Science4Us utilizes the inquiry-based 5E Instructional Model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate) as an effective educational approach shown to improve students’ science achievement (Bybee, Gardner, Van Scotter, Powell, Wesbrook, & Landes, 2006). S4U uses casual games, animation, video, embedded assessments, grade-appropriate reading passages, read-alouds, vocabulary exercises, electronic notebooks and virtual laboratory experiences for whole class, small group, or individual use. S4U is teacher friendly and provides students with recursive learning opportunities that can confront and correct naïve ideas and misconceptions. Students, be they pre-readers or literate, are guided through the multimedia experience at their own pace. The S4U curriculum provides a suggested sequence for usage and includes opportunities for differentiated instruction through leveled, offline support materials, activities and usage models. A student portfolio is compiled as journal entries are created and activities completed. Automated assessment reports are generated at the end of each activity to show student growth. The assessment reports depict when an activity was attempted, when it was completed, and time spent to complete the activity. Additionally, a record of students’ responses is catalogued on scorable activities. The assessment reports allow the teachers to evaluate, in real-time, students’ progress, thereby allowing the Evaluate component of the model to be continuously integrated. Student progress is presented digitally in an online “grade book” as a built-in function of the S4U management system for teachers.
Teacher Professional Development and Capacity Building
A key component of S4U’s methodology is to provide professional development to teachers in small, easily-digested chunks at the time teachers most need it. The S4U internal professional development components includes short videos, embedded teacher guides, teaching strategies, and offline support materials including lesson plans, hands-on investigations, evaluations, as well as student literacy and demonstration of mastery activities. The professional development tools are designed to enhance teachers’ instructional approaches and content knowledge. Each module includes content specific videos regarding background knowledge, common misconceptions, proper conception, and best teaching practices. S4U is aware of the sensitivity teachers may have about weaknesses in their own content knowledge, so the curriculum provides information to teachers as short embedded videos that can be viewed, or read, at the teachers’ convenience. In addition, S4U will provide videos of teachers engaged in best science practices and will provide teachers with an opportunity to hear master science teachers reflect on their practice. The Science4Us professional development materials incorporate the new Standards for Science Teacher Preparation (SSTP) from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). The SSTP framework seeks to help teachers develop the skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to become effective science teachers. These new standards will be implemented starting in the 2012 school year (Veal, 2011). S4U, by providing embedded, content-based professional development, is poised to address the goals of these new standards.