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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 most of the units and lessons (lessons typically cover 6–10 days and are roughly the equivalent of chapters). The purposes are mostly comprehensible. Occasionally, however, parts of the purpose statements present abstractions outside students’ range of perception or knowledge (e.g., “As you study this unit you will begin to understand the nature of thermal energy and how it interacts with matter…” [Using Energy, p. 9s]) or are general and vague (e.g., “Learn what’s hot and what’s not and why” [Using Energy, p. 13]). The purposes stated are not likely to be interesting or motivating to students (although the text that sets up the unit purposes may be in some instances). Some activities are consistent with the lesson purpose, but some are not. Students are not provided with explicit opportunities to think about and discuss the purposes. Each unit ends with a Wrap Up section and each lesson ends with a Sum It Up section that summarize important concepts described in the unit or lesson. However, these sections do not return explicitly to the specific purposes identified at the beginning of the units or lessons.

Conveying lesson/activity purpose (Rating = Fair)

The purpose of most of the activities is presented to students (e.g., Using Energy, pp. 14s, 26s, 30s, 33s). Occasionally, rhetorical questions in the student text provide some purpose for the reading that follows. The purposes expressed are likely to be comprehensible to students, but the students are never asked to think about them. In some cases, the text links activities to what students have learned so far (“Now you understand why the objects became warm in the Explore activity, but what are these particles and why are they in motion” [Using Energy, p. 17s]).

Justifying lesson/activity sequence (Rating = Poor)

No rationale is provided for the sequence of activities in the units and lessons examined. For many lessons, a reason for the sequence of lessons or activities within lessons cannot be inferred easily. For example, in Changes in Matter, it is not clear why the lesson on atoms (lesson 3) comes after the explanation of changes of state in terms of atoms (in lesson 1) and before the lesson on elements (lesson 4). In the same textbook, it is not clear why the lesson on chemical reactions (lesson 5) comes before the lesson on chemical compounds (lesson 6). Within lessons, the basis for the sequencing of activities is not clear either. For example, in Changes in Matter, Lesson 1: Physical Properties, the sequence of the description of physical properties, the discussion of state as a physical property, and the use of the physical properties is interrupted by a section dealing with the properties of solids, liquids, and gases in terms of atoms (which, as noted above, are not introduced until lesson 3). The section on using the physical properties of materials (p. 22s) refers to the properties of texture, the ability to dissolve, and porosity, which are not described in lesson 1. On the other hand, the section on using the physical properties of materials (p. 22s) does not refer at all to the property of density, which was discussed extensively earlier in the lesson (p. 16s).

II. Taking Account of Student Ideas

Attending to prerequisite knowledge and skills (Rating = Poor)

These textbooks do not alert teachers to important prerequisites. Before developing the kinetic molecular theory, the text considers what is matter and what is not matter and whether air is matter (Changes in Matter, pp. 6–9s). However, the discussion of what is matter is not an integral part of the discussion that all matter is made of atoms; it precedes it, but it is not connected to it adequately. Before developing the kinetic molecular theory, the material addresses briefly the idea that materials exist in different states (Changes in Matter, pp 18–19s). In explaining changes of state in Changes in Matter, the concept of energy is used without having established what students know or do not know about energy (Changes in Matter, p. 20s). Energy and its forms are addressed in a unit in the Kindergarten through grade five program (in Unit 20: Forms and Uses of Energy, suggested for grade five), but there is no mention of this unit in the Teacher's Planning Guide for Changes in Matter. In Using Energy (in the context of connecting temperature to the motion of particles), temperature is defined as the measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles that make up an object, but energy and kinetic energy have not been defined yet; these definitions are given later.

