2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

January/February 2005

PRISMS to Identify Quality Phenomena and Representations for Teaching

There’s a wealth of information on the Internet describing scientific phenomena and representations that teachers could use for classroom instruction. But how well do these resources address content standards and how likely are they to help students learn? In a new collaboration with the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA), Project 2061 will apply its research-based criteria for analyzing curriculum materials to review Web-based resources and to organize them into an online collection that can be easily accessed by middle grades teachers.

Phenomena and Representations for the Instruction of Science in Middle Schools, or PRISMS, will selectively review and describe phenomena and representations available on the Internet to determine whether they are (1) aligned with state and national content standards; (2) informed by cognitive research; and (3) likely to improve the quality of middle school science instruction.

Funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Digital Libraries (NSDL) program, PRISMS is a three-year project designed to increase the amount of standards-based and pedagogically useful science content available in the NSDL and other digital libraries for middle school teachers and students. PRISMS partners Project 2061 with MMSA, a not-for-profit statewide science education reform organization established in 1992 as Maine’s NSF-funded statewide systemic initiative.

“PRISMS is a logical application to digital media of the research-based methods that Project 2061 has employed for curriculum materials analysis. Even though one vision of the Web paints it as a globally linked mesh of information that can be processed by machines, there is no substitute for human methods of judging the content alignment of online resources and the quality of their instructional support for teachers,” notes Dr. Francis Molina, Project 2061’s technology director. “We hope to serve as a model for other digital libraries of how to select high-quality online educational resources. PRISMS can foster capacity-building within the NSDL as more resources are viewed with trained and critical eyes.”

The Need for Better Resources
PRISMS is the latest of several NSDL collaborations involving Project 2061 (read recent article on the Strand Map Service project). A cadre of middle school teachers will be trained in Project 2061’s curriculum-materials analysis procedure so they can evaluate approximately 1,000 phenomena and representations for their alignment to middle grades content standards and for the quality of their instructional support.

The term “phenomena” refers to real-world objects, systems, and events that provide evidence to support scientific explanations. While firsthand experiences with phenomena are an important part of science teaching and learning, indirect experiences through descriptions of phenomena, activities related to phenomena, and representations—such as illustrations, models, and simulations—can also contribute to students’ development and use of scientific knowledge. But as Project 2061’s middle grades science textbooks evaluation revealed, many curriculum materials fall short in their efforts to present phenomena and representations in a meaningful way. Teachers will be able to use the high-quality phenomena and representations collected in PRISMS to supplement textbook material and to help clarify important scientific ideas for students.

MMSA has a long history of collaboration with Project 2061. Local teachers are already comfortable using Maine's “crosswalk” document, which links Maine learning goals to Project 2061’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Research Council’s National Science Education Standards. The pervasive use of laptops in Maine by both teachers and students will allow the reviewed resources to be tested in the classroom.

The PRISMS collection of resources will be made available online. It will include teacher-prepared annotations detailing classroom experiences with using each phenomenon or representation, suggestions on how to make it more effective, and questions that can guide its instructional use. The PRISMS collection will be sustained through continual input from other middle school teachers on the usefulness of the reviewed resources.

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For more information, please contact:

Principal Investigator: Page Keeley, pkeeley@mmsa.org
Co-Principal Investigators: Francis Eberle; Francis Molina; Sofia Kesidou

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