Posts Tagged ‘Science’

STEM: Bringing Engineering into the Science Classroom

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Shawna Wiebusch, Secondary Science Education Specialist

Science courses are often grouped into the category of STEM, including in the STEM endorsement for graduation from Texas public schools. Science teachers attest to the value of math in the field of science and many have embraced the accuracy, precision, and increased student engagement that technology brings to the classroom. However, science teachers often hesitate when asked how they incorporate engineering into their classrooms. While our content based TEKS get most of the focus, our process standards are often an afterthought in planning. Through the lens of engineering design, teachers can integrate the teaching of process standards and content standards.

The engineering design process consists of a series of steps that can be thought of as a cycle. Depending on your source, there are approximately 7 steps. From the Teach Engineering website the steps are as follows:

1) Ask – Identify the need and constraints

2) Research the problem

3) Imagine: Develop possible solutions

4) Plan: Select a Promising solution

5) Create: Build a prototype

6) Test and Evaluate prototype

7) Improve: Redesign as needed

In a science classroom, these steps lead students to use the content they are expected to learn to solve a problem. A physics teacher might ask their students to design and model a house that uses series and parallel circuits to light 4 rooms with a specific current and voltage. A biology teacher might ask their students to determine what barriers a cell would have to overcome in order to duplicate itself successfully and come up with potential solutions to those barriers (and in the process, teach the concept of mitosis). An 8th grade teacher might ask students to determine the causes of and potential solutions for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In each of the examples listed above, students should also communicate their designs to their peers and use feedback in order to improve their initial models.

So now that you’ve seen a few examples, let’s explore exactly how the science process TEKS fit into the engineering design process.

In elementary school, students are expected to propose solutions to problems in Kindergarten through third grade (K.3A, 1.3A, 2.3A, 3.2A). This is the foundation of the engineering process and needs to be emphasized in the younger grades so that those skills are developed and practiced throughout a child’s education.

At every grade level, at least one student expectation touches on the use of models. In 7th grade, students are expected to “use models to represent aspects of the natural world…” (7.3b) and “identify advantages and disadvantages of models such as size, scale, properties, and materials” (7.3c). In the engineering design process, prototypes are the models. Students can use models to test out their ideas and explain them to other students and to the teacher. The important part of this is that the students are making and using the models more than the teachers.

At all grade levels, students are expected to “communicate valid results”. From third grade on, they are expected to “critique scientific explanations”. In Engineering Design, this falls under Test and Evaluate the prototype. Part of the evaluation comes from peer review. Students need the opportunity to bounce their ideas off of each other before being graded on them. The peer review process gives students that chance. Not only will they come away with ideas on how to improve their own models and ideas, but they will have practice in the art of constructive criticism and analyzing the work of others.

These are just a few places where the Science process standards overlap with principles behind Engineering Design. Engineering doesn’t have to be its own unit. It can be easily embedded in the work we already do with students and will give them opportunities to take ownership of their own learning.

References:

Engineering Design Process. (n.d.). Retrieved April 07, 2016, from https://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php

 

The 5E Model: Does it still relate to cognitive principles for the current classroom?

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Cynthia Holcomb, Education Specialist: Elementary Science

The 5E Model, originally designed for science instruction, describes a teaching sequence for specific units and individual lessons. The Biological Science Curriculum Study, a team led by Principal Investigator Roger Bybee, developed an instructional model for constructivism using the terms Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate in 1987.

How can we assure that a model developed almost 30 years ago will be effective for the students we teach today? A recently released report, The Science of Learning summarizes the cognitive science related to how students learn. Let’s look at the principles from that report applied to the components of the 5E Model.

Engage

The first E, Engage, is what we use to “hook” students, to capture their attention, to get them interested in the topic. This is a quick activity and may include an anecdote, a cartoon, a short video clip, a demonstration, or a thought-provoking question. Without citing research, I think we can all agree that getting students interested in learning is a valuable classroom practice.

Explore

But what about Explore? This stage provides students with an chance to build their own understanding. The students have the opportunity to get directly involved with phenomena and materials. They work together in teams, build a set of common experiences which prompts sharing and communicating, and start building background for new content. The teacher acts as a facilitator rather than an instructor at this stage, since the purpose is for STUDENTS to find new connections.

