This article reports a systematic review of research on science programs in grades 6-12. Twenty-one studies met inclusion criteria including use of randomized or matched assignment to conditions, measures that assess content emphasized equally in experimental and control groups, and a duration of at least 12 weeks. Programs fell into four categories. Instructional process programs (ES=+0.24) and technology programs (ES=+0.47) had positive sample-size weighted mean effect sizes, while use of science kits (ES=+0.05) and innovative textbooks (ES=+0.10) had much lower effects. Outcomes support the use of programs with a strong focus on professional development, technology, and support for teaching, rather than materials-focused innovations.
Which science programs have been proven to help elementary students to succeed? To find out, this review summarizes evidence on three types of programs designed to improve the science achievement of students in grades K–6:
Inquiry-oriented programs without science kits, such as Increasing Conceptual Challenge, Science IDEAS, and Collaborative Concept Mapping. These programs help teachers learn and use generic processes, such as cooperative learning, concept development, and science-reading integration, in their daily science teaching.
Inquiry-oriented programs with science kits, such as Insights, FOSS, STC, SCALE, and Teaching SMART. The theory of action in science kit programs is that implementing hands-on activities helps to build deep learning about the scientific process and core concepts of elementary science.
Technology programs, such as BrainPOP, The Voyage of the Mimi, and web-based labs. Technologies utilized in these approaches include computer-assisted instruction and class-focused technology (such as video and interactive whiteboard technologies).
The evidence from studies that met the review’s inclusion criteria supports a view that improving outcomes in elementary science depends on improving teachers’ skills in presenting lessons, engaging and motivating students, and integrating science and reading. Technology applications that help teachers teach more compelling lessons and that use video to reinforce lessons also have promise.
Slavin, R. E., Lake, C., Hanley, P., & Thurston, A. (2014). Experimental evaluations of elementary science programs: A best-evidence synthesis. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51 (7), 870-901.