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AAAS  :: Project 2061  :: Textbook Evaluations

Middle Grades Science Textbooks: A Benchmarks-Based Evaluation

Science Interactions. Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 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)

Science Interactions attempts to set a purpose for each chapter through text at the beginning of the chapter that includes a scenario about an everyday experience, sometimes followed by a brief statement of purpose about what students will study in the chapter. Most often, however, the statement of purpose refers to the opening activity only, not to the chapter. In course 1, for example, the statement of purpose at the start of Chapter 14: Moving Water pertains to the first activity only: “In the activity on the next page, explore how surfaces on Earth can affect what happens to water” (p. 442s). However, the statement of purpose that opens Chapter 15: Shaping the Land refers to the whole chapter: “In this chapter, you will learn how forces in nature such as water and wind not only can change but can actually carry away parts of Earth” (p. 472s). When presented, these purposes are somewhat comprehensible but are not likely to be interesting or motivating to students. The lessons in the chapter are consistent with the purpose stated, but the purpose is not returned to at the end of the chapter.

The unit purposes are similar to the chapter purposes. Generally, the unit purposes are vague and include several topics (due to the integrated nature of this series). In course 3, for example, Unit 4: Changes in Life and Earth Over Time covers plant reproduction, genetics, and plate tectonics. The purpose of this unit is vague enough to include these divergent topics: “Our world—and the life on it—slowly changed. . .as it continues to do to this day” (p. 402s). These purposes are somewhat comprehensible but may not be particularly interesting or motivating to students. Similarly, in course 2, Unit 1: Forces in Action seems to be a collection of unrelated chapters (about forces and motion, earthquakes and volcanoes, and the circulatory system). The unit purpose addresses the earthquakes and volcanoes chapter only. This unit opens with a photograph of a river of lava and explains that “sometimes you can observe the disastrous effects of forces unleashed within Earth. Plunge in and learn how forces shape your life” (p. 18s). Although there are no questions that invite students to think about the unit purpose, they are returned to at the end of each units.

Conveying lesson/activity purpose (Rating = Poor)

A purpose is provided for most activities but is rarely provided for readings. The purpose of activities is usually provided in the form of a question, as in course 1, chapter 15: “How do sediments move from one location to another?” (p. 473s), and “How do glaciers change the land?” (p. 488s). These questions are usually comprehensible. The text does not engage students in thinking about the activities (i.e., why they should do them, what they will learn from them, or how the activities are connected to the unit purpose). The text rarely conveys to students the purpose of the readings and rarely engages them in thinking about what they have learned so far and what they need to learn or do next.

Justifying lesson/activity sequence (Rating = Poor)

A rationale for a logical or strategic sequence of the readings and activities is not given. In some chapters, the sequence of topics seems to follow a reasonable order. In course 3, for example, Chapter 15: Moving Continents deals with plate motion, in which Wegener’s historic evidence is presented first, followed by the more current data (seafloor topography and magnetic evidence) and the landforms and geologic events (mountains, earthquakes, and volcanoes) that occur as a result of plate motion. In other chapters, a logical sequence is not apparent. In course 1, chapter 18 seems to be a collection of topics related to earthquakes and volcanoes rather than a strategic sequence of topics. The topics include observing an earthquake and a volcano, how the two events are related, types of volcanic eruptions, earthquake damage, volcano damage, measuring earthquakes, and making a model seismograph. Furthermore, much of this information is repeated in course 2 in Chapter 2: Forces In Earth. And many of the topics in this chapter require knowledge of plate tectonics, which is not treated fully until course 3.

The chapters in a unit often seem unrelated. In course 2, for example, Unit 1: Forces in Action contains three completely unrelated topics. It consists of Chapter 1: Forces and Pressure (topics include force, motion, pressure, acceleration, and buoyancy), Chapter 2: Forces In Earth (topics include earthquakes, faults, seismic waves, and volcanoes), and Chapter 3: Circulation (topics include parts of the heart, the circulatory system, and disorders in circulation). No reason is given for combining these three chapters in one unit. Furthermore, other than the unit’s opening statement, “Plunge in and learn how forces shape your life” (course 2, p. 18s), nothing in the chapters explains the link.

