Monday, February 17, 2020
US flag

Study: Preschool teachers not proficient in science

Preschool instructors appear to lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to effectively teach their young students science—a problem that is likely contributing to America’s poor global performance in this crucially important subject.

A first-of-its-kind study by Michigan State University researchers found that early childhood educators’ self-reported ability and enjoyment was high for literacy, but much lower for science and math.

Further, while 99 percent of preschool teachers engaged in literacy instruction three to four times a week, that figure fell to 75 percent in math and only 42 percent in science.

Only 38 percent of US fourth-graders were proficient in science in 2015, according to a report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“Providing quality early-childhood science education is one way to improve the very low science achievement of U.S. elementary school children,” said lead author Hope Gerde, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “However, it seems the preschool teachers in our study were more confident of their ability in literacy than in science—likely creating a gap between children’s literacy development and science skills.”

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is published in the journal Early Education and Development.

Editor’s note: I am reporting this story because, despite the clear evidence that preschool teachers make bad science teachers, evidence also shows that preschoolers make the best science learners, as experimentation and scientific testing are second-nature to them. What I mean is that if a preschooler tries something that doesn’t work, they’ll just try something else. They won’t hang onto their beliefs too long past the first failure, unlike many unscientific adults in our world, whose denial of climate change boggles the mind. It’s amazing how much science depends on the willingness of the mind to abandon failed beliefs and continue to seek evidence for how things work, and that is also the perfect description of how preschool minds work.

Gerde and colleagues studied 67 Head Start classrooms for children ages 3 to 5. This early childhood period is a time when kids begin developing knowledge and skills for science, she said, adding that preschool children have the capacity to engage in and learn from scientific thinking.

The study is the first to examine preschool teachers’ “self-efficacy” (their belief in their ability and enjoyment for an academic area) in literacy, math, and science.

Gerde said preschool teachers may struggle with science due to lack of quality training, preparation or an aversion to science. Teachers may also feel pressure from policymakers and school administrators to focus on literacy—to the possible exclusion of science.

Importantly, the study found that only teachers with high knowledge and skills for science—not literacy or math—created quality scientific opportunities for students, such as providing science materials and engaging children in science experiences in the classroom.

“If we are to improve US children’s science learning,” Gerde said, “we must provide quality opportunities, in teacher education programs and professional development offerings, for early childhood teachers to develop knowledge and skills in science.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Most detailed images ever of the sun

A new telescope at the National Solar Observatory snapped the most detailed pictures of the sun's surface we have ever seen.

Feds boost Bay funding

Restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed received a boost in federal funding in the budget Congress passed last month.

Md. & IL bands perform on New Year’s in...

Bands from IL and Md. once again entertained thousands of people who lined the streets of London and Rome on New Year's Day.

Howard Co. sounds an under-staffing alarm

Teachers in a Md. district have filed a grievance over missing planning and lunch periods and, as a result, putting the most vulnerable students at risk.

Top 11 school stories of 2019

We find these 11 stories to have the greatest potential for influencing activity and direction in schools for the near future.

Girls’ volleyball champs in Illinois

We congratulate the Illinois state champions in girls' volleyball: Newark, St Teresa, Sterling, & Benet Academy.

A weekend of ‘band geeks’ across America

The musical Band Geeks was in performance at a MD high school, just as marching bands from across America named a national champion.

2 dead, 3 wounded in Calif. school shooting

Another school shooting has resulted in the death of 2 California high school students. The suspect shot himself and is in custody.

Mercury makes a transit; next in 2032

A transit of Mercury occurred today and was visible from the US, provided you had sunny skies. It was one of longest possible transits.

On the Naperville BWW racist incident

A racist incident at a Naperville, IL, sports bar indicates that the threads of racism are strong, perhaps as strong as ever.

IL bill could excuse absences to vote

A proposed law in IL could give students up to two hours during the school day so they could vote in the upcoming election.