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

Middle Grades Science Textbooks: A Benchmarks-Based Evaluation

PRIME Science. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1998
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 = Poor)

A purpose is presented at the beginning of both the Green Machine chapter (level C, chapter 1, p. 1s) and Food chapter (level C, chapters, p. 97s). In both cases, the chapter begins with interesting text that poses one or more questions, as, for example: “We all know how important food is…. In this country, we are fortunate that there is no shortage of food.... “Why do we need food?”… “How long do you think you could live without food?” (level C, chapter 5, p. 97s). However, following these paragraphs is a list of traditional topics that students will explore that bear little resemblance to the initial paragraphs or questions posed. For example, in the Green Machine chapter, the list of topics start with “food chains,” “food webs,” and “[c]onditions for plant growth.” It continues with more topics that students will also be introduced to: “[T]he green color of plants,” “[h]ow plants make their food,” “[t]he structure of plant leaves,” “[h]ow plants breathe,” “[b]reeding better plants,” and “[i]ncreasing world food production” (level C, p. 1s). (A similar list of topics is provided for the Food chapter.) While the introductory paragraph is comprehensible and likely to be interesting/motivating to students, the subsequent listing of topics is not. In the Green Machine chapter, students are not asked to think about either the introductory paragraph or the list of topics, and the summary at the end of the chapter does not systematically return to either one. In the Food chapter, teachers are instructed to have a discussion with the students about the chapter and its purpose, using the questions posed (level C, p. 210t).

Conveying lesson/activity purpose (Rating = Poor)

PRIME Science is inconsistent in whether or not it provides a purpose for lessons and activities. When a purpose is provided for activities, it is sometimes comprehensible. For example, before students test leaves grown in the dark and in the light, they are told, “Now you can investigate the importance of light in photosynthesis....” (level C, p. 42t). Or, before students burn peanuts, they are told, “Your body’s fuel is food. In this experiment you can find out whether foods burn in a similar way to gasoline.” (level C, p. 109s). In a few cases, a purpose is provided only in the title of the activity and seems incomprehensible. For example, students are told that they would do an experiment to find out whether the pondweed is photosynthesizing. The work sheet title, “How Fast?” and the figure title, “What’s in the bubbles?” are not likely to make sense to students until after the experiment (level C, p. 56t). For some activities, the title suggests a purpose—e.g., “Learning about food,” “Why do we need food?” “What’s in food?” “How much food do we need?” (level C, pp. 98s, 99s, 100s, 104s). Occasionally, a purpose statement is provided for an activity that is essentially a brief description of what students will do. However, it does not seem to be a central purpose for the activity. For example, before students test foods with indicators, they are told that food contains a mixture of nutrients and that “[y]ou can test foods to see which types are a good source of each nutrient” (level C, p. 100s).

Lesson purposes are typically not provided for students. For example, in lessons 2 and 3 of the Food chapter, an outline of the chapter activities is provided for the teacher, but with no suggestion that it should be conveyed to students (level C, pp. 221t, 234t). No purpose is provided for the readings except as implied by section headings—for example, “Photosynthesis,” “Wheat,” “The role of chlorophyll,” “Plant pigments,” “Burning food in the body,” “Respiration,” “Energy,” and “Food facts” (level C, pp. 3s, 4s, 110s, 111s, 102s). However, these section headings are not likely to be comprehensible to students. They are not encouraged to think about the purpose of lessons and activities, and, typically, the lessons and activities are not related to the chapter purpose. Furthermore, the material never engages students in thinking about what they have learned so far and what they need to do next.

