Teaching High School Science Using Adapted Primary Literature


Teaching High School Science Using Adapted Primary Literature

Stephen P. Norris, PhD. & Linda M. Phillips, PhD., Faculty of Education, University of Alberta

This is a SSHRC study underway with CRYSTAL Alberta. 

Scientists read a great deal, by some estimates nearly one-fourth of their total work time. Studies show that scientists rate reading as essential to their research and as the primary source of creative stimulation. Moreover, the award-winning and high-achieving scientists read more than others. Therefore, teaching students how to read scientific texts could be extremely beneficial both to those who pursue scientific careers and to those who seek a general understanding of scientific content and of its methods.

However, the main aim of reading in the science classroom is understanding relatively isolated technical terms. Hence, students beyond elementary school have great difficulty reading scientific texts. Our previous investigations have shown that students' interpretative abilities are hampered by limited knowledge of scientific writings, such as the elements of argumentative prose that require readers to interpret degrees of expressed certainty and logical relationships among statements. Other researchers have reported difficulties experienced by students interpreting scientific texts such as weaknesses in critical thinking about scientific research.

The purpose of the proposed research is to explore the effectiveness of a form of scientific text called "Adapted primary literature"(APL) in helping to teach science and scientific reading to high school students. APL comprises scientific papers that have been modified from the original articles. As much as feasible, APL preserves the canonical structure of the original articles, but is altered to be understood by those who are not scientists, such as school or undergraduate university students. APL contains research questions, descriptions of method, reports of data, interpretations of the data, arguments defending those interpretations, and arguments meant to impeach alternative interpretations of the data, and includes where necessary brief explanations of terms or procedures suitable for the target audience. APL remains more consistent with the nature of scientific inquiry than traditional textbooks, because it starts with questions about phenomena and offers conclusions tentatively.

Research conducted thus far on APL at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel (Dr. Anat Yarden) in the area of genetics and by us in Alberta on mathematically modeling the West Nile virus transmission has demonstrated a capacity for APL to foster greater scientific inquiry skills such as critical thinking. Yet, much remains to be learned about the effectiveness of APL. The research will focus on high school students and address a series of questions: 1) What are the potential goals of using APL that best justify its use? 2) What are the types of scientific article that usefully can be adapted for high school students? 3) Are different features of APL associated with different pedagogical outcomes? 4) Can different sorts of scaffolding for students help to make APL more effective?