Teaching Science: What Works?

It is quite easy to be impressed by innovations in education. After all, how something should be taught can be a lucrative business venture. Like any advertisement, learning resources and methodologies can be promoted by appealing to some sort of common sense. Take teaching science as an example. Providing students with kits that they could actually touch, see, hear and smell seems like a guaranteed way of learning science. After all, how could "hands-on learning" fail? It must simply work. Right? Well, education must be treated like medicine. There needs to be evidence.

To illustrate why research-based evidence is important in education, we could explore one example: the Full Option Science System.

Above copied from FOSS Introduction

An example of a module from FOSS is the following:

To view the description of this module, click here
Looking at all the components inside this specific module brings one to the obvious conclusion that this is indeed comprehensive. Compared to the learning modules provided by the Philippines' DepEd for science in its new K+12 curriculum, FOSS is simply way above. It comes with everything one could possibly imagine. And of course, it comes with equipment. It is "hands on learning". 

However, the question remains. Does it work? In this month's issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Slavin and coworkers review research on educational outcomes of several approaches to teaching science in elementary schools, including FOSS:

Slavin, R. E., Lake, C., Hanley, P. and Thurston, A. (2014), Experimental evaluations of elementary science programs: A best-evidence synthesis. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 51: 870–901. doi: 10.1002/tea.21139
In case, you miss the important sentence in the above abstract, here it is again, in bold:
Among studies evaluating inquiry-based teaching approaches, programs that used science kits did not show positive outcomes on science achievement measures (weighted ES = +0.02 in 7 studies), but inquiry-based programs that emphasized professional development but not kits did show positive outcomes (weighted ES = +0.36 in 10 studies).
What this implies is that the teacher remains at the heart of learning. To understand further what these findings mean, Slavin and coworkers write:
...the programs that focus primarily on improving daily instruction on all objectives, not just those that are the focus of provided science materials, may help teachers teach the entire range of science objectives more effectively. That is, a teacher who learns to make effective, daily use of cooperative learning, or conceptually challenging content, or science-reading integration, can take advantage of these new skills every day, for every objective. Elementary science teachers need to develop pedagogical content knowledge, which means knowing how to make science content meaningful, useful, and engaging....
It shows why it is important to demand evidence. It is only through research-based evidence that we may find what really counts in education....