2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

November 2004

CCMS Faculty Develop New Teacher-Education Module

An important research objective of the Center for Curriculum Materials in Science (CCMS) is to explore pre-service and in-service teacher development experiences that can help teachers improve their skills in selecting, analyzing, adapting, and enacting science curriculum materials. Along with AAAS's Project 2061, the CCMS partner institutions include Northwestern University, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan. Working together, CCMS provides graduate and postdoctoral programs, research opportunities, and teacher development resources focused on improving K-12 science curriculum materials.

At every stage of their professional development, teachers can benefit from experiences that help them to recognize the characteristics of effective curriculum materials and effective teaching and to understand the value of coherent and interconnected learning goals for students.

To help address the need for pre-service teacher education focused on curriculum materials, faculty from two CCMS partner institutions have collaborated in developing a new module for use in secondary science methods courses. Drawing on findings from Project 2061’s evaluations of middle and high school science textbooks and on the analysis criteria used in those evaluations, David Fortus of Michigan State University (MSU) and Joe Krajcik of the University of Michigan (UM) have designed the new module as an introduction to

  • the role of curriculum materials in shaping classroom activities and supporting student learning;
  • the Project 2061 criteria and their usefulness as measures of curriculum quality; and
  • considerations in selecting, adapting, and enacting curriculum materials in ways that help students achieve important learning goals.

Taking a More Critical Look
According to Fortus, too many student-teachers assume that a teacher's responsibility is simply to “teach” a textbook—that is, to cover all of the material presented in a given textbook. They hope this new module will help student-teachers take a more critical look at curriculum materials and become skillful users of them.

Intended to supplement science teacher-education courses, the new module requires three hours of classroom instruction and includes readings, activities, and handouts. Individual sections of the module can be configured in a variety of ways making it easy for instructors to incorporate it into their existing courses. The module, together with an instructor's guide and pre- and post-assessments, can be downloaded from the CCMS-MSU Web site at http://ed-web2.educ.msu.edu/CCMS/.

The module opens with a challenging question: Why are curriculum materials important? The student-teachers read and discuss a study showing that small modifications to curriculum materials used by teachers—such as adding transparencies designed to help teachers guide students from common misconceptions to correct scientific conceptions—led to a change in the focus of instruction, improvements in the quality of classroom discussions, and better opportunities for students to learn.

Knowing Where You Intend to Go
The module next addresses reverse design; that is, why it is important for teachers to know exactly what they want their students to learn before planning instruction. The module demonstrates how teachers can make use of AAAS’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Research Council’s National Science Education Standards to specify a set of learning goals and learning performances for their students.

The module also addresses the quality of today’s textbooks and considers why most of them fail to foster deep understanding in students and to provide adequate guidance for teachers. By reading and discussing Project 2061’s textbook evaluation studies, the student-teachers reflect on what the findings mean for them as future teachers. They also consider how the textbooks used in the classrooms where they are student teaching would fare if subjected to Project 2061’s benchmarks-based analysis.

Modifying the Curriculum
The rest of the module engages the pre-service teachers in analyzing, modifying, and enacting curriculum at increasing levels of complexity. The instructor introduces Project 2061’s curriculum-materials analysis criteria and demonstrates how to apply one criterion to a cluster of lessons from Chemistry That Applies, a teaching unit developed by the Michigan Science Education Resources Project. The student-teachers then go on to analyze the cluster using additional criteria. Next students select an activity from a professional journal such as The Physics Teacher that is related to the topic being taught in their placement classrooms. The selected activity is analyzed with six different criteria and modified accordingly. The student-teachers then enact the activity for their peers, who are already familiar with the original article and activity, permitting them to identify how the enactment differs from what they may have expected. A conversation follows to discuss the purpose, value, and effectiveness of the modifications to the activity.

Student-teachers also analyze a chapter from a textbook they use in their placement classrooms and afterwards compare their conclusions with their prior opinions about the textbook. Student-teachers modify the analyzed chapter to improve the support it provides and teach parts of the modified chapter in their placement classrooms.

The secondary science methods module has been used several times at UM and MSU. Its use has resulted in revisions to the module that have improved its adaptability for different classroom environments.

In addition to the module for secondary level student-teachers, Mark Enfield, Kristin Gunckel, Christina Schwarz, and Ed Smith, all of MSU, have developed several versions of an elementary module. One of these versions is posted on the CCMS-MSU Web site at http://ed-web2.educ.msu.edu/CCMS/.

AETS 2005 Workshop
CCMS will be presenting the elementary and secondary modules in a workshop at the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science (AETS) convention in Colorado Springs next year. The workshop will generate discussion on the different perceptions science educators have about the role of curriculum materials in instruction. The workshop will also aim to enlist educators in using the secondary module in their own teaching and then supplying CCMS with feedback on the modules’ effectiveness.

The AETS 2005 International Conference is at Antlers Hilton in Colorado Springs on January 19-23, 2005.

For more information on the secondary science methods module, please contact:

MSU-CCMS Faculty Member: Dr. David Fortus
UM-CCMS Faculty Member: Dr. Joseph Krajcik
Principal Investigator: Dr. Jo Ellen Roseman

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