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The TRUTH About Science curriculum consists of 40 individual lessons. About half of the lessons teach basic research concepts such as developing hypotheses, setting up controls, random selection of observations, calculating an average and a t-statistic, and graphing data. These are hands-on lessons that actively engage students as they learn new concepts. The other lessons apply these concepts to a Long-Term Research Project (LTRP). In small groups, students define their own research question, design a field experiment to answer the question, collect data, analyze results, and present their findings. For example, students have investigated whether more mushrooms grow in the shade than in the sun or whether there are more aphids on big-leaf maple or red alder trees. The curriculum culminates in a celebration night at which students display posters of their research and give 5-minute oral presentations to their parents and classmates.
 
Alignment with National and Local Science Standards
Organization of Curriculum Module
Philosophy
Development of the Curriculum


Alignment with National and Local Science Standards

Training students to be scientists is an excellent way for teachers to meet many of the National Science Education Standards (1996). Fundamental abilities necessary for a student to do scientific inquiry include (National Science Education Standards p. 145):
 
Ability to identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations
Ability to design and conduct a scientific investigation
Ability to use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze and interpret data
Ability to develop descriptions, explanations, predictions and models using evidence
Ability to think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations

These standards correspond directly to the Washington State Science Essential Academic Learning Requirement (EALR) number 2: "the student knows and uses the skills and processes of science and technology" and the benchmarks designed to meet this requirement.

While many published middle school science curricula include laboratory investigations that answer a research question, they rarely provide an opportunity for students to ask their own research question and then design and carry out an appropriate experiment. The skills used to follow a scripted laboratory investigation are much different from those used to formulate a testable research question and the corresponding hypotheses and experimental methods. The TRUTH About Science curriculum module uses scripted laboratory investigations to teach principles of science research such as control and treatment types, replication, controlling outside factors to limit their influence, randomization, and keeping careful records. Students then apply these principles when they design and carry out their own research projects.

Principles of data analysis included in the science standards state that students should have the ability to use appropriate tools and techniques to analyze and interpret data. The TRUTH About Science approaches data analysis from a statistical perspective. Students learn to summarize and represent their data using averages, tables, and graphs. Students learn how variability in data influences interpretations and how to assess and display variance. These methods push students to think analytically and critically about their data and the overall project. Students must synthesize what they have learned about experimental design and data analysis with the results of their research to interpret and explain their research results.

The TRUTH About Science also meets the new Principles and Standards for School Mathematics standards for data analysis and probability (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2000). The standards state that instructional programs for 6th-8th grade students should enable them to "formulate questions, design studies, and collect data about a characteristics shared by two populations."

National Science Education Standards. 1996.
National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. 2000.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc. 1906 Association Drive, Reston, VA

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Organization of Curriculum Module
 

The curriculum is designed and organized to be taught from beginning to end (Day 1 to Day 40). The development builds and reinforces skills in a deliberate sequence. Although teachers may choose to omit certain lessons, this is not a curriculum from which you can freely pick and choose. The centerpiece of the curriculum is the Long Term Research Project (LTRP) in which student groups formulate a testable research question and hypotheses, design their experimental methods, collect and analyze data, and present their research results and conclusions in both a written and oral format.

Icons are used to organize the concepts and the lessons. A set of 17 concept icons links concepts important to each lesson with the relevant section in the background information for teachers. Each time a concept is introduced or used, the icon appears to help teachers relocate important information. Individual lesson icons identify each lesson. The curriculum has been designed to use a minimum of fancy materials. All lessons can be completed using materials found in department and hardware stores.

The curriculum is divided into 4 main sections: Research Questions and Hypotheses, Experimental Design, Analyzing and Summarizing Results, and Presentation of Research Projects. Each section contains several pages of background information and approximately 10 lessons. The lessons combine stand-alone activities to teach research skills with lessons that develop the independent research project (LTRP).

Research Questions and Hypotheses, the first section of the curriculum (Days 1 through 11), emphasizes making quantitative observations, using the basic structure for science research projects (introduction, methods, results, conclusion), asking testable questions, and formulating hypotheses. The lessons challenge students to ask questions to explore different systems. Students learn to formulate testable research questions that involve a comparison and a quantitative measure. From their research questions, they can state their alternative and null hypotheses. Questions and hypotheses structured in this way reinforce the concepts of quantitative observations and comparative research. They also set the stage for doing statistical testing. At the end of the first section, students are ready to ask a research question and formulate hypotheses for their long-term research projects. Students finish the section by drafting the introduction paragraph for their poster presentation.

