The Future of Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

The High School Science Classroom of the Future

Bill Baird
Auburn University


What will science classrooms be like in the year 2005? How will teachers help all students to acquire skills, reasoning abilities, knowledge and attitudes that help them function in the 21st century? National efforts to reform the science curriculum provide guidelines that call for (a) integration of science with mathematics and other disciplines, (b) more time devoted to inquiry and long-term projects, (c) more group work and cooperative learning, (d) effective application of existing technical tools such as graphing calculators and microcomputer-based laboratories, and (e) realistic assessment tied to non-academic outcomes. This paper argues that current reform guidelines will result in classrooms that are more exciting places to learn and apply science.

"We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there."

Charles Francis Kettering, Seed for Thought, 1949

Step into a time machine and move forward ten years to the year 2005. What will high school science classrooms look like? What have we learned about ways to teach science for all Americans? How will we apply what we have learned about teaching and learning to help adolescents prepare for their lives in the new century? Will science learning environments be enhanced by effective use of new tools? Will students be motivated to achieve better? Will science teachers be more competent at their jobs? Will classroom environments promote outcomes like process skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, stronger self-concepts, career goals that include science, and transfer of knowledge to novel situations? What will be different about science taught in grades 9 - 12? What will look the same in 2005?

I asked these questions to colleagues who share the Internet on science listservers with the National Association for Research in Science Teaching and the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science. I looked into the literature for written materials using the keywords "future," "science learning," "science teaching," and "classrooms," or "instruction." Jim Morrison, Editor of On the Horizon, posted an early outline of this manuscript on the World Wide Web and asked for reactions. This article summarizes responses to these queries and what I think they mean for high school science 10 years out into the 21st century.

A few caveats: First, no one can really climb into a time machine and drive into the future. Our only image of it is obtained by looking into the rear-view mirror of history. This means that trends in the 20th century point toward likely visions of the early 21st. Second, the type of environment I have chosen the public school classroom and laboratory-not private or parochial schools, nor home schooling, nor elite magnet schools. Although they may contain the seeds of real innovation that will grow into wider use, they currently educate only a small percentage of the U.S. population between the ages of 13 and 18. Third, I have not tried to write as a visionary, however accurate Jules Verne's nineteenth century description of the submarine proved. Envisioning technical fixes for human problems bumps up against an unpredictable barrier-the costs, available school funding, and the willingness of administrators to pay this cost. Some schools have made a commitment to technology. However, a 1995 study by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment concluded that after "... over a decade of investment in educational hardware and software, relatively few of the nation's 2.8 million teachers use technology in their teaching." (p. iii). Despite its promise, technology has yet to find a place in most science classrooms.

What "science skills" and "science knowledge" are needed for world citizenship in 2005? New standards from 1995 point to new classroom outcomes.

Science for All Students

The document, Science for All Americans (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1992) manifests that every student, not just the intellectual elite and college bound, can and should master the elements of scientific literacy. This term is usually defined as the ability to recognize and apply a rational approach to understanding the world, which has explanations for its behavior, and can be manipulated for human benefit. Citizens who are scientifically literate can discuss and make wise personal decisions about problems arising from acid rainfall, global warming, AIDS, increasing human population, decreasing energy and mineral resources, etc. Science-literate citizens believe that these problems are subject to rational solutions. They understand both the potential benefits and hazards of applied science and technology.

The Florida State Department of Education (1995) in its state curricular framework said it well:

    Science and its offspring, technology, affect our environmental, social, economic, and political systems. Because of scientific knowledge, we have cures for polio and rabies; we have refrigeration to protect our food; and we have more efficient ways of conserving energy. Through our knowledge about scientific findings, we can respond to issues such as trash disposal systems, expansion regulations, irradiation of food, and genetic engineering. Science is an integral part of living; that is why the educatin of every responsible person must include the basic principles of science as well as the processes and attitudes used to develop scientific thought (p. 5).

