We are based on best practices in science pedagogy. Below, you'll find a brief summary of some of the research that informs our work.
In our lessons, we focus on an anchor phenomena and narrative storyline that builds content knowledge. Frequent pauses for discussion give students the opportunity to reason, express ideas, and compare ideas with their classmates. Discourse is incredibly important for science learning. The hands-on investigations engage students in problem-solving, engineering, and the other NGSS practices.
The creation of Mystery Science is informed by decades of educational research on how kids develop a conceptual understanding of science and learn to reason scientifically. In particular, the following three findings from educational research are core to the design of our lessons:
1) Student interest and engagement enables learning.
There are two fundamentally different motivations for learning, and understanding the difference between these two motivations is key. Some students might be motivated for the sake of learning new things and improving their skills (learning orientation) whereas others may be motivated by receiving positive feedback from a teacher or avoiding criticism (performance orientation). Research has indicated that students with a learning orientation have increased cognitive engagement (Pintrich, Marx & Boyle, 1993). Research in science classrooms suggests that students who are intrinsically interested in the lesson will be more likely to view tasks as purposeful and worth doing (Pittman, Emery, & Boggiano, 1982), use more creative thinking (Amabile & Hennessey, 1992) and learn at a deeper level (Ryan, Connell, and Plant, 1990).
Every Mystery Science lesson is crafted to motivate students for the sake of learning new things. Each Mystery starts with a genuine kid-question and an anchor phenomenon that wows students. After this hook, every student wants to know the answer. Every minute of instruction continues to unfold by guiding students in the solving of the mystery. A series of clues and repeated discussions as well as opportunities for reflection and disagreement maintain a high level of engagement so that students are intrinsically motivated to investigate and figure out the answer. Since each Mystery is highly engaging for students, they are more likely to be invested in the activities and motivated to learn.
“It was wonderful. I don't think my class has ever been this engrossed in a lesson. I had students that never participate in class discussions, coming up with some great thoughts.”
Ginger, 4th Grade Teacher, Clinton, AR
“The kids were enthralled! I have never seen them work so hard.”
Neisha, 3rd Grade Teacher, Glasgow, KY
“My students have never learned so much, and gotten so excited during a science lesson. This program continues to blow me away. Perfect.”
Brandon, 2nd Grade Teacher, Franklin, NC
2) Students’ prior knowledge is an important resource, and conceptual understanding supports deeper reasoning about a topic.
Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1985) argued that “no scientist can develop an adequate ‘feel’ for nature (that undefinable prerequisite of true understanding) without probing deeply into minute empirical details of some well-chosen group of organisms” (p. 168). In order for students to reason deeply about a topic, they need to first have familiarity with the phenomena. It’s hard to reason about cause and effect relationships or the evidence to support claims, without first developing some degree of content knowledge about a topic (Schauble, 1996). Research studies suggest that domain specific knowledge is critical for scientific reasoning (A.L. Brown, 1990; Gobbo & Chi, 1986).
To develop this domain knowledge, we begin by activating what students already know. Students’ prior knowledge is an important resource, and the basis upon which new knowledge is constructed (NRC, 1999). To leverage students’ prior knowledge, we select real-life contexts that are familiar to students. We situate the lesson in a familiar context so that students can relate to the examples and scenarios. Our Mysteries utilize rich visuals to present phenomena and draw students’ attention to a particular puzzle. We build on their initial familiarity to point out something they may not have noticed. The illustrative visuals and compelling narrative further develop students’ content knowledge, positioning them to reason about the puzzle more deeply. Over the course of the full Mystery, students are able to reason scientifically during the multiple opportunities for discussion, investigation, and reflection.
“My students were able to make connections to prior knowledge and real life. They discussed and shared with each other so that all understood by the end. The hands-on application was perfect to help everyone master the skill.”
Michelle, 5th grade teacher, Ozark, AL
3) Scientific discourse facilitates conceptual development.
Scientific discourse is a central means by which students make sense of their thinking and the thinking of others. Language and thought are deeply intertwined (Vygotsky, 1962). It is through talking that students clarify and express their own ideas, so opportunities for discourse in science classrooms are critical. In order to learn science, one must “talk science” (Lemke, 1990). In discussion, students listen to their classmates’ ideas, compare others’ ideas to their own, and advance their own understanding. Empirical studies have shown that scientific discussion can improve student learning. In a meta-analysis of 20 studies, Fonseca & Chi (2011) found that self-explaining and dialogic interaction consistently led to greater student learning.
Scientific argumentation is a form of discourse that is particularly central to the development of scientific ideas. New theories are advanced and justified through the presentation of evidence and reasoning. Likewise, student engagement in argumentation is an important means by which students compare differing ideas and evaluate the evidence for claims (Osborne et al., 2