Center for Curriculum Materials in Science

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

CCMS Conference Participation, 2005

Please click on the title of the workshop, poster, or paper below to view the abstract. The following items are listed in chronological order.

Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) (formerly AETS) International Conference, Colorado Springs, CO, January 19-23, 2005


Curriculum-Driven Practice-Based Professional Development
David Fortus (MSU), David Kanter (NU)


Two approaches to curriculum-driven practice-based professional development designed and used by the Center for Curriculum Materials in Science are presented and discussed.

Exploration of the Role of Curriculum Materials in Teaching Science and Learning to Teach Science
Kristin Gunckel, David Fortus and Ed Smith (MSU)


This session explores with teacher educators the role of curriculum materials in teaching science and methods of preparing pre-service teachers to use curriculum materials effectively.


Teacher Educators’ Conceptions of the Role of Curriculum Materials in Teaching Elementary Science & Learning to Teach Elementary Science
Kristin Gunckel, Mark Enfield and Edward Smith (MSU)


It has been argued that curriculum materials have potential for impacting and reforming Science Education (Ball & Cohen, 1996). However, most curriculum materials are of poor quality (Kesidou & Roseman, 2002). Furthermore, limited attention has been paid to the relationship between teachers and curriculum materials (Ball & Cohen, 1996). Teachers need expanded professional knowledge to critically select, evaluate, and modify materials to meet the learning needs of students. Pre-service teacher education courses offer one place where teachers can learn to use curriculum materials effectively. Ball & Feiman-Nemser (1988) examined how pre-service teachers’ experiences in teacher education affected their use of curriculum materials. Ball & Feiman-Nemser (1988) suggest that teacher educators may need to think about the preparation of teachers for curriculum enactment. Initial research has identified that teacher educators have different views on what curriculum materials are, the role of curriculum materials in teaching science, what pre-service teachers should learn about curriculum materials, and how to teach pre-service teachers to use curriculum materials. Future research will expand on examinations of the conceptions of teacher educators about the role of curriculum materials in teaching and learning to teach elementary science.

National Science Foundation CLT PI Meeting, Washington, DC, February 7-9, 2005


Center for Curriculum Materials in Science: Innovative Research and Methods
American Association for the Advancement of Science, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan

Abstract | Full poster text

CCMS research addresses questions related to curriculum materials for all children, teacher learning and educative materials, the curriculum development process, assessment, and policy. Current research projects and methods are highlighted.

Illinois Online Conference on Teaching and Learning (Online), February 16, 2005


Making Courses More Engaging and Accessible: A Case Study Using the Story-Centered Curriculum Approach
Kemi Jona, Ray Bareiss and Sukhjit Singh (NU)


What can faculty do to make their courses more engaging and accessible, especially to students who are working professionals? How can faculty ensure that their courses teach the skills and knowledge students will need to compete in the modern workforce? Replace lectures, assignments and exams with something more meaningful. At De Anza College, we have adopted a pedagogical approach used in a new set of successful online and onsite master’s programs at Carnegie Mellon University’s West Coast Campus. Called a Story Centered Curriculum, this pedagogical approach engages students in a learning-by-doing approach around a scenario where students play a role based on an authentic professional position (for example, a Security Consultant in a software company). As a by-product of solving real world problems, students learn the target knowledge and skills, but do so in an engaging and authentic context. We present an example of such a course developed using story-centered, scenario-based curriculum in Enterprise Security that simulates complex problems in companies. The model draws upon both cognitive science research and industry input. Key components of the course include: • A rich context simulating a start-up company, allowing reliable transfer of skills. • Web-based materials and resources for just-in-time learning. • Team based projects, tasks and product deliverables; role-playing allowing students to live the life of a professional. • Reflection, allowing students to articulate what they learned.

