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Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center (2019)

Chapter: 4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design

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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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4

How Students Engage with Investigation and Design

The vision articulated in A Framework for K–12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as the Framework; National Research Council, 2012) and supported by research contrasts sharply with the more traditional approach to learning science. In the traditional model, classes often begin with the teacher sharing scientific terminology and ideas, whereas in the Framework approach the students begin by asking questions and constructing explanations as they use the three dimensions (scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts) together to make sense of phenomena and design solutions. The teacher structures the instruction and supports student learning instead of providing information to the students. Our committee advocates putting science investigation and engineering design at the center of teaching and learning science and building classes around students investigating phenomena and designing solutions by working to make sense of the causes of phenomena or solve challenges in a way that uses all three dimensions of the Framework (see the second footnote in Chapter 1 for an explanation of the three dimensions) in an increasingly deeper, more connected, and sophisticated manner. The ability of students to achieve this deeper, more connected, and sophisticated understanding begins to form in elementary school as students are exposed to the start of the progressions. The examples presented here focus on implementation in middle and high schools, in keeping with the charge to the committee.

For example, here are some student experiences that illustrate investigation or design at the center:

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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  • Students develop a design (a practice) for a device (crosscutting concept: structure and function) that collects plastics that have made their way to a local waterway and are causing native marine life to die prematurely (crosscutting concept: cause/effect).
  • Students develop a model (a practice) to show how the flow of energy into an ecosystem (disciplinary core idea) causes change (a crosscutting concept) in the seasonal rate of growth of grass.
  • Students construct an explanation (a practice) for how changes in the quantity (a crosscutting concept) of grass cause changes (a crosscutting concept) in the population of deer mice in the sand hills of Nebraska.

The core ideas about energy and ecosystems and the crosscutting concepts of causality, changes in systems in terms of matter and energy, and changes in populations help students make sense of phenomena via three-dimensional learning.

In order to demonstrate the nature of classrooms with investigation and design at the center, this chapter focuses on what students do during investigation and design. Chapters 5 then focuses on instruction and how teachers can implement the ideas. Chapter 6 discusses the role of instructional resources.

Specifically, Chapter 4 highlights the shifts from traditional to proposed approaches, explains how investigation and design give structure to inquiry, presents five features of student engagement in investigation and design, and uses vignettes to demonstrate the classroom experience and to discuss and illustrate these features.1

PUTTING INVESTIGATION AND DESIGN AT THE CENTER

America’s Lab Report (National Research Council, 2006) set up many of the ideas of the Framework and recommended that laboratory experiences move into the main flow of the class experience. We advocate going further and using the three dimensions of the Framework to transform the laboratory experience into the centerpiece of what students do to learn science and engineering. Science and engineering courses would be organized around science investigation and engineering design, and the students would focus on making sense of phenomena and designing solutions to meet human needs. More specifically, they would ask questions about the

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1 This chapter includes content drawn from a paper commissioned by the committee—Designing NGSS-Aligned Curriculum Materials by Brian Reiser and Bill Penuel. The commissioned papers are available at http://www.nas.edu/Science-Investigation-and-Design [December 2018].

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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causes of phenomena, gather evidence to support explanations of the causes of the phenomena or find solutions to human needs, and communicate their reasoning to themselves and others. Investigation and design may take a number of different paths, but each path would take students in search of finding evidence to support their explanations and/or a solution.

Shifts in Approach When Investigation and Design Are at the Center

In a class centered on investigation and design, there are many shifts from the traditional model of science instruction, where a laboratory was just one of many activities in which the students and teachers engaged. Figure 4-1 presents some examples of these shifts. On the left-hand side of Figure 4-1 are listed some traditional activities carried out in science classes that no longer exist in the same form when classes center on investigation

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FIGURE 4-1 Select features of science investigation and engineering design and how they differ from activities in traditional science classrooms.
NOTE: The boxes in the list on the left contain examples of approaches used in traditional science classrooms. The small circles on the right represent examples of features of learning via investigation and design. The examples are not exhaustive, and many other approaches are possible within investigation and design.
Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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and design. In the traditional class, these activities each stand alone; they are not part of a laboratory experience. On the right-hand side, the figure shows examples of student experiences that contribute to investigation and design, which is now at the center of classroom activity. The labels within the circles on the right indicate some of the features discussed in this report, but there are many other possible features that could be included in classes centered on science investigation and engineering design. Some of the new features illustrated in the circles on the right, such as engaging in argument from evidence, were not represented in traditional classrooms, while others have a stronger connection to traditional activities. The arrows from left to right highlight the shift that takes place from traditional approaches to having investigation and design at the center of science and engineering courses.

