservationists’ efforts to save and store seeds and recent work related to “colony collapse disorder” among honeybees, to engage the students’ thinking
Ultimately, Kirch’s work has the potential to advance knowledge and understanding of how to improve science instructional strategies and material in the early grades. “We aim to devise approaches that educators will use to teach the nature of scientific evidence to young people, a population of students that is routinely underestimated,” she says.