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Faculty members

Jonathan Osborne

Jonathan Osborne
Jonathan Osborne
Academic Title 
Other Titles 

Kamalachari Professor of Science Education

Program Affiliations 
CTE: Science Education

Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate

This project is a collaboration with Catherine Snow, and a research team from Harvard and with the Strategic Education Research Partnerships (SERP) group to understand, measure, and test the malleability of three contributors to reading comprehension that are both critical and often neglected: perspective taking, complex reasoning, and academic language skill. With $20 million in funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research team embarked on this project in July 2010. The work is an extension of work that members of this research team have been conducting over the last four years developing a three-year, cross subject area academic language program called Word Generation. The program provides students with weekly opportunities to learn academic vocabulary, view controversial issues from multiple perspectives, engage in debate, and formulate and defend a position in an essay—a set of skills we argue are critical to deep comprehension. The project team will develop learning trajectories for each of the three contributors independently, and determine the extent to which they are interdependent. Researchers will conduct a longitudinal analysis to chart the movement of students along these trajectories with and without targeted interventions. The interventions the project team proposes to develop and evaluate will explore the potential of structured classroom discussion and debate to catalyze the ongoing development and integration of these skills, and their deployment for purposes of “deep comprehension.” The project will utilize the Word Generation program and will focus on 4th through 8th graders attending schools in a set of districts: Boston Public Schools (BPS), other smaller districts in Massachusetts including Brockton and Falmouth, and the San Francisco Public Schools. The team proposes to develop in-depth, 6-week units in science and social studies, which incorporate the Word generation program, for grades 4 through 8. Furthermore they propose to develop and test an approach to improving teachers’ capacity to support productive discussion by: a) providing richer professional development that extends over a longer period of time; b) incorporating strategies for discursive reasoning with text during classroom discussion; c) incorporating knowledge about students’ learning trajectories gleaned from the proposed research into the professional development, with concrete examples of students’ verbal and written production as they become more sophisticated in the targeted skills; and d) providing teachers with formative measures to probe student progress on the targeted skills during discussion. My work for this project was on developing and testing a program of  professional development component for the teaching of reading in science for elementary and middle school teachers of science.  Two major outcomes are  a web site with some of our materials:

And a MOOC called 'Reading to Learn in Science" which is offered by NovoEd and will be run again from Jan 13, 2016 for 12 weeks.

Learning Progressions in Middle School Science Instruction and Assessment

CSET faculty member Jonathan Osborne has collaborated with Professor Mark Wilson, from University of California, Berkeley with the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) to develop and validate new assessments and to validate existing assessments for use in assessing student understandings of science for argumentation in the domain of the structure of matter and argumentation. With $1.5 million in funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research team will embark on this project in July 2010. The project will address the following research questions (1) What is the nature of the learning progression in the content domain of Structure of Matter? (2) What is the nature of the learning progression in students’ ability to reason scientifically in the domain of Structure of Matter and also, generally? And (3) What is the inter-relationship between students’ ability to reason scientifically and their domain specific knowledge? In particular to what extent do the two covary? To address the research questions, project activities will be carried out over a four-year period from July 2010 through June 2014. The work will be organized around the research questions to develop and revise assessment materials for a number of middle school science domains.

Collaborative Research with Lawrence Hall:  Investigating a Practicum Based Model of Professional Development.

This is an NSF Collaborative Research project which is funded by NSF led my Hilda Borko and myself.  The post-doc on the project is Dr Eric Berson.  The project started in 2012 and runs till 2016.  The goal of the research element of the work is to investigate the efficacy of the model of professional development developed by Lawrence Hall.  The focus of the professional development is to develop the skills and competencies of Grade 3-5 teachers to teach science with much more of a focus on argument and evidence. As well as including a one week workshop, the program also includes one week in which participants get to try out the new skills they have been learning with students on a summer school.  The work is developing an observation instrument to evaluate teachers’ ability to engage their students in productive talk around argument, evidence and ideas in science. 

The work is being conducted in a local school district with three cohorts of teachers.  One who receives a one week workshop plus the practicum; another who just receive the one week workshop; and a comparison sample who will not receive the workshop till 2015.   Data from the three sets of teachers will be compared to evaluate what changes, if any, have occurred.

Stanford Next Generation Science Assessment Project (SNAP)

The  goal of this project is to create a blueprint for the assessment of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that can be used by California, and other states at grades 3-5 and grades 6-8. This blueprint will consist of items specifications, exemplar items and criteria for their choice and inclusion and be the outcome of the first year of the project (Phase 1). The second phase will seek to test, trial and gather empirical evidence to support the case for the exemplars, criteria and assessments offered in the blueprint.

The work is important as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provide a significant opportunity to improve the quality of US science and engineering education.  The new standards — with their emphasis on both what we know and how we know — require assessments that help to define those expectations.  Thus, quality assessments are essential to communicating what is expected by curriculum and instruction. Hence, the success of the NGSS will be critically dependent on the production of high-quality exemplar tasks and items that communicate the intent and meaning of the NGSS frameworks. The recently published NRC report on Assessment in Science Education, however, suggests there is very little that exists that is fit for purpose.