There is not a one-to-one correspondence between the old activities and new features, but examples of contrasts can help clarify the nature of the changes. For example, standalone, confirmatory laboratory exercises disappear entirely, but students still gather data and information as part of investigation and design. The Initiate-Response-Evaluate (I-R-E) teaching model,2 in which teachers ask questions and evaluate student responses, is not a part of investigation and design, but students do participate in sensemaking discussions in which teachers facilitate student conversations about phenomena and students ask questions, leverage their everyday experiences, make sense of data, and engage in developing explanations and argumentation from evidence. In this new approach, teacher guidance for understanding is prominent and lectures are rare. Traditional individual seat work disappears; students participate in cooperative group work, where they work collaboratively to engage with data and to share their ideas, explanations, and thinking with each other. The interaction of students with each other and collaborative efforts to gather reliable sources of information and discuss evidence is key to investigation and design and a central mechanism for student learning. Textbooks do not necessarily disappear, but their central role is lost. They become one of many sources of information, and reading of text is done for the purpose of gathering relevant timely information to support explanations. Students become proficient at accessing and evaluating relevant materials and resources as they seek evidence to support explanations in investigations or solutions to design challenges.

Table 4-1 presents shifts implied by the Framework that impact what happens in science education generally and during investigation and design specifically. Examples include how the students can drive learning and investigation by asking questions, gathering information, evaluating evidence,

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2 The I-R-E model is a teacher-directed approach to classroom interactions. The teacher asks a simple question that requires a straightforward answer from a student. The teacher then says whether the answer is correct or not (Cazden, 1986).

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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TABLE 4-1 Implications of the Vision of the Framework and the NGSS

Science Education Will Involve Less Science Education Will Involve More
Rote memorization of facts and terminology Facts and terminology learned as needed while developing explanations and designing solutions supported by evidence-based arguments and reasoning
Learning of ideas disconnected from questions about phenomena Systems thinking and modeling to explain phenomena and to give a context for the ideas to be learned
Teachers providing information to the whole class Students conducting investigations, solving problems, and engaging in discussions with teachers’ guidance
Teachers posing questions with only one right answer Students discussing open-ended questions that focus on the strength of the evidence used to generate claims
Students reading textbooks and answering questions at the end of the chapter Students reading multiple sources, including science-related magazines, journal articles, and web-based resources; Students developing summaries of information
Preplanned outcomes for “cookbook” laboratories or hands-on activities Multiple investigations driven by students’ questions with a range of possible outcomes that collectively lead to a deep understanding of established core scientific ideas
Worksheets Students writing journals, reports, posters, media presentations that explain and argue
Oversimplification of activities for students who are perceived to be less able to do science and engineering Providing supports so that all students can engage in sophisticated science and engineering practices

SOURCE: Reprinted from Table 1-1 of Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (National Research Council, 2015).

and developing explanations. The table uses “investigations” in accordance with the Framework’s scientific and engineering practice of “planning and carrying out investigations,” whereas elsewhere in our report we use investigation in the larger sense of what students do to make sense of natural and engineered phenomena. The actions of the students as part of investigation and design encompass multiple scientific and engineering practices as well as crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas.

Investigation and design take time, as students construct their own understanding instead of accepting information provided by the teacher. Investigations can be “messy” as they incorporate students’ real questions, which do not have clean answers and sometimes raise questions that lead

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

the class in unexpected new directions as they try to make sense of the complex and interconnected world around them. However, teachers can organize investigation and design around clear and well-described three-dimensional learning goals so that they lead to deeper understanding of the science and engineering concepts and core ideas that are the chosen focus of the unit. This contrast illustrates one of the ways that the role of the teacher shifts: The teacher becomes responsible for selecting phenomena, providing scientifically accurate resources, guiding discourse, considering how the investigation and design topics help students build on their previous courses and experiences to make sense of the universe, and setting a tone of respect and inclusion to support students as they engage in investigation and design to learn science and engineering. The change in the teacher role is addressed in greater depth in Chapter 5.

How Do Scientific Investigation and Engineering Design Relate to Inquiry?

The word “inquiry” is widely used throughout science education. Despite good intentions, however, confusion still exists about what constitutes effective inquiry (Crawford, 2014; Furtak et al., 2012; Osborne, 2014). For example, inquiry sometimes has been conflated with any hands-on experience. But hands-on activities do not necessarily result in meaningful experiences that help students engage in the conceptual, epistemic, and social aspects of science (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). In fact, inquiry is not a single construct but rather a continuum that ranges from confirmatory activities that are teacher-led and traditional in nature to discovery-based and student-led tasks (Banchi and Bell, 2008; Furtak et al., 2012; Schwab, 1962). The inquiry continuum includes a broad range of interactions that go beyond scientific investigations. For example, students may engage in inquiry through historical case studies or the comparison of different texts without engaging in material activity or data collection.

