13 Questions

Reframing Education's Conversation: Science

by Lynn A. Bryan (Volume editor) Kenneth Tobin (Volume editor)
Textbook XIV, 536 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 442

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Foreword: We Must Kill Our Darlings (Shirley R. Steinberg)
  • Chapter One: Of Eggs, Chickens, and Deep-Seated Ideologies (Lynn A. Bryan / Kenneth Tobin)
  • Thirteen Questions
  • References
  • Section One: The Science Curriculum: What Are the Basics and Are We Teaching Them?
  • Chapter Two: The Science Curriculum at the Elementary Level: What Are the Basics and Are We Teaching Them? (Christina Siry)
  • Why Teach Science in Elementary School?
  • What Should be Taught in Elementary School Science?
  • How Should Science be Taught in Elementary School?
  • References
  • Chapter Three: The Science Curriculum: What Are the Basics and Are We Teaching Them? (Femi S. Otulaja / Meshach B. Ogunniyi)
  • The Hegemony of the Basics Versus the Goal of Scientific Literacy
  • The Disconnectedness
  • The Imposed Curriculum
  • Are We Teaching the Science Curriculum Basics?
  • Renegotiating the Basics of Science
  • Ubuntu-Driven Science Curriculum?
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Science Education and Transformative Activist Stance: Activism as a Quest for Becoming via Authentic-Authorial Contribution to Communal Practices (Anna Stetsenko)
  • Transformative Activist Stance
  • Implications for Activism in Science Education
  • Rousing Activist Agendas to Life: Contesting Traditional Models of Science
  • Moving Forward: Activism as Authoring
  • References
  • Section Two: Power and Science Education: Who Decides the Forms Science Education Has Taken and Who Should Decide?
  • Chapter Five: What Can Teachers Do to Restructure Power Dynamics in Science Classrooms?: Exploring the Personal and Social Transformative Power of Science Learning through a Funds of Knowledge Approach (Sara Tolbert / Angela Calabrese Barton / Luis C. Moll)
  • The Power of Labeling
  • What are Funds of Knowledge?
  • Andy’s Learning to Teach
  • Jennifer and Emily’s Solar Powered Electric Scooter
  • Reflection
  • References
  • Chapter Six: STEM Education as “Trojan Horse”: Deconstructed and Reinvented for All (Larry Bencze / Michael J. Reiss / Ajay Sharma / Matthew Weinstein)
  • Stem Education as Trojan Horse
  • Towards Education for Social and Environmental Justice
  • Imagining Critical and Activist STEM Education
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Section Three: Science Teachers Under Suspicion: Is It True That Science Teachers Aren’t as Good as They Used to Be?
  • Chapter Seven: Obsessed with Accountability?: Science Teachers Under the Microscope (Shakhnoza Kayumova / Deborah J. Tippins)
  • Teachers and the Context of STEM
  • Teachers and the Achievement Gap
  • Teachers and Accountability Discourses
  • Imaginations and Visions of Hope
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: En Route to Becoming a “Good” Teacher: An Attempted Hijack of Pedagogical Autonomy? (Giuliano Reis)
  • Who are you Calling Old?
  • Short Contextualization of My Narrative
  • Learning the Hard Way
  • Picking the “Right” Choice
  • What Does Pedagogical Autonomy Have to Do with It?
  • Re-Considering the Question
  • Bridging My Experience
  • Summing Up
  • References
  • Section Four: Science Students Under Suspicion: Is It True That Students Are Less Interested in Science Than They Used to Be and Perform More Poorly in Science Than They Used to?
  • Chapter Nine: Problematizing “Problematic” Students in Lower Track Classes (Tang Wee Teo)
  • “Problematic”?
  • It’s Always About Others
  • Decentering the “Problem”
  • Harnessing Alternative Views
  • References
  • Chapter Ten: Confronting Prevailing Narratives of Student Engagement and Participation in Science Classrooms (Sonya N. Martin)
  • An Overview of Engagement and Participation in School and Science
  • Examining Student Achievement in Math and Science in East Asian Countries
  • A Disparity Between Science Achievement and Student Engagement in East Asia
  • Academic and Cognitive Engagement in East Asian Countries
  • Behavioral Engagement and Participation in Science in East Asian Countries
  • Reframing Participation in Science Classrooms from a Non-Participatory Perspective
  • Can Students be Engaged, Interested, Participatory and Have High Achievement in Science?
  • Moving Forward to Reframe Student Engagement and Participation
  • Acknowledgement
  • References
  • Section Five: Science Teacher Education: What Is Good Science Teaching and How Do We Teach People to Be Good Science Teachers?
  • Chapter Eleven: Professional Duties and Challenges of Novice Teachers: Level of Consciousness in Facing the Pedagogical Risk (Maurício Pietrocola)
  • School Socialization
  • Routinization and Education
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Science Teacher Professional Development: The Blind Men and the Elephant (Aik-Ling Tan)
  • Science Teacher Professional Development from Different Stakeholders
  • Same Issue, Different Perspectives
  • Does it Matter?
  • References
  • Section Six: (In)Equity and Science Education: In What Ways Does (In)equity Affect the Process of Science Education?
  • Chapter Thirteen: Science Education and Social Inequality: Reproduction or Confrontation? (Flavia Rezende / Fernanda Ostermann)
  • Isolation of the Natural Sciences and Some Social Consequences
  • Science Education as Reproduction of the System
  • Science Education as Space of Confrontation
  • A Post-Critical Meta-Analysis
  • References
  • Chapter Fourteen: Dialectical Relationships and How They Shape (In)Equitable Science Learning Spaces and Places (Maria Varelas)
  • Spaces and Places
  • Dialectical Pedagogy
  • Structure and Agency
  • Pedagogy of Love
  • Science and Social Justice
  • Dialectics and Equity
  • References
  • Chapter Fifteen: Race and Poverty in Science Education: Questions and Tensions for the Field (Maxine Mckinney De Royston / Abiola A. Farinde)
  • Lingering Tensions in Science Education
  • Rethinking Science Education for the 21st Century Student
  • Final Thoughts
  • References
  • Chapter Sixteen: Dismantling Racism as a Strategy for Academic Success (Ana M. Becerra)
  • How Do We Talk About Racism
  • Why We have to Talk About Racism
  • Starting With Self
  • What We Can Do
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: In What Ways Does Race Affect the Educational Process?: Challenging the Homogenization of Academia (Carolina Castano Rodriguez / Laura Barraza)
  • Rethinking Critical Race Theory
  • Decolonizing the “South”
  • Trespassing the Boundaries of Academia: Growing and Working in a “Developing” Nation
  • Trespassing The Boundaries of Academia Between Differing Societies—Working in a “Developed” Nation
  • Reflections and Concluding Remarks
  • References
  • Chapter Eighteen: “Where Is the …?”: Using Intersectionality to Problematize Power and Hierarchy in Science Teaching and Learning (Kathryn Scantlebury)
  • What is Intersectionality and What Can it do for Science Education Research?
  • References
  • Section Seven: Language and Science Education: In What Ways Does Language Affect the Process of Science Education?
  • Chapter Nineteen: Reconstructing Science Education within the Language | Science Relationship: Reflections from Multilingual Contexts (Sara E. D. Wilmes / Christina Siry / Roberto Gómez Fernández / Anna Maria Gorges)
  • Language and Science Learning as Inseparable