Justifying lesson/activity sequence (Rating = Poor)

Although PRIME Science provides an outline of lessons within chapters (see, for example, level C, pp. 35–36t, 205t) and of activities within lessons (see, for example, level C, pp. 37t, 43t, 49–50t), it does not provide a rationale for the sequence of either type of outline. Nor can a rationale be readily inferred for the sequence of lessons within chapters or for activities within lessons. For example, the overview of the Green Machine chapter lists the following sequence of points to be understood in the chapter:
  • Photosynthesis as the primary process by which food is produced.
  • The role of chlorophyll in trapping light energy.
  • The production of oxygen in photosynthesis.
  • Factors that affect the rate of photosynthesis.
  • World food distribution.
  • The breeding of plants to increase yield.
  • The role of chromosomes and genes in inheritance.
    [level C, p. 35t]

While it might be possible to tell a story based on the above sequence of points, the material does not appear to do so, either in notes to the teacher or in what the students actually encounter. Furthermore, lessons and activities within a chapter, while all are related to food and photosynthesis, appear to be a collection of ideas with no evident basis for their sequence. For example, the outlines of lessons 1–3 in the Green Machine chapter present brief descriptions of included activities, as follows:

       Lesson 1: Green Machines
  • The first page is used to introduce the context of the chapter [bread and all food can be traced back to plants—green machines] and gives students a summary of the principles that will be examined.
  • Students read and discuss illustrated notes to introduce terms used in describing photosynthesis. Students answer questions…on photosynthesis.
  • Information from pictures is used to construct a flow chart for the production of bread from wheat.
  • Leaves are decolorized and tested for starch [by students].
  • Leaves from plants that have been kept in the dark are tested for starch. Students also test for starch in leaves that have been prevented from using light from above, but have been lit from underneath.
      Lesson 2: Green Stuff
  • Students repeat the test for starch, this time on variegated leaves.
  • Students conduct chromatography of plant pigments, and extract the green color from leaves and separate the pigments.
  • [Students test for] the preferential absorption of certain colors of light by chlorophyll.
  • Understanding of the results is discussed and reinforced.
       Lesson 3: Breathing Plants?
  • Teacher demonstrates counting bubbles off underwater Elodea.
  • Students measure the rate of formation of oxygen by Elodea.
  • Students design experiments to test the effect of factors such as temperature, light intensity, and availability of carbon dioxide on the rate of photosynthesis.
  • Students use their plan to test the factors described above.
  • Students examine the upper and lower surfaces of leaves to locate stomata.
  • Students use their knowledge of the function of leaves to help them assemble a jigsaw puzzle of a cross section of a leaf.
  • Students label a diagram to summarize the materials used and produced in photosynthesis.
    [level C, pp. 37t, 43t, 49–50t]

II. Taking Account of Student Ideas

Attending to prerequisite knowledge and skills (Rating = Poor)

PRIME Science does not deal with prerequisites adequately. It assumes that students have already mastered relevant background knowledge but does not alert teachers to what knowledge these assumptions. While some prerequisite ideas relevant to the key life science ideas are addressed earlier in the three-year middle school program, the material does not refer back to the relevant chapters, nor does it make adequate connections between concepts taught and their prerequisites.

The Background section found in the Teacher’s Guide for each chapter points to earlier chapters that relate to the ideas developed in the chapter and hence provides some indication of where prerequisite experiences and topics may have been addressed. However, this section does not identify any specific prerequisite ideas or skills or where exactly in the earlier chapters related ideas were developed. In the Food chapter, students compare photosynthesis and respiration (level C, pp. 221t, 227–228t, 111s). While the Teacher’s Guide refers to the “terms introduced” in an earlier chapter, it does not refer to specific previous experiences with these terms (level C, p. 227t).

PRIME Science treats several important prerequisites, but it does not treat all of them before they are needed. Preliminary ideas about chemical changes and energy transfer are introduced early in levels A and B. For example, level A, Chapter 1: Primrose Park develops the prerequisite ideas that a chemical reaction or chemical change occurs when chemicals are mixed to produce new substances, and that many changes also involve energy changes. Likewise, level B, Chapter 3: Fire: Friend or Foe? introduces burning as a chemical reaction and explicitly addresses the idea that chemical reactions can be written in the form of word equations. Level B, Chapter 4: Child’s Play addresses the prerequisite ideas that energy never disappears, can only be transferred from place to place, and can be transferred as light. The chapter also provides students with experiences tracing energy in physical systems and representing energy transfer processes using energy flow diagrams. However, the term “food” is not defined until several chapters after its initial use. In level C, Chapter 1: Green Machine, the text states that “we all depend on plants for our food” (p. 1s), that “[p]lants make their own food” (p. 3s), and that “[p]lants are the first organisms in all food chains” (p. 11s). But not until level C, Chapter 5: Food, does the text explain that food is the source of both fuel and building materials (pp. 99s, 104s).

