The study of educational practices in mathematics, science, and technology considers the social, psychological, economic, and political forces that affect career choice and cognitive understanding of those subject areas. The field involves the development of theories and methods that explore how students learn complex topics in the sciences and engineering. Many products of research in technology apply theories and methods of psychology, education, political science, engineering, and all sciences as well as of sociology. The subject areas of mathematics, science, and technology are considered priority areas for study because the knowledge can affect economic production and invention. Moreover, these subjects are the domain of school learning rather than home learning in all countries.
The study of mathematics, science, and technology education has become an established body of research leading to greater efficiencies in the teaching, learning, and public understanding of those topics (Kilpatrick 1992). Researchers apply theoretical and methodological foundations of sociology (as well as insights from other behavioral disciplines such as education, anthropology, and psychology) to understand student performance, teaching practices, adult understanding, and behavior of large organizations. The study of a single set of ”content areas” such as mathematics and science is not a common frame of reference for researchers from social sciences because it requires a specific knowledge of the disciplines as well as knowledge of the social forces that affect behavior. Thus, persons trained in the physical and mathematical sciences at some point in their careers dominate the study of mathematics, science, and technology education.
Sociologists participate in research on the content areas of mathematics and science by examining student career paths, teacher careers, cognitive learning, student motivation, school curriculum, international comparisons, college enrollment, technological applications, and demographic characteristics of enrollment. Thus expertise of sociologists in such areas as demography, community systems, organizational behavior, race relations, social stratification, interpersonal behavior, and educational institutions in particular is found throughout studies of mathematics and science education.
American elementary, secondary, and college student participation in mathematics, science, and technology education has been a concern of national policy since World War II, when it appeared as though US scientists might not be able to keep up with scientific developments in other parts of the world after the war. The launching of Sputnik in 1957 was especially troubling because it confirmed fears that the American educational system was behind the development of science and mathematics in other countries. It also spurred further Congressional funding of mathematics and science education.
Vannevar Bush (1945) urged Congress to establish the National Science Foundation in 1950 to increase domestic financial support for scientific research and scientific and techno logical education. Congressional committees have provided financial support for research in science, mathematics, and technology education through many federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute for Standards in Technology, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education (see National Science Board 2000). These agencies support basic research in the sciences as well as research and educational practices in science, mathematics, and technology (engineering).
The public (adult) understanding of science is also a matter of significant study and measurement (National Science Board 2000; Miller 2004). Studies of public understanding of scientific and mathematical principles have developed statistical surveys of popular understanding and have created theoretical frameworks for describing national and international trends in scientific understanding. These surveys have shown that the American public is not well informed about some areas of science. For example, only half of the US population correctly understood how long it takes for the earth to circle the sun.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) conducts many regular syntheses of research in many aspects of teaching and learning of science, mathematics, and technology through the National Research Council. Some recent major studies focus on how people learn, mathematics education, science education reform, children’s health, and student motivation. The NAS conducts studies through a series of review committees of scholars in all fields that analyze the literature of a problem area. These analyses involve the work of sociologists who contribute background on the theory of social behavior as well as methodological experience with data for large social systems as well as smaller classrooms.
The study of mathematics, science, and technology education is conducted in every country of the world because the scientific manpower is considered a necessary asset to productivity. Comparative studies of the performance of elementary and secondary students in mathematics and science are conducted regularly by two international organizations. The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) has produced detailed studies of student performance since 1966 and its databases are available to others for research (see the IEA website, https://www.iea.nl/). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regularly conducts studies of careers and student performance and publishes reports from its French office in Paris. Moreover, the UNESCO office in Paris regularly collects statistical summaries of the production of graduates for each field of study for secondary and tertiary institutions in all countries. These studies have identified differences in subject matter curriculum emphasis and aspects of teacher training as important factors in explaining large differences in student achievement in these subject areas across countries. The studies also have included analysis of basic student social conditions that accompany student performance such as time spent on entertainment, the use of computers and calculators, availability of books and supplies, the contribution of textbooks to learning, the educational level of parents, and income level.
International comparative studies of student achievement in mathematics, science, and technology have been conducted through surveys of students and teachers that include questions about student motivation, cognitive understanding, and social background. More recent methodological approaches have used video analysis of classroom behavior across a number of countries to establish classroom level descriptions of differences in teacher and student performance (Stigler & Hiebert 1999). These studies have shown that no single aspect of teaching, student behavior, or extended use of computers in class rooms is associated with high average country performance in mathematics, science, or reading. Studies of technology in classrooms have
shown that the United States is not always the leading country in applying technology to class room instruction. The IEA study of information in education found that technology innovations have limited impact on classrooms or schools. In the schools where innovations have been both disseminated and continued, continuation depended on the energy and commitment of individual teachers, student support, the perceived value for the innovation, availability of teacher professional development opportunities, and administrative support.
The field of mathematics and science education is largely composed of research by educational psychologists and educational practitioners attempting to solve practical problems about classroom presentation, curriculum organization, and teacher preparation. Many researchers begin their careers in one of the physical or mathematical sciences and then become interested in conducting formal research on student and teacher behavior. Committees of the National Academy of Sciences and funding programs of the National Science Foundation encourage collaboration between researchers in physical and mathematical science disciplines and those from social sciences disciplines.
