Project 2061 LogoAAAS Project 2061
AAAS  :: Project 2061  :: Textbook Evaluations

Middle Grades Science Textbooks: A Benchmarks-Based Evaluation

Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Science. Macmillan/McGraw-Hill School Publishing Company, 1995
Earth Science Life Science Physical Science

About this Evaluation Report
Content Analysis
Instructional Analysis
I. [Explanation] This category consists of criteria for determining whether the curriculum material attempts to make its purposes explicit and meaningful to students, either in the student text itself or through suggestions to the teacher. The sequence of lessons or activities is also important in accomplishing the stated purpose, since ideas often build on each other.
II. [Explanation] Fostering understanding in students requires taking time to attend to the ideas they already have, both ideas that are incorrect and ideas that can serve as a foundation for subsequent learning. This category consists of criteria for determining whether the curriculum material contains specific suggestions for identifying and addressing students’ ideas.
III. [Explanation] Much of the point of science is to explain phenomena in terms of a small number of principles or ideas. For students to appreciate this explanatory power, they need to have a sense of the range of phenomena that science can explain. The criteria in this category examine whether the curriculum material relates important scientific ideas to a range of relevant phenomena and provides either firsthand experiences with the phenomena or a vicarious sense of phenomena that are not presented firsthand.
IV. [Explanation] Science literacy requires that students understand the link between scientific ideas and the phenomena that they can explain. Furthermore, students should see the ideas as useful and become skillful at applying them. This category consists of criteria for determining whether the curriculum material expresses and develops the key ideas in ways that are accessible and intelligible to students, and that demonstrate the usefulness of the key ideas and provide practice in varied contexts.
V. [Explanation] Engaging students in experiences with phenomena (category III) and presenting them with scientific ideas (category IV) will not lead to effective learning unless students are given time, opportunities, and guidance to make sense of the experiences and ideas. This category consists of criteria for determining whether the curriculum material provides students with opportunities to express, think about, and reshape their ideas, as well as guidance on developing an understanding of what they experience.
VI. [Explanation] This category consists of criteria for evaluating whether the curriculum material includes a variety of aligned assessments that apply the key ideas taught in the material.
VII. [Explanation] The criteria in this category provide analysts with the opportunity to comment on features that enhance the use and implementation of the curriculum material by all students.

I. Providing a Sense of Purpose

Conveying unit purpose (Rating = Fair)

A purpose is conveyed to students for the units and lessons (roughly the equivalent of whole chapters in other textbook series, the lessons typically cover 6–10 days). The units, covering about eight weeks of instruction, contain multiple statements of purpose. First, the table of contents gives a single sentence. For example, the contents page in The Plant Kingdom includes the statement, “Decide why plants are important to you” (p. 4s), and in Earth’s Ecosystems there is the declaration, “Discover the effect you have on your ecosystem—and the effect it has on you” (p. 4s). Following the table of contents, a lesson introduces the unit with an engaging activity that may have little to do with the purpose stated at the end of the lesson or with the lessons that follow. For instance, The Plant Kingdom begins by having students trace the ingredients in pizza, clothes, and sports equipment back to plants, but then states: “In this unit, you’ll explore how the different parts and processes of plants interact to carry out life functions. You’ll also learn how these parts and processes allow many different kinds of plants to adapt and survive on Earth” (pp. 8-9s). While the activities are comprehensible and interesting, the statement of purpose that follows is not. Furthermore, even though the vague statement of purpose is general enough to encompass all of the lesson activities—indeed, any lesson on plants would fit—the unit does not return to the stated purpose at the end. Lessons in units do frame the two weeks of instruction that they cover. The stated lesson purposes are somewhat comprehensible, although some parts of the statements are not. Consider for example, these statements: “How plant cells work together as systems…” (The Plant Kingdom, p. 32s), “You can explore an ecosystem and formulate a definition” (Changes in Ecosystems, p. 14s), and “You will explore an ecosystem’s plants, animals, and other living things, noting how they interact and form a system with the environment in which they live...” (Earth’s Ecosystem, p. 6s). Stated lesson purposes are not likely to be interesting or motivating to students (e.g., “In this lesson you will learn about six different geographic areas on Earth and two aquatic ecosystems, as well as the kinds of plants and animals that live in them” [Earth’s Ecosystem, p. 26s]), and students are not asked to think about them. Some activities are consistent with the lesson purpose, but some are not. However, the purpose is returned to in the lesson summary.

