Transforming science education through research-driven innovation


What works best for teachers and students in science education interventions? Statistics can provide some insight—but only if interpreted in context. For instance, the way a study is conducted may impact the outcome, independent of the actual effectiveness of the intervention.

To help researchers understand study results in context, BSCS Science Learning reviewed hundreds of studies in science education while taking into account the various factors contributing to the outcomes. This work resulted in published findings for student outcomes (AERA Open Journal) and teacher outcomes (The Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness) and online tools for researchers to use when planning or evaluating studies of science education interventions.

The online tools, POWER Calculator for Student Outcomes, and POWER Calculator for Teacher Outcomes use data from the studies BSCS reviewed to estimate the likely effect size for a new study based on its characteristics, such as the nature of the study, the scientific discipline, characteristics of teachers or students, and other key variables.

When planning a study, researchers can use the POWER calculators to determine how many participants will be required to obtain a statistically significant result, giving researchers and funders increased confidence that they will obtain such a result without spending money and time unnecessarily on participants that are not needed. Once a study is completed, the tool enables users to interpret the size of their study’s effect in the context of similar studies.

In addition to the research findings and POWER calculators, BSCS has published the two data sets related to student and teacher outcomes. Researchers who want to do their own meta-analyses of the studies can explore the data from different angles, while efficiently using BSCS’s coding system.

Results from these meta-analyses are published in AERA Open and the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.

Health-related information from family, friends, social media, and the internet bombard our lives every day. We make decisions as consumers about questions such as these:

  • Why is caffeine powder dangerous when people consume caffeinated drinks every day?
  • Why do people get a flu shot every year? Isn’t once enough?
  • Who should take multivitamins daily?
  • Why are some treatments used in other parts of the world not available in the United States?

Answers about health topics can be complicated. Understanding the science behind these questions requires the ability to ask questions and find and evaluate information from different sources.

BSCS Science Learning’s Developing Skills in Health Literacy project aimed to help middle and high school students develop critical thinking skills in topics about health that enabled them to accurately evaluate the information they got from various sources. This five-year project (2015-2020) worked with teachers from across the country to develop and study innovative instructional materials designed to enhance students’ skills and abilities in understanding human health.

In 2022, online curriculum modules for middle school and high school students were released and are freely available.

Middle school science teachers are always searching for professional learning (PL) opportunities and classroom curricula that are NGSS aligned. But time is limited, and high quality NGSS-aligned materials are scarce. That’s why BSCS Science Learning’s Three-Dimensional Teaching and Learning project (3-D Middle School Science), now known as A Medical Mystery, is valuable.

Learn more about this project in our NSF Showcase Video!

Since 2015, 3-D Middle School Science has been developing and testing digital curriculum materials and associated curriculum-based PL. For teachers, this project provides PL focused on how to implement (1) an NGSS-aligned unit and (2) high-leverage science teaching strategies through video-based lesson analysis. These STeLLA® strategies help teachers reveal, support, and challenge student thinking while maintaining a coherent science content storyline. In conjunction with the PL element, teachers are supported in an interactive online environment and through online synchronous discussions with a facilitator and colleagues.

Students in 3-D Middle School Science classrooms are immersed in an online environment that aids their understanding of complex concepts. A body systems unit challenges them to explore and ultimately solve a medical mystery: “What’s Wrong with M’Kenna?” Over the course of several lessons, students investigate how and why M’Kenna is constantly sick, unable to keep her food down, and losing weight. They use scientific reasoning skills and argumentation to identify the digestive system as the problematic organ system—and then engage with a series of interactive experiences, simulations, and animations to observe and analyze the differences between M’Kenna’s digestive system and a healthy person’s digestive system.

Ultimately, students solve the mystery and learn important lessons about how the features of specialized cells enable body systems to function, and they use that understanding to explain all of M’Kenna’s symptoms based on how body systems interact. More importantly, they learn to use the inquiry-based practices of scientists to construct their own understanding of complex phenomena.

A Medical Mystery is available in a free, stand-alone website.