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BioKIDS: Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Nancy Songer


Background: The BioKIDS project focuses on quasi-experimental research to provide empirical evidence chronicling the development of complex reasoning in science throughout an entire academic year (sixth grade). The target population is cohorts of approximately 2000 Detroit Public School students. Detroit students have nearly three times the average poverty rate of the state of Michigan (70% free/reduced lunch as compared to 26.7 % state average), and 94% are ethnic minorities.

Purpose: In conjunction with curriculum development, learning technology and assessment experts, Dr. Songer and her team have produced three coordinated, scaffolded eight-week curricular units, associated software for web and handheld computers and an assessment system to collectively support and evaluate the development of complex reasoning in science over multiple curricular units and years. The effects of the intervention were evaluated with matched cohorts of Detroit Public School sixth graders.

Intervention: The intervention consists of from three to eight, eight-week inquiry-fostering, technology-rich curricular units designed to foster complex reasoning in science. These curricular units are implemented over sixth, seventh and eighth grades. To evaluate the development of complex reasoning over sixth grade, students participated in one of two treatment groups: Minimal Treatment (0 to 30 % of curricular activities) and Full Treatment (average of 95 % curricular activities). Knowledge development was evaluated both within a single unit and across multiple coordinated units (from 3 to 8 units throughout middle school).

Setting: The studies took place within approximately 20 Detroit Public School middle school classrooms. Detroit students have nearly three times the average poverty rate of the state of Michigan (70% free/reduced lunch as compared to 26.7 % state average), and 94% are ethnic minorities.

Research Design: The quasi-experimental studies followed the knowledge development of matched cohorts of DPS middle school students. Assessment of knowledge development was determined by state and national standardized tests and assessment instruments designed in conjunction with assessment experts and the structural components of the PADI IERI grant. The BioKIDS-PADI instruments were designed to evaluate the development of students declarative knowledge and higher-order thinking over multiple curricular units and years. The tests complement state and national standardized tests.

Findings: Our results suggest that understanding science (including both facts and reasoning) involves:

  • Increased time on topics
  • Systematic guidance in developing more complex ideas, and
  • An ability to revisit and deepen understandings in a systematic manner.

    Increased Time
  • Detroit teachers currently spend 40 percent of their academic year (15 of 36 weeks) on test-related activities. These numbers illustrate a national trend of test-related activities "crowding out" potential time for quality instruction. While increased accountability is important, teachers and students need more time on topics, not less, if students are to develop complex understandings of science concepts.
  • Both Full Treatment and Minimal Treatment students made significant improvements on factual knowledge (simple). However, Full Treatment students made much larger gains on higher-order thinking (complex) than Minimal Treatment students. While less time on topics does not have a large impact on students learning of facts, it does make a large impact on students ability to develop complex reasoning skills.

    Systematic Guidance
  • Our curricular units contain many supports to guide students in developing scientific explanations or in increasing their ability to analyze scientific data. By providing this guidance and support, our students made gains of 15 percentage points on complex reasoning items, illustrated by data from the U.S. Department of Education s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

    Revisiting and Deepening Understandings
  • By applying the principles of increased time, by providing systematic guidance, and by revisiting concepts and reasoning strategies repeatedly throughout sixth, seventh and eight grade science classrooms, results with intervention Detroit middle school students are favorable. Detroit Public School students have increased their state science test scores by 10 percentage points and thereby reduced the gap between statewide and Detroit passing averages from 30 to 20 percent.

Songer, N.B. (2006) BioKIDS: An Animated Conversation on the Development of Curricular Activity Structures for Inquiry Science. In R. Keith Sawyer, (Ed.) Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press. P. 355-369

Songer, N.B. (in press) Digital Resources or Cognitive Tools: A Discussion of Learning Science with Technology. In S. Abell and N. Lederman (Eds.) Handbook of Research on Science Education. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Songer, N.B. and Gotwals, A. W. (2006) The Development and Evaluation of an Assessment System to Chronicle Urban Students Learning Progressions Associated With Deep Thinking in Science. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA), San Francisco, CA.

Bao, H., Gotwals, A., Songer, N.B., and Mislevy, R. (in press) Using Structured Item Response Theory Models to Analyze Content and Inquiry Reasoning Skills in BioKIDS. In X. Liu and W. Boone (Eds.) Applications of Rasch Measurement in Science Education. JAM Press.

Gotwals and Songer (in press) Cognitive Predictions: BioKIDS Implementation of the PADI Assessment System. SRI Technical Report #10.

Songer, N.B. (2006) Curriculum-Focused Professional Development: Addressing the Barriers to Inquiry Pedagogy in Urban Classrooms. In R. Floden and E. Ashburn (Eds.) Leadership for Meaningful Learning Using Technology: What educators need to know and do. New York: Teachers College Press. P. 70-86.

Songer, N.B. (2005) Congressional Testimony: Challenges to American Competitiveness in Math and Science. Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. United States House of Representatives.

Jeong, H., Songer, N.B., Lee, S.Y. (in press) Diagnosing Urban 6th Graders Inquiry Skills and Understanding. Research in Science Education.

Songer, N.B. (2005) Technology as Cognitive Tool for e-Learning in Today s Classrooms. In V. Milutinovic (Ed.) Internet, Processing, Systems and Interdisciplinary. Belgrade: Academic Mind.

Songer, N.B., Mislevy, R., Gotwals, A., Bao H., Kennedy, C., Hamel, L and Haertel, G. (in preparation) An Illustration of PADI Design Capability in the BioKIDS Project. SRI Technical Report.

Lee, H.S., Songer, N.B. and Lee, S.Y. (in press) Developing a Sustainable Instructional Leadership Model: A Six-Year Investigation of Teachers in One Urban Middle School. Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences 2006.

Songer, N.B. (2004) Evidence of Complex Reasoning in Technology and Science: Notes From Inner City Detroit, Michigan, USA. In V. Milutinovic (Ed.) Internet, Processing, Systems and Interdisciplinary. Belgrade: Academic Mind.

Songer, N.B. and Gotwals, A. (in preparation spring 06) Persistence of Inquiry: Evidence of Complex Reasoning Among Inner City Middle School Students. To be submitted to Cognition and Instruction.

McDonald, S., & Songer, N.B. (submitted) Enacting Classroom Inquiry: Teachers Conceptions of Science Teaching. Science Education.

Lee, H.S., & Songer, N.B. (submitted) Expanding an understanding of Scaffolding Theory Using an Inquiry-Fostering Science Program. The Journal of the Learning Sciences.

Parr, C., Jones, T., and Songer, N.B. (2004) Evaluation of a Handheld Data Collection Interface for Science. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 13(2), 233-242

Songer, N.B., Gotwals, A. (2004) What Constitutes Evidence of Complex Reasoning in Science? The P_roceedings of the Sixth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2004_. P. 497-504. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mislevy, B. Chudowsky, N., Fried, R., Haertel, G., Hamel, L., Kennedy, C., Long, K., Morrison, M., Pena, P., Rosenquist, Al, Songer, N.B., Wenk, A. (2002) Design Patterns for Assessing Science Inquiry. Technical Report, SRI International. Menlo Park, CA.

Songer, N. B. (2001) Congressional Testimony, Classrooms as Laboratories: The Science of Learning Meets the Practice of Teaching.

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