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Laying the Foundation for Successful Science Learning

The Commentary editors asked six education, business, and STEM leaders to respond to the following question: What is missing from the discussion around ensuring all students have access to well-trained and qualified science teachers? To read other responses, please visit OpEducation's Science Learning: Under the Microscope.

Charles S. Dumais

A few years ago, I asked my then elementary-school-age children when the sun would be overhead. Noon, of course, was the wrong (but predictable) answer. I explained why they were wrong, but when I asked them the same question recently, I still got the same answer.

Misconceptions are terribly difficult to correct. Advanced concepts are learned by extending earlier learning, and, while accuracy in prior learning is critical, creating pathways for conceptual extensions to understanding is far more important, especially in science. We count on elementary teachers to provide explanations and instruction that support future learning. In reading, writing, social studies, and, to a certain degree, mathematics, elementary teachers have an excellent vision of the path and provide instruction that prevents many strongly held misconceptions from developing. Our children become great writers because they learn sound writing fundamentals in elementary classrooms.

Developing elementary teachers' skills in scientific inquiry and expanding their experience and knowledge of critical science concepts will help to give them the skills and information that they need to provide a clear direction for future science learning for our children. Forgo the worksheets that attempt to generalize fundamental scientific concepts when they can be easily explored and explained by just going outside and taking a look at the sky.

Charles S. Dumais is the superintendent of Amity Regional School District No. 5 in Woodbridge, Conn. 

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