  • Critical Questions Regarding Language Use and the Science Education Process
  • Reconstructing Science Education within the Language Science Relationship
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty: The Tension of Maintaining Language Diversity versus Extinction: Mother Tongue as a Filipino Response (Purita P. Bilbao / Deborah J. Tippins / Sophia (Sun Kyung) Jeong)
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-One: How Perspectives from Linguistically Diverse Classrooms Can Help All Students Unlock the Language of Science (Cory Buxton / Lourdes Cardozo-Gaibisso / Yu Xia / Jiong Li)
  • Evolution of the Language of Science: Why Does Science Sound that Way?
  • Language of Science in the Science Classroom: Students Encounter New Ways of Thinking and Communicating
  • Using Everyday Language to Express Scientific Thinking While Learning Academic Language
  • First Language, Second Language and Translanguaging in Science: What Role Should Home Language Play in Science Learning?
  • Practical Strategies from our Current Research for Supporting Students in Learning and Using the Language of Science
  • Summarizing How Perspectives from Linguistically Diverse Classrooms can Help all Students Unlock the Language of Science
  • References
  • Section Eight: Religion and Science Education: In What Ways Does Religion Affect the Process of Science Education?
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Why a Chapter on Religion in a Book on Science Education? (Michael J. Reiss)
  • The Nature of Religion
  • The Nature of Science
  • Understandings of Possible Relationships Between Science and Religion
  • Determinism
  • The Aims of Education
  • The Approach of Worldviews
  • Pedagogical Implications
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Religion in Science Classes: Heresy or Constructive Pedagogy? (Nidhal Guessoum)
  • Students’ Beliefs, Social Contexts, and Cultural Responsiveness
  • Nature of Science (NOS) and Nature of Religion (NOR)
  • Possible Approaches
  • What to Do: Constructive Approaches and Difficulties
  • References
  • Section Nine: Families and Science Education: What Is the Role of Families in the Process of Science Education?
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Exploring Families’ Roles in Science Learning: From El Bosque in Veracruz, México to the Southeastern U.S. (Martha Allexsaht-Snider)
  • Leveraging Children’s Informal Science Learning in The Community of EL Bosque
  • Science Learning With Families That is Life-Long, Life-Wide, and Life-Deep
  • Steps to College Through Science Bilingual Family Workshops
  • What are the Possibilities for Families’ Roles in Children’s Science Learning?
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: From Opening Portals to Creating New Pathways (Leanne M. Avery)
  • The Role of Families and Intergenerational Knowledge in Science Education
  • Parental and School Connection/ Involvement: One-Way Pathway
  • Creating Multiple Pathways: Making the Semipermeable, Permeable
  • Courses of Action in Action
  • Moving Forward: From Opening Portals to Creating New Pathways
  • References
  • Section Ten: Culture of Science and Science Education: In What Way Does the Culture of Science and Images of Science Affect the Process of Science Education?
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: Forming Bonds—Breaking Bonds (Anita Hussénius)
  • Point of Departure—Forming Bonds
  • Breaking Bonds Through Images
  • Breaking Bonds Through the “Right Answer” Culture
  • Belonging and Imitation
  • Eyes Willing but Unable to See
  • Taking Another Perspective
  • Forming New Bonds—Queering Science Education
  • End of Journey
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: On the Need to Engage in Constructive, Productive, Scientific Discourses on Highly Controversial and Emotionally Charged Topics (Cassie F. Guigley / S. Megan Che)
  • Media’s Role in Distancing Climate Change Science and Public
  • Science Teachers’ Belief Systems About Controversial Issues
  • The Distance Between Science and the Public
  • Opportunities for Productive Inquiry Dialogue
  • Fostering Productive Dialogue
  • References
  • Section Eleven: Science Education Reform: What Have Been the Goals and the Effects of the Attempts to Improve Science Education Over the Last Decade?
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: Science Education Reform: Can Students Learn Science While Navigating Oppressive Schools Within an Oppressive Society? (Rowhea Elmesky)
  • “We People”: Dehumanization and Deficit Views of Marginalized Youth
  • Strengthening Teacher-Student Relationships
  • Fighting the Deficit Mindset: Learning to Value Students’ Cultural Capital
  • Mental Health, Mindset and Mindfulness
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: Science Education Reform: Reflecting on the Past and Raising Questions for the Future (Lucy Avraamidou / Lynn A. Bryan)
  • What has Driven Science Education Reform in the Last Two Decades?
  • What have been Some of the Effects of Reform in Science Education?
  • Moving Forward
  • What Reform? Where is the Reform? Whose Reform? How to Reform?
  • References
  • Section Twelve: Science Education as a Political Issue: What’s Missing in the Public Conversation About Science Education?
  • Chapter Thirty: Rethinking Science Education in Light of Motivated Reasoning (David E. Long)
  • Extraordinary Times
  • How Science Education has Positioned Itself: The Normative Project
  • How Science Education can Improve its Science: The Descriptive Project
  • After the Guillotine: Science Education as a Political Project
  • References
  • Chapter Thirty-One: Sociopolitical Activism and Transformative Learning: Expanding the Discourse About What Counts in Science Education (Lyn Carter / Carolina Castano Rodriguez / Mellita Jones)
  • Transformative Learning
  • Activism
  • Activism as Classroom Practice—Who Decides?
  • Transformative Learning: A Methodological Framework for Activism
  • Creating Spaces for Transformation
  • Transforming Science Education for Action—A Field for Further Inquiry
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Section Thirteen: Science Education Visions: What Is School Science for and What Should We Be Doing in the Name of Science Education?
  • Chapter Thirty-Two: Breaking Down Enlightenment Silos: From STEM to ST2EAM Education, and Beyond (Elisabeth (Lily) Taylor / Peter Charles Taylor)
  • Difference and Danger
  • Within the Safety of the Enlightenment Silos
  • Automatization, Rapidification and Throwaway Cultures—An Unexpected Call for Applied Liquid Skills
  • The Power of Convergence: Living the Enlightenment Silos
  • The Power of Divergence—Reconsidering the Silo Mentality
  • Antidisciplinarity in Science Education—Is it Possible?
  • STEAM Rather than Stem—A Viable Alternative for Science Education
  • Breaking Down the Silos—From STEM to ST2EAM, and Beyond
  • References
  • Chapter Thirty-Three: Science Education in the Key of Gentle Empiricism (Lee Beavington / Heesoon Bai)
  • Science that Heals: The Goethean Approach
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • References
  • Chapter Thirty-Four: When Holism Meets Democratization: Re-centering Science Classrooms to Support Students’ Feelings of Agency and Connectedness (Isabel Martínez-Cuenca / Autumn Joy Florêncio-Wain / Alandeom W. Oliveira)
  • Holistic Science Education
  • Democratic Science Education
  • Toward a More Coherent Paradigm
  • References
  • Contributor Biographies
  • Subject Index
  • Names Index
  • Series index

