While much attention centers around the impact of science instruction on achievement in middle and high school, less research focuses on early elementary exposure to inquiry science and its long-term impact on academic outcomes. As such, Kaderavek and colleagues at the University of Toledo embarked on a longitudinal investigation of one science framework-aligned intervention targeted towards students in grades 1-3. The NURTURES program covers two distinct aspects of a child’s early science experience: classroom-based science inquiry instruction and informal science practice at home. NURTURES teachers take part in a summer institute as well as academic-year professional development to better facilitate inquiry-based science practice and discussion with students. Additionally, to engage students’ families, NURTURES teachers give grade-specific family packs to students four times throughout the academic year. These packs further develop students’ use of science practices (such as hypothesis forming, experimental design, and data collection) while at home. As a final piece of the NURTURES intervention, families are invited to six community events, such as organized visits to science centers, farms, parks, and zoos, designed to further embed families in communities of science.
Backed by evidence of significant impacts in the short term, researchers further probed the longer-term impact of the NURTURES program using a quasi-experimental design, matching students who had a teacher who participated in the NURTURES program with students who had never had a teacher who opted to participate in the NURTURES program. 41 elementary schools in a large, Midwestern urban school district made up the study sample. Any students who were in the school system in grades 1-3 between 2012-2016 were selected for data collection once they reached grade 5. A total of 1588 students were used in the mixed regression model with 434 students having had a NURTURES teacher at least once in grades 1-3 (thereby serving as treatment) and 1154 students serving as control. Researchers found that:
- The treatment group scored significantly higher on the 5th grade science test than their control peers (+0.16).
- Intervention effect is approximately equivalent to the attainment gap between boys and girls. That is, on average, girls from treatment group scored roughly the same of boys in control group.
- Following similar logic, impact of intervention partially ameliorates for the gap between minority and non-minority students’ scores.
One of the limitations is that teachers chose to either participate in NURTURES or not, thereby creating concerns of selection bias. Even with caveats, these findings highlight the importance of early childhood science experiences on later academic achievement and suggest that more time should be dedicated to science instruction in early elementary school.
Source: Kaderavek, J. N., Paprzycki, P., Czerniak, C. M., Hapgood, S., Mentzer, G., Molitor, S., & Mendenhall, R. (2020). Longitudinal impact of early childhood science instruction on 5th grade science achievement. International Journal of Science Education, 42(7), 1124–1143. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2020.1749908