The mission of our science education programs is to support student’s development of “science literacy”—a complex suite of critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills. We’ve long had a pile of anecdotal evidence that our programs are working, but how can we be certain that the 15,000 students who engage with our programs each year are developing these essential yet hard-to-measure skills?
Over the last year, we’ve been working with two faculty members at the University of Maine, Jon Shemwell and Dan Capps, to look more deeply at student learning in our programs, particularly around the skill of reasoning with evidence.
For our LabVenture! program, the UMaine team spent a month recording student conversations and observing student teams in action. They then analyzed the conversations to look at how successful students were at identifying and using relevant evidence as a team.
The research revealed that LabVenture! was indeed achieving the goal of engaging students in challenging activities in which they identified and reasoned with evidence. The researchers also found that the tasks were appropriately challenging for students, and that the program engaged them in higher-order thinking about a range of science topics.
For our Vital Signs program, Shemwell and Capps are currently collaborating with our staff and Maine teachers to develop a virtual investigation that measures students’ reasoning and collaboration skills. They are also working on a survey to measure students’ interest and attitude toward science both before and after participating in the program.
Innovative education programs require equally innovative assessment programs, and this type of in-depth evaluation has long been one of our aspirations. Our recent partnership with University of Maine, paired with our work with Stanford University, is allowing us to understand our programs like never before and discover new ways to better serve Maine’s students.