Center for Curriculum Materials in Science

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

CCMS Knowledge Sharing Institute

2004 Knowledge Sharing Institute

Poster Abstracts

Teachers’ Implementation of the Constructing Ideas in Physical Science (CIPS) Curriculum

Clarisa Bercovich-Guelman, CRMSE, San Diego State University; Fred Goldberg, CRMSE, San Diego State University; April Maskiewicz, University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University

In an exploratory study we tried to identify how teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about teaching and learning influenced the quality of their implementation of a reform based curriculum.

Constructing Ideas in Physical Science (CIPS) is a standards-based, yearlong physical science course for middle school students. In this highly structured curriculum students construct a meaningful understanding of science concepts through hands-on experiences followed by guiding questions that help them make sense of the experiments. These questions are answered in small groups and then discussed with the whole class.

The literature suggests teachers’ implementation of reformed based curricula is influenced by teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about teaching and learning. Therefore, as a first step in designing our professional development package we tried to understand how our materials (even though highly structured/scripted) could be transformed by teachers with different theoretical perspectives on learning and teaching. This information could then be used to guide the kind of PD support provided to the teachers during their implementation.

In our one-year study, we found through classroom observations and interviews that teachers’ way of dealing with students’ alternative ideas is problematic. Teachers don’t try to help students confront conflicting views by referring them back to experimental evidence. The most common strategy is instead to expose the students to the right idea without discussing the evidence. The main reason for this behavior is a lack of deep understanding of what it really means for students to construct knowledge.

Chemation: Classroom Impact of a Handheld Chemistry Modeling and Animation Tool

Hsin-Yi Chang, Lisa Ann Scott, Chris Quintana and Joseph Krajcik, University of Michigan

Chemation, a simple 2-D modeling and animation tool for handhelds (e.g., PalmOS computers), was developed to help teach important chemistry concepts, such as chemical reaction, conservation of mass, and the particulate nature of matter (as specified in national standards). Users build 2-D molecular models of substances and then, through a process of copying and modifying the model, create flipbook-style animations to illustrate various processes. Chemation is currently being piloted by teachers using a standards-based, inquiry-oriented 7th grade chemistry curriculum. The tool is intended to be an alternative or a supplement to current hands-on activities in which students build physical (ball-and-stick) models to represent various chemical phenomena.

We report on an initial study to examine the impact of Chemation on classroom activities and determine the added value over physical ball-and-stick models. Six teachers and their seventh grade students participated in this study. Data collected include classroom videos and observations, teacher and student interviews, and reviews of student artifacts (e.g., chemical models). The results of this study provide insight into future revisions for Chemation and the affordances and constraints of handheld tools for classroom activities.


Elizabeth Davis, University of Michigan

New elementary science teachers need support in learning to teach inquiry-oriented science effectively. CASES is a learning environment intended to support this group. This paper discusses the design principles guiding the design of CASES. The paper discusses the role that learning theory and empirical research play in informing design decisions, and provides examples of how the CASES design is informed by both. The first design principle, called guidance-on-demand, states that new teachers should be allowed the opportunity to request contextualized guidance when they need it. The second design principle, called images of inquiry, states that new teachers need multiple representations of inquiry-oriented science teaching to develop understandings of how inquiry plays out in the classroom. The third design principle, called social supports, states that new teachers need opportunities to share ideas and see role models that can inform their practice. The paper concludes with a discussion of how this design narrative can provide guidance for other designers of learning environments.

Developing a middle school unit on the conservation of energy

David Fortus, Michigan State University; and Julia Plummer, Aaron Rogat, Anna Switzer, and Jeff Nordine, University of Michigan

A backwards designed, inquiry-based unit is currently being developed for middle school students that address several Benchmarks identified by AAAS (4E:6-8, pg. 85) that focus on the law of conservation of energy. During the development of this unit we have grappled with several challenges: how do we develop a driving question that is engaging to students, what anchoring event should we design, how do we or should we define energy, do we make the unit qualitative or quantitative, do we distinguish between the physical and social notions of conservation and if so how do we address the social notions, do we include the challenging notion of potential energy, how do we maintain continuity between lessons and assess student understanding after each daily lesson,  how can we help students connect their outside experiences with their learning about energy in class? We present our approach to addressing these issues and discuss the current state of development of this unit. Finally, we identify potential research questions that could stem from the study of this unit.

IQWST Family Materials – Negotiating cultural borders between home, school, and science

Magnia A. George and Jay Fogleman, University of Michigan

This poster presents the ongoing work of the IQWST family materials development group. We are designing materials that (a) provide families with information about standards-based approaches to science education and the particular work their children are doing in school, (b) engage families in recognizing and exploring science in their everyday lives, and (c) encourage families to identify and/or access resources (in their local communities and beyond) that support participation and achievement in science, especially for those groups of students who are traditionally underrepresented. Our design of family materials will focus on their attractiveness and their ease of use for a broad audience. As with our teacher and student curriculum materials, we will apply design principles that take into account a range of reading abilities, varying degrees of interest in science, and varying amounts and types of prior knowledge. For example, text and graphics will be used to clearly present procedures and questions.