Unfortunately, even when prerequisites are treated before they are needed, the program does not point to later chapters where prerequisites will be needed, nor does it refer back to its treatment of prerequisites when presenting more advanced material. Most significantly, it does not make connections between the ideas about the flow of matter and energy and the prerequisite ideas on matter and energy transformations in physical systems.

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

The Teacher’s Guide makes no reference to any of the commonly held ideas related to the flow of matter and energy in ecosystems that have been documented in research studies. For example, research on student understanding of ecosystems reveals that students view matter as being created or destroyed, rather than as being transformed (Smith & Anderson, 1986). Students who do see matter as being transformed view it as being transformed into energy rather than simpler substances. Students also view plants as taking in food from the environment, rather than as taking in raw materials that they convert to food. (Bell & Brook, 1984; Roth & Anderson, 1987; Anderson et al., 1990). Although teachers are not alerted to these commonly held student ideas, in one instance the Teacher’s Guide mentions that energy flow and loss are difficult ideas for students to comprehend (level 1, p. 828t, vol. II). However, it does not explain why are these concepts difficult for students.

Furthermore, in some cases, these very troublesome ideas are reinforced in the material. For example, the material explains that light energy is used in photosynthesis and then, in a different chapter, that food can be broken down to release energy. However, it does not point out that the energy in food comes from some of the light energy that was captured by the plant. Since many students have difficulties appreciating that energy cannot be created or destroyed, they might think that the light energy “disappeared” and that food energy is a “new” energy.

Additionally, not only is the connection not made to the idea that the total amount of matter remains constant, but there are statements in the material that imply that matter is converted into energy, as, for example, that “[r]espiration is a series of chemical reactions that change food and oxygen into energy, carbon dioxide, and water” (level C, p. 111s). With respect to decomposers, the material simply states that they “obtain their energy by breaking down the remains of dead animals and plants,” and it includes a chart showing recycling of matter. Minerals are included in the chart, but carbon dioxide and water are ignored in this recycling (level 1, p. 344s). Note that this is a naive conception of matter cycling (Smith & Anderson, 1986).

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

PRIME Science rarely provides questions and tasks that are aimed at identifying students’ ideas before the ideas are introduced. In one instance, at the beginning of the Food chapter, students are asked, “What is food?” and “Why do we need food?” and are then asked how they could test their ideas (level C, pp. 97s, 210t). These questions could be very useful in eliciting commonly held ideas, but the Teacher’s Guide does not suggest that purpose. Rather, it indicates that students’ responses “may provide direction and focus for teaching the chapter” (level C, p. 210t). No other questions or tasks are provided for this purpose, and no suggestions are given for interpreting, probing, or using the responses.

Addressing commonly held ideas (Rating = Poor)

PRIME Science makes no attempt to challenge commonly held student ideas and does not include any questions or activities that would help students with their difficulties. This is a serious flaw, given the extensive, well-documented commonly held ideas about food, photosynthesis, respiration, matter cycling, energy flow, and digestion. In one instance, students are asked, “What is food?” (level C, p. 210t), but the only treatment provided is to identify food as consisting of the three main types of nutrients.

III. Engaging Students with Relevant Phenomena

Providing variety of phenomena (Rating = Poor)

PRIME Science does not provide a sufficient number and variety of phenomena to support the key life science ideas. For some ideas, such as the transformation of matter and energy by decomposers (Idea c4), phenomena are not provided at all.

For the idea that food serves as a fuel and building material for all organisms (Idea a), students burn peanuts, identify the products (carbon dioxide and water), and observe temperature changes of water (level C, pp. 108–109s, 226–227t). They also test foods for fats, carbohydrates, and proteins (level C, pp. 100–101s, 211–212t). However, the material does not provide phenomena that show that all organisms (as opposed to only humans) get their energy and building matter from their food.

