Hunter and Sampson Teaching and Observing Science

Hunter, T. L., & Sampson, V. (2015). New ways of teaching and observing science class. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(8), 52-56.


Summary: This article helps principals (and in my opinion may help university supervisors) to better understand how to observe specifically for science instruction. They offer a phenomenal table with three columns that identify what to look for, questions to ask students, and questions to ask teachers to see if the lesson is a high quality science lesson. They also go on to explain indicators of good science instruction, which also helps the observer have a better sense of what to look for in a lesson, and therefore, how to coach with science in mind. As I read, I found some instances where I felt that the practices or indicators where not necessarily science specific but rather just good quality instruction. In my notes below, I identify which ones I feel may be more universal than science specific. We are planning on using this article when we meet with our supervisors for their professional development conference in August.

According to the authors, indicators of good science instruction consist of:

  1. Teachers create a need to learn. (To me this is a universal concept of good instruction).

    1. The others discuss the value of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. To me, motivation is more universal. However, they do describe one approach that may be specific to science instruction and that is the use of a discrepant event to create an intrinsic motivation for learning. Therefore, the science specific practice would be the use of a discrepant event.
    2. “One way to create a need to learn is by using discrepant or puzzling events. Used at the beginning of a lesson, these demonstrations often spark curiosity, create a sense of wonder and encourage students to generate potential explanations about underlying causes. When students want to understand the potential cause for what they see inside the classroom, they tend to be more motivated and intellectually engaged” (p. 54). 
  2. Teachers make student thinking visible.

    1. I think in general, making student thinking visible is a good universal practice. However, there may be ways that are more science specific like –
    2. “Teachers must know how students think about the content and why they think that way, which means science teachers must be able to make student thinking visible on a regular basis” (p. 54). I think it would be helpful for content experts to help generalists understand common misconceptions that students (and even teachers) may have for their particular units of instruction. This will help teachers be able to more easily identify these misconceptions in students if teachers have an awareness of them themselves.
    3. They argue that teachers need to give students opportunities to explain their answers and support them with reasoning. “Teachers need to give students opportunities to provide answers and explanations for their answers through words, mathematical representations, and pictures. Teachers then need to use student answers and the reasons for their answers to identify common alternative conceptions about the content” (p. 54). Again, I see this practice as more universal, but perhaps a more science specific approach includes, “Teachers can use this information to design lessons that confront these alternative conceptions, help students abandon them, and eventually adopt conceptions or ways of thinking that are consistent with a scientific worldview” (p. 54).
    4. The authors also claim that making predictions is a way to make student thinking visible. Again, I see making predictions happen in other disciplines, so to me, this is potentially another universal concept. Perhaps the science specific practice might be, “After the lab or demonstration, teachers can return to these predictions and help students reconcile their understanding of how the world works with what they just observed” (p. 54). That follow through is incredibly important in good science instruction.
    5. The authors also advocate for two-tiered assessments that permit students to give answers, explain their thinking, and justify their answers. Again, this practice seems pretty universal to good instruction to me.
  3. Students engage in activity before delving into content.

    1. “A third indicator of good science instruction is giving students the opportunity to explore a natural phenomenon before being formally presented with scientific facts, formulas, theories, or other formalized content to be learned” (p. 54). This may be a science specific practice.
    2. “Instead of having vague and abstract notions of what a word means, they can ground the new term in a past experience” (p. 55).
  4. Students participate in the practice of science.

    1. “Scientific practices are the behaviors and though processes that scientists use to further scientific knowledge” (p. 55).
    2. “An important indicator of good science teaching, therefore, is giving students repeated opportunities to engage in scientific practices” (p. 55).
    3. National Research Council (2012) identifies 8 practices. They discuss five of those eight practices in this article:

      1. Practice A: Asking scientific questions (Seems science specific)
      2. Practice B: Planning and carrying out investigations (Seems science specific)
      3. Practice C: Analyzing and interpreting data (May be a general pedagogical practice)
      4. Practice D: Engaging in argument from evidence (May be a general pedagogical practice as I see this in mathematics)

        1. “Scientists also need to be able to defend their explanation with evidence and examine the validity of explanations proposed by others based on available evidence” (p. 55). (Sounds more general to me)
        2. “Students therefore need to understand what counts as evidence in science, how to transform data into evidence, and the criteria used in science to evaluate the validity or acceptability of explanations and evidence” (p. 55). (This may be more science specific, but it would be helpful to know more about “what constitutes evidence” to help supervisors be able to coach teachers about this concept.)
      5. Practice E: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information (Seems more of a general practice to me)

        1. “Therefore, students need opportunities to learn how to read, write, and speak in a manner that’s consistent with the norms and standards of the scientific community. Inside the classroom, teachers can give students opportunities to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information by encouraging them to conduct text-based research, give presentations, and write reports” (p. 55). This sounds like literacy infused science instruction to me. Are the standards for the scientific community different than the standards for the math community and the literacy community? If so, why?
  5. Negotiating meaning.

    1. The authors off a continuum. In the center are decisions about what content matters, how that content should be explained, and how to represent it. They consider the decision-making process about these areas as negotiating meaning. On the one side of the continuum is a teacher directed lesson where the teacher has to make all of those decisions. In this case, the teacher is the actor and the student is the passive learner. On the other side is a student directed lesson where the students have to make all of those decisions. The student is active AND so is the teacher but in a different way. The teacher’s actions move away from decisions about content, explanation of content, and representation of content to decisions about how to facilitate the conversation, how to help students think more about their claims and evidence, and how to skill-fully scaffold the learning process. The authors advocate for the student directed approach in good science instruction stating, “Students don’t need to hink about the content as they listen and take notes, leading to limited opportunities for them to negotiate meaning. At the other end of the continuum, when students are responsible for negotiating meaning, students must think deeply about the content during a lesson and about what they know and how they know it. They must determine what is and isn’t relevant and decide how to explain or represent what they know so other people can understand it. The teacher must take an active role in the process through skillful questioning and scaffolding” (p. 56).



  • “Principals don’t need to see evidence of the five indicators every day. But, over the course of a school year, they should see a preponderance of evidence showing the presence of these indicators” (p. 56). They go on to say, “Principals should plan for an extended observation of a teacher if they want to see the indicators of good science teaching. This allows the principal to engage with the class on a more frequent basis and to determine if multiple indicators are present” (p. 56).  I think these statements are very important and have implications for university supervisors in terms of how they coach and evaluate preservice teachers. Sporadic classrooms visits and high student to supervisor ratios can no longer be a normative practice; the future of education requires a reconceptualization of the university supervisor and resourcing for preservice teacher supervision.