The goals of science for all can only be met with the support of families and the broader community. The focus on parent involvement is an initial attempt to garner this support. Therefore, we suggest the development of family materials that provide opportunities to bridge home and school experiences in science but that also have the potential to promote an increased appreciation for the value of a high-quality science education.

New Developments in the MSU Water Project

Kristin Gunckel and Felicia Moore, Michigan State University

Recent work on the MSU Water Project has focused on two areas: (1) exploring instances of teacher learning from participation in the development and implementation of the water unit and (2) exploring student feedback through co-generative dialogue. The MSU water project, called Water for People and the Planet, is a curriculum materials project that focuses on developing a four-week secondary unit addressing surface water and groundwater issues related to ensuring a good quality water supply for residents of Earth. This year, the research and development team developed 16 lessons that included inquiry opportunities, encouraged small group student conversations, and addressed multiple perspectives around complex science and social issues. The lessons were implemented during three classes, all taught by the same teacher who also participated on the research and development team. Data collected during the enactments included videotape of class sessions, audio recording of after class debriefs sessions, student work, and student interviews. Preliminary analysis of video data examines opportunities and evidence for teacher learning of teaching strategies designed to engage students of diverse backgrounds and encourage construction of common understanding through small group student conversations. In addition, the researchers held dialogue sessions with representative students who viewed video of the lessons and provided feedback to researchers about their engagement, involvement, and learning from the lessons. This poster session will report progress and findings from the analysis of teacher learning opportunities and the student co-generative dialogue sessions.

Teaching Practices and Student Learning in an Innovative Standards- and Inquiry-based Middle School Science Curriculum Unit

Christopher Harris, University of Michigan

This poster will be a description of my dissertation work-in-progress. My work-in-progress is concerned with the study of teaching and learning during the enactment of an innovative standards and inquiry-based chemistry unit in four seventh grade classrooms in three urban middle schools. Through the study of this innovative curriculum unit and its enactment across several classroom settings, my research supports an effort to examine how teachers' enactment of the unit materials relate to student learning outcomes. To study this complex relationship, I documented teaching practices on videotape and in field notes during the enactment of the 8-week chemistry unit. I also collected extensive data on student learning. Data sources for examining student learning include pretests and posttests, as well as learning artifacts consisting primarily of student writings and unit worksheets. Individual interviews and close observations of a subset of target students as they progressed through the unit provide another source of data for investigating student learning. My poster will present an overview of my work, including its relevance to curriculum development, as well as a description of the methods.

Integrating Reflective Discussions of the Nature of Science in a Project-Based Biology Curriculum

Lisa O. Kenyon, Northwestern University

The literature indicates that we must take a direct approach and stress concepts of science, inquiry, and the epistemology of science when teaching science. Teaching about the nature of science explicitly through investigative activities and reflective discussions has demonstrated to be most effective for understanding science. The questions driving this research were (1) how can reflective discussions be incorporated into a science curriculum to help students to learn about the nature of science as they engage in inquiry and (2) what is the effect of integrating explicit and reflective discussions on students’ understanding of the nature of science and their practice of inquiry. This pilot study took place in the context of a biology unit, “Struggle in Natural Environments: What Will Survive?” Participants included a group of 51 middle school students and their science teacher. Data sources for this study included a questionnaire (VNOS-SI), student and teacher interviews, classroom observations, videotapes, pretests and posttests, and artifacts. Students’ views of the nature of science and scientific inquiry were primarily assessed in a pre/post format of the VNOS-SI responses in conjunction with follow-up interviews. Findings from this study will be discussed.

Resources for Developing Curriculum Materials that Promote Science Literacy 

Sofia Kesidou, Lori Kurth, Ted Willard, and Ann Caldwell; AAAS Project 2061

To address the most prevalent deficiencies found in existing curriculum materials, Project 2061 is identifying, developing, testing, and making available to curriculum developers a set of resources that they can use to create goals-based materials that focus on important ideas and skills in science. We have selected 13 strand maps (drawn from Project 2061’s publication Atlas of Science Literacy), and for each of the benchmarks included in the 13 strand maps, we are developing the following resources:

  • “Clarifications” that specify the benchmark’s constituent ideas and discuss the level of sophistication intended for the benchmark (distinguishing it from earlier grade or later grade benchmarks in the same topic).
  • “Connections” that identify prerequisite ideas, skills, and appropriate links from one idea to another for each of the benchmarks selected.
  • “Research summaries” that shed light on students' commonly held ideas that are relevant for the benchmarks selected and the likely sources of these ideas.
  • “Diagnostic Questions” that can be used to elicit students’ commonly held ideas.
  • “Annotated lists of real-world phenomena” that can help make the benchmark ideas plausible to students.
  • “Representations” such as diagrams, analogies and metaphors, models and simulations that can make abstract benchmark ideas intelligible to students.

For researchers and developers, this collection of resources provides the starting point for a variety of investigations that have the potential to improve curriculum materials and classroom practice. For those responsible for teacher education or professional development, the resources can be deployed in ways that increase teachers’ understanding of science learning goals and teachers’ knowledge about developmentally appropriate representations or phenomena. The poster presents examples of curriculum resources developed for the strand maps “Waves/Light” and “Solar System.”

