Students should learn science through experiments such as setting up a chemical reactions and measuring electric current and not by memorising from a textbook, according to new national standards.
The science standards, devised by a group of teachers, scientists and school administrators, are designed to serve as voluntary guidelines but are expected to be widely in use by as early as next autumn.
They urge teachers to make science more exciting, and to cultivate their students' curiosity.
"The child actually starts in a more creative way, but as we push them through the rigours of 12 years in school, we have a tendency to shut that down, " said Gerry Wheeler, director of the National Science Teachers' Association.
American students have shown steady improvement in maths and science test scores since a 1982 report A Nation at Risk revealed they were far behind their European and Asian counterparts.
But the National Research Council, the quasi-governmental agency that co-ordinated the review of standards, said too many schools continue to teach science through rote learning. "We have a long way to go," said Mr Wheeler.