Science investigation and engineering design do not replace inquiry, but they “articulate more clearly what inquiry looks like in building scientific knowledge” (Schwarz, Passmore, and Reiser, 2017, p. 5). An inquiry activity may be related to a question identified by the class, it may deal with empirical evidence, but it may not get to the end result of sense-making through discourse and modeling that contributes to building up of understanding over time. How the core ideas and crosscutting concepts play out across the series is key to student understanding, the structure of instruction engages students in a series of investigations on similar but different phenomena, students gather information they need to make sense of a phenomenon and then use that learning to apply to the next phenomenon in

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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the series. For example, a series of carefully chosen performances connected by a shared core idea might use phenomena related to three different kinds of animals in which students ask questions about the animals’ physical features and construct explanations about the relationships between each type of animal and its environment. As the students see similar patterns across types of animals, they may be able to develop and use a model to communicate how the structures organisms have changed over time because of the specific environment in which they live and improve their understanding of evolution. For each of the performances, students apply the same or similar core ideas and crosscutting concepts to make sense of a series of phenomena. An engineering design approach might have students consider solutions for deep sea travel that utilize properties observed in and adapted from the physiology of deep sea creatures.

In science investigation and engineering design, learners develop deep conceptual understandings by engaging with a carefully chosen sequence of three-dimensional science performances across a series of phenomena and/or design challenges. Returning to similar or related topics in subsequent classes or grades can provide efficiencies as the students build from previous exposure and experience and more quickly engage deeply with the approaches and ideas. These topics can be introduced beginning in elementary school and then students can build on them in middle and high school courses. In each investigation or design sequence, the student engages in gathering the information, data, and ideas needed to support explanations for the causes of phenomena and then finds various means to communicate explanations or solutions. Attention to the choices made about phenomena and challenges across a curriculum can allow a series of investigations to create opportunities to develop deeper understanding as students apply their three-dimensional learning to increasingly complex phenomena. Creating this kind of coherence within a grade and across grade levels is a challenging task and is discussed further in the sections on coherence in Chapters 5 and 6.

STUDENTS ENGAGE IN INVESTIGATION AND DESIGN

Engaging in science investigation and engineering design exposes students to how science and engineering produce knowledge and solutions. Here we describe features of the student experience using vignettes and examples to illustrate how they play out in the classroom. Features of experiences the students participate in as part of investigation and design are listed in Table 4-2. There is no prescribed order for using these features during investigation and design; rather, they are incorporated as appropriate to the phenomenon or challenge being examined. Each feature may be used multiple times during a single investigation when students revisit their

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

TABLE 4-2 Student Experiences during Investigation and Design

Examples of Student Experiences while Learning through Phenomena and Design Challenges (organized by features of science investigation and engineering design)
Make Sense of Phenomena and Design Challenge Gather and Analyze Data and Information Construct Explanations and Design Solutions Communicate Reasoning to Self and Others Connect Learning through Multiple Contexts
  • Develop and ask questions about the causes of phenomena
  • Define engineering challenges by identifying stakeholders, goals, constraints, and criteria for evaluations of solutions
  • Collect and organize data and seek patterns
  • Analyze data and evaluate information for evidence
  • Develop models of the relationships among components within and between systems
  • Develop arguments for how the evidence supports or refutes an explanation for the causes of phenomena
  • Design solutions based on evidence and test the solutions to see how they meet the challenge
  • Develop models and artifacts to communicate reasoning
  • Engage in productive and respectful discourse
  • Reflect on learning
  • Use three-dimensional learning to make sense of phenomena across grades
  • Apply learning to make sense of phenomena beyond the classroom

questions, ideas, and models as they gain increasing understanding of the natural and designed world around them. These features each expand on the practices in the Framework, and the following sections illustrate that they can be incorporated in three-dimensional ways into investigation and design.

Table 4-2 can be seen as a potential progression of a science or engineering performance where a student engages in investigation or design. Students can encounter these features in many possible orders as they ask questions, collect and evaluate data, and make new models to increase their understanding. For example, in many investigations, students gather data to address a question, analyze that data and generate an explanation, then go back and do more analysis and generate a new explanation before they communicate their work. It is important to note that this is quite different from the formulaic scientific method that was previously taught, in part because it is not a highly regulated, stepwise sequence. Investigation and design involve many steps, but they do not occur in a prespecified

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

order. Student performances can include iteration of individual features and revisiting of features that were previously used in the same investigation. Students often start by making observations, but they must return to observe in more strategic ways after they formulate their questions, so that they know what type of information they are seeking to gather through their observations.

