Helping Students Write Scientific Explanations

This year science teachers have been concentrating on honing the scientific writing skills of students. The middle school teachers have identified data analysis as one inquiry skill that students need to practice. After all, constructing explanations are an important scientific practice that brings meaning to what scientists, both young and old, do. We have had the opportunity to field test some of the ideas in a new publication:  Supporting Grade 5-8 students in constructing explanations in Science. Students have been moving beyond reiterating data by using the exploration framework of: claim, evidence and reasoning in their notebooks. The book has been helpful in outlining the hows and whys that teachers need in order to implement a successful program of scientific inquiry. While there is not a specific role for media specialists offered in the book, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that in this inquiry framework of claim, evidence and reasoning, opportunities abound  for librarians to help students in each of these areas enrich their ideas and findings. For instance, I'm helping the teachers think about using a web log for students work rather than a traditional notebook. Incorporating different types of media, not to mention the organizational benefits for middle scjhool students, might tip the balence for the move from paper to web.

At the high school level, I’ve outfitted teachers with copies of Writing the Laboratory Notebook which provides clear reasons and examples for keeping an accurate science notebook. One of the more successful suggestions in the book encourages students to record witness’s observations as well as their own. Students interviewing and synthesizing each others work has sharpened their ability to explain scientific phenomena in common terms. Being aware of other’s work and the ability to paraphrase is a skill that needs practice. The science journals serve as an application to the Advanced Research class senior year. Science faculty and research mentors from U-M .assist with the reading of the journals and students selected for the course are given the opportunity to work on research over the summer at the University of Michigan. Proving for the about the billionth time more readers can make better writers