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Figure 5.1: Sketch of Electric Scooter

Figure 5.2: Three-Dimensional Model of the Scooter

Figure 5.3: Jennifer’s Scientific Movie

Figure 6.1: Trojan Horse

Figure 6.2: The STEPWISE Approach

Figure 8.1: Representation of a Portion of a Lingerie Advertisement Published in Brazilian Magazines in the 1990s

Figure 8.2: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation Poster

Figure 34.1: I-Thou-It Representations of (a) the Traditional Science Classroom, and (b) Pseudo-Democratic Science Teaching Approaches

Figure 34.2: Horizontal Framework, Inspired by Freire (1970)

Figure 34.3: Democratic Science Classroom

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We Must Kill Our Darlings


In 1989, Joe Kincheloe conceptualized editing a book of questions to be answered by colleagues which focused on creating a new dialogue about education and schooling. Settling on 13 questions, he invited two educator/researcher/scholars to answer each question. Sending his proposal for 13 Questions: Reframing Education’s Conversation to Michael Flamini at Peter Lang Publishing, Joe wanted this book to create a focus on what educators did and didn’t discuss with one another. After a short review, Michael responded with a contract for Joe’s first edited book. Shortly after he received that contract, I met Joe in Dayton, Ohio on October 19, 1989, and he invited me to write a chapter answering one of the questions in his book. He also married me.