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

The Teacher's Planning Guide for each textbook includes brief sections entitled Misconceptions and Addressing Misconceptions. Occasionally, these sections refer to student misconceptions. However, the misconceptions mentioned are mostly about details rather than about the major ideas that the lessons try to develop. Only one common student difficulty related to the key ideas examined herein is mentioned namely, that students may believe that motionless objects have no energy (Using Energy, p. 171). Another common difficulty is addressed in the text without comment in the Teacher's Planning Guide, namely, that air is matter (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 9s). No reference is made to most of the commonly held ideas that have been documented in research studies. For example, research on student understanding of the structure of matter reveals that students think that particles (atoms or molecules) are in substances, rather than that substances are made of molecules and/or that there is something between particles (e.g., air) (Brook, Briggs, & Driver, 1984). Moreover, students have difficulty appreciating the intrinsic motion of particles in solids, liquids, and gases, and they often attribute macroscopic properties—such as hardness, hotness, coldness, expansion, and physical state—to particles (Johnston & Driver, 1989; Lee, Eichinger, Anderson, Berkheimer, & Blakeslee, 1993).

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

In the Teacher's Planning Guide, there are sections headed Assessing Prior Knowledge that contain questions whose answers are intended to assess what students know already before instruction. The questions asked in lessons related to the kinetic molecular theory are mostly factual or else peripheral to the ideas examined (for example, “What is the name given to the smallest pieces of matter? (answer: atoms)” [p. 6t]). In some cases, there are relevant questions or tasks in other sections that could help identify students’ ideas; however, these questions or tasks are not designated as being for the purpose of assisting teachers to ascertain their students’ ideas (for example, “Students list what they believe is matter and what they would classify as not matter [Changes in Matter, p. 8t]). Even then, no suggestions are made for probing further, and no examples are provided to help teachers interpret likely student responses. Furthermore, no recommendations are put forward on how teachers can elicit students’ ideas about difficult topics such as the particulate nature of matter, the intrinsic motion of particles, the attributes of individual particles versus collections of particles, and the forces between particles.

Addressing commonly held ideas (Rating = Poor)

A few of the commonly held misconceptions related to the key physical science ideas are addressed. The topics of what is matter versus what is not matter, and whether air is matter are addressed specifically (Changes in Matter, pp. 8–9st). The issue of the intrinsic motion of particles in objects that are not moving is addressed briefly. However, the issues involved in understanding the particulate nature of matter, students’ tendency to attribute macroscopic properties—such as hardness, hotness, coldness, expansion, and physical state—to particles, and difficulties in conceptualizing forces between particles are not addressed.

III. Engaging Students with Relevant Phenomena

Providing variety of phenomena (Rating = Poor)

There are very few phenomena that support explicitly the different key physical science ideas. Some phenomena are included that support the idea that increased temperature means greater molecular motion so most substances expand when heated (Idea d). For example, in one activity, students bend a hanger back and forth, rub sandpaper on a wooden block, shake sand in a jar, and link the increased temperature of the objects to the particles’ increased motion (Using Energy, pp. 14-15s). Other phenomena are not linked to the ideas that they could support, such as after presenting a molecular explanation of changes of state (Idea f), some phenomena related to evaporation are discussed, but they are not tied expressly to a molecular explanation (Using Energy, p. 38s). There are hardly any phenomena that confirm the concepts that matter is made of particles (Idea a), that particles are too small to see even with magnification (Idea b), that particles are in constant motion (Idea c), or that particles of liquids and gases differ in their arrangement, motion, and interaction (Idea e).

Providing vivid experiences (Rating = Poor)

Very few relevant first-hand experiences with phenomena are provided. Even those that are included are not very efficient. For example, as noted in the previous paragraph, students bend a hanger back and forth, rub sandpaper on a wooden block, shake sand in a jar, and link the increased temperature of the objects to the particles’ increased motion (Using Energy, pp. 14-15s). (The reviewers suggested that it would be a more efficient use of time to have each group of students do one of these activities only and explore what is happening in more depth. Then, the groups could share their results.) Most of the other relevant phenomena are mentioned in passing or are described briefly in the student text. Hence, it is unlikely that middle grades students will be able to form a mental picture of them.