II. Taking Account of Student Ideas

Attending to prerequisite knowledge and skills (Rating = Poor)

Science Interactions minimally addresses the prerequisite ideas that are important for the subsequent treatment of the key Earth science ideas. Teachers are not advised about what the prerequisites are or where they are discussed. Tying to Previous Knowledge components often direct teachers to review topics from previous chapters, but generally, the importance of reviewing these topics is not mentioned to the teacher and these topics are not identified as prerequisites.

Two prerequisite ideas are somewhat treated, namely, students are provided with some experiences with a variety of landforms and the concept of gravity is defined. Although students gain familiarity with landforms in course 1 in Chapter 1: Viewing Earth and Sky, this section is not referred to in subsequent chapters that explain how landforms are changed. Likewise, the topic of gravity is introduced in the same chapter, but neither Chapter 13: Motion Near Earth nor Chapter 15: Shaping the Land refer to this initial introduction.

Some important prerequisites are not treated. For example, the difficulties that students may have with proportionality and scale—which would help them understand the slow processes and the long time frames of the Earth—are not addressed. Furthermore, although students make models throughout these chapters, the role of models in science (e.g., to facilitate thinking about processes that happen too slowly or too quickly) is not discussed.

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

Although the Teacher Wraparound Edition includes a component called Uncovering Preconceptions, this section does not contain helpful information about students’ naive conceptions or misconceptions. Admittedly, research is limited on students’ ideas in the field of Earth science. Even so, Science Interactions fails to alert teachers to or explain a well-documented student belief, namely, that the Earth is as it always has been (Freyberg, 1985).

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

Several components in Science Interactions contain questions and activities to be used at the beginning of a chapter or section, such as Uncovering Preconceptions, Tying to Previous Knowledge, Did you ever wonder…, Bellringer, Explore, and Find Out activities. These components could be used by teachers to find out what their students know before instruction, even though they are not identified explicitly as serving this purpose. In the Teacher Wraparound Edition, the purpose of some of these components is explained, such as: “Find Out and Explore activities allow students to consider questions about the concepts to come, make observations, and share prior knowledge” (Courses 1–3, p. 22t). This statement makes no mention of using the questions and tasks to uncover students’ ideas, nor are teachers alerted to this purpose within the chapters where the components are provided. Furthermore, the Find Out and Explore activities typically do not require students to explain their own ideas about the phenomena they are exploring, so teachers are not likely to learn anything about students’ commonly held ideas.

Overall, the questions and tasks in the components provided at the beginning of chapters and sections do not focus on the key Earth science ideas and are unlikely to elicit relevant students’ ideas before instruction. Although a few questions and tasks ask students about Earth processes, they typically focus on peripheral details rather than on how the Earth changes as a result of the process, such as, “Did you ever wonde...Why a river could be crystal clear at one time and murky brown at another?” and “…What causes rockslides?” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 472s). A few questions ask students to give explanations, such as, “How [do] volcanoes form?” (course 1, chapter 18, p. 572s), and “Brainstorm some ways that you think mountains like these could have been formed” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 468C). There are no suggestions to teachers to probe students’ responses, and teachers are given no guidance about what to do with the students’ ideas if they are not the correct answers.

Addressing commonly held ideas (Rating = Poor)

Although Science Interactions includes a component called Uncovering Preconceptions, it does not address the commonly held idea reported in the research literature, namely, that the Earth’s surface is unchanging (Freyberg, 1985) or other potential student difficulties.

III. Engaging Students with Relevant Phenomena

Providing variety of phenomena (Rating = Poor)

Science Interactions provides a few phenomena for some key ideas but provides only one or none for the others. There are a few phenomena that support the key idea that several processes change the Earth (Idea b). For example, students read about how a volcano was formed in a cornfield in 1943 (course 1, chapter 18, p. 576s), and how the islands of Iceland and Hawaii were formed (course 2, chapter 12, p. 382s). Also, a few phenomena are provided for the idea that some Earth-shaping changes are fast and some are slow (Idea d). For example, the text describes the formation of Parícutin in nine years (course 1, chapter 18, p. 576–577s) and presents diagrams of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens while the caption explains that the event took less than 30 seconds (course 3, chapter 15, pp. 496–497s). Other processes are mentioned as either gradual or rapid (e.g., shoreline changes [course 2, chapter 12, p. 362s]; rockslides and mudflows [course 1, chapter 15, p. 476s]; and creep and slump [course 1, chapter 15, p. 475s]).

