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

Sarah — Grade 5

Teacher Profile

Name Sarah
Experience Five years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 5; all subjects
Classroom 23 students; 35% special needs, 55% ESL
Demographics Outer city elementary school in university community
Science Teaching 1 hour sessions; twice per week
Curriculum Life, physical, and earth sciences; "kits" adopted by district
Other Lead teacher for professional development in the use of kits, which are prepackaged curriculum including teachers' guides, BLMs, and materials/supplies for an entire class.
Master's degree in education


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

Sarah's class is in the midst of a unit focusing on scientific variables. As part of the trial of a commercial kit-based curriculum, students have formally explored which variables affect the motion of pendulums. Now, Sarah hopes to offer a more open-ended experience that will allow students to build upon their growing understandings of both variables and pendulums by introducing students to compound pendulums, which are swinging weights suspended from more than one fixed point. Pairs of students use materials to construct a compound pendulum, which is suspended from more than one point. With minimal guidance from Sarah, groups of students use trial and error to construct a compound pendulum that will create an ink design when set in motion. Success is mixed among groups. After the exploration, Sarah facilitates a full-class discussion to help students reflect on the outcomes of the activity.

Later, Sarah's students repeat the activity with more successful results. Sarah continues to see the need for students to draw accurate scientific conclusions from an activity.

Compound Pendulum Activity

As a part of exploring the concept of scientific variables, students assemble compound pendulums. The goal of the activity is to create ink designs by controlling and manipulating the variables involved.

Discussion Questions

What would you describe as the goals of the compound pendulum activity? Which goals were achieved in the first implementation of the activity?

In your opinion, what makes it possible for students to construct scientific understandings from hands-on activities?

How might the compound pendulum activity have been designed differently to increase the possibilities for students to draw scientific conclusions?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Sarah meets with Rick Duschl, a science educator from Vanderbilt University, and discusses the need to assign more importance to the role that data plays in enabling students to construct scientific understandings. Back in her classroom, Sarah encourages pairs of students to observe several foods and then discuss and record their findings on individual data tables. To facilitate the recording process, Sarah has developed a checklist that helps students organize their thoughts and focus their responses.

Later, Sarah invites one member of each pair to record the data from their combined data tables on a class chart, an activity that also serves as a wrap-up to the day's lesson. However, she feels that the data chart, as it is constructed, is somewhat difficult to interpret. Thus, Sarah revises the table before the next class session. Students are then asked to search for patterns in the data and synthesize results.

Sarah continues to make use of individual and class data tables when students test for glucose by using indicator test strips.

Food Chemistry Project

Using the materials in a food chemistry kit, pairs of students make observations of eight foods: rice, flour, apple, egg white, peanuts, granola bar, onion, and coconut. As an introduction, students use their senses to observe and then record their observations. Later, students use test strips to test for glucose in these same foods. A positive test turns the test strip green

Discussion Questions

What do you consider to be the most significant changes that Sarah makes in the potential impact on students' ability to construct scientific understandings from their experiences?

What is your opinion about the importance of data in science teaching and learning?

What aspects of Sarah's new approach would be most useful to you in your classroom? Least useful?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Sarah engages her students as food chemists working in a laboratory, testing marshmallows for their content and considering their nutritional value. Different groups test for different nutrients, then record the groups' findings on a class chart. Sarah then facilitates a full class discussion of the results. The implications of the "food chemists" findings are integrated with real-world experiences, such as consumer appeal based upon nutritional content.

What's in a Marshmallow? Activity

As the culminating activity for the unit on food chemistry, groups of students test marshmallows for the presence of sugar, starch, protein, and fat.

Discussion Questions

How does the marshmallow activity reflect continued change in Sarah's approach to science teaching and learning?

What is your sense of the potential for science kits to both facilitate and limit meaningful learning?

How would you involve students in data collection, manipulation, and interpretation?


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