Engaging Students in the Scientific Practices

Evaluating evidence and explanation in secondary earth and space science.

Lead Staff:
Carla McAuliffe

Non-TERC Investigators

Doug Lombardi, Principal Investigator
Janelle Bailey, Co-Principal Investigator
Sanlyn Buxner, Co-Principal Investigator
Donna Governor, Co-Principal Investigator

Summary

This project is developing, implementing, testing, and revising instructional approaches and materials for high school students that focus on the links between scientific evidence and alternative explanations of phenomena related to Earth and space education. Students examine alternative explanations for natural phenomena associated with extreme weather events, freshwater resource availability, fossils and Earth’s past, and origins of the universe. Students learn how to evaluate scientifically valid lines of evidence and explanation. They construct diagrams showing the links between explanatory models of natural phenomena and lines of evidence, and then evaluate the plausibility of various alternative explanations for events.

The current MEL project builds from the foundation of the team’s first MEL project. That initial exploratory grant examined the use of instructional scaffolds called model-evidence link (MEL) diagrams to facilitate high school students’ coordination of connecting evidence with alternative explanations of Earth and space science phenomena, as well as their collaborative argumentation about these phenomena. In the current MEL project, students construct their own model-evidence link (MEL) diagrams. These new scaffolds are called the “build-a-MEL,” or baMEL for short.

Professional development for teachers occurs via summer institutes, NSTA conference presentations, and NESTA webinars. All materials are freely available for teachers at the project’s website.

Research Activity

The project employs design-based research methodologies in pursuing answers to three research questions:

  1. Do baMEL activities tested in multiple high school classroom settings promote critical evaluation, plausibility reappraisal, and scientifically accurate knowledge construction about controversial Earth and space science topics?
  2. How do these additional baMELs differ in promoting critical evaluation, plausibility reappraisal, and knowledge construction from pre-constructed MELs?
  3. To what extent does repeated use of both pre-constructed MELs and baMELs result in student engagement of scientific practices? (i.e., asking critical questions, using model-based reasoning, planning and analyzing scientifically valid investigations, constructing plausible explanations, engaging in collaborative argumentation, and critically evaluating scientific information)?

Impact

It is expected that engagement in the project activities will help students gain proficiency in model-based reasoning, critical thinking, planning and analyzing scientifically valid investigations, constructing plausible explanations, engaging in collaborative argumentation, and critically evaluating scientific information.