Multiple Literacies in Project-Based Learning

The Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core English Language Arts and Mathematics Standards (CCSS) require an interdisciplinary approach—one that brings together science, literacy and mathematics—in order to be successful. The NGSS integrate disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), scientific and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts to enable learners to explain phenomena, design solutions to problems and develop the capacity to learn more (i.e., acquire additional knowledge when needed). Consistent with the CCSS, students must learn how to obtain, evaluate and communicate information, a goal that is integral to the conduct of science. There is an urgent societal need for instructional materials that enable all learners to develop an understanding of science and literacy.

To meet this need, this program will design, develop and test rigorous project-based learning (PBL) units for the upper elementary grades that will engage students in using language literacy and mathematical tools to develop usable science knowledge. Although the materials will focus on science teaching and learning, these same materials will build literacy and mathematical capabilities in students and create access to and ownership of science learning for diverse learners.

The materials will focus on three-dimensional learning, which represents a major shift in the Framework and the NGSS from previous standards. Students cannot learn the science ideas without engaging in scientific practices and they cannot learn science practices without engaging in science ideas; doing both develops knowledge in-use. The Framework and the NGSS require that all students demonstrate an ability to meet the performance expectations within the context of doing science—explaining phenomena, or in doing engineering—by designing solutions to problems.

As a design based project, and integrating state-of-the-art technology into the curriculum and instruction, we will design materials iteratively over the course of the five-year project. Building upon central principles, and incorporating educative support for teachers, student and teacher materials will be assessed using pilot and field test studies to ensure that the materials work as intended and promote student learning as expected. Particular attention will be paid to the knowledge that coherent materials can foster deeper, more integrated understanding of challenging science ideas that can prepare all students to become scientifically literate and prepared for career, college and community engagement. This 5-year project funded by the Lucas foundation begins with teaching experiments and pilot studies and ends in a small-scale effectiveness study to show the value of the approach. Joe Krajcik from CREATE for STEM, Annmarie Palincsar from the University of Michigan and Emily Miller, an independent consultant, serve as PI and co-PIs for the project.