Instructional Pedagogies

The FOSS program uses several instructional pedagogies to make science more efficient for teachers and more productive for students.

Inquiry. FOSS investigations are guided by questions. The overarching questions of science are "what's in this world?", and "how does it work?" In FOSS we break them down into discrete subquestions as scientists must, that can be explored effectively. In pursuing answers, students usually start with free exploration of materials, followed by a discussion of their discoveries. Often new questions arise while students seek answers, leading to additional student-motivated inquiries with materials to reinforce and extend concepts.

Hands on Active Learning. It is widely accepted that children learn science concepts best by doing science. Doing science means hands-on experiences with objects, organisms, and systems. Hands-on activities are motivating for students, and they stimulate inquiry and curiosity. For these reasons FOSS is committed to providing the best possible materials and the most effective procedures for getting students deep into scientific concepts. FOSS students investigate, experiment, gather data, organize results, and develop conclusions based on their own actions. The information gathered in such activities enhances the development of scientific ways of thinking.

Multisensory Methods. Observing is often equated with seeing, but in the FOSS, program all five senses are used to promote greater understanding. FOSS evolved from pioneering work done in the 1970s with students with physical disabilities. The legacy of that work is that FOSS investigations naturally use multisensory methods, not only to accommodate students with physical and learning disabilities, but also to maximize information gathering for all students. A number of tools used in the FOSS program, such as the FOSS balance, were originally designed to serve the needs of students with disabilities.

Student-to-Student Interaction. Collaboration is central to the enterprise of science. In FOSS investigations for grades 3-6, students work in groups of four with each member contributing to management, data collection, data analysis, and reporting of results. Individual students' observations and ideas are always incorporated into group decisions. Hands-on science, where students collaborate in planning, action, and information processing, gives students opportunities to develop deep understanding and rich, thoughtful interactions with other points of view.

Students in the early grades are just beginning to work cooperatively toward group goals. They do not always share materials gracefully. We have found that in grades K-2 it is usually best for each student at a table to have his or her own materials to work with. But working in close proximity to other students is important; it allows for easy interchange of ideas and communication of discoveries. We refer to this early-elementary organization as working alone...together.

Discourse and Reflective Thinking. Discourse is tremendous exercise for the mind. Have you considered the immense complexity of converting experiences and ideas into words to be spoken or written? An idea or concept must be synthesized from the innumerable bits of stored information and that concept must then be constructed into a string of symbols we call words, and output in a sequence that conveys information. An awesome cognitive process.

This is the essence of discourse - putting ideas and experiences into words. The process requires a tremendous amount of information processing, internal verification, and validation of what is known. This dimension of elementary science is sometimes referred to as the minds-on approach to science. It simply means science. It simply means that it is not enough just to work with materials—you have to think about what the experience with materials tells you about the world.

Discourse takes several forms in FOSS.

Reading and Research. In science, reading and research extends their experience beyond the limits of the classroom and the FOSS kit; they can enhance their understanding of concepts by exposure to related ideas and they can share in the lives of real and fictitious people who played roles in scientific discovery or applied scientific ideas to life situations. FOSS Science Stories were written to add this dimension to the FOSS program. However, we believe strongly that reading should not be the primary source of science information in the elementary curriculum. The primary source should be personal experience. Carefully selected reading materials, provided after an activity-based foundation is in place, can add a very effective dimension to science learning.

Other research tools recommended in the context of the hands-on activities for students include video excursions, computer software, and the World Wide Web.