The Science of Learning Report states that “a well-sequenced curriculum is important to ensure that students have the prior knowledge they need to master new ideas.” This means that teachers should provide students with opportunities to build background knowledge needed for understanding new content. In essence, the Explore stage is still a valid and valuable part of instructional sequence.

Explain

Explain is the stage at which learners begin to communicate what they have learned. Communication occurs between peers, with the teacher, and through the reflective process. The teacher now takes on a more active role by helping students make connections and clarifying misconceptions.

The Science of Learning Report explains that, in order to help students focus on the meaning of content, we need to assign tasks that require explanations, determine causes and effects, and require students to meaningfully organize material. In a nutshell, this step reinforces the Explain stage through specific examples of student tasks.

Elaborate

The purpose for the Elaborate stage is to allow students to use their new knowledge and continue to explore its implications. At this stage students expand on the concepts they have learned, make connections to other related concepts, and apply their understandings to the world around them in new ways.

The Science of Learning Report explains that a carefully sequenced curriculum can build student knowledge over the course of a school career, enabling students to solve increasingly complex problems. When students have the opportunity to transfer a set of learned skills or content to a new situation instead of keeping the learned information in isolation, they are able to take on more challenging problems. This building of connections is at the heart of the Elaborate stage, and reinforces the power of giving students opportunities to apply what they have learned rather than just memorize and recall information.

Evaluate

The Evaluate stage is designed for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. Evaluation and assessment can occur at all points along the continuum of the instructional process. Some of the tools that assist in this diagnostic process are rubrics, teacher observation, student interviews, portfolios, and project and problem-based learning products.

In Texas, we often think of STAAR as the high-stakes evaluation piece. But in The Science of Learning Report, findings encourage teachers to also use low- or no-stakes quizzes in class to evaluate the learning process. Effective feedback is often essential to acquiring new knowledge and skills, and a low-stakes evaluation can help students see in which areas they need assistance without the pressure of a major exam.

So there you have it — a model from the 1980s reviewed under the lens of a 2015 study. While the 5E Model was developed during the era of shoulder pads, big hair, and New Wave music, its sequence is still a powerful approach for instructional delivery of cognitive principles in the current classroom.

References:

Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.

 

Teaching Science in the Early Childhood Classroom

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Early Childhood Specialist

I can remember when the idea of teaching science to a room full of 4 year-olds terrified me. My fear often led to science activities that were either “safe,” not messy, or often underdeveloped. Students tended to overlook my science center and it was not utilized enough by my young students. I can even recall a memory where I encouraged my students to look, but not touch. Sound familiar? You are not the only one.

Leo F. Buscaglia states, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” For the longest time I was in denial of the idea that young children already come to school with an innate sense of natural curiosity about the world and how it works. I had to work on my ability to understand the different ways that young children play. I often had to stop what I was doing, listen to what my students were saying and reflect on their subsequent actions through the different play opportunities planned throughout the day. By doing this, I came to understand and conquer my fear of teaching science. I found that my fear was based on a personal struggle of not understanding how play activities connected with content knowledge and how they could come to support young children’s learning of science naturally through play.

Realizing that science is everywhere and that it can be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of ways, I began to develop a deeper understanding of essential scientific ideas rather than a superficial acquaintance of isolated facts. I embraced the opportunity in allowing my young students with sufficient time to develop a deeper understanding for the world around them.  When I began to allow more time for my students to explore, it provided me with the opportunity to observe the capacity to which the play became more complex.  When I engaged in play with my students, I began to understand the opportunities in which to question the understanding of my student’s thinking patterns and to acknowledge the different content areas they were experiencing.  When my students demonstrated to me a variety of skills that could be seen universally across content areas, then I introduced additional materials that supported my student’s’ natural sense of inquiry.

These observable skills included:

  • exploring objects, materials, and events
  • asking questions
  • making observations
  • engaging in simple investigations
  • describing (including shape, size, number), comparing, sorting, classifying and ordering
  • recording observations by using words, pictures, charts and graphs
  • working collaboratively with others
  • sharing and discussing ideas
  • listening to new perspectives (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)

Teachers, just like myself, who utilized inquiry and science in the early childhood classroom came to the realization that it built a natural pathway that allowed them to understand and value the thinking processes of the young learner. In doing so, they used their students’ thinking processes as learning experiences in helping guide their students to uncover explanations that were closer to a scientific idea than simply learning through isolated facts (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)  Developing inquiry in an early childhood classroom can transform a class from a collection of individuals into a community of learners that openly share their interpretations of the natural world around them (Worth & Grollman, 2003). Research has shown that such learning experiences can help children reform and refine their theories and explanations—to learn how to think through their ideas, to take risks and ask additional questions, and to reconsider their ideas on the basis of others’ views (Vygotsky, 1962).