For the idea that landforms and geologic events result from the interactions of tectonic plates (Idea h), only two phenomena are provided and explained in terms of this key idea. For instance, a sidebar note explains that “The Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa lies along a divergent plate boundary. Here, a valley has formed where two continental plates have started pulling apart. Millions of years from now, Africa will split into two landmasses at the valley” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 490s). Other phenomena that support this key idea are noted only in passing (e.g., course 3, chapter 15, pp. 486s, 494s). Only one phenomena is provided for the idea that the surface of the Earth is changing constantly (Idea a). In course 2, students read about a lighthouse that was erected in 1797. At that time, the lighthouse was 155 meters from the edge of a cliff; in 1993, it was only 35 meters from the edge (chapter 12, p. 362s). This change is explained in terms of this key idea: “[S]hore zones constantly change. They change because the waves and currents are constantly eroding and depositing sediments along the shore” (p. 362s).

For the idea that matching coastlines, rocks, and fossils suggest that today’s continents are separated parts of an ancient single vast continent (Idea f), all three pieces of evidence specifically named in the key idea are mentioned in the textbook. However, these pieces of evidence are not explained well enough for their significance to be appreciated (and hence support the key ideas). For example, the fossil evidence is presented but without any background information that would make it comprehensible to students. The text states: “What was so unusual is that Mesosaurus fossils are found in South America and Africa, and Glossopteris fossils are found in Africa, South America, India, Australia, and Antarctica. What could explain how these organisms got from one continent to another?” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 471s). The text does not explain why finding the same fossil in different continents requires an explanation. To fully appreciate the significance this evidence, students need to know that these continents now have quite different climates (because they are on different latitudes), that fossils typically are found where organisms once lived, and that organisms usually only thrive in particular climates. Thus, if fossils of the same organism are found in widely separated latitudes, it is likely that these locations once had the same climate. While it is possible that widely separated regions could have the same climate, the most plausible explanation for this (and other) evidence is that the regions were once in close proximity. This line of reasoning is not provided to help students make sense of the phenomena that support Wegener’s idea of continental drift. The presentation of evidence from glaciers and rock layers (which can also support this key idea) has similar problems (course 3, chapter 15, pp. 471s, 475s).

No phenomena are presented for the ideas that the processes that shape the Earth today are similar to the processes that shaped the Earth in the past (Idea c), and that slow but continuous processes can, over long times, cause significant changes to the Earth’s surface (Idea e).

Providing vivid experiences (Rating = Poor)

Most of the phenomena that support the key Earth science ideas are found in text descriptions that are typically too brief to provide students with a vicarious sense of the phenomena. For example, for the idea that landforms and geologic events result from the interactions of tectonic plates (Idea h), the text mentions places where tectonic plates are interacting. However, these real world instances of plate interactions are mentioned only in passing and not explained fully. A case in point is the section on convergent boundaries, in which the text states that when two plates containing continental crust collide, “The two plates crumple, forming mountain ranges. The Himalayan Mountains formed when the Indian Plate collided with the southern part of the Eurasian Plate” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 486s). Only a few phenomena are described well enough to give students a vicarious sense of the event. For instance, after asking students how they would feel if a volcano suddenly began forming in their neighborhood, the text explains:
Probably like the farmer in Mexico who went out to work in his cornfield one day in 1943. He discovered hot smoke and ash rising from an opening in the ground that had formed in his field…. In less that 24 hours, a hill 40 meters high stood where the land had once been flat. By the end of a week, the hill was more than 160 meters high and still forming. The volcano, called Parícutin, eventually reached a height of 412 meters, and its base covered an area larger than 16,000 football fields. [course 1, chapter 18, p. 576s]

However, vivid descriptions such as this are not typical in Science Interactions.

IV. Developing and Using Scientific Ideas

Introducing terms meaningfully (Rating = Poor)

Science Interactions is inconsistent in its use of relevant experiences to make new terms meaningful. Most of the new terms presented are defined in the text, but not linked to relevant experiences, such as “erosion” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 474s) and “continental drift” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 470s). Some terms are defined in conjunction with photographs or diagrams, such as “fault” (course 2, chapter 2, pp. 56–57s). Some terms are used before they are defined or are not defined at all, such as “earthquake” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 472), “volcano” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 472), “plate” (course 2, chapter 2, pp. 68–69s), “continental crust” (course 3, chapter 15, pp. 484s, 486s), “oceanic crust” (course 3, chapter 15, pp. 484s, 486s), “trench” (course 3, chapter 15, pp. 477s, 486s), “groyne” (course 2, chapter 12, p. 365s), and “rift valley” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 477s).

