Center for Curriculum Materials in Science

AAAS Project 2061, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan

CCMS Core Principles

Building pedagogical supports into materials

Curriculum materials should do more than present content to students; they should also support the teaching and learning process. For that reason, the Center for Curriculum Materials in Science (CCMS) contends that science curriculum materials should include goals-specific pedagogical supports for students and teachers that are based on empirically tested theories of learning. By pedagogical supports we mean the text, activities, and assessments used by curriculum materials to motivate and help students to learn, along with the background information, suggestions, diagnostic questions, and remedial strategies used to help teachers to monitor and promote that learning. Pedagogical supports can be incorporated directly into students’ materials as well as materials intended specifically for the teacher, such as teacher editions of textbooks.

The demands of teaching for understanding are significant, especially in today’s classrooms serving students with widely diverse backgrounds, abilities, and interests. Teachers cannot be expected to design their own research-based pedagogical strategies for the entire curriculum. To help all students gain important and lasting science knowledge and skills, curriculum materials must provide a wide array of supports that enable students and teachers to meet the following challenges:

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. Such attention requires that teachers be informed about prerequisite ideas and skills needed for understanding a new idea, what their students' initial ideas are, and strategies for helping them develop deeper understanding. Teachers must also be prepared to respond to the wide variety of cultural perspectives, academic preparation, capabilities, and attitudes about school and science that students bring to classrooms.

For students to appreciate the explanatory power of science ideas, they need to have a sense of the range of phenomena that the ideas can explain. Effective teaching provides students with opportunities to relate the scientific concepts they are studying to a range of appropriate phenomena through hands-on activities, demonstrations, audiovisual aids, and discussions of familiar phenomena.

Providing students with experiences with phenomena is often not sufficient for them to develop an understanding of the principles and concepts of science. Concepts like the kinetic molecular theory, natural selection, the modifiability of science, the interacting nature of systems, and common laws of motion for the Earth and heavens are quite abstract and often were developed over many hundreds of years as a result of considerable discussion and debate about the cogency of theory and its relationship to collected evidence. Students cannot infer complex scientific ideas such as these directly from phenomena; the ideas need to be explicitly introduced and taught to students. Multiple representations are needed to make the ideas intelligible. To overcome difficulties students have in transferring understanding to new contexts, they need a variety of opportunities to apply the ideas.

Engaging students in experiences with phenomena and presenting them with scientific ideas will not lead to effective learning unless they are given time, opportunities, and guidance to make sense of the experiences and ideas. No matter how clearly materials may present ideas, students will make their own meaning out of it. Carefully chosen and sequenced questions and tasks are necessary to scaffold students' attempts to construct the intended meaning of experiences or presentations of ideas. By students making their thinking about experiences and ideas overt to themselves, the teacher, and other students, it can be examined, questioned, and shaped. (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2001)

Making progress toward a robust understanding of scientific concepts and practices requires significant and extended effort on the part of students. Therefore, students must have a sense of purpose that is grounded in the usefulness of the understanding they are developing. (Edelson, 2001)

In developing its criteria for evaluating science curriculum materials, Project 2061 has identified a set of research-based instructional practices that are likely to promote student learning (Roseman, Kesidou, & Stern, 1997; Kesidou & Roseman, 2002). Curriculum materials need to provide explicit support for these kinds of instructional practices:

Research. The potential for pedagogical supports in curriculum materials to improve teaching and learning is an area of active investigation within the Center. The goals for this research are to identify promising instructional practices, to collect evidence of their effectiveness, and to understand how to incorporate supports for them into materials for students and teachers. The starting point for this research are the practices identified by Project 2061 (see above) combined with others, such as the need to problematize students’ current understanding (Hiebert et al., 1996). Center researchers are also interested in understanding the role that teacher development activities can play in helping teachers understand, value, and select curriculum materials that make use of the research-based instructional practices described above and provide the necessary support for them in the materials themselves.

Leadership development. The Center’s doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows take courses and participate in projects and research apprenticeships that focus on the analysis and design of curriculum materials in light of research-based principles for teaching and learning. Dissertation topics, whether focused on materials design, selection, or use, articulate the principles underlying a design, justify them in light of alternatives, and explicitly test them where possible.

Teacher development. To use curriculum materials to help students achieve the intended learning goals, teachers need to understand the important role that pedagogical supports can play, value and select curriculum materials that provide such supports, and use them to improve the science learning of all students. Therefore, course modules are being developed for pre-service teacher education and in-service professional development with these aims in mind.

[Core Principles References]

Text: AAAS Project 2061, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan
Text: Center for Curriculum Materials in Science