Topics: Science

Supporting Educators in Improving Practice Through Instructional Materials

Alyssa Buccella

by Alyssa Buccella

December 12, 2022
Supporting Educators in Improving Practice Through Instructional Materials

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Posted in: Aha! Blog > PhD Science > Science > Supporting Educators in Improving Practice Through Instructional Materials

Can curriculum and instructional materials be developed to not only support students in building knowledge and skills, but also support educators in honing their practice? Educative curriculum materials help teachers acquire new content and pedagogical knowledge, typically through embedded notes, annotations, and models of practice. The presence of educative features in a curriculum has been shown to improve teachers’ instructional planning and curriculum implementation as well as student learning.

Defining Educative Curriculum Materials
In 1996, Ball and Cohen introduced the concept of educative curriculum materials in their seminal paper, which suggested that curriculum resources themselves had the potential to support not only students’ learning but teachers’ learning as well. This idea differentiated educative curriculum materials from those that mainly focus on instruction without developing teachers’ own content and pedagogical knowledge.

For example, teachers using highly educative mathematics curriculum materials are more likely to identify the big ideas in a curricular program while planning collaboratively and are more likely to maintain cognitive demand and elicit student thinking during a lesson (Stein and Kaufman 2010). Research also suggests that teachers who use educative curriculum materials show increases in pedagogical content knowledge and use a greater number of strategies to support student learning (Schuchardt et al. 2017).

In 2005, researchers Elizabeth A. Davis and Joseph S. Kracjik—who was also a Next Generation Science Standards writing team leader—offered five design principles to help guide the development of educative curriculum materials, stating that educative resources should do the following:

  • Support teachers’ learning of subject matter.
  • Help teachers anticipate what learners might say or do in response to activities.
  • Help teachers consider how to relate units throughout the year.
  • Make curriculum developers’ pedagogical judgments visible.
  • Promote a teacher’s capacity to make pedagogical adaptations for learners.

All Great Minds® curricula were intentionally and uniquely designed to contain educative elements because we believe in empowering teachers to not only deliver a high-quality curriculum, but also to effectively adapt it to meet the unique needs of the students in their classroom. Unlike a scripted curriculum where content is provided to educators with little to no guidance or rationale, our educative curricula help teachers improve their practice while enabling all students to achieve greatness.


Five Educative Features Embedded in PhD Science®

The PhD Science® Teacher Edition is one of the core resources that teachers use to plan for and deliver instruction. Crafted by our team of teacher–writers, the Teacher Edition includes five educative features that support teachers’ own learning and help them achieve flexible, high-quality science instruction for all students.

1. Module Overviews

PhD Science - Sample Module Overview page from the Teacher Edition bookEach module’s Teacher Edition begins with an overview that contains an introduction to the anchor phenomenon and a description of how students make sense of that complex phenomenon over the course of the module. The overview also provides the module scope and sequence and crucial insights into the standards students interact with. Finally, each overview contains key terms, information about the preparation of materials, safety considerations, and additional reading for teachers.

“Dig into it. Know that it will be hard at first for kids with no background in how to draw models. Don’t expect perfection. Don’t use it as a script, but make it your own so that it works for you and your kids.”

—Meg Johnson, Teacher,
Lincoln Parish Schools

2. Lesson Preparation

PhD Science - Sample Prepare page from the Teacher Edition book

Each module contains 25 to 30 lessons organized into concepts that help students make sense of an anchor phenomenon. All lesson sets for a given concept have a Prepare section that includes the following information to help teachers get ready for instruction:

  •  A brief introduction to the lesson set and its three-dimensional learning, including how the lesson material connects to previous and upcoming content.
A clear picture of intended objectives, learning outcomes, and Performance Expectation(s) to be addressed through the lessons.

“The work [with PhD Science] allows elementary teachers, who usually aren’t trained as subject matter specialists, to learn alongside their students.”

—Melissa Parfait, Curriculum Specialist,
St. Charles Parish Public Schools

3. Margin Notes

PhD Science - Sample Margin Noes page from the Teacher Edition book

Each lesson also contains embedded instructional supports and sidebar notes with additional information for teachers. These notes help teachers deepen their knowledge of science content, pedagogy, and the progression of student learning.