Conveying lesson/activity purpose (Rating = Fair)

The purpose of most activities is presented clearly to students, typically at the end of the reading that precedes an activity and also at the beginning of the activity itself (see The Plant Kingdom activities on pages 33s, 34s, 37s, and 39s, and the preceding text on pages 32s, 33s, 36s, and 38s, respectively). For example, after first describing the role of chlorophyll in absorbing light and then indicating that chloroplasts contain other pigments, the text introduces the activity, “What Pigments Are Found in Leaves?” with the statement: “Do the Try This Activity on the next page to see chlorophyll and other pigments that chloroplasts contain” (The Plant Kingdom, p. 36s). Subsequent text relates the various pigments observed in the activity to the varied colors that leaves turn in the fall. The material uses questions (admittedly rhetorical ones) to provide purposes for the readings. Specifically, the text states: “You’ve seen why leaves are important for plants—they provide a place for photosynthesis to take place. Why are stems important for plants?” (The Plant Kingdom, p. 42s). Subsequent text describes the role of stems in supporting leaves, conducting water to them, and conducting food from them to the rest of the plant. The purposes stated are likely to be comprehensible to students, but students are never asked to think about them. Some of the activities (e.g., “How do stomata open and close?” [The Plant Kingdom, p. 39s], relate directly to the lesson purpose: “In this lesson, you’ll learn how plant cells work together as systems to produce and use food” [The Plant Kingdom, p. 32s].). However, other activities such as readings on stem types (The Plant Kingdom, pp. 42-43s), leaf fall (The Plant Kingdom, pp. 46-47s), activities on greenhouse design (The Plant Kingdom, p. 33s), and tree rings (The Plant Kingdom, p. 48s) do not. Students are not engaged in thinking about what they have learned so far and what they need to do next.

Justifying lesson/activity sequence (Rating = Poor)

No rationale is provided for the activity sequence in the lessons examined, nor can one be inferred readily. For example, in the activity sequence listed below, a rationale can be deduced for a couple of adjacent sequences—as, for instance, the activity identifying leaf pigments and the text relating fall color change to pigments, the text about photosynthesis and the activity observing the opening and closing of stomata (The Plant Kingdom, pp. 36-39s). But most of the other items seem to be merely a collection of text and activities about plants (as the unit’s title, The Plant Kingdom, suggests). In attempting to include so many topics, the material has lost sight of a story line. The second lesson in The Plant Kingdom contains the following sequence of activities and text:
1. Activity: designing a greenhouse

2. Activity: comparing carbon dioxide use by plants in the light and in the dark

3. Text: photosynthesis is described

4. Activity: identifying leaf pigment

5. Text: fall color changes are linked to pigments, a word equation for photosynthesis is given, and how substances enter leaves is considered

6. Activity: observing the opening and closing of stomata

7. Text: how water gets into plants is described

8. Text: the support role of stems is examined (but it is not connected to keeping plants near light)

9. Activity: listing examples of plants with herbaceous and woody stems

10. Text: respiration is explained

11. Text: in a literature link, students write about a weed that takes over England

12. Text: the distinction is made between vascular and nonvascular plants, and vascular tissue is related to plant height

13. Text: evergreen and deciduous trees are compared in terms of dormancy and leaf fall

14. Text: the career of a landscape architect is outlined

15. Text: the differences between annual, biannual, and perennial plants are defined

16. Activity: relating tree rings to the age of trees.

II. Taking Account of Student Ideas

Attending to prerequisite knowledge and skills (Rating = Poor)

These textbooks make no attempt to alert teachers to the prerequisite knowledge needed. In a couple of instances in which the text makes reference to prerequisite knowledge, it is done in a general way, without being specific about the particular ideas that are needed and without referencing the exact places in the curriculum materials where students might encounter these ideas (e.g., see Simple Organisms and Viruses, Lesson 1, p. 25s, “Cyanobacteria—How are they different from bacteria?”). The material never points to units where prerequisite information is developed, even where there are obvious links between units and within units that could be made, such as in The Plant Kingdom, Lesson 2 (photosynthesis, pp. 36-38s) and Simple Organisms and Viruses, Lesson 1 (cyanobacteria and photosynthesis, 25s); The Plant Kingdom, Lesson 2 (photosynthesis, pp. 36-38s) and Oceans in Motion, Lesson 4 (food cycles in the sea, pp. 72-73s); and two lessons in Earth’s Ecosystems, Lesson 1 (the cycling of materials in ecosystems, pp. 20-23s) and Lesson 4 (the flow of energy in ecosystems, pp. 70-74s). The last two lessons also have prerequisites in The Plant Kingdom, Lesson 2, photosynthesis and respiration, pp. 36-41s (photosynthesis) and pp. 44-45s (respiration).

