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[Online Courses] Edmentum’s New Middle School Science Courses

Thursday, November 3, 2016 -- Scott Bredael

For us at Edmentum, keeping our content up to date with the latest standards is always top priority. That’s why in the spring of 2015, our courseware team started working on a series of new middle school science courses: Earth and Space Science, Life Science, and Physical Science. The goal was to replace our existing middle school science series with courses built from the ground up to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). From the start, we knew we wanted these courses to place an emphasis on scientific inquiry; hands-on, minds-on investigating; and real-world relevance and application.

Research and Design

The first step in creating any course at Edmentum is for our curriculum team to research current best practices for teaching the content. For this project, our science curriculum experts began with a trip to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference in Chicago to hear directly from teachers in the classroom. After the trip, our team dug deeper into the pedagogy of science by reading several renowned books about what successful inquiry looks like in science classrooms.

Next, our instructional designers worked with middle school science teachers from several schools around the country, to find out what challenges students face and which teaching strategies can help them. The teachers we worked with emphasized the importance of “doing science” rather than simply memorizing it, as well as completing cross-curricular projects and activities. They suggested that students can be groomed to pursue lifelong careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) by being treated like scientists and linking science to everyday life in engaging ways. Teachers asked for science instruction that offers students hands-on experiences, frequent opportunities for critical thinking, and the chance to solve relevant problems, including engineering challenges. In short, the message was that science should not be a “spectator sport.”

As a result of this research, our courseware team decided to follow a 4E x 2 instructional model for teaching science. This method helps students engage in, explore, explain, and extend scientific ideas. The “x 2” indicates that assessments and student reflection are threaded throughout the instruction, with the ultimate goal of allowing students to explore and internalize topics as much as possible prior to receiving direct instruction. To achieve this framework and meet teachers’ recommendations, we introduced both virtual and physical investigations into each online course. Our new courses also illuminate current events and careers in science in a number of ways with a strong focus on critical thinking and application.

Standards: Analysis and Alignment

The NGSS standards provide the framework for all of our new Edmentum middle school science courses. The standards are split into three primary facets: disciplinary core ideas, performance expectations, and science and engineering practices. Cross-cutting concepts (e.g., scale, cause and effect, patterns) span each of those categories. We cover the NGSS standards through the discipline-based series mentioned earlier and through a three-year integrated series in Science 6, Science 7, and Science 8. This integrated series represents a strategic realignment of the content from the three discipline-based courses.

The NGSS standards are upheld by the ELA Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Science and Technical Subjects as well as Math. Additionally, we looked at the variations among states to attain a more robust and rigorous curriculum. Pursuing the standards in this manner, especially the NGSS, allowed us to accomplish what many teachers suggested: develop active and engaging science and engineering activities that help students answer big questions in and across science disciplines.

Scope and Sequence

Following this research, design, and standards analysis, our courseware team assembles a scope and sequence for each course. Think of a scope and sequence as the blueprint for the course. Each discipline is split into two semesters and each semester contains several clusters (units) of related lessons. Every Edmentum course scope is designed by our NGSS-experienced subject matter experts and reviewed by our courseware team’s instructional designers. An important step in creating the scope for science is the placement of hands-on physical investigations (i.e., labs). We strive to give students an opportunity to explore concepts in personal lab activities prior to instructing them directly on topics. We are also careful to give students enough class time to gather any necessary equipment and complete the labs before reaching the end of the unit containing the lab.

Course Features

With any new courseware project, our design team develops new features within our Edmentum courseware platform or leverages existing ones in creative ways to meet key design challenges. For our new middle school science courses, we knew we wanted features and instruction that would illuminate science and engineering careers, current events, and the historical significance of science. We also wanted to offer structure and moral and educational support for students, and highlight the bonds between science, ELA, and mathematics. Finally, as mentioned above, the science labs became a primary course feature. Here’s a quick overview of a few of these features:

Careers in Science—A primary goal of our middle school science courses is to provide the foundational skills students need to become professional scientists and engineers. We want students who express an early interest in science to be given the tools and resources to stick with it. With this in mind, we developed a lesson section called Careers in Science to feed students’ natural curiosity and show them the bridge from conceptual science knowledge to its practical application and usefulness in the “work world.” The example below comes from a lesson on weathering and erosion.

Edmentum’s New Middle School Science Courses Careers Feature

 

Warm Ups—To effectively teach middle school students, we feel it’s important to get their attention and hold it once you have it. Each science lesson has a dedicated Warm Up section at the beginning that probes prior knowledge, checks for misconceptions, or previews vocabulary words in a lesson. The Warm Up gets students going, builds confidence, and allows them to reflect on the concepts they might already know about. The Warm Up also reminds students that “they are the scientist” and that everyone has performed scientific inquiry in one form or another. The example below comes from a lesson on thermal energy and heat.

Edmentum’s New Middle School Science Courses Warm Up Activity

 

Labs (Course Activities)—One of the vehicles we use to exercise scientific inquiry is the course activity. Each semester of middle school science has approximately 6 course activities where students interact physically with equipment (either household or scientific) to gain knowledge of the world around them. The activity takes students through probing questions and guides them using icons for time estimates, required materials, safety precautions, and disposal and clean-up. Each activity follows the 4E x 2 model as students experience science firsthand and apply their newfound knowledge to new and different situations near the end of the activity. The example below is from the beginning of a course activity on describing energy transfer.

 

Edmentum’s New Middle School Science Courses Lab Activity

Our new middle school science courses help students learn about the natural and human-made world through highly-interactive and fun learning activities. Students will gain confidence as they learn how to pose scientific questions and leverage people and resources to find answers to those questions. At the same time, they’ll come to understand the behaviors, attitudes, and practices of a responsible scientist and begin to see the scientist in themselves. With these courses, we’re confident that students will see how science doesn’t stand alone, but instead is intimately linked to reading, writing, mathematics, and history.

We hope that you can set aside some time to explore Edmentum’s new middle school science courses. We suggest that educators try working through the activities, answering the questions, playing the videos, and trying the labs; viewing the courses through the eyes of a middle school learner to help teachers fully appreciate the value of the instruction.

Ready to learn more? Check out our Course Catalog for a complete listing of our science courses, or take a look at this blog to learn more about Edmentum’s commitment to developing quality online curriculum!