• Science instruction in Readington Township is firmly rooted in the belief that all children are innately inquisitive and creative in examining the world around them. Teachers support this innate curiosity by providing children with many opportunities to explore and ask questions about specific phenomena that they and the children can observe and manipulate. The strategy that teachers use to build scientific understanding and to teach the process of scientific investigation is called inquiry. Inquiry is the building block of scientific investigation and is the work that scientists do: they ask questions, explore possible answers by observing and manipulating phenomenon, record their observations, determine if their questions were answered, and ask yet another question. Inquiry-based science instruction is grounded in research, supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is the hallmark of good science education.

    In 1985, the American Association for the Advancement of Science began Project 2061. Its purpose was to reform science education and to make recommendations for creating science programs in grades K–12. These program changes would result in the development of a scientifically literate population, a population that would understand the place of science, mathematics, and technology in the world. The number, 2061, refers to the date when Halley’s comet will next appear. The organization has published two documents that parents who are interested in studying the recommendations directly might find informative. The first is entitled ‘Science for All Americans’; the second is ‘Benchmarks for Science Literacy’. Both of these publications were used by the State of New Jersey to develop the core content science standards. They were also studied by teachers, community members, and administrators as they developed the Readington Township science curriculum.

    In the primary grades, teachers explore a set of topics with the children and encourage them to pose questions about what they observe and to make predictions about what the answers to their questions might be. Under the guidance of the teacher, the children investigate possible answers and learn to use the tools of science: instruments to measure; paper and pencil to record observations and data; more questions to ask. Rather than a series of isolated lessons, science instruction is integrated throughout the day and the week. Science inquiry becomes a way of thinking about the world and generates interesting and engaging class discussions. The study of science also encourages the children to use their developing literacy skills of reading and writing for a purpose: to write questions, to record information, and to share their observations with each other.

    The district curriculum is based on national and state standards and its implementation has been supported by some of the best staff training available in the country. Because of the district’s involvement with the MERCK Institute for Science Education, the primary teachers in Readington Township have been trained by experts in science and science teaching. Six years ago, fifteen teachers from the district began a three-year program of intensive work in science instruction and in leadership. Each summer for three years, they attended three weeks of classes and studied each strand of science: life, earth, and physical science. They learned the content of science and experienced the inquiry process as learners in a classroom. They examined the qualities that make good leaders and learned how to mentor and support their fellow teachers. Throughout each of those years, these leader/teachers continued to study with MERCK instructors and provided the staff and the principals with support as the new science curriculum was developed and implemented. Three summers ago, MERCK expanded its summer training program to include all elementary teachers. Almost every teacher in the primary classrooms has attended one week of summer training each summer. Each teacher has studied units specific to his or her grade level, and has experienced, first-hand, inquiry-based science instruction. MERCK institute staff and scientists have also worked with all teachers during the last four school years to support classroom instruction.

     Children’s experiences in the primary grades establish the foundation for future learning. Because they have the benefit of well-trained teachers who see science inquiry as an integrated way of thinking about the world, our children will be well-equipped for the future. The content of science is changing more quickly than it can be written down. By developing in children the ability to think, ask questions, and investigate, we have begun to develop the skills that they need to become science literate adults.