A STUDY OF A SCIENCE-BASED PEER READING ASSIGNMENT AND ITS
EFFECTS ON FIRST GRADE STUDENT UNDERSTANDING AND USE OF
DESCRIBING WORDS IN SCIENCE
MEGHAN JEANNE PEARSON
B.S. Chemistry, Pfeiffer University, 2008
B.S. Biology, Pfeiffer University, 2008
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Science
MEGHAN JEANNE PEARSON
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This thesis for the Master of Science degree by
has been approved for the
Department of Chemistry
Doris Kimbrough, Chair
November 18, 2015
Pearson, Meghan J. (M.S., Chemistry)
Study of a Science-Based Peer Reading Assignment and Its Effects on First Grade
Student Understanding and Use of Describing Words in Science
Thesis directed by Professor Doris Kimbrough
The first grade curriculum for science in Colorado requires students be able to use
describing words to depict and compare objects and people; however, first graders
struggle with using specific enough language to create strong descriptions. With science
education research encouraging teachers to use alternative teaching methods to approach
these challenging topics, it is important to provide teachers with resources appropriate to
their students. One such alternative learning method is a reading partner. Reading
partners have been shown to increase vocabulary, boost school performance, and improve
self-esteem in children. This study analyzed the effectiveness of using a science-based
peer reading assignment about describing words on increasing a first graders
understanding of the topic. The book required the class to work together to help the
characters describe different images and characters in the book with the intent that
students were engaged during the reading. In pre-interview and post-interview, students
described pictures, and their responses were analyzed for quality of the describing words
provided and the number of strong (specific and not opinion) describing words provided.
In the post-interview, students had an overall increase in the number of strong describing
words provided. The quantitative data was analyzed by comparing strong describing
words used pre-reading and post-reading, and the effect size was very large. The results
indicate reading the book explaining describing words that asked for student participation
did increase students understanding and use of describing words.
The form and content of this abstract approved. I recommend its publication
Approved: Doris Kimbrough
I would like to thank Dr. Doris Kimbrough for her support and help in dreaming up this
project, and I would like to thank Dr. Robert Talbot for helping keep the dream to a
reasonable size. I would like to thank my husband for his unyielding support and love as
I worked through getting my thoughts on paper, and my parents, who repeatedly
reminded this was not the time to be like my mother. And finally, I would like to thank
Samantha Rynas, my wonderful illustrator because, without her, Gizmo and Gadget
would not exist.
When I heard the learnd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wanderd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Lookd up in perfect silence at the stars.
-When I Heard the Learnd Astronomer, Walt Whitman
This thesis is dedicated to everyone who reminded me
sometimes you just have to let science
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Reading Partner Research................................................1
Introduction to Current Science Education Standards.....................2
Introduction of National Science Standards and No Child Left Behind...2
Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.....2
The Use of Alternative Teaching Methods in Science Education............3
II. STUDY DESIGN..........................................................6
Discussion of Interview Questions......................................10
III. DESIGN AND WRITING OF ADVENTURES IN SCIENCE.........................13
Creating the Characters................................................16
Analysis of Quantitative Responses (Questions 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8).......18
Analysis of the Qualitative Questions (Question 3, 4, 9, and 10).......24
A. IMAGES USED IN STUDY........................................36
B. EVOLUTION OF SCIENCE EDUCATION..............................38
C. ADVENTURES IN SCIENCE WITH GIZMO AND GADGET.................48
LIST OF TABLES
1. Interview Questions (*Pre-Interview Only;**Post Interview Only) used for data
analysis. Questions 2, 5-8 provide quantitative data. Questions 3, 4, 9, and 10 provide
qualitative data. Questions 5-10 had accompanying images.....................12
2. Questions used to assess participation and engagement during the reading of the
Gizmo and Gadget book...........................................................12
3. Cohens d value interpretations.................................................19
4. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses Question
5. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses to
6. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses to
Question 6 and 7................................................................22
7. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses to
8. A brief description of curricula projects.......................................45
LIST OF FIGURES
1. Book Page.......................................................21
4. Comparison Page.................................................34
Reading Partner Research
In a 1984 study entitled Meaningful Differences, researchers Risley and Hart
studied the effects that reading to children had on their overall education experience.
Vocabulary of toddlers was measured and compared using different variables in their
lives, and it was concluded that children who were regularly read to and conversed with
went into preschool and kindergarten more prepared than their peers.1 With this
knowledge, preschool programs began bringing in adult mediators to read and converse
with the students, and Hart and Risley subsequently found that the students who had
previously performed poorly, were now meeting the same vocabulary achievement as
their peers.1 This is some of the first research on the effect that reading to children has on
their overall scholastic aptitude.2
Everybody Wins! D. C.
In 1998, Everybody Wins! D. C., a nonprofit group, augmented the 1980s
research by studying the effects of adult reading partners on low performing readers
language arts experience.3 An adult from the community was paired with a poor reader
from a Washington D. C. elementary school, and the two met once a week for an entire
school year. The reading partner research found that students who read with an adult
reading partner increased their vocabulary, increased their reading skills, and gained an
appreciation of reading for fun. These results have been repeated by several interventions
using reading partners and include the benefits of peer reading partners.4,5
This increase in vocabulary and interest in reading encouraged through adult
mediation can have a direct correlation on scholastic aptitude. Meaningful Differences
documents the importance of adult mediation in younger years for the development of
vocabulary.1 There is a direct correlation between learned vocabularies and reading
comprehension, so as students learn to read, the increase their in vocabulary will increase
their understanding of the information processed.6 The adult reading partner also
increased the interest in reading for the students.3 This increased interest in reading and
increased reading comprehension is a predictor of increased scholastic aptitude.2
Introduction to Current Science Education Standards
Introduction of National Science Standards and No Child Left Behind
In 1996, the National Research Council released the first set of national guidelines
for science, the National Science Education Standards (NSES).7 Soon following, No
Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, passed in 2002, introduced both national
guidelines for standards for subjects and implemented high stakes testing, the results to
which were linked to school funding.8 The legislation reformed an educational act passed
by Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and called attention to the socio-economic educational gaps
that still existed in the United States.8
Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards
Using NCLB as a guide, the Obama Administration offered its own curricula
standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS offered national
standards for all states to follow, rather than guidelines for the states to establish their
own standards.9 The CCSS takes a unique approach to learningespecially in the
younger gradesencouraging teachers to cross-cut subjects together.10 For example a
math class will discuss how the adding technique they are learning applies in science,11
and a reading class will read books about the science topic that they are learning.