Inquiry Conference on Developing a Consensus Research Agenda, Rutgers University, February 16-19, 2005


Engineering Pedagogical Reform: A Case Study of Technology Supported Inquiry
Daniel C. Edelson (NU)

Full paper (Adobe PDF, 182 KB)

National Science Teachers Association Conference on Linking Science and Literacy in the Classroom, Dallas, TX, March 31-April 3, 2005


Supporting students in creating scientific explanations

LeeAnn M. Sutherland, Katherine McNeill, Joseph Krajcik, & K. Colson (UM)

National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Annual Meeting, Dallas, TX, April 4-7, 2005


Designing for Complex System Understanding In the High School Biology Classroom
Ravit Golan Duncan and Brian J. Reiser (NU)

Abstract | Full Paper (PDF, 634 KB)

Complex systems are a prevalent phenomenon across a wide variety of disciplines and are important from both scientific and educational perspectives. These systems are composed of interrelated, hierarchically organized levels; an important aspect of reasoning about them is to account for the interactions within and between these levels. Such reasoning is notoriously difficult for students of all ages. An educationally prominent domain featuring complex systems is molecular genetics. Current instructional strategies tend not to emphasize the system-oriented nature of genetics and leave students with a disconnected, incomplete and often inaccurate understanding of genetic concepts and phenomena. In our research we designed a novel instructional unit aimed at fostering a deeper and more systems-oriented understanding of genetics. We employed several design strategies to make the structure and dynamics of the genetic system a salient and central aspect of the inquiry process and the activities students engaged in. Our findings suggest that the curriculum does, to large extent, engender a deeper understanding of the complex genetic system, its components and dynamics. In particular we observed gains in students’ understanding of the hierarchical structure of the system, the nature of the genetic information and the role of proteins in mediating genetic effects.

Including Students and Teachers in the Co-Design of the Enacted Curriculum
Kristin L. Gunckel (MSU) and Felicia M. Moore (Columbia Univ.)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 83 KB)

Water for People and the Planet is a four-week secondary science curriculum project. The unit addresses surface water and groundwater issues related to ensuring a good quality water supply for residents of Earth. This paper highlights two strategies to include students and teachers as partners in the co-design of the enacted curriculum. During the development cycle, the design team developed sixteen lessons that included inquiry opportunities, encouraged small group student conversations, and examined 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 design team. Student co-generative dialogue sessions provided students with opportunities to critique the materials and their experiences and provide the design team with suggestions for how to develop motivating and engaging lessons. The project also included examination of teacher learning during the design and enactment of the lessons. Findings show that including students in the design of materials and paying attention to how teachers change from enacting materials can provide curriculum designers with tools for creating materials that support students and teachers as co-designers and co-evaluators of the enacted curriculum that enhances teaching and learning for understanding.

Urban Seventh-Graders' Translations of Chemical Equations: What Parts of the Translation Process do Students Have Trouble?
Mary Heitzman and Joseph Krajcik (UM)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 241 KB)

Use of multiple representations is a prominent scientific practice in many communities, including all science domains. Representations in science provide perceptual accessibility and a means to conceptualize and communicate abstract explanations of the phenomena we experience. For example, chemical representations such as chemical equations and ball-and-stick models are visible and tangible and therefore provide students with a more concrete perception of what happens to atoms and molecules during a chemical reaction. It is therefore important for students to develop their abilities of moving between various representations so they can accurately use the representations while organizing information and while formulating evidence-based explanations (National Research Council, 2000). However, students at all levels of chemistry have difficulty in using chemical representations, such as the inability to translate chemical representations into other forms. Our goal was to investigate urban seventh-grade students’ translations of chemical equations. We found that when asked to describe a chemical equation, few students included general concepts about chemical reactions, that their descriptions were direct translations of the process and chemical symbols, and that sometimes these translations identified the symbol rather than the role of the symbol in the chemical equation. We also found that students' translations of chemical equations did correlate with their prior knowledge of chemical reactions and with their descriptions and drawings of atoms and molecules. We discuss implications to these findings in the summary and conclusion sections.

Learner-Centered Design of Chemation: A Handheld Tool for Middle-School Chemistry
Lisa Scott Holt, Hsin-Yi Chang, Chris Quintana and Joseph Krajcik (UM)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 162 KB)

Chemation, a simple 2-D modeling and animation tool for handhelds (e.g., Palm OS computers), was developed to help teach important chemistry concepts such as chemical reaction, conservation of mass, and the particulate nature of matter. Developing this tool required a learner-centered design approach. A deeper look at learner activities, goals and context helped to define the different types of support that needed to be included. This paper describes our design process including the analysis of the learning goals, context and learner needs which led to specific design requirements for Chemation. Finally, we describe our evaluation of Chemation. Analysis of student interviews revealed that while Chemation was successful in supporting students with respect to some learning goals (e.g., animation of atom rearrangement to support distinction between chemical and physical processes), it also failed to support others (e.g., no support for distinction between substances and mixtures). Classroom observations revealed some potential usability problems (e.g., the varying quality of student animations). Plans are under way to revise Chemation in accordance with the design recommendations from this initial study and reevaluate Chemation in the classroom.

