Summary: K-12 science education, needs and deficiencies

wijsman at wijsman at
Sun Jan 24 01:26:22 EST 1993

I recently posted some questions on the net to survey the views of
scientists on what science skills students should have by the time they
enter college, and what skills are particularly missing.  I have gotten
a reasonable response (over 50 replies, with more still coming) to at 
least two of the questions, so I am passing on a summary of those
aspects of the replies which are quite consistent among the replies. 
Rather than extract lots of text, I am paraphrasing the essence of the
replies.  I include part of the original message below. 
>My husband and I (both faculty at the Univ. of Washington in different
>scientific fields) have volunteered to work with the teachers at one
>of the local elementary schools to improve the science curriculum.
>I am particularly interested in generating discussion and hearing from
>individuals who teach in a scientific field at the college or
>university level, or individuals who work as industrial scientists, as
>well as generating discussion among individuals who want to or are
>trying to have some input into science education in the U.S. schools. 
>I am particularly interested in getting input in response to the 
>following questions, although general comments are also welcome: 
>(1) What general science skills are missing in entering college
>students, both students who are intent on pursuing a major in a
>scientific field, and (perhaps more importantly) those who
>are majoring in a non-scientific field? 
The single biggest vote went to missing quantitative skills.  The 
students may have a mechanistic knowledge of algebra and geometry, but 
they are abysmal at applying that to "word" or "real-life" problems.
I got comments about this from all different areas, not just the
Students do not have the ability to pose questions and to design the
means to answer them, even at an elementary level.  Their problem 
solving skills are poor.
Students do not question.  They do not learn by asking questions, but 
by trying to memorize.
>(2) What specific knowledge from your own field (please identify the
>field) do you think students should have by various points in
>their pre-college education ...?
There have been a few replies from a variety of fields to this.  
However, there haven't been enough in any one are of science to 
consider those aspects of the replies which seem to be a consensus in 
the field, and which are indiosyncratic to the poster.  However,
there does seem to be consensus (unanimous or near unanimous) in terms
of the general scientific knowledge/skill students should have by
this point.
Students should:
be able to recognize a crackpot theory, 
be able to recognize pseuodoscientific arguements, 
be able to problem solve and design basic experiments to answer 
have reasonable observational skills, 
be able to pose a question of how or why and produce a conclusion
   which follows from the data collected
be able to use quantitative reasoning and logic, and to recognize 
   where math fits real life problems
understand the process of posing a hypothesis, designing an 
   experiment, and evaluating the results
have an understanding of the creative and dynamic nature of science
>(3) What scientific skills and knowledge from your field do you think
>that individuals who do NOT go on to college should have? 
There have been a reasonable number of replies to this one.  The
answer is that these students should have the same general scientific
knowledge/skill as those who go on to college in order for our society 
to survive in an increasingly technological world.
Thank you all for replying.  I am continuing to collect responses 
since this will help us in trying to work on those areas which are 
particularly deficient in school education.
Ellen M. Wijsman 
Div. Medical Genetics, RG-25 
and Dept. Biostatistics
University of Washington Seattle, WA  98195
wijsman at 

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