Project Summary for Discovery.gov
Exploratory Project Demonstrates that Elementary School Children can Understand and Use Scientific Evidence
In this exploratory research project, researchers at New York University and CUNY Graduate Center developed instructional tools that help children, ages 8-11 (grades 3-4), understand and apply scientific evidence within three weeks of instruction. By the end of the project test period students: (1) described knowledge claims and evidence as interdependent elements, (2) viewed evidence as a process of science and appreciated that evidence is used for challenging or strengthening a scientific explanation, (3) shifted from using expository texts as their primary source of information to drawing on a variety of sources when making decisions and learning, and (4) were more highly motivated to persevere through difficult text and challenging scientific questions.
When students studied their own answers and the answers of others to questions such as: “What do we know about ____?”, “How did we come to know that about _____?”, “Why do we believe _____ is true?” and “If we had to prove _____ what would we do?” they began to understand what scientific evidence is used for, the practices governing the production of scientific evidence, and how to evaluate evidence. This research demonstrates that children are capable of learning the nature of scientific evidence when provided with explicit and interesting, but challenging school science experiences. Learning about scientific evidence will provide students with a foundation for future learning in mathematics and science. Students who develop an analytical worldview may be more likely to pursue coursework, and possibly careers, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Current elementary curricula that use expository text and hands-on demonstrations provide information and facts, but typically fail to provoke the following essential questions during science instruction: How did someone figure this out? What is the evidence for this claim? Why do you need evidence? How do we resolve these apparently conflicting statements? The goal of this study was to identify whether and how elementary school students formulate answers to these questions when provided with carefully designed instructional tools.
The research team worked with 12 teachers and approximately 160 3rd and 4th grade students for two years to develop and test five teaching units designed to introduce students to the meaning and purpose of scientific evidence. The first unit they designed (What is Knowledge?) is a unit, intended for all ages, that introduces the concepts of claim and evidence within the context of studying knowledge and how facts, claims and inferences are generated. This was followed by one of four content-area units designed to provide students with opportunities to use and evaluate evidence. Each unit features a problem for which a scientific community of researchers is still investigating and debating answers.
Science of Sound (tested in 3rd grade) applies a historical approach to learning how we came to know what we know about sound and a student exploration of current research in an area of the physics of sound.
The Debate of the 2,000-year old seed and the Challenge of Storing Seeds (tested in 3rd grade) includes experiments and investigations about seed longevity and contemporary seed banking projects.
Contemporary Questions in Science (tested in 4th grade) in this research and conference discussion format, students present and discuss new discoveries and open questions reported in “AAAS EurekAlert” and similar science news outlets for kids.
Pollination Crisis! The Missing Honeybee Mystery (tested in 4th grade) includes an in depth study of the research being conducted to determine the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, which is affecting U.S. honeybees and commercial honeybee populations around the world.
Submitted for NSF Highlights and Research.gov-SEE Innovation by:
Susan Kirch-1 (PI), Anna Stetsenko-2 (co-PI) and Catherine Milne-1 (co-PI)
1-New York University
2-The Graduate Center of the City University of New York