Science is part of our everyday lives. How can teachers use play as opportunities to engage young learners in scientific inquiry? The key is in the types of experiences teachers create for young learners and how well they support children during play. Fostering a young child’s natural sense of inquiry is essentially building a strong foundation for the ongoing development of many cognitive skills across content areas (Worth & Grollman, 2003).

Sources:

Hamlin, M., & Wisneski, D. B. (2012, May). Supporting the Scientific Thinking and Inquiry of Toddlers and Preschoolers through Play. Young Children, 67(3), 82-88.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, M.A.: The MIT Press.

Worth, Karen & Grollman, Sharon. (2003). Worms, shadows, and whirlpools: Science in the early childhood classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

What If? Whiteboard Scenarios in Science Education

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Shawna Wiebusch, Secondary Science Education Specialist

One of our tasks as science teachers is to teach students about inquiry, patterns, and causality. The TEKS, across many grade levels, call for students to analyze, evaluate, make inferences, predict trends, and to critique scientific explanations. They also expect students to communicate scientific findings and explore the strengths and weaknesses of models.1 These skills do not happen by accident. We must explicitly teach students to argue and to care about their arguments in academia.

What If? Scenarios, which are a twist on a classic thought experiment, are particularly well suited to helping our students apply their scientific understanding to new situations. According to Dr. Stephens and Dr. Clement, a thought experiment is “ the act of considering an untested, concrete system designed to help evaluate a scientific concept, model, or theory — and attempting to predict aspects of the system’s behavior.”2 In creating What If? Scenarios, we start with the world as it is, then we change something about that model and ask students to predict how it will affect the many interconnecting parts of the system. In this process, students justify their understanding of the world and give teachers insight into their mental models.

In a recent workshop over 8th grade science, I presented the following What If? Scenario:

You wake up one day to find that there are no longer 24 hours in a day. Instead there are 30 hours in a day.

  • Describe the change in Earth’s motion that would have to happen to account for the longer day.
  • Draw a picture that shows this change.
  • Predict the effect of a longer day on seasons, tides, moon phases, and our calendar.

This simple prompt, projected on the wall, led to conversations beyond the expectations listed. Teachers discussed the potential effects on biodiversity and the gravitational pull of the Moon and Earth upon each other. They argued about whether a slower rotation would change the length of seasons or the intensity of temperature extremes, and about how those temperature changes would affect weather and climate. Each group thought of something slightly different than the others and all contributed to a complex, analytical discussion of how the Earth moves in relationship to the Sun and the Moon.

The power of the What If? Scenario is not just in asking the questions, but also in providing students with practice in argumentation and scientific communication. Each group of three students gets a large whiteboard and a different colored marker for each team member. The basic rule in creating their board is that all students must contribute to the conversation and to the board. As students complete their board, the teacher walks around the room and helps provide just-in-time support. After all boards are complete, teams leave one representative at their board to act as docent, who is charged with explaining the group’s response to the What If? Scenario and asking for input and advice. All other students circulate around the room, listening to mini-presentations and asking questions. The goal here is to get students to help each other improve their predictions based on the science learned so far. Sentence stems such as “Can you explain why you believe_______________?” and “I disagree with _______________ and would change it because____________________.” may help guide students with limited experience in scientific discourse. Once three or four other teams have visited each board, the authors of the board regroup and revise their boards based on all of the information they learned from the gallery walk.

What If? Whiteboard Scenarios also meet the needs of many learners. Students are listening, writing, speaking, and reading about science throughout the process. Differentiation is built in because GT students will likely push beyond the scope of the prompt. There are also supports in place to help struggling learners. Through the whiteboarding process and the gallery walk, students have many opportunities to test their ideas out on each other in small, low risk environments prior to speaking out in whole group or being formally assessed over the content.

