The Efficacy of Student-Centered Instruction in Supporting Science Learning

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Science  05 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6103, pp. 105-108
DOI: 10.1126/science.1223709

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Puzzling Through Gravity

Much of the excitement of scientific discovery seems to get lost when science is taught as facts by lectures. Granger et al. (p. 105) present a large study of outcomes comparing inquiry-based teaching with more traditional teaching methods. Over 2000 students were involved, in 125 classrooms of 4th- and 5th-graders. The classes studied space-science with a curriculum that uses models and evidence to entice students into improving their own understanding of the science. Students who were encouraged to use evidence to support their models seemed to develop improved knowledge of content.


Transforming science learning through student-centered instruction that engages students in a variety of scientific practices is central to national science-teaching reform efforts. Our study employed a large-scale, randomized-cluster experimental design to compare the effects of student-centered and teacher-centered approaches on elementary school students’ understanding of space-science concepts. Data included measures of student characteristics and learning and teacher characteristics and fidelity to the instructional approach. Results reveal that learning outcomes were higher for students enrolled in classrooms engaging in scientific practices through a student-centered approach; two moderators were identified. A statistical search for potential causal mechanisms for the observed outcomes uncovered two potential mediators: students’ understanding of models and evidence and the self-efficacy of teachers.

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