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Middle Grades Science Textbooks: A Benchmarks-Based Evaluation

Science 2000. Decision Development Corporation, 1995
Earth Science Life Science Physical Science

1.
About this Evaluation Report
2.
Content Analysis
3.
Instructional Analysis
  Categories
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.
  References

I. Providing a Sense of Purpose

Conveying unit purpose (Rating = Very good)

Science 2000 makes a good attempt at providing a purpose for each of the units (four units for each grade level) and the clusters (six to eight clusters in each unit). Each unit has a central theme; for example, one eighth-grade unit focuses on natural disasters. One of the opening questions asks: “Where and how can we store nuclear waste materials to keep them safe from natural disasters for thousands of years?” (8.4.22, LP, p. 1). In addition to the opening questions that serve as a purpose, the units include narratives or “story-line overviews” that explain what will be studied and why the topic is interesting or important. The eighth-grade unit on natural disasters begins by explaining that:
Several nations of the world have promised to dismantle many of their nuclear weapons in the near future. The materials in these weapons are radioactive and highly dangerous to all living things, and they will remain dangerous for at least ten thousand years. As part of the World Environmental Task Force, we have been assigned to design a waste repository for the dismantled weapon parts and select the site where these materials can be stored. [8.4.22, LP, p. 2]

The narrative continues by explaining that the site selected should be relatively safe from any natural disasters. Usually, the clusters are well aligned with the unit theme and have opening questions, such as: “What is the structure of the Earth’s crust? How does water move in the crust? How might groundwater affect a nuclear storage site?” (8.4.23, LP, p. 1), and “What are earthquakes? Where and how do they occur? How might they endanger a nuclear waste storage site?” (8.4.24, LP, p. 1). Like the unit narratives, each cluster begins with a story-line overview that explains the cluster topic, how it is related to the unit purpose and the other clusters, and why it is interesting and important. The clusters in the natural disaster unit include the topics of radioactivity, the structure of the Earth’s crust, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, cost and population considerations of the repository site; there is also an application cluster that has students decide where in Japan a repository should be located.

A few of the units are not cohesive. For instance, many of the clusters in unit 4 in grade seven do not seem to be linked as closely with the stated purpose as they are in the other units. Lessons and clusters in unit 4 are loosely related to a general topic, namely, how the Earth fits into the universe. The story line explains that the town of Consumerville is running out of natural resources and has to consider other options for its needs, such as traveling to another planet to gather resources. The clusters include such topics as examining a community’s needs and the resources available, the scale of the Earth’s and the Moon’s systems, what we can find out about other planets (including planet mythology), how to determine the best launch time for a spacecraft, how to design a spacecraft, how our planet has changed through time, what processes caused the changes (among them, plate tectonics), and how we should deal with a space probe that lands on the Earth. These clusters take many diversions from the stated purpose of examining other possibilities for dwindling resources.

Although the opening questions, objectives, and story-line overviews are printed in the teacher’s lesson plans only, they are available to the students electronically in the overview section of the software. Also, each cluster or unit begins with an indication to the teacher either to read or to have a student read the introductory material to the class. These purposes are comprehensible and well explained in the narratives. They are likely to be interesting and motivating to students. The clusters and the lessons in a cluster are consistent with the purposes, and, for the most part, the purposes are returned to at the end of the cluster or unit. However, students are not given opportunities to think about the purposes.

Conveying lesson/activity purpose (Rating = Fair)

Like the units and clusters, the lessons begin with opening questions and a background section. The opening questions provide a purpose for the lesson, but the background section does not provide the same type of narrative that explains the purpose further, as the story-line overviews do for the units and clusters. The background segment is full of technical vocabulary and is most likely incomprehensible to students. Some opening questions contain technical vocabulary, making them less comprehensible, such as: “What are tectonic plates?” (8.4.23.1, LP1, p. 5). Other opening questions, without technical vocabulary, may still be difficult for students to understand, such as: “[W]hat has contributed to the movement of the Earth’s continents over time?” (7.4.32.3, LP3, p. 6), and “How have environments varied on Earth in the past?” (6.1.4, LP, p. 1). The purpose for the activities in the lessons is inconsistent; some activities contain background information and a purpose, while others do not. Only a few times do the activities explain what students have just done and how it will contribute to their understanding. Furthermore, students are not asked to think about the purpose of the activity and are not told how the purpose relates to the rest of the unit. The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

