2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

July/August 2007

PRISMS Collection Now Online

MMSA and Project 2061 bring reviewed science resources to the Web

Finding worthwhile science resources among the abundance of online options can be time-consuming and frustrating for educators. A new collection of Web-based resources from the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA), with assistance from AAAS Project 2061, is helping middle school teachers to select and use high-quality resources aligned to content standards. PRISMS (Phenomena and Representations for the Instruction of Science in Middle Schools), unveiled at the 2007 NSTA national conference in St. Louis, provides free access to a wealth of videos, lessons, simulations, and other resources, along with resource reviews and instructional tips.

Funded by the National Science Foundation's National Science Digital Library (NSDL) program, MMSA and Project 2061 have been working with teams of middle school teachers to analyze digital phenomena and representations. They examine the resources for their alignment to the key ideas in Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Science Education Standards and for the quality of their instructional support for teachers. To guide their evaluations, the teachers use the PRISMS analysis protocol, which is based on Project 2061’s research-based procedure for analyzing science curriculum materials.

The result is a collection of more than 100 annotated resources in six categories:

  • Astronomy
  • Biological Structure and Function
  • Earth
  • Ecology
  • Energy, Force, and Motion
  • Matter

Each category is searchable by topic, and resources are grouped together by the key ideas targeted in the standards. A detailed review for each resource describes whether the resource addresses the key idea and whether the level of sophistication required is appropriate for middle school students. Each review also points out the resource’s limitations and offers suggestions on how to improve the resource’s effectiveness in the classroom.

“The PRISMS reviews are valuable because they address not only the strengths of the resources, but their weaknesses as well,” said Ted Willard, project director for Project 2061, who helped train teachers to be reviewers. “Even popular resources can have problems in conveying key science concepts to students, so the reviews help teachers know what to look out for and what to modify when putting these digital resources to use.”

Helping Students Learn

MMSA will continue to build the PRISMS collection as teachers analyze additional resources. Meanwhile, the PRISMS team has been spreading the word about its resources to science teachers across the country. In June, Chad Dorsey, science and educational technology specialist at MMSA, presented an NSDL/NSTA Web seminar showcasing the PRISMS collection. Dorsey has also introduced PRISMS to a group from Teach for America in New York City. With more and more educators turning to digital resources for classroom use, participants in these events appreciated the guidance that PRISMS provides for finding developmentally appropriate resources that support the standards and have been vetted by experienced reviewers.

“Teachers using the site tell us that the resource reviews are giving them new insights into the true meaning of content alignment and the qualities that make a resource effective for student learning,” said Page Keeley, principal investigator for PRISMS and science program director at MMSA. “Before looking at PRISMS, teachers say they just used what was in their textbooks or what they could find on the Web without giving it a second thought. Now, they are much more discerning when they select and use digital resources. Just because it 'looks good' doesn't mean it will help students learn. PRISMS gets teachers thinking about the important ideas related to the topics they teach and about how the resources they choose can best help their students learn those ideas.”

Already available on its own Web site, PRISMS will accessible through the NSDL in early 2008. As the PRISMS collection continues to grow, MMSA encourages teachers to try the resources with students and to provide feedback about their use in the classroom.

Visit the PRISMS collection.

# # #

MMSA is a non-profit K–12 organization that seeks to boost student achievement in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering in Maine and across the country. Project 2061 is pleased to be a partner in its effort to add more high-quality resources for educators to the NSDL.

For more information about the PRISMS project, please contact:

Principal Investigator: Page Keeley
Co-Principal Investigators: Francis Eberle; Francis Molina

[Table of Contents]