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Brian Hand, College of Education, (515) 294-0033
Lori Norton-Meier, College of Education, (515) 294-7021
Cathy Curtis, College of Education, (515) 294-8175
Kevin Brown, News Service, (515) 294-8986


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University's Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education has received a $600,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Education. The grant is for a three-year study on the application of writing and language to complement science education in grades kindergarten through sixth in school districts in western and central Iowa. The center is in the College of Education.

The new study will complete the education spectrum on student performance using Science Writing Heuristic (writing and language in science education). One study followed the performance of 7th to 12th grade science students and the second focused on teaching freshman chemistry at Iowa State.

Brian Hand, director of the Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education, said the new research seeks to improve student performance in both science and language arts on standardized tests by linking science inquiry activities to reading/writing programs within elementary schools using the Science Writing Heuristic method.

"We will create a curriculum that replicates authentic science activities -- experiments, evidence and reflection for example -- by building on students' critical thinking and problem solving skills," Hand said. "Instead of the traditional laboratory format, the Science Writing Heuristic method asks students to write statements about their research questions, followed by the process of making claims and framing evidence from their investigations." The earlier studies both showed that the new science education program appears to eliminate the gap between male and female students in science courses and improves student achievement at all levels of science comprehension and skill. In addition, students also showed marked improvement in language and reading scores.

This summer, the new grant will allow 32 kindergarten through sixth grade teachers to participate in the first of three workshops, Hand said. Seminar instructors will be provided a science content update, critical reading skills and science inquiry teaching strategies.

"Teachers in the workshop will learn by using the same science inquiry/language arts-based strategies they will teach in the classroom," Hand said. "They also will study age-appropriate science content for each grade level in the study and receive intensive training on how to engage students using the Science Writing Heuristic approach and how to bridge science and language arts."

For example, Hand said kindergarten and first grade students will use more oral language-based activities, with visual displays accompanied by a sentence of explanation. However, sixth grade students will be required to read the content material and complete all associated writing activities.

"The principle benefits of the Science Writing Heuristic approach are that it significantly narrows the gender gap and helps low-achieving students gain success in chemistry," Hand said. "In addition, the 7th to 12th grade study also shows benefits gained for reading and comprehension scores on standardized tests."

Jointly working with Hand is Lori Norton-Meier, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Iowa State.

Other groups working on the Science Writing Heuristic grant are the departments of curriculum and instruction, chemistry and biology at Iowa State; the Iowa Space Grant Consortium; Heartland AEA11, Johnston; Loess Hills AEA13, Council Bluffs; and eight Iowa school districts.


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