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Research Shows Changing Beliefs and Attitudes About Teaching and Learning Science

Posted by Samantha Ozgood on May 28, 2021

Connecting students with phenomena-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities is a driving force behind building the workforce of the future. For school leaders and teachers just starting to implement new hands-on learning models and those who have been incorporating collaborate STEM education for years, understanding the measurable effect on student learning and engagement levels is important. One Northeastern University researcher set out to evaluate the impact of implementing the collaborative, hands-on KnowAtom science curriculum in elementary and middle school classrooms.


In “The Effects of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) on Teaching Practices: An Instrumental Case Study,” Northeastern University’s Dr. Tracy L. Waters shares findings on her work evaluating the effects of implementing Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in elementary and middle school science classrooms. Her case study evaluates fourth and fifth grade science teachers in Massachusetts as they implement the KnowAtom curriculum. The results show how teachers adapted their own teaching practices and by what means both students and teachers transformed their own expectations about how and what they are capable of learning.

Research on NGSS in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms

Evaluating the Impact of KnowAtom and NGSS in the Classroom

The hands-on KnowAtom curriculum was created specifically to help school leaders and teachers implement NGSS in grades K-8. Dr. Waters’ research shows that using the program in Massachusetts schools resulted in teachers changing their beliefs and approach to science education. Teachers applied more diverse teaching methods, gave students more responsibility in their own learning, and set higher standards for all students.

Student assessment data showed that after two years of using the KnowAtom curriculum, 10% fewer 5th grade students and 12% fewer 8th grade students were ‘on warning’ on the state standardized test. The effect was even greater for English language learners (ELL), who had a 14% reduction; as well as former-ELLs, who saw a 32% reduction in students who were on warning. One study participant called it a “drastic reduction in our learners scoring in the lowest regions of warning.”

One major takeaway from the case study is the strong link between science education and learning in other core subjects like math and literacy standards. In addition, more collaborative learning opportunities resulted in higher student engagement levels and less behavior challenges. During the study, all the teachers and the district administrator reported an increase in engagement and participation levels.

Key Lessons from Research on Implementing KnowAtom in Classrooms

Lesson One: Success and long-term transformation of teaching techniques and beliefs requires regular, measurable feedback on student outcomes to ensure the new practices continue. In the study, teachers reported becoming more invested in the KnowAtom curriculum after seeing student success in their own classrooms. For school leaders, making a commitment to setting, measuring and reporting on key performance indicators is important for achieving long-term success.

Lesson Two: To evaluate and improve student understanding, teachers held student-led Socratic seminars, giving students the opportunity to showcase their knowledge in action and gain experience in public speaking. These sessions also gave teachers the opportunity to identify and correct misconceptions on key subject matter in real time. Giving students more say in their own learning consistently delivered positive engagement results.

Lesson Three: Ongoing professional development and support is needed for long-term success. In the study, teacher leaders created ‘Science Champs,’ a network available for long-term hands-on support connected directly to their work in the classroom. In addition, external professional development opportunities were found to be less impactful. For school leaders, understanding the importance of giving teachers the hands-on resources they need to implement NGSS, is essential.

The 2015 Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) from the National Research Council called for major changes in science education: less memorization and more hands-on learning, less presentation of disconnected facts and figures and more collaborative learning, less worksheets and more lab work. The KnowAtom curriculum was designed specifically to support NGSS implementation and help teachers change how they deliver science instruction. With hands-on support from a partner like KnowAtom, adopting next generation science standards can be a transformative experience, benefiting bother teachers and students.

Dr. Waters’ research shows that partnering with KnowAtom gives educators the resources they need to challenge students with 21st century STEM-based learning models. When given the opportunity to learn in a collaborative, student-centered manner, students are better engaged, reach higher academic outcomes, and develop skills need to excel in other core subjects. Together, students and teachers can actively change their beliefs about teaching and learning science when they are given the resources and long-term support they need to measure success. Working with an active partner like KnowAtom can help ensure teachers have the technology, lesson plans, materials, measurement tools, and professional support they need to help students succeed.

Topics: Case study, Professional Development, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, NGSS-Aligned Curriculum

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