The Unique Spirit and Philosophy of
Introductory Physical Science and
Force, Motion, and Energy
The spirit and philosophy of IPS and FM&E cover many aspects. In general, our programs are designed with clear storylines that concentrate on fundamental concepts and skills, without talking down to students. The science in our programs is sound, meaning students will not be required to “unlearn” in later courses what they have learned in IPS and/or FM&E.
Student learning in IPS and FM&E is a result of the teacher, student, text, and experiments interacting as a coherent whole. All parts are interdependent and no one element can be eliminated without significantly reducing student learning. Through each of our courses, however, there are shifts from concrete to abstract, from specific observations to comprehensive concepts and laws, and from teacher dependence to student self-responsibility for learning.
Over the duration of a course, concepts become more abstract and comprehensive. In much the same manner, laboratory and thinking/reasoning skills progress in complexity as one advances through the course. The learning of individual concepts starts with a question or problem, employs an investigation to answer the question, uses collected data to construct new ideas, and then reinforces or apply the ideas in readings and through the end-of-chapter questions.
Unlike many textbooks, IPS and FM&E are uncluttered and free of extraneous features that can distract students from the concepts being developed. The text material, experiments, photographs, diagrams, charts, and graphs all focus on specific educational goals and conceptual understandings.
In IPS and FM&E, laboratory experiments are performed to observe and record the behavior of matter, measure a property, introduce the need for a concept, or to raise additional questions, and they are always done in the context of the overall storyline. They are never done to puzzle or amaze students or to confirm what they have been told, read, or might be expected to know. Because most of the science content and development of inquiry-related thinking skills comes from doing the investigations, summarizing the data, and drawing conclusions from the results, it is essential that the experiments work! For that reason, all of our experiments (and indeed, the textbooks themselves) are thoroughly pilot-tested in schools before publication.
Labs are integral and necessary parts of the student text. They are designed in a way that calls for individual work and accountability, small group teamwork (usually two students), and class pooling of data to compare results and draw conclusions. Where possible, the experiments call for numerical results allowing students to develop skills related to dealing with quantitative data.
The data that students collect in these experiments provide the basis for advancing the students’ learning and the overall storyline. “Correct” results or conclusions to experiments are not provided; to do so would diminish students’ learning.
Labs are written in a “non-recipe” format that requires students to think as they work. The instructions follow a guided inquiry format—that is, they are neither highly detailed (cookbook) nor totally open-ended; they require some thought, but not extensive student design of the procedures. Many procedural steps are written as questions, leaving students to their own judgment and decisions on how to proceed. (For this reason, the procedures are not numbered. Rather, they are written in a narrative paragraph with the guiding questions bulleted and highlighted in blue.) As the course progresses, instructions become less detailed, while still providing for safety and overall structure to the experiment.
There are many different types of questions used throughout the IPS and FM&E programs, each with its own specific purpose. The different types of questions include:
- Blue, bulleted questions guide students as they reason through each experiment.
- Comprehension Guide Questions appear in the margins next to reading passages. They are designed to allow students to self-assess their comprehension of what they read.
- Formative Assessment Questions appear in the lighter background at the ends of most sections. They provide a way for the teacher to quickly assess whether students understand the main ideas presented in a text section.
- More in-depth End-of-Section questions appear in the darker background at the ends of most sections. They further assess students’ understandings and extend what has been learned in the section.
- Review, Application, and Extension questions appear at the end of each chapter.
- Essay questions at the ends of chapters challenge students to creatively express what they have learned.
The end-of-section and end-of-chapter questions cover a wide range of difficulty levels. They are designed to be an integral part of the instruction and learning, and provide a means of tailoring the course to the individual needs of a wide variety of students. Homework questions, selected by the teacher from those listed above, can also cover a wide range of difficulty levels to encourage thinking. Many of the questions at the ends of sections and chapters reinforce the quantitative nature of the course, facilitating the improvement of students’ mathematical skills.
Even the best textbooks can be less than optimally effective if teachers are without the background knowledge required to teach a course, or they are not sufficiently knowledgeable of the educational philosophy used to develop a textbook. Teachers who are knowledgeable and prepared are those most effective and able to meet the needs of their students. For these reasons, Science Curriculum Inc. provides supplemental materials and workshops for each of our programs. In each Teacher’s Guide and Resource Book, we provide basic background information, in-depth articles, tips for teaching each section of the book, equipment lists, lab setup and safety tips, sample data and analysis, answers to all questions, and additional formative assessment questions. Each Assessment Package contains multiple-choice chapter tests, essay questions, lab tests, and answer keys. Each of the assessment tools is aligned with the objectives of the course and is consistent with the emphasis on collection and analysis of evidence presented in the investigations.
SCI also presents professional development workshops for science teachers. These workshops, taught by the authors, give teachers experience at doing each of the labs in our programs, as well as allowing them to discuss classroom management and implementation strategies.