However, the CCSS only included mathematics, reading, and language arts; the
science standards needed to be updated. As a response, a consortium of educators and
scientists from 26 states and government agencies developed Next Generation Science
Standards (NGSS) to be implemented.10 These new standards created a more rigorous
curriculum than previously provided by NSES. NGSS uses tie-ins to CCSS, pushing
teachers to blend science education with what the students are learning in other classes.10
The standards also include an engineering component to help students realize the real life
application of the concept. The standards provided to teachers include the crossover to
the CCSS, as well as activities that can help teachers.10
The Use of Alternative Teaching Methods in Science Education
This idea of subject cross-cutting (as described above) requires teachers to
develop creative ways to teach students through the integration of different content areas,
requiring the implementation of alternative teaching methods. One such alternative is to
move away from the traditional lecture style and use data driven methods to encourage
learning and critical thinking such as project based learning.12 As discussed above, an
alternative teaching method whose results are well documented is the use of reading
partners. Adult readers in a classroom provide students with the adult mediation shown
to increase vocabulary and increase aptitude in the classroom.3,13 Studies have also
shown the effectiveness of peer reading assignments, where students work together,
gaining self-esteem and confidence.14
This idea of putting learning into the students hands allows students to take
ownership of their education, consistent with a constructivist approach. Constructivism
is the educational philosophy that students must be allowed to construct their own
solutions to problems.12 Students will use prior knowledge to come to conclusions about
new concepts, so teachers must guide students to come up with their own conclusion
rather than just explain the conclusion to the student. This approach views learning as an
active process, and it allows teachers to build on previous knowledge and experiences to
help students develop a stronger, more meaningful understanding of a topic.12
Constructivist approaches, such as problem based learning and project based learning,
have been particularly helpful in science classrooms. Moving away from the traditional
lecture to these other approaches increased students interest and understanding of
The new educational standards being implemented in the United States require
teachers to use alternative teaching methods; therefore, it is important for teachers to have
well researched options available to them. Cross-cutting subjects together is a key
measure of both the CCSS and NGSS, so the development of new materials for science
needs to cross over into standards within other subjects.10 These materials must also
present a problem for students to solve to help them draw their own conclusions about the
topic.12 Since adult mediation has been shown to increase the scholastic aptitude of
students, could an interactive book about a specific science topic presented by an adult
reading partner increase a students understanding of the topic?
This study uses a science-based peer reading assignment and analyzes its effect on
understanding of describing words. Within the rigors of the Next Generation Science
Standards as well as the current science and language arts standards, children in first
grade in Colorado are responsible for using describing words to describe objects and
activities.10 They are also expected to use describing words to create comparisons
between objects and between family members. Using the previous research, it is
understood that exposing children to language through an adult mediator is advantageous
to the student gaining vocabulary and understanding.3 For this study, a first grade class
was presented a book about describing words to determine if reading this book to the
students increased their understanding and ability to use describing words in science.
In the original design, a peer reading partners, a fourth grader and first grader,
were going to work together through the science book. Permission slips would be sent
home with both the fourth grade students and the first grade students to allow the students
to participate in the study. The students who returned permission slips would be paired
together by the teacher. Fourth grade students who had a pre-assigned first-grade reading
partner would be given a copy of Adventures in Science with Gizmo and Gadget, which
is described in detail in Chapter 3. The fourth graders would go through a reading
session with the book so they would become comfortable with how to read the book and
make it interactive for the first grader.
First grade students who submitted a permission slip would sit through a pre-
interview to determine their understanding of the use and definition of describing words
before reading the book. The interview would contain ten questions about describing
words. Students would be asked to define describing words and provide describing
words for certain situations. The answers would be analyzed for quantity and quality of
describing words provided. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved the
interview questions. The questions are discussed in detail at the end of this chapter. The
interview location would be predetermined by the school and located in a quiet and
private location such as a library. All interviews would be video recorded for later
During the assigned reading partner time, the fourth grade student would read the
Gizmo and Gadget book to the first grade reading partner. Each student group would be
provided with a marker to write in the book in the appropriate location. The students
answers would be recorded in the book for later analysis. This would encourage peer
learning. After completing the reading session for the day, the books would be collected
by the teachers and returned to the interviewer.
The first grade students would then be given a post-interview. The post-
interview would contain all questions from the pre-interview, plus additional questions
about comparisons. These interviews would be video recorded for later analysis. The
location of the post-interview would be in the same location as the pre-interview to help
students feel more comfortable.
Seventy-five elementary schools of Denver Public Schools were contacted in
regards to participation in the study. An email was sent to the principals to provide
background information on the project. These principals were called three times the
following week. This method proved ineffective, so there were also school visits,
attempts to directly contact teachers, and letters dropped off to staff. One teacher
responded after the letter was printed in the school newsletter. She was a first grade
teacher from Westerly Creek, and a school visit was planned.
After the teacher confirmed her interest in having her class participate in the
study, the Gizmo and Gadget story (Appendix C) was presented to the teacher, and she
was permitted to make any edits to the book before it was read to the class. Two
amendments were requested. First, the line spacing was increased. Students in first
grade do not have the dexterity to write on the size of line originally provided, so the line
pages (where students were encouraged to write) were increased to a size of about an
inch in height, a size to which the students would be more accustomed. She also
encouraged the science experiment to be written in list form, as reading and following a
list of instructions is one of the language arts standards for first grade. These corrections
were made; the book was re-presented and the teacher approved it. Permission slips,
accompanied by letter explaining the project, were sent home with all students to gain
consent for students to participate in pre- and post-interviews after reading the book. Six
out of 30 parents sent back the signed permission slip, a very low outcome.
For the six students who had returned the signed permission slip, a pre-interview
was conducted one week before reading the book. The interview process took two days
to complete; this was to ensure that the distraction of people walking into and out of the
classroom was limited to a very specific time of the day (silent reading). Students were
escorted one at time to a cubicle in the hall that had been set up by the school to conduct
the interviews. The noise of the hallway can be heard in the videos of students, as there
were occasional staff members and parents having discussions outside the cubicle.
Prior to the interview with the students, a camera was set up in the cubicle. The
students were asked to choose their seat to provide a more informal setting and help
students feel in control of the environment. The interview began with the interviewer
asking the student to describe something about what they were wearing, a conversation
starter to help students understand how the interview would proceed. The interviewer
pointed out something unique about what the student was wearing, and then asked them
to describe it.
The first grade teacher was given the permission slips for both the first grade and
fourth grade class. Due to confusion, the permission slips were never delivered to the
fourth grade class. This meant the fourth grade reading partners could not participate.
Instead, the classroom parent partner read the story, and all students in the class were
encouraged to participate because this was normal reading hour for the class. This
differed from initial design; however, the purpose of the fourth grade reading partner was
to encourage peer learning. By the first grade class participating as a group to help Gizmo
describe images from the book, peer learning was still observed. Thus, the overall
objective was still met.
The book was read during the reading hour, so it was also possible for the
interviewer to observe and take notes about the student participation during the reading.
To ensure that students participated, the adult reader randomly selected wooden sticks
that had the students names on them. Once the student had been called on, their stick
was removed. All students participated during the reading. There was active
engagement by the students participating in the study during the reading, and all students
in the class were excited to be called on to provide describing words to help Gizmo the
describe pictures in the book. The adult reader recorded the student answers provided in
Because of standardized testing happening the following week, post-interviews
were conducted the day after reading the book. The interviews took two days so as to
only disrupt one specific time of the day. The cubical in the hallway was left up for the
post-interviews, so the interviews took place in the same area. The same challenges with
distractions arose. There was student-testing going on, so there were several students
being escorted through the hallway to the testing location, adding background noise.
During one of the interviews, two teachers had a conversation outside the cubicle,
making the audio nearly impossible to decipher or analyze for question 8, so there were
only five student responses to analyze for this question. Students were now more
comfortable with the interviewer and the interview process, so the initial icebreaker
question was eliminated from the questions. Students were also asked to answer some
questions relating to the story of Gizmo and Gadget to help gain whether or not the
student was participating in the reading the day prior.
Videos of the interviews were recorded on a flash drive and were locked in a
filing cabinet. The filing cabinet also contained the permission slips signed by the
student and their parents. These forms will be destroyed at the end of this study.
Students names and any identifying information will not be included in the data and
conclusions within this study.
Discussion of Interview Questions
Questions asked in the interview were worded to ensure the student would not be
given any guidance on how to answer. Interview questions can be found in Table 1.