Because all citizens will be taxpayers and voters and will make decisions every day that affect the aggregate societal welfare, it follows that all students should prepare for this responsibilty by becoming familiar with science and technology as a tool for impacting the public, either for good or for ill. Personal actions that result in household and automobile fuel consumption, number of children born into a family, contributions to the waste stream, recycling, etc., add up to significant impacts on the planetary welfare. Taxpayer referenda that establish priorities for funding the technical costs of addressing these problems will be decided by how well schools have done their job of educating all students about the potential of science to "fix" our world. Government funding for research and development efforts in space, medicine, sub-atomic particles, global climate modeling, and other expensive human efforts will be available only if congress and vocal citizens believe in its merits. Some of today's teenagers may be elected to congress; or others may find themselves in positions to make critical decisions; all need to know how to be responsible adults; schools must assure science literacy for all students.

This push for universal scientific literacy has large implications for changes in science classrooms. If we need to provide science for larger numbers of students, we will need more science teachers. To integrate science with other subjects, we will blur the boundaries in the curriculum and require better communication and planning among teachers. To include physically and mentally challenged students in science, we will need to show teachers how this can be done and convince them that it is desirable. More minorities and females will need to see optional science courses as essential to their future plans. Multicultural role-models of both genders need to be shown as successful students of science many of whom are choosing science careers.

The Florida State Department of Education document, Science for All Students: The Florida Pre K-12 Science Curriculum Framework, is an excellent example of a state's vision for future science classrooms. It borrows from both the AAAS Benchmarks (1993) and National Academy of Science's [NAS] National Science Education Standards (1994) in proposing activities and facilities for science.

The Curriculum

A greater emphasis on interrelationships, traditionally termed "ecology," will be found in the curriculum of the future. Predator-prey relationships, food chains, requirements for species survival, population dynamics, and the effect of humans on the ecosystem will be used as themes for integrated science. Teams of students will debate the global impacts of human consumption and waste management on other species. Loss of habitat and consequent pressure on animal and plant survival will be examined.

Teachers will need help as they work more outside the textbook in a dynamic curriculum. This will mean electronic networking through the Internet and local re-education through inservice workshops. Universities and local education agencies will play a more active role in teacher support. Finding ways to encourage more active student participation in learning will challenge all the stakeholders in science education.

Table 1 contrasts traditional science curriculum practices with those recommended by new national guidelines from AAAS and the NAS. It is taken from the Science for All Students: The Florida Pre K-12 Science Curriculum Framework (1995).

Table 1:

Comparison of Traditional and Recommended Practices in Science Instruction



Science for some Science for all Behaviorist based Constructivist based Behavioral objectives - learning Conceptual objectives - learning is is based on measurable behaviors based on constructing meaningful concepts/learning Text based Hands-on/Minds-on Passive Active Confirmatory investigation Problem solving investigation Fact oriented Concept oriented Teacher demonstrations Labs/Field experiences Science is seen as a single subject Science is seen as part of an with little relationship to interdisciplinary world; emphasis mathematics, social studies, is on relating science to the language arts, art, or music students' world, which is not compartmentalized. The teacher imparts knowledge and The teacher is a facilitator of students learn it; communication is learning and a learner as well; generally one way. students are learners and teachers in some situations; networks emerge instead of one-way forms of communication. Limited use of technology Full integration of appropriate technology in instruction Exclusive use of pencil and paper Multidimensional assessment; assessment disconnected from assessment integrated with instruction instruction Competitive learning Cooperative learning Single exposure Spiral curriculum Many science topics covered with Few science topics covered with little depth. more depth.

Florida Department of Education. (1995). Science for All Students: The Florida Pre K-12 Science Curriculum Framework. (Tallahassee, FL: Author), p. 37.

Integrated Science

Science classrooms of the next decade will no longer separate subject matter by grade level. They will not dictate that all 10 graders must take biology to the exclusion of the physical and earth/space sciences. Mathematics will become a central component of all science classes. Other school subjects will also find their place in science classes.