Justifying lesson/activity sequence (Rating = Satisfactory)

Although the story-line and the investigative question sections give an outline of a unit and its clusters, they do not offer a rationale for why the clusters or lessons are sequenced as they are in a unit. In most cases, a rationale can be inferred readily, as in the case of the eighth-grade unit on natural disasters. Students are told that they are members of the World Environmental Task Force and that their job is to find a suitable storage place for nuclear wastes. The sequence of the clusters has students learn about radioactivity first, as background knowledge; then they work through a series of clusters that focus on the structure of the Earth’s crust and the different types of natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Next, they study the cost and population considerations of the repository site. The last cluster has students practice what they have learned in the unit so far by examining possible repository sites in Japan. However, other units have poor sequences. A case in point is unit 4 in grade seven, in which lessons and clusters are loosely related to the general topic of how the Earth fits into the universe, (see discussion under criterion entitled “Conveying unit purpose”). Not only does this unit seem like a random collection of topics, but also no logical sequence for the topics can be inferred. Lastly, it is important to note that the idea of plate tectonics is used in an explanation of mountain building in grade five (5.1.5.4, LP4, pp. 20–21), long before it is introduced, defined or discussed in grades six, seven, and eight. The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.




II. Taking Account of Student Ideas

Attending to prerequisite knowledge and skills (Rating = Poor)

Prerequisite ideas are not addressed adequately and teachers are not alerted to prerequisites. There are only a few places where some of the prerequisites are presented, but even when they are presented, they are not connected to the relevant key idea. Three prerequisites are mentioned, namely, knowledge of gravity, familiarity with large numbers, and knowledge of a variety of landforms. Gravity as an underlying force in many erosional processes is mentioned only once—in grade five, students are merely reminded that gravity pulls water downhill (5.1.5.1, LP1, p. 8). As for the prerequisite about familiarity with large numbers, in another lesson, the text attempts to help students understand the age of the Earth better by using an analogy that compares the number of years of the Earth’s existence to the number of people on the Earth (6.1.4.1, LP1, p. 5). Since both the number of people on the Earth and the age of the Earth are large numbers, this analogy is limited; it uses one large number to explain another large number. Lastly, students have many opportunities to gain familiarity with a variety of landforms as they work through this material, especially by viewing the photographs and diagrams in the software (e.g., see the How Land Changes Database [6.1.3.1]). However, often these landforms are not used in discussions of the ways in which the Earth (and these landforms) change over time.

The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

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

Science 2000 mentions only one misconception related to the changing nature of the Earth that is commonly held by students. In one lesson plan, a note to the teacher states: “Most people have a difficult time conceptualizing ‘billions of years,’ which also makes it difficult to grasp the time increments during which geological and biological changes have occurred” (6.1.4.3, LP3, p. 12). Although students are likely to have trouble understanding the long time frame of the Earth’s history, no further explanation is provided. Furthermore, no other misconceptions that have been documented in the research literature are mentioned. Admittedly, the research on students’ ideas in the field of Earth science is small. Even so, this material fails to alert teachers to the well-documented student belief that the Earth is as it always has been (Freyberg, 1985).