The Framework for K-12 Science Education states, “The argumentation and analysis that relate evidence and theory are also essential features of science; scientists need to be able to examine, review, and evaluate their own knowledge and ideas and critique those of others.”3 What If? Scenarios require students to use all of the science they know to respond. They also require students to think critically because we are no longer just telling them what we, as teachers, know will happen. We are asking students to tell us what they think and we are asking them to back it up with scientific principles, laws, and theories. I encourage you to play “What If?”with your students. You may find yourself surprised by how far they can take it and how much they can learn from each other.

References

1 “Texas Education Agency – 19 TAC Chapter 112.” 2006. 11 Nov. 2015 <http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter112/>.

2 Stephens, A. (2015). The Role of Thought Experiments in Science and … – CiteSeer. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.507.5735&rep=rep1&type=pdf..

3 “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices …” 2014. 11 Nov. 2015 <http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts>

What Makes Science Science?

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Cynthia Holcomb: Education Specialistv – Elementary Science

What does science instruction look like on your elementary campus? Does it occur every day, in every grade level, or is it something that teachers attend to when they have time? Does the entire staff and student body agree on what makes science science?

I once asked a class of third graders at the beginning of the school year to define science. I will never forget the response from Kara, an earnest 8-year old who always thought through her answers carefully. “I guess it’s the opposite of social studies,” she said.

And that’s what some of our students believe. It’s a subject that is addressed when it’s convenient instead of being recognized as a required and important part of our curriculum. School administrators must be advocates for science, especially in the elementary grades, by supporting and monitoring an elementary science program that reflects state standards.

Our science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are designed so that students in the primary grades receive concrete, hands-on, tactile experiences. By Grade 3, science content shifts to the abstract. If students don’t receive their initial science instruction as tangible explorations of ideas in grades K-2, they miss building necessary background for understanding more abstract ideas in the later grades.

For students, science is a way of discovering what’s in the world and how things work. Young scientists are motivated to see or figure out something that is new to them. Science helps them make sense of the world. Science is continually refining and expanding our knowledge of our world, and it continually leads to new questions for future investigation.

To encourage students to explore our world, the Texas Education Agency has suggested time for classroom and outdoor investigations as follows:

  • In grades K-1, at least 80% of instructional time.
  • In grades 2-3, at least 60% of instructional time.
  • In grades 4-5, at least 50% of instructional time.
  • In grades 6-8, at least 40% of instructional time.

For all courses that receive science credit in grades 9-12, at least 40% of instructional time.

In addition, the 2010 science TEKS reference three types of investigations for students of grades K-12.

  • Descriptive investigations include questions but no hypothesis. Observations are recorded, but students do not make comparisons or manipulate variables. Examples include finding the mass of a rock, observing and describing animal behavior or weather patterns, and examining an electrical circuit.

 

  • Comparative investigations involve collecting data on different organisms, objects, or events, or collecting data under different conditions to make a comparison. Examples include observing the moon’s appearance throughout the month, recording the changes in plant life during the school year, or comparing different types of leaves.

 

  • Experimental investigations involve designing a fair test. Students identify controlled factors and measure the variables in an effort to gather evidence to support or not support a causal relationship.

(You can view TEA’s entire Laboratory and Field Investigations document: Laboratory and Field Investigations – FAQ, August 2010 )

So what makes science science? It’s providing time each day, in each grade, for students to think like scientists. It’s fostering a sense of curiosity and wonder. It’s providing opportunities to explore the natural world. It’s about students observing, performing experiments, completing investigations, and asking questions. And it’s much more than being just the opposite of social studies.

 

STEM Essential Elements to STEMify the Classroom

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Dr. Grant Kessler,  STEM Specialist – Curriculum & Instruction

An important goal for all students — regardless of interest in focused STEM content — is STEM literacy. There is an increasingly technical aspect to almost everything in which we engage, both at work and in our daily lives; students will need STEM literacy to be successful in their personal and professional futures. Therefore, STEM literacy should be emphasized across all grade levels and subject areas.

What does this means for education? As educators, we must prepare our students to thrive in a STEM-based world by integrating STEM into our work whenever possible. Students must learn how to appropriately utilize the Internet, demonstrate the confidence to learn new technologies, be mathematically functional and able to apply scientifically-sound thinking, and be capable and self-sufficient problem-solvers.

