In-person vs. online collaboration in science

In an article published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, researchers studied whether online collaborative learning was more effective than in-person collaborative learning in middle school science classes in relation to students’ understanding of science concepts.

In the study, 90 eighth graders (Year 9) from five classes taught by two teachers at a Virginia school participated over nine weeks. One teacher taught the experimental group and the other taught the control group.

Both groups were given traditional in-class instruction on the same science topics. Collaborative assignments were given to the classes at least twice a week. The difference was that the experimental group collaborated online and did not receive immediate teacher feedback on their theories, unlike the control group who collaborated in person.

After nine weeks, results showed that the online group did not perform as well as the face-to-face group, increasing the amount of science misconceptions as compared to baseline. Researchers reflected that online learning does not provide immediate teacher feedback and it is possible that students reinforce each other’s incorrect concepts when the teacher is not there to correct them.

Source: The effect of online collaboration on middle school student science misconceptions as an aspect of science literacy (2014), Journal of Research in Science Teaching

Positive start for science teaching intervention

A new article in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching describes the first-year results from a new curricular and professional development intervention. The project was created as a collaboration between a US university and a large urban school district to implement a new fifth grade (Year 6) science curriculum. The aim was to maximize inquiry-based learning and understanding of science concepts by all students, but especially those with English as an Additional Language. The professional development involved teacher workshops (five days throughout the year) and in-school support from three members of the research team who visited treatment schools approximately every four to six weeks, for a total of four to six times.

The study evaluated the effectiveness of the intervention at improving teachers’ science content knowledge, and also evaluated the relationship between teachers’ science content knowledge and student achievement outcomes on a science test.

The study used a cluster randomized trial design involving 32 experimental schools and 32 control schools. A total of 223 teachers were included in the analysis. Their science content knowledge was measured by a science knowledge test, a questionnaire, and classroom observations. The results showed that the intervention had a significant effect on the treatment group teachers’ science knowledge test scores and questionnaire responses compared to the control group, but not on the classroom observation ratings.

Teachers’ scores on the science knowledge test were found to be the largest significant teacher-level predictor of student achievement outcomes regardless of participation in the intervention. A one-point improvement by a teacher on the science knowledge test was linked to an average 2.16 point improvement by their students on the science test.

Source: Effectiveness of a Curricular and Professional Development Intervention at Improving Elementary Teachers’ Science Content Knowledge and Student Achievement Outcomes: Year 1 Results (2014), Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(5).

An integrated approach to science and literacy

This research article from the Journal of Research in Science Teaching investigates the effectiveness of an integrated science and literacy approach at primary school level. Teachers in 94 fourth-grade (Year 5) classrooms in one US Southern state participated.

Half of the teachers in the study taught an integrated science and literacy unit on light and energy, which was designed using a curriculum model that engages pupils in reading text, writing notes and reports, conducting first-hand investigations, and frequently discussing key concepts and processes to acquire inquiry skills and knowledge about science concepts. The other half of the teachers taught a content-comparable science-only unit on light and energy and provided their regular literacy instruction.

Results of the study showed that pupils in the integrated science and literacy group made significantly greater improvement in science understanding, science vocabulary, and science writing. Pupils in both groups made comparable improvements in science reading.

Source: The impact of an integrated approach to science and literacy in elementary school classrooms (2012), Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(5)