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

Science 2000 provides very few opportunities for teachers to identify their own students’ ideas. No activities or suggestions that would help teachers know their students ideas before instruction starts occur in the sixth-grade lessons, and very few occur in the other grades. Some questions and activities are evident in the preassessment activities for grades five, seven, and eight. However, for many lessons, these activities do not focus on identifying students’ ideas before instruction begins. For example, the preassessment activities in grade five seem to serve as a transition to the lesson rather than questions that could elicit students’ ideas about the Earth. Students are asked: “How far do these mountains [the Rocky Mountains] extend in different directions?” and “How high are some of the individual peaks?” (5.1.5.1., LP1, p. 7). These questions will not help teachers to identify possible misconceptions that the students may bring to class. Very few relevant questions and activities are found in grade seven. One potentially useful question is found in an “Option” in the teacher’s guide. It suggests a brainstorming session on how and why the Earth’s continents might have moved (7.4.32.2, LP2, p. 4). Likewise, some of the activities recommended as preassessments in grade eight are potentially useful; for example, one activity asks students to write a definition of “volcano,” sketch and label a cross-section of a volcano, draw a composite sketch on the chalkboard, and list questions that they need answered or that would enable them to find out more about volcanoes (8.4.25.1, LP1, p. 6). However, this task seems to focus on the details of the structure of volcanoes, rather than how the Earth changes as a result of volcanoes. Overall, the questions and tasks provided are insufficient to identify misconceptions students might have about the key Earth science ideas.

The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

Addressing commonly held ideas (Rating = Poor)

Science 2000 makes no attempt to address misconceptions that many students have about some of the key Earth science ideas.




III. Engaging Students with Relevant Phenomena

Providing variety of phenomena (Rating = Poor)

There are a few phenomena for most of the key ideas. For the idea that the Earth is changing continually (Idea a), a few phenomena are presented but none are explained in terms of this key idea. For example, a video showing the formation of the island of Surtsey is used to explain that the Earth is “living” (7.4.32.2), but the narration does not explain that the Earth is constantly changing. Likewise in the context of moving continents and plate tectonics, another video shows how the continents have moved in the past and suggests future changes as well (6.1.4.3). However, this video focuses on the changing location of the continents, but does not explain that the surface of the Earth continues to change as well.

For the idea that several processes contribute to the changing surface of the Earth (Idea b), few phenomena are presented. For example, students watch a video of the eruption that created Surtsey (7.4.33, Video Index), as well as several videos showing different types of volcanic eruptions—including Mount Saint Helens, Mount Parícutin, and Kilauea erupting (8.4.25.1)—and one video that mentions that the Himalayan Mountains were formed from the collision of continents (6.1.4.3). Unfortunately, most of these phenomena show or discuss the formation only of volcanoes and mountains. There is not a wide variety of contexts in which students can see other processes that change the surface of the Earth.

Only one phenomenon is provided for the idea that some processes are fast and some are slow (Idea d); the video showing the eruption and formation of Surtsey briefly mentions that the island formed in several years (7.4.33, Video Index). However, no other phenomena are explained in terms of the time frame of changes to the Earth.

The only phenomenon for the idea that slow but continuous processes can create dramatic changes to the surface of the Earth eventually (Idea e) is given in the context of continental drift. A video shows how the continents are believed to have moved throughout the history of the Earth, and the narration explains that the continents move so slowly (1–3 inches a year) that humans do not notice the movement (6.1.4.3).

For the ideas related to plate tectonics (Ideas g, h), a video shows an underwater eruption along a midocean ridge (8.4.25.2) and the formation of Surtsey (7.4.33, Video Index). No phenomena are presented for the ideas that matching coastlines and other evidence suggest that today’s continents were once part of a single vast continent (Idea f), and that the processes that shape the Earth today are similar to the processes that shaped the Earth in the past (Idea c).

The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

Providing vivid experiences (Rating = Poor)

The software component allows for an incredibly vivid presentation of phenomena, such as the formation of Surtsey, an underwater eruption along a midocean ridge, and the volcanic eruptions discussed in the previous criterion. Unfortunately, only two of the key ideas are addressed with such vivid phenomena—that several processes change the surface of the Earth (Idea b), and that the Earth’s plates move past one another slowly (Idea g).

The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.



IV. Developing and Using Scientific Ideas

Introducing terms meaningfully (Rating = Poor)

Science 2000 introduces terms in different sections of the program. Student investigation work sheets (which are included in the software) include certain terms as “hot buttons” that link to definitions of the terms in the glossary. So, presumably, if students view these sheets on the computer, they will explore their links. Lesson plans (which are also included in the software) sometimes include instructions to teachers about students looking up specific terms in the glossary. Lesson plans include in the Procedure section, additional terms linked to the glossary. However, it is not clear whether the students are able to view the lesson plans or, if not, whether and how the teacher is to introduce these additional terms to the students. Given these ambiguities, it is not always feasible to evaluate whether certain terms will or will not be introduced in the context of relevant experiences.