Several new technical terms are included in the chapters relevant to the key Earth science ideas. Extraneous terms are included, such as “arete,” “drumlin,” “cirques,” “horns,” “kettle lakes,” “till,” and “moraine” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 472C); “firn” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 486s); “groyne” (course 2, chapter 12, p. 365s); types of faults, such as “normal fault,” “reverse fault,” “strike-slip fault” (course 2, chapter 2, pp. 58–59s); “lithosphere” and “asthenosphere” (course 3, p. 484s); and “convection cell” and “convection current” (course 3, pp. 488–489). In some cases the extraneous terms are found on “Teaching Transparencies” (e.g., those terms for glacial features [course 1, p. 472C]), and not in the student text. Although removing technical terms for the readings may make the text easier for the students to understand, teachers may still focus on memorizing new vocabulary instead of learning the key Earth science ideas. Also, many new terms are introduced in the captions of figures and diagrams, which may make the figures and diagrams more difficult to understand (e.g., see Figure 15–9 [course 3, p. 484s], Figure 2–3 [course 2, pp. 58–59s], and Figure 2–8 [course 2, p. 70s]).

Representing ideas effectively (Rating = Fair)

Although Science Interactions includes figures, diagrams, and modeling activities for many of the key Earth science ideas, only a few of the key ideas are adequately represented. The material provides a particularly effective diagram to illustrate the idea that matching coastlines, rocks, and fossils suggest that today’s continents are separated parts of an ancient single vast continent (Idea f); to show how matching rock columns gave scientists evidence for moving continents, a diagram shows rock columns of Brazil and Southwest Africa (p. 475s). This diagram depicts older rock layers that are similar (signifying the layers that formed when the continents were joined), and show that newer rock layers are different (signifying the layers that formed after the continents had separated). This diagram is helpful in illustrating the evidence for continental drift from the rock layers. For the idea that several processes contribute to the changing surface of the Earth (Idea b) students model glacial erosion by rubbing wood blocks with ice cubes that were made with sand, gravel. Follow-up questions ask students to observe the wood’s surface and to explain how this might simulate how glaciers make similar patterns in rocks (course 1, chapter 15, p. 491st). Overall, this modeling activity is likely to be comprehensible to students and the follow-up questions link it to the real event (glacial scarring). However, the model is not entirely accurate. Although students are asked how their model is like the real event, they are not asked how it differs from the real event—in which case they would have been able to discuss how the wood block might behave differently from rock. Other modeling activities have similar problems (e.g., course 1, chapter 15, pp. 488–489st; course 3, chapter 15, pp. 488–489st).

Most representations are flawed in comprehensibility or are not well related to the real object or event they represent. Diagrams are often rendered incomprehensible by the lack of proper labeling. For example, arrows are used in diagrams but not explained (e.g., Figure 15–7 [course 3, chapter 15, p. 478s] and Figure 15-14 [course 3, chapter 15, pp. 486–487s]). Models often fail to clarify key ideas because they are not adequately related to the real object or event. For example, the teacher is to demonstrate how a plateau is formed by using a bicycle pump to blow up a plastic bag that is under a cloth (course 1, chapter 1, 27t). Similarly, the teacher is to model the three types of faults using a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (course 2, chapter 2, p. 59t). Although the ingredients are convenient, they do not model accurately how rocks interact. But even these models could be more useful if students were asked to critique the model; specifically, they should be asked to think how the model is like and unlike the real object or event.

Demonstrating use of knowledge (Rating = Poor)

Science Interactions does not make suggestions to the teacher about how to model the use the key Earth science ideas in explanations. Rather, most lessons follow the pattern of presenting facts, asking questions, and then having students parrot back correct answers.