During investigation and design, students make sense of phenomena and design challenges by using observations, building on their prior knowledge and experiences, and developing and asking questions about how these phenomena work in the natural and engineered world. They gather and analyze data and information to seek patterns and evaluate information for evidence. They build on and apply their knowledge of disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts gained via previous investigations. For example, if the phenomenon is the variation in the rate of grass growing, students must apply their understanding of the core idea about photosynthesis to make sense of the role of genetic variation in how individual plants process energy from the sun. They need to understand crosscutting concepts to explain the cycling of matter and the flow of energy in the system and to see that the variation in the structure of the grass plants affect how well each plant is adapted to the environment in which it is growing. The use of core ideas and crosscutting concepts is what makes the practice of analyzing data three-dimensional.

Students construct explanations for the causes of phenomena and develop models for the relationships among the components of the systems, and they develop arguments for how the evidence gathered in the investigations supports the explanation. They design solutions that build on their understanding of relationships between components and test those solutions. They communicate reasoning to self and others through models and arguments to show how the evidence they have developed supports the explanation and/or solution. They use artifacts and representations that communicate reasoning and respond to others’ ideas as they engage in productive discourse. Students connect learning through multiple contexts by reflecting on their own learning and seeing links between what they do during investigation and design experiences with phenomena and challenges beyond the classroom. As a result of engaging in science investigation and engineering design, students can learn the “system of thought, discourse, and practice—all in an inter-connected and social context—to accomplish the goal of working with and understanding scientific ideas” (National Research Council, 2012, p. 252).

A vignette provides a window into the nature of investigation and design in the classroom that we then use to unpack and discuss the ways the students participate. It helps to illustrate the interconnections of the system of thought, discourse, and practice in a social context of illness and

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

medical treatment. Ms. Martinez opens class with a short video of a girl, Addie, who has been hospitalized because she has a bacterial infection that is resistant to antibiotic treatment (NGSS Storylines, 2017). Using information from the video and their prior knowledge, students generate and prioritize as a class a list of questions that they need to answer to explain what is going on with Addie. In the initial lesson, students write questions individually and in small groups, and they identify experiences they have had that might help them understand what is going on. As a class, students first build a timeline of the events that they see in the video and then draw an initial model to explain what they think is going on in small groups. This leads students to generate questions about parts they cannot explain (see Figure 4-2A). The class together assembles these questions and organizes them into major categories, recording them on an artifact called the Driving Question Board (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Weizman, Schwartz, and Fortus, 2010). For each of the questions, the class brainstorms an initial list of investigations they might conduct in class to help them answer these questions (see Figure 4-2B).

Student investigation in this vignette is driven by the phenomenon of a girl named Addie who has been hospitalized due to a bacterial infection resistant to many antibiotics (Reiser and Penuel, 2017). Students try to make sense of this phenomenon by asking questions, organizing information, and forming potential explanations. They extend their learning by designing investigations of bacterial growth in the presence and absence of antibiotics. The data they collect are used to make models that could explain Addie’s illness and treatment. Throughout the multiday lesson, the students produce artifacts and share their ideas with each other as they learn about the role of natural selection in antibiotic resistance. Our focus in providing this vignette is to provide the entire arc or storyline of a learning experience centered on student investigations into an anchoring phenomenon, to foreground the ways students engage in discussion and create artifacts as they engage in those investigations, and to highlight the ways that everyday assessment supports teachers in gathering information on an ongoing basis to support student learning throughout the unit. (More information on embedded assessment can be found in Chapter 5 and in Appendix A.)

After constructing their initial models and organizing their questions, students begin growing their own bacteria to try to figure out answers to some of their questions about where bacteria come from, how they grow, and how they can be killed. Students develop their larger questions into more focused investigations of bacterial growth that help them add to their models of what is going on with Addie. They create plans and protocols for data collection, and draw sketches and diagrams showing what happens to bacteria under different conditions over time. The students describe patterns they observe in their data and how the patterns support particular

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×
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FIGURE 4-2A Example of class-generated Driving Questions Board showing how students grouped related questions by clustering of sticky notes on the larger page about driving questions.
SOURCE: Reiser and Penuel (2017).
Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×
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FIGURE 4-2B Example of class-generated list (derived from the class-generated Driving Questions Board in Figure 4-2A).
SOURCE: Reiser and Penuel (2017).

claims or “answers” to their questions. They make revised models to explain what might be going on with Addie and the bacteria (see Figure 4-3). Students share their plans and protocols with each other informally or via a peer review process. Through the sharing process, they develop increasingly sophisticated understandings of and explanations for how the bacteria population could change. At the conclusion of each lesson, Ms. Martinez invites students to reflect publicly on what they have figured out related to one or more of the questions on the Driving Questions Board. They submit electronic exit tickets that she can review to decide what ideas might need further discussion and development, as well as to analyze student perceptions of the lesson’s personal relevance (Penuel et al., 2016). The class also reflects via a group discussion that produces a list of hypotheses or conjectures about what is going on that the class is considering at the moment, but about which there is not yet agreement. That discussion clarifies for the class precisely what they agree on so far, as well as where there are disagreements and provides ideas for what they should do next (Reiser and Penuel, 2017).