To support the ideas that plants make sugars from carbon dioxide and water (Idea c1) and that, in the process, light energy is transformed and stored in sugars (Idea d1), students plan their own experiments to test the effects of light, carbon dioxide, and temperature on the rate of photosynthesis (level C, pp. 5s, 51–52t). They observe the preferential absorption of light colors by chlorophyll (level C, p. 44t, and student sheet, p. 48t) and test for starch leaves that were grown in the dark and in the light (level C, p. 40t, and student sheet, p. 42t). However, the latter activity is not explained in terms of the key idea that light energy is being transformed, but rather in terms of the less sophisticated idea that “[l]ight is necessary for photosynthesis” (level C, p. 37t).

No other phenomena are provided that are linked directly to the key life science ideas.

Providing vivid experiences (Rating = Poor)

Of the relevant phenomena described under the previous criterion, two are hands-on activities and are somewhat efficient in focusing students on the key life science ideas. The activities are the one in which students burn peanuts and the one in which students observe absorption of different colors by chlorophyll. The other phenomena, though also hands-on activities, are less efficient, as, for example, the summarizing activity in which students design their own experiments to test the effects of various factors on the rate of photosynthesis.

IV. Developing and Using Scientific Ideas

Introducing terms meaningfully (Rating = Fair)

While the material relates terms to broad real-world contexts, all the terms are introduced prior to experiences with specific phenomena. For example, the term “photosynthesis” is introduced (level C, p. 2s) two lessons before students observe that starch can be detected in leaves that have been exposed to light and not in leaves that have been covered (p. 5s). It should be noted that the terms “photosynthesis” and “chlorophyll” are defined in the context of presenting the whole process, not in isolated definitions. The terms are later linked to a number of experiences with phenomena, including several first-hand ones (see, for example, level C, pp. 41t, 42t, 44t, 56t). However, since these terms are initially presented without any phenomena in abstract discussions, students do not benefit from the later experiences with phenomena and their links to these terms (see, for example, level C, p. 2s). Furthermore, terms for plant pigments are never linked to phenomena such as the fall color change in leaves.

Although sometimes the use of technical terms is limited to those needed for effective communication about key life science ideas, more than a dozen unnecessary technical terms are used. For example, when showing pigments found in spinach, the figure in the text uses terms for each color—chlorophyll a, chlorophyll b, carotene, xanthophyll (level C, p. 4s)—that are not needed to communicate about key ideas or related phenomena. Also, when showing how carbon dioxide gets into a leaf, the text uses a diagram of a leaf section labeled with terms like “upper epidermis,” “lower epidermis,” “palisade layer,” and “spongy layer”; a jigsaw puzzle for students to assemble pieces of a leaf section; and terms such as “cuticle,” “vacuole,” “phloem,” and “guard cell” (level C, pp. 5s, 53t). To distinguish among types of consumers, the text uses terms—“primary,” “secondary,” “herbivore,” “carnivore,” “omnivore”—that do not seem needed to communicate about key ideas. However, none of the extra terms are required for students to respond to questions within and at the end of the chapter, and they are not included in the chapter summary.

Representing ideas effectively (Rating = Poor)

PRIME Science does not include a sufficient number and variety of representations to support the abstract key ideas. Rather, it includes several representations that are likely to be misleading or incomprehensible for students. For example, in the food pyramid included in the Green Machine chapter, it seems that the skunk at the top of the pyramid needs to eat many slugs only because it is a bigger animal and not because energy is lost at each level (level C, p. 13s). In the Food chapter, there is a diagram of a person with energy flow arrows (level C, p. 111s), but the text and diagram are not clear in distinguishing between matter and energy. The high school Balancing Acts chapter includes several diagrams that are quite complex and are not well explained. For example, a diagram showing the carbon dioxide–oxygen cycle through photosynthesis and respiration (level 1, p. 334s) might mislead students to think that carbon disappears in photosynthesis and reappears in respiration (as opposed to being combined and recombined). Also, in a diagram depicting the relationship of consumers, producers, and decomposers mentions only minerals as substances that are made available for recycling after the work of decomposers (level 1, p. 344s). Likewise, the diagrams showing trophic levels and the energy loss at each level do not correspond to each other, and therefore are confusing (level 1, p. 349s). Lastly, a diagram is included that tracks the energy flowing through an ecosystem in one year. Unfortunately, while this diagram addresses many important ideas, it is not explained adequately and is not likely to be comprehensible (level 1, p. 350s).