Words like specific or same and different were avoided to allow students to analyze
what was meant by describing words and compare, respectively. The questions were
also asked in an increasing order of difficulty, as determined by understanding of the first
grade curriculum. It was believed students would have an easier time comparing two
different cats than two different plants because animals seem to appear more often in
media children are exposed to. The easiest question of the interview was the first
question, which was not analyzed. Student were asked to describe something unique
about what they were wearing. After this icebreaker question, the interview proceeded
with the questions that would be used for analysis.
Two different types of questions were asked: quantitative and qualitative.
Questions 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 were used for quantitative results. They were analyzed for
number of strong describing words used. Questions 3, 4, 9, and 10 were used for
qualitative data. Questions 5-10 were accompanied by pictures for the students to
describe. The images were chosen specifically to provide ample describing word
possibilities. For example, the image of the playground used for both the pre- and post-
interviews has many colors, slides, and activities that could be detailed. The images can
be seen in Appendix A. The answers were analyzed for strong describing words and
understanding of the meaning of the describing words. There were also questions asked
in the post-interview about the book to determine if the students had paid attention during
the reading (Table 2).
Table 1. Interview Questions (*Pre-Interview Only;**Post Interview Only) used for
data analysis. Questions 2, 5-8 provide quantitative data. Questions 3, 4, 9, and 10
provide qualitative data. Questions 5-10 had accompanying images.
1. Can you describe the [article of clothing] you are wearing?*
2. Can you list 5 describing words?
10. Can you compare Meghan to her mom? Write your answers down.**
Table 2. Questions used to assess participation and engagement during the reading of
the Gizmo and Gadget book.
1. The main characters, Gizmo and Gadget, were robots. What was Gadget
trying to help Gizmo learn how to do?
2. When you were reading through the book, sometimes one of the robots had
silly answers. Which robot was this?
DESIGN AND WRITING OF ADVENTURES IN SCIENCE WITH GIZMO AND
Childrens literature writers use language in their stories to foster imagination and
creativity in young readers. They must encourage learning while making a child laugh
and think. There are several books written on the process of writing a childrens story. A
writer must consider the characters, the language, the color scheme, and the illustrations
that will make up the story. The brain is developing very rapidly at young ages, so a
book appropriate for a four year old may not be appropriate for a five year old. Writers
often try to develop characters that can grow with the child..
In first grade, describing words are at the center of the science and language arts
curricula (Colorado Curriculum, 2013). Students learn about using adjectives to help
describe the different scenarios and people that they encounter every day. In the science
classroom, students are asked to use describing words to compare similarities and
differences among themselves, as well as comparisons to family members. Students at
this developmental level are just beginning to understand the basic idea that similarities
and differences can be found between different people and different objects. However,
the concept of strong versus weak describing words can be difficult for children to grasp.
A child at this age will often describe an object using very general terms; a baseball
would be described as a baseball rather than describing it as a round ball that is white
with red stitching. In the text created for this project, Gizmo and Gadget model the
difference between strong and weak describing words for students, while also showing
them how to compare and contrast animals that young students may consider as having
To appeal to the students, the language and images were created to draw students
attention to the book. Gizmo and Gadget is written as an interactive book, and students
have many places where they can fill in the blanks. It was designed to emulate the Dora
the Explorer childrens television show (Figure 1). During an episode of Dora the
Explorer, Dora asks questions of the children in the viewing audience and pauses to
Gadget, why is Fluffy here? provide time for them to
answer. This creates the
illusion among viewers that the
character is talking directly to
the child, and the child remains
Well, Gizmo, I want you to help our
friends to try and describe him.
^Friends, can YOU and Gizmo describe Fluffy? Write your
answers on the next page, just like Gizmo did before.
Figure 1. Page of Gadget asking students for help
engaged to continue answering
her questions. The book layout
is such that students are given a
strong example of describing words, and subsequently, they are asked to describe
something similar themselves. Gadget is the character who asks the children questions
while Gizmos character is there to make children laugh and feel like they are also
helping someone else learn. The book walks them through the process of describing
things and points out that to be a good describer, they must use their senses and use
words that are unique to a particular object.
The Gizmo and Gadget text also brings in several other concepts from the first
grade curriculum, so the book plays on this crosscutting concept required by the Common
Core. For example, there is an experiment, which is laid out in list form. Listing objects
or activities is a required understanding in the language arts curriculum.
When children are read to by an adult or older peer have been shown to have an
increased vocabulary and are more successful in school14, so the idea of combining
reading and science, especially for kids of such a young age, seemed a logical and
effective approach. Choosing the specific language for the book was more challenging.
In first grade, the reading level typically involves words that are sounded out
phonetically. A student needs to be able to sound out the word. However, since a fourth
grader was originally designed to read the book to the first grader, the language could be
slightly higher level than a first grade level. Higher-level words such as experiment
and Apatosaurus were included in the story.
Choosing the language of the Gizmo and Gadget book required knowledge of
both the vocabulary that would be effective to teach first graders, as well as how to
properly encourage childrens learning through reading. Several different studies have
looked at the importance of encouraging language. Gizmo is a silly robot, who does not
understand the use of describing words, but he is aided by Gadget, who informs students
of the correct way to describe objects. Students reading the book aid Gizmo in learning
why describing words are used and what makes a strong describing word. The book
encourages students to help Gizmo do certain describing tasks. This makes the reading
interactive, similar to childrens media that build upon the same concept (e.g. Dora the
The book was designed to address the difficulty of distinguishing between strong
and weak describing words. For this study, strong describing words, are defined as
words that are specific and not opinion with provided examples smells like blueberries
and blue. Weak describing words are defined as general terms or opinions, such as
colorful and pretty. The characters work through different scenarios to describe, at
first showing the challenges when weak describing words are used, and then correcting to
the use of strong describing words. First, Gadget describes the pizza.. This engages the
child immediately because they have eaten a pizza before and can hear how Gadget is
describing many aspects of the pizza, including the pepperonis, cheese, and bread. On
the next page, the children are asked to help Gizmo describe a green dinosaur named
Fluffy (Figure 1). This encourages the children to be interactive during the reading,
which will keep them engaged.
Creating the Characters
The images of Gizmo and Gadget were created in collaboration with artist and
forensic biologist, Samantha Rynas. Each robot has a specific
purpose in the story. Gadget is the robot that students are
supposed to learn from, so his image was created to make a
child view him as more studious (Figure 2). Thus he was
drawn with all straight lines and colored with earth tones to
Figure 2. Image of Gadget.
Gray color and wearing a lab
coat to make him appear
help remind kids that he is the serious robot. Similarly his outer casing is drawn to look
like a lab coat. Gadget is also given glasses to make him appear wiser. Gizmo was
designed to be the more fun character, so he was given a more playful look (Figure 3).
He was drawn completely round and given a blue tone along with a red bow tie. The red
bow tie was meant to complement Gadgets more severe
exterior. Both characters are copyrighted.
Figure 3. Gizmo is
brighter colors and has a
more fun appearance.
Analysis of Quantitative Responses (Questions 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8)
Student responses to the quantitative questions were transcribed into a spreadsheet
for analysis. While quantity was measured, only words that fit into the studys definition
of strong describing words were counted for all questions listed above with the exception
of question 5. Question 5 was selected to display the results of strong describing words
compared to total describing words provided by the student. This allowed for a further
analysis of what was the students understanding of describing words before and after
reading the story.