Students’ Discussion of Data: Affordances and Constraints of First and Second Hand Experiences
Barbara Hug (University of Illinois-Urbana-Campaign, ERCA) and Kate L McNeill (UM)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 479 KB)

In this paper, we are interested in examining how students discuss and interpret data and whether these actions vary depending on the type of data they are using. More specifically, we are interested in whether students perform differently when analyzing first and secondhand data. Although both first and secondhand experiences have important roles in science and in science classrooms, there appears to be little empirical work about the affordances and constraints of having students engage in these two different types of experiences. We examined the role of first and secondhand experiences in students’ data analyses during the enactment of two IQWST curriculum units, chemistry in grade 7 and biology in grade 8, (McNeill, et al., 2003; Tzou et al, 2003). We looked to see whether the data source affected students’ discussions. In our results, we discuss how students interpreted and dealt with a range of data types as well as offer possible reasons for our differential findings.

Students’ Epistemologies of Science and Their Influence on Inquiry Practices
Lisa O. Kenyon and Brian J. Reiser (NU)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 409 KB)

The reform documents suggest that achieving scientific literacy requires that students acquire understandings about the nature of science (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996). Our research focused on finding out how students can use their understandings about the nature of science to influence their engagement in inquiry practices. This study took place in the context of an IQWST biology unit, “What Will Survive?” First, we investigated design aspects of integrating reflective discussions about the nature of science into a science curriculum. Secondly, we examined how students’ understanding about the nature of science affected their inquiry practices. Thus, we studied epistemological understandings in two ways: (1) as a dependent variable such as learning about the nature of science and (2) as a mediating variable, examining its potential influence on scientific practices such as argumentation. In our findings, we describe the design challenges of integrating explicit, reflective discussions about the nature of science such as integrating its utility into the curriculum. We also present findings from the VNOS-SI questionnaire, student interviews, classroom discourse, pretests and posttests for learning goals, and student artifacts to reveal the effect of using their epistemologies of science when performing inquiry practices.

Students Constructing and Defending Evidence-Based Scientific Explanations
Leema Kuhn and Brian Reiser (NU)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 151 KB)

Constructing scientific explanations is an essential aspect of engaging in scientific inquiry in classrooms (Driver, Newton & Osborne, 2000; Sandoval, 2003). The IQWST units are designed to teach scientific principles and the scientific practices of constructing and defending scientific explanations by providing students and teachers with a framework that clearly defines these complex practices. This framework includes the three components of claim, evidence and reasoning. Our study combines analysis of the student work with the students’ explicit definitions of scientific explanations and the framework components, in order to identify the challenges students face when constructing evidence-based scientific explanations and to understand potential sources for these complexities. Findings indicate that students and designers have different understandings about how to fulfill both the evidence and reasoning components of the provided framework. These findings affect curriculum design as we attempt to support students in overcoming the challenges of developing and defending evidence-based scientific explanations.

Teacher Practices Around Visual Representations In a Middle School Chemistry Unit
Aaron D. Rogat and Joseph Krajcik (UM)


The purpose of this study is to identify and describe the teacher practices that effective teachers use when helping students interpret and translate among different visual chemical representations such as chemical formulas and molecular structures. While earlier work identifies student difficulties in interpreting and using visual representations, few researchers have examined teacher practices in classrooms around visual representations. We observed videotapes of six middle school teachers in primarily urban settings enacting the same lesson that focused on chemical representation from an inquiry-based chemistry unit. Teacher enactments were scored using a coding scheme composed of 18 categories for instructional practices. The coding scheme was developed using relevant research from science education, education psychology, and cognitive psychology. We report on the strategies employed by teachers whose students consistently achieve higher gain scores on the pre/post tests designed for the chemistry unit. Implications for these finding for teacher professional development and instructional practice around chemical representations will be discussed.


