Engaging Students in Scientific Practices: Evaluating Evidence and Explanation in Secondary Earth and Space Science

This project will develop, implement, test, and revise instructional approaches and materials for high school students that focus on the links between scientific evidence and alternative explanations of phenomena relating to Earth and space education. Students will learn to construct diagrams showing the links between explanatory models of natural phenomena and lines of evidence, and then evaluate the plausibility of various alternative explanations for events.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1721041
Funding Period: 
Friday, September 1, 2017 to Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Full Description: 

This project will develop, implement, test, and revise instructional approaches and materials for high school students that focus on the links between scientific evidence and alternative explanations of phenomena relating to Earth and space education. Students will examine alternative explanations for natural phenomena associated with extreme weather events, freshwater resource availability, and related topics in learning how to evaluate scientifically valid lines of evidence and explanation. Students will learn to construct diagrams showing the links between explanatory models of natural phenomena and lines of evidence, and then evaluate the plausibility of various alternative explanations for events. It is expected that engagement in these activities will help students gain proficiency in model-based reasoning, critical thinking, planning and analyzing scientifically valid investigations, constructing plausible explanations, engaging in collaborative argumentation, and critically evaluating scientific information.

This 4-year Design and Development project will examine use of Model-Evidence Link (MEL) diagrams that are intended to help students cognitively construct mental scaffolds that assist their engagement in the practices of critical evaluation, plausibility appraisal, and knowledge construction related to science topics that are considered by some as controversial. Prior research has demonstrated the potential educational outcomes of using MEL diagrams, but this project will extend the previous work by examining an approach where students construct their own MEL diagrams (build-a-MELs, or baMELs). The project will examine the use of both pre-constructed MELs and baMELs for effectiveness in promoting student engagement in scientific reasoning and practices. The project will employ design-based research methodologies in pursuing answers to three research questions: (1) Do baMEL activities tested in multiple high school classroom settings promote critical evaluation, plausibility reappraisal, and  scientifically accurate knowledge construction about controversial Earth and space science topics? (2) How do these additional baMELs differ from pre-constructed MELs in promoting critical evaluation, plausibility reappraisal, and knowledge construction? And (3) To what extent does repeated use of both pre-constructed MELs and baMELs result in student engagement of scientific practices (i.e., asking critical questions, using model-based reasoning, planning and analyzing scientifically valid investigations, constructing plausible explanations, engaging in collaborative argumentation, and critically evaluating scientific information)? The project will engage high school students taking Earth and space classes in selected schools of Georgia, New Jersey, and within Philadelphia. Teacher professional development opportunities associated with the project will include summer institutes, classroom supports, and mentoring sessions.

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