The new standards from AAAS and NAS call for integration of the life and physical sciences, especially in the middle grades. Furthermore, science is to be part of a larger tapestry of all school subjects, especially mathematics, language arts, and social studies. This implies a need for students to think horizontally and to apply knowledge and skills in science that they have learned in other subjects. This also points to a need for teachers to work together in teams to plan and execute a curriculum based on common themes, communication, social needs, and mathematical tools. Examples include exploration of energy conversions, and what fossil fuel combustion means to our culture. Students would write about this, interview power plant employees, learn to read electric meters and calculate electric bills, examine rate structures and interview utility Boards of Directors, and study the laws of thermodynamics. A wide variety of subject matter would be explored during several days or even weeks of study. Bringing information into class discussions would be expected of each student (Roth, 1992). Students will use the Internet to discover resources and others' ideas in reaction to their own. Informal learning in museums and nature centers will enrich classroom science (Natural Science for Youth Foundation, 1990).

The Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy (1993) and many state science frameworks call for integration of mathematics and science, beginning in the earliest grades. The NSTA Scope and Sequence program (1993) calls for the introduction of physics to sixth grade students, and expansion of each concept in subsequent grades. Concrete, manipulative materials that exercise students' thinking in force and motion will be a prelude to later, more abstract study of friction, vectors, and Newton's laws. Seniors will be better prepared for calculus-based physics if they have been guided in exploring physics concepts in earlier grades.

A good example of an integrated science curriculum is the program developed at the University of Alabama by Star Bloom and Larry Rainey for use throughout the state of Alabama (Bloom & Rainey, 1994). This middle school curriculum consists of (a) weekly telecasts featuring scientists, students, and teachers engaging in activities that focus on the topic of the week; (b) classroom cooperative group activities emphasizing hands-on encounters with real world problems; and (c) student handbooks with additional background material that relates science to everyday events in student environments.

Time Schedules

In the past, science classes in most schools were interrupted by scheduled bells at 55-minute intervals. Teachers are surely the only professionals who must perform their job within such arbitrary time blocks. Despite their need to set up, conduct and clear away laboratories and demonstrations, science teachers are allocated the same time as shop, gym, or algebra teachers. Schools in 2005 will have alternatives that offer extended time for science learning.

Blocks of time will exceed the traditional 55 minute class hour, allowing science teachers to perform laboratory experiments and demonstrations with their students, to examine the resulting implications, and to explore the extensions of thinking that should follow. In place of the traditional series of six, 55-minute classes, future schools will offer modular schedules, with a full year of credit offered for a semester of these double-long class periods. Such schedules will provide science teachers with opportunities to extend project work, field trips, and inquiry learning. There will be a distinction between allocated time and actual academic learning time. Non-academic disruptions of academic time will be reduced to maimize time on task. Schedules for science classes will be adjusted in response to questions like: How much can be "covered" in the allocated time?; Does "seat time" imply meaningful learning?; Do Carnegie units indicate real conceptual understanding and mastery of skills that are useful in the world outside the classroom?

Exploring fewer topics in greater depth and for longer daily class periods will be the earmark of future science classrooms. This issue is explored in a report issued by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning (1994). The report offers eight recommendations for reinventing the school schedule to provide more time for student academic learning.

Group Learning

The real world rarely puts people in isolation and asks them to come up with solutions without consulting others. Schools are finally moving toward cooperative learning groups in science classes. Three or four students of mixed ability are each assigned unique tasks within the team and helped to master the social skills required by these tasks. Just as athletic teams succeed when the entire team functions well, so science learning proceeds best when each team member feels responsible for the success of both individuals and the group. Typical roles in cooperative teams include (a) the questioner, who asks what is known, what needed information is missing, how to proceed to obtain what is needed to solve the problem, and how certain the team is of its conclusions; (b) the record keeper, who maintains a written summary of what has been given, what has been acquired, graphs, tables, and preliminary conclusions; (c) the materials organizer, who sees that calculators, lab equipment, supplies are at hand and put away when they are no longer needed.