We Have to Explain How to Do Things Before We Can Explain Why Things Happen: Joint Construction of Accounts in Elementary Science
Mark Enfield (MSU)


Whole group discussions in elementary science classrooms create challenging contexts for children to learn joint construction of accounts and to have those accounts be scientific explanations of phenomena in the world. This longitudinal study (data were collected over a two year period) describes how the teacher and students in one classroom had different goals for the accounts that students jointly constructed in whole group discussions. This is shown through linguistic and sociocultural analysis of transcripts illustrating that students jointly constructed accounts that tell how to exert control over phenomena in the world. The teacher, in those same discussions, at times attempted to scaffold students’ joint construction of accounts that reflected model-based reasoning about phenomena. However, this led to reduced participation and, as a result, limited students’ joint construction of accounts. This finding has implications for teaching and learning using discourse-oriented pedagogies in elementary science classrooms. Furthermore the findings suggest considerations for curriculum development and teacher education.

The Embodiment of Violence in Collaborative Inquiry Learning at an After-School Science and Design Lab
Dean Grosshandler (MSU)


Examining the significance of an episode in which two children build a Lego torture device at an after-school science and design lab, the author addresses the uses of freedom and the significance of constraint in an inquiry-based learning environment. The building of the torture device is presented as a horrific, yet ingeniously crafted, example of collaborative inquiry processes in a multi-age, small group environment. Using video analysis of the episode, as well as teacher focus groups and interviews with the participants, the author/facilitator examines his own complicity in the construction of the device, and concludes that we need strategies to respond to situations in which children, taking advantage of the freedom we offer them, choose avenues we would rather they not explore.

Reading Science: A Culturally Responsive Approach to Developing Scientific Literacy
Magnia A. George and LeeAnn M. Sutherland (UM)


We used formal interviews and stimulated recall to elicit the perspectives of six teachers about the use of traditional and innovative texts in their classrooms. Specifically, we focused on how an innovative curriculum reader, designed to accompany a middle school inquiry-based chemistry curriculum unit, supported discussion in the classroom, and asked in what ways did the nature of classroom discussion exemplify elements of culturally responsive teaching – i.e., teaching that served as instructional bridging between the culture of the learner and the culture of science.

American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, April 11-15, 2005


Exploring the Relationships Between Teacher Practice and Student Learning In Inquiry-Based Science Classrooms
Joseph Krajcik (UM), symposium chair


This symposium will present research on teacher practice in inquiry-based science classrooms. The session chair and presenters will discuss findings from their work in middle school classrooms where they are engaged in a collaborative effort to develop inquiry-based science curricula. Key features of the curricula include an emphasis on student learning goals specified in the national standards, support for deepening teacher content knowledge, and developing pedagogical practices that are in keeping with inquiry-based science instruction. Given the critical role that the science teacher plays in sustaining reform-oriented changes in the classroom, a more comprehensive understanding of teacher practice is necessary to effectively support science teaching and learning for all students. The five papers presented in this symposium will address important issues that bring to the fore the complexities of teaching practices during the enactment of a middle school inquiry-based chemistry curricular unit. Across the five papers, a close examination of the relationship between teacher practice and student learning serves as the basis for developing a fuller description of the teaching/learning context, specifically as it relates to science content and inquiry standards and what is currently known about literacy instruction and teacher decision-making regarding curriculum enactment.

Using Technology and Curriculum Materials to Support New Elementary Science Teachers
Elizabeth A. Davis


Davis received the 2004 Jan Hawkins Early Career Award for humanistic research and scholarship in learning technologies. Invited to give this talk in honor of receiving the award, Davis discusses the ways in which CASES, a technology-mediated learning environment providing educative curriculum materials, supports pre-service and beginning elementary teachers in learning to teach inquiry-oriented science. In particular, three key design principles—emphasizing the importance of guidance on demand, images of inquiry, and social supports—are discussed in the context of design-based research informing both theory and design.