A few better representations are included in level C. Students complete a work sheet that includes a flow diagram and the word equation of photosynthesis, while the teacher is advised to discuss the conventions of writing such chemical equations (level C, pp. 54–55t, and student sheet, p. 60t). This is better than other materials that typically just give students the equation. The analogy of respiration to burning gasoline might be helpful for those students that are already familiar with burning of gasoline (level C, pp. 108–110s).

Demonstrating use of knowledge (Rating = Poor)

PRIME Science does not provide instances of using the key life science ideas in explanations, nor does it include suggestions for the teacher to model such explanations.

Providing practice (Rating = Poor)

PRIME Science provides insufficient practice in using the key life science ideas. Although a few useful questions are provided for four of the key ideas (Ideas a, c1, d1, d3), no questions or tasks are provided for the other six. For example, practice tasks are provided for the idea that food provides organisms with fuel (part of Idea a), in questions such as: “Why does a construction worker need to eat more energy-rich food than a bank teller? Use the word ‘respiration’ in your answer” (level C, p. 111s). Likewise for the idea that plants make food from simpler substances (Idea c1), students are asked to “[w]rite what is used up and what is produced during: Respiration, Photosynthesis, Compare these two processes. What do you notice? Why are plants essential for animals to live?” (level C, p. 111s). However, no practice tasks are provided in which students could use ideas about the assembly of sugar molecules into plant or animal body structures (part of Ideas c2, c3) or for the ideas that plants and animals break down sugars to release energy (part of Ideas d2, d3).

While both the Green Machine and Food chapters provide questions in a Things To Do section at the end of the chapter (e.g., “Check in the library to find out if any food crops are grown in your state,” “Make a collection of foods that you think contain starch,” “[M]ake a model of the inside of a plant leaf. Explain the model to one of your friends or family members” [level C, chapter 1, p. 17]), none of the things to do are directly related to these key ideas.

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

Encouraging students to explain their ideas (Rating = Poor)

The student text provides few opportunities for students to express their own ideas related to the key life science ideas. At the beginning of the Green Machine chapter, students work in small groups to answer questions about photosynthesis. In two instances in the Food chapter, the Teacher’s Guide indicates that questions “are designed to promote discussion, and answers will vary from student to student” (level C, pp. 210–211t). However, the Teacher’s Guide provides the correct answer for these questions, implying that these are the answers students should provide. There are no opportunities for students either to express their ideas related to the key ideas in writing or to clarify, justify, or represent their ideas. Furthermore, there are no suggestions made for when and how students will get feedback about their thinking from peers and the teacher.

Guiding student interpretation and reasoning (Rating = Poor)

Though student readings and investigations include many questions, very few of them help students interpret phenomena and activities in terms of key life science ideas. For example, the following questions illustrate missed opportunities to guide students from their experiences toward key ideas. After testing for starch leaves grown in the light and in the dark, students are asked to use a dictionary to explain why photosynthesis is a good name for the food-making process, rather than to discuss how plants transform light energy into chemical energy. Likewise, after testing foods for fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, students are asked a single question that does not focus on the matter transformations involved: “Do you think Stephanie’s snack was a healthy meal?” (level C, p. 101s). In one instance, the material moves toward the key idea of energy transformation but focuses on gas exchange rather than on the idea that matter is transformed. After observing a peanut burn, students are asked the following three questions:
Did the burning peanut release energy?
Consider the fact that the peanut’s oil that burns contains far less oxygen than is given in the form of CO2 and H2O. Where do you think the missing oxygen came from?
Copy and complete this word equation: Food + ____ → ____ + _____ + Energy
[level C, p. 109s]

The material then draws the analogy to how energy is released from food in the body. But questions ask: “Which gas, used as food, is ‘burned’ in the body?” and “What new products are exhaled into the air?” (level C, p. 110s). In another instance, the experience and surrounding text are aimed at the key ideas but the questions move students toward a much less sophisticated concept. After examining a food chain of cabbageàslugsàskunks, students read the text explanation: “Inside a slug’s body, the cabbage takes part in chemical reactions to make new materials. Some of these materials become part of the slug’s body” (level C, p. 13s). However, the subsequent questions ask students to draw the food web showing the feeding relationship instead of focusing on the matter transformations.