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×
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FIGURE 4-3 A small group’s revised model to explain how Addie’s condition changed as the bacteria changed within her.
NOTE: The model is organized into how Addie is feeling, the generation of bacteria, size of the resistant (R) and nonresistant (NR) bacteria population, and what is happening inside and outside Addie’s body.
SOURCE: Reiser and Penuel (2017)
Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

The vignette illustrates many features of a classroom with investigation and design at the center where students engage in three-dimensional performances that lead to science learning. The students engage with phenomena related to illness and bacteria, ask questions, gather data, construct explanations and make claims, develop models, produce artifacts, engage in discourse, and reflect on their learning. Students could also be asked to build on their question about “How do I make sure I don’t pick up MRSA?” by working to design a solution using their engineering skills. For example, the students could work to design ways to minimize spread of bacteria in their school locker rooms. In the next sections we address the features in Table 4-2 in order, and discuss them in the context of the vignette above or another example.

Make Sense of Phenomena

The vignette about Addie (Reiser and Penuel, 2017) shows how students can engage in making sense of relevant phenomena through careful observations and the use of questions. It uses the example of an ill child that students can relate to, and it builds on the students’ prior experiences with illness and antibiotics as well as their prior knowledge of bacteria as causes of disease. It presents a situation with a bit of mystery that can pique curiosity and motivate engagement. The students explore questions such as, “How do the bacteria get from the outside to the inside?” “Why don’t we all have MRSA?” The questions help students to organize information about the parts of the phenomena that they do not yet understand. Learning to formulate empirically answerable questions about phenomena helps move students toward the development of preliminary explanations that can provide explanatory answers. Here the students use the questions as a starting point for developing investigations that includes experiments looking at bacterial growth. The students develop the questions that lead to their investigations and co-plan investigations of how to answer their questions. As part of their collaboration process, they make plans for what to do and how to gather and analyze the resulting data and evaluate their evidence. The key milestones are laid out in advance in the instructional sequence to help students build the important components of the key ideas. Using the prompts in the curriculum materials, the teacher is able to involve the students in working through the logic of how to make progress on their questions.

An essential component of learning for students is how interesting they find the phenomena or design challenge. Choosing topics that have relevance to their daily lives (such as bacterial infections) can help heighten interest, but there are many other ways to provide meaningful instruction. The guidelines described in Chapter 3 can be helpful: (1) providing choice

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

or autonomy in learning, (2) promoting personal relevance, (3) presenting appropriately challenging material, and (4) situating the investigations in socially and culturally appropriate contexts. As we have discussed, science instruction where learners explore solutions to questions and design challenges (National Research Council, 2000, 2012) that are meaningful and relevant to their lives can motivate their learning (Krajcik and Blumenfeld, 2006; Rivet and Krajcik, 2008). Investigation and design provide opportunities to connect classroom experiences to learners’ communities, culture, and experiences, and to real-world issues (Miller and Krajcik, 2015). To promote learning, more than initial interest is necessary; the topic needs to sustain student engagement and learning over a period of time, perhaps multiple class periods or even a full semester.

Contextualized phenomena can promote questions among students and the opportunity to address these questions in various ways (Krajcik and Czerniak, 2018; Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten, 2008). Relevant, contextualized experiences connect underrepresented populations in STEM and English learners to the science community (Tolbert et al., 2014). These types of phenomena extend well beyond the classroom and can include real issues in the larger community such as the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and their connection to human health and agriculture. Questions are the first step to sense-making of phenomena and design challenges (Schwarz et al., 2017). Starting this way entails some level of negotiation that elicits students’ questions, design challenges, and initial ideas about a phenomenon in the natural or engineered world. It is often set up as an initial “question-gathering” where students brainstorm questions and record them. Unlike a traditional class—even those that are “inquiry-based”—the procedures are not fully provided to students.

Gather and Analyze Data and Information

The students in the vignette collect data on the bacterial growth on agar plates under different conditions to address their questions and gather information about the role of antibiotics and environmental conditions (such as those kept at body temperature versus room temperature). They analyze the data and look for patterns to start to construct explanations and develop models. Students explore the relationship between Addie’s illness and the growth of bacteria.