Student and Designer Understandings of Scientific Explanations

Leema Kuhn, Northwestern University

This study examines the scientific explanations constructed by middle school students during the IQWST What will Survive unit, with a focus on identifying the types of explanations that students construct.  This emphasis offers the curriculum design team an opportunity to reflect upon our current understandings of the practice of constructing scientific explanations and to evaluate the curricular supports in the unit.  My analysis focused on the way students used the explanation components (claim, evidence and reasoning) in their writing.  This lens revealed that students produced at least three different types of explanations: students constructed the beginnings of nomological deductive explanations (this was the anticipated explanation type), narrative explanations depicting the steps in a process, and a combination of these reasoning types.  The deductive explanations were largely written to answer questions asking students to describe relationships.  The narrative explanations were written in response to prompts for historical reasoning (e.g. “Why did X occur?”) and predictions (e.g. “What will happen?”).  As a result of this analysis, we are returning to the curriculum design, contemplating the value of the different explanations, and questioning the viability of the current curricular model for an explanation.

Changing Teachers’ Beliefs about Science and Student Diversity Through an Inquiry-based Earth Systems Curricular and Professional Development Intervention

Julie Lambert, Florida Atlantic University; Benjamin Lester, Okhee Lee, and Aurolyn Luykx, University of Miami

This study examines changes in elementary teachers’ beliefs prior to and following their participation in an inquiry-based earth systems curricular and professional development intervention. The intervention was designed to promote science and English literacy for linguistically and culturally diverse students and focused on the integration of three domains: (a) inquiry-based science, (b) English language and literacy development, and (c) students’ home language and culture. The study involved all 23 fifth grade teachers at six elementary schools in a large urban school district. At the end of the school year, teachers’ perceived knowledge indicated statistically significant improvements for all domains, particularly in the science domain. Discussion focuses on implications for curricular and professional development interventions and recommendations for further research on the intersection between school science and student diversity.

Developing Scientific Literacy Through Use of Textual Tools

Elizabeth Birr Moje, Joseph Krajcik, LeeAnn M. Sutherland, and Mary E. Heitzman

Scientific literacy in science education involves engaging students in reading and writing science-oriented texts, and supporting students as they use the texts as tools for their investigations and science learning.  However, many middle-school students have difficulty with basic reading and writing skills and the technical and interpretive demands of science text (Goldman, 1997; Ivey, 1999; Lee & Fradd, 1999; Nicholson, 1985). In addition, little is known about how teachers use textual tools (such as “curriculum readers”) in project-based science classrooms. This research is designed to provide guidance for the design and implementation of these textual tools. Our goal is to determine which features of reading materials and which teaching strategies best support students’ science learning. Our experimental design involves 12 classrooms. The three control classrooms will use curriculum readers with only constructed expository text. Nine treatment classrooms (three per treatment) will vary by combinations of constructed narrative (cases) and real world texts (e.g., newspaper articles) with the expository text. Qualitative aspects of the research include classroom observation, teacher and student interviews, and the administration of informal science reading inventories with four focal students per classroom. This research will provide a theoretical and practical model for the development of textual tools in project-based science.

Role, Goal, and Activity:  How Context Influences Student Engagement in Scenario-Based Learning Environments

Virginia Pitts, Northwestern University

In this poster, we present a theoretical framework and methodology for examining the ways in which context influences student participation and engagement in scenario-based curricula.  The framework is specifically designed for the analysis of scenario-based learning environments (such as Project-Based Curricula and Goal-Based Scenarios) in that it explicitly considers the influence of student role- and goal-adoption on participation and engagement in scenario-based activities over time. In this poster, we describe our methodology for conducting case-studies in two 7th-grade science classrooms in a suburban middle school, and illustrate the use of our framework in the analysis of this case-study data.  We believe our work will lead to an improved understanding of student participation and engagement in scenario-based learning environments.

A Study of the Implementation of Looking at the Environment, a Year-Long High School Environmental Science Curriculum

D. Slusher, K. Mawyer, C. Riley, and D. Edelson; Northwestern University

This implementation study is guided by two general questions: (1) How satisfied are teachers with the Looking at the Environment (LATE) curriculum? (2) How can we support the development of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) required to enact the curriculum in a manner consistent with the design goals? The study design began with a model of how we thought successful implementation might look. We used the model to design a survey to gather information about schools and classes in which the LATE curriculum is being enacted as well as the teachers’ backgrounds, teaching philosophies, teacher satisfaction, and use of the resources provided. The surveys were also intended to provide a means for choosing teachers for case studies. Of the thirty surveys sent to local teachers and nationwide teacher leaders, twelve were returned. We followed the surveys with interviews to find out how consistent teachers’ goals are with our goals, how the resources we provide influence their implementation decisions, and how the materials are being used. We are currently developing a classroom observation instrument to aid our understanding of teacher PCK. The role of the observation form is mainly to identify areas to probe during follow-up interviews or to review more carefully on tape during the course of case studies. The latest version of the observation form will be presented along with survey and interview responses.

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