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High Quality Science Instruction:

Findings from Research


The Center on Instruction is operated by RMC Research Corporation in partnership with
the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University; RG Research Group;
Horizon Research, Inc., the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of
Houston; and the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at the University of Texas at
Austin.

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2008

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Consider the Lesson Vignettes

 Individually, read the two Sinking and Floating lesson


vignettes and respond to the following questions on the
reflection sheet:
• Which lesson is better? Why?
• Which lesson is more likely to lead to student
learning? Why?
Consider the Lesson Vignettes

 Discuss the responses as a table group.

• Which lesson is better? Why?


• Which lesson is more likely to lead to student
learning? Why?
Effective Science Instruction:
What does research tell us?

 There has been, and continues to be, much debate over what
constitutes effective science instruction.

 “Reform”
• Students working in small groups
• Hands-on activities
• Focusing on topics selected by the students
 “Traditional”
• Delivering information through lectures or reading
• Students working on practice problems and worksheets
• Students doing “confirmatory” lab activities
Highly Rated Lessons by Use of
Lecture/Discussion and Hands-on/Laboratory
Activities

50
44
Percent of Lessons

40

30

20

10 7
2
0
0
Neither Hands-on/ Lecture/ Both
Laboratory Discussion
Activity Only Only
Effective Instruction

 Current learning theory focuses on students’ conceptual


change, and does not imply that one pedagogy is
necessarily better than another.
Effective Instruction

 The following elements of effective instruction are


derived largely from the learning theory described in the
National Research Council’s volumes How People
Learn (2003) and How Students Learn: Science in the
Classroom (2005).
Motivation

 However well-designed the instruction, students are


unlikely to learn if they do not have a desire to do so.

 Instruction needs to “hook” students by addressing


something they have wondered about, or can be induced
to wonder about, possibly, but not necessarily, in a real-
world context.
Eliciting Students’ Prior
Knowledge
 Research has shown convincingly that students do not come to
school as empty vessels; rather, they come with ideas they have
gleaned from books, TV, movies, and real-life experiences.

 These ideas may either facilitate or impede their learning of


important ideas in science.

 There is considerable evidence that instruction is most effective


when it elicits students’ initial ideas, provides them with
opportunities to confront those ideas, helps them formulate new
ideas based on the evidence, and encourages them to reflect
upon how their ideas have evolved.
Intellectual Engagement

 Research on learning suggests that the hallmark of effective


lessons is that they include meaningful experiences that engage
students intellectually with important science content.

 Lessons need to engage students in doing the intellectual work,


and make sure that the intellectual work is focused on the
learning goal.

 When observing classroom instruction, it’s helpful to ask yourself,


“If I were a student in this class, what would I be thinking about?”
Use of Evidence to Make and
Critique Claims

 Being scientifically literate requires understanding both scientific


ideas and the nature of the scientific enterprise. Students should
be encouraged to view science as a process by which knowledge
is constructed, not as a collection of facts.

 An integral part of the scientific process is the collection and


interpretation of data, which is then used to critique claims and
see if they are supported by the evidence.

 Students are less likely to revert to their prior incorrect ideas if


they are familiar with the evidence that confronts those ideas and
supports the scientific consensus.
Sense-Making

 Effective science instruction requires opportunities for


students to make sense of the ideas with which they
have been engaged:
• Making connections between what they did in a
lesson and what they were intended to learn.
• Connecting the new ideas to knowledge that students
already have, placing the lesson’s learning goals in a
larger scientific framework and helping students
organize their knowledge.
What Does Effective Instruction
Look Like in the Classroom?

 There are multiple ways each critical element can be


incorporated into instruction.

 Not all five need to occur in every lesson, but rather


they may play out over a series of lessons.
Motivation

 Extrinsic motivators
• deadlines for research projects, classroom
competitions, and tests and quizzes affecting
students’ grades

 Intrinsic motivators
• usually stem from intellectual curiosity and a desire
to learn.
Eliciting Students’ Prior
Knowledge

 KWL charts: What students know about a certain concept (K),


what they want to know (W), and finally what they have learned
(L) by the end of a lesson or unit

 Demonstration of initial ideas using drawings, concept maps, or


cartoons.

 Teacher questions

 Encouraging students to raise questions of their own allows


teachers to access their existing ideas
Intellectual Engagement

 Students have opportunities to engage with appropriate


phenomena while investigating meaningful questions.
• Can be through a hands-on experience
• Can be through an interactive lecture (Socratic
discussion)
Use of Evidence to Make and
Critique Claims

 Students should use evidence to support and critique


conclusions (both their own and other people’s).

 Evidence can come from a hands-on activity, examples


from their own life, or data they are given and asked to
analyze.
Use of Evidence to Make and
Critique Claims

 Drawing appropriate conclusions from data also


requires students to have confidence that the data are
valid.

 Consequently, discrepancies or conflicting data need to


be resolved.
Use of Evidence to Make and
Critique Claims

 In some cases, teachers can explain an idea and


describe how scientists came to that conclusion.
Sense-making

 Sense-making can occur in a number of ways, for


example:
• Whole class discussion with appropriate teacher
questioning;
• Written student reflection using well-designed, guiding
prompts, e.g., considering how, and why, their thinking
has changed; or
• Application of ideas to other contexts.
Task: Considering the Elements
of Effective Science Instruction

 Please read each lesson vignette and consider how the


lesson does/does not exhibit the elements of effective
instruction. Document your thoughts on your individual
reflection sheets.

 After, discuss your thoughts with others at your table.


Reflection

 Look at your initial responses to the first activity with the


Sink and Float lesson vignettes:
• What changes, if any, would you make to your
responses? Why?
• How would you improve any elements that you
thought were unlikely to be effective?
What Have We Learned about the
Elements of Effective Science
Instruction?

 Motivation
 Eliciting students’ prior knowledge
 Intellectual engagement
 Use of Evidence to Make and Critique Claims
 Sense-making
References

Moje, E. B., Collazo, T., Carrillo, R., & Marx, R. W. (2001). “Maestro, what is
‘quality’?”: Language, literacy, and discourse in project-based science. Journal
of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 469-498.

National Research Council. (2003). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience,
and school. J. D. Bransford, A. L. Brown, & R. R. Cocking (Eds.). Washington,
DC: National Academy Press.

National Research Council. (2005). How students learn: Science in the classroom.
M. S. Donovan & J. D. Bransford, (Eds.) Washington, DC: National Academy
Press.
References

Nuthall, G. (1999). The way students learn: Acquiring knowledge from an


integrated science and social studies unit. The Elementary School Journal,
99(4), 303-341.

Nuthall, G. (2001). Understanding how classroom experience shapes students’


minds. Unterrichts Wissenschaft, 29(3), 224-267.

Weiss, I.R., Pasley, J. D., Smith, P. S., Banilower, E. R., & Heck, D. J. (2003).
Looking inside the classroom: A study of K-12 mathematics and science
education in the United States. Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research, Inc.

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