Roger and David Johnson describe the unique advantages of cooperative group learning in science in their chapter of the National Education Association publication, Education in the 80's: Science (1982).

New Tools

Technology will offer exciting new options for science teachers and their students. Links to high-speed microcomputers will open a wide variety of channels to meet almost every learning style. Virtual reality is already being tested in secondary school science classrooms (Moshell & Hughes, 1993). Three-dimensional projections of simulated reality will become more common as tools to help students "experience" space, time and motion in controlled states. Thus, a student can simulate weightlessness, or friction-free motion, or an Earth-centered universe as easily as opening a window. Trying out these environments in virtual reality will make facilitate learning and make group and class discussions more much more interesting. Students will use personal "think-pads" to do calculations, obtain tutoring help, and keep up with schedules.

Graphical display panels will be built into classroom walls, and used to show high-resolution color video sequences that are keyed to textbooks and curricular guides. Overhead projectors will be fitted with liquid crystal display panels that connect with classroom computers to make a "dynamic chalkboard" for the classroom. Static and dynamic visuals will be available on videodisk for science teachers to use to show single- or multiple-concept topics. Three-dimensional displays will allow rich discussions of physiology, collisions in space, and molecular geometry. These displays will make it possible for science classes to take field trips to any location on the planet and examine plants and animals there.

The microcomputer-based laboratory will be expanded from its current state of monitoring temperature, light intensity, pH, and motion. To these parameters will be added new variables, such as population of humans on Earth, metabolic rate of selected students, location and direction of hurricanes, historical frequency and location of earthquakes, somatic cellular activity, solar flux onto the school, and many others. Current events will be exhibited in new ways that facilitate better understanding and learning.

The science textbook will change. Universal bar codes on each page will allow students and teachers to use bar-code readers to access videodisk sequences that make each page come alive. Textbook publishers will provide computer programs to accompany each major topic. Hypertext and multimedia materials will make true self-paced learning possible for all students. Self-help features will mean that students can receive assistance without depending as much on the teacher. Role models will include all gender and ethnic groups. Each chapter will have imbedded assessment activities for individual students, small groups, and whole class testing. Toll-free numbers to publisher hot-lines will allow teachers to request customized tests over any topic from large banks of questions, many of which embody higher levels of thinking.


In the movie, "Apollo 13," the ground crew and astronauts were required to come up with solutions to a series of unrehearsed problems by applying science, engineering and common sense to their situation. They worked out their problems by breaking out of the mold; they could not check the "right answer" in the back of the book. Their success is a tribute to scientific problem-solving in America, and may represent a high water mark in technical education. There is a wealth of data to indicate that a generation of our science students are losing this ability to solve open-ended problems by inventing solutions. This points to a need to change the way we teach and learn science. Because the way we assess outcomes in science classes tends to drive the way we teach it, the classroom of the future will evaluate realistic situations that require application of science concepts, principles and theories. Assessment of student outcomes in science will be imbedded in a realistic framework so that students are not merely provided prompts and expected to pick the "best" answer from a set of multiple-choice options, or to choose the "best match" from a set of related terms, or to indicate whether a statement is true or false.

In the real world, careers provide a series of inputs (givens) and require a creative application of theories and principles to derive a solution that makes sense in the context of the problem. There are not many employment opportunities for high school graduates whose problem-solving skills are limited to completing worksheets and turning them in for grading. Therefore, assessment will be imbedded in realistic situations that can be found outside the classroom.

