ERIC Identifier: ED265013
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Blosser, Patricia E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Research Related to Instructional Materials for Science.
ERIC/SMEAC Science Education Digest No. 2.
Instructional techniques are important, but the use of instructional
materials also influences student achievement, use of process skills, and other
outcomes. Instructional materials provide the physical media through which the
intents of the curriculum are experienced (Talmadge & Eash, 1979). A 1976
survey conducted by the National Survey and Assessment of Instructional
Materials contained data indicating that students are involved in learning
activities with instructional materials more than 90 percent of the time in
classrooms (Talladge & Eash, 1979).
STUDIES OF SCIENCE CURRICULA
A number of studies have been conducted to assess the impact of innovative
science curricula. One study was reported in Walberg's "A Meta-Analysis of
Productive Factors in Science Learning Grades 6 Through 12" (1980). In a chapter
entitled "Science Curriculum Effects in High School: A Quantitative Synthesis,"
Weinstein and others reported on the examination of 33 studies involving 19,149
junior and senior high school students in the United States, Great Britain, and
Israel in order to assess the impact of innovative pre-college science curricula
of the past 20 years on achievement. Weinstein et al. confined their examination
to those studies involving nationally developed innovative science programs. The
33 research studies they reviewed involved 13 different curricula, 8 at the
senior high level and 5 at the junior high school level (Weinstein, 1980). The
reviewers looked at (1) conceptual learning, (2) inquiry skills, (3) attitudinal
development, (4) laboratory performance, (5) concrete skills (i.e.,
classification of properties represented by pictorial stimuli). Weinstein and
his colleagues differentiated between concrete skills and inquiry skills as
follows "...Unlike inquiry skills, concrete skills require only observation and
classification of directly perceived objects or pictures. Inquiry skills require
some form of hypothetical-deductive reasoning as in Piagetian formal
operations..." (Weinstein, 1980).
It has been suggested that outcomes of research favoring the innovative
treatment are due to the use of tests biased in favor of the treatment.
Weinstein et al. developed a method of analysis that would take such a possible
factor into account. They reported a ratio of approximately 4:1 in favor of
outcomes related to the use of innovative curricula, concluding:
Although great national interest in science curricula by the general public
and professional educators may have abated in the 1970s, the post-Sputnic (1958)
curricula produced beneficial effects on science learning that extended across
science subjects in secondary schools, types of students, various types of
cognitive and affective outcomes, and the experimental rigor of the research.
Past reviews showed the percentage of positive results; but the present analysis
shows a moderate 12 point percentile advantage on all learning measures of
average student performance in the innovative courses (Weinstein, 1980, p. J12).
Bredderman confined his analysis to studies involving the use of one of the
three major activity-based elementary school science programs: Elementary
Science Study (ESS), Science--A Process Approach (SAPA), or the Science
Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) (1983). Bredderman also used meta-analysis
to compare data from 57 studies involving 13,000 students and more than 900
classrooms. He reported, "The overall effects of the activity based programs on
all outcome areas combined were clearly positive, although not dramatically so"
(Bredderman, 1983, p. 504). Thirty-two percent of the 400 comparisons favored
the activity-based programs at least, the .05 level of significance. The mean
effect size on all studies was .35, indicating about a 14 percentile improvement
for the average student as a result of being in the activity-based program group
(Bredderman, 1983). The outcome areas Bredderman identified for his analysis
included (1) science process, (2) intelligence, (3) creativity, (4) affective,
(5) perception, (6) logical development, (7) language, (8) science content, and
(9) mathematics. The use of activity-based programs appeared to promote student
achievement in all analyzed outcome areas with the exception of logical
development (Bredderman, 1983).
Bredderman speculated that if activity-based programs in elementary school
science were adopted across a wide variety of districts, student performance on
tests of science process, creativity, and perhaps intelligence would show
increases of 10-20 percentile units; reading and mathematics scores might be
positively affected; and attitude toward science and science classes probably
would show a small improvement. Student performance on standardized achievement
tests in science content might go up slightly (Bredderman, 1983). However, if
the students do not continue in such activity-based programs in the higher
grades, these advantages are not sustained, accordng to the few follow-up
studies Bredderman reviewed.
The accumulating evidence on the science curriculum reform efforts of the
past two or three decades consistently suggests that more activity-process-based
approaches to teaching science result in gains over traditional methods in a
wide range of student outcomes at all grade levels (Bredderman, 1983).
Bredderman's remarks are echoed by Shymansky, Kyle and Alport in an article
in the JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING (1983) in which they reported on
their portion of the large meta-analysis project coordinated at the University
of Colorado. Shymansky and his students analyzed 105 experimental studies on
more than 45,000 students, involving 27 different innovative science curricula.
In their analysis Shymansky et al. grouped 18 student performance criteria into
six clusters; (1) achievement-fact/recall, synthesis/analysis/evaluation,
general achievement; (2) perceptions -- attitude toward subject, toward science,
toward teaching techniques, toward self; (3) process skills-process
measures/skills/techniques, methods of science; (4) analytic skills -- critical
thinking, problem solving; (5) related skills -- reading, mathematics, social
studies, communication skills; and (6) other areas -- creativity, logical
thinking (Piagetian tasks), spatial relations (Piagetian tasks) (Shymansky,
They reported, "...Across all new science curricula analyzed, students
exposed to new science curricula performed better than students in traditional
courses in general achievement, analytic skills, process skills, and related
skills (reading, mathematics social studies, and communication), as well as
developing a more positive attitude toward science..." (Shymansky, 1983, p.
