Students of all ages have only a “shallow” understanding of science, concludes a federal study. Students in fourth, eighth and 12th grade were asked to use materials and lab equipment to perform science experiments and to perform interactive computer tasks which “simulated an environmental or laboratory setting.”
Both the hands-on and computer tests asked students to predict what might happen in a particular scientific scenario, make observations about what occurred in the scenarios, and explain the findings of the experiments or investigations they launched.
. . . On average, the students were able to accurately report what was happening in scenarios with limited data, but were challenged by manipulating multiple variables and making decisions as part of running an experiment, according to the findings. Additionally, the numbers of students able to draw the right conclusions in experiments was much higher than the the numbers of students who were able to provide an explanation or justification for their answer based on the findings.
For example, 71 percent of fourth graders could select how volume changes when ice melts, but only 15 percent could explain why that happened using evidence from the experiment.