Assessment can easily be made a part of classroom activities based on realistic simulations. Computer simulations have been around for years. In biology, students practice managing the population of a deer herd in a residential area in the computer program "Oh, Deer" (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, 1983). Students play roles as homeowners, farmers, hunters, and "deer lovers" in a computer simulation that requires a higher level of thinking than completing blanks on a test. In a more recent videodisk simulation (Rescue at Boone's Meadow, 1992), students work in cooperative teams to locate essential bits of information necessary to rescue a wounded eagle from a remote area using an ultralight airplane. Solving the problem requires getting the eagle to a veterinarian in the shortest possible time, and uses a variety of mathematics and inquiry skills. Developed at the Vanderbilt Learning Technology Center, this "Jasper Woodbury Series" allows teachers to observe students applying concepts learned in class. Success takes careful planning and application of science and mathematics concepts more challenging than knowing isolated facts such as that eagles are raptors. Other inquiry-based authentic assessment packages are being developed and field tested now (McColskey & O'Sullivan, 1993). Project work, reports, laboratory practicals, and science olympiads will become more common assessment tools. Look for them in science classrooms of the future (Scarnati, 1994; Herman, Aschbacher, & Winters, 1992).

Students will be invited to take a more active role in determining what they know and do in science learning environments. Concept and skill self-inventories will be administered to students at the beginning of new units. In completing such inventories, students will encounter new as well as familiar terms and ideas, and see a preview of what they are expected to know at the end of the unit. Use of concept mapping, Venn diagrams, analysis of research reports, and Vee diagrams will help teachers and students evaluate science learning. Students will be expected to maintain portfolios that contain evidence of their skills, the quality of their writing, reflective thoughts on their personal strengths and weaknesses, and goals. A few states such as Vermont are already moving toward portfolio assessment for all students. While this type of assessment requires more time than machine scoring a multiple-choice test, it provides a richer record of students' abilities. It also places responsibility on students to examine their progress over time and to take pride in personal growth.

New national standards and benchmarks require that students be placed in situations where they are given parameters of a problem and invited to propose solutions. Students are now expected to do more than respond to pre-written prompts on tests. The real test of America's skills is how well we can apply our knowledge of science and technology to raw materials so that value is added and the resulting product can be sold competitively in the world market. For this question there are no answers in the back of the book!

Table 2 provides a summary of changes in assessment of science classroom learning (Doran, Tamir and Chan, 1995).

Table 2:

Predicted Trends in Measurement and Evaluation of Science Instruction



Primarily group administered tests A variety of administrative formats including large groups, small groups, and individuals. Primarily pencil and paper tests A variety of test formats including pictorial, laboratory performance and computer-aided tests and observations/discussions/interviews. Primarily end-of-course summative A variety of pretest, diagnostic, and assessment formative types of measurements. Primarily measurement of low-level Inclusion of higher level cognitive cognitive outcomes outcomes (analysis, evaluation, critical thinking). Primarily assessments of cognitive Inclusion of measurement of affective outcomes (attitudes, interests, and values) and psychomotor outcomes (observing, manipulating, etc.). Primarily norm-referenced Inclusion of more criterion-referenced achievement testing and grading assessment, mastery testing, and self and peer evaluation. Primarily measurement of facts Inclusion of objectives related to the and principles of science processes of science, the nature of science, and the interrelationship of science, technology, and society. Primarily measurement of student Inclusion of measuring the effects of achievement programs, curricula, and teaching techniques. Primarily teacher-made tests Combined use of teacher-made tests, standardized tests, research instruments, and items from collections assembled by teachers, national and international projects, and other sources. Primarily concerned with total Interest in sub-test performance, item test scores difficulty and discrimination, all aided by mechanical and computerized facilities. Primarily a one-dimensional A multidimensional system of reporting format of evaluation (e.g. a student progress with respect to such numerical or letter grade variables as concepts, processes, laboratory procedures, classroom discussion, and problem-solving skills. Primarily concerned with what Special attention to student students know or don't know preconceptions, misconceptions, and alternative exploration. Primarily assessing isolated bits of Emphasis on the "whole," such as information or skills solving problems, investigation, concept maps, and embedded activities. Primarily verbal tasks Inclusion of tasks with data tables, graphs, charts, and sketches. Primarily tests requiring student Inclusion of tests which require student selection or choice of answers performance, to include projects, reports, and portfolios.