Providing practice (Rating = Poor)

While Science Interactions includes some relevant practice questions, they focus on only three key Earth science ideas. There are no, or very few, practice questions for the key ideas that the Earth is changing constantly (Idea a), that some Earth-changing processes are slow while others are fast (Idea d), and that the solid crust consists of separate plates that can move and interact (Idea g). Most of the practice tasks focus on the key idea that several processes contribute to changing the surface of the Earth (Idea b), such as: “How do rivers cause erosion?” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 484s) and “Explain how wind changes the landscape at beaches and in deserts” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 496s). A few tasks for this key idea are novel, such as: “Explain how the Great Lakes could have been formed by a glacier” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 492s). There are also a few tasks for the key idea that the evidence suggests that the continents were a single vast continent long ago (Idea f), such as: “Fossils indicate that tropical plants once lived on what is now Antarctica. What two explanations can you give for this?” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 475s). And there are a few tasks that practice the idea that landforms and geologic events are the results of the interactions of the tectonic plates (Idea h), including some unusual ones, such as: “Both Japan and California are prone to earthquakes. Explain this fact using plate tectonics” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 495s). However, there is no progression of complexity in the sequence of questions and there is no guided practice with feedback that is decreased gradually.

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

Encouraging students to explain their ideas (Rating = Poor)

Although students are frequently asked to express their ideas in journals (particularly at the beginning of chapters and within some activities), very few of the questions focus on the key Earth science ideas. For instance, students are asked, “[W]hat causes rockslides?” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 472s), “How [do] volcanoes form?” (course 1, chapter 18, p. 572s) and “What can you infer about continental movement by comparing the layers of these two rock columns from Brazil and Africa?” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 475t). However, none of the questions invite students to clarify, justify, or represent their own ideas. There are no specific suggestions to help the teacher provide feedback and diagnose students’ errors.

Guiding student interpretation and reasoning (Rating = Poor)

Generally, readings and activities in the student text are followed by questions. However, most often, the questions asked are not likely to help students reflect on the activities. For instance, students make cutouts of the continents and find out how many ways the continents fit together (course 3, chapter 15, pp. 472–473s). Then, other evidence is provided such as the location of mountain ranges, fossils, and glacial features. It is not clear how students will use the other evidence or what their conclusions will be. Typically, throughout these textbooks, the questions that follow readings and activities do not help students to make connections between their own ideas and what they observe, and the questions are rarely organized in a meaningful sequence of progressive complexity. There are no specific questions that are likely to help students make sense of the text they read. Most of the questions after sections of text only ask students to recall information from the text, such as: “How do rivers cause erosion?” and “How do rivers shape valleys and deltas?” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 484s).

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

Each chapter starts with a feature called Did you ever wonder..., in which students are to answer the questions posed in their science journals. At the end of the chapter, they are asked to review the summary provided and re-read their answers to the Did you ever wonder...questions. Then, in their science journals, they are asked to write a paragraph about how their understanding of the major ideas in the chapter has changed. Unfortunately, many of the questions in the Did you ever wonder... feature do not deal with these key Earth science ideas. Very few of these questions would be helpful to students, namely, “Where [do] the piles of rocks along riverbanks come from?” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 472s) and “How [do] volcanoes form?” (course 1, chapter 18, p. 572s). As the questions at the beginning of each chapter are different from the questions at the end of the chapter, it is not clear whether students will be able to respond effectively to the question asking how their ideas have changed without having been asked to consider the questions before. In course 1, for example, at the beginning of chapter 18, students are asked to write what they know about how volcanoes form. At the end of the chapter, the question on volcanoes is: “Why aren’t volcanoes found everywhere on Earth?” (course 1, chapter 18, p. 597s).

Another feature, Flex Your Brain, has students write what they know about a topic, research the topic further, write about what they found, and compare their new knowledge to their original statement. It is possible that students will monitor their learning and ideas with respect to the key Earth science ideas by using this feature. However, the topics given to students are general and vague (e.g., landforms [course 1, chapter 1, p. 24t], sand dune [course 1, chapter 15, p. 494t], volcanic mountains [course 2, chapter 2, p. 70t], and the ocean floor [course 3, chapter 15, p. 478t]). It is uncertain what students will investigate, and there is no guidance or indication as to whether these key Earth science ideas will be explored. These activities could be more helpful if students were asked more directed questions, especially questions involving change over time—a concept that most middle grades students have difficulty accepting (Freyberg, 1985).

VI. Assessing Progress

Aligning assessment to goals (Rating = Poor)

For the end-of-instruction assessment, Science Interactions provides a review and a test for each chapter in separate Review and Assessment booklets. These components of the chapters that treat the key Earth science ideas most extensively—chapter 15 in course 1, chapter 12 in course 2, and chapter 15 in course 3—have been examined in terms of the first two assessment criteria. Science Interactions provides a test bank as well, but it has not been examined.