An important component of preparing to investigate is to determine with students what they will document as evidence and how they will keep track of what they are figuring out (Schwarz et al., 2017). Compendia and reviews (Garfield and Ben-Zvi, 2007; Lovett and Shah, 2007) emphasize that reasoning about data involves understanding several related features of data, as well as how those features connect to a question that drives the

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

data collection and the contexts from which those data were collected. For example, students should understand how data are constructed through measurement and sampling—what is being measured; how those measurements reflect the system under study; and how much, how often, or where measurements are collected. They should make sense of a dataset’s characteristics such as distribution, patterns, or trends, as well as the variability within the data and its sources—for example, reasoning about whether variation and covariation in data reflect natural variability, errors, and biases in measurement, causal relationships, between- and within-group differences, and so on. All of this information about the nature and features of data should inform what explanations and claims students make from available data about a population or a phenomenon.

Measurement and sampling can be done in many different ways depending on the circumstances of an investigation and the technology available in the classroom. Students can count bacterial colonies by hand or use automated probes to track temperature. They can graph results on paper or using spreadsheets. They can simulate bacterial growth or examine plates from an incubator at the next class. New tools and technologies can be used to facilitate investigation, but new tools and technologies do not inherently improve an investigation. The manner in which the tools are used to support learning is key. Technology issues related to data are discussed further in Chapters 5 and 6, in the context of teachers’ choices about instruction and the role of instructional resources.

Construct Explanations

After their bacterial experiments, the students create models to explain their data and understanding, such as Figure 4-3 about the timing of Addie’s symptoms and correlations to the growth of the bacteria making her ill. The model shown here has a chronological set of measures and organizes and displays valuable information about the interconnections between illness and medical treatment.

The students use models in the manner described in the Framework, as a tool for thinking with, making predictions, and making sense of experience (Gouvea and Passmore, 2017; National Research Council, 2012, p. 56). Students should focus on using the analysis of data as evidence to support the formulation of explanations. Argumentation is the use of reasoning for how the evidence they have collected supports or refutes their explanation/claim. This vignette illustrates that explanation and argumentation do not need to be introduced as goals. They can emerge from the ongoing activity of the class to make sense of the overarching phenomena, as well as the investigations they conduct to help them answer their questions (Manz, 2015; Passmore and Svoboda, 2012).

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

A central aspect of engaging in investigation and design is to construct and revise models that explain phenomena. Defining a system and constructing a model of that system allows scientists and engineers to show the interaction among components in a system or between systems that cause an observed phenomenon. A key aspect of investigation and design is the exploration of systems and system modeling (Damelin et al., 2017). Dynamic modeling tools allow learners to construct and revise models to provide explanation of phenomena and test their ideas. For example, students can create complex system dynamic models including water quality, climate change, kinetic molecular theory and gas behavior, magnetic forces, collisions, forces, energy, evaporation air quality, environmental effects on disease, and weather patterns. Computer-based modeling tools can provide students with various supports and an easy-to-use visual and qualitative interface to scaffold the construction and revision of models. Students can construct models to explain phenomena by building quantitative relationships between identified variables using qualitative language accompanied by detailed descriptions that explain these relationships. Modeling tools differ from simulations in that students construct models—they specify the components and the relationships between the components and then test to see whether these relationships explain the phenomena. In simulations, students change the independent variable and observe what happens to the dependent variable. Constructing and revising models allows the students themselves to build on what is happening.

Communicate Reasoning to Self and Others

Just as a key component of the work of scientists and engineers is the sharing of ideas, experiments, and solutions with colleagues and the public, the sharing of reasoning with others is key to investigation and design. Students produce artifacts and engage in discourse and assessment for learning. The artifacts the students produce during the vignette above are not traditional laboratory reports, but rather plans and protocols for data collection, sketches, and diagrams showing what happens to bacteria under different conditions over time, and elaborated descriptions of how patterns they observed in data support particular claims or “answers” to their questions. The creation and development of these kinds of artifacts are tasks that push student learning and provide tangible representations of student understanding. They can be produced individually or in groups, on paper or digitally, all ways that make thinking visible (Bell and Linn, 2000; Berland and Reiser, 2009; Brown, 1997). The resulting artifacts (whether conveyed by models, explanations, writing, and/or speaking) represent learners’ emerging understanding. These artifacts can be used by teachers to assess student understanding and by students to reflect on their

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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own learning. In addition, students share their reasoning with each other through artifacts as well as through engaging in discourse.

The students participating in the investigation above engage in discourse as they formulate their questions, share their prior experiences, work together to plan their protocols for growing bacteria and gathering data, and reflect on their learning. They reflect via a group discussion and together produce a list of hypotheses or conjectures about what is going on. This allows them to highlight the ideas that the class is considering at the moment, but about which there is not yet agreement. Discourse is a key aspect of putting investigation and design at the center of classrooms, as students hold each other accountable to both each other’s ideas, as well as the standards of a discipline (Engle and Conant, 2002).

