"Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known; what is not known; to what extent things ARE known (for nothing is known absolutely); how to handle doubt and uncertainty; what the rules of evidence are; how to think about things so that judgments can be made; how to distinguish truth from fraud and from show"

- Richard Feynman

5th grade student works on a science performance assessment





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Since 1999, the Research Group at Caltech's Precollege Science Initiative (CAPSI) in Pasadena, CA has been conducting rigorous research on K-12 science education in the United States. Our unique team of researchers partners with teachers and scientists to study important issues in K-12 science learning and teaching to improve educational practice and policy. We are particularly committed to research that helps all children have access to quality science education in both formal and informal settings.


Our work explores such issues as the different ways children come to be interested in and learn about science; the connections among science, literacy, and technology; how to assess important student learning in science; how to measure classroom practices; how science may be taught more effectively; how scientists and schools can form successful partnerships; and how science reforms can be sustained. Our large- and small-scale research studies, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, are set in a variety of learning environments, from informal learning on the web to the more formal setting of the typical public school classroom. Over 20 districts in eight states have participated in our work, and we are fortunate to have an extensive network of distinguished advisors and colleagues across the country. Our studies use both quantitative and qualitative methods to understand the deep complexities of science teaching and learning.



  • Sustainability of Elementary Inquiry Science – In collaboration with the Education Development Center in Newton, MA, a study of factors that affect the sustainability of elementary grade science reforms.
  • Assessing Inquiry Science – A study of classroom practices and student learning in different elementary science education curricula, including hands-on inquiry and textbook-based programs.
  • Science Notebooks —A study of how use of notebooks in elementary inquiry science classes can enhance student understanding and writing in science, and how learning to use notebooks affects teachers' classroom practices.
  • Whygirls – A study of why adolescent girls are interested in a science-oriented educational web site,, and the opportunities to learn science provided there.  
  • Is Science Me? – A longitudinal study of the development of students' interest in science as a possible college major and career field (particularly among girls and under-represented minorities) from 7th grade into the first year of college.

The CAPSI Research Group is part of the Caltech Pre-College Science Initiative (CAPSI), a nonprofit research and development organization established in the early 1980s through the efforts of two Caltech professors, Drs. Jerry Pine and Jim Bower. CAPSI has developed internationally known K-12 inquiry science curricula, professional development programs for teachers, and a teacher enhancement center to support science education reforms in many California school districts.


The CAPSI Research Group collaborates with Caltech and JPL scientists in various research and evaluation efforts, including the Center for Neuromorphic Engineering Systems. We also offer intern positions for students and recent graduates from Caltech and other local colleges and universities to learn about science education research through first-hand participation.


We have been very fortunate to work with extremely dedicated science educators in over 22 public school districts around the country as well as generous advisors from many corporations, universities and other organizations, including the Aerospace Corporation, Cal State University at Long Beach, the Children's Center for Learning and Technology, Columbia University, the Dial Corporation, Horizon Inc., the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), Northwestern, San Diego State University, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, University of Chicago, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, and University of Southern California.

Why science?


Learning science helps children to develop ways of understanding the world around them. For this they have to build up concepts which help them link their experiences together; they must learn ways of gaining and organizing information and of applying and testing ideas. This contributes not only to children's ability to make better sense of things around them, but prepares them to deal more effectively with wider decision-making and problem-solving in their lives. Science is as basic a part of education as numeracy and literacy; it daily becomes more important as the complexity of technology increases and touches every part of our lives.

                                                                                                  …Wynn Harlan


(W. Harlan (ed.), 1985, Primary Science: Taking the Plunge , Oxford: Heinemann Educational, p.2.)




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