The responses were analyzed using a two-variable, one-tail /-test. Two variables
is to account for the two sets of data (pre-interview and post interview) that have different
standard deviations and the one tail means that the direction of the change is of
importance to us. The study probed the question: Were students growing in their
understanding of describing words? A loss in the number of describing words would
have been a negative result, so the one-tail test was chosen. The t-test produces ap-
value, which discounts the null hypothesis. In this instance, the null hypothesis would be
reading a book with specific language about describing words has no effect on a first
grade students understanding of describing words. Statistical /i-values are typically
considered significant if they fall below .05. Because of the small size of out data set, it
was appropriate to use t rather than z as the Gaussian curve of smaller data sets will be
more spread out. We also used Cohens d to solve for the effect size (Equation 1)
because, in small data sets, it is harder to obtain the small />-values associated with
statistical significance or the number could be artificially small because of type II error.
Cohens d is a measure that allows for a comparison of mean data of two different sets
(Mi, M2) compared to a pooled standard deviation of the two data sets (s). The effect
size allows for a comparison of random individuals of the sample to the mean of the
original sample (Table 3).16
Table 3. Cohens d value interpretations.
.2 < d < .5 Effect size is small. Very little shift in average between original and trial; little growth seen by participants
.5 < d < .8 Effect size is medium. Noticeable shift in average; 69% of participants will perform above mean of original group.
.8 < d < 1.3 Effect size is large. 79% of participants will perform above mean of orifljnal uroup.
d = Ml (Equation 1)
As stated before, question 1 was not analyzed as its design was to engage students
with the interviewer and help the students feel more comfortable for the remainder of the
interview. The first answers analyzed were those to Question 2, which asked students to
list describing words. The responses were transcribed into an excel spreadsheet so the
number of describing words could be counted (Table 4). The pre-interview responses
were then compared to the post-interview responses. In the pre-interview, only one of the
six students was able to report five describing words. In the post-interview, five of the
six students were able to list five describing words. Comparing the averages of students
pre-interview responses and post- interview responses, there was a 66.7% increase in the
number of describing words provided. Though the /i-value here is 1, suggesting
marginal statistical significance, Cohens d value of .83 relates to a large effect size.
Table 4. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses Question 2
Student # Pre Interview Post Interview Percent Increase
(words) (words) (%)
1 5 5 0
2 2 5 150
3 4 5 25
4 4 5 25
5 0 5 -
6 0 0 -
Average 2.5 2 4.2 2 66.7
Cohen's d .833
Question 5 asked students to describe a playground. For this question, a total
describing word count and a strong describing word count were analyzed (Table 5).
This provided quantitative data about students use of strong describing words and weak
describing words. In the pre-interview, students used an average of 3.2 words ( 2
words); however only 1.5 words (2 words) were considered strong describing words.
The average total describing words provided in the post-interview was 4.5 words ( 1
word), and the average number of strong describing words was 4.2 words ( 2 words).
These results show both an increase in the total words used, and also indicate that almost
all words used to describe the playground in the post interview were strong describing
words. The t-test calculated a /i-value of .011, which is considered statistically
significant, and the Cohens d value is 1.33, which is considered very large effect size.
The overall percent increase of strong describing words from the pre-interview to the post
interview was 177.8%.
Table 5. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses to
Question 5. Includes comparison of strong describing words used compared to total
Student # Pre- Interview Total (words) Pre- Interview Strong (words) Post Interview Total (words) Post Interview Strong (words) Percent Increase of Strong (%)
1 6 4 6 6 50
2 1 0 5 5
3 2 2 6 6 200
4 4 1 3 2 100
5 3 2 4 4 100
6 3 0 3 2
Average 3.2+2 1.5+2 4.5 1 4.2+2 177.8
p-value (Strong) .011
Cohens d 1.33
Question 6 and 7 were asking for a comparison of two different animals from the
cat family. In the pre-interview, students were asked to compare a house cat to a lion. In
the post-interview, students were asked to compare a tiger and a lion. Student responses
were transcribed into an excel spreadsheet and counted (Table 6). Because this question
is asking for a comparison, there are two different evaluations. There is an evaluation of
the comparison to the two different aspects of a comparison (how are the animals are the
same and how are they different) and there is an evaluation of total describing words used
in the pre and post interview. When comparing the lion to the cat, students used more
words to describe how the cat and the lion were different (2.5 words 1 word) than how
they were the same (1.5 words 2 words). This could be predicted because students
know the lion to be a predator and the cat to be a house pet, so it may appear that they do
not have much in common. However, in the post-interview, students used more words
explaining how the lion and tiger were similar (4.8 words 5) than how they were
different (3.3 words 2 words). Students utilized more total describing words to
compare the two animals in both the same category and the different category.
Students also used more describing words total to compare the lion to the tiger (post: 8.2
words 6 words) than the cat to the lion (pre: 3.4 words 3 words). The percent
increase in describing words of how the animals were the same was 90%, and the percent
increase in describing words of how the animals were different was 116%. The />value
for these data was .08, which is of the marginal statistical significance; however, the
effect size of .96 is considered very large effect size.
Table 6. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses to
Question 6 and 7. (Student 5 audio was inaudible)
Student # Lion/Cat Same (words) Lion/Cat Different (words) Lion/Tiger Same (words) Lion/Tiger Different (words) Percent Increase Same (%) Percent Increase Different (%)
1 1 4 5 - 400
2 1 1 0 1 -100 400
3 6 1 12 5 100 0
4 1 1 1 -> 0 200
5 Unusable - -
6 2 3 6 4 200 33.3
Average 1.5 2 2.5+1 4.8+5 3.3+2 90 116.7
Total 3.4+3 8.2+6 141.2
Cohens d .96
The final quantitative question was a comparison question that we felt would be
the most difficult for the students. It was a comparison of a tree and a flower. For the
pre-interview, a pink flower was compared to a tree with pink flowers to make finding
similarities easier for the students. In the post-interview, a yellow flower is compared to
a tree with pink flowers to make it harder to find similarities. As expected, this question
did yield fewer describing words from the students than previous questions. In the pre-
interview students averaged 1.8 words 1 word when they were describing similarities
between the pink flower and the pink-flowering tree, and in the post-interview they used
an average of 2.2 words 2 words to describing similarities between the yellow flower
and the pink-flowering tree (Table 7). This was a percent increase of 22.2%, which was
lower than the previous questions. When describing the differences between the plants,
students averaged 2 words 2 words in the pre-interview and 3.8 words 1 in the post
interview, a 90% increase in words. The average total describing words used increased
from 3.8 words 2 words in the pre interview to 6 words 3 words in the post interview.
The />-value of the data is .12, but the effect size is considered medium based on the
Cohens d value of .73.
Table 7. Comparison of student Pre-Interview responses to Post-Interview responses to
Question 6 and Question 7.__________________________________________________________
Student # Tree/Flower Same (words) Tree/Flower Different (words) Post Same (words) Post Different (words) Percent Increase Same (%) Percent Increase Different (%)
1 0 5 2 3 -40
2 2 0 1 2 -100 -
3 4 3 5 6 25 100
4 2 0 0 4 - -
5 0 3 Unusable - -
6 1 2 3 4 200 100
Average 1.8+1 2+2 2.2+2 3.8+1 22.2 90
Total 3.8+2 6+3 57.9
Analysis of the Qualitative Questions (Question 3, 4, 9, and 10)
The analysis of the qualitative questions assessed whether or not the student had
gained knowledge of the difference between a weak describing word and a strong
describing word. However, we decided not to directly ask for the students to provide
weak describing words because we did not want them to consider weak describing words
when answering other questions. Instead, we asked several questions in which we could
determine whether or not the student was using strong describing words consistently. As
defined earlier, strong describing words are considered words that are specific to the
object. They include specific colors, smell, and any specific, defining characteristics. In
the book, Gadget tells students to use their senses to help them decide on strong
describing words, so we would have also included if the student had described how
something sounded; however, no student did. Weak describing words were defined as
any general term or a word that is an opinion. The example used in the book is
delicious because that is an opinion of how something tastes rather than a specific
descriptor such as salty. We also did not count general terms such as colorful or
pretty. For these questions, word count was not assessed, but the student responses
were still transcribed into an excel spreadsheet to make the analysis easier. The only
qualitative question where the study had a specific answer to check for understanding
was question 4, Define the word compare. A student was considered to have a
sufficient understanding of the idea of comparing at the first grade level if they provided
the words same and different (or synonyms there of) in their answer.