Doran, R. L., Tamir, P. & Chan, A. (1995) Assessment in Science. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association. pp. 17-18.


Look into a science classroom of the year 2005. Instead of seats arranged in rows and columns, you will find students sitting in a circle or in pods as they discuss whole class or small group topics. Computers will be available, equipped with modems to link the classroom with the Internet. Videodisc and videotape equipment will be used for viewing linear and random access sequences. Live animals, models, simulations, and collections of student work will be a part of the scenery. An open-door policy will invite visitors to join for observation or participation. Use of outside resources such as museums, nature centers, state and national parks will enrich the curriculum.

The day will begin with teachers meeting together for team planning on how groups of students will move through the day. There will be less dependence on bells to dictate the daily schedule. Textbooks will be used as reference sources for information, but will not be the sole or even primary source. Access to electronically-stored information will be easy. Compact discs and remote databases available on the Internet will offer students and teachers current data on global and local systems. Assessment will be ongoing, and built into small-group discussions. For a period of weeks, the whole class will deal with themes like matter and energy, force and motion, patterns and change. More emphasis will be placed on current events, with television broadcasts used to augment class discussions.

Students will end the school day at different times and with less enthusiasm than in the past. Project work, team cooperation, higher levels of inquiry, and the stimulation of interactive technology will raise the motivation of students to apply science in their own cognitive world. Dinner table conversations and talk in school hallways will include more science. This will increase the scientific literacy of high school students, and contribute to our skills in the world economy. Americans have always believed in the future. We have applied science and technology to adapt our environment. Every generation must redefine the future and relearn the values, tools, and principles that will influence it. We have the tools and the principles have not changed. It is the values that we struggle with.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bloom, S. and Rainey, L. (1994). Integrated science. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama.

Doran, R. L., Tamir, P. & Chan, A. (1995) Assessment in science. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.

Florida Department of Education. (1995). Science for all students: The Florida pre K-12 science curriculum framework. .Tallahassee, FL: Author.

Herman, J., Aschbacher, P. & Winters, L. (1992). A practical guide to alternative assessment. . Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Johnson, R.T. and Johnson, D.W. (1982). What research says about student-student interaction in science classrooms. In M. B. Rowe (Ed.), Education in the 80's: Science. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

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McColskey, W. and O'Sullivan, R. (1993). How to assess student performance in science: Going beyond multiple-choice tests. Greensboro, NC: Southeastern Regional Vision for Education.

Moshell, J.M. and Hughes, C.E. (1993). Shared virtual worlds for education. In Proceedings: 4th Annual Virtual Reality Conference and Exposition. San Jose, CA.

National Academy of Sciences. (1994). National science education standards. Washington, DC: Author.

National Education Commission on Time and Learning. (1994). Prisoners of time (Stock #065-00000640-5). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Science Teachers Association. (1993). Scope, sequence, & coordination: The content core. Arlington, VA: Author.

Natural Science for Youth Foundation. (1990). Natural science centers: directory. ERIC Document Retrieval Service No. ED 319 619. Also available from: Natural Science for Youth Foundation, 130 Azalea Drive, Roswell, GA 30075 ($49.95 plus $3.50 shipping and handling).

Oh, Deer! [Computer software]. (1983). St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium.

Rescue at Boone's Meadow [Optical media]. (1992). Learning Technology Center. Warren, NJ: Optical Data Corp.

Roth, W. M. (1992). Bridging the gap between school and real life: Toward an integration of science, mathematics, and technology in the context of authentic practice. School Science and Mathematics, 92 (6), 307-317.

Scarnati, J. T. (1994). Interview with a wild animal: Integrating science and language arts. Middle School Journal, 25 (4), 3-6.

U. S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (1995). Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, OTA-EHR-616 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office).

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