Working with all 26 authors on the chapters proved to be a larger task than Joe reckoned, and he asked me to co-edit the book. 1990 was the gestation period for those 13 questions and became the grounding for my own theoretical framework, my lifeworld of critical pedagogy, my first published chapter and book. I learned how to produce a book and was in constant contact with our gathering of radical and committed thinkers … the palaver created by our contributors was distinct, edgy, rigorous, and critical. The buzz was exhilarating, the book was adopted by many of our own authors, and within a couple of years, had been acknowledged as an innovative and topical book for teacher education. And, in the best of critical pedagogical traditions, 13 Questions created a community of educators, who, for ← xiii | xiv → the most part, are still writing together, collaborating and continuing to change the course of the field.

Change being the operative word. Indeed, pedagogy cannot exist without change. Re-reading the original edition of 13 Questions, I find that what was risky and subversive then, after three editions, is still in need of revision and new constructs. As Joe and I suggested in 1993, we must take a tentative position in our pedagogy. By doing this, we are able to demand that reform be addressed even as the new is proposed. Pedagogical arrogance becomes the norm when educators believe they have struck the motherlode. There is no motherlode in education. Education’s conversation must be filled experimentation, demonstration, reflection, revision, change, 180o turns in direction, and, above all, humility. It is our obligation as educators to recognize when we must revise, renew, and, as William Faulkner and Allen Ginsberg advocated, even kill our darlings … we must destroy them at times, in order for critical pedagogy to survive. The only canon needed in education is to not have a canon. And that goes for radical pedagogies as well, nothing is sacred, nothing is permanent.

To say I am elated to be writing the foreword for the next incarnation of the original book would be beyond understatement. Lynn and Ken have created a gathering of fine authors and pedagoges in this compelling and most-needed volume. The coda? Five years after Flamini signed the original 13 Questions, he left Lang to join St. Martin’s Press. Somewhere in mid-Manhattan, Joe, Michael, and I dined to celebrate his new position. Michael handed us an envelope, “Joe & Shirley” written on the front. It contained a letter from Mr. Peter Lang, telling Michael he must not sign this book, 13 Questions, it would never sell and there was no compelling argument to grant this contract. Michael read the letter and put it in his bottom desk drawer. The book became the top selling book on Peter Lang Publishing’s list for over two decades.

Shirley R. Steinberg is the Research Professor of Critical Youth Studies at the University of Calgary, Werklund School of Education.

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Of Eggs, Chickens, and Deep-Seated Ideologies


Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg described themselves as critical hermeneuts—not just when they wrote, but also (and especially) as they lived their lives. Many might consider Joe and Shirley to be troublemakers because they were determined to expose a core underbelly of everyday life—to all participants. For example, one of the things Shirley did in the community in which she, Joe and Ken Tobin lived, was to place a small notice on her mailbox: “free-range eggs—apply within.” Within hours, the neighbors railed on social media about the impact of free-range chickens on property values, health, and the general welfare of the community. Of course, there were no eggs and no chickens. The presence of the sign was sufficient to unsettle deep-seated ideologies that rarely surfaced—precipitating anger, hate, and threats of violence. No doubt the intent of the sign extended well beyond causing trouble. Shirley and Joe sought to disrupt equilibria within the community as neighbors squabbled over axiological commitments, mainly related to neoliberalism and capitalism, especially manifest in property values. Similarly, many of the books edited and co-authored by Joe and Shirley were intended to make trouble—to create waves and thereby to reveal otherwise hidden values and commitments. Examples of such books include Joe’s critique of McDonald’s, The Sign of the Burger: McDonald’s and the Culture of Power (Kincheloe, 2002a) and Christotainment: Selling Jesus Through Popular Culture, Shirley and Joe’s co-edited volume (Steinberg & Kincheloe, 2009). ← 1 | 2 →

A primary goal of most of Shirley and Joe’s authored and edited books was to expand what might be considered difficult topics, identify thorny issues, and reveal inequities. Discomfort was intended and convergence toward oversimplified solutions was never entertained. In many ways, the books mirrored the sign about free-range eggs and myriad conversations involving Shirley, Joe and colleague faculty and students. The status quo and its supporting ideologies and schema were not to be taken for granted and there were few, if any, taboos that were free of critical inquiry.

Of course, there is much more to Shirley and Joe than them unsettling taken-for-granted patterns of culture; they also were interested to learn from difference and practiced radical listening as they sought and listened attentively to written and spoken texts, while exploring the potential of others’ ideas, and searched for structural underpinnings and sources of inequity. To some degree the two aspects we have addressed so far, calling “normal” patterns of questioning and listening to the perspectives of others to learn of their potential, create a context for the chapters in this volume.