Well-designed learning experiences encourage students to quickly see the importance and applicability of STEM; students and educators should view the STEM components as working in tandem. A STEM-ified lesson is not just science or technology or engineering or math; it includes notions of science and technology and engineering and math. Importantly, not every component has to be in every lesson. Instead a blending of the four components, which allow students to make real-world connections, is what works well in practice.

STEM education should provide an engaging and problem-driven process for students to learn. This approach is effective and transferable across all content areas for all students. Schools can improve and encourage STEM literacy in a number of ways, from a single classroom to a district-wide initiative. The key element of STEM learning is the integration of the four core subjects into larger, cross-disciplinary projects designed for students to solve problems and gain real world insights. We seek to avoid imparting fragmented pieces of knowledge with no application.

Implementing STEM into the classroom begins with organizing and delivering learning experiences in such a way that students understand the connections within and between content areas, see relevance in their learning, and build capacity through authentic utilization of 21st century and content skills. The STEM Essentials provide the platform from which teachers can STEMify student learning while using a variety of delivery approaches.

STEM ESSENTIALS & THEIR KEY COMPONENTS

By implementing STEM best practices, educators can provide meaningful real-world learning experiences that go beyond the classroom and become transferable skills that are necessary for students to be competitive in the global economy. Explore the STEM Essentials & Their Key Components document and consider how they can be used to align current instruction with the end goal of STEMifying instruction.

Transformation Central Texas STEM Center will publish a straightforward and practical process for educators to STEMify learning for all students in the book, “A Blueprint for Building a STEM Program: Integrate, Innovate, Inspire.” For more information visit TCentralSTEM.org. This resource is highly recommended for educators of all content areas, pre-K through grade 12.

For resources, strategic planning and implementation support, contact Grant Kessler (grant.kessler@esc13.txed.net) at Region 13.

Fair Use and Images In Science Education

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Shawna Wiebusch, Secondary Science Education Specialist

It’s a common theme in education: How do we teach students to be honest about their work and to give credit where credit is due? How often do we, as educators, lament the blatant “copy and paste” routine that we see all too often in student work?

How often do we explicitly model best practices in the world of copyright for our students? If we expect students to take us seriously when it comes to plagiarism, they need to see evidence that we follow our own rules.

As educators, we rely heavily on “Fair Use” in order to use images and videos often found on the internet to help explain science content to students. According to the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, fair use is determined by the following four factors:

(1) the purpose of the use;

(2) the nature of the work used;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the work used; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work used.1

Go to the Copyright Advisory Office’s website (http://copyright.columbia.edu/copyright/fair-use/fair-use-checklist/) to get a PDF of their Fair Use Checklist and to see a more thorough explanation of the four factors listed above.

Now that we have a good working definition of fair use, it’s time for resources! There are many online options for images, but some have made copyright expectations clearer than others. The five image sources described below are a good place to start.

 

Citation [2]

Citation [2]

If you need quality drawings, go to ClipArt ETC (http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/). According to the description on the home page, their license “allows teachers and students to use up to 50 educational clipart items in a single, non-commercial project without further permission.”3 Their images are high quality, accurate, and detailed. They are not just for science, either! Go browse around. The licensing page (http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/info/license) has very user friendly information on how to use and credit works from their library.

 

 

 

Citation [4]

Citation [4]

Google Drive (drive.google.com) has a tool called “Research” that allows you to filter your image search by usage rights (Free to use, share or modify, even commercially) and you can specify the citation format. When you drag the image into your presentation, it will automatically include the citation!

 

Citation [5]

Citation [5]

The Public Health Image Library (http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/home.asp) has collected beautiful, high quality images. Most of them are public domain (but not all, so read carefully) and only ask that you credit the institution and contributor, if known. They have drawings and pictures for you to browse and use. Each image has details below it about who to credit and the type of license that covers that particular image.

 

Citation [6]

Citation [6]

The National Science Foundation Media Gallery (http://nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_search.jsp) has many images and videos covering a range of science topics. Each image has instructions for how to credit it underneath, a description of the content, and a link to a high resolution JPG download.

 

Citation [7]

Citation [7]

Don’t forget that you probably have a device that takes perfectly good pictures, yourself! If you are looking for an image of plant reproductive parts, why not take apart a flower and photograph it yourself? Or have your students do it as part of a unit of study!

Whether you find the perfect image on one of these sites or elsewhere, just remember that the best way to show students that respecting copyright is important is to follow our own expectations. Happy image finding!