This lack of explicit connection may be related to the design of the Macmillan/McGraw-Hill series. Each unit is designed to stand alone (a school district may choose to purchase any combination of units).

Alerting teachers to commonly held student ideas (Rating = Fair)

The materials alert teachers to three significant common misconceptions: that plants’ food comes from the soil, that respiration is just breathing, and that consumers only get energy from eating other organisms. Most often, the misconception is stated in a brief sentence that does not help the teacher understand the root of it or its importance in teaching this content. However, in one instance, the misconception is clarified in a helpful way:
Some students may still be unaware of the fact that plants produce their own food. Students may believe that plants take in food from the soil in which they live. These students probably consider “plant food” to be food for a plant. While it is true that plants obtain a variety of mineral nutrients from the soil (e.g., calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, nitrogen, and iron) by absorption through their roots, these nutrients are not used as food. [The Plant Kingdom, p. 40t]

Several other important misconceptions, such as that food is a requirement for growth (rather than a source of matter for growth), that dead organisms “rot away”(rather than that the matter from dead organisms is converted into yet other materials), and that a plant’s mass increases mainly due to the incorporation of matter from carbon dioxide (a gas), are not mentioned. The existence of these misconceptions has been reported in several studies (Roth & Anderson, 1987; Eisen & Stavy, 1988; Smith & Anderson, 1986; Stavey et al., 1987).

Assisting teachers in identifying their students’ ideas (Rating = Fair)

The teacher’s notes provide some questions designed to assess students’ prior knowledge. For instance, “How do plants differ from animals in the way they obtain food?” (The Plant Kingdom, p. 32t) or “For what kinds of activities do you need energy?… For what kinds of activities do other living things need energy?… How do different kinds of living things get energy?”(Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 66t), could be used to help teachers identify their students’ ideas. These questions are in sections headed “Assessing Prior Knowledge,” which probably will be seen by teachers as assisting them in identifying their students’ ideas. However, the number and variety of questions will not be sufficient to elicit the numerous misconceptions and to identify the various areas of difficulty that—as is known from the research literature—students have with the topic of matter and energy transformations. Moreover, the materials do not provide information to help teachers make sense of their students’ responses, and they do not give suggestions of how to probe beneath students’ initial responses.

Addressing commonly held ideas (Rating = Poor)

The materials address adequately the student misconception that nutrients taken from the soil are food for plants. However, they do not address explicitly most of the other common student misconceptions; in fact, it reinforces some of them. For example, although the misconception that nutrients taken from the soil are food for plants is addressed explicitly, in another location, it may reinforce the same misconception:
You know that plant roots and rhizoids absorb water and dissolved nutrients from the soil. Plants also need sunlight. In this lesson, you’ll discover how plants use water, dissolved nutrients, and sunlight, as well as carbon dioxide and oxygen, to make food…. [The Plant Kingdom, p. 33s]

No questions designed to engage students in contrasting their ideas with others are included, nor are there tasks designed specifically to challenge common student misconceptions. It is not suggested that teachers might use knowledge of their students’ ideas to adapt the flow of activities to their needs.

III. Engaging Students with Relevant Phenomena

Providing variety of phenomena (Rating = Poor)

Only two phenomena are used to support the key life science ideas. To reinforce the concept that food provides energy (part of Idea a), it is suggested that the teacher burn a peanut or a piece of dried meat and use the energy released to heat water (Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 71t). To illustrate the idea that plants use the energy from light to make “energy-rich” sugars (Idea d1), text and diagrams point out that the amount of light at different levels of the ocean determines which organisms live at each level (Oceans in Motion, p. 74s). No other phenomena are provided to support the other ideas.