Questions 9 and 10 required students to write their answers on the lined book
pages provided. These questions were thought to be a positive outlet for a student who
may be shy or have difficulty expressing himself; however the analysis of these questions
revealed that first graders are still learning to write and spell, so the use of these questions
was perhaps unfair to the students and could have provided a stress in the interview.
Overall, analysis of the interview responses suggest students who participated in
the reading of the Gizmo and Gadget book showed growth in their use and understanding
of describing words, as required by the first grade science and language arts curricula.
Results of the statistical analysis reported in Chapter IV with respect to significance and
reasonable conclusions are discussed below.
For the initial questions involving basic describing words, students performed
better in the post-interview than the pre-interviews. In the reading of the book, students
are asked to describe several different pages. The adult helper reading the book was
instructed to correct students if the word they provided was a weak describing words by
using the phrase, Can you be more specific? This meant all words written down during
the reading session were strong describing words, as defined by the study. The students
worked together to help each other come up with stronger words. As seen by
observation, students whispered answers to a struggling student. Since peer learning was
an intended goal of this study, this behavior was not discouraged. In the post-interviews,
students showed a 66.7% increase in the number of describing words used after reading
the book. The p-walue for the fifth question, which looked at the growth in the use of
strong describing words, was .011 (Table 6), which is in the statistically significant range.
This value discounts the hypothesis reading that the book would not help the students.
While p-w alue use is controversial because of its consistent misuse, for this study, it
provides a statistical benchmark that the growth in strong describing words likely did not
occur by chance. This conclusion is furthered by the reporting of Cohens d, which for
the fifth question was 1.33; this is a very large effect size which means that 90% of the
students, if chosen at random, would perform better on the post interview than the pre-
interview. The p-walue for the second question was 1 (Table 5), which describes a 10%
chance the results were by chance; however, when we use the effect size in tandem with
the p-w alue, the results indicate the book increased students ability to use describing
words. The Cohens d for the second question, .83 (Table 5), indicates a large effect size.
This large effect size means that 79% of the students, if chosen at random, would perform
better than the mean of the pre-interview. If a random student was asked to describe an
image from the interview after reading the book, they would provide more than 2.2
words, and more than 1.5 of the describing words would be considered strong. When
both results are taken into consideration, the reading of the book aloud for class
participation increased students understanding and use of strong describing words.
However, further research would need to be done to distinguish the individual
contributions of the peer learning versus the book.
The results of the comparison questions yield similar findingsstudents showed
growth between the pre-interview and the post-interview. In the book, Gadget defines
the word compare as using describing words to describe how two things are the same
and how they are different. The example in the book is a comparison of Gizmo to Gadget
and it uses describing words like robots and lights on top of head as similarities and
blue and gray and round and square as differences. The book then explains how
describing words can be used to compare two things that even appear very different, a
dog and a dinosaur. Again, when students were asked supply words, students raised their
hands to answer the question (however, the adult helper used wooden sticks to ensure that
all children participated) and helped a fellow student if he were not furnishing a specific
enough word. The teacher always made sure that the final word came from the student
whose stick was pulled. The growth for the comparison questions was slightly less than
those seen for the describing word questions; however, both questions still provided
Cohens d values above .7, which put the effect size at the lower end of medium range.
The /i-value for the animal comparison question (Table 7) was .08, which is marginally
significant, but the Cohens d, .96, is in the large effect size range, thus, chosen at
random, a student would most likely outperform the pre-interview mean. Question 8 was
meant to be the most challenging question. The example in the book compared two
animals, whereas the interview question asked students to compare plants and therefore
required students to demonstrate understanding or comparisons rather than recalling
words used to compare Fluffy and Otis in the book. The pre-interview average number
of describing words for question 8 was similar to that of question 6 (3.8 words 2 words
to 3.4 words 3 words, respectively). This is understandable because students had not
seen an example of either comparison. However, students showed substantial gains in
the post-interview comparison of the plants with a 57.9% increase to 6 words 3 words.
As stated, students were not given an example of this comparison in the book, so this
growth came from their own observations of the images.
Additionally, a final overall calculation of /i-value was determined, although there
is no table reference to this value. Due to the sample size being so small, a consolidation
of all pre-interview questions was compared to a consolidation of all post interview
questions. The pre- and post-interview results were aligned with each other, and this
summary calculation data provided two sets with sample size of 31 (two questions were
unusable for student 5 because of muffled audio). This /i-value was .0004, which is
statistically significant, and the overall increase in word use was 101.7%; furthering the
hypothesis: reading the book increased student understanding and use of describing
There was one question within the qualitative assessment that had a targeted
response to show positive gain, and this was question 4 (Table 2). For this question,
students had to use both same and
Well, Gizmo, compare means to describe how two things are the same
and how they are different. Things could be animals, people, objects
or even robots.
different (or synonyms) in their
definitions. In the book, Gadget goes
over the definition of compare as
describing how two things are similar
and how they are different. A student
had to use both words to show
. . . . . . understanding of the concept of
Figure 4. Gadget denning the word
compare for Gizmo. . ~ A
^ comparisons. Only two ot the six
students used both the words alike and different, so the book was not successful in
helping students understand the word compare well enough to define it. However,
from the results of the quantitative analysis, students did gain in their understanding of
how to compare two objects. Further research could be completed where the book is read
to students more than one time to see if this furthers their ability to define compare.
In the pre-interview and post-interview, students were also asked why the use of
describing words was important. The rationale used in language arts was to make their
story more interesting, so in the pre-interview, several of the students used this as the
explanation of why describing words were important. There was also one student in the
pre-interview who said he did not know why describing words were important. The
student affect demonstrated when answering this question indicated students were not
confident in their answers. When asked this question, students tended to look down at
the table and fidget with their hands. In the book, Gadget gives several reasons why
describing words are important. He relates it to being able to describe a parent or house
for a police officer and then also relates how describing words are used in science to talk
about results of science experiments. In the post-interview, two students used the
policeman example from the story. Two students used the rationale provided in language
arts, that describing words are used to enhance a story. One student used an example of
why we use describing words in science, and it was not an example from the book. The
latter student did not provide a strong enough definition to gauge if he had gained
understanding from the story. Overall, the student affect indicated they were more
confident in their answers following the reading of the book, thus the book seemed to
help students gain confidence in their understanding of why describing words are
important. For future editions of the book, a greater emphasis can be placed on why we
use describing words in science, as only one student referenced a science scenario.