Artifacts and Representations

Artifacts include writings, models, reports, videos, blogs, computer programs, and the like. Artifacts serve as external, intellectual products and as genuine products of students’ exploration and knowledge-building activities (Krajcik and Czerniak, 2014). Artifacts have long been considered as “objects-to-think-with” (Papert, 1993) because artifacts are concrete and explicit and serve as tools of learning. Artifacts of learning and thinking are necessary products of investigation and design, and students learn the work by producing and reflecting on the artifacts. They can communicate their thinking using models, explanations, writing, and/or speaking. The artifacts and products they develop also allow them to reflect on their own learning, including the connections between what they do during investigation and design and novel phenomena beyond the classroom.

New computer-based technology, multimedia documents, and paper-based tools support students in communicating their findings from a scientific investigation. Creating multimedia documents allow students to link different media together, representing their understanding in multiple ways. Students can link graphs, tables, and various images (such as photos of their investigation or their data) or video with text that describe the graphs and videos. These technology tools both help student to communicate their findings as well as provide sophisticated ways for students to analyze data and reason the relationship among variables.

Discourse

Productive discourse or scientific talk has been promoted for several decades (at least as far back as Lemke, 1990) as a major means for improving students’ sense-making of core science ideas. The goal of scientific talk is to foster uptake of students’ ideas. Uptake occurs when a student puts

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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forth an idea and other students address that idea instead of offering a new one. This engagement in others’ ideas results in negotiated ideas and better-supported claims. Teachers and students often draw on productive talk that push for clarification and elaboration, allow students to agree or disagree with an idea, and privilege evidence over opinion (Chin, 2007).

We present here another vignette to explore student-led discourse in more detail. This example (see Box 4-1) shows students engaging and talking to each other as they are engaging in an engineering design project to explore temperature and the role of insulation. This vignette does not explore all of the possible angles with which students could engage in engineering design. For example, in another scenario, students could define a problem and consider a range of ways of addressing the challenge. The example presented here illustrates how student discourse can support scientific knowledge construction through engineering.

Box 4-1 contains three short examples of discourse among students sharing their designs and their scientific ideas as they engage in the process of engineering design. Students make their design decisions with each other explicit (“Foam would be a good idea”) as well as the scientific reasons for doing so (because “it would hold the most heat”). The teacher comes in to ask students to justify what they are doing, but overall, the students are holding ongoing conversations with each other throughout the process of design. The students are also interacting around both scientific language (“less dense or more dense?”) and everyday ways of describing those scientific ideas (“the insulation in walls are more like fluffy feel.” “Yeah, thick. Thicker.”). These interactions between everyday and scientific ideas, as well as connections between scientific concepts and design decisions, are emergent co-constructions as students engage in scientific reasoning and engineering design (Selcen Guzey and Aranda, 2017). The students could then move on to address the system and work to find solutions that would allow for maintaining the temperature within a defined range.

An important part of engaging in productive discourse is learning to respond to others’ ideas, as shown in Box 4-1. This type of interaction requires that teachers and students establish norms that guide both general behaviors—how students interact physically in groups and socially through talk (Magnusson, Palincsar, and Templin, 2006)—and discipline-specific behaviors, defined in science in part through science and engineering practices (National Research Council, 2012). The disciplinary norms include the types of questions that science and engineering do and do not explore, how evidence is privileged when making and supporting claims, and how the community helps monitor the quality and accuracy of findings. A further example illustrating how teachers can elicit student thinking via engagement in discourse is presented in Chapter 5 in the discussion of the implosion of a tanker (Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten, 2018). The teacher’s

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

role in three-dimensional learning is to move understanding to accurate explanations; in this case, the teacher could use a three-dimensional prompt such as “How can you change your system to affect the transfer of heat energy into and out of the system?” instead of the more generic question “What are you thinking about?” This kind of language can focus and positively affect student thinking and reasoning so that the students continue a trajectory toward increased understanding of three-dimensional science.

Another interesting aspect of this vignette is that the sequence of tasks and questions has a carefully chosen and intentional order within the student experience. Prototype testing (the equivalent of explanations) is followed by redesign (the equivalent of data analysis) and retesting. The order of the activities is important, as is recognizing that there are and should often be multiple rounds of data analysis and design before a final explanation or solution.

Connect Learning Through Multiple Contexts

As students engage in science investigation and engineering design across many grades and courses, they begin to see the connections between what they have learned before and new investigation and design experiences. Teachers play a key role in helping students see these connections (see Chapter 5) and instructional resources can illustrate the connections and help students see and understand the overall coherence of science and engineering (see Chapter 6). Here we briefly point out some ways that students may see connections. For example, the vignette with Addie illustrates the phenomena of antibiotic resistance and evolution that may connect to students’ previous school experiences as well as to their personal experiences with illness and medicine. For example, they may remember and reflect upon Addie the next time they or a family member have an illness that might need antibiotics. The ability to apply learning from one class unit to other situations inside and outside of school is a goal of investigation and design because it helps students to understand the ideas and concepts of science and engineering in a relevant way. The application of three-dimensional explanations and solutions to new phenomena could provide a way for student to internalize, conceptualize, and generalize the knowledge in ways that allow it to become part of how they see the natural and engineered world.

