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Powerful Ideas of Science and How to Teach Them

reviewed by Xavier Fazio - September 20, 2021

coverTitle: Powerful Ideas of Science and How to Teach Them
Author(s): Jasper Green
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0367188686, Pages: 236, Year: 2020
Search for book at Amazon.com

Powerful Ideas of Science and How to Teach Them, by Jasper Green, presents a refreshing look at how scientific ideas in biology, chemistry, and physics can be taught by meaningfully linking the aims of science education with powerful scientific or disciplinary ideas using evidence-based pedagogical practices. The book is organized into five sections. Section 1 focuses on the aims for school science education and identifies core disciplinary scientific ideas apropos for science education. Section 2 examines the science of learning and how this can be applied to teaching science in classrooms. Section 3 looks at lesson planning, bearing in mind disciplinary scientific ideas and their progression. Section 4 introduces instructional approaches in consideration of cognitive science-based teaching principles. Section 5 highlights the importance of assessment in teaching science, and presents a reflective summary by the author along with a lesson planning template.


The book is visibly aimed at giving an introductory overview of science curriculum, teaching, and learning for pre-service or novice middle and secondary science teachers. The ideas presented in the book are based on Jasper Green’s experience working in schools and initial teacher education in the UK. The book’s primary thesis is that science teachers’ expertise in the scientific knowledge being taught in schools is associated with how effectively students learn science in classrooms. This important educational principle is referred to as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), first coined by Lee Shulman three decades ago in the U.S. (Garritz, 2015), and is closely related to subject-matter didactics, which serves as an organizer for science teacher education and curriculum development in many European countries (Arnold, 2012). In this vein, Green identifies 13 scientific disciplinary ideas from the traditional domains of biology, chemistry, and physics. While not meant to be an exhaustive list of scientific ideas, Green cleverly introduces each of these scientific topics alongside ideas of how to plan and teach them. Further, these teaching approaches are aligned with cognitive science principles, such as cognitive load and retrieval practices, or Green identifies scientific knowledge with important science teaching principles that explicitly address the nature of science and scientific inquiry, and even considers how these topics can be used for emotional and motivational engagement so as to make science relevant for students. Green’s attempt to bridge instructional theory and science curriculum is written in a manner that conveys to prospective science teachers some of the vibrancy that teaching science can bring to students when highlighting powerful ideas of science.

As a science teacher educator and researcher, at times I was surprised by the straightforwardness of the book. Often I would be talking to myself, prompting the author, as I was reading: “What about this big idea in science?” and “Why did you not mention this research idea or teaching approach?” For example, in Section 1, the powerful biological idea of genetic inheritance is introduced to elaborate about the nature and history of science as well as its modern applications (e.g., Gregor Mendel, DNA structure, gene mutations, and cancer). Yet current understanding of scientific and engineering practices, and the potential controversial nature of this topic in society (e.g., genetic engineering), goes well beyond learning the substantive knowledge of genetic inheritance and evokes science instruction that novice science teachers should be prepared to implement in classrooms. While Green does acknowledge the complex nature of teaching and learning science, presenting this as a reflection at the end of the book may oversimplify this complexity for novice science teachers.  

I agree with Green’s premise that science education should not be strictly aimed towards science students in a functional manner; rather, science education should also offer intrinsic value and citizenship opportunities for all science students to impact society. To this aim, if the goal of science for all is to be achieved, then equity, diversity, and inclusion in science education must be a priority for science educators. One way forward is to consider culturally responsive pedagogies in science education (e.g., Brown, 2017). A welcome addition to this book would be to link the powerful ideas of the various science disciplines using culturally relevant approaches.

There are many science “methods” books for initial teacher education. What many of these books do not emphasize is the important relationship between curriculum, pedagogy, and the powerful ideas of science itself. This is accomplished in Green’s book in an engaging and concise manner that many novice teachers would find exciting to read. While not a corpus on science teacher education, Jasper Green’s Powerful Ideas of Science and How to Teach Them is a great supplement to any science teacher education curriculum because it provides a vital foundation for beginning science teachers’ development of competencies that effectively link subject matter, teaching, and learning for their future science students.


Arnold K. H. (2012). Didactics, didactic models and learning. In N. M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the sciences of learning. Springer.

Brown, J. C. (2017). A metasynthesis of the complementarity of culturally responsive and inquiry-based science education in K-12 settings: Implications for advancing equitable science teaching and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(9), 1143–1173.

Garritz A. (2015). Pedagogical content knowledge. In R. Gunstone (Ed.), Encyclopedia of science education. Springer.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 20, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23844, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 5:49:11 PM

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About the Author
  • Xavier Fazio
    Brock University
    E-mail Author
    XAVIER FAZIO, Ph.D., is a professor of Science and Environmental Sustainability Education at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. Professor Fazio’s research is focused on science and environmental sustainability education, science teacher education and development, curriculum and assessment in science education. Currently, he is leading a multi-year grant examining how to connect school science to local communities using place-based perspectives to better promote meaningful engagement for science students.
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