Science Interactions includes some relevant assessment items that focus on the key Earth science ideas. However, the number of questions provided is inconsistent across the set of key ideas. And, some of the key ideas are not assessed at all in this material, such as the idea that the processes that shape the Earth today are similar to those of the past (Idea c), that some Earth-shaping processes are slow and some are abrupt (Idea d), and that slow but continuous changes can cause significant changes on the Earth’s surface (Idea e).

Two assessment items are related to the idea that the Earth’s surface is continually changing (Idea a). Students are asked to decide whether steep slopes and riverbanks are good places to live (Review and Assessment, course 1, Chapter 15 Review, p. 90, item 23) and choose the correct answer to complete the statement, “All of the following are true of sand dunes EXCEPT that sand dunes” [a] move, [b] are formed by wind, [c] maintain their size, [d] can be found along coasts (Review and Assessment, course 1, Chapter 15 Test, p. 91, item 11; the answer is c). Since both of these questions focus on specific examples of constant change that effect only a part of the surface of the Earth (instead of the general notion that the surface of the Earth is constantly changing), it is likely that the teacher will have no indication of the students’ understanding of this key idea.

Only two items are also included for the idea that the Earth’s crust consists of separate plates that move constantly (Idea g). Students are asked to explain the relationship between plate movement and continental movement (Review and Assessment, course 3, Chapter 15 Test, p. 91, item 15), and are shown three diagrams of plate boundaries and asked to identify each type (Review and Assessment, course 3, Chapter 15 Review, p. 90, item 17). However, to answer the second question, they would also have to know the technical terms to identify the types of plate boundaries as well as this key idea.

While most relevant items target the idea that several processes contribute to the changing of the Earth’s surface (Idea b), they typically focus on the details of individual processes and not on how these processes together contribute to the changing of the Earth’s surface. For example, students are asked to explain how sand dunes migrate (Review and Assessment, course 1, Chapter 15 Test, p. 92, item 13), and to predict and explain where rockslides are more likely to occur (Review and Assessment, course 1, Chapter 15 Test, p. 92, item 16). Other questions involve technical terms, such as how abyssal plains are formed (Review and Assessment, course 2, Chapter 12 Test, p. 74, item 18).

Relevant to the evidence for continental drift (Idea f), a few questions are provided. Students are asked to explain what can be inferred from the shape of the continents about how they have changed positions (Review and Assessment, course 3, Chapter 15 Review, p. 89, item 11), to match the term “continental drift” with the phrase “explains similar fossils on more than one continent” (Review and Assessment, course 3, Chapter 15 Test, p. 91, item 4), and to decide what is the sequence of four events related to continental drift (Review and Assessment, course 3, Chapter 15 Test, p. 92, item 21).

With respect to the idea that major landforms and major geological events result from plate motion (Idea h), several items are included. However, some questions focus on terms, such as questions that ask students to explain the relationship between tectonic plates and ocean trenches (Review and Assessment, course 2, Chapter 12 Review, p. 72, item 15), and compare the origins of rift zones and ocean trenches (Review and Assessment, course 2, Chapter 12 Test, p. 74, item 19). Other questions require more sophisticated ideas, such as explain how and where material is added to the Earth’s surface, how and where material is lost from the Earth’s surface, and how the age of rocks confirms seafloor spreading (Review and Assessment, course 3, Chapter 15 Review, pp. 89–90, items 13, 14, 16).

Testing for understanding (Rating = Poor)

Some of the relevant assessment items described under the previous criterion require application of the key ideas. For example, consider the following item:
These events took place over a period of millions of years. Number them in the sequence in which they occurred:
  • Lithospheric plates spread at divergent boundaries.
  • Mesosaurus fossils are found on continents separated by oceans.
  • The reptile Mesosaurus lives throughout the supercontinent Pangaea.
  • Pangaea breaks apart.
[Review and Assessment, course 3, Chapter 15 Test, p. 92, item 21; the answer is, from top to bottom, 2, 4, 1, 3]

This type of question requires a synthesis between continental drift and plate tectonics. Additional application items are provided, mostly for the idea that major landforms and major geological events result from plate motion (Idea h). Unfortunately, most of the assessment items for the other key Earth science ideas require only recall of facts from the text and seldom require the key ideas to be applied by students.

