of matter. Created by researchers at the Michigan Department of Education (Blakeslee et al., 1993), this instructional unit was one of only a few curricula that were highly rated by American Assocation for the Advancement of Science Project 2061 in its study of middle school science curricula (Kesidou and Roseman, 2002). Student groups explore four chemical reactions—burning, rusting, the decomposition of water, and the volcanic reaction of baking soda and vinegar. They cause these reactions to happen, obtain and record data in individual notebooks, analyze the data, and use evidence-based arguments to explain the data.
The instructional unit engages the students in a carefully structured sequence of hands-on laboratory investigations interwoven with other forms of instruction (Lynch, 2004). Student understanding is “pressed” through many experiences with the reactions and by group and individual pressures to make meaning of these reactions. For example, video transcripts indicate that students engaged in “science talk” during teacher demonstrations and during student experiments.
Researchers at George Washington University, in a partnership with Montgomery County public schools in Maryland, are currently conducting a five-year study of the feasibility of scaling up effective integrated instructional units, including CTA (Lynch, Kuipers, Pyke, and Szesze, in press). In 2001-2002, CTA was implemented in five highly diverse middle schools that were matched with five comparison schools using traditional curriculum materials in a quasi-experimental research design. All 8th graders in the five CTA schools, a total of about 1,500 students, participated in the CTA curriculum, while all 8th graders in the matched schools used the science curriculum materials normally available. Students were given pre- and posttests.
In 2002-2003, the study was replicated in the same five pairs of schools. In both years, students who participated in the CTA curriculum scored significantly higher than comparison students on a posttest. Average scores of students who participated in the CTA curriculum showed higher levels of fluency with the concept of conservation of matter (Lynch, 2004). However, because the concept is so difficult, most students in both the treatment and control group still have misconceptions, and few have a flexible, fully scientific understanding of the conservation of matter. All subgroups of students who were engaged in the CTA curriculum—including low-income students (eligible for free and reduced-price meals), black and Hispanic students, English language learners, and students eligible for special educational services—scored significantly higher than students in the control group on the posttest (Lynch and O’Donnell, 2005). The effect sizes were largest among three subgroups considered at risk for low science achievement, including Hispanic students, low-income students, and English language learners.
Based on these encouraging results, CTA was scaled up to include about 6,000 8th graders in 20 schools in 2003-2004 and 12,000 8th graders in 37 schools in 2004-2005 (Lynch and O’Donnell, 2005).