The students were also given the opportunity to answer Questions 9 and 10 with
written responses. The goal was to allow students who might have been shy to show
their knowledge in a less invasive way. Question 9 involved students writing down
describing words about one of five pictures. The students written responses contained
both strong and weak describing words. However, the strong describing words used in
the written responses were more specific to the picture chosen than in the verbal pre-
interview questions. For example, rather than expressing the sky was blue, as in the
verbal responses, the students would describe the shade of blue and describe the presence
of clouds in their written response. Question 10 asked students to compare a picture of
the interviewer to another person. These responses were much weaker than those
provided in the verbal responses, in that most answers only specified one similarity and
one difference, compared to the verbal responses, which most students provided multiple
comparisons. It could be studied further whether the use of the one-on-one reading
partner would allow for the written responses to meet the quality of the verbal responses.
In the adult mediated reading session, the students were asked to state their answers, and
the adult reader wrote them down. In the reading partner system, students would have an
opportunity to also write the answers in the book after discussing them with their partner.
However, this might prove to weaken the results as well, as the adult can no longer
moderate the answers and make sure all the responses were strong describing words. As
stated in the Methodology, the weaker responses could have also been from the difficulty
that students have writing. In the first grade writing curricula in Colorado, standards for
writing are just an exploration of the writing process. The bigger emphasis is on oral
expression. First graders are still learning to write and spell, so these written questions,
while the intention was to provide a secondary outlet of knowledge, could have been
Gizmo and Gadget was written to help first grade students gain understanding of
the use of describing words. Adventures in Science with Gizmo and Gadget was written
specifically for the current standards of the first grade science curricula; however, it also
cross-cuts into one of the language arts standards of the first grade curricula. The book
was read to a first grade class at Westerly Creek Elementary, and the first grade students
were asked to participate and help each other come up with strong describing words to
help Gizmo describe the different images in the book. Six students returned a permission
slip allowing them to participate in a pre-interview, and then after reading the book, a
post-interview. Analysis of the students responses from pre- and post-interviews
indicate statistically significant growth in the number of describing words use, as well as,
statistically significant growth in the students understanding of strong describing words.
The book was not successful in helping students be able to define the word compare.
However, the students did show statistically significant growth in their ability to do
comparisons. The book was successful in helping students understand and use describing
words, as required by the first grade science and language arts curricula.
It would be interesting to repeat this study in its original design, using the reading
partners. The one-on-one learning that would take place may increase the students
understanding even further. It would also be important to amend the book to increase the
science element in the story.
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Co: Maryland, 2014.
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Reading Skills of Students Identified as At-Rik for Reading Failure: A Two Year Follow
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Press: Washington D.C., 2013; Vol. 1.
11. Bowman, E., Embracing Common Core State Standards One Project at a Time.
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19. Committee for the Reorganization of Science, Reorganization of Science in
Secondary Schools. Interior, D. o. t., Ed. Government Printing Office: Washington, 1920;
20. National Society for Study of Education, The History of the National Society for
the Study of Education 1901-2008.
21. Powers, S. R., A Program for Teaching Science. NSSE Yearbook 1932, 31 (1).
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bls.gov, November 2000.
24. US Department of Labor, Federal Labor Standards Act. Labor, U. S. D. o., Ed.
United States Department of Labor: dol.gov, 2015.
25. Plessy v. Ferguson. In 163 U.S. 537, Supreme Court: United States, 1896.
26. Thurgood Marshall College, About Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993).
27. History-Brown vs. Board of Education, uscourts.gov.
28. Heath, S., "Lubricating the Maching of Social Change": The National PTA and
Desegregation Debates of 1950-1970. Peace and Change 2014, 39 (1), 49-72.
29. Milliken v Bradley. U.S. Supreme Court: 1974.
30. Rudolph, J. L., Scientists in the Classroom. PALGRAVE: New York, 2002.
31. Truman, H. S., Executive Order 9791-Providing for a Study of Scientific
Research and Development Activities and Establishing the President's Scientific
Research Board. The White House: 1946.
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U. S. O. o., Ed. U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington D.C., 1948.
33. Gelbrich, J. American Education. The Second Half of the 20th Century: Post-
World War II and Beyond.
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Sputnik Era. Colgate University: nas.edu/sputnik, 1997.
35. Bestor, A., Educational Wasteland. 2nd ed.; University of Illinois Press: 1954.
36. Bruner, J., The Process of Education. President and Fellows of Harvard College:
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Understanding the Math You Teach: Content and Methods for Prekindergarten Through
Grade 4, Allyn and Bacon: 2005; pp 4-7.
IMAGES USED IN STUDY
Question 5 (Pre and Post)
Question 8 (Pre)
Question 8 (Post)
EVOLUTION OF SCIENCE EDUCATION
Evolution of Science Education in the United States
Evaluating the Introduction of Science Education Standards
Since the mid 1800s, education in the United States has seen many reforms. With
the establishment of the National Educational Association (NEA) in 1857, the U.S. began
to examine what was taught in classrooms at a national level.18 With the advancement of
child labor laws in select states, more students were being afforded the opportunity to
attend public schools, so the NEA established subcommittees to research better
educational practices to reach more children. In 1918, a subcommittee of the
Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education released the Cardinal
Principles of Secondary Education.19 The Commission recognized the changing
population of the schools and called for reform. Classroom education needed to relate to
students adult lives. The sub-committee identified seven factors that it felt were the key
to a well-rounded adult with respect to education: health, command of fundamental
processes, worthy home membership, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure, and
ethical character.19 This encouraged the use of problem-project methods in the
classroom rather than lecture based recitation of fact. The Commission called on teachers
to approach science by relating it to students lives first, then introducing more
complicated facts and definitions by having students solve problem or do projects. The
Commission thought this would increase the overall interest in the topic; thus, students
would have a better understanding of the applied use and definition. The Commission did
not mandate the use of projects and problems, but rather emphasized the successes seen
in schools already using these practices. It also encouraged teachers to relate what they
were teaching to the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education.
Forty-three years after the establishment of the NEA, leading educators in
Chicago and New York formed the National Society of the Study of Education (NSSE).
These educators set forth to publish information about research on improving educational
practices. The NSSE read papers that were going to be published by other groups, such
as the NEA and implemented their practices.20 This allowed them to better report on the
efficacy of the proposed practice, which they published annual yearbooks beginning in
1901. In 1932, the 31st yearbook focused on the issues in the science classroom and
stated science education was weak at early ages.21 The NSSE called for a progressive
overhaul of the assigned experiments, praising the Reorganization of Science in
Secondary Educations use of experiments that related to what students needed to
Effects of the Great Depression on Education
As the NSSE was releasing its yearbook about better science teaching practices,
the United States was two years into the Great Depression. This time period from 1931-
1938 saw a huge drop in student enrollment in the rural parts of the United States, mostly
because schools were closing at an increasing rate as states lost the ability to fund them.
22 In places that maintained open schools, staffing was cut dramatically, and the school
day was shortened to allow students to get jobs. The Roosevelt Administration
appropriated 20 million dollars in funds to aid families in districts and states whose
educational systems had been hurt the most. The disparities in education became
apparent as funds were allocated to these families, usually in small, rural towns.
Students were found to be illiterate and lacking basic life skills. This was one of the first
times that the federal government discussed the discrepancies in education across the
The Roosevelt Administration also standardized child labor laws. In 1938, the
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed.23 Although many states had child labor
laws of their own, they did not always have the manpower to enforce the laws. The states
gave too many leniencies to protect the rights of child laborers. The FLSA established a
federal minimum age that a child could work, as well as a minimum wage.23'24 It was
the first federal regulation of its kind. The FLSA also set the minimum age a child could
work to 16 and protected a students education, stating that hours of work had to be
outside of normal school day. FLSA was challenged in the Supreme Court by many
industries that relied on child labor as a work force.23 However, in 1941, FLSA was
deemed constitutional and set new standards for wages, ages, work conditions, and hours
Effects of Desegregation on Science Education
With federal child labor laws in place, racial equality in the classroom became the
next target for reform. With the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, the United States
Supreme Court declared lawful the distinction between the black and white races.25
Black students and white students could be legally divided into separate schools. White
schools were consistently better funded and higher performing, which led to non-white
students receiving a substandard education. In the early years, the fight against
segregated education was mostly at the collegiate level. After being rejected by a white
law school based on race, Thurgood Marshall graduated from Howard Law School and
began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP).26 His early cases involved arguing the inequality of black and white schools.
