The Scientific Thinker Project: A Study of Teaching and Learning Concepts of Evidence and Nature of Scientific Evidence in Elementary School
Current curriculum materials for elementary science students and teachers fail to provoke the following essential questions during science instruction: What is evidence? Why do you need evidence? The goal of this project is to identify whether and how elementary school students formulate answers to these questions and develop concepts of evidence and understandings of the nature of scientific evidence.
Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online professional development magazine for elementary teachers, focuses on preparing teachers to teach science concepts in an already congested curriculum by integrating inquiry-based science with literacy teaching. Launched in March 2008, each thematic issue relates elementary science topics and concepts to the real-world context of the polar regions and includes standards-based science and content-rich literacy learning.
Blockbuster movies and even soft drink commercials have made our planet's polar regions and their inhabitants popular culture superstars. At the same time many people have either been confronted with what they believe to be climate change weather events, or find themselves wondering about how melting polar ice sheets and rising ocean temperatures might affect their lives in the future. Despite this onslaught of data, scientific discovery, drama, and speculation, misconceptions about the polar regions and their importance abound.
Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online professional development magazine for elementary teachers, focuses on preparing teachers to teach science concepts in an already congested curriculum by integrating inquiry-based science with literacy teaching. Such an integrated approach can increase students' science knowledge, academic language, reading comprehension, and written and oral discourse abilities. Each issue reflects the four strands of science proficiency (as described in Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8) by providing scientific explanations and including lessons that ask students to generate scientific evidence and to reflect on and participate in the processes of science.
Launched in March 2008, each thematic issue relates elementary science topics and concepts to the real-world context of the polar regions and includes standards-based science and content-rich literacy learning across five departments (In the Field: Scientists at Work, Professional Learning, Science and Literacy, Across the Curriculum, and Polar News and Notes). The magazine has covered many common earth and space science topics (geography, seasons, rocks, minerals and fossils, the water cycle, energy, erosion) and is now turning to plants, animals, and other life science topics. The indigenous peoples of the Arctic, climate change, and polar research and explorers will round out twenty planned issues.
In addition to highlighting and contextualizing existing digital resources such as science and literacy lesson plans, the magazine also includes multimedia such as images, video clips, and podcasts. A monthly column, Featured Story, provides a nonfiction article written for students and available at three grade levels as text, printable books, and electronic books with narration. The Virtual Bookshelf, written by a children's librarian, recommends quality children's literature to complement and extend the science activities. A regular column details commonly held misconceptions and provides assessment tools for use classroom use. In addition to the online magazine, users can create and share knowledge and connect with colleagues through the blog and social network.
Early evaluation efforts for Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears have been positive. Science, literacy, and education experts asked to review cyberzine issues commented that it "provides a substantive dialogue regarding how integrating science-literacy instruction can enhance teaching and learning" and that articles and ancillary resources were accurate, developmentally appropriate, and easily accessible for teachers and students. Reviewers also described the web site as "beautifully designed, [containing] an enormous amount of helpful, practical information and...very well written." Preliminary pilot testing demonstrated that teachers felt they increased their own content knowledge about the polar regions as well as science in general, changed the science curriculum in their classroom and the ways in which they used educational technology, and gained confidence in teaching science to their students. Additionally, students whose teachers participated in pilot testing benefitted as well. Preliminary testing indicated statistically significant changes in third grade students' attitudes towards science. Following exposure to the Beyond Penguins materials and activities, they agreed less with the statement "Science is mostly memorizing facts" and more with the statement "Writing is important in science." Beyond Penguins also received an "A+" rating from the Education World web site in January 2009.
Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, funded by the National Science Foundation, brings together a team of collaborators including an interdisciplinary team from Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology; the Ohio Resource Center for Mathematics, Science, and Reading; the Byrd Polar Research Center; The Columbus Center for Science and Industry (COSI); the Upper Arlington Public Library; and the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). The Evaluation and Assessment Center at Miami University in Oxford, OH is conducting ongoing project evaluation including teacher focus groups, pilot testing, and usability testing that informs the development process.