The origin of Thirteen Questions: Reframing Education’s Conversation: Science traces back to one of Joe and Shirley’s most influential books and a presidential plenary session at the 2014 annual meeting of NARST: A Worldwide Organization for Improving Science Teaching and Learning through Research. As president of the organization at the time, Lynn A. Bryan was responsible for organizing plenary sessions addressing the theme, “Awaking dialogues: Science education research, practices, and policies.” The theme of the meeting was intended to instigate, provoke and otherwise rouse conversations about the “elephants in the room”—particularly historical and contemporary manifestations of social inequities in education—and challenge taken-for-granted beliefs, values, assumptions, and ideologies in science education. At the suggestion of a long-time friend and colleague, Deborah Tippins, Lynn read the second edition of Thirteen Questions: Reframing Education’s Conversation (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1996) as a possible source of inspiration. Barely beyond the first pages of the book, it became clear that this book would serve as a quintessential springboard for a plenary session. Consider Joe and Shirley’s reflections in the preface about the first edition of their book:

Undoubtedly, Thirteen Questions (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1996) was intended to disturb the status quo and catalyze changes in research, policy, curriculum, teacher education, and the roles of teachers and students. It expanded conversations about what is happening, why it is happening, and what supports the status quo. By selecting authors who embraced diverse theoretical perspectives, Joe and Shirley engineered a text that highlighted difference and contradictions while eschewing the idea that writers/scholars had a final word. The goal was not to obtain finality for 13 questions about education, but to disrupt comfort zones and unsettle taken-for-granted wisdom (i.e., to create turbulence by casting stones into a placid/serene pond).

Since 2014 marked just over two decades since the first edition of Thirteen Questions, it seemed fitting to revisit the original 13 questions with a diverse panel of scholars/educators/thinkers and from both retrospective and contemporary perspectives. Accordingly, a plenary panel was invited and cosponsored by the NARST Latina/o Research Interest Group, the Continental and Diasporic Africa in Science Education Research Interest Group, and the Equity and Ethics Committee. Four panel members spoke to a select number of the original 13 questions: Richard Milner, the Helen Faison Endowed Chair of Urban Education, Professor of Education, Professor of Social Work (by courtesy), Professor of Africana Studies (by courtesy), and Director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh; Ana M. Becerra, Program Manager for Schools and Families at Just Communities Central Coast in Santa Barbara, California; Timothy Knight, founder and director of the Indianapolis O.K. Program for youth and former detective for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department; and Shirley Steinberg, co-editor of Thirteen Questions and Research Professor of Youth Studies, formerly the Werklund Foundation Chair and the Director of the Werklund Foundation Centre for Youth Leadership Studies at the University of Calgary. The panel not only responded to the original 13 questions in the context of today’s educational climate, but also reflected on the questions in terms of educational issues today vis-à-vis the dialogue from 20 years ago. Ken, a close colleague and friend of Joe and Shirley, served as the panel discussant. ← 3 | 4 →

At the end of the plenary session, Shirley invited us (Lynn and Ken) to edit a new version of the book, to be called Thirteen Questions: Reframing Education’s Conversation: Science. When we opted to accept Shirley’s invitation to edit a book concerning critical questions in science education, we too sought to disrupt and unsettle, with the purpose of expanding the conversations in science education, moving beyond the idea that research was producing an inviolate system of knowledge that could resolve stoic (i.e., static and resolute) problems in science education. Instead, we invited deep thinkers who embraced an array of sociocultural theories to identify and explicate what they considered to be the questions of the day—questions that scholars and practitioners might consider as they enacted science education in a dynamic and evolving universe threatened by issues of sustainability and disharmony. As editors, we embrace the goal of providing spaces for the authors to publish standpoints to provoke, expand, and enlighten readers about possibilities for being, acting, transforming, and enhancing the social and physical worlds we inhabit and for which we are stewards.

The questions of this volume share many of the questions from Joe and Shirley’s original Thirteen Questions. However, in the development of this volume, we asked colleagues to examine the list of original questions and propose any questions that were not of the original 13 questions. From the responses of many dozens of colleagues, we generated the list of questions for this volume, replacing a few of the original questions, combining a few of the original questions, and keeping many of the original questions. Thus, this volume is organized into 13 sections, each guided by one of the 13 questions.

This volume does not provide final words on science education; instead it serves as a step forward in an ongoing journey of ever-changing façades. We anticipate that the chapters of this book will disrupt and stimulate, providing a turbulent soup in which fresh ideas are born, nurtured, grow, and flourish.


Kincheloe, J. L. (2002a). The sign of the burger: McDonald’s and the culture of power. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Kincheloe, J. L. (Ed.). (2002b). Teachers as researchers: Qualitative paths to empowerment (2nd ed.). New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Kincheloe, J. L., & Steinberg, S. R. (Eds.). (1996). Thirteen questions: Reframing education’s conversation (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Steinberg, S. R., & Kincheloe, J. L. (Eds.). (2009). Christotainment: Selling Jesus through popular culture. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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The Science Curriculum

What Are the Basics and Are We Teaching Them?

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The Science Curriculum at the Elementary Level

What Are the Basics and Are We Teaching Them?


