How We Teach Science: What's Changed, and Why It Matters

How We Teach Science: What's Changed, and Why It Matters

by John L. Rudolph


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A former Wisconsin high school science teacher makes the case that how and why we teach science matters, especially now that its legitimacy is under attack.

Why teach science? The answer to that question will determine how it is taught. Yet despite the enduring belief in this country that science should be taught, there has been no enduring consensus about how or why.

This is especially true when it comes to teaching scientific process. Nearly all of the basic knowledge we have about the world is rock solid. The science we teach in high schools in particular—laws of motion, the structure of the atom, cell division, DNA replication, the universal speed limit of light—is accepted as the way nature works. Everyone also agrees that students and the public more generally should understand the methods used to gain this knowledge. But what exactly is the scientific method?

Ever since the late 1800s, scientists and science educators have grappled with that question. Through the years, they’ve advanced an assortment of strategies, ranging from “the laboratory method” to the “five-step method” to “science as inquiry” to no method at all. How We Teach Science reveals that each strategy was influenced by the intellectual, cultural, and political circumstances of the time. In some eras, learning about experimentation and scientific inquiry was seen to contribute to an individual’s intellectual and moral improvement, while in others it was viewed as a way to minimize public interference in institutional science.

John Rudolph shows that how we think about and teach science will either sustain or thwart future innovation, and ultimately determine how science is perceived and received by the public.

Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education - Jennifer Schnellmann

Rudolph’s excellent description of early science instruction is especially relevant today because we have not advanced much in this regard. We are frankly miserable at teaching science to students, even in the face of the most momentous technological achievements in human history…We must, as Rudolph encourages us, modify our errors in science education, emphasizing its absolute relevance to our existence.

Technical Communication - Patrick Lufkin

Well researched and informative…Anyone interested in science education and public policy should find much of value…No program for reshaping science teaching should be attempted without a solid knowledge of what has gone before. For that knowledge, you are unlikely to find a better source than Rudolph’s book.


Offers insight into science education’s gradual transition from the laboratory method of the late 19th century to the current Next Generation Science Standards…Importantly, Rudolph also examines how these methods have variously failed to contribute to scientific literacy and how educators and reformers might move forward in the future.

Science - Christopher J. Phillips

Rudolph is…laser focused on the ‘how’ of the science classroom—how its practice varies across time, how its meaning is debated by reformers, and how its role in education shifts as schools themselves change. And for that discussion there is no better guide.

Jonathan Zimmerman

Why should we teach science? And how should we teach it? John Rudolph provides our first thorough history of the many ways that American educators have imagined—and instructed—science over the past century. At a moment when ‘STEM’ fields have become almost a fetish in American culture and education, I hope we can pause long enough to ask ourselves why. Nobody will be able to frame a good answer without first consulting this masterful book.

Richard Duschl

How We Teach Science is a provocative interrogation into the teaching of the scientific method. Weaving a tapestry of influences on policy and practice, John Rudolph delivers an insightful historical examination of the oscillating institutional goals for science education, highlighting social tensions surrounding teaching the natural sciences during the twentieth century.

David Kaiser

Scientific research has changed a great deal over the past century, but the ways that students have learned about science have changed even more dramatically. In this engaging and wide-ranging study, historian John Rudolph traces enormous pedagogical shifts, the aspirations behind them, and why they matter for scientists and citizens today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674919341
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 06/01/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,215,844
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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