Teachers as Curriculum Decision Makers: The Selection of Topics for High School Physics

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1999


American schools are now in the second decade of the most recent efforts to reform the way that science is taught in schools. These efforts, which began with the publication of A Nation at Risk,1 have called for a rethinking of what constitutes the teaching and learning of science in schools2 and the reshaping of the secondary science curriculum so that all children study all the sciences every year.3 Most recently they have produced documents—sets of "standards"4 —that describe what children should know as a result of studying science in schools. In addition, there have been attempts to reshape school science so that it takes a perspective called science, technology, and society (STS) to make science more interesting and relevant.5

Although the efforts of several national organizations (e.g., the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science) primarily have been within the realm of policy,6 a second, but related, reform has been brewing. This reform originated in research in cognitive science that has embraced a constructivist philosophy of learning. Constructivists (and this term can be quite inclusive7 ) take the idea that humans construct their understandings of the world and tie it to an educational philosophy that asserts that the best way to encourage constructivism is for children to be active learners. That is, children should participate in the learning process by doing, thinking, speaking, and writing. When implemented, the constructivist pedagogical techniques that encourage active learning consume large amounts of classroom time. As a result, much less content can be "covered" during the academic year. Constructivists claim that the result of these pedagogical techniques is deep conceptual understanding,8 and therefore, although less content is covered, more learning takes place; hence the slogan "less is more."

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, v. 14, issue 3, p. 241-259