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Chapter 7


Chapter 7

Designing Science Units and Courses of Study

Designing Science Units

How to read this chapter


How to Read This Chapter

  • This chapter has been organized to help you design a unit of science teaching, which will be called a “mini-unit.” It is advisable that you work through this chapter from beginning to end. When you finish the chapter, you will have created the following products:

    • A rationale for a science unit including general science education goals.

    • A list of objectives (we'll call them intended outcomes) for a science unit grouped according to type of student learning.

    • A concept map showing the relationships among the central ideas in your unit.

    • An instructional plan (a set of lesson plans) describing the unit, including what learning objectives are intended, and the strategies you will employ to help student achieve the unit's objectives.

    • An assessment plan describing measures to assess the major objectives of the unit to provide feedback to the students, and feedback for you on the effectiveness of your science unit.

Designing Science Units

Invitations to inquiry


Invitations to Inquiry

  • What is pedagogical content knowledge? How is it different than content knowledge?

  • What processes can be used to design an instructional plan?

  • How should a teacher proceed to develop a mini-unit of instruction?

  • What are intended learning outcomes? How do cognitions, affects, cognitive skills and psychomotor skills differ?

  • How can cognitive maps be utilized in the planning and development of teaching materials?

  • What are the elements of the following types of lessons: direct/interactive, cooperative learning, constructivist and inquiry/laboratory?

  • What are the elements of a course of study?

Designing Science Units

Chapter 7 map
Chapter 7 Map

Designing Science Units

Inquiry activity 7 1 pedagogical content knowledge pck


Inquiry Activity 7.1: Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK)

  • Using the web resources identified in the Inquiry, you are going to identify a set of concepts in a content area, and then identify teaching suggestions for them.

  • For concepts, you can access:

    • National Science Education Standards - Contents

    • Benchmarks On-Line

  • For curriculum & teaching you can access:

    • CSE K-12 Science Curriculum Dissemination Center

    • ENC Online: A K-12 math and science teacher center.

These are “fast plants.” What are are they? How could

fast plants help you teach concepts in biology?

Designing Science Units



  • PCK is a teacher’s knowledge of how to help students understand specific subject matter.

  • Key questions include:

    • What shall I do with my students to help them understand this science concept?

    • What materials are available to help me?

    • What are my students likely to already know and what will be difficult for them to learn?

    • How shall I best evaluate what my students have learned?

How would this help you teach about water on Mars?

Designing Science Units

The art of designing teaching materials a constructivist approach


The Art of Designing Teaching Materials: A Constructivist Approach

  • Just as an artist uses physical and intellectual tools to make a painting, this chapter presents you with tools to artistically design teaching plans and associated materials.

  • A cyclic process is outlined in this chapter to help to develop ideas for a science mini-unit.

  • Inquiry 7.2 will guide you through the process which is detailed on pp. 265-280.

  • To help you with the process, I have linked to a mini-unit developed by Jaime Delaney, a former graduate student at Georgia State University, and now a teacher in Colorado. Refer to it while you develop your own. You’ll find lesson plans, a rationale, a concept map, and examples of outcomes, and evaluations.

The design process is a creative model to

develop teaching materials.

Designing Science Units

Mini unit design process


Mini-Unit Design Process

Designing Science Units

Inquiry activity 7 2 designing a science mini unit


Inquiry Activity 7.2: Designing a Science Mini-unit

  • This Inquiry leads you through the design process. Use the text, and the associated steps to develop your ideas.

  • Some of the steps should be done with peers, especially at the beginning to generate ideas, but also throughout to receive feedback on your outcomes, lesson plans and evaluations.

Designing Science Units

Design step 1 brainstorming


Design Step 1: Brainstorming

  • This should be a fast, free-flowing listing of terms, words, and phrases for the topic of your mini-unit. Work with a few peers to generate ideas.

  • You might want to look at the Standards and/or Benchmarks to spark your brainstorming.

Designing Science Units

Design step 2 name your mini unit


Design Step 2: Name Your Mini-unit

  • This is way to give your unit focus---naming it helps.

  • Some ideas from your peers include:

    • Touring the tropical forests

    • Wet and wild wetlands

    • Sensational sediments

    • Are we burning up? Global warming

    • What if you had a volcano in your backyard?

Designing Science Units

Design step 3 identify focus questions


Design Step 3: Identify Focus Questions

  • Focus questions should help you define the heart of your unit or course. Two or three well designed questions will help you and your students makes links to their prior knowledge and experience and help establish a rationale for the unit.

Designing Science Units

Design step 4 identify intended learning outcomes


Design Step 4: Identify Intended Learning Outcomes

  • Use your initial list of ideas to create a list of intended learning outcomes. Outcomes are statements of what you want students to learn. Outcomes are not activities or things that your students will do. They are skills, concepts, and values you intend the students will learn.

Designing Science Units

Design step 5 categorize outcomes


Design Step 5: Categorize Outcomes

  • In this step, you will sort your outcomes into skill and nonskill categories.