  • Teacher Notes communicate information that helps with lesson implementation. For example, they may enhance scientific understanding, explain pedagogical choices, give background information, or help teachers identify common misconceptions.
  • Spotlights on Three-Dimensional Integration explain how a lesson activity develops specific Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and/or Crosscutting Concepts.
  • Content Area Connections signal opportunities for students to practice grade-appropriate skills from other subject areas and allow teachers to confidently integrate and reinforce science instruction with English language arts (ELA), mathematics, and more. These notes provide cross-curricular connections, instructional strategies, or additional activities that align with standards for ELA and math as well as connections to history and art.
  • Check for Understanding and Conceptual Checkpoints provide examples of evidence teachers should look for to gauge student learning as well as instructional next steps to support all students in reaching proficiency.
  • Differentiation Suggestions offer in-the-moment examples of how teachers may customize instruction to support students of various backgrounds and abilities.
  • English Language Development Notes build teachers’ capacity to support English language development. These notes provide strategies that benefit multilingual learners, such as explicit introduction to new terms and Spanish cognates when applicable. They also provide targeted scaffolds for key moments that can benefit students of all backgrounds.
  • Extension Activities provide additional learning opportunities related to the lesson topic that extend beyond the time allotted for the lesson.

4. Sample Responses

PhD Science - Sample Module Overview page from the Teacher Edition book – 1

Lessons include sample teacher questions as well as sample student responses. These sample discussions demonstrate for teachers what a classroom discussion might sound like. They are an educative component—not a script—that illustrate a possible trajectory of questions and possible student responses, but teachers are also encouraged to accept accurate responses, reasonable explanations, and equivalent answers for student work even if they differ from the sample.

5. Supplementary Resources

At the end of each module’s Teacher Edition, appendices provide support for teachers before and during instruction. These resources include the following:

  • Appendix A—Module Resources includes a set of lesson-specific resources to aid instruction such as full-size photographs, informational texts, investigation procedure sheets, and materials preparation information.
  • Appendix B—Module Storyline provides a more detailed version of the Module Map section found in the Module Overview that summarizes the progression of concepts in the module and describes how students make sense of the anchor phenomenon.
  • Appendix C—Module Glossary offers level-appropriate definitions for new terms in the module and the lesson in which the definition appears.
  • Appendix D—Domain-Specific Words, General Academic Words, and Spanish Cognates contains a list of key terms in the module and their Spanish cognates to support English language development.

“When you get the materials, go straight to Appendix B. It’s all there, showing where kids should be at the end of each lesson.” 

—Hannah Hyatt, Teacher,
Lincoln Parish Schools

One of the great strengths of PhD Science is its educative nature and its usefulness as point-of-use professional development with these embedded supports. Of course, PhD Science professional learning is available in many forms, including professional development sessions, coaching, implementation services, and a variety of digital resources. Providing teachers with ongoing, curriculum-based professional learning is key to unlocking the potential of high-quality instructional materials.

Ball, Deborah Loewenberg, and David K. Cohen. 1996. “Reform by the Book: What Is—or Might Be—the Role of Curriculum Materials in Teacher Learning and Instructional Reform?” Educational Researcher 25, no. 9 (December): 6–14.

Davis, Elizabeth A., and Joseph S. Kracjik. 2005. “Designing Educative Curriculum Materials to Promote Teacher Learning.” Educational Researcher 34 (April): 3–14.

Schuchardt, Anita M., Miray Tekkumru‐Kisa, Christian D. Schunn, Mary Kay Stein, and Birdy Reynolds. 2017. “How Much Professional Development Is Needed with Educative Curriculum Materials? It Depends Upon the Intended Student Learning Outcomes.” Science Education 101, no. 6 (July): 1015–1033.

Stein, Mary Kay, and Julia H. Kaufman. 2010. “Selecting and Supporting the Use of Mathematics Curricula at Scale.” American Educational Research Journal 47, no. 3 (September): 663–693.

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Topics: Science