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Teaching Science for Understanding in Elementary and Middle Schools (Print eBook Bundle)

By Wynne Harlen

Teaching science is more challenging than setting up an experiment. Discover why developing understanding is essential in science education and explore practical suggestions for how best to engage students in activities that deepen their curiosity about the world and promote enjoyment of science.

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Full Description

Even though there is an unending supply of science textbooks, kits, and other resources, the practice of teaching science is more challenging than simply setting up an experiment. In Teaching Science for Understanding in Elementary and Middle Schools, Wynne Harlen focuses on why developing understanding is essential in science education and how best to engage students in activities that deepen their curiosity about the world and promote enjoyment of science.

Teaching Science for Understanding in Elementary and Middle Schools centers on how to build on the ideas your students already have to cultivate the thinking and skills necessary for developing an understanding of the scientific aspects of the world, including:

  • helping students develop and use the skills of investigation
  • drawing conclusions from data through analyzing, interpreting, and explaining
  • creating classrooms that encourage students to explain and justify their thinking
  • asking productive questions to support students’ understanding.

Through classroom vignettes, examples, and practical suggestions at the end of each chapter, Wynne provides a compelling vision of what can be achieved through science education…and strategies that you can implement in your classroom right now.

(click any section below to continue reading)


Foreword by Page Keeley


Chapter 1
Teaching science: why? and what?

Chapter 2 How should we teach science?

Chapter 3 Taking students' ideas seriously

Chapter 4 Teachers' and students' questions

Chapter 5 Students raising questions and planning inquiries

Chapter 6 Students gathering information

Chapter 7 Students analyzing, interpreting and explaining

Chapter 8 Students communicating, arguing and reflecting

Chapter 9 Formative assessment in science

Chapter 10 Formative evaluation science learning opportunities

In Depth

This book focuses on what teachers do in classrooms, how they interact with students, the questions they ask, the discussions they stimulate, and how they build on students’ ideas and promote the development of skills that are needed in developing understanding of the scientific aspects of the world.

This close focus on practical advice for the classroom teacher has influenced the selection of topics covered in the book. There is, for example, nothing about selecting, storing, and maintaining equipment, or school curriculum development, or keeping records, and only a little about school science organization, testing, and using computer technology. So, what is to be found in this book? This introduction gives a brief outline of the ten chapters, each of which begins with an overview of its content and ends with action points—practical suggestions for teachers. In Chapters 5 through 8, the action points include examples of teachers’ questions designed to stimulate students’ use and development of inquiry skills.

We end with a short conclusion in the form of eight principles that underpin the approach taken in the book and provide a rationale for what we have, and have not, included. Having these principles in mind may also be useful to teachers and school leaders in making their decisions about how to teach for understanding in science.



“We have a long history of drawing upon Wynne Harlen’s books as a resource for our own staff and teachers in our workshops. Teaching Science for Understanding will be no exception. This book comes at just the right time, as teachers are being encouraged to re-examine current approaches to science instruction. From providing models for learning science, practical approaches to doing investigations and communicating about them, and the role of formative assessment, Harlen offers a comprehensive view of science teaching. Wise and thoughtful advice is offered in a very accessible way. This book should be in every educator’s library”

—Lynn Rankin, Director, Institute for Inquiry, Exploratorium

“In previewing Wynne’s book I found myself wishing I still taught science methods at Arizona State University. This complete book about science teaching and learning could be the basis for any methods course. Easy to read and comprehend with very explicit examples, it will be foundational for classroom teachers as they journey from novice teacher of science to expert.”

—Jo Anne Vasquez, Ph.D., Past President of the National Science Teachers Association, author of STEM Lesson Essentials

Teaching Science for Understanding is a comprehensive, exquisitely written guide and well-illustrated resource for high quality teaching and learning of inquiry-based science. Using vivid, familiar classroom contexts as points of departure it takes the teacher on delightful science teaching and learning journeys/expeditions that demonstrate gainful immersion of students in firsthand concrete and intellectual experiencing of all science inquiry skills. It is a masterpiece on the science teaching power of well-functioning partnerships among students, materials, and teachers in science classrooms…many science teachers will rightly regard this book as a best friend who never ceases to provide unparalleled good advice on practically all facets of teaching science.”

—Hubert M. Dyasi, Ph.D., Retired Professor of City College and City University of New York

“Harlen provides proof of concept that science can work in an elementary classroom.  Her inclusion of the rationale for specific ideas, skills, and even attitudes into science education provides a research-based context for moving elementary science from ‘supplement’ to ‘staple.’”

—Fred Ende, Asst. Director of Curriculum and former Director of SCIENCE 21, PNW BOCES, Yorktown Heights, NY

“Teaching Science for Understanding in Elementary and Middle Schools provides practical advice for classroom teachers so that they can make changes in their practice to more effectively lead science instruction. Wynne Harlen's work encourages teachers to foster and develop both the students' inquiry skills, as well as the conceptual changes necessary for students to ultimately have a deeper understanding of science.”

—Jessica Hinchcliffe, teacher, Hampton, NH