As discussed in Chapter 3, learning and motivation can be enhanced when culturally and socially relevant phenomena are selected and when connections are made to contexts familiar to students and to their prior knowledge. Teachers and administrators sometimes make the assumption that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, students from diverse linguistic backgrounds, and students of color do not have the prior

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

experiences necessary to meaningfully engage in science investigation and engineering design (Gilbert and Yerrick, 2001; Nathan et al., 2010). These students, like all of their classmates, are not blank slates and their lived experiences can be leveraged to support their learning. The next example (see Box 4-2) shows how a student can apply her learning to her daily life, by discussing Teresa’s repeated attempts to grow strawberries as part of an assignment to develop an engineering solution to a human need she identified and selected in her own community.

The preceding example illustrates an idea discussed in the Framework, of how engineering and technology provide a context in which students can test their own developing understanding and apply it to practical challenges. Doing so enhances their understanding of science—and, for many, their interest in science—as they recognize the interplay among science, engineering, and technology. The ideas students build upon can come from their everyday experiences, not just from science classrooms, and the experts that they draw upon can be family and community members, not just teachers, scientists, and engineers. It also shows that engagement in three-dimensional engineering design is as much a part of learning science as engagement in three-dimensional science learning (National Research Council, 2012). Application of learning requires deep, cognitive engagement rather than simply recalling information and reciting it. When students apply three-dimensional learning to making sense of novel phenomena, they must reason about the causes of the phenomena. The core ideas and crosscutting concepts students draw on in three-dimensional learning have, for the most part, been in existence for hundreds of years. These ideas and concepts do not need to be proven by students, but instead students apply the practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts through phenomena to make sense of their own world. The students need support from their teachers to make connections and learn via investigation and design, and the next chapter explores the role of the teacher in this new way of learning.

SUMMARY

Student participation in science investigation and engineering design is a dramatic shift from traditional approaches to science education. The classroom now centers on the features of investigation and design instead of on the presentation of known facts. During investigation and design students make sense of phenomena and design challenges by using observations, building on their prior knowledge and experiences, and developing and asking questions about how these phenomena work in the natural and engineered world. They gather and analyze data and information to seek patterns and evaluate information for evidence. They build on and apply their knowledge of disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts gained

Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×
Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

via previous investigations. Students construct explanations for the causes of phenomena and develop models for the relationships among the components of the systems, and they develop arguments for how the evidence gathered in the investigations and tests of the solutions to challenges supports the explanation. They design solutions that build on their understanding of relationships between components and test those solutions. They communicate reasoning to self and others through models and arguments to show how the evidence they have developed supports the explanation and/or solution. They use artifacts and representations that communicate reasoning and respond to others’ ideas as they engage in productive discourse. Students connect learning through multiple contexts by reflecting on their own learning and seeing links between what they do during investigation and design experiences with phenomena and issues beyond the classroom.

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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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Suggested Citation:"4 How Students Engage with Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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It is essential for today’s students to learn about science and engineering in order to make sense of the world around them and participate as informed members of a democratic society. The skills and ways of thinking that are developed and honed through engaging in scientific and engineering endeavors can be used to engage with evidence in making personal decisions, to participate responsibly in civic life, and to improve and maintain the health of the environment, as well as to prepare for careers that use science and technology.

The majority of Americans learn most of what they know about science and engineering as middle and high school students. During these years of rapid change for students’ knowledge, attitudes, and interests, they can be engaged in learning science and engineering through schoolwork that piques their curiosity about the phenomena around them in ways that are relevant to their local surroundings and to their culture. Many decades of education research provide strong evidence for effective practices in teaching and learning of science and engineering. One of the effective practices that helps students learn is to engage in science investigation and engineering design. Broad implementation of science investigation and engineering design and other evidence-based practices in middle and high schools can help address present-day and future national challenges, including broadening access to science and engineering for communities who have traditionally been underrepresented and improving students’ educational and life experiences.

Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center revisits America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science in order to consider its discussion of laboratory experiences and teacher and school readiness in an updated context. It considers how to engage today’s middle and high school students in doing science and engineering through an analysis of evidence and examples. This report provides guidance for teachers, administrators, creators of instructional resources, and leaders in teacher professional learning on how to support students as they make sense of phenomena, gather and analyze data/information, construct explanations and design solutions, and communicate reasoning to self and others during science investigation and engineering design. It also provides guidance to help educators get started with designing, implementing, and assessing investigation and design.

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