387). The new science curricula had a positive impact on student performance for
every performance criterion except student self-concept (Shymansky, 1983). The
reviewers speculated that self-concept that was measured by the various
investigators was a global construct rather than a subject-specific one and, if
so, the global self-concept probably would not change dramatically over the
length of the treatment involved in the study.
Shymansky, Kyle, and Alport examined the meta-analysis data by science
content area, reporting:
--for life science, students had more positive attitudes about science than
those in the standard health and life science program;
--for physical science, students performed better, except for analytic
--for general science, students performed significantly better than those
enrolled in traditional programs;
--for earth science, student performance on process and analytic skills was
positive but gains were not as large as for biology and physics. This was the
only science content area for which positive achievement results were not
--for biology, the mean effect sizes were consistently high. Student
performance in the analytic thinking area was higher than for chemistry and
approached the performance level of physics.
--for chemistry, this content area exhibited the least impact of the new
science curricula in terms of enhanced student performance;
--for physics, student performance was second only to biology in overall
pattern of positive effect sizes. Students in new physics courses effectively
gained at least one-half year of study (as compared to students in traditional
courses) in terms of physics achievement and analytic thinking skills
(Shymansky, 1983). In an article in THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHERS (1984),
Shymansky further elaborated on the meta-analysis data related to the use of the
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) materials. Data involving BSCS
classes constituted the bulk of the codable data for biology and involved 6,035
students and five versions of BSCS materials: Yellow, Blue, Green, special
materials, and advanced materials. The BSCS program was effective in enhancing
student attitudes toward science, process skills, analytic skills, and
achievement -- in that order (Shymansky, 1984). When student gender was
considered, students in mixed classes responded more favorably to BSCS biology
than those in predominantly male classes, outscoring their peers in traditional
courses by 30 percentile points over all performance measures (Shymansky, 1984).
High-IQ, high ability students showed the greatest gains in response to BSCS
biology. Students from schools with over 2,000 pupils responded more favorably
to BSCS biology than did those from smaller schools. BSCS programs were most
effective when implemented in suburban schools, only slightly less effective in
urban schools, but did not fare as well in rural areas (Shymansky, 1984).
In many science classes the textbook is the primary instructional material.
No meta-analysis of the use of textbooks compared to non-textbook courses were
identified for this Digest. However, the analysis of text materials was a major
focus of a symposium held in Boulder, Colorado, in 1980, and reported in
RESEARCH IN SCIENCE EDUCATION: NEW QUESTIONS, NEW DIRECTIONS (1981). (Other
focus areas were investigating science understanding and investigating science
classrooms.) Participants suggested that it is important to design and carry out
field experiments to show connections between textbooks and schooling outcomes.
This could be done via case studies.
One of the symposium participants, Deese, contended that pupils never learn
how to cope with expository texts. His thesis is that textbooks are written
rather than spoken. Children have mastered spoken language when they come to
school. Their initial encounters are with print written in expressive language
closely resembling speech. Children gradually acquire the ability to deal with
narrative text of concrete description. About the time they begin reading texts
containing abstractions, formal instruction in reading ceases (Robinson, 1981).
According to Deese:
Readers who are going to be the scientists, lawyers, and professional persons
of all kinds in the future must learn to understand dense prose, prose in which
what modifies what is hard to discover, and what needs to be inferred is not
easy to determine. For someone who has not been prepared for this intellectual
exercise, it is an impossible task (Robinson, 1981, p. 67).
Other suggestions for needed research on instructional materials were
identified by participants.
Data exist to support the idea that the science curriculum improvement
project materials develped after 1955 were successful in promoting student
achievement in the use of science process skills, in creativity, in higher
cognitive skills at both the elementary and secondary school levels. Research
has been focused on programs rather than on textbooks, however. Because teaching
from, and with, textbooks is the dominant method of instruction in many science
classes, research is needed on how students learn to use textbooks in order to
become independent learners, how teachers use textbooks, as well as on how to
write textbooks in order to promote efficent learning.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bredderman, Ted. "Effects of Activity-Based Elementary Science on Student
Outcomes: A Quantitative Analysis." REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH 53(4):
499-518, Winter, 1983.
Robinson, James T. ed. RESEARCH IN SCIENCE EDUCATION: NEW QUESTIONS, NEW
DIRECTIONS. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and
Environmental Education, June 1981. ED 209 075
Shymansky, James. "BSCS Programs: Just How Effective Were They?" THE AMERICAN
BIOLOGY TEACHER 46(1):54-57, January 1984.
Shymansky, James A., Wm. C. Kyle, and Jennifer M. Alport. "The Effects of New
Science Curricula on Student Performance." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE
TEACHING 20(5):387-404, 1983.
Talmadge, Harriet & Maurice J. Eash. "Curriculum, Instruction, and
Materials," in RESEARCH ON TEACHING CONCEPTS, FINDINGS, AND IMPLICATIONS,
Penelope L. Peterson & Herbert J. Walberg, eds. Berkeley, CA: McCutcheon
Publishing Corporation, 1979.
Walberg, H. J. et al. "A meta-Analysis of Productive Factors in Science
Learning Grades 6 Through 12." Chicago, IL: University of Illinois at Chicago
Circle, June 1980. ED 197 939.