While other phenomena related to the topic are included, they either do not focus on the key life science ideas, or are not linked to them explicitly. For example, The Plant Kingdom unit, which introduces the concept of photosynthesis, includes the following activities that do not center on the key ideas: students design and draw a greenhouse (this concentrates on the less sophisticated idea of plants’ needs) (p. 33s); students observe what happens to stomata in the presence of distilled and salt water (the focus is on the opening and closing of stomata and osmosis) (p. 39s); and students extract pigments from a leaf and separate them on chromatography paper (the focus here is that leaves contain green pigment among others) (p. 37s).

One activity is provided that could be helpful in supporting the key idea that plants make sugars from carbon dioxide and water (Idea c1). However, the activity is not used to explain this key idea. Students observe that in the presence of light, Elodea plants “remove” carbon dioxide from a solution, but the material does not mention that the carbon dioxide “removed” has been incorporated into sugar (pp. 34-35s). Likewise, for the idea that decomposers transform dead organisms into reusable substances (Idea c4), an activity that could be helpful (students set up compost piles and observe them for several weeks [Earth's Riches, p. 9s]), is not explained in terms of this key idea. It does not mention that decomposers transform compost into reusable substances like carbon dioxide and water.

Providing vivid experiences (Rating = Poor)

Of the two phenomena that are used to support the key ideas (and are described under the previous criterion), only one is somewhat vivid (the one that correlates the amount of light at different levels of the ocean with the organisms that live there). The other one (burning a peanut and using the energy produced to heat water) is not described well enough to determine whether the phenomenon will be vivid for students.

IV. Developing and Using Scientific Ideas

Introducing terms meaningfully (Rating = Poor)

Sometimes, the material links terms to relevant experiences. For example, in The Plant Kingdom, after students have read about food making and demonstrated that plants use carbon dioxide in the light but not in the dark (pp. 32-35s), the term “photosynthesis” is defined as the process by which plants use carbon dioxide, water, and energy from sunlight to make food (p. 36s). However, in Earth's Riches, which is intended to be taught before The Plant Kingdom, the term “photosynthesis” is used without any accompanying student experience (“Plants within forests make their food through the process of photosynthesis” [Earth's Riches, p. 29s].). The number of terms used in units or lessons teaching key life science ideas exceeds greatly that required for science literacy— terms like “xylem,” “phloem,” “palisade” and other leaf layers, “autotroph,” and “heterotroph.” In addition, many terms are introduced at the same time. For example, in describing how water gets to cells, The Plant Kingdom uses the terms “root hairs,” “osmosis,” “xylem,” “phloem,” and “petioles” in a single paragraph (p. 40s).

Representing ideas effectively (Rating = Poor)

There are very few pictures, diagrams, or other representations to clarify the key life science ideas. In The Plant Kingdom unit, the word equations for photosynthesis and cellular respiration are given; however, these equations are not likely to make the key ideas more intelligible to students (e.g., the meaning of the arrows and the “+” signs in the equations is not stated [p. 38s]). The Earth’s Ecosystems unit attempts to provide some analogies. For example, the teacher’s notes suggest that students compare the recycling of resources by humans with that in nature, or that the teacher discuss with students examples of cycles (seasonal changes, menstrual cycle, etc. [p. 20t]). However, no other guidance is provided for the teacher to develop these analogies and discuss with students how these cycles are similar to, and different from, cycles in ecosystems. In addition, diagrams that are quite complex are not well explained; for example, a diagram showing the carbon dioxide-oxygen cycle through photosynthesis and respiration might mislead students to think that carbon disappears in photosynthesis and reappears in respiration, as opposed to being combined and recombined (Earth’s Ecosystems, pp. 20-21). There are no pictures, diagrams, or other representations that can help students appreciate that matter and energy are being transformed in the food web.

Demonstrating use of knowledge (Rating = Poor)

The material does not model explanations that use the key life science ideas and indicates only a few times that teachers should do so. In Earth’s Ecosystems, students are to gain insight into the way that energy flows through a model ecosystem they have assembled. The teacher’s notes state: “Before students do this activity, you may wish to have a general class discussion about another animal, such as a polar bear, and how this animal gets the energy it needs to live” (p. 67t). Later, the teacher is to explain how energy is passed along the food chain of a human vegetarian compared to that of a human omnivore (p. 73t). However, no indication is given for what the demonstration should consist of, and no commentaries or criteria are offered for judging the quality of a description of how energy flows through ecosystems. Nowhere else are suggestions made for modeling the use of key ideas.