IV. Developing and Using Scientific Ideas

Introducing terms meaningfully (Rating = Fair)

Relevant experiences precede the introduction of several terms, such as physical property (Changes in Matter, p. 17s) and thermal expansion (Using Energy, p. 32s). Although preceded by experiences, some of the definitions of terms are quite abstract and are not linked well to the experiences. For example, before introducing the term “thermal energy,” an activity provides experiences with making things warm by moving them (bending a hanger back and forth, rubbing sandpaper on a wood block, and shaking a jar of sand [Using Energy, pp. 14-15s]). Then, thermal energy is defined as “the total potential and kinetic energy of the particles that make up a body of matter” (Using Energy, p. 16s). (In this particular instance, energy and kinetic energy are defined later, on page 17s.) A few terms, such as condensation (Using Energy, p. 38s), are introduced in the absence of relevant experiences. Some terms are introduced beyond those recommended by the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993) for the middle grades level, such as the heat of fusion and the heat of vaporization. Also, terms are introduced unnecessarily sometimes. For example, a description of the structure of atoms including the terms “protons,” “neutrons,” and “electrons” seems an unnecessary interruption of the discussion of particles moving faster in objects that are warmer (Using Energy, p. 17s).

Representing ideas effectively (Rating = Poor)

The student text has very few diagrams showing molecular representations of the ideas examined, and most of them are misleading or contain inaccuracies. For example, in a drawing of flasks containing a solid, a liquid, and a gas of the same substance, the liquid state seems to show fewer atoms than the solid state, and the distances between particles in the gas state are not large enough (Changes in Matter, p. 20s).

There is an analogy of people dancing that could be helpful in illustrating thermal expansion and the transition from solid to liquid to gas at the molecular level (Using Energy, p. 37s).

Demonstrating use of knowledge (Rating = Poor)

In a few instances, an explanation of a type of phenomenon is given (e.g., thermal expansion or changes of state), but it is not related to the explanation of a specific phenomenon (e.g., the expansion of a metal ball or the evaporation of water); hence, the use of knowledge is not demonstrated (see Changes in Matter, pp. 20s, 32s).

Providing practice (Rating = Poor)

Only one practice task is provided for most of the key physical science ideas, with the exception of the idea that increased temperature means increased molecular motion so that substances expand when heated (Idea d). Very few of the tasks are novel. Most of the tasks that are counted as practice are in the teacher notes in the Teacher's Planning Guide, so their use is at the discretion of the teacher. Also, because most of them appear in a section called Discussion Strategies, it is likely that they would be practice for a small number of students only.

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

Encouraging students to explain their ideas (Rating = Poor)

Very few opportunities are given for students to express their ideas. The Activity Log used in some instances could provide such opportunities, but very few of the activities that are accompanied by an Activity Log address the kinetic molecular theory. Typically, the student text is followed by a section headed Discussion Strategies. Generally, questions in Discussion Strategies do not ask students to explain their ideas but, rather, look for a right answer (the answers to these questions can be found verbatim in the student text). In a few instances, students are asked to express their ideas with respect to an activity and are given an opportunity to receive feedback through the text that follows (e.g., Using Energy, p. 31s; Changes in Matter, pp. 15-16s).

Guiding student interpretation and reasoning (Rating = Poor)

Very few activities target specifically the key physical science ideas. Most of the activities are accompanied by one or more relevant questions, but the questions are not likely to guide students’ reasoning about the activity. Some phenomena relevant to the ideas examined are presented in the student text. However, there are no questions in the text material that will help students interpret or reason about these phenomena.

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

No opportunities are suggested to enable students to revise their initial ideas or to monitor their progress in other ways.

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., Using Energy, p. 12d). These components of the units Changes in Matter and Using Energy, which treat the key physical ideas most extensively, have been evaluated in terms of this criterion and the one that follows (“Testing for Understanding”).

Only two tasks in the Teacher's Planning Guide relate to the key physical science ideas. Students work in groups to make a tape recording to compare the motion and spacing of molecules in solids, liquids, and gases (Changes in Matter, Additional Portfolio Assessment Options, p. 12c), and to explain what happens to the kinetic energy as a piece of ice is changed from solid to liquid to gas (Using Energy, Oral Assessment, p. 12d, question 3).

