Rationale for the Middle School Model Curriculum Design
The goal of science education curriculum is to produce students who have gained sufficient knowledge of the practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on science-related issues, to be critical consumers of scientific information related to their everyday lives, and to continue to learn about science throughout their lives. They should come to appreciate that science and the current scientific understanding of the world are the result of many hundreds of years of creative human endeavor. It is especially important to note that the above goals are for all students, not just those who pursue careers in science, engineering, or technology or those who continue on to higher education (p. 9, NRC, 2012).
Given this goal, an integrated science curriculum model should drive the formation of middle school science curriculum because:
Nature of Science
The nature of science is complex and multidisciplinary. From research about how scientists work, we know that scientists do not work in isolation in their own house of physics, or biology or chemistry but they reach out and create networks of scientists within and across disciplines who can contribute understanding, share ideas, and critique evidence and explanations. As we see in the science of global climate change, scientists work across the fields of geology, physics, and biology to provide evidence, plan investigations, and develop models to represent new ways to think about Earth systems. Important practices like engaging in argument from evidence, modeling, and communicating information do not occur in isolation but rely on feedback from within and across scientific communities and disciplines. Basing the middle school model curriculum in an integrated model where the students are engaged with a variety of topics at each grade, focused on the connection of ideas across the domains, enhances the interdisciplinary nature of science.
In the elementary years, students build their understandings of core concepts across all three domains of science: physical, life and Earth and space. Continuing this model in grades 6-8 better supports student learning in that there will not be a large gap of time in which a student does not engage in a specific discipline. This model takes advantage of current research which recognizes that there is variation across children at a given age and that thinking does not develop along a preset roadmap for each student. It allows middle school students to build on what they know and think they understand from their elementary years with the goal in middle school of helping students to revise their knowledge and understanding about those core ideas. Learning theory research shows expert knowledge base develops better through interdisciplinary real-world connections then through isolated content. This is especially important in middle school where motivation is critical to learning. An integrated and better articulated middle school model science curriculum that reflects what we know currently about how children learn science and how their mastery develops over time promotes deeper learning in science. As we know and understand about how students develop understanding while learning content, it informs teachers' practice; if teachers understand where their students are in their understanding of core ideas, and anticipate what students' misconceptions and struggles may be, they are better able to differentiate instruction and provide scaffolding that allows students to develop an integrated and deeper understanding of the science.
Research Based Science Instruction and Curriculum
Effective science instruction can take many forms but includes similar components. According to the Center on Instruction's 2010 report, Effective Science Instruction: What does the Research Tell Us?, research-based effective practices of curriculum and instruction important to science learning are: Motivation, Eliciting Students' Prior Knowledge, Intellectual Engagement; Use of Evidence to Critique Claims, and Sense-Making. The integrated model may be better able to support some of these instructional practices especially if it frames curriculum around engaging, relevant, and real-world interdisciplinary questions that will increase student motivation, intellectual engagement and sense-making. Effective science instruction helps middle school students build their understandings and practices, makes connections among and between core concepts and practices, and links to their prior knowledge. Students in grades 6-8 come to understand the natural world in a more scientifically accurate way and understand the nature of science.
Science curriculum should be thematic with a focus on connections among and between core concepts and practices. This approach reinforces the interdisciplinary nature of science and allows for a sequential progression of skills and concepts. This supports developmentally appropriate teaching and assessments. Each grade level has its own specific standards from each science domain that are seen as stepping stones in the progression of learning about a core idea and that meet a specific level of understanding. The idea is to embed technology and engineering in this interdisciplinary progression which would also be coordinated with the Common Core State Standards.
The model science curriculum for grades K-8 provides a common pathway that mitigates some of the challenges a student experiences when they transfer between schools or districts in the state. The model also allows educators from multiple districts in a region to align teaching and learning; assessments; and professional development. Districts retain their local control over the implementation of a common curriculum. The day to day decisions about how best to meet the specific needs of a student still rest with the local teacher of science and school. The common model for local curriculum development allows school districts to share science curriculum resources, formative and summative assessment items, teacher professional development, and other tools.
Sixth Grade Science Units
Second Edition Grade 6
Second Edition Grade 7
Second Edition Grade 8