Using assessment to inform instruction (Rating = Poor)

Science Interactions claims to contain “numerous strategies and formative checkpoints for evaluating student progress toward mastery of science concepts” (course 1–3, p. 31T), and specifies that Check Your Understanding and Chapter Review components could be used in this manner. Some questions are included that could be used by a well-informed teacher to assess students’ progress on the key Earth science ideas and find out remaining difficulties. For example, “How is erosion related to weathering?” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 477, item 1), “Explain how the Great Lakes could have been formed by a glacier?” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 492, item 4), “Explain how wind changes the landscape at beaches and in deserts” (course 1, chapter 15, p. 496, item 1), “How did Wegener use four types of evidence to help support his hypothesis of continental drift?” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 475, item 1), “How are the ideas of continental drift and sea-floor spreading related?” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 483, item 1), and “Both Japan and California are prone to earthquakes. Explain this fact using plate tectonics” (course 3, chapter 15, p. 495, item 1). While most of such questions require application of the key ideas, others can be answered directly from the text. Overall, the questions provided are insufficient to make judgments about whether students have mastered particular key ideas; and the Teacher Guide does not provide specific suggestions about how to interpret students’ responses to questions or how to modify instruction according to students’ responses.

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 Wraparound Edition usually provide brief elaborations of one or a few student text concepts (e.g., course 1, p. 450t, Content Background), offer tidbits of questionable relevance (e.g., course 1, p. 491t, Teacher F.Y.I.), or present additional terms (e.g., course 3, p. 471t, Teacher F.Y.I.). Overall, the teacher content support is brief, localized, and fragmented.

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., “They can observe glacial deposits and landforms” [course 1, p. 492, Check Your Understanding, item 3]); some emphasize a “right-answer” approach (e.g., “Students should observe the same results as in the original activity” [course 1, p. 598t, Developing Skills, item 2]).

The material provides minimal support in recommending resources for improving the teacher’s understanding of key ideas. While the material lists references in the introductory notes of the Teacher Wraparound Edition (e.g., “Booth, Basil. Volcanoes and Earthquakes. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1991” [course 1, p. 47T]), National Geographic resources at the beginning of each chapter (e.g., course 2, p. 52Bt, National Geographic Teacher’s Corner), and websites throughout the book (e.g., course 3, p. 497t, interNET CONNECTION) that could help teachers improve their understanding of key ideas, the lists lack annotations about what kinds of information the references provide or how they may be helpful.

Encouraging curiosity and questioning (Minimal support is provided.)

The material provides a few suggestions for how to encourage students’ questions and guide their search for answers. A generic Flex Your Brain work sheet encourages students to pose a question about a topic studied and gives them three broad guiding questions to use in their search for answers: “What do I already know?” “How can I find out?” and “What do I know now [after exploration]?” (courses 1–3, p. 17T). Teacher’s notes suggest topics students can explore (e.g., “volcanic mountains” [course 2, p. 70t]) but provide no other guidance.

The material provides a few suggestions for how to respect and value students’ ideas. Introductory teacher’s notes about cooperative learning state that students will “recognize…the strengths of others’ [perspectives],” be presented with “the idea that there is no one, ‘ready-made’ answer” (courses 1–3, p. 22T), and “respect other people and their ideas” (courses 1–3, p. 33T). Introductory teacher’s notes also state that student responses may vary in concept mapping tasks. Teachers are thus instructed to “[l]ook for the conceptual strength of student responses, not absolute accuracy” (courses 1–3, p. 26T). A special feature, Teens in Science, describes specific students conducting experiments and activities related to the chapter content (e.g., course 1, p. 468st). In addition, Design Your Own Investigation and some Investigate! activities (e.g., course 3, pp. 480–481st, Design Your Own Investigation) are structured to be open-ended, allowing students to pursue a laboratory task in various ways. However, teacher’s notes often give specific, expected outcomes for these activities that may limit their intended open-ended nature (e.g., course 1, pp. 578–579t, Design Your Own Investigation).

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., course 3, p. 473st, Investigate! item 5; course 3, p. 475st, Check Your Understanding, item 1).