 

 

Citations

[1] “Fair Use Checklist — Columbia Copyright Advisory Office.” 2009. 9 Apr. 2015 <http://copyright.columbia.edu/copyright/fair-use/fair-use-checklist/>

[2] Retrieved from http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/24900/24938/mitotic_24938_lg.gif.

[3] (2004). ClipArt ETC: Free Educational Illustrations for Classroom Use. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/.

[4] Retrieved from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/Moon_phases_00.jpg.

[5] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) – Public Domain Image

[6] Courtesy: National Science Foundation

[7] Photo by Shawna Wiebusch

 

 

Increasing Science Literacy through Weekly Article Abstracts

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Authors: Grant Kessler, Ph.D. Education Specialist: STEM, Transformation Central Texas STEM Center

Anna Wydeven, Science Specialist, Leander ISD

Stephen Marble, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, Southwestern University

 

Abstract:

Content area literacy is a hurdle to student attainment of science content knowledge and their ability to demonstrate learning. This article describes a pilot of a classroom-based intervention to help students overcome this obstacle. We call the approach “weekly article abstracts.” We describe the results of the pilot and share the approach, along with implementation tips, resources and references, for teachers who wish to implement weekly article abstracts in their science classrooms.

 

Introduction

A colleague described her frustration to us: “No matter how much I do to make science content interesting and relevant, my students are failing accountability assessments!” With this concern as the catalyst for a discussion group, we heard a consistent theme from science teachers: “Students don’t seem to be ‘getting’ the literacy and expositive experiences that act as a speed bump to their science learning.” This anecdotal consensus resonates with our observations from classrooms across Texas. Analysis of assessment data frequently prescribes content-area literacy, not science content, as the most appropriate intervention for students to improve their science assessment outcomes. Students must be science literate–i.e., able to read and understand science writings and related diagrams, intelligently discuss complex contemporary issues, locate and synthesize valid information to inform decision-making, and utilize language to convey information—all of this as a foundation to build content-area knowledge and demonstrate learning (Texas Education Agency, 2009).

We probed science teachers about their experiences with literacy within the science class and found that the struggle can be attributed to the lack of adequate resources and training to help students tackle expository texts. For example, elementary language arts instruction is heavily grounded in fiction, which allows struggling readers to take advantage of plot direction as a guide. In contrast, these students often find themselves challenged to follow the expository nature of science texts.

 

Piloting an intervention

We wondered if there was a practical remedy to this situation. We imagined a high-impact, personalized, engaging process for teachers to use with students to develop science literacy. Consequently, we developed and implemented a strategy for 6th-8th grade students with the hypothesis that an increase in exposure to student-selected, science-related expository texts correlates with student growth in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (Martinez, 2008). We refer to this approach as “weekly article abstracts.”

Classrooms participating in the article abstract pilot were assigned to one of two conditions: weekly article abstracts or no article abstracts.  The backgrounds and performance levels of students within the conditions were comparable based on socio-economic status and prior benchmark performance.  At the conclusion of the pilot, the students from each condition were given a science reading passage and asked to take notes in the columns and answer assessment questions at the end of the reading. Student responses were coded to minimize bias, then assessed and analyzed by reading and science specialists.

The results of the pilot indicated that students exposed to the weekly article abstracts condition (N=138) showed statistically significant increases in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (p=0.001) as compared with students in the no abstracts condition (N=230).  Furthermore, teachers reported that the article abstracts provided a means for students to find relevant connections and engage with the science coursework.  Based on our positive experience with this process, we encourage its widespread adoption. The remainder of this article describes how to implement a weekly abstracts program in your classroom.

 

Science Abstracts 101

Overview

An article abstract is a weekly assignment that requires students to select, read and write a critique of a science-related article. Students bring their abstracts to class each Friday (or last day of instruction), where time is structured into the class period for students to dialogue about their learning and receive feedback about their work from peers. It is important to facilitate a learning-focused atmosphere for this weekly event and, as such, we highly recommend that abstracts be a required and ungraded learning opportunity. We have found it possible to structure these assignments so as to provide value without adding onerous incremental workload to the educator. It is useful to consider what science abstracts “are” and “are not” prior to adopting the process (Table 1).