When I was asked to contribute to this book by addressing the question of what the basics are for teaching science at the elementary school level, and whether or not these are being taught, I began by first taking a step back to consider why science as a discipline is (or should be) taught at the elementary level. I write this from the standpoint of a former elementary school “science specialist”, grounded in critical sociocultural theoretical frameworks. I begin with this question of “why” because it is one that I am often confronted with in my own research, and it is a question that I argue all science education researchers should engage with reflectively. In particular, I contend that as a field we ought to consider: what are the needs and purposes of teaching science at the elementary level? Is it to create scientists? Is it to support an informed citizenry? Or perhaps it is to facilitate scientific literacy for either of these viewpoints? The answers to these questions are of course complex, especially as they have been asked by science educators for generations, and also given that the answers have changed as what is valued by society has shifted over time. With that in mind, in the sections that follow, I reflect on the purpose and potential foci for elementary school science teaching, guided by international research findings, critical theoretical perspectives, and my own experiences working in the field of elementary science education for the past 20+ years. ← 7 | 8 →


There has been much written in the field of science education about teaching children positive attitudes toward science at an early age, and young children have been situated in the literature as being “natural scientists” (e.g., Head Start, 2010, p. 18), “scientific learners” (e.g., Gopnik, 2012, p. 1625), and “emergent inquirers” (e.g., Hedges, 2014, p. 39). Undoubtedly, interacting with young children often reveals curiosity and fascination with new discoveries, especially when engaging with science questions. Science itself is a human endeavor, one that is particular to inquiring into phenomena of the natural world. In curricular debates regarding science at the elementary levels, there tends to be a split between those who emphasize primarily science content and those who emphasize primarily the processes of science, but in both of these perspectives, positive attitudes towards science are often held as a central underpinning, as also emphasized by John Dewey in the above quote.

Science as a specific focus for a school discipline typically lacks the clarification of what, specifically, is meant by the term “science” in thinking of school science—many have preconceived notions of textbooks, magnifying lenses, and lab experiments—all of which come from clearly confined cultural contexts and expectations. Recently, the Science Council in the UK (2015) took a step back and defined the word science, which they contend is the first time this has been done by scientists for clarification of the term. Their perspective is that “science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence” (http://www.sciencecouncil.org/definition). Related to this is the Next Generation Science Standards ([NGSS]; NGSS Lead States, 2013) in the US which have clarified that “in the K-12 context, ‘science’ is generally taken to mean the traditional natural sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, and (more recently) earth, space, and environmental sciences” (p. 103), and further that science is “both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model and theory building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge” (Next Generation Science Standards, 2013).

Taking these perspectives together, science can be perceived as an approach to investigating the known, and the unknown, and to an understanding of a body of knowledge that evolves over time. Further, science can be situated as being central to engaging in processes of knowledge construction—of the known and ← 8 | 9 → the unknown—which certainly extends far beyond the realm of science in and of itself, in order to support learning, reflecting, and understanding of the social and natural worlds in which we participate. Yet we find in many schools that the primary focus in elementary grades is on literacy and numeracy (Appleton, 2007), and that science is not consistently taught at the elementary level. When science is taught, it is common to be in a fragmented, reduced manner, focusing almost exclusively on developing vocabulary (e.g., Newton & Newton, 2000) and/or descriptive regurgitation of information. This is unfortunately not restricted to particular isolated regions of the world as there is a globalized focus in elementary school of accountability. The pressures of such accountability position teachers to teach only that which will be tested and relies on rote memorization of facts, which marginalizes a subject such as science (Berg & Mensah, 2014). As a former researcher and teacher in the United States, I was confronted with this situation time and time again. Currently I live in the European country of Luxembourg, and continue to be confronted with the same types of experiences regarding the de-valued role of science at the primary school level. As an example, my own daughter recently came home from her first day of sixth grade with a note to parents from her teacher, which stated that: “Due to the standardized tests later this year [in French, German and math] the following subjects will not be taught during the first two trimesters: art, music, history, geography, science, and Luxembourgish.” Imagine for a moment the experiences of children who are in classes all day long, only being instructed in three subjects, every day, all day … one mustn’t wonder then why my daughter no longer wants to go to school. While this is perhaps merely one example of one teacher’s reaction to standardized testing pressures, those of us working in elementary science education internationally are likely more than aware of this situation in numerous classrooms. An education system that only values the things that are tested will not educate and support children to be able to construct complex understandings of knowledges—instead, what is valued is reduced to what is tested: isolated facts removed from any context, presented as known information to be memorized, or pre-packaged, scripted curricula, created by corporations and designed for teaching to tests (Au, 2011), which is a far cry from the perspective of science as “both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model and theory building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge” (http://www.nextgenscience.org/three-dimensions) and similar explanations of the discipline of science as represented in policy documents.

In considering why science is taught at the elementary level, it is prudent on the one hand to acknowledge the damaging culture of accountability that continues to shape classroom practices and policies, marginalizing and reducing science to something that can be measured and is fact-based; which is far removed from the ideals of why science should even be taught in the first place. On the other ← 9 | 10 → hand, it is an opportunity to reflect on the immense possibilities that science as a field can provide at the elementary level for engaging children in enacted, embodied processes of knowledge construction. For example, the work that my research team has been doing examines the ways in which children’s interactions around science can serve to facilitate dialogic encounters that support the emergence of complex understandings and questions. This research has revealed that supporting children with extended time for open-ended approaches to investigating can increase children’s agency as learners (e.g., Siry, Wilmes, & Haus, 2016), and that building science investigations from children’s own questions can lead to new conceptual understandings (e.g., Siry & Kremer, 2011). I contend that science education as a practice is an entwined mixture of content, process, and attitude, which is deeply contextual, and that none of these can be pulled apart from the other. With a grounding in dialectical theoretical perspectives, science to me is both the process as well as the product—the act of doing science and the development of conceptual understandings; each of which facilitates the other recursively and together is embedded in the attitudes that are shaped in this. As such, a question such as “why” teach science at the elementary level can be approached with an understanding of working towards the development of content, processes, and critical, positive attitudes towards the discipline. Yet this still leaves the big question of what, specifically, should be taught in elementary school, which I address in the next section.


