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ERIC Number: EJ833294
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Mar-11
Pages: 3
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0277-4232
"Depth" Matters in High School Science Studies
Cavanagh, Sean
Education Week, v28 n24 p1, 16-17 Mar 2009
This article reports on the findings of a recent study that examines one of the most enduring debates in science instruction--whether "depth" or "breadth" of knowledge is most important. Its authors come down on the side of depth. The study found that high school students who focus more intensely on core topics within their biology, chemistry, and physics classes fared better in beginning college science than those who delved a little bit into a larger list of topics. Observers say those findings could offer direction to developers of science curricula, tests, and textbooks. A central finding is that "breadth-based learning, as commonly applied in high school classrooms, does not appear to offer students any advantage when they enroll in introductory college science courses although it may contribute to scores on standardized tests." Arguments over depth vs. breadth are common across subjects. In science, however, that debate is especially vexing. Numerous scientific organizations and researchers have called for teaching and tests that are more focused on mastery of big topics. In their view, that position is backed up by the opinions of scientific experts and research on cognition and how humans build knowledge. Yet paring down scientific topics, and determining which ones merit the most attention, is not easy. Many textbooks are written to meet the academic standards of multiple states, and as a result, are crammed with information, or "encyclopedic." Teachers also face pressure to prepare students for the questions they will encounter on state-mandated science tests, which are in turn based on the content found in state academic standards.
Editorial Projects in Education. 6935 Arlington Road Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814-5233. Tel: 800-346-1834; Tel: 301-280-3100; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools; Higher Education; Postsecondary Education; Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: Advanced Placement Examinations (CEEB)