The Ohio State University
College of Education and Human Ecology
School of Teaching and Learning
1929 Kenny Rd., Suite 400
Columbus, OH 43210
Quality Cyber-enabled, Engineering Education Professional Development to Support Teacher Change and Student Achievement (E2PD)
In this project, a video and audio network links elementary school teachers with researchers and educators at Purdue to form a community of practice dedicated to implementing engineering education at the elementary grades. The research plan includes identifying the attributes of face-to-face and cyber-enabled teacher professional development and community building that can transform teachers into master users and designers of engineering education for elementary learners.
This project aims to advance the preparation of preservice teachers in middle school mathematics, specifically on the topic of proportionality, a centrally important and difficult topic in middle school mathematics that is essential to students’ later success in algebra. To address the need for a workforce of high-quality teachers to teach this mathematics, the project is developing a digital text that could be widely used to communicate the unique transitional nature of middle school mathematics.
The SAVE Science project is creating an innovative system using immersive virtual environments for evaluating learning in science, consistent with research- and policy-based recommendations for science learning focused around the big ideas of science content and inquiry for middle school years. Motivation for this comes not only from best practices as outlined in the National Science Education Standards and AAAS' Project 2061, but also from the declining interest and confidence of today's student in science.
Biocomplexity and the Habitable Planet -- An Innovative Capstone Course for High School (Collaborative Research: Puttick)
This project is developing a set of instructional materials that engages students and teachers in the science of coupled natural human (CNH) systems. Teacher guides, a website and multimedia resources accompany the four student modules (which focus on an urban watershed, an urban/agricultural system, Amazonia and a polar system).
Biocomplexity — A frontier of modern science
The science disciplines that try to understand how biological and earth systems work arose in previous centuries when places that humans had not affected still remained. But in the past century, scientists have begun to realize that to really understand the world we inhabit — how it works, and how it’s changing — we have to accept Homo sapiens as an essential player, and not an intruder. This kind of thinking, which links biology, ecology, physics, chemistry, with human society and behavior, is leading to some very exciting, and sometimes surprising, science.
One term for this emerging science is biocomplexity. Biocomplexity is an umbrella science that integrates the core concepts of ecology, biogeography, ecosystem services, and landscape ecology to understand “coupled human-natural systems” and to identify more effective solutions to the challenges we face in the biosphere.
This course is designed to help students acquire a “biocomplex” way of thinking, by looking at several real situations, some familiar, and some unfamiliar, in which humans are involved as the world changes. Our mission is to foster the understanding of the complex fabric of relationships between humans and the environment, vital and important knowledge for all citizens in an era of global human impact on the environment. We can no longer study “natural” systems without considering human interactions. High school science materials should reflect this critically important fact, and also support students to engage in authentic investigations.
The curriculum uses a case study approach to engage students with biocomplexity in urban, agricultural, tropical and polar systems, in which students address environmental land and resource use challenges increasingly confronted by society. Students engage in inquiry-based investigations, gather data from primary sources, and construct evidence-based arguments. The curriculum is enlivened by multimedia resources, including video, animations, podcasts and slideshows. The four units each take 7-9 weeks to complete.
Unit One: Urban Biocomplexity : Students develop an understanding of systems thinking at the local scale of their familiar schoolyard ecosystem. They make a land use decision regarding the addition of an athletic field to the school grounds and investigate how land use impacts hydrology, nitrogen flux, biotic factors, social factors, and ecosystem services.
Unit Two: Sprawl and Biocomplexity: Students explore the impact of habitat fragmentation as they consider the proposed conversion of farmland to a suburban housing development. They map landscape elements and investigate biodiversity, social factors, fluxes of carbon, the economics and role of commodity subsidies, and the impact of “green” design. They debate land use alternatives that include sustainable practices, and build a coherent scientific case to support their land use choice.
Unit Three: Amazonia and Biocomplexity: Students explore connections between the agricultural and grazing practices currently responsible for large-scale deforestation in Amazonia and the connections of deforestation to local, regional, and global climate. They investigate the role of rainforest in regulating atmospheric gases and stabilizing rainfall. They analyze patterns of Amazonian deforestation and habitat fragmentation, analyze the economic ecology of soybean production, cattle ranching and forestry land uses, and conduct a stakeholder analysis. Finally, student teams prepare a plan for land in a region in Amazonia, juggling types of land use to optimize other critical factors such as conservation, carbon sequestration, economic benefits and viable agriculture.