“What” in regards to curriculum is a problematic consideration, as it encompasses not only the intended goals and objectives, but also the specifics of the subject matter, the scope and sequence of these, and the instructional strategies, among other considerations (Gehrke, Knapp, & Sirotnik, 1992). Science as a school subject is impacted in practice by what is valued; valued by policy makers, valued within the curriculum itself, and valued by those who implement these policies—the teachers. Further, the actual implementation of what happens in science classrooms is a complex relationship between the student, the teacher, the curriculum, the context, and the policies (Rodriguez, 2015). Certainly there have been a multitude of policy reforms focusing on the teaching of science in the recent past (e.g., American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993, 2001; NGSS Lead States, 2013; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1991), but at the interface between these actual policies and their implementation lies the decision making of the teachers, and this is in essence the curriculum as enacted. In addressing the central question ← 10 | 11 → of “what” I attempt to bridge between the printed and the performed curriculum, but it is necessary to acknowledge the possible discrepancies between what exists in teachers’ guides and what is lived and practiced in classrooms.

The debate over what, specifically, should be in elementary curricula to be taught in science has focused on content of science and the process of science for over 100 years (e.g., Dewey, 1910). Visions for science curriculum have included a variety of perspectives on what should be taught at the elementary school level, but quite consistent over the past several decades has been a discourse with foci on considering scientific content as thematic and focused on “big ideas” (e.g., Harlen, 2015), and scientific skills as process-based and focused on “habits of mind” (e.g., Gehrke et al., 1992). In short, we have learned from international research findings that there is a benefit for working towards emphasizing knowledge, skills, and values of science with children at the elementary level. What is often missing, however, is the focus on the contextualized ways in which children and teachers can learn together, in order to emerge with culturally and socially relevant understandings of the known, and the unknown.

What are the basics of a well-conceived science education is a controversial question in many ways—is it that the basics are an objective body of facts? Turning to the NGSS illustration mentioned above of science as the traditional natural sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, as well as the earth, space, and environmental sciences, once could perceive of this as a focus on knowing a specific canon of knowledge, even if the NGSS clarifies that the focus ought to be on a small number of core ideas in the sciences. In times of immense knowledge literally at our fingertips, the memorization of specific facts is in many ways superfluous, yet this is often the focus of elementary school science teaching practices, as students are to be prepared to memorize information that will be evaluated with tests. I contend that instead our focus should be on working to support students in creating knowledge and valuing the knowledges that they have and that evolve over time. Students ought to be supported in creating their own conceptual frameworks for understanding science phenomena and connections, and make meanings that connect with their own experiences and perspectives. If we consider such meanings as not things that are static, but rather as constructs that “come-to-be” in relations (Vagle, 2015, p. 9), then it is critical that we focus on these contextualized relations; between students, students and teachers, students and subject matter.

Above I asked if the “basics” are an objective body of facts. Perhaps one can also ask if the basics include a generalized approach for engaging in science as well. Turning again to the NGSS as an example of a standards-based conception of a discipline, once could conceive of science as a “theory building enterprise”, which turns attention to the action of engaging in science and the “doing” of ← 11 | 12 → science (e.g., Siry, Ziegler, & Max, 2012). The doing of science in a classroom situation is a relational one (Cavicchi, 2014), as participants engage collectively in approaching science phenomena as something that is done. This relational aspect of science education turns the attention to the value of the process of science as a central basic grounding for science education. The argument for integrating content and process is certainly not new—it is one that has been in the literature on elementary science education for over 100 years (e.g., Dewey, 1910), and had been persistently argued for generations. David Hawkins (the director of the “elementary science study” in the early 1960s) emphasized the necessity of bridging what he coined “messing about” in science (1965) as he illustrated the value of balancing open-ended investigation time with more structured discussion opportunities. The connections between doing science, talking science, and learning science are deeply integrated and inseparable. Why then do we continually find that classroom practices return to knowledge acquisition alone? This persistent focus on knowledge acquisition in science has been suggested to be damaging to those concerned (Bryce, 2010), and it is far removed from any relational, contextualized meaning-making that students are more than capable of creating at the elementary level. This relational meaning-making was recognized in a review of the curriculum materials in science education from almost 50 years ago: “… the student is constantly making discoveries and organizing the processes and content which he is learning into some sort of fabric meaningful to him” (O’Hearn, 1966, p. 1). If we flip the focus from concrete certainty to be recast as a focus on uncertainty, there emerges a simple focus on valuing difference (Osborne, 1997), and an emphasis also on the focus on the unknown.

