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Middle and High School Science Textbooks
A Standards-Based Evaluation

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Does the material convey an overall sense of purpose and direction that is understandable and motivating to students?

Explanation. Part of planning a coherent curriculum involves designing sets of activities and readings that have a comprehensible unity and are motivating for students. This criterion involves examining whether each unit in the material begins with (or presents early on) an overarching question or problem to be addressed by the unit (e.g., "Where does the weight of the log come from?," "Why is it reasonable to find fossils of fish on top of mountains?"); a representation of what will be learned (e.g., a concept map of the main ideas that will be explored); or otherwise identifies a purpose for the students that frames what follows in the unit. Units in which activities are clustered only by "themes" (such as drinks or whales) without being accompanied by an explicit question or problem do not provide a sense of purpose or direction and thus do not satisfy this criterion.

The purpose provided by the material should be explicitly stated. If a visitor in the class asked students, "What is the purpose of this unit you are studying?," the students should be able to respond correctly. The purpose should be comprehensible. A unit that begins with phenomena or abstractions outside students' range of perception or knowledge does not adequately meet the criterion. And the purpose should at least have the potential to be interesting or motivating to students. (For example, a unit that starts with a question about an unlikely event might motivate students to seek its cause.) For the material to receive full credit for this criterion, it should also provide explicit opportunities for students to think about and discuss the stated purpose, not just listen to or read it.

This criterion also looks at whether the series of activities in the curriculum material actually relates to the stated purpose of the unit. If a problem, issue, or question (or otherwise identified purpose) is expressed in the beginning of the unit but includes many unrelated activities, then the stated purpose does not provide a legitimate frame for the unit. Occasional excursions from the purpose may be legitimate, but the material should make it clear to both teachers and students when this occurs and why.

This criterion does not require that the purpose be expressed in terms of the learning goals to be studied in the unit. Although it is important for students to see that the unit purpose relates to the included activities, it is not necessary for students to see (at least initially) how the unit purpose relates to the specific ideas or skills to be learned. For example, the purpose "What are the causes and possible solutions to the acid rain problem?" may be used to frame a unit even though the main goal of the unit is not to teach students about acid rain (an idea not included in Benchmarks for Science Literacy or the National Science Education Standards). However, while investigating the acid rain problem students could learn key ideas within topics like interdependence of life, flow of matter and energy, energy sources and use, and issues in technology. Even if the teacher's guide makes explicit what students are to learn in terms of key ideas, this presentation of learning goals is not to be confused with what students think they are doing and why. (This is not to suggest that the learning goals should always be hidden from students, but to legitimize problem-based, issue-oriented units, or other units where the ideas to be learned unfold.)

Finally, this criterion looks at whether the material actually returns to the expressed unit purpose. Students should know that a unit is over because the purpose has been achieved (for example, the unusual event has been explained), not because a certain page in a textbook has been reached.

Providing students with a sense of purpose for a whole unit is not always possible (for example, there may not be a single question or problem that is broad enough to foreshadow all activities in the unit) or even desirable (for example, providing a purpose on a large scale can lead to a complex sequence of activities that is too demanding on the memory of younger students). In such cases, it may be sufficient for the material to frame sections within a unit rather than the whole unit.

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