Sociological theories of social behavior such as social stratification, gender relations, race and ethnicity, organizational behavior, family participation, rural sociology, and sociology of education are all present in significant studies on the conditions of mathematics and science education. The methods employed by sociologists for demographic analysis, survey research, statistical analysis, case studies, and interviews are the basic techniques used by all researchers of school practices. The development of particular methods that suit the needs of research areas has also occurred, such as in the application of multilevel models of statistical analysis to understanding the learning of mathematics by students in schools or classrooms. The field of sociology has also contributed to the development of methods for displaying statistical indicators of significant educational activities (Porter & Gamoran 2000). It has also contributed to understanding of the study of career development in mathematics, science, and technology (Mortimer & Shanahan 2003).
Kilpatrick examined the history of research on mathematics education and has found evidence that it has been a ”disciplined inquiry” (Cronbach & Suppes 1969) that may not involve empirically tested hypotheses, but is scholarly, public, and open to critique and refutation. Mathematics education became a recognized area of study in the nineteenth century at Teachers College. More recent research efforts in mathematics education are likely to involve experimental designs about the uses of technology in the classroom.
Science educators have been concerned with the pipeline for science and engineering, arguing that the human resource pool is refined through a series of stages and that it is at a maximum level of popularity in the elementary grades. They noted that ”leakage” of interest in science is especially visible in the middle school grades. They were also concerned with the cultural factors that condition the opportunity to learn science and the motivation to engage in doing science. The increase in the number of minorities who continued into higher classes of secondary school also needed special attention to continue engagement in science disciplines.
Since 1950, the US government has been concerned with appropriate production of scientists and engineers through the US educational system. Vannevar Bush’s ”Report to the President” emphasized the bipartisan nature of federal funding for science and established the principle that federal support of research in universities is necessary for the production of knowledge, innovation, and trained personnel for the nation’s workforce.
The current emphasis area of research for funding agencies is to increase the integration of all sciences into the study of learning science and mathematics principles. The multidisciplinary study of educational practices includes researchers working together on the same pro jects from two or more different and diverse disciplines. Researchers may work together from neural sciences, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, behavioral psychology, social psychology, natural sciences, as well as sociology and anthropology.
New theories and research methods are needed that address the social construction of learning complex topics in mathematics and science. How do student interaction and cognitive knowledge of mathematics inter act? Psychologists and psychometricians have developed theoretical frameworks of the science content areas (see National Assessment of Educational Progress), cognitive tests of the areas, and statistical models of individual differences. But few of these indicators include aspects of student interaction with other students and teachers or information about the contexts in which students learn and remember science and mathematics.
Research currently is developing a more sophisticated understanding of how group membership and social networks interact, affecting student careers choice and retention of cognitive knowledge in mathematics and science. The analysis of international comparisons on student achievement provides insights into cultural differences, but few of these studies have provided entirely new frameworks for understanding student motivation and cognitive learning as might be required to ultimately explain individual differences in achievement. Current research areas also include the relationship between individuals, disciplinary knowledge, and machines (computers) to better explain how modern technology alters the nature of science and mathematics and thus instructional requirements. Studies are under way to examine whether virtual experience with science studies substitutes for laboratory experience.
The study of mathematics, science, and technology education requires the collection of data from students and teachers as they are in the process of teaching and learning. New techniques for capturing and analyzing in situation behavior, such as video analysis, are being developed and promise to provide new insights into student behavior and performance. Measures that capture the many dimensions of student achievement also need to be developed more fully. New statistical modeling and data collection techniques promise to provide many future opportunities for discovering new relationships between student and teacher behavior.
Measurement of student achievement in the United States has focused greatly on the development of paper and pencil tests of cognitive memory on mathematics and science topics. Cognitive learning, however, has social aspects that have yet to be captured in these models. Sociologists need to develop methods of capturing networks of interactions between students, families, peers, and teachers that help explain when and why students are able to retain and use mathematics and science knowledge in some settings but not in others. This will require the application and development of new data collection techniques and mathematical models of interpersonal behavior.
- Bush, V. (1945) Report to the President on a Program for Postwar Scientific Research. Science The Endless Frontier (July).
- Cronbach, L. J. & Suppes, P. (1969) Research for Tomorrow’s Schools: Disciplined Inquiry for Educa ion. Macmillan, London.
- Gamoran, A., Anderson, C. W., Quiroz, P. A., Secada, W. G., Williams, T., & Ashmann, S. (2003) Transforming Teaching in Math and Science: How Schools and Districts Can Support Change. Teachers College Press, New York.
- Grouws, D. (Ed.) (1992) Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Macmillan, New York, pp. 3-38.
- Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R., Garnier, H., Givvin, K. B., Hollingsworth, H., Jacobs, J., et al. (2003) Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study. NCES 2003-013. US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC.
- Kilpatrick, J. (1992) A History of Research in Mathematics Education. In: Grouws, D. (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Macmillan, New York, pp. 3-38.
- Miller, J. D. (2004) Public Understanding of, and Attitudes toward, Scientific Research: What We Know and What We Need to Know. Public Understanding of Science 13: 273-94.
- Mortimer, J. & Shanahan, M. (Eds.) (2003) Handbook of the Life Course. Kluwer Academic/Plenum, New York.
- National Science Board (2000) Science and Technoly Policy: Past and Prologue. A Companion to Science and Engineering Indicators 2000. National Science Foundation, NSB 0087. Online. https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2000/nsb0087/nsb0087.pdf
- Plomp, T., Anderson, R. E., Law, N., & Quale, A. (Eds.) (2003) Cross National Policies and Practices on Information and Communication Technology in Education. Information Age Publishing, Greenwich, CT.
- Porter, A. & Gamoran, A. (Eds.) (2000) Methodological Advances in Cross National Surveys of Educational Achievement. National Research Council, Washington, DC.
- Stigler, J. W. & Hiebert, J. (1999) The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom. Free Press, New York.