Providing practice (Rating = Poor)

Although these textbooks assert all or nearly all of the key life science ideas, few opportunities are provided for students to practice using them. Some novel practice tasks are included for the ideas that decomposers transform dead organisms into simple substances, which other organisms can reuse (Idea c4) and that matter and energy are transferred repeatedly in the environment (Idea e). For example, in Earth’s Ecosystems, students are asked what would happen if there were no decomposers (p. 21t), and are asked to use what they know about producers, consumers, food chains, and food webs to describe how energy flows from the sun to other populations and to consider what would happen to the flow of energy if the number of one population changed (p. 80s). But there are no novel practice questions and tasks for the other key life science ideas. Furthermore, most of the questions provided are to be used in class discussions, which will give only a few students the opportunity to answer. Other practice tasks focus on the use of terms (e.g., students are asked to classify organisms as producers or consumers [Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 71t]). In no instances do tasks or questions increase in complexity, nor are opportunities provided for students to receive feedback so that they can improve their performance.

V. Promoting Students' Thinking about Phenomena, Experiences, and Knowledge

Encouraging students to explain their ideas (Rating = Poor)

Throughout the units, questions are included that can be used to encourage students to express their ideas. These questions occur mainly in discussion suggestions to teachers (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, pp. 40t, 45t, 73t; Earth’s Ecosystems, pp. 20-21t, 72t; and Changes in Ecosystems, p. 24t), so it is unlikely that each student will have an opportunity to express his or her ideas. While the material does have each student respond in Activity Logs, the activities and questions are rarely aligned to these key ideas. Only one Activity Log includes relevant questions. In The Plant Kingdom, students are asked to list the ingredients from a bottle or box of “plant food” to indicate how the ingredients are used by plants, and then to consider whether the label “plant food” is really correct, and why they think so (p. 44t). It is unfortunate that Activity Logs with similarly relevant questions to other ideas are not included. The questions suggested for teacher-led discussions do not ask students to clarify or justify their ideas. The only possible feedback that could be provided consists of the right answers that are stated in the teacher’s notes following the questions; were they to be used in this way, it would undermine the opportunity for students to express their own ideas rather than the scientifically correct ones.

Guiding student interpretation and reasoning (Rating = Fair)

Some individual questions to guide student interpretation and reasoning are included. For example, following an activity in which plants are grown in the light and in the dark, students are asked what they can infer from the results (The Plant Kingdom, pp. 34-35st), and after reading about the carbon cycle in ecosystems, they are asked how photosynthesis and respiration are opposite processes (Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 21t). In one instance, the text asks and then answers questions about how energy moves through an ecosystem (Earth’s Ecosystems, pp. 70-71s). Several of the questions frame important issues, and questions in one Activity Log anticipate the misconception that plants get their food from soil:
List the ingredients from a bottle or box of “plant food” you get from your teacher.
How are these ingredients used by plants?
Is the label “plant food” really correct? Why or why not?
[The Plant Kingdom, p. 44t]
However, other questions emphasize simply repeating information from the reading or very limited application of readings. While some of the individual questions are useful, only the set cited above increases in complexity to try to develop understanding.

Encouraging students to think about what they have learned (Rating = Poor)

No attempt is made to have students check their own progress or revise their initial ideas.

VI. Assessing Progress

Aligning assessment to goals (Rating = Poor)

For the end-of-instruction assessment, this material provides performance assessment and lesson and unit tests in a separate Teacher's Resource Book. In addition, the Teacher's Planning Guide includes oral assessment options for each lesson (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 32d). These components of The Plant Kingdom and Earth’s Ecosystems—the two units that provide the most extensive treatment of the key life science ideas—have been examined.