Often terms are defined and introduced with an accompanying diagram or photograph in the software. These photographs and diagrams attempt to connect the technical term to a relevant experience. Unfortunately, there is no caption, legend, or scale for any of the interlinked photographs, making them difficult to understand. For example, a photograph of a coal seam (6.1.4.2) looks like a layer of rocks. Nothing in the photograph clarifies what a coal seam is, and there is no caption to explain what part of the photograph is the coal seam.

Sometimes, lessons begin by asking students (in small groups or as a whole class) to brainstorm a topic and formulate a class definition; for example, students are asked to come up with a list of the attributes of a desert and a class definition before they continue the lesson (5.1.5.3, LP3, p. 17).

The use of complex and technical terminology is not restricted. There is an extensive glossary in the software in which terms are interlinked. The software-based glossary contains terms that are well beyond those needed for effective communication about the key Earth science ideas and those needed for science literacy. For example, the glossary includes the terms “lithification,” “silica-rich magmas,” “iron–magnesium silicates,” “lahar,” “beta particle,” “radionuclide,” and “pyroclastic flow.” Although no attempt has been made to limit the number of technical terms introduced, one benefit of this glossary is that the resource is linked only to those places where a term is needed or used, and students can return to it whenever needed. Furthermore, terms often are linked at several places in the glossary. The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

Representing ideas effectively (Rating = Fair)

Science 2000 attempts to provide representations for most of the key Earth science ideas. Most of the representations for these key ideas are found in the software, either as interlinks to help explain technical terms or as a part of an activity or a set of questions. Many of the diagrams are likely to be incomprehensible to students, mostly because no captions or legends accompany them. For example, the line diagram called The Basic Elements of Tectonics (8.4.23.1 in the Plate Tectonics Database) is highly detailed, has no caption, has no scale, and shows the size of a convection current inaccurately. Similarly, a diagram called Plates of the World incorrectly shows Greenland to be larger than South America or Africa, and unexplained arrows show the direction of plate movement (8.4.23.1 in the Plate Tectonics Database). An animated movie entitled Plates Are in Motion about plate interactions (8.4.23.1) inaccurately represents a spreading zone, showing that as plates separate, a gaping hole is created.

Some representations are likely to be helpful. A video shows the crust of a lava flow to represent how the Earth’s tectonic plates interact (8.4.24, Video Index); the narration explains the analogy. Students are required to make models and simulations as well. For instance, in grade five, students make a model of a mountain with sand and pour water over it slowly to simulate the continental divide and drainage patterns. A follow-up question asks students how well the model represents a real mountain and how the model is different (5.1.15.1, SI5–1, p. 2). This type of follow-up question engages students in thinking about the limitations of their models. Although students are not typically asked to critique their models and other representations, it is useful to link models to the real objects they represent.

Even though Science 2000 incorporates the use of technology (laser videodisc) to present moving images of changes to the surface of the Earth, the still photographs and diagrams draw the same criticism as regular textbooks, namely, that there are no attempts to show before-and-after diagrams of processes that change the surface of the Earth. Thus, it is still possible that students may not comprehend that the surface of the Earth has changed and continues to change. The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

Demonstrating use of knowledge (Rating = Poor)

Science 2000 does not provide examples of how to use the key Earth science ideas to explain phenomena.

Providing practice (Rating = Poor)

Overall, the number and variety of opportunities for students to practice using the key Earth science ideas are not adequate. There are no or very few questions provided for several key Earth science ideas. There are no practice tasks or questions for the key ideas that the Earth is changing constantly (Idea a), and that matching coastlines and other evidence suggest that today’s continents were once part of a single vast continent (Idea f). For the idea that slow but continuous changes can create significant changes to the surface of the Earth eventually (Idea e), there is only one practice question. After students make a model of a mountain range from clay, they are asked: “What would happen to your mountain range (supposing it were real) after a million years or so?” (7.4.33.2, SI33–2b, p. 883). Although this question asks about long time frames, it does not ask about the small changes that build up over long time frames to cause significant changes to the Earth. Likewise, there is only one practice question for the key idea that some Earth-changing processes are fast and some are slow (Idea d). After viewing a series of photographs in the How Land Changes Database (6.1.3.1) showing deltas, sand dunes, damage from earthquakes, rockslides, glaciers, etc., students are asked which processes cause a rapid change and which cause a slow change (6.1.3.1, SI3–1, p. 1).