Unit Four: Arctic Biocomplexity: Many arctic species are showing signs of rapid impacts from habitat disruption due to climate change. Students explore these impacts, investigate the flux of heat energy, and learn about population dynamics, conservation biology, adaptation and natural selection to be able to forecast what is likely to happen to selected Arctic species as the climate changes. They construct a case to support recommended conservation strategies.
Integrating Computing Across the Curriculum (ICAC): Incorporating Technology into STEM Education Using XO Laptops
This project builds and tests applications tied to the school curriculum that integrate the sciences with mathematics, computational thinking, reading and writing in elementary schools. The investigative core of the project is to determine how to best integrate computing across the curriculum in such a way as to support STEM learning and lead more urban children to STEM career paths.
Computer access has opened an exciting new dimension for STEM education; however, if computers in the classroom are to realize their full potential as a tool for advancing STEM education, methods must be developed to allow them to serve as a bridge across the STEM disciplines. The goal of this 60-month multi-method, multi-disciplinary ICAC project is to develop and test a program to increase the number of students in the STEM pipeline by providing teachers and students with curricular training and skills to enhance STEM education in elementary schools. ICAC will be implemented in an urban and predominantly African American school system, since these schools traditionally lag behind in filling the STEM pipeline. Specifically, ICAC will increase computer proficiency (e.g., general usage and programming), science, and mathematics skills of teachers and 4th and 5th grade students, and inform parents about the opportunities available in STEM-centered careers for their children.
The Specific Aims of ICAC are to:
SA1. Conduct a formative assessment with teachers to determine the optimal intervention to ensure productive school, principal, teacher, and student participation.
SA2. Implement a structured intervention aimed at (1) teachers, (2) students, and (3) families that will enhance the students’ understanding of STEM fundamentals by incorporating laptops into an inquiry-based educational process.
SA3. Assess the effects of ICAC on:
a. Student STEM engagement and performance.
b. Teacher and student computing specific confidence and utilization.
c. Student interest in technology and STEM careers.
d. Parents’ attitudes toward STEM careers and use of computers.
To enable us to complete the specific aims noted above, we have conducted a variety of project activities in Years 1-3. These include:
- Classroom observations at the two Year 1 pilot schools
- Project scaling to 6 schools in Year 2 and 10 schools in Year 3
- Semi-structured school administrator interviews in schools
- Professional development sessions for teachers
- Drafting of curriculum modules to be used in summer teacher institutes and for dissemination
- In-class demonstration of curriculum modules
- Scratch festivals each May
- Summer teacher institutes
- Student summer camps
- Surveying of teachers in summer institutes
- Surveying of teachers and students at the beginning and end of the school year
- Showcase event at end of student workshops
The specific ICAC activities for Years 2-5 include:
- Professional development sessions (twice monthly for teachers), to integrate the ‘best practices’ from the program.
- Working groups led by a grade-specific lead teacher. The lead teacher for each grade in each school will identify areas where assistance is needed and will gather the grade-specific cohort of teachers at their school once every two weeks for a meeting to discuss the progress made in addition to challenges to or successes in curricula development.
- ICAC staff and prior trained teachers will visit each class monthly during the year to assist the teachers and to evaluate specific challenges and opportunities for the use of XOs in that classroom.
- In class sessions at least once per month (most likely more often given feedback from Teacher Summer Institutes) to demonstrate lesson plans and assist teachers as they implement lesson plans.
- ICAC staff will also hold a joint meeting of administrators of all target schools each year to assess program progress and challenges.
- Teacher Summer Institutes – scaled-up to teachers from the new schools each summer to provide training in how to incorporate computing into their curriculum.
- Administrator sessions during the Teacher Summer Institutes; designed to provide insight into how the laptops can facilitate the education and comprehension of their students in all areas of the curriculum, discuss flexible models for physical classroom organization to facilitate student learning, and discussions related to how to optimize the use of computing to enhance STEM curricula in their schools. Student Summer Computing Camps – designed to teach students computing concepts, make computing fun, and enhance their interest in STEM careers.
- ICAC will sponsor a yearly showcase event in Years 2-5 that provides opportunities for parents to learn more about technology skills their children are learning (e.g., career options in STEM areas, overview of ICAC, and summary of student projects). At this event, a yearly citywide competition among students also will be held that is an expanded version of the weeklong showcase event during the student summer camps.