Most of the key life science ideas are not assessed. Only one oral assessment (which asks students to compare photosynthesis and respiration) is related somewhat to the key ideas (The Plant Kingdom, p. 32d). However, the suggested answer focuses on photosynthesis and respiration being opposite processes, where the processes occur, and whether light is required. The only similarity noted is that the processes involve the same substances, not that they both involve transformations of matter and energy. In the tests in the Teacher's Resource Book, a few items are aligned with the key ideas. Students are to choose the phrases that best complete the following statements or questions:
Plants use carbon dioxide _______.
a. during photosynthesis
b. during respiration
c. at night
d. none of the above.
[The Plant Kingdom, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 4a, item 8; the answer is a]
Plant leaves exposed to sunlight take in and use _______ .
a. carbon dioxide
b. sugar
c. oxygen
d. all of the above.
[The Plant Kingdom, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 4a, item 10; the answer is a]
________ are organisms that break down dead materials and recycle nutrients in the environment. [Earth’s Ecosystems, Teacher Assessment Guide, p. 2a, item 8; the answer is “decomposers”]
Which processes return gaseous carbon dioxide to the cycle?
a. decomposition, respiration, and photosynthesis
b. decomposition and respiration
c. respiration and photosynthesis
d. photosynthesis and decomposition.
[Earth’s Ecosystems, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 18a, item 14; the answer is b]
By what process does carbon become bound into compounds that are food for consumers?
a. decay
b. decomposition
c. respiration
d. photosynthesis.
[Earth’s Ecosystems, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 18a, item 15; the answer is d]

Unfortunately, the last two items are based on a diagram that is unnecessarily complex (Earth’s Ecosystems, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 18a). Students are also shown a diagram of a food chain and are asked to decide whether a shape of a triangle or a shape of a square represents better the energy that flows among organisms and to explain their preferences (Earth’s Ecosystems, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 19a, item 18). No other task is provided to assess students’ grasp of the key ideas.

While some additional items were found that relate to the topic, they focus on students’ knowledge of terms, rather than of the key ideas. For example, students are asked to match columns of terms to their definitions (Earth's Ecosystems, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 8, items 2, 8; p. 13, item 8). Students could respond successfully to these items without understanding the key life science ideas.

Testing for understanding (Rating = Poor)

Of the relevant assessment items that are described under the previous criterion, none require that students apply the key life science ideas.

Using assessment to inform instruction (Rating = Poor)

This material does not provide assessment items that are aimed at finding where students are in order to modify the instruction accordingly. To keep track of students’ progress, the Teacher's Resource Book for each unit identifies as assessment opportunities all review sheets, performance assessments, and portfolios (p. viii). These components in The Plant Kingdom unit, together with all the Checkpoint sections in the text, were examined for this criterion.

The material includes a few questions that can be used to diagnose students’ remaining difficulties with respect to the key life science ideas. Working in groups, students illustrate photosynthesis and transpiration using drawings of leaves and molecular diagrams (p. 41t, Checkpoint); list ingredients of “plant food,” are asked how the ingredients are used, and whether the label “plant food” is really correct (p. 44s); compare photosynthesis and respiration with respect to energy (p. 49s, item 1); and explain why animals cannot use light energy to make food (p. 49s, item 5).

However, the material does not include suggestions for teachers of how to probe beyond their students’ initial responses, nor does it include specific suggestions of how to use students’ responses to make decisions about instruction.

VII. Enhancing the Science Learning Environment

Providing teacher content support (Minimal support is provided.)

The material provides minimal support in alerting teachers to how ideas have been simplified for students to comprehend and what the more sophisticated versions are. Content background notes usually briefly summarize the student text (e.g., Oceans in Motion, p. 66a, Lesson Background), focus on interesting details and terms rather than key ideas (e.g., The Animal Kingdom, p. 56t, Science Background), or may reinforce student or teacher misconceptions (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 12t, Theme Connection: Systems and Interactions) where the background for the teacher focuses on the roots’ function in getting water and dissolved nutrients from the soil, which may reinforce common misconceptions about plants getting food from the soil. Instead, the teacher needs information about the role of these nutrients and the difference between the nutrients and the plant's food). Overall, the teacher content support is brief, localized, and fragmented.

The material does not usually provide sufficiently detailed answers to questions in the student text for teachers to understand and interpret various student responses. Most answers are brief and require further explanation (for example, “Student designs will vary depending on their research and their knowledge of plant requirements. They should take into consideration light, temperature, moisture, air, and the amount of space needed by specific plants” [The Plant Kingdom, p. 33t, Activity Log, Assessing Student Results]); emphasize a “right answer” approach (for example, “What is an ecosystem? [A complex system of organisms that interact with one another and their physical and chemical environment]” [Oceans in Motion, p. 72t, Discussion Strategies]), or are incomplete (for example, “Corn consumed by humans” [Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 83t, Critical Thinking, item 4]).