Very few questions enable students to practice the idea that the processes that shape the Earth today are similar to those that shaped the Earth in the past (Idea c). Students see photographs of landforms and are asked to infer what happened in the past in that location (6.1.4.2, SI4–2, p. 4). There are very few questions that help students to practice the idea that several processes contribute to the changing surface of the Earth (Idea b). Those provided include: “Why are volcanoes destructive?” (7.4.33.1, SI33–1a, p. 877), and “How would weathering and erosion affect the layering of rock?” (7.4.33.2, SI33–2b, p. 883). Lastly, although some questions ask students about the movement of continents, very few questions focus on the key ideas related to plate tectonics (Ideas g, h). Only a few questions are included for these key ideas. One of them is: “Compare your map [of earthquakes] with the Map of Tectonic Plates. What similarities or differences do you see?” (8.4.24.1, SI24–1–A, p. 1); another asks students to compare earthquake and volcano activity patterns to the Earth’s tectonic plate boundaries (8.4.25.2, SI25–2–A, p. 7).

Most of the practice tasks and questions require students to recall what they have just read or to use a database to answer questions. Very few of the practice tasks and questions are novel. Furthermore, there is no increase in complexity of the questions or gradual decrease of feedback to students in the practice sets.


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

Encouraging students to explain their ideas (Rating = Fair)

Asking students to express their ideas is a somewhat routine feature of Science 2000. However, students are not asked to clarify, justify, or represent their ideas. For example, students are asked: “Once a rock is initially created, does it remain the same? What happens to it?” (6.1.4.1, LP1, p. 6), and “What have you learned in the first three lessons of this cluster that make you think of geologic and environmental change that has occurred in your local community?” (6.1.4.4, LP4, p. 17). Usually, the teacher’s lesson plan indicates that questions are to be posed to the whole class, but there are also some suggestions for students to write their ideas on worksheets or in their notebooks or to discuss them in small groups. Occasionally, the teacher’s lesson plan include some suggestions about how to run class discussions; for instance, after asking the class how global warming might change the Earth, the teacher is told, “Give them time to think and voice their thoughts and suggestions. You can list their suggestions on the board. They should also write their ideas in their notebooks” (7.4.32.1, LP1, p. 1). But, there is only one suggestion to help the teacher provide feedback to students, who are asked: “Why don’t mountains last forever?” The teacher’s lesson plan explains that students think that mountains do last forever and advises giving an example of a sand castle being knocked down over time (6.1.3.1, LP1, p. 7). However, there are no suggestions that teachers diagnose student errors, no explanations of how such errors may be corrected, and no advice about how students’ ideas may be developed further. Making such information available would help teachers give more useful feedback to each student. The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

Guiding student interpretation and reasoning (Rating = Satisfactory)

Most activities are followed by a set of questions. Typically, these questions may help students to make sense of an experience, a demonstration/model, or an activity. For example, students use a jar to collect water that has drained from their model of the continental divide and add other sediments as well; then they watch for sedimentation. The follow-up questions include: “Did all the sediments settle to the bottom?” “Did any layers form? If so, which layer formed first? Which formed last?” “Which sediments are the heaviest?” “Which sediments are the lightest?” and “How might you apply the results of your experiment to understanding or explaining layered sedimentary rocks found on the Earth?” (5.1.5.2, SI5–2, pp. 7–8). Another example follows an activity in which students compare separate maps of earthquake locations, volcano locations, and plate boundaries. Among the follow-up questions are: “Where has most of the volcanic activity in the world been during the 20th century?” “How do the areas of volcanic activity compare with those of earthquake activity? What are the similarities and differences?” “How do the earthquake and volcanic activity patterns compare with the boundaries of the earth’s tectonic plates?” “What do you think this says about some causes of volcanism?” and “How do your answers compare with what you thought before about where active volcanoes occur?” (8.4.25.2, SI25–2-A, p. 8). Both of these examples may help students to relate their experiences with the phenomena to the key Earth science ideas. The questions are sequenced in increasing levels of complexity.

