OpenSciEd Releases Free Science Teaching Materials

OpenSciEd Releases Free Science Teaching Materials

Gazing upStudents exploring how a sound can make something move

M’Kenna, a seventh-grader,  isn’t feeling well and visits the doctor. Now her classmates must figure out what was causing her symptoms and how food is connected to how she feels. 

The assignment is part of a new middle school science unit based on metabolic reactions released by OpenSciEd, a collaborative effort to develop free, high-quality classroom materials for teachers nationwide. Co-created by Northwestern University's Brian Reiser's team of learning scientists and BSCS Learning in Colorado, these free and downloadable units are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and lay the groundwork for the future of science education.

"I really liked being able to debate what we thought was wrong with her (M'Kenna)," one student said. "And so we could each say what we thought it was." 

It's no longer good enough to have teachers ask students to memorize facts and explanations, said Reiser, professor of learning sciences and member of the National Research Council committee that created the guidelines for the NGSS. “Instead, teachers need to guide students as they actively engage in hands-on investigations and discussions as they figure out the world around them.”

More than 71 percent of U.S. schoolchildren are learning science in states that have adopted new science standards based on a framework, including the Next Generation Science Standards. In this new vision of science education, students build and use science ideas, rather than learning about the science others have done.

Teachers, however, often don’t have time to adapt their curriculum to the three-dimensional demands of the NGSS standards. So OpenSciEd, a consortium of curriculum developers and science education leaders, began creating a robust set of research-based, open-source, K-12 science instructional materials and professional development for teachers.

Northwestern played a major role in conceiving and writing the lessons. The units are based on Next Generation Science Storylines, an approach created by Reiser, professor of learning sciences; Michael Novak, senior curriculum developer; and Tara McGill, curriculum development specialist. The Storylines team also includes Northwestern’s Kelsey Edwards, research project coordinator; Christina Murzynski, research study coordinator; Jamie Noll, curriculum development specialist; and Aliza Zivic, a doctoral student in learning sciences. 

Science storylines start with real-world problems that spark students' questions to drive their learning in the unit. This approach highlights the key instructional shift in the Next Generation Science Standards that are typically missing from traditional science instruction: connecting the science they are learning to their own lives.

“A storyline provides a coherent path toward building science ideas, piece by piece, anchored in students’ own questions,” Reiser said.

The units, which cover six weeks of classroom time, are being field-tested in 10 states by 221 teachers working with more than 5,000 students. Three more units are being released in the next few weeks. There are now more than 7,000 registered users who have downloaded these units.

“It’s exciting to see how teachers use OpenSciEd materials to help students experience science as a process of making sense of the world around them," said Noll, adding that during a recent professional learning event, an Open Sci Ed teacher said they had been teaching for 20 years and "these materials really made me a better teacher." 

Four of the OpenSciEd units have earned the top rating and a Design Badge from Achieve's Science Peer Review Panel, which has reviewed nearly 300 publicly available units using the EQuIP Rubric for Science. Only nine units have achieved this Design Badge, according to Matt Krehbiel, director of science at Achieve.

In addition to the Next Generation Science Storylines Project out of Northwestern and BSCS Science Learning, the consortium of creators includes researchers from Boston College, University of Colorado, Boulder, and the University of Texas at Austin Dana Center.

OpenSciEd materials are freely available in both print-ready PDFs and as editable Google docs, allowing teachers, schools, and districts more flexibility. The organization’s mission is to eliminate as many barriers as possible for teachers and students to access and use high-quality materials. 

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 2/12/20