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Minding the Knowledge Gap

The Knowledge Gap
Many elementary science textbooks do not provide scientific vocabulary, leaving students without the foundational language of science to succeed in middle school, high school, and college science courses. 

This lack of scientific literacy in science textbooks creates a knowledge gap. 

Most textbook publishers focus on science concepts that do not teach science in a logically sequenced way, leaving students unable to define basic science terms in middle school and beyond.

Reviewing Science Textbooks Content
I’ve taken a deep-dive into the content presented to elementary and middle school students by the significant school textbook publishers. The website descriptions look wonderful with phrases such as “ground-breaking spiral learning,” “engineering and design activities to engage all students,” “3D learning model ensures 100% NGSS coverage,” and “using phenomena to engage students in the science and engineering practices.” 

Questions From Administrators and Teachers
When I approach teachers and school administrators to discuss Real Science-4-Kids or RATATAZ products, I get asked if my programs are “NGSS aligned,” “3D”, or “phenomena-based.” 

These buzzwords and phrases now dominate the educational landscape, and you won’t move forward in any conversation if you can’t say that your program checks these boxes.

But what content is in the textbooks?
I already know that elementary textbooks and programs do not introduce basic chemistry and physics concepts, so I decided to look at middle school books.

I purchased a book called Chemical Interactions geared towards grades 6-8 published and created in collaboration with a reputable university. The title suggests that some kids get the foundational cornerstones needed for high school and college.

I was hoping to find a chapter on atoms and molecules because these two are the basis of chemical interaction. Instead, I see a series of chapters introducing matter, elements, substances, and particles.

Confusing Definitions

In the Particles chapter, the authors explain: We will use particles to describe the smallest piece of any substance that is still that substance.

This definition is confusing because the smallest piece of substance involved in a chemical interaction that is still that substance is the atom. The word atom is specific to the concept of “the smallest unit of a substance” in a chemical interaction.  The word particle can be confused with other types of particles. A particle can be anything like sand or dust, and physicists use it to define subatomic particles, not atoms in a chemical interaction!

The word atom defines something concrete and universally understood by all scientists, and this word will be used in high school and college-level science courses. Chemists call them atoms, so students and educators should, too.

Why worry about these small language details?
If vocabulary is comprehension, then the correct science vocabulary, defined and organized in a way that aids (and does not hinder) understanding, is essential. This convoluted way to introduce an easy-to-understand concept such as the atom contributes to the knowledge gap we see in high school and college students.

Students emerging from middle school into high school and often high school into college do not have the knowledge-base to make sense of the chemistry, physics, and sometimes even the biology that upper-level courses require. 

It is becoming more and more evident that much of the problem is simply rooted in the confusing way science is introduced in the elementary and middle school grades.

Mind The Knowledge Gap
Now that you’re aware of the knowledge gap, you can mind it by using textbooks that provide science vocabulary in elementary and middle school grades.

I am the author and publisher of the Real Science-4-Kids books and curricula and the creator of the RATATAZ method. Real Science-4-Kids books fill the knowledge gap because they offer science vocabulary, logically sequenced so students can build a solid knowledge-based foundation. And RATATAZ takes it one step further by introducing real science vocabulary connected to meaningful science concepts and engaging students by getting them to ask and answer their own questions – just like a real scientist! 

NOTE: I opted not to give the name of the publisher or institution. I believe the materials are created in good faith. I intend not to discredit or disparage any publisher or publishing group

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