The review teams were unable to reach full agreement on the material’s rating for this criterion. The rating reported above is a Project 2061 compromise based on evidence in the reports of both teams.

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

There are a few occasions in grades seven and eight in which students are asked to review their initial ideas or to compare what they think now with their initial ideas. For example, at the beginning of lesson 2 (8.4.25), students are asked to mark on a map where they think volcanoes occur. Then, after students compare three maps (one showing the location of earthquakes, another showing the location of volcanoes, and the last showing the plate boundaries), they are asked how their answers compare with what they had thought at the beginning of the lesson (8.4.25.2, SI25–2, p. 8). There are a few other places where students are asked to compare their initial predictions with the results of an experiment and to revise their ideas if needed (7.2.15.2, LP2, p. 6). In another lesson, a suggestion in the teacher’s lesson plan says: “You may wish to record their initial thoughts and ideas, save them, then return to these ideas after they investigate these questions, revising or confirming them, as necessary” (7.4.32.2, LP2, p. 4).

There are no opportunities that encourage students to monitor how their ideas have changed in grades five and six.




VI. Assessing Progress

Aligning assessment to goals (Rating = Poor)

Science 2000 systematically includes cluster assessments. However, in many cases, they are not aimed at the key Earth science ideas—even in clusters where those key ideas are extensively addressed. Some of the key Earth science ideas, such as the idea that the Earth is continually changing (Idea a) and the evidence for continental drift (Idea f), are not assessed at all in Science 2000. A few items target the idea that erosion contributes to the changing of the Earth’s surface (part of Idea b), as, for example, “[D]o you think that erosion is contributing to the present condition of your lake?” But, no items are provided that require students to consider several Earth-shaping processes (Idea b). Few assessment items that target other key Earth science ideas are included. For example, students explain how today’s environments tell them about those of the past (Idea c) (grade 6, cluster 4 assessment), decide whether the processes of erosion and deposition represent fast or slow changes (Idea d) (grade 6, cluster 3 assessment), and describe the evidence for the constant motion of the crustal plates (Idea g) (grade 7, cluster 32 assessment). Other than these questions, the material does not include questions that require knowledge of the key Earth science ideas.

Testing for understanding (Rating = Poor)

Some of the assessment items described under the previous criterion require understanding of the key Earth science ideas and some tasks are novel. However, they are clearly insufficient to diagnose student understanding.

Using assessment to inform instruction (Rating = Poor)

The professional development component of Science 2000 states that the strategy of informing instruction based on students’ performance is a powerful one and encourages the teacher to observe students to get informal feedback:
[Formative] assessment offers guidance for improvement and is an ongoing process. It can be formal…or informal…. Because many students work independently or in groups during Science 2000 lessons, the teacher is able to circulate in the classroom, observe students, and get informal feedback…. During lessons, teachers are encouraged to informally assess students’ comprehension by observing their progress at the activities. [grade 6, p. 19.3]

In the Teacher’s Guide, however, there is no explicit mention of this instructional strategy and no specific reference to questions or tasks. Assessment is discussed in the Science 2000 Instructional Approach (p. 8.1–2), which states that questions in step 1 are for preassessment and that they should be used to “guide the teacher in building bridges to new content” (p. 8.1), and that those in step 5 (Evaluation) are for the “final step in a constructivist learning sequence.” The paragraph notes that Science 2000 “outlines a variety of strategies for assessing the conceptual understanding achieved by students” and that “there are structured assessment questions or assignments after many lessons and after each cluster.” It further notes, “Many of these engage students in the applications of concepts and knowledge” (p. 8.2). However, the role of these assessments in instruction is not made explicit. Likewise, Chapter 13: The Science 2000 Software includes a paragraph on assessments that notes that

Science 2000 includes short written tests of student understanding of each cluster.… Some of the assessments ask for quite specific information to check problem-solving and mathematical skills while others ask for more formative responses such as ideas the students had while conducting an investigation. [p. 13.8]

However, no mention is made of the function of the assessments in instruction.

