YLACES focuses its support on activities that encourage and enable students to do science. To learn science, students must do science rather than reenact it in the lab or just read about it. Doing science, experiencing the scientific method, requires the students to do research projects. There is much debate about what science content should be taught and when, but learning the scientific way of thinking is essential. Doing research forces one to think scientifically. It provides the experience that stays with the student into adulthood.
With active learning, where students do their own research, requires a change in the role of teachers – they need to serve as coaches or guides on the side. Coaches do many things. They teach the rules of the activity. They provide exercises to build ability. They challenge but don’t set students up for failure. They provide opportunities to do and access to needed materials and locations. They encourage and suggest ways to improve. They evaluate, praise, and criticize with the goal of student improvement. And in all they do, good coaches communicate and inspire a love of the activity.
Coaches need to know the fundamentals, but they don’t need to know everything. Doing science is like working without a net. One doesn’t know what one will find or observe. One must be prepared to abandon preconceptions in the face of evidence but not jump to conclusions prematurely. One should not fall in love with an explanation to the point of ceasing to question and test.
My thesis adviser said that the difference between a good scientist and a mediocre one was not in asking good questions but in knowing which questions to pursue. In coaching science research, it is helpful to guide students in their choices of questions to investigate. A key to success in this learning process is to keep the degree of challenge and the demands of the investigation within bounds – bounds of student preparation, ability, available time, and resources.
So for students to truly learn science, science teachers must be effective coaches comfortable with doing research rather than just technical experts.