The material provides a few suggestions for how to avoid dogmatism. Introductory teacher’s notes state, “Science is not just a collection of facts for students to memorize” but instead “a process of applying those observations and intuitions to situations and problems, formulating hypotheses, and drawing conclusions” (courses 1–3, p. 23T). The first chapter portrays the nature of science as a human enterprise that proceeds by trial and error and uses many skills familiar to students (course 1, pp. 2–17st). However, most of the text is generally presented in a static, authoritative manner with little reference to the work of particular practicing scientists, and 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., course 1, pp. 482–483st, Design Your Own Investigation; course 1, pp. 581t, Check for Understanding; Cooperative Learning in the Science Classroom resource book).

Supporting all students (Some support is provided.)

The material generally avoids stereotypes or language that might be offensive to a particular group. For example, several photographs include a diverse cultural mix of students and adults (e.g., course 1, pp. 442s, 465s, 482s).

The material provides some illustrations of the contributions of women and minorities to science and as role models. While the introductory teacher’s notes state the goal of multicultural education as promoting “the understanding of how people from different cultures approach and solve the basic problems all humans have in living and learning” (courses 1–3, p. 25T), most of the contributions of women and minorities appear in special features. Science Connections emphasize associations among the various science disciplines and society. Some of these essays describe scientific contributions of women and minorities (e.g., course 1, p. 47st, Technology Connection). In addition, Multicultural Perspectives teacher’s notes highlight specific cultural contributions related to chapter topics (e.g., course 3, p. 487t). A separate Multicultural Connections resource book contains short readings and questions about individual scientists or groups addressing text-related issues in many parts of the world. For example, the book includes a reading activity about the Chimu, inhabitants of Peru during the 8th to 15th centuries who possessed sophisticated engineering knowledge in developing irrigation canals (see Multicultural Connections, p. 33). All of these sections highlighting cultural contributions are interesting and informative but may not be seen by students as central to the material because they are presented in sidebars, supplemental materials, and teacher’s notes.

The material suggests multiple formats for students to express their ideas during instruction, including individual investigations (e.g., course 2, p. 53st, Explore!), journal writing (e.g., course 3, p. 468s, Science Journal), cooperative group activities (e.g., course 1, p. 597t, Teaching Strategy), laboratory investigations (e.g., course 3, pp. 472–473st, Investigate!), whole class discussions (e.g., course 3, p. 478t, Discussion), essay questions (e.g., course 1, p. 470st, Understanding Ideas, item 3), concept mapping (e.g., course 1, p. 502st, Developing Skills, item 2), and visual projects (e.g., course 1, p. 478t, Activity). In addition, multiple formats are suggested for assessment, including oral discussion (e.g., course 3, p. 490t, Extension), essay (e.g., Computer Test Bank Manual, course 2, pp. 2–9, item 29), performance (e.g., course 1, p. 477t, Extension), and portfolio (e.g., course 3, p. 473t, Assessment). However, the material does not usually provide a variety of alternatives for the same task (except in rare instances for special needs students).

The material does not routinely include specific suggestions about how teachers can modify activities for students with special needs. However, the Teacher Wraparound Edition and supplemental Program Resources provide additional activities and resources for students of specific ability levels. At the beginning of each chapter, teacher’s notes link the various chapter activities to different learning styles (e.g., course 2, p. 52t, Learning Styles), and each activity is coded according to ability level (courses 1–3, p. 33T). Each chapter also includes a Meeting Individual Needs feature, which provides activities specifically designated for students with special needs (e.g., course 1, p. 475t, Meeting Individual Needs). For Spanish speakers, there are English/Spanish audiocassettes, which summarize the student text in both languages, and a Spanish Resources book, which translates chapter vocabulary terms and definitions. However, the placement of supplemental resources in individual booklets 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 when appropriate.

The material provides some strategies to validate students’ relevant personal and social experiences with scientific ideas. Many text sections begin with a brief reference to a specific personal experience students may have had that relates to the presented scientific concepts (e.g., course 1, p. 449s). In addition, some tasks—particularly Science at Home, Across the Curriculum, Daily Life (e.g., course 3, p. 493t) and How It Works resource book work sheets—ask students about particular personal experiences they may have had or suggest specific experiences for them to have. For example, Science at Home teacher’s notes ask students to examine their homes or school and identify ways that these structures could be protected from earthquake damage (course 1, p. 597t). 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., course 3, p. 475t, Close). Overall, support is brief and localized.