When questions do relate to the key life science ideas, such as the questions about the burning peanut, they sometimes help students relate phenomena to scientific ideas but they are not scaffolded to develop these key ideas.

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

Although the program developers claim that one of the goals of assessment is to ensure that students are “aware of progress being made” (level C, p. 6t), 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, the material provides sample assessments for each chapter and, in addition, identifies the Things To Do questions as assessment (level C, p. 6t). Most of the key life science ideas are not assessed adequately in PRIME Science. Some ideas are not assessed at all, and for others, there is an insufficient number of items that target them.

For the idea that food provides the energy and building blocks for all organisms (Idea a), students are shown a food label and are asked which one of the substances supplies most of the energy and which one is used for growth and repair. For the idea that plants make sugars from carbon dioxide and water (Idea c1), students are shown a cartoon of a pondweed giving off gas bubbles and are asked to name the process that is making the gas and to write its word equation. Also, they explain where the carbon dioxide and water that are needed to make starch come from (and how they get into the plant—which is not part of the key idea). For the idea that plants use light energy to make energy-rich sugars (Idea d1), the material includes three questions that get at the less sophisticated idea that light is needed for photosynthesis to take place (level C, pp. 16–17s, questions 1c, 6; p. 73t, question 2b). For the idea that organisms break down the stored sugars into simpler substances (Idea d3), students write the word equation for respiration. No other tasks are provided to assess students on the key life science ideas.

Testing for understanding (Rating = Poor)

Of the relevant assessment items that are described under the previous criterion, none is really an application of the key life science ideas.

Using assessment to inform instruction (Rating = Poor)

Assessment that is aimed at finding where students are and modifying the instruction accordingly is not a feature of PRIME Science. The Teacher’s Guide suggests that discussions, students’ work sheets, and all other questions in the chapters could be used to keep track of students’ progress (level C, p. 6t). However, the material does not provide questions or tasks that can be used, even by a well-informed teacher, to diagnose students’ remaining difficulties with respect to the key ideas. Furthermore, for the few relevant questions that are included, PRIME Science does not include suggestions for teachers about how to probe beyond students’ initial responses, nor does it include specific suggestions about 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 in the Teacher’s Guide usually summarize student activities for each chapter and lesson (e.g., level C, p. 51t, Background), state main ideas for each lesson (e.g., level C, pp. 221–222t, Outline of Activities, Key Points), and offer brief elaborations of student text concepts (e.g., level 1, pp. 828–829t, For your information). Overall, the teacher content support is broad but not sufficiently detailed.

The material rarely provides 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., “Oxygen. The Elodea have been photosynthesizing,” [level C, p. 51t, Answers to Student Sheet 3a, item 1]). Some questions go unanswered (e.g., level C, p. 72t, Answers To Things to Do, items 3–12).

The material provides minimal support in recommending resources for improving the teacher’s understanding of key ideas. The introductory notes of the Teacher’s Guide includes a list of “Optional Resources” (printed matter, video, computers, and resource centers [e.g., level 1, pp. 28–33t]), and additional “Optional Resources” are listed at the beginning of each chapter (e.g., “Plants Are Alive. Flinn Scientific, Inc.” [level C, Printed Materials, p. 36t]). Limited descriptions for some of the references identify topics addressed, but few 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 general suggestion for how to encourage students’ questions but not guide their search for answers. Introductory notes in the student text state, “Ask questions of yourself and of those around you” (level C, p. xiiis).

The material provides many suggestions for how to respect and value students’ ideas. Introductory notes in the student text generally elicit and value students’ ideas by stating, “Write your thoughts down to see how they sound, and take a moment from time to time to see if you have changed your ideas or have more evidence that your thoughts were right in the first place” (level 1, p. xvis). Also, teacher notes state that multiple student answers should be acceptable for some questions (e.g., level C, p. 227t, Answers to Student Sheet 2d, items 3, 4) and ask students to record their own ideas in many tasks (e.g., level C, p. 99s, Why do we need food?, items 1–4). In addition, students and their ideas are highlighted throughout the text. For example, drawings of students with dialogue balloons illustrate students discussing scientific ideas to be studied (e.g., level C, p. 16s, Things To Do, item 1), and students are specifically referenced in some tasks (e.g., level C, p. 73t, Sample Assessment Items with answers, item 2).