The material provides minimal support in recommending resources for improving the teacher’s understanding of key ideas. The Teacher's Planning Guide includes a list of “Outside Resources” (books, computer software, films, filmstrips, videos, laserdiscs, field trips, speakers and visitors, and resource addresses) at the beginning of each unit (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 4t). Limited descriptions for some of the references identify topics addressed in them, but none of the references are explicitly linked to specific text sections or key ideas.

Encouraging curiosity and questioning (Some support is provided.)

The material provides a few suggestions for how to encourage students’ questions and guide their search for answers. A few fairly structured tasks ask for students’ questions but give little assistance in guiding their search for answers. For example, students are asked to preview a reading about how plants absorb water and nutrients and list topics of what they plan to learn. Students are then asked to identify what they already know about a particular topic and to develop “questions that still need to be answered” (The Plant Kingdom, p. 13t, Meeting Individual Needs). Rather than providing explicit assistance in guiding students’ search for answers, however, teacher’s notes simply suggest asking students “which ideas were supported or disproved…what surprised them…and if anything in the lesson seemed unclear” after the reading (The Plant Kingdom, p. 13t, Meeting Individual Needs).

The material provides many suggestions for how to respect and value students’ ideas. Teacher’s notes state that multiple student answers should be acceptable for some questions (e.g., Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 13t, Minds On!, Assessing Student Results) and ask students to record their own ideas in many tasks, including some Discussion Strategies and Activity Log tasks. For example, teacher’s notes for an activity in which students describe surviving in a sealed plastic bag ask students to “record their ideas in the Activity Log” (Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 13t, Developing Critical Thinking Processes: Problem Solving). Each Activity Log also includes a blank page following each activity page entitled “My Notes” in which students may record additional ideas they may have (see separate Activity Log booklet for each unit).

The material provides a few suggestions for how to raise questions such as “How do we know? What is the evidence?” and “Are there alternative explanations or other ways of solving the problem that could be better?” But it does not encourage students to pose such questions themselves. Specifically, the material includes a few tasks that ask students to provide evidence or reasons in their responses (e.g., Changes in Ecosystems, p. 13t, Activity Log; Oceans in Motion, p. 71t, Activity Log, What Now? items 1, 2, 5). In some instances, however, the material first asks students about their observations (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, pp. 34–35t, Activity Log, What Happened?) and then asks them to make inferences (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 35t, Activity Log, What Now?) without explicitly linking the two kinds of tasks.

The material provides many suggestions for how to avoid dogmatism. For example, the material includes the work of many cultural groups (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, pp. 29–30s) as well as particular practicing scientists (e.g., Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 38s) and describes changes over time in scientific thinking (e.g., Changes in Ecosystems, p. 21s). In addition, the student text portrays the nature of science as a human enterprise in which students may participate (e.g., Simple Organisms and Viruses, pp. 8–9s). However, the material also contributes to dogmatism with some text sections being written in a static, authoritative manner (e.g., Earth’s Ecosystems, pp. 74–75s) and single specific responses expected for many student tasks (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 40t, Discussion Strategies).

The material does not provide examples of classroom interactions (e.g., dialogue boxes, vignettes, or video clips) that illustrate appropriate ways to respond to student questions or ideas, etc. However, a limited sense of desirable student-student interactions may be gained from procedural directions for laboratory and cooperative group activities (e.g., Changes in Ecosystems, p. 34t, Discussion Strategies; The Plant Kingdom, pp. 34–35s, Explore Activity!; Oceans in Motion, pp. 70–71s, Explore Activity!).

Supporting all students (Considerable support is provided.)

The material generally avoids stereotypes or language that might be offensive to a particular group. For example, photographs include a diverse cultural mix of students, mainly in the Activity! features (e.g., Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 15s; The Animal Kingdom, p. 53s; The Plant Kingdom, p. 34s), but few photographs of any adults are included (e.g., Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 30s). In addition, the material’s use of multiple writing genres, including traditional expository text (e.g., The Animal Kingdom, pp. 54–60s), fiction and nonfiction trade books (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, pp. 10–11st), short stories (e.g., Earth’s Ecosystems, Teacher's Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons, pp. 11–12), and poetry (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, Teacher's Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons, pp. 4–5) may support the language use of particular student groups.

