Understanding Science – Website and Materials Evaluation

  • External evaluation of the Understanding Science interactive website
  • Website provides free resource to teachers and students about the nature of science
  • Website produced by the University of California Berkeley Museum of Paleontology
  • Funding source: National Science Foundation (NSF)

The purpose of this evaluation was to explore the effectiveness of the tools and approaches included as part of the Understanding Science website, both in increasing teachers’ confidence and abilities to teach about the nature of science and, most importantly, in improving students’ understanding of the nature of science and attitudes toward science.

Expectations of participating teachers were as follows:

  1. Attend one of two professional development workshops held at BSCS in 2009
  2. Administer a pretest and attitudinal survey to students
  3. Introduce students to the nature and process of science through a series of activities
  4. Adapt a lesson using the Understanding Science principles; administer posttests (knowledge and attitudes) to students
  5. Attend a focus group meeting at BSCS

After the initial stage of the study, teachers could choose to implement as little or as much of the materials as they liked. Twenty-five of the original 27 teachers completed the two-semester-long evaluation study, using the Understanding Science materials with 1,287 students (804 middle school students, 483 high school students).

Findings

  1. Teacher logs and comments indicated a broad range of implementation with many going beyond the minimum implementation period. Teacher logs and comments indicated that they found the materials to be useful and meaningful to their students.
  2. Teachers claimed that there were changes in their practice as a consequence of using the materials. For example, at three schools sites with multiple teachers involved in the study, professional learning communities worked together to enact professional development and assessment strategies around the Understanding Science materials. Teachers also reported an increase in student engagement, motivation, and interest in science.
  3. Students in both the middle school and high school groups made statistically significant gains from pretest to posttest on the nature and process of science assessment. Effect sizes indicate a practical significance for both groups.

Conclusion

The evaluation of the Understanding Science materials indicates a high level of teacher engagement along with meaningful increases in student understanding of the nature and process of science. A larger study of the impact of the materials on student and teacher learning and engagement is recommended.

Click here for more information about the Understanding Science interactive website.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EAR-0624436. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.