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?” It also encourages students to pose such questions themselves. Introductory notes in the student text ask students to review their ideas periodically and determine if they have more evidence that their “thoughts were right in the first place” (level C, p. xiiis). In addition, the material includes a few tasks that ask students to provide evidence or reasons in their responses (e.g., level C, p. 13s, Chomping through the cabbage, item 2; level 1, p. 347s, item 2).

The material provides some suggestions for how to avoid dogmatism. Introductory teacher’s notes emphasize the human focus of the material stating that ideas are “introduced through personal and social contexts” (e.g., level C, p. 1t), and introductory student notes emphasize the use of multiple resources to increase student understanding (e.g., level 1, p. xvis). The student text portrays the nature of science as a human enterprise in which students may participate (e.g., level C , pp. 100–101s, What’s in food?). Student dialogues throughout the material often present multiple perspectives on a scientific issue (e.g., level C, p. 99s). However, the material also contributes to dogmatism by providing little attention to the work of particular practicing scientists and changes over time in scientific thinking. In addition, single specific responses are expected for most student tasks.

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. However, a limited sense of desirable student-student interactions may be gained from procedural directions for laboratories and cooperative group activities (e.g., level C, pp. 39-40t, Lab work 1; level C, p. 51t, Lab work 1).

Supporting all students (Some support is provided.)

The material generally avoids stereotypes or language that might be offensive to a particular group. Most of the drawings in the student text are of 15 recurring students, girls and boys, of various cultural backgrounds (e.g., level A, pp. 5–7s). Photographs also include a diverse cultural mix of students and adults (e.g., level C, pp. 6s and 108s; level 1, p. 336s). In addition, the material’s use of narrative dialogues (e.g., level C, p. 12s, Slugged out), along with traditional expository text, may support the language use of particular student groups.

The material does not provide illustrations of the contributions of women and minorities to science and as role models. Few contributions of any scientists are included, in that the material instead emphasizes the role of science in students’ everyday lives.

The material suggests multiple formats for students to express their ideas during instruction, including individual investigations (e.g., level C, p. 122s, Things To Do, item 1), cooperative group activities (e.g., level 1, p. 828t, Text application), laboratory investigations (e.g., level C, p. 40t, Lab work 2), whole class discussions (e.g., level 1, p. 828t, Discussion 3), essay questions (e.g., level C, p. 111s, Respiration and plants, item 6), creative writing (e.g., level C, p. 17s, Things To Do, item 9), and visual projects (e.g., level 1, p. 826t, Modeling). In addition, multiple formats are suggested for assessment, including oral discussion (e.g., level C, p. 71t, Discussion), essay (e.g., level C, p. 73t, Sample Assessment Items with answers, item 2b), and performance (e.g., level C, p. 17s, Things to Do, item 8). However, the material does not usually provide a variety of alternatives for the same task.

The material does not routinely include specific suggestions about how teachers can modify activities for students with special needs.

The material provides many strategies to validate students’ relevant personal and social experiences with scientific ideas. Introductory teacher’s notes emphasize the material’s focus on “personal and social contexts” and the “applications of science” (level 1, p. 1t). Many text sections relate specific, personal experiences students may have had to the presented scientific concepts (e.g., level C, p. 97s). In addition, some tasks ask students about particular personal experiences they may have had or suggest specific experiences to have. For example, a question at the end of a chapter on plant processes asks students to put a potted plant in a closet for a couple of days and then to explain any differences they observe in the plant’s appearance (level C, p. 17s, Things To Do, item 6). However, the material rarely encourages students to contribute relevant experiences of their own choice to the science classroom and sometimes does not adequately link the specified personal experiences to the scientific ideas being studied (e.g., level C, p. 17s, Things To Do, item 7).