The project is led by Dr Jonathan Osborne and Dr Ray Pecheone of SCALE (Stanford Center for Assessment, Equity and Learning.  We are assisted by Dr Helen Quinn who chaired the NAS panel that produced the Framework for K-12 Science Education and chaired the California Science Framework Committee, Dr Jill Wertheim, Dr Susan Schultz, Dr Preetha Ramon, Dr Nicole Holthuis, Anne Ward and Paolo Martin.  The work is generously funded by the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.  Further details can be found at:

My research focus is a mix of work on policy and pedagogy in the teaching and learning of science. In the policy domain, I am interested in exploring students' attitudes to science and how school science can be made more worthwhile and engaging - particularly for those who will not continue with the study of science. In pedagogy, my focus has been on making the case for the role of argumentation in science education both as a means of improving the use of a more dialogic approach to teaching science and improving student understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry. I have worked on four major projects in argumentation.  The first from 1999-2002 was on 'Enhancing the Quality of Argument in School Science Education'. From this we developed the IDEAS (Ideas, Evidence and Argument in Science Education) materials to support teacher professional learning funded by the Nuffield Foundation. From 2007-2010 I was co-PI on the project 'Learning to Teach Ideas, Evidence and Argument in School Science' which explored how to build teachers competency with the use of this pedagogy in four schools.  Most recently, I have worked with Mark Wilson of UCB on a project to develop and test a learning progression for Argumentation in science.  Some of this work can be found on the website:

My other area of interest in pedagogy is the teaching of reading and the facilitation of discussion.  I have published a book entitled 'Language and Literacy in Science Education' and we are just completing a five year IES funded project - 'Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate' exploring how we can support the teaching of reading in science.  We have developed a web site with some of our materials:

And a MOOC called 'Reading to Learn in Science" which is offered by NovoEd and will be run again from Jan 13, 2016 for 12 weeks.

Finally, much science, if not more, is learned outside the classroom and how young people learn in that environment and what it has to offer formal education is another focus of my work and I was one of the partners in the NSF funded Centre for Informal Learning and Schools (2002-7) and have several publications in this field.

"What matters in learning science is not only what we know but how we know what we know and how that knowledge came to be. Anything less offers only a partial view of the achievements of science."

  • B.Sc Physics Bristol University, 1972
  • Post Graduate Certificate in Education, Cambridge University, 1973
  • Masters in Astrophysics, Queen Mary College, University of London, 1976
  • PhD (Education), King's College, University of London, 1996

Started Jan 1, 2009

9 years of teaching physics and science in high schools (1973-1981)

3 years working as an Advisory Teacher in Inner London Schools (1982-1985)

King's College London

Lecturer in Science Education, (1985-1996)

Senior Lecturer in Science Education, (1996-2000)

Professor of Science Education, (2000-2003)

Chair of Science Education, (2003-2008)

Head of Department of Education and Professional Studies (2005-2008)

  • Policy and Practice in Science Education
  • The Science Curriculum: Values and Ideology in a Contested Terrain
  • Science and Environmental Education in Informal Environments
  • Science Teacher Elementary Preparation 267

Osborne, J.F & Dillon, J. (2008) Science Education in Europe. Nuffield Foundation: London.

Chin, C., & Osborne, J. (2008). Students' questions: a potential resource for teaching and learning science. Studies in Science Education, 44(1), 1 - 39.

Chin, C., & Osborne, J. (2010). Supporting Argumentation Through Students' Questions: Case Studies in Science Classrooms. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19(2), 230 - 284.

Osborne, J. (2010). Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse. Science, 328, 463-466.

Osborne, J. F., & Patterson, A. (2011). Scientific argument and explanation: A necessary distinction? Science Education, 95(4), 627-638.

Claussen, Stephanie, & Osborne, Jonathan. (2013). Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital and its implications for the science curriculum. Science Education, 97(1), 58-79.

Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., & Wong, B. (2012). Science Aspirations, Capital, and Family Habitus: How Families Shape Children's Engagement and Identification With Science. American Educational Research Journal, 49(5), 881-908.

Osborne, Jonathan, Simon, Shirley, Christodoulou, Andri, Howell-Richardson, Christine, & Richardson, Katherine. (2013). Learning to argue: A study of four schools and their attempt to develop the use of argumentation as a common instructional practice and its impact on students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50, 3, 315-347.

Osborne, J.F (2014) Scientific Practices and Inquiry in the Science Classroom in Handbook of Research on Science Education (pp579-5999).  Lederman, N. (Ed) Mawah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Falk, J. H., L. D. Dierking, J. Osborne, M. Wenger, E. Dawson and B. Wong (2015). "Analyzing Science Education in the United Kingdom: Taking a System-Wide Approach." Science Education 99(1): 145-173.

Chair OECD PISA Science Expert Group

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