Marshall won several cases against white schools for denying black students entrance
when there was not a black school with equal education opportunities.26'27 His landmark
case, Brown us. the Board of Education was a group of cases that finally ended legal
segregation. In 1955, the Supreme Court overturned the legal notion of separate but
equal in the context of public schools.24 They declared the phrase has no legal standing
in terms of education.
As stated earlier, white schools were consistently better funded than non-white
schools.28 Because of this, there were also large disparities in the quality of the schools
and teachers, leaving minority students at a disadvantage. In the late 1960s, mandatory
desegregation systems were put into place to help lower the educational gap between
socio-economic classes. However, desegregation efforts were halted in many places after
the 1974 Milliken us. Bradley Supreme Court decision. Detroit Public schools claimed
that the schools were naturally segregated, not through divisions made by the state, and
therefore should not be responsible for busing students. The Supreme Court agreed,
ruling a school was not required to perform desegregation efforts as long as segregation
was not the fault of the school district29; Detroit Public Schools were permitted to
abandon their busing efforts.
Science Education after World War II
While Thurgood Marshall was fighting for racial equality, scientists were fighting
for science to be put back in the classroom. Earlier in the century, educators had gained
control over the educational standards by touting their expertise in the field. Teachers
colleges were developed to teach the next generation of educators how and what to teach
in the classroom, so there was very little discord within the early education teachers over
what was to be taught and how it should be taught.30 However, during World War II, the
United States military was appalled at the number of illiterate recruits. The army was
being required to teach the newly enlisted simple algebra so they could maintain
checkbooks and receipt books for the army. In 1946, Harry Truman addressed the issue
with Executive Order 9791 that required a board to study the educational practices in
math and science and cite places for improvement, as well as scientific research being
conducted and funded in the United States.31 The findings showed that the current
educational system, the one established in the 1920s that taught students topics that
would pertain to them as adults, was failing.
The board also concluded the United States was behind the rest of the world in
scientific research because the science and math being taught in school was not sufficient
to foster growth in science. Comparatively, the United States was not graduating
scientists at the same rate as other countries, which was leading to it falling behind in
research. In 1945, the Life Adjustment curriculum was the standard being taught in
United States public schools.32 However, the Life Adjustment Curriculum had the same
pedagogical goals of the 1920s curriculum: students of elementary and high school age
need only learn the skills of being an adult. This curriculum did not include liberal arts
and science courses as mandatory classes.30
The quality of teachers was problematic in science education. The post-war baby
boom led to a large increase in school children in the 1950s and early 1960s. This was
not a situation schools were prepared for, and it led to teacher certification requirements
being reduced to minimal levels.33 New curricula developed during this time sought to
overcome the deficit. Science and Math professionals working on these curricula
challenged the teachers colleges to provide more rigorous training for those wanting to
teach science and math, and the new curricula provided their own training and teaching
supplements to new teachers including videos and experiment examples.30
The Red Scare vs. the Lost Space Race
Almost immediately following the end of World War II, the Cold War and the
rise of Communism became a perceived threat to America. Politicians became
increasingly nervous over the spread of communism to America and what it would mean
to democracy. After World War II, scientists gained a certain degree of celebrity. The
government and American public acknowledged that science had won the war. Science
had created the atomic bomb, and now the country had faith that science was the key to
maintaining Americas place in the world. Scientists received government funding,
which came with the demand of practical results and new weapons.30 The popularity
gained by scientists following the hydrogen bomb and their involvement in winning the
war was soon lost, however. Their labs and research became targets of the Red Scare;
labs that accepted government funds had new security regulations placed on them that
made it difficult to share data.30,34
In 1953, during the height of the Red Scare, Arthur Bestor released his essay
Educational Wastelands that predicted the demise of education due to a lack of rigorous
content in the classroom. Bestor blamed the failure of the student on creation of a
curriculum that had no input from professionals within the different fields of science and
math.35 Education in the classroom was challenged by the threat of communism.34
Americanism became the most important topic to teach, and religion became a central
part of American life and schooling. Teachers were under pressure to ensure patriotism
was being taught in all aspects of the classroom.30 Thus, science education was bypassed
in many classrooms as it could be seen as controversial and unpatriotic.
It was the launch of Sputnik I that brought the United States science education
inadequacies to American minds, and Bestors predictions became truths. Sputnik was
the first real indicator to the world that the United States was falling behind in math and
science,3034 and it was not a realization that the United States wanted to face. Scientists
took this opportunity to reach out for more funding that came with less government
control.30 They preached the importance of the research that had previously been
suppressed. Scientists also started pushing harder for liberal arts and science education to
be reintroduced into public schools, citing the space race loss as a prime example of how
sciences are being held back by weak educational standards.30 The U.S. public was more
willing to listen.
Science Reform and the Rise of Scientist Developed Curricula
By the end of 1950s, the United States public was prepared to accept and
implement the reforms to science education that scientists wanted. Following a meeting
of scientists and educators in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Jerome Bruner, published The
Process of Education. This educational theory concluded educators should not design
curricula, but instead those in each distinct field of study should determine what was
taught and the order in which it is taught.36 For example, a mathematics student must first
gain an understanding of the distributive property before he can apply it to algebraic
topics such as factoring. Liberal arts and science courses were reconstituted as necessary
classes. With new funding provided by the National Defense Education Act (NDEA)
and the National Science Foundation (NSF), scientists began creating new curricula to
cover the various science classes (Table 8).30
Table 8. A brief description of curricula projects made possible by grant money provided
by the NDEA and NSF after the launch of Sputnik (1956-1960).
Curriculum Creator Curriculum Goal
Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) MIT; Jerrold Zacharias Address irrationalism, especially on behalf of science. Create progressive, rigorous physics curriculum
Biological Science American Institute of Create better science
Curriculum Study (BSCS) Biological Science (ALBS) textbooks, specifically in Biology.
Chem Study American Chemical Society Create videos and text books for teachers to use as supplements in the classroom
Harvard Project Physics Study (HPPS) Harvard University Create tests, teaching aids, and activities to help teachers
New research on best educational practices also was used in the development of
the new curricula. One such theory was a psychological theory called Behaviorism,
which transitioned its way into science education. In Behaviorist classrooms, teachers
provided proper stimuli to induce learning, so students would understand and retain
information better.12 For example, the Harvard Project Physics Study provided teaching
aids and videos to stimulate students to understand concepts of forces and motion. This
better understanding would then be measured using student behaviors, such as
participation in class. It also provided teachers with objective-based guidelines and
allowed schools to monitor classroom successesspecifically, student performance on
standardized tests.12 In the early 1980s, Behaviorism was replaced with Constructivism,
which emphasized that the presentation of the material does not influence learning as
much as guiding the students to come to their own conclusions and construct their own
learning based on previous knowledge and understanding.12
The War on Poverty and A Nation at Risk
In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty. This awareness of
poverty lines brought with it the acknowledgement of the learning curve difference
between socio-economic classes. New government funded preschool projects were
started to help give poorer students the educational background that their wealthier peers
were getting at home. However, these programs proved insufficient to overcome the
deficits completely.1 These failed programs invited new research into the cause of the
learning gap, and research by Hart and Risley suggested that one significant difference is
that children who had greater early exposure to language and adult mediation performed
better in school and had greater vocabulary.1
Because the War on Poverty and its educational programs were largely
unsuccessful,1 in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan created the National Commission of
Excellence in Education to evaluate the educational system in the United States. Its
report published in 1983 provided an overwhelmingly negative interpretation of
educational standards being met in the classroom. The report compared students in the
United States to students of other countries and declared that U.S. students fell behind
their peers in most subjects.37 Scientists and mathematicians began examining what was
taught in the math and science classrooms. In 1980, the National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics (NCTM) wrote a letter to the public stating there needed to be better
accountability of what teachers were teaching; in 1989, the NCTM Mathematics
Standards were released. These standards did not immediately gain traction, but
throughout the 1990s, many states adopted their own versions.38
ADVENTURES IN SCIENCE WITH GIZMO AND GADGET
Adventures in Science
With Gizmo and Gadget
Why do we need Describing Words?