Although not explicit, Science 2000 does include some opportunities for students to express and apply relevant ideas (see the criteria entitled “Encouraging students to examine their ideas” and “Providing practice”) that can be used, in principle, by a well-informed teacher to diagnose students’ remaining difficulties. However, while some relevant questions are included, Science 2000 does not include suggestions for teachers about how to probe beyond students’ initial responses to better understand where they are, 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 to some 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. Teacher Background notes in the lesson plans usually provide sophisticated versions of ideas for each lesson. However, the advanced explanations often do not explicitly alert teachers to how ideas have been simplified for students (e.g., 5.1.5.2, LP2, pp. 9–10, Background) and are sometimes brief (e.g., 6.1.4.2, LP2, p. 8, Background) or present additional terms (e.g., 6.1.3.1, LP1, pp. 4–5, Background). Overall, the teacher content support may be used as a selective but not comprehensive content resource by the teacher.

The material provides some sufficiently detailed answers to questions in the student text for teachers to understand and interpret various student responses (e.g., 5.1.5.1, SI5–1, Teacher Answer Key, p. 4, Part I). However, there are some limitations to the responses provided in the teacher’s notes, which are sometimes brief and require further explanation (e.g., “Accept all reasonable answers,” 7.4.32.Assessments component, Assessment [32–1]: Teacher Answer Key, item 5).

The material provides minimal support in recommending resources for improving the teacher’s understanding of key ideas. The material includes lists of mediagraphy (film, video, and software), teacher articles, teacher books, and organizations in the Resources component of each cluster. However, the lists lack annotations about what kinds of information the references provide or how they may be helpful.

Encouraging curiosity and questioning (Some support is provided.)

The material provides a few general suggestions for how to encourage students’ questions and guide their search for answers. Introductory teacher’s notes in the Professional Development Teacher’s Guide state that “teachers can encourage students to develop their own questions and to conduct their own observations and experiments” (8.PD, p. 6.2). In addition, the introductory teacher’s notes describing teacher lesson plans state that “lessons are designed so students have to ask questions and figure out how to find the answers” (8.PD, p. 7.1). Specifically, within a cooperative group task, one student hypothetically travels back in time 100 million years ago. As part of the task, the students are asked to generate a list of questions to ask the time traveling student (6.1.4.2, LP2, p. 9, Procedure, item 3).

The material provides some suggestions for how to respect and value students’ ideas. Teacher’s notes state that multiple student answers should be acceptable for selected questions (e.g., 7.4.33.1, SI33–1–A, Teacher Answer Key, p. 880, item 2), and the student text explicitly elicits and values students’ own ideas in some hypothesis and design tasks (e.g., 7.4.33.2, LP, p. 4, Procedure, item 6).

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., 6.1.4.2, SI4–2, p. 4, items 1, 2; 7.4.32.Assessments component, Assessment [32–1]: Cluster 32 Assessment, item 3).

The material provides some suggestions for how to avoid dogmatism. Introductory teacher’s notes emphasize the role of the teacher as “a facilitator and a question-asker, encouraging students to articulate what they already know and to draw on their knowledge as they pursue an investigation” (8.PD, p. 6.2). The student text portrays the nature of science as a human enterprise in which students may participate (e.g., 6.1.3.2, SI3–2, p. 4, item 4), highlights the work of some current scientists in the Scientists in Action component (e.g., 7.4.32.2, LP2, Procedure, item 2, the dynamic nature of our planet Earth video clip) and illustrates changes over time in scientific thinking (e.g., 8.4.24.2, SI24–2–B, Earthquakes Database, Early Earthquake Explanations).

The material provides a few examples of classroom interactions through brief vignettes in the Science 2000 Professional Development Teacher’s Guide that illustrate appropriate ways to respond to student questions or ideas, etc (e.g., 8.PD, pp. 1.1-1.2). In addition, a limited sense of desirable student-student interactions may be gained from procedural directions for laboratories and cooperative group activities (e.g., 8.PD, pp. 19.6–19.10; 7.4.32.4, LP4, p. 10, Procedure, item 3; 7.4.33.1, LP1, p. 1, Procedure, item 3).