Sorting it Out: Building a Lego-Logo Culture with Young Children
Dean Grosshandler (MSU)


The focus of this study is a week-long class of seven 7-year olds, all newcomers to an after-school and summer design program the author has directed for eleven years in a midwestern university town. Analysis of the data, using activity theory and a Deweyan perspective on inquiry learning, indicates that the use of technology at the lab plays a significant role in enculturating the children into the design lab community. There are two major domains of technology at the lab: (1)The physical ordering of materials for use by the children, including supplies of Lego parts and the mechanisms by which they are sorted, distributed, and displayed once in the form of the children's creations-in-progress. and (2) The four computers in the lab running Logowriter Robotics, a software program that affords the children opportunities for Logo experimentation as well as control of their mechanized Lego projects. Most classes at the lab include students with a wide range of experience. The class of all newcomers was chosen for this study because the lack of old-timers forced the adult facilitators, as well as the teen mentors, both of whom attended the lab as children themselves, to be more explicit than usual in their efforts to socialize the students. Analysis of the data, including video of the facilitator-mentor-student-technology interactions and pre- and post-interviews of the participants, shows that the children's acclimation to and adoption of the design lab culture is mediated by the particular uses of technology in the lab.

Teachers’ Use of Text to Support Students’ Science Literacy Learning in symposium titled "Exploring the relationships between teacher practice and student learning in inquiry-based science classrooms"
LeeAnn M. Sutherland and Magnia A. George (UM)


For students to reach the depth of understanding described in Science for All Americans will require “a new generation of books and other instructional tools. . . . Textbooks and other teaching materials in current use are—to put it starkly—simply not up to the job” (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990, p. 211). Science education must incorporate high-quality textual tools, as “scientific knowledge has an essential dependence on texts, and the route to scientific knowledgeability is through gaining access to those texts” (Hand et. al., 2003, p. 612). In this paper, we examine teachers’ use of a particular textual tool (a “curriculum reader”), designed to support students’ classroom learning. We detail teacher practices related to the use of text, describe teachers’ perspectives on those practices, and illustrate the relationship between particular practices and student learning.


Aligning Assessment to Content Standards: Applying the Project 2061 Analysis Procedure to Assessment Items in School Mathematics
George DeBoer (AAAS) and Paul Ache (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania)

Abstract | Poster (PDF, 172 KB)

This study was designed to determine the effectiveness of a procedure to improve the alignment of mathematics assessment items to targeted state content standards. The study was conducted on over 100 released items from a single state in the Northeast. The items were analyzed using the following criteria as part of a procedure developed by Project 2061 of AAAS:

  • Content Alignment: Is the knowledge specified in the content standard needed to answer correctly or can the correct answer be obtained in some other way? Is the knowledge specified in the content standard enough by itself to make a satisfactory response or is additional knowledge or skill needed as well?

  • Likely Effectiveness: (Referred to as “item efficiency” in the poster.) Is there anything in the item, which is not related to understanding the ideas in the targeted content standard, that might interfere with a student’s ability to respond correctly? Issues include comprehensibility, appropriateness of the task context, and “guessability.” The objective is to reduce the number of false negative and false positive answer choices.

  • Plausibility of Answer Choices: Are all answer choices plausible and related to the ideas being tested? For example, are distractors related to students’ misconceptions and commonly held beliefs?

Teams of analysts produced written profiles that described each item’s alignment with the targeted content standard and provided suggestions for revision based on the extent to which the items did or did not meet the analysis criteria.

The Role of Domain-Specific Knowledge in Reasoning About Complex Systems
Ravit Golan Duncan (NU) and Brian J. Reiser (NU)


Complex systems are prevalent in a wide variety of disciplines and are important from both scientific and educational perspectives. Reasoning about these systems is notoriously difficult for students. Past research on cognition of complex systems focused mainly on the general reasoning patterns students employ and largely ignored the role of domain-specific or contextual knowledge in such reasoning. However, to generate a complete account of students’ reasoning about complex systems we need to take into consideration domain-specific knowledge resources, particularly since many of the complex systems encountered in the science classroom are entrenched in unfamiliar and challenging contexts. In our research we identify several key domain-specific knowledge resources students employ in reasoning about complex systems in the domain of genetics.

