Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Case Studies in Science Education

Erien, Year Two — Grade 7

Teacher Profile

Name Erien
Experience First year
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 7 science and language arts
Classroom Two classes of 24 students
Demographics K-8 elementary/middle school in an industrial suburb
Science Teaching 50 minutes, 5 days per week
Curriculum Specified by district


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

I n their study of the human body, Erien's students dissect a lamb kidney and compare it with a human kidney as a way of furthering their understanding of the structure and function of the excretory system. When exploring the respiratory system, her students are challenged to prepare a skit that demonstrates their understanding of how the system functions. In addition to providing meaningful, hands-on learning experiences in science, Erien has set a goal for herself of enabling her students to become creative and critical thinkers to further their scientific understandings. Her challenge is to achieve this goal by means of a language arts connection.

Excretory And Respiratory Systems Study

As part of their study of the excretory system, students color and label detailed diagrams and build simple models. Next, students dissect a lamb kidney to compare with a human kidney. After studying the respiratory system, student groups are issued index cards, each containing a different challenge requiring students to prepare and present a skit as a way of making meaning of previous work.

Discussion Questions

How would you describe of Erien's use of reading, writing, and speaking as a part of science activities?

What place do you think language arts has in science teaching and learning?

If you were to concentrate on using language arts to develop critical and creative thinking in science, what would you do? Why?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Erien meets with Sue Mattson, a science educator at the Smithsonian Institution. Together, they explore ways in which writing can be used to integrate language arts into science and to help students make meaning of what they learn.

As a component of their study of the immune system, Erien's students write before and after an activity designed to educate students about infectious diseases. Encouraging students to write before an activity is one way that they articulate their prior understandings and uncover their ideas. This becomes a valuable resource when students reflect on the outcome of a science activity in relation to their earlier understandings.

Immune System Study

After participating in an activity simulating the spread of infectious diseases, students perform a "bacterial handshake experiment." Standing in four lines, the first person in each line touches a gloved hand to a solution of harmless but brightly colored bacteria and handshakes ensue down the line. Each line is then assigned a different action: no soap or water, water only, regular soap, and anti-bacterial soap. Students then swipe their fingertips on petri plates containing sterile media. Students form hypotheses, record and interpret results, and construct conclusions after observing the growth of bacterial colonies on plates over time.

Discussion Questions

How would you critique Erien's use of writing as a way of helping students make sense of the "bacterial handshake" activity?

What do you consider to be the pros and cons of using writing as a way of helping students learn science?

How would you include writing as an integral part of a science study to help students "think like scientists?"

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

At the end of the year Erien takes advantage of the wetlands surrounding the school to introduce students to ecology. After students have had time to explore the area and record their observations, students generate questions and record them in their journals, to form the basis of their own studies outdoors.

Previously dissatisfied with the results of leaving journal entries up to the discretion of her students, Erien prompts students' writing in their journals throughout the various phases of ecology study. One way Erien does this is by providing students with sets of questions to help frame students' thinking and subsequent writing. This results in the more extensive use of a journal, not only as a place to record data, but also as a place for students to learn how to think critically about the results of their experiments and how to use creativity in applying what students have learned to real-world situations, and/or future science studies.

Ecology Project

Students explore the wetlands surrounding their school before generating questions which form the basis of a research project. Students design their studies, collect and interpret data, and present their findings to the class about topics such as the kinds of insects found in bark, the effects of temperature change, and the comparative rate of decomposition of different items.

Discussion Questions

Which aspects of Erien's use of journals in the ecology study do you find most useful? Least useful? Why?

In your opinion, what are the distinctions between critical and creative thinking in science? What are the similarities?

What are some other ways you could use language arts to help develop critical and creative thinking skills in science?


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