New Project-Based Science Curriculum Available to Schools

New Project-Based Science Curriculum Available to Schools

IQWST middle school science

A new three-year middle school science curriculum, developed by a team led by SESP professor Brian Reiser, Joe Krajcik and LeeAnn Sutherland at the University of Michigan and David Fortus at Weizmann Institute in Israel, was commercially released this school year. The project-based curriculum, called Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology (IQWST), was designed over 10 years with National Science Foundation funding for development and classroom research.

Sangari Active Science introduced the rigorous middle school science curriculum, which incorporates dynamic lessons that activate hands-on learning techniques to engage students in exploring the fundamentals of physical science, life science, earth and space sciences, and chemistry.

The project-based curriculum is designed to make science more relevant and approachable for adolescents, according to Reiser. It also builds ideas carefully in increasing sophistication over time, based on advanced understanding of cognition. Students learn important ideas by investigating meaningful real-world problems and mysteries. “They need to see how science can make sense of things going on around them,” he notes.

By formulating hypotheses, conducting experiments, examining models and sharing findings with their peers, students are encouraged to ask scientific questions relevant to their lives and search for the answers. Inquiry-based lessons are coupled with both high-quality investigative materials for all students and professional development and helpful digital resources for educators.

Lessons are organized into thematic units integrating different scientific disciplines, such as “Can I Believe My Eyes?” and “What Goes on Inside Me?” Students learn by delving deeply into a focused set of fundamental scientific concepts — “big ideas” that build their science skills. Examples include the following:

• Sixth-graders learn about species interactions in ecosystems by investigating data from real-world examples of invasive species in lakes.

• Seventh-graders explore properties, chemical reactions, and the conservation of mass by creating an everyday item, soap, from fat and sodium hydroxide.

Brian Reiser
Shaped over more than a decade by leading experts in science education, literacy and learning science, the IQWST curriculum also aligns with the Framework for New Science Education Standards, rigorous new national learning goals. Reiser is a member of the National Research Council panel that developed the new framework for K-12 science education standards, and IQWST promotes student understanding of science principles that the framework advocates.

IQWST is designed to capture students’ imaginations and help them develop needed problem-solving skills, as well as to teach science effectively to diverse students with a range of prior knowledge and experiences. A hands-on approach and investigative materials are coupled with tools that enable educators to measure how and what students are learning through standards-aligned assessments.

A variety of suburban and rural school districts, and urban schools in Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., have successfully piloted IQWST.

Over more than a decade, Reiser and his collaborators — including University of Michigan professor Joe Krajcik and assistant research scientist LeeAnn Sutherland and Wiezmann Institute senior scientist David Fortus — investigated how to design middle school science curriculum materials that support students in learning ambitious science content and scientific practices through meaningful investigations.

Reiser is professor of learning sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy. His research examines how to make scientific practices such as argumentation, explanation and modeling meaningful and effective for classroom teachers and students. His design research investigates the cognitive and social interaction elements of learning environments supporting scientific practices, and design principles for technology-infused curricula that embed science learning in investigations of data-rich problems in meaningful contexts.

He was a founding member of the first graduate program in learning sciences, created at Northwestern University, and he chaired the program from 1993, shortly after its inception, until 2001.

Read more about how middle school students learn science with IQWST's inquiry approach.

By Marilyn Sherman and Sangari
Last Modified: 1/19/12