Today we are stuck in a pre-internet paradigm in elementary school science, where facts needed to be easily recalled to be useful. Simple facts are easy to find online, but the relationships between these are more difficult. The Internet gives students the ability to retrieve simple facts and thus the starting point to analyze these facts, their contexts, and their relationship to children’s contexts. While those simpler facts may be easy to test, and thus measure, the purpose of the potential next step is missing–the development of scientific understandings in a relational manner. However, such contextualized understandings and foundations for an appreciation of uncertainty and the unknown is quite difficult to measure. If we work more on facilitating students’ abilities to investigate the unknown, we are supporting them to create their own knowledges. In not teaching students to think and apply knowledge, we also limit the scope of who is reached, as there is a need to embed notions of engagement, equity, and diversity, to make science learning accessible to a wide range of students (Rodriguez, 2015). Further, we need to consider policy and curriculum as a lived text (Vagle, 2015)—to consider curriculum as it might be lived, not as it has been designed and planned, in order to emerge with a more contextual, relational view of science, and a school population ← 12 | 13 → supported in thinking, learning and being able to discover the unknown. In doing so, we can move towards the “re-imagining” of science education in order to move away from the “authoritarian knowledge structures” (Tytler, 2007, p. 67) to incorporate approaches to classroom investigations that lead to more diverse approaches to thinking about knowledge as well as about learning.


There has been significant research regarding the low confidence of elementary teachers to teach science (e.g., Appleton, 2007), suggested to emerge in part from teachers’ own perceived lack of content knowledge (e.g., Keys & Bryan, 2000). Additionally, it has been elaborated that teachers’ past experiences in science education have a strong impact on teachers’ thinking about science education as a discipline (e.g., Bryan & Abell, 1999). The low confidence in teachers is not surprising if we think of teaching science as requiring an understanding of curricular objectives, pedagogical approaches for teaching in a “hands-on” manner, and the entire body of knowledge that is science. But, if we reframe what these basics are we can restructure teachers’ roles as well as the purposes of the curriculum. In doing so, teachers can be supported to deconstruct their own notions of science with an emphasis on reconstructing to have an understanding of uncertainty, which is the heart of the scientific endeavor. If teachers begin to understand science as a search for meaning in essence, then this meaning making can be framed as locally bounded, and as individual and collective—content and process. Science is a set of cultural practices and discursive relationships focused on “constructing explanations, defending and challenging claims, interpreting evidence, using and developing models, transforming observations into findings, and arguing theories” (Kaartinen & Kumpulainen, 2002, p. 190). Reframing the focus of science as a school content area to move away from discreet, isolated facts, and instead to be on the discursive and cultural processes at play in the act of science, can ideally support a contextualized, relational teaching of science at the elementary level. As such, the interactive nature of learning—between the knower and the known as John Ziman (2000) elaborates—can be moved to the foreground of science teaching and learning.

As Madeleine Grumet noted in the original Thirteen Questions book over 2 decades ago, the notion of relation is one that is basic to education writ large ← 13 | 14 → (Grumet, 1995), yet it is often what is left out of the conversation of what “the basics” actually are. Relationships between the students and the material, and also human relationships, can become central as “the relational processes that negotiate trust are inseparable from the intellectual processes that initiate experimenting” (Cavicchi, 2014, p. 188). Relational, contextual approaches can connect science to students’ lifeworlds, and there is sufficient evidence from research of the value of reframing science education as participation in communities (e.g., Roth & Lee, 2004) and as a cultural way of knowing (e.g., Meyer & Crawford, 2011), so that cultural practices of science can be woven together with the cultural experiences of students. Returning to the opening quote from John Dewey from over 100 years ago, attitudes are a critical part of science education, and I suggest that positive attitudes for children as well as their teachers can emerge if science is framed as something that is close to participants’ lives. In supporting teachers to find contextualized approaches to engage in science with their students can lead to a contextualized science based on diversity and difference, one that is not only focused on memorizing and regurgitating information, but one that is focused on teaching and learning science as a complex, contextualized experience.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2001). Atlas of science literacy: Project 2061. Author.

Appleton, K. (2007). Elementary science teaching. In S. K. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 493–535). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Au, W. (2011). Teaching under the new Taylorism: High-stakes testing and the standardization of the 21st century curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(1), 25–45. doi:10.1080/00220272.2010.521261.

Berg, A., & Mensah, F. M. (2014). De-marginalizing science in the elementary classroom by coaching teachers to address perceived dilemmas. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(57), 1–31. doi:10.14507/epaa.v22n57.2014.

Bryan, L. A., & Abell, S. K. (1999). Development of professional knowledge in learning to teach elementary science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 121–139. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736.

Bryce, T. G. K. (2010). Sardonic science? The resistance to more humanistic forms of science education. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 5, 591–612. doi:10.1007/s11422-010-9266-6.

Cavicchi, E. (2014). Learning science as explorers: Historical resonances, inventive instruments, evolving community. Interchange, 45, 185–204. doi:10.1007/s10780-015-9235-9. ← 14 | 15 →


XIV, 536
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XIV, 536 pp., 10 b/w ills.

Biographical notes

Lynn A. Bryan (Volume editor) Kenneth Tobin (Volume editor)

Lynn Bryan is Professor at Purdue University, where she holds a joint appointment in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. She is Director of Purdue’s Center for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of STEM (CATALYST), and past-President of NARST: A Worldwide Organization for Improving Science Teaching and Learning Through Research. Kenneth Tobin is Presidential Professor, Graduate Center of CUNY. He has published more than 20 books, 200 journal articles, and 125 book chapters. Numerous awards include the <i>Distinguished Contributions to Science Education Through Research Award</i> (NARST), the <i>Mentoring Award</i> (AERA), and the <i>Distinguished Teaching Scholars Award</i> (NSF).


Title: 13 Questions