Supporting all students (Considerable support is provided.)

The material generally avoids stereotypes or language that might be offensive to a particular group. Video clips include a diverse cultural mix of adults and children (e.g., 8.4.24.Video Listings component, woman with seismograph; 8.4.24.Video Listings component, Loma Prieta earthquake-military guard, San Francisco; 8.4.25.Video Listings component, composite volcano eruption—Mt. St. Helens, Washington). In addition, the material’s use of narrative dialogues (e.g., 7.4.32.Overviews component, Overview [32]: Cluster 32, Storyline) along with traditional expository text may support the language use of particular student groups.

The material provides some illustrations of the contributions of women and minorities to science and as role models. Most of the contributions of women and minorities appear in the Scientists in Action component that lists names of scientists who have worked in the subject area with links to biographies (e.g., 5.1.5.Scientists in Action component, Beckwourth, James [1798–1867]) ,sometimes including video, still photographs, and links to other databases. In addition, some Extension features highlight cultural contributions related to chapter topics. For example, students are asked to research and prepare written or oral reports about Native American tribes who lived in the Great Basin (5.1.5.3, LP3, p. 18, Extensions, item 1). The cultural contributions within these components are interesting and informative but may not be seen by students as central to the material because they are often presented separate from the main lesson plans and student investigations.

The material suggests multiple formats for students to express their ideas during instruction, including individual investigations (e.g., 7.4.32.3, LP3, pp. 7, 8, Procedure, item 8), journal or log writing (e.g., 7.4.32.3, LP3, p. 6, Procedure, item 2), cooperative group activities (e.g., 7.4.33.2, LP2, p. 4, Procedure, item 5), laboratory investigations (e.g., 8.4.25.1, SI25–1–B, pp. 3–5), whole class discussions (e.g., 5.1.5.2, LP2, pp. 12, 13, Procedure, item 5), essay questions (e.g., 5.1.5.2, SI5–2, p. 8, Questions, item 6), and visual projects (e.g., 5.1.5.1, SI5–1, pp. 1–3). In addition, multiple formats are suggested for assessment, including oral discussion (e.g., 5.1.5.2, LP5.2, pp. 11, 12, Procedure, items 1, 2), essay (e.g., 6.1.3.Assessments component, Assessment [3–1]: Cluster 3 Assessment, item 1), and performance (e.g., 6.1.4.Assessments component, Assessment [4–1]: Cluster 4 Assessment). However, the material does not usually provide a variety of alternatives for the same task, but often includes additional optional activities (e.g., 7.4.32.3, LP3, p. 8, Procedure, item 9, Option).

The material does not routinely include specific suggestions about how teachers can modify activities for students with special needs. However, the material suggests that Extension activities may be used in place of parts of the lesson if deemed by the teacher to be “more appropriate for the class’ ability, background or interests” (8.PD, p. 7.1) and are later designated as suitable for gifted and advanced students (8.PD, p. 7.3). In addition, the material suggests that teachers provide opportunities for students to explore the database individually (8.PD, p. 18.4). For Spanish speakers, background descriptions of lessons, story lines, key concepts, many database entries, many student investigations, and other materials are written in Spanish and English (8.PD, p. 7.3). For hearing impaired students, the audiotrack of the videoclips has close-captioning. For visually impaired students, some text is written in large type. Teacher tips provide additional suggestions for supporting limited English proficiency and bilingual students (e.g., 8.PD, pp. 19.5–19.6, Computer Instruction with Language Minority Students).

The material provides many strategies to validate students’ relevant personal and social experiences with scientific ideas. Many tasks ask students about particular personal experiences they may have had or suggest specific experiences to have. For example, students are asked to study the formation of sediments in local water sources such as lakes, streams, or oceans, and then provide evidence of the sediment formation and further identify the sediments or determine the rate of formation (5.1.5.2, LP5.2, p. 13, Extensions, item 1). 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., 6.1.3.1, LP1, p. 6, Procedure, item 3).