- Surveying of students twice a year in intervention schools.
- Surveying of teachers at Summer Institutes and then at the end of the academic year.
- Coding and entry of survey data; coding of interview and observational data.
- Data analysis to examine the specific aims (SA) noted above:
- The impact of ICAC on teacher computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b).
- Assess the effects of (1) teacher XO training on student computing confidence and utilization (SA 3.b), (2) training on changes in interest in STEM careers (SA 3.c), and (3) XO training on student engagement (SA 3.a).
- A quasi-experimental comparison of intervention and non-intervention schools to assess intervention effects on student achievement (SA 3.a).
- Survey of parents attending the yearly ICAC showcase to assess effects on parental attitudes toward STEM careers and computing (SA 3.d).
The proposed research has the potential for broad impact by leveraging technology in BCS to influence over 8,000 students in the Birmingham area. By targeting 4th and 5th grade students, we expect to impact STEM engagement and preparedness of students before they move into a critical educational and career decision-making process. Further, by bolstering student computer and STEM knowledge, ICAC will impart highly marketable skills that prepare them for the 81% of new jobs that are projected to be in computing and engineering in coming years (as predicted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).3 Through its formative and summative assessment, ICAC will offer intellectual merit by providing teachers throughout the US with insights into how computers can be used to integrate the elementary STEM curriculum. ICAC will develop a model for using computers to enhance STEM education across the curriculum while instilling a culture among BCS schools where computing is viewed as a tool for learning.
(Previously listed under Award # 0918216)
Undergraduate Science Course Reform Serving Pre-service Teachers: Evaluation of a Faculty Professional Development Model
This project focuses on critical needs in the preparation and long-term development of pre-service, undergraduate, K-6 teachers of science. The project investigates the impact on these students of undergraduate, standards-based, reform entry level science courses developed by faculty based on their participation in the NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics processional development program to identify: short-term impacts on undergraduate students and long-term effects on graduated teachers; characteristics of reform courses and characteristics of effective development efforts.
The Undergraduate Science Course Reform Serving Pre-service Teachers: Evaluation of a Faculty Professional Development Model project is informally known as the National Study of Education in Undergraduate Science (NSEUS). This 5-year project focuses on critical needs in the preparation and long-term development of pre-service, undergraduate, K-6 teachers of science. The goal is to investigate the impact on these students of undergraduate, standards-based, reform entry-level science courses developed by faculty in the NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics (NOVA) professional development model. Twenty reform and 20 comparison undergraduate science courses from a national population of 101 diverse institutions participating in NOVA, stratified by institutional type, were be selected and compared in a professional development impact design model. Data is being collected in extended on-site visits using multiple quantitative and qualitative instruments and analyzed using comparative and relational studies at multiple points in the impact design model. Criteria for success of the project will be determined by conclusions drawn from the research questions; including evidence and effect sizes of short-term impacts on undergraduate students and long-term effects on graduated in-service teachers in their own classroom science teaching; identification of characteristics of undergraduate reformed courses that produce significant impacts; identification of characteristics of effective faculty, and effective dissemination.
Project Publications and Presentations:
Lardy, Corrine; Mason, Cheryl; Mojgan, Matloob-Haghanikar; Sunal, Cynthia Szymanski; Sunal, Dennis Wayne; Sundberg, Cheryl & Zollman, Dean (2009). How Are We Reforming Teaching in Undergraduate Science Courses? Journal of College Science Teaching, v. 39 (2), 12-14.
This project contributes to the emerging knowledge base for reform-minded middle school STEM instructional materials development through the development, field-testing, and evaluation of a prototype instructional materials module specifically designed to stimulate and sustain urban-based students’ interest in STEM. The module includes guided inquiry-oriented activities thematically linked by the standards-aligned concept of energy transfer, which highlight the fundamental processes and integrative nature of 21st century scientific investigation.
Understanding Science provides an accurate portrayal of the nature of science and tools for teaching associated concepts. This project has at its heart a public re-engagement with science that begins with teacher preparation. To this end, its immediate goals are (1) improve teacher understanding of the nature of the scientific enterprise and (2) provide resources and strategies that encourage and enable K-16 teachers to incorporate and reinforce the nature of science throughout their science teaching.