Supporting Scientific Practices in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms

This project will develop a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus. The learning progression is constructed through students’ understanding of scientific practice as measured by their attention to generality of explanation, clarity of communication, audience understanding, evidentiary support, and mechanistic versus descriptive accounts.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020316
Funding Period: 
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 to Friday, August 31, 2012
Full Description: 

Research on student learning has developed separate progressions for scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling. Engaging Learners in Scientific Practices develops a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus. The learning progression is constructed through improvements in students' performance and understanding of scientific practice as measured by their attention to generality of explanation, attention to clarity of communication and audience understanding, attention to evidentiary support, and attention to mechanistic versus descriptive accounts. The project is led by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Texas, Wright State University, Michigan State University, and the BEAR assessment group. Two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 4th to 5th grade in Illinois and two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 5th to 6th grade in Michigan The elementary school students will work with FOSS curriculum units modified to embed supports for scientific practices. Two cohorts of 500 middle school students are followed for three years from 6th to 8th grade as they work with coordinated IQWST units over three years. The outcome measures include analyses of classroom discourse, pre- and pos-test assessments of student learning, and reflective interviews grounded in students' own experiences with practices in the classroom to assess their growth across the dimensions. The BEAR team is responsible for validation and calibration of the frameworks and instruments, and design of the scheme for analysis of the data. Horizon Research performs the formative and summative evaluation. The project will produce an empirically-tested learning progression for scientific practices for grades 4-8 along with tested curriculum materials and validated assessment items that support and measure students' ability in the scientific practices of explanation, argumentation and modeling. In the process of development, an understanding is gained about how to design and test this learning progression. The framework is articulated on a website for use by other researchers and developers. The project also builds capacity by educating several graduate students.