 

Increasing1

Table 1. Abstracts “are” and “are not”

 

Implementing Science Abstracts

Introduce science abstracts by having students discuss the Dr. Suess quote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Facilitate the discussion to explore factors that drive academic success, including the quantity of personally selected free reading and levels of exposure to academic language through a variety of sources (Cullinan, 2000).

Next, in a manner that is consistent with Simon Sinek’s (2009) work on how great leaders inspire action, introduce article abstracts with students by sharing and developing “The Why” for science abstracts. We believe that weekly article abstracts provide a mechanism through which each student will grow in his or her ability to find relevance and ownership in classroom learning, critically consume information, intelligently discuss current events, utilize data to drive decision-making, and demonstrate learning on assessments.

Having set a purpose that article abstracts are a crucial opportunity for students, show students the InfoGraphic Poster (Figure 1) to help them understand how abstracts are implemented and what success looks like.

 

Infographic - Figure 1
Figure1Infographic

 

Procedures

Students select, cite and read a science-related article.

It is critical for students to search for and select their own articles because student choice is a key motivator to assignment completion and it drives ownership and engagement in the learning process (Thompson, 2009). Students, especially struggling readers, will need explicit instruction for how to locate and assess the quality of science sources. We successfully used the Planey & Hug (2012) “Source Quality Pyramid” activity with students, which is detailed in The Science Teacher, and can be accessed from: http://learningcenter.nsta.org/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/4/tst12_079_01_37

We have found that some students–including those without consistent resources at home–will benefit from your support to schedule access to the library or use campus technology to access science sources.  Share the suggested source list (Figure 2) with students as a foundation for students to locate articles.

 

 SourceList - Figure 2
Figure2SourceList

 

Also, while students choose their own articles, they may need periodic reminders to select articles from a variety of sources so that they can most efficiently increase their level of knowledge.  We quickly learned that students don’t already know how to cite sources, so it will be a good idea to explicitly teach students how to use tools such as “EasyBib.com.”

 

Article Summary

The next step in this procedure is to go over the abstract details from the InfoGraphic (Figure 1) and provide students with the “How to write an abstract” handout (Figure 3).

 

HowTo - Figure 3 
Figure3HowToWrite

 

During the pilot, a number of students were initially apprehensive about reading and writing the abstracts summary because they didn’t have experience with academic science texts. To get over this initial hurdle, you might tell the students, “It is okay to pick a short article at first–just pick something that you understand.” Students were more comfortable reading and writing about articles they understood; their hesitance was really fear of not fully understanding the academic content. We found it particularly effective when students chose articles that mapped to their individual interests. For example, some students raise livestock, others were passionate about automobiles, quilting, and even dinosaurs. In each case, encouraging the student to select articles within their own interests helped to establish the relevance of science to their daily lives, and their enthusiasm soared. Work with the Language Arts department on your campus to align strategies and approaches to reading and writing reflectively.

 

Students may need coaching on how to write the summary. Frequently, students simply rearrange words to paraphrase the article directly rather than truly summarizing the article.  You can scaffold teaching this process based on student need, building from the following mini-lesson:

  1. Provide each student with a brief, low difficulty science article. Have students read the article, making notes in the margins. You might provide students with sample questions to support metacognition while reading, such as, “How does this compare with what I already know? How does this connect with me?” When students are finished reading, they put the articles away and take turns to explain what the article was about with a partner.
  2. Have students write a paragraph in summary of the article, based on the discussions.
  3. Explain to students that this learning experience represents the process for writing abstract summaries. Tell the students to “Read the article, put the article away, and then pretend you are talking to a friend as you write what it was about.”

 

Article Critique

The summary describes what the article is about; the critique is where students think critically about what they read and learned, reflecting on its impact to their lives. Here, we ask the students to consider the article’s strengths and weaknesses and to use evidence to support claims. The critique is an opportunity for students to develop and demonstrate their critical thinking skills.

 

While we have found that this portion of their product does not need much additional coaching, some students may need additional support. In order to differentiate for ability levels, you can provide students with an organizer as an accommodation for the process (Figure 4).

 

Accomodations - Figure 4 
Figure4Accomodations

 

Students share learning and receive peer feedback

An audience plays an important role in the abstract literacy process and gets students excited about sharing with (teaching) each other as experts each week. As you structure time into your class each week for students to share, remember to take a facilitator role. Assign students into groups of two and organize the time for each student to have time to assess the abstracts together with the InfoGraphic representation of the rubric (Figure 1).  Some teachers create a bulletin board to highlight the abstract of the week, with a QR code to the selected article.