Comparing Teachers’ Adaptations of an Inquiry-Oriented Curriculum Unit with Student Learning
Jay Fogleman and Kate L. McNeill (UM)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 304 KB)

Systemic reform efforts acknowledge and support teachers’ efforts to adapt curriculum materials to address the needs of their students, time constraints, and limitations in resources (Blumenfeld, Fishman, Krajcik, & Marx, 2000). Yet there has been little research on how teachers adapt curricula or what influence those adaptations have on student learning. Possible adaptations could include reducing the time spent on the unit as a whole or on specific aspects of the unit. Previous research has shown that as teachers decrease instructional time students’ learning of complex inquiry practices decreases (Clark & Linn, 2003). Conversely, engaging in reform-based inquiry teaching practice such as asking questions and talking with classmates to solve problems results in greater student learning (Kahle, Meece, & Scantlebury, 2000). In this study, we examine how a variety of teachers’ adaptations of the Stuff chemistry unit influences students’ learning of target content and inquiry learning goals. This study examines the adaptations of 22 teachers from 17 schools. After enacting Stuff, the teachers completed a survey characterizing the time spent on each lesson, whether the lesson was enacted as a demonstration or laboratory activity, their comfort level with the lesson, their general perceptions of their students’ level of understanding, and any other modifications they made to the lesson. In order to assess student learning, we collected pre- and posttest data from the teachers’ students (n = 2322). Using a hierarchical linear model (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002), we investigate how teachers’ adaptations relate to student learning. Our paper describes which teacher adaptations influenced student learning and offers implications for subsequent curriculum and professional development.

Restructuring School Physics Around Real-World Problems—A Cognitive Justification
David Fortus (MSU)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 246 KB)

All real-world problems are ill-defined to some degree. On the other hand, traditional school science is structured around well-defined problems. This study investigated whether skill at solving well-defined physics problems, which is constructed as the result of learning from traditional curricula, implies skill at solving ill-defined physics problems as well, which is necessary in real-world problem situations. 10 participants, 3 physics professors, 2 post-doctoral researchers and 5 graduate students in science education with undergraduate degrees in physics, were videotaped while solving 3 well-defined and one ill-defined problem. All the problems dealt with the same scientific content. The participants were encouraged to "think aloud" while solving the problems; they were then interviewed about the problem-solving process. The recordings and the interviews were analyzed to see which steps in the solution of the problems posed the greatest cognitive difficulty for each participant and at which steps high-road transfer occurred. Results indicate that the step of making the constraining assumptions needed in order to convert the ill-defined problem into a well-defined one was the most difficult step for all. It was also the step in which high-road transfer was most likely to occur. These findings support the calls to restructure school science around real-world problems, since teaching science through well-defined problems does not support the development of some of the transferable skills needed in order to cope with real-world problems.

Identifying Teacher Practices that Support Students’ Explanation in Science
Kate L. McNeill, D. J. Lizotte, and Joseph Krajcik (UM)

Abstract | Full paper (PDF, 463 KB)

A decade ago, Kuhn (1993) accurately noted that while explanation is cited as important for classroom science inquiry, it is frequently left out of classroom practice. Science standards documents (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996) and a growing research literature (e.g. Bell & Linn, 2000; Jiménez-Aleixandre, Rodríguez, & Duschl, 2000; Lee & Songer, 2004; Sandoval, 2003) have resulted in an increasing focus on explanation in the classroom. However, research appears to have neglected the role of the teacher in supporting students’ explanations. We are interested in how different teacher practices during the enactment of the same instructional unit influence students’ understanding of scientific explanation. Participants in this study included 14 teachers from 13 schools and 1,501 seventh grade students. To characterize teachers’ practices, we analyzed videos of their classroom enactments of a focal lesson on explanation. To examine whether the teacher practices that we measured during the focal lesson impacted students’ pre- and post-test progress with explanation, we performed hierarchical linear regressions. Our results identify which teacher practices had a significant effect on student learning, and we offer possible reasons for our differential findings.

Exploring the Relation Between Teachers’ Practices Around Visual Representations and Student Learning In an Inquiry-Based Chemistry Unit
Aaron D. Rogat, Mary Heitzman and Joseph Krajcik (UM)


The purpose of this study is to identify and describe the teacher practices that effective teachers use when helping students interpret and translate among different visual chemical representations such as chemical formulas and molecular structures. While earlier work identifies student difficulties in interpreting and using visual representations, few researchers have examined teacher practices in classrooms around visual representations. We observed videotapes of six middle school teachers in primarily urban settings enacting the same lesson that focused on chemical representation from an inquiry-based chemistry unit. Teacher enactments were scored using a coding scheme composed of 18 categories for instructional practices. The coding scheme was developed using relevant research from science education, education psychology, and cognitive psychology. We report on the strategies employed by teachers whose students consistently achieve higher gain scores on the pre- and post-tests designed for the chemistry unit. Implications for these finding for teacher professional development and instructional practice around chemical representations will be discussed.


