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IES Grant

Title: Teaching the Logic of the Scientific Method in the Fourth Grade
Center: NCER Year: 2006
Principal Investigator: Lorch, Elizabeth Awardee: University of Kentucky
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,140,201
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305H060150
Description:

Purpose: Thinking like a scientist is an important skill for students to develop, especially if our nation is to remain competitive on a global basis. In too many classrooms, students are taught the facts and theories of science, but not its process or logic. The purpose of this project is to develop a general intervention for teaching the core logic of the scientific method. In particular, researchers are examining the potential efficacy of direct instruction versus discovery learning on students' learning of the scientific method.

Project Activities: The ultimate goal of this project is to develop a program for teaching the central logic of the scientific method to fourth-graders. One primary objective is to achieve a better understanding of whether direct instruction is sufficient for learning of the scientific method, or whether an additional, discovery component of instruction is an important complement to direct instruction. Fourth grade students from 10 diverse public schools located in Kentucky will participate in this project. Three fourth-grade classrooms within each school will be assigned randomly to one of two instructional conditions, or a control condition that will receive only the school's regular curriculum on scientific method.

Products: The products from this study include an instructional program to teach the scientific method to elementary grade students, and published reports.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: Thinking like a scientist is an important skill for students to develop, especially if our nation is to remain competitive on a global basis. In too many classrooms, students are taught the facts and theories of science, but not its process or logic. The purpose of this project is to develop a general intervention for teaching the core logic of the scientific method, that is, the "control of variables" strategy. In the "control of variables" strategy, one variable is manipulated while the others are held constant or controlled, allowing experimenters to conclude that any changes that occur are due to changes in the one variable. A primary theoretical objective is to achieve a better understanding of the roles of direct instruction versus discovery learning in science education.

Setting: The schools are located in Kentucky.

Population: Fourth grade students from 5 relatively low achieving, and 5 relatively high achieving public schools will participate in this project. The students are primarily European American, African American, and Hispanic. Socioeconomic status is diverse.

Intervention: Two levels of intervention will be used. One will involve explicit instruction combined with extensive student participation throughout the lessons (high participation condition). This condition may be considered a hybrid of direct instruction and discovery learning as it combines explicit instruction with extensive hands-on student participation. The other intervention will also involve explicit instruction, but the student participation activities will be replaced with teacher-provided demonstrations and examples (low participation condition). This condition may be considered a relatively 'pure' example of direct instruction.

Research Design and Methods: To test the relative importance of discovery learning, the impact of the two interventions on "control of variables" learning will be compared. Within each of the ten schools, three fourth-grade classes will participate. One of the classes within each school will be assigned at random to the high participation condition. A second class will be assigned at random to the low participation condition. The remaining class will serve as a control.

Control Condition: Students in the control classrooms will receive only the school's regular curriculum on scientific method.

Key Measures: The relative impact of discovery learning combined with direct instruction, versus direct instruction alone, will be measured in two primary ways. First, there will be three paper and pencil tests of understanding the control of variables logic (pretest, immediate test, posttest). In addition, two sets of hands-on experiments will conducted. Finally, three delayed tests are planned: a science fair in which students must create posters presenting their own science projects; the posttest, mentioned above; and performance on the standardized science achievement test given each year in Kentucky.

Data Analytic Strategy: This development project is intended only to obtain evidence of the potential efficacy of the intervention; initial analyses will be at the level of the student.

Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Lorch Jr, R.F., Lorch, E.P., Freer, B.D., Dunlap, E.E., Hodell, E.C., and Calderhead, W.J. (2014). Using Valid and Invalid Experimental Designs to Teach the Control of Variables Strategy in Higher and Lower Achieving Classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1): 18–35.

Lorch, R.F., Jr., Lorch, E.P., Calderhead, W.J., Dunlap, E.E., Hodell, E.C., and Freer, B.D. (2010). Learning the Control of Variables Strategy in Higher and Lower Achieving Classrooms: Contributions of Explicit Instruction and Experimentation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(1): 90–101.


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