 

Final Thoughts

Science content literacy has become an increasingly important part of how teachers support students to learn science. Weekly article abstracts are an unobtrusive and value-added way to integrate literacy into science classrooms. While students struggle with this process initially, they quickly improve with practice. In our article abstract pilot of 368 students, those who experienced weekly article abstracts showed significant gains in their abilities to read reflectively and apply metacognitive strategies, find relevance for science content, and intelligently discuss current events, demonstrating significant growth in content-area literacy overall.

 

References

Cullinan, B. (2000). Independent reading and school achievement. School Library

Media Research, vol. 3.

Kearton V & McGregor D. (2010) What do researchers say about scientific literacy in schools? Education in Science. 240 22-23

Martinez, P. (2008) Impact of an integrated science and reading intervention (INSCIREAD) on bilingual students’ misconceptions, reading comprehension and transferability of strategies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason University.

Planey, J. & Hug, B. (January 2012). Climbing the pyramid: Helping students evaluate science news sources. The Science Teacher, 79(1): 37-40.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) (2009). Texas college and career readiness standards (CCRS). Retrieved from: http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/files/dmfile/CCRS081009FINALUTRevisions.pdf.

Thomson, A. (2009). Reading: The Future – final report of the 2008 National Year of Reading. London, UK: The National Literacy Trust.

Formative Assessment in Science: Three Big Ideas

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Cynthia Holcomb, Education Specialist, Elementary Science

It’s a hot topic: Formative Assessment. Every resource will define it for you in basically the same way: formative assessment is for learning while summative assessment is of learning. But in plain language, formative assessment is an activity in which students share their developing ideas while the learning is still taking place. It’s a very active approach to learning.

So, how do we use formative assessment in science instruction? By nature, science is an active process that provides opportunities for students to discuss what they are learning as they practice what they are learning. Science instruction should provide experiences and types of thinking used by all scientists.

Consider these three Big Ideas about formative assessment in the science classroom.

 1.  A critical part of science teaching is having a dialogue, not a monologue, with students to clarify their existing ideas and to help them construct the scientifically accepted ideas (Scott, 1999). An activity to promote rich discussion is called the S.O.S Statement. The teacher presents a statement (S), asks each student to state an opinion (O) about the topic, and then support (S) his or her opinion with evidence. This activity can be used before or during a lesson to assess student attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about a topic. It can be used at points throughout a unit or lesson to assess what students are beginning to understand about the topic. And it can be used at the end of a unit to see if ideas have been influenced or changed as a result of new learning.

2.  No matter how well-planned a lesson, the need to determine student understandings through unplanned formative assessments may arise. Clock Partners is a method of creating sets of partners for spot checks of content knowledge. In this activity, each student is given a copy of a Clock Partners sheet (a picture of an analog clock face) at the beginning of a grading period, unit of study, or other desired length of time. Each student meets with classmates to write their names by a corresponding hour of the clock so that the resulting partners have each other’s names on matching hours. To pair students for discussions, announce a time slot on the clock; partners meet to discuss, clarify, or summarize content ideas. Have partners report out their key ideas as a means of assessing their understandings of the topic and to determine if re-teaching is necessary. For more information on Clock Partners, see http://www.readingquest.org/strat/clock_buddies.html.  (This site includes a downloadable clock template.)

3.  For a quick but effective formative assessment activity, ask students to create an analogy about content. When students create metaphors and analogies, it can express a level of understanding that traditional questions and quizzes don’t address (Wormeli, 2009). A student-created analogy provides a map of how the learner links ideas together; it shows insight regarding connections from prior learning as well as highlighting misconceptions.  Periodically, present students with an analogy prompt: A ________ is like _________ because ______________. (Example: A cell’s plasma membrane is like a factory’s shipping and receiving department because it regulates everything that enters and leaves the cell.) This high level of application requires students to think deeply about content as well as to help guide instruction.

As an added benefit, while the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are still happening, the process also provides practice for the student and a self-check for understanding during the learning process.

 

Sources

Scott, P. (1999). An analysis of science classroom talk in terms of the authoritative and dialogic nature of the discourse. Paper presented to the 1999 NARST Annual Meeting. Boston, MA.

Wormeli, R. (2009). Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject. Stenhouse.