In the tests, only two multiple-choice items are aligned with the ideas:

When you heat a pan of water, the water boils because the _____.
a. mass of the water increases
b. mass of the water decreases
c. particles move faster
d. particles move more slowly
[Using Energy, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 2, question 9; the answer is c]
When a solid turns liquid, its particles _____.
a. gain kinetic energy
b. move slower
c. evaporate
d. lose energy
[Using Energy, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 17, item 12; the answer is a]

No other task is provided to assess students on the physical science ideas used for this evaluation.

Although some items in the material may seem related to ideas about the particulate nature of matter, students can respond to them successfully at the macroscopic level without knowing anything about molecules. For example, students are asked to choose the appropriate phrase to complete the following statements: “An object with a definite shape and volume is most likely to be a ____” (Teacher's Resource Book for Changes in Matter, p. 2, question 3; the answer is “solid”), and “Thermal expansion occurs in ____” (Using Energy, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 18, item 20’ the answer is “ solids, liquids, and gases”). They are also asked to explain why rivets used to hold steel beams together in a building are heated red-hot before they are used. In all three examples, the suggested answers do not deal with matter at the microscopic level.

Testing for understanding (Rating = Poor)

The assessments provided by this material do not ask students to use the key physical science ideas to explain phenomena, identify examples that illustrate general principles, or make predictions. While the task described above in which students make a tape recording attempts to focus on understanding, it is not typical of the assessment questions provided and is inadequate for this set of key ideas.

Using assessment to inform instruction (Rating = Poor)

This material does not feature assessment that is designed to find out where students are in their understanding or to help teachers to modify their instruction accordingly. The Teacher's Resource Book does provide opportunities to keep track of students’ progress, using review sheets, performance assessments, and portfolios. These components, together with the occasional Checkpoint sections, were examined.

A few questions that can be used to diagnose students’ remaining difficulties with respect to the key physical science ideas are included in the material. Students make a tape recording to compare the motion and spacing of molecules in solids, liquids, and gases (Changes in Matter, p. 12c, Additional Portfolio Assessment Options, item 2), explain why liquids and gases take the shape of their containers (Changes in Matter, p. 25s, Critical Thinking, item 5), what happens to the kinetic energy as a piece of ice is changed from solid to liquid and to gas (Using Energy, p. 12d, Oral Assessment, item 3), and choose the best phrase to complete the statement, “When you heat a pan of water, the water boils because the _____ (Using Energy, Teacher's Resource Book, p. 2, item 9; the answer is “particles move faster”). However, the material fails to include suggestions for probing beyond students’ initial responses or diagnosing these responses, it also lacks specific suggestions for using students’ responses to make decisions about instruction.

In some cases, the assessment that follows the introduction of key physical science ideas targets far less sophisticated ideas or skills. For example, in the Changes in Matter unit, after students are introduced to the arrangement and motion of particles in the three states (p. 20s), they are handed an ice cube in a plastic bag, challenged to change it into liquid as quickly as possible, and asked to calculate the melting time (Checkpoint, p. 21t).

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., Using Energy, p. 12at, Lesson Background) or focus on interesting details (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 23t, Science Background) and terms (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 16t, Science Background) rather than key ideas. 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 (e.g., the answer to a question asking if students noticed a change in thermal energy after connecting copper wire to a battery states simply “Yes” [Using Energy, p. 18t, Activity Log, item 3]), emphasize a “right answer” approach (for example, “A solid is a form of matter that has a definite shape and volume. A liquid is a form of matter that has a definite volume but no definite shape” [Changes in Matter, p. 19t, Discussion Strategies, item 1]), or are incomplete (for example, “The tiny particles are in constant motion” [Using Energy, p. 17t, Addressing Misconceptions]).

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., Changes in Matter, 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 no suggestions for how to encourage students’ questions and guide their search for answers.