The material provides many illustrations of the contributions of women and minorities to science and as role models. At the beginning of each unit, a feature in the teacher’s notes entitled “Science for Everyone: Culture in the Classroom” briefly describes the contributions of different cultural groups to the topics studied (e.g., Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 5t). In addition, some discussion of the contributions of particular cultural groups as well as individual women and minority scientists is integrated into the main student text. For example, in the text’s discussion of protists, the material integrates scientist Lynn Margulis’ theory about the evolution of protists from monerans (Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 38s). Some contributions, however, appear in separate features, particularly Multicultural Perspective and Careers. The Multicultural Perspective feature discusses contributions of particular cultural groups, sometimes with suggestions for further student research (e.g., Earth's Riches, p. 36t). The Careers feature highlights various science professions related to the lesson topics, and some of the scientists identified are women (e.g., Oceans in Motion, pp. 80–81s). The material also references related trade books (e.g., Changes in Ecosystems, p. 11s) and includes readings in the Teacher's Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, Teacher's Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons, pp. 8–10), some of which are authored by or describe the experiences of women and minorities. However, the features highlighting cultural contributions that are separated from the main text may not be seen by students as central to the material.

The material suggests multiple formats for students to express their ideas during instruction, including individual log writing (e.g., Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 13s, Minds On!; p. 13t, Activity Log), cooperative group activities (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 41t, Checkpoint), laboratory investigations (e.g., The Animal Kingdom, pp. 52–53st, Explore Activity!), whole class discussions (e.g., Simple Organisms and Viruses, p. 16t, Discussion Strategies), narrative writing (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 44s, Literature Link), oral and written reports (e.g., Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 82st, Literature Link), and visual projects (e.g., , Earth’s Ecosystems, Teacher's Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons p. 21). In addition, multiple formats are suggested for assessment, including oral (e.g., The Plant Kingdom, p. 32d, Oral Assessment, item 1), concept mapping (e.g., Oceans in Motion, Assessment Guide and Masters, p. 7), performance (e.g., The Animal Kingdom, p. 53t, Performance Assessment), group projects (e.g., Earth's Riches, p. 70c, Project Ideas), and portfolio (e.g., Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 66c, Portfolio Assessment). However, the material does not usually provide a variety of alternatives for the same task in either instruction or assessment.

The material does not routinely include specific suggestions about how teachers can modify activities for students with special needs. However, the Teacher's Planning Guide and supplemental resources (including Teacher's Resource Book, Teacher's Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons, Audio Tapes for Student Books, Activity Cards, Science On-Line Masters, and Problem Solving Software) provide additional activities and resources for students of specific ability levels. Each lesson in the Teacher's Planning Guide includes a Meeting Individual Needs feature that provides activities for students related to the lesson topics. These activities are specifically designated for students learning English, various learning modalities, challenge, reinforcement, or reading comprehension (e.g., Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 24t, Meeting Individual Needs; The Plant Kingdom, p. 32t, Meeting Individual Needs). However, the placement of supplemental resources in materials separate from the main text may discourage their use, and the special needs codes within chapters may discourage teachers from using the activities with all students.

The material provides many strategies to validate students’ relevant personal and social experiences with scientific ideas. Some text sections relate specific, personal (sometimes hypothetical) experiences students may have had to the presented scientific concepts (e.g., Oceans in Motion, p. 67s). In addition, some tasks—including Minds On! (e.g., Changes in Ecosystems, p. 13s), Multicultural Perspective (e.g., Earth's Riches, p. 26t), and Meeting Individual Needs (e.g., Earth’s Ecosystems, p. 5t, item 2)—ask students about personal experiences they may have had or suggest specific experiences they could have. For example, an introductory Minds On! task asks students to list their favorite foods, clothes, and sports equipment and then to trace each item back to a plant (The Plant Kingdom, p. 8s). Teacher’s notes then suggest that students work in groups to determine the relationships between the items and plants (The Plant Kingdom, p. 8t, Developing Critical Thinking Processes: Concept Formation). Additionally, teacher’s notes for assessment suggest looking “for logical tracings back to plants or back to water or minerals” in group reports to the class (The Plant Kingdom, p. 8t, Assessing Student Results). For a few tasks, however, the material does not adequately link the specified personal experiences to the scientific ideas being studied (e.g., Oceans in Motion, p. 5t, Meeting Individual Needs, item 3).