The second section of the curriculum, Experimental Design (Days 12 through 20), developes the skills needed to design their long-term research project. Students conduct several experiments and observe how changes in the procedures influence the results. They learn from experience the concepts of different treatment types (treatment and control), replication, randomization, and controlling for factors that might influence results. These concepts help students to design objective experiments and avoid investigator bias. With this background, they return to their small groups and design experiments to answer the research question posed earlier. At this point, students draft the methods paragraph for their poster presentation. The final two lessons provide time for the students to collect data for their research project. Data collection involves a field trip to a park or to the school yard.

Days 21 through 31, Analyzing and Summarizing Results, include the data analysis and data interpretation lessons. This third section emphasizes quantitative skills used to understand data sets. Students summarize their data using averages, display their using histograms, evaluate the impact of data variability on their conclusions, and conduct and interpret statistical tests on their data. The quantitative skills are taught through engaging hands-on activities and are then applied to the students' own data set. At the conclusion of this section, students draft two paragraphs for their poster presentation, one that describes their results and one that interprets the results and concludes the project. We have included plenty of background information for teachers who have not had much experience with statistics or quantitative analyses of data sets.

During the final section of the curriculum, Presentation of Research Projects (Days 32 - 40), students are focused on putting their posters together and preparing their oral presentations. It is wonderful to watch the groups work together in these final days. Motivation is high, creativity is soaring, and all the hard work of the previous weeks is paying off. Students are given an opportunity to review and critique each other's work and then to incorporate the suggestions into their final product. Students practice their presentations to themselves, their class, and another class before going on stage before their parents. The final celebration is just that, a celebration. This night, the students truly shine as they reveal the truth about science as they have experienced it.

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Philosophy
 

The Truth About Science attempts to fill several gaps in science education. As teachers and as students, we have found that students rarely get an opportunity to be scientists, asking and answering their own scientific questions. Hands-on science classes and science labs frequently allow students to learn various lab techniques and to demonstrate how something works. Rarely do students get a chance to think creatively and to apply the techniques they have learned to a research project or an experiment of their own design. We have written this curriculum to provide middle school students with an opportunity to do their own science research just as more senior scientists do.

The curriculum also attempts to subvert a common perception of students: they will never use the skills learned in math classes. Mathematics is a critical tool used by scientists all the time! Scientists use math to quantify their research observations, summarize data, display data in tables and graphs, and determine the probability of results. Middle school science students can carry out all of these mathematical steps on their own data.

We reward students for all of their creative, critical thinking and hard work by hosting a final celebration where they display posters and give short oral presentations on their research projects. Professional scientists give presentations all the time. Being on stage and demonstrating your enthusiasm for your own research is an integral part of scientific life. Families, teachers, and administrators are all invited to celebrate and congratulate the students on their accomplishments. Scientists have a responsibility to report their results to the larger scientific community and the general public. This new generation of scientists will have experienced this critical step of the scientific process by the time they have completed middle school.

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Development of the Curriculum Module
 

The development of this curriculum occurred in two parts, the informal development process and the formal development process. As teachers and graduate students, we both recognized the gap between how science is generally taught and what it means to really do science. Over nearly a decade, we dreamed of ways to bridge this gap. In January 1998, we submitted the first grant proposal and within a month received our first rejection. After several iterations of reworking and rewriting the grant, we received funding from two sources, The Discuren Foundation and the National Research Center for Statistics and the Environment, for 11 months of work.

The curriculum was first taught by Ashley and Kathryn in two Seattle public school classrooms in the fall of 1998. By spring, four teachers at three different schools had agreed to pilot the curriculum with training and support from Ashley, Kathryn, and Caroline Kiehle with the Middle School Science Systemic Reform Project at the University of Washington. In 1999, we received two new grants from the Discuren Foundation. The first grant provided support to host a teacher workshop on The TRUTH About Science in the summer of 1999. The second grant enabled us to work part-time revising the lessons, developing this web page, and disseminating the curriculum. Ideas and suggestions from many classroom teachers and students have been incorporated into our final version of the curriculum.

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