Hello! My name is Gizmo, and this is my friend Gadget. We like
talking about science. Today, we will be talking with you about
DESCRIBING WORDS! Can you help us?
Do you know what describing words are, Gadget?
Yes, I do. They are words that help tell how something looks, feels,
sounds, smells, even tastes-sometimes. For example, the color of an
object is a way to describe it.
I could tell our friends that you are a BLUE robot and you have a
RED bow tie. I could tell our friends that you smell like blueberries, but I could
not tell our friends what you taste like. ^
1 I l
I SMELL LIKE BLUEBERRIES?!?
Gizmo, I am just kidding. Besides, how would I know? We are robots, and
robots don't have noses.
I DON'T HAVE A NOSE?!?!?!
Gizmo, that doesn't matter. Now, why don't you try? See if you can
describe this pizza. Gizmo will write his answers on the page.
1. "The pizza is a circle.
2. It has tan mushrooms and
rechpepperoni thafare circles.
3. It has red sauce.__________:
4. (t has white cheese.
Well, Gizmo, that is not a very good describing word. Delicious
is your opinion of the pizza not a description of the pizza,
but I agree. Pizza is delicious.
Gadget, why is Fluffy here?
Well, Gizmo, I want you to help our
friends to try and describe him.
Friends, can YOU and Gizmo describe Fluffy? Write your
answers on the next page, just like Gizmo did before.
Describe Fluffy Here
Okay. There are lots of describing words you can use for Fluffy. You can
say things like "The dinosaur feels ROUGH", "he has GREEN skin", "he says
ROAR", "he looks like an APATOSAURUS", "he has BLUE EYES", "he is HEAVY
Did you know that the Apatosaurus is also called the Brontosaurus? Two different scientists discovered skeletons of
the Apatosaurus. The words each scientist used to describe the skeletons seemed so different, they thought they
had two different dinosaurs, but after reading the words again, the Brontosaurus and the Apatosaurus turned out to
be the same dinosaur.
GIZMO, WE DON'T TRY TO EAT FLUFFY?!?!
We do not have to describe how
everything tastes. It would be mean
y to bite our friend Fluffy to find out
Y what he tastes like!
I get it, Gadget! We use our SENSES* to decide on describing words.
*Friends, do you know what your senses are? They are smell (use your nose), sound (use your ears), see (use your
eyes), feel (use your hands) and taste (use your mouth). Good! Now let's get back to describing things!
But Gadget, why are describing words important?
Gizmo, I am so glad you asked!
Describing words can be important at home. If you get lost, you may
need to be able to describe your home to a police officer or another
adult to help you get back.
See if you can identify Gimzo's house from the following description.
Gizmo's house looks like a house. It is kind of square. It has a door
and a roof.
Friends, did you find that this is very challenging? This is because we
have not used helpful describing words. The words that I used to
describe the house could have described any house.
Lets try again on the next page.
Let's try again, using helpful describing words. Gizmo's house is the
third house from the corner. It has BLUE shutters and it is painted
RED. It has a top floor and a bottom floor. It has a short driveway
with a GREEN car in it. It does not have a tree in his front yard.
Which house is Gizmo's?
You're right! That is my house.
I see, Gadget. So it is also important to make sure your describing
words are specific. I should NOT say that you are a robot. I should
say that you are a GRAY robot with GLASSES!
Gizmo, did you know we even need describing words in science?
Science? How do we use them in science?
We will need helpful describing words to be able to help others know
what we are doing, what we are using, and what we are making. This
is called an EXPERIMENT.
Remember, friends, we are scientists. Do not try
the next page's experiment at home.
^ to make an ^
water into a k
pat beaker over a ,
I' , 6unse" burner
tight the bunsen bll
fvAake the wafer boll
U- Q ,
Measure out a $c00p Ubbles wil1
f\dd the blue p0lv . ^ bfue powder
f b" r '^o +U
. Sprite down w/w l he Vva+er
1- at h<>PPens
When you follow these instructions, you
Describing words can also be used to compare things.
_____________________ fc >-----------
Compare? What does compare mean?
Well, Gizmo, compare means to describe how two things are the same
and how they are different. Things could be animals, people, objects
or even robots.
Gadget, can I try to compare me to you?
Sure Gizmo! Gizmo will write his answers on the board.
That was great Gizmo! You described how we were the same AND
how we are different, fhis is how you use describing words to do a
good comparison. You have to describe how the two things are the
same and how the two things are different!
Friends, can you try? Can you compare Fluffy to his friend Albert?
See how your answers compare to our answers.
1. BmftnDinosaur with spate 2. _Fouflegs and along tail 3. \7ery taT ALBERT
4.Spatosaurus I. Purpledinosaur with spots
- 2.-FoiFlftgs and a tail
3.~T7ery taT ^-."Apatosaurus
Now let's try a harder one! Albert and Fluffy have a lot in common,
so they have a lot of the same describing words. Can you compare
Fluffy to his friend Otis? Remember, you need to try and find things
that are the same, too! Write your answers on the next page!
Describe how Otis and Fluffy are the same Describe how Otis and Fluffy are different
Did you notice that both Otis and Fluffy have four legs? Did you
notice that both Otis and Fluffy have spots? Did you notice that
they both have dark eyes? Even though there are lots of describing
words we could use to show how they are different, there are also
describing words to show how similar they are! You can find my list
Fluffy and Otis are the same:
2. -fliegfooth have four legs
4.Theg~bottrhav/e dark eges
Fluffy and Otis are different:
t. Fluffgls aiilnosaarr Offs ls~a rfug.
3. "FluffgTs green uuHtrspofs/Otis is frown with
4.~Fluffg~has rough^nrOfiThas fur.
Excellent! Now you see why describing words are so important. They
can help a scientist describe an experiment. They can help you
describe your house to an adult. They can also help you compare
yourself to your parents, two dinosaurs, or even iwo different
animals! With describing words, you can describe and compare
Thank you for talking with us today about describing words! Now for
a little more practice, describe as many of the things on this page as
you can. Use the boxes provided to write your answers. Good Luck!
Describe the Dog
Describe the Flower
Describe the Butterfly
Describe the House
Describe the Nail Polish
Describe the shirt you are wearing
Can you compare the iwo people on this page? Write your answers in
the box provided. Good Luck!
Describe how Meghan and her mom are alike
This is the author Meghan and her mom, Laurie.
Describe how Meghan and her mom are different
Here is some extra space if you need it!