Paper No. 242-14
Presentation Time: 5:10 PM
THE CHALLENGE OF ASSUMPTIONS: A COMPARISON OF CURRICULAR MATERIALS AND EMPIRICALLEARNING PROGRESSIONS IN MIDDLE GRADES PLATE TECTONICS
We investigate how patterns of student concept development around plate tectonics compare between the curricular materials associated with Curriculum Topic Study (CTS) and an empirically based learning progression (LP). CTS is an examination of hypothetical materials that range from content overviews found in Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1989) to curriculum reform documents like the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012). The LP for Plate Tectonics used for comparison was developed as part of the Penn State Earth and Space Science Partnership, funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation. The LP resulted from an analysis of interviews from students in grades 5-12, as well as geology undergraduate students. The LP was revised iteratively, with the most extensive round of interviews and analysis focusing on 8th grade students. Both CTS and LPs can provide educators with a deeper understanding of what the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) refer to as the big idea of Plate Tectonics, but approach the development of increasingly sophisticated student explanations from different perspectives. CTS’s hypothetical curricular materials suggest that students should not receive instruction at the systemic level of Plate Tectonics until high school; instead, students should move from surface phenomena (earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) in elementary grades to include a basic understanding of the interior of Earth by middle school. However, our LP research suggests that students in middle school are able to articulate a more sophisticated explanation of Plate Tectonics, including noting the dynamic and systemic nature of plates. This latter approach is considered part of normal instruction in other countries, including S. Korea, suggesting educational assumptions regarding the learning capability of students made in the US that has the potential to stunt their educational growth.