Supporting Grade 5-8 Students in Writing Scientific Explanations

This project is writing and researching a book supporting grade 5-8 students in scientific explanations and arguments. The book provides written and video examples from a variety of contexts in terms of content and diversity of students. The book and accompanying facilitator materials also provide different teacher instructional strategies for supporting students. The research focuses on how the book and accompanying professional development impact teachers' beliefs, pedagogical content knowledge and classroom practice.

Full Description

 This SGER grant proposes the development of a book and a research study to investigate the impact of that book and accompanying professional development on teachers’ beliefs and classroom practices to support grade 5-8 students in writing scientific explanations.  The project will expand the current body of research around teachers’ beliefs and professional development for scientific explanation and argumentation as well as provide a valuable resource that includes examples of student writing and video cases from diverse learners that can be used by science educators and teachers across the country.


Intellectual Merit

The recent National Research Council publication Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades k-8 (Duschl, Schweingruber & Shouse, 2006) offers a new vision for proficiency in science, which includes a focus that students be able to “Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanation” (p.2).  Although this focus on evidence based scientific explanations is prevalent in the current research literature, there are few concrete examples of what this scientific inquiry practice looks like when it is successfully supported in classrooms. We propose to develop a teacher book and accompanying professional development facilitator materials that will help transform how science is being taught in this country.  The book will provide concrete examples in both student written work and video of the current theoretical ideas being advocated in the science education field. By providing this image, the knowledge in the field will be advanced by transforming a theoretical idea and illustrating what it looks like in actual classroom practice that can be used by teachers as well as in teacher preparation and professional development.  The examples will include a variety of different contexts in terms of different content areas, grades 5-8, and students with a variety of backgrounds including diverse students from urban schools.  Furthermore, we propose to research the impact of the book and accompanying professional development on teachers’ beliefs and classroom practice around scientific explanation.  The majority of recent work in the field of scientific explanation and argumentation has focused on curriculum materials, technology tools, and classroom practice. There is currently little research around teacher education and professional development to support teachers in incorporating scientific explanation and argumentation in their classrooms (Zohar, 2008). Consequently, the results from this study will be essential to inform the field about teachers’ beliefs around scientific explanation, how professional development can change those beliefs, and the subsequent impact on teachers’ classroom practices.


Broader Impacts

The use of the book by teachers, professional development leaders and teacher educators will have a significant impact on middle school students’ learning throughout the country.  Through the distribution and use of the book, teachers will have access to resources that will help them incorporate scientific explanations in their own classroom practice.  As our previous research has shown (McNeill & Krajcik, 2007; McNeill & Krajcik, 2008a; McNeill, Lizotte, Krajcik & Marx, 2006), using our framework and instructional strategies for scientific explanation can improve diverse students’ ability to write scientific explanations as well as learn key science concepts.  A large percentage of our research has been conducted with urban students including minority students and students from low income families who have not traditionally succeeded in science. Focusing on science as a discourse with distinct language forms and ways of knowing, such as analyzing data and communicating scientific explanations can help language-minority students learn to think and talk scientifically (Rosebery, et al., 1992).  This book will allow the strategies we have found to be successful with diverse students to reach a much larger audience allowing more middle school students to succeed in science. Providing teachers with strategies and examples of how those strategies have been successfully used in real classrooms will help them implement similar practices in their own classrooms and will help more students successfully write evidence based scientific explanations.  The research study around the impact of the book and accompanying professional development will reach twenty-five teachers and their students in the Boston Public School schools which serve primarily low-income (71% eligible to receive free or reduced lunch) inner city students from minority backgrounds.  The publication of the book with Pearson Allyn & Bacon will have the potential of reaching numerous more teachers and their students across the country.


Project Materials