  • Here is an example of intended outcomes from an environmental unit categorized into nonskill and skill groups.

Designing Science Units

Design step 6 develop a concept map of the unit


Design Step 6: Develop a Concept Map of the Unit

  • Use the ideas developed by Novak and Gowin (p. 267) to develop a map of your mini-unit. You’ve probably revise this as you further develop the unit. The map is a tool for your planning and your student’s learning. Share it with them.

Designing Science Units

Design step 7 write a rationale


Design Step 7: Write a Rationale

  • At this stage you’ve worked with your unit enough so that you can write a rationale. Think about:

  • How it will affect the future of the students.

  • How it contributes to societal issues.

  • How it reflects the spirit and character of the scientific enterprise.

  • See the samples in the text. Here is part of one rationale.

Designing Science Units

Design step 8 categorize outcomes cognitions affects and skills


Design Step 8: Categorize Outcomes--Cognitions, Affects and Skills

  • This step you will actually delay until after you have listed potential activities (step 9), and written lesson plans (step 10). You can then pull your outcomes from your lesson plans, and categorize them into four groups:

    • Cognitions

    • Affects

    • Cognitive skills

    • Psychomotor skills

  • You should, however, review the nature of these categories of outcomes before you go to the next two steps.

  • Use the map on the next slide, and text material (pp. 269-273) to write out one outcome for each category related to your mini-unit.

Designing Science Units

Map of learning outcomes


Map of Learning Outcomes

Designing Science Units

Design step 9 list potential activities


Design Step 9: List Potential Activities

  • Now that you have a framework for your mini-unit, you can do some exploring of science activities (use online and print resources), and then brainstorm with peers a list of potential activities. For web resources, check the section On the Web in The Art of Teaching Science text, or at the Art of Teaching Science online site.

Designing Science Units

Potential activities


Potential Activities

  • I’ve included a collection of Planning Activities in the Gazette of this chapter. Take a look at them for examples of activities for you unit, and for further ideas on lesson plans

Designing Science Units

Design step 10 develop lesson plans


Design Step 10: Develop Lesson Plans

  • The mini-unit should contain between four and six lesson plans. You will find three types of templates for developing your plans. I recommend the first one, the Constructivist template, as there are many examples in the Art of Teaching Science, and Jaime Delaney’s site, shown here, used the same template in the development of her lesson plans.

  • Sketch out your plans using the template of your choice, and then meet with at least one peer to explain the plans, and solicit feedback. Finalize your plans. Now you can pull all of the outcomes from your plans, and create an organization of your learning outcomes, as suggested in Design Step 8.

Link to Jaime Delaney’s Mini-unit to see

examples of lesson plans, and other elements

of the mini-unit.

Designing Science Units

Design step 11 develop an assessment plan


Design Step 11: Develop an Assessment Plan

  • Assessment in your mini-unit should:

    • Answer questions and provide feedback with regards to student learning

    • Provide data with respect to the effectiveness of your instructional plans

  • You might want to look ahead to Chapter 8, and look at examples of assessments that you might use in your mini-unit.

Designing Science Units

Design steps 12 13 implementation and feedback

Try and teach your mini-unit to a group of students (elementary, middle or high school). If you can’t do this, present one lesson to a group of peers.

In either case, video tape your lesson.

Reflect on your mini-unit by using the feedback you obtained from students, and peers. A complete list of reflection questions is located on page 280. One example is:

To what extent did students attain the learning outcomes (objectives) of the unit?

What revisions would you make in the unit?


Design Steps 12 & 13: Implementation and Feedback

Designing Science Units

Models and sample lesson plans

280-287 (elementary, middle or high school). If you can’t do this, present one lesson to a group of peers.

Models and Sample Lesson Plans

  • In this section of the text, you will find a collection of sample lessons as follows:

    • Direct Instruction--Natural Processed Foods

    • Cooperative Learning--Mystery at the Ringgold Road Cut

    • Inquiry Learning--Investigating Mass, Volume, and Density

    • Constructivist Model--Electromagnetism

Mystery material from the

Ringgold Road Cut!--see p. 282

Designing Science Units

Designing a course of study

287-290 (elementary, middle or high school). If you can’t do this, present one lesson to a group of peers.

Designing a Course of Study

  • The design of a course of study uses the same principles as the development of a mini-unit. You’ll find details on the elements of a course of study in this section.

  • I’ve included an example of each element using a course of study called Global Science. It should give you ideas for the development of your courses of study, or more complete units of study.

Elements of a Course of Study

Designing Science Units

Inquiry 7 3 designing a course of study the course syllabus

289 (elementary, middle or high school). If you can’t do this, present one lesson to a group of peers.

Inquiry 7.3: Designing a Course of Study: The Course Syllabus

  • In this activity you will identify and describe the major elements of a course of study for an area of elementary, middle or high school science. Your product will be a course syllabus.

Designing Science Units