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IES Grant

Title: Efficacy of the Science Writing Heuristic Approach
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Hand, Brian Awardee: University of Iowa
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $4,836,057
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A090094

Co-Principal Investigators: William Therrien and Mack Shelley

Purpose: Basic scientific literacy, knowledge, and skills are needed in order to participate effectively in a society increasingly shaped by science and technology. Unfortunately, mastery of rudimentary science knowledge and skills continue to be a challenge for many students. To address this need, the current study will test the efficacy of an inquiry approach that helps build elementary school students' science content knowledge, argumentation skills, and interest.

Project: The goal of this project is to determine the effects of participating in the Science Writing Heuristic (SWH) approach on the science achievement of students in grades 4 to 6. The evaluation will occur over a two-year period in 48 Iowa elementary schools. Schools will be randomly assigned to the SWH condition or business as usual. The efficacy of the SWH approach will be tested by tracking students' performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) Science test across the two years of the study.

Products: The products of this project include evidence regarding the efficacy of the SWH approach and published reports describing the findings of the completed research.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Participating schools are located in urban, suburban, and rural districts in Iowa.

Population: Study participants include students and their teachers in grades 4 to 6 from 48 elementary schools. The populations served in the participating schools include students living in a range of different economic situations, including designated rural poverty areas and urban settings.

Intervention: The SWH approach consists of a framework designed to guide science inquiry activities and provide metacognitive support to prompt student reasoning about data. The SWH approach embeds instruction about building scientific arguments within typical science inquiry lessons in grades 4 to 6. When using the SWH approach, students set their own investigative agenda for laboratory work by framing questions, proposing methods to address those questions, and carrying out appropriate investigations. The SWH approach is designed to promote classroom discussions during which students' personal explanations and observations are tested against the perceptions and contributions of other students in the class. Students are encouraged to make explicit and defensible connections between questions, observations, data, claims, and evidence. By having students use scientific argument within the context of the topics for which they are building understanding, students are not separating the concept of argument from how knowledge is constructed in science.

Research Design and Methods: The study will use a block-randomized design with schools randomly assigned to the treatment and control condition within districts. The 24 elementary schools assigned to the treatment condition will use the SWH approach in their science instruction for two years. Treatment teachers will receive seven days of professional development during the summer and three days during the school year. Twenty percent of all instructional sessions will be videotaped and 10% of the taped sessions will be stratified by month, teacher, and study condition and then randomly selected for viewing and coding.

Control Condition: Teachers in the control condition will teach the standard science curriculum in place at the 24 elementary schools assigned to the control condition.

Key Measures: The efficacy of the SWH approach will be tested by tracking students' performance on the ITBS Science test across the two years of the study, including subscale scores on science content and science inquiry skills. Fidelity of implementation will be measured by the Reformed Teacher Observation Protocol.

Data Analytic Strategy: Hierarchical linear modeling will be used to estimate the impact of the SWH approach on students' science achievement. Student variables will be entered in the model at Level 1, and classroom/teacher variables will be entered at Level 2.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

French, B.F., Hand, B., Therrien, W.J., and Valdivia Vazquez, J.A. (2012). Detection of Sex Differential Item Functioning in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 28(3): 201–207.

Kim, S. and Hand, B. J. (2015). An Analysis of Argumentation Discourse Patterns in Elementary Teachers' Science Classroom Discussions. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 26(3): 221–236.

Schoerning, E. and Hand, B. (2013). Using Language Positively: How to Encourage Negotiation in the Classroom. Science and Children, 50(9): 42–45.

Schoerning, E., Hand, B., Shelley, M., and Therrien, W. (2015). Language, Access, and Power in the Elementary Science Classroom. Science Education, 99(2): 238–259.

Therrien, W., Hughes, C., and Hand, B. (2011). Introduction to Special Issue on Science Education and Students With Learning Disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 26: 186–187.

Therrien, W.J., Taylor, J.C., Hosp, J.L., Kaldenberg, E.R., and Gorsh, J. (2011). Science Instruction for Students With Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 26(4): 188–203.

Villanueva, M.G., and Hand, B. (2011). Science for All: Engaging Students With Special Needs in and About Science. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 26(4): 233–240.