Talk Science Impact

Grade 5

Our research with Grade 5 teachers in 2011-2012 provides evidence of key shifts in teachers' knowledge, understandings, and practice as they participated in the Talk Science professional development program:

  1. Teachers' knowledge of core science concepts and ideas regarding matter improved after they implemented the Inquiry Project curriculum as part of the Talk Science program. After teaching the curriculum, teachers could draw increasingly on the particle model of matter from the curriculum to articulate their reasoning. All teachers obtained higher scores for their understanding of the science, and presented elaborate scientific explanations (Level 2 responses) based on core ideas from the curriculum more often in the post-interviews than in the pre-interviews.
  2. Changes were observed in teachers' understandings of the role of classroom discussions in students' science learning, as they began to recognize the value of science discussions not only for participation and sharing out individual ideas, but also for students to develop ideas and make meaning together. After participating in the Talk Science program, teachers reported making discussions an integral part of their science lessons, and described several shifts in the nature of their classroom discussions.
  3. There were shifts in teachers' facilitation of classroom science discussions after they participated in the program. Specifically, teachers utilized academically productive talk strategies to guide students' understandings of the science more often. Further, teachers incorporated into their practice a greater use of talk strategies to specifically probe students' reasoning, and to help them deepen their reasoning with the help of data and evidence from their classroom investigations.

We discuss these findings briefly in the following sections.

Shifts in Teachers' Knowledge of Science Concepts

Our pre-post interviews with the Grade 5 teachers revealed that after participating in the Talk Science program and implementing the Inquiry Project curriculum as part of their professional development, the teachers improved their ability to explain core scientific ideas regarding matter by drawing on the scientific concepts and particle model of matter presented in the curriculum.

In the post-interviews, most teachers had higher scores and articulated a margin of error argument and effects of rounding in accounting for differences in weights when multiple blocks were measured individually instead of together. Teachers also identified correctly that weight was a more accurate measure of the amount of matter (sand packed in a cylinder) than volume. Further, most teachers drew on the particle model to explain that air was matter because it was made up of particles that had weight and took up space, and they applied their understandings of the particle model to explain why air was thinner at higher altitudes.

With regard to the questions on phase change, most teachers obtained higher scores in the post-interviews, described phase change as the movement of a substance between solid, liquid, and gaseous states, and identified correctly a key characteristic of phase change that weight stays the same but volume may change.

Teachers also referenced the particle model in the post-interviews to explain processes of dissolving, condensation, and evaporation. To explain why dissolved salt was no longer visible, most teachers described specifically that particles of salt broke apart and were too small to see when salt dissolved in water, and offered correctly the idea from the curriculum for using weight to verify the presence of a substance dissolved in water. Further, most teachers provided elaborate responses in describing condensation with respect to particle movement and temperature difference. Finally, most teachers gained in their ability to explain the process of evaporation in terms of water particles breaking or spreading apart.

Shifts in Teachers' Perspectives On and Reported Use of Classroom Discussions

After the Talk Science program, the Grade 5 teachers shifted from a share-out model toward a make-meaning model of classroom discussions. At the start of the program, in articulating what they believed were benefits of classroom discussions, teachers tended to view discussions as opportunities for students to share their individual ideas, hear ideas from peers, and as a means to assess students' understandings. Teachers generally also described doing discussions to introduce lessons and identify students' preliminary ideas, and to wrap-up lessons by allowing students to report out findings and ideas from their individual or small group investigations, and by reviewing key ideas from the lesson.

After participating in the program, notable differences were found in teachers' perspectives on the role of classroom discussions, in their reported practice at leading science discussions, and in the reported characteristics of their discussions. Teachers now began to perceive discussions not simply as opportunities for students to externalize individual ideas but to co-construct ideas with peers, think collectively and develop understandings together. The recognition that discussions offered a means for students to make meaning together was more evident in the post-interviews. Teachers revealed greater willingness and confidence to facilitate discussions, to do them not only as introduction and wrap-up but also for continued learning. They reported leading discussions regularly in their science lessons.

With respect to changes in the features of their classroom discussions, teachers reported that after the Talk Science program, their science discussions involved less teacher talk and direction and greater student responsibility at leading discussions; greater student willingness and confidence in contributing to the discussions; greater student participation not only in sharing their individual ideas but also attending to and addressing their peers' ideas; and finally, greater student awareness and use of evidence to reason about science during discussions.

The differences in the nature of classroom discussions reported by the teachers point to shifts in the culture of classroom talk, as seen in changes in teachers' orchestration of discussions and in students' participation during discussions.

Shifts in Teachers' Facilitation of Classroom Science Discussions

Our analysis of pre-post concept cartoon discussions revealed that the Grade 5 teachers made greater use of academically productive talk strategies, or APT moves, to guide students' science learning through discussions after they participated in the Talk Science program. In the pre-discussions, 19.55% of the teachers' turns involved the use of APT moves, whereas this figure rose to 26.03% in the post-discussions. Specifically, in seven of the fourteen classes, teachers made greater use of the APT moves in the post-discussions. Additionally, of the four teachers who did not use any APT moves in the pre-discussions, three teachers made considerable use of the strategies in their post-discussions.

Teachers' practice showed changes not only in their overall use of the talk strategies, but also in particular types of strategies. Although teachers continued to draw mainly on Expand strategies to enable students to explicate their individual ideas, they increased their use of DIG DEEPER strategies designed to deepen students' reasoning with the help of data and scientific principles.

The greater use of academically productive talk strategies in general, and of the Dig Deeper set of talk moves in particular, points to a positive shift in teachers' practice at leading productive science discussions for students' learning.

Further, our analysis revealed changes in students' participation in discussions. Students made slightly greater attempts to co-construct science understandings with peers in post-discussions (13.42% of the turns in pre-discussions v/s 17.42% of the turns in the post-discussions). This increase in students' co-construction was found in eight of the fourteen classes.

Students' attempts at reasoning also changed after teachers implemented the Inquiry Project curriculum as part of the Talk Science program. After engaging with the various science investigations and learning about the particle model of matter through the curriculum, students made several efforts to apply their understanding of core scientific ideas to reason about a novel situation (the concept cartoon problem). In the post-discussions, students' reasoning with the help of core science ideas rose to 17.56% of their talk from a negligible 2.47% in the pre-discussions. It should be noted also that students in all fourteen classes attempted to draw on core science ideas in their reasoning in the post-discussions.