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., Using Energy, p. 24t, Theme Connection: Energy) and ask students to record their own ideas in many tasks, including some Discussion Strategies and Activity Log tasks. For example, a Literature Link task associates the book Frozen Fire with a discussion of the states of matter. The Activity Log for the task asks students for their own ideas about surviving in the Arctic based on what they know about the physical properties of matter (Changes in Matter, p. 19t, Activity Log). 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?” However, 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., Using Energy, p. 25t, Activity Log, item 4; Using Energy, p. 27t, Activity Log, What Happened?, item 4).

The material provides many suggestions for how to avoid dogmatism. For example, the material includes the work of many cultural groups (e.g., Using Energy, p. 13s) as well as of particular practicing scientists (e.g., Using Energy, p. 21s) and describes changes over time in scientific thinking (e.g., Changes in Matter, pp. 6–7s). In addition, the student text portrays the nature of science as a human enterprise in which students may participate (e.g., Using Energy, pp. 14–15s, Explore Activity!). However, the material also contributes to dogmatism with some text sections written in a static, authoritative manner (e.g., Using Energy, pp. 16–20s) and single, specific responses expected for many student tasks (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 19t, 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 Matter, pp. 14–15st, Explore Activity!; Using Energy, pp. 26–27st, 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. Changes in Matter, pp. 14s and 28s; Using Energy, p. 51s), but few photographs of any adults are included (e.g., Using Energy, p. 57s). In addition, the material’s use of multiple writing genres, including traditional expository text (e.g., Changes in Matter, pp. 16–19s), fiction and nonfiction trade books (e.g., Changes in Matter, pp. 10–11st), short stories (e.g., Teacher’s Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons, Changes in Matter, pp. 8–11), and poetry (e.g., Teacher’s Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons, Changes in Matter, pp. 3–4) 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., Changes in Matter, 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, a text section about the relationship between heat and the law of conservation of energy describes the special design features of Inuit and Japanese homes that provide efficient heating (Using Energy, pp. 57–58s). 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., Changes in Matter, p. 53t). The Careers feature highlights various science professions related to the lesson topics and some of the scientists identified are women (e.g., Using Energy, p. 80s). The material also references related trade books (e.g., Using Energy, p. 10s) and includes readings in the Teacher’s Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons (e.g., Using Energy, Teacher’s Anthology with Classroom Library Lessons, pp. 7–8), 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., Changes in Matter, p. 12s, Minds On! and p. 12t, Activity Log), cooperative group activities (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 21t, Checkpoint), laboratory investigations (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 9st, Try This Activity!), whole class discussions (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 7t, Discussion Strategies), narrative writing (e.g., Using Energy, p. 22st, Language Arts Link), oral and written reports (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 43st, Literature Link), and visual projects (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 6t, Meeting Individual Needs). In addition, multiple formats are suggested for assessment, including oral (e.g., Using Energy, p. 24dt, Oral Assessment), concept mapping (e.g., Changes in Matter, Assessment Guide and Masters, p. 1a), performance (e.g., Using Energy, p. 31t, Performance Assessment), group projects (e.g., Using Energy, p. 104ct, Project Ideas), and portfolio (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 12c, 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 which 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., Changes in Matter, p. 22t, Meeting Individual Needs; Using Energy, p. 45t, 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 those 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., Changes in Matter, p. 25s). In addition, some tasks—including Minds On! (e.g., Using Energy, pp. 6–7s) and Meeting Individual Needs (e.g., Using Energy, p. 12t, Meeting Individual Needs: Students Acquiring English)—ask students about personal experiences they may have had or suggest specific experiences they could have. For example, a Minds On! task at the beginning of a lesson on heat and temperature first asks students to list examples of ways they know objects can be heated and cooled. The students are then asked to hypothesize how cooling occurs and to state the direction of warmth flow between objects. Finally, students are asked to explain how they know the direction of warmth flow (Using Energy, p. 25s). This task is followed by a laboratory activity in which students actually determine how thermal energy flows between different objects (Using Energy, pp. 26–27s, Explore Activity!). For a few tasks, however, the material does not adequately link the specified personal experiences to the scientific ideas being studied (e.g., Changes in Matter, p. 23t, Seashells to Ceramics).