The Learning Design Group at the University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science focuses its research and development on the interface of science with literacy. Over the past 15 years, The Learning Design Group has received five NSF grants as well as grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Noyce Foundation, and the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Institute of Educational Studies, all focused on better understanding and capitalizing on the synergies between science and literacy. This work has resulted in numerous research publications, freely available teacher resources, as well as two commercially available curriculum programs.
The first of these curriculum programs, Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading, funded through NSF’s IMD and DRK–12 programs, is designed as a combined science and literacy program for students in grades 2–5. The Seeds/Roots curriculum offers students the opportunity for intensive engagement with high-level science concepts through multiple modalities (firsthand investigations, student-to-student discussion, reading science texts, and writing)—what we call the Do-Talk-Read-Write approach. An explicit focus of the curriculum is disciplinary literacy, the specialized skills involved in reading, writing, and talking as scientists do. The program involves students in deep forays into learning about the natural world by searching for evidence through firsthand experiences and text in order to construct increasingly accurate and complete understandings of the natural world. Students engage in written and oral discourse with the goal of communicating and negotiating evidence-based explanations, and evaluating and revising explanations.
More than 300 teachers and their students have participated in studies to test the efficacy of the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading curriculum units. An independent evaluator, the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA, conducted randomized control studies on two of the grade 2–3 units, one of the grade 3–4 units, and one of the grade 4–5 units. Looking across the studies, students using the Seeds/Roots curriculum have consistently outperformed students using business-as-usual, content-comparable science units on measures of science understanding and science vocabulary and performed equivalently or higher on measures of science writing and science reading comprehension.
We have also focused significant research and evaluation efforts, funded by NSF’s DRK–12 and the Noyce Foundation, toward maximizing the effectiveness of the program with English language learners. Based on these studies, there is growing evidence to suggest that the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading model of instruction provides English learners with greater access to science knowledge than typical science programs, helps English learners develop academic language, and changes the nature of classrooms using the curriculum. Evidence from these studies also shows that teachers using Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading employed more and a greater range of strategies for accommodating English learners.
The second program, Amplify Science, is a grade K–8 science program being designed from the ground up to address all of the Next Generation Science Standards. Amplify Science expands upon the literacy-rich approach used in Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading. Funded initially by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in response to the need to attend to disciplinary literacy in middle school, subsequent funding from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Institute of Educational Studies, as well as the investment of private funds, are enabling the build-out of this program. Early results on the efficacy of Amplify Science indicate that students show substantial growth in science understanding, and teachers report that students have increased their skills in reading informational text and engaging in scientific argumentation.
We have several initiatives underway, each of which is enabling us to design, develop, and test additional curriculum features, the best of which are being incorporated into Amplify Science. Results from these efforts are in progress:
- Argumentation. Funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York has enabled us to build Amplify Science around scientific argumentation, preparing students to be skeptical, curious, evidence-based thinkers capable of becoming the science innovators and citizens that will move us forward through the next century.
- Multimedia educative curriculum features. A grant from NSF’s DRK–12 is contributing to Amplify Science’s provision to teachers of digital instructional guides, particularly just-in-time access to multimedia educative curriculum features designed to support teachers’ implementation of argumentation in the science classroom.
- Visualizing and making thinking visible. Amplify Science is technology-enhanced, providing students with computer simulations and modeling tools to enable them to visualize phenomena that cannot be seen directly. These digital enhancements add another dimension to our multi-modal approach: Do-Talk-Read-Write-Visualize.
- Engineering internships. NSF’s DRK–12 is enabling research and development of engineering internships in which students use digital simulations to test and iterate on their design solution to a life-like problem. In addition to providing engineering design experiences, these internships give students the opportunity to apply science concepts.
Seeds of Science/Roots of Readingis currently in use in at least 42 states, in a diverse range of settings including urban, suburban and rural schools, as well as summer-school programs and ELD programs. Amplify Science has been field tested with over 500 K–8 teachers in approximately 150 schools across the nation. The Learning Design Group also creates freely available resources for implementing disciplinary literacy strategies.