The Darker Side of Inquiry: The Construction of a Fantasy Torture Device in a Science Lab
Dean Grosshandler (MSU)


The author addresses complexities and contradictions of teaching in an inquiry-based learning environment, examining the significance of an episode in which two children build a Lego torture device. Based on video analysis of the episode, as well as teacher focus groups and interviews with the participants, the author concludes that we need strategies to respond to situations in which children take the freedom we offer them and choose avenues we would rather they not explore. Even if answers can be found only on a case-by-case basis, it is nevertheless important for researchers and facilitators to be aware of the complications that may result from the adoption of inquiry-based learning.

Reading Science: A Culturally Responsive Approach to Developing Scientific Literacy.

Magnia George and LeeAnn Sutherland (UM)

40th Annual Meeting of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association, Grand Rapids, MI, October 19-22, 2005

Kinesthetic learning with elemenetary students in the planetarium
Julia Plummer (UM)

Full paper (PDF, 1019 KB) | Poster (JPEG, 1.66 MB)

North American Association of Environmental Education Annual Conference, Albuquerque, NM, October 25-28, 2005

Learning technologies which further the goals of environmental education

Anna Switzer (UM)

PowerPoint presentation (PPT, 3.16MB)

National Science Teachers Association Conference on Science Assessment, Chicago, IL, November 10-12, 2005


Environmental inquiry: A case-based approach to environmental science

Meredith Bruozas (NU)

Using multiple technologies in problem-based lessons

Meredith Bruozas (NU)


Incorporating real-world problems into the classroom can add complexity into your lessons. This complexity can be a great teaching moment that can offer students insight into the workings of the real world. In this session, we will focus on how using technology can help students understand and navigate the complexity in problem-based lessons. We will look at a curriculum example that uses multiple technologies to help students experience and gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of an environmental concern. In this curriculum sample, students are asked to develop strategies that will help a California farmer get the largest yield of vegetables from his land. This problem motivates a need to gather information on soil and crop types, plant physiology and climate, but it is not until the application of this information into a computer model and the use of a visualization tool that students realized the need to synthesize across multiple content areas (geology, biology and climatology) and begin to discover the complexity of the problem.

We will use this curriculum as a context to talk about how technology can give students the opportunity to experience complexity of real world problems.

Students as scientists: Using visualization in the classroom

Meridith Bruozas, David Smith, and Matthew Rossi (NU)


Some of the most difficult environmental and earth science concepts for students to grasp involve making the transition from local phenomena to large-scale processes like plate tectonics, glaciation, and weather. As educators, we are sometimes expected to make this transition using less than ideal methods and tools. Emerging technology can meet this need by allowing students to visualize and investigate the same real-world data sets that scientists use.

In this session, we will be focusing on some research-based strategies that can help teachers facilitate the complex transition to large-scale Earth systems in their classroom. We will discuss the importance of visualization in science classrooms, the kinds of visualizations that are useful to students, and how to apply these various kinds in a classroom environment. We will be using a sample of visualizations specifically constructed for classrooms. These will include diagrams, animations, and a geographic information system (GIS) software program tailored for student inquiry.

Forward thinking: Backward design

Lou Ellen Finn and Meredith Bruozas (NU)


Making a seamless connection between what you want your students to learn (learning goals), how you want your students to learn (lessons) and knowing if learning occurred (assessment), can be complicated. The general trend in planning curricular units/lessons tends to be starting with lesson design and focusing later on how to assess student understanding. In this session, we will be working backwards and starting with assessments, which focuses your planning on what we want students to learn and how they can demonstrate that learning. We will also explore what it means for students to understand a concept and how this idea of understanding is reflected in daily classroom learning goals and assessment items or activities. We will also discuss the potential misconnections that can happen in the development of curricular units between the lessons and the assessments. We will use multiple curricular examples to illustrate strong and weak connections between learning goals, lessons and assessment and also discuss strategies you can use when planning. We will be using the theory of backward design to help you develop a forward thinking attitude when planning curricular units.


Assessing middle school students' content knowledge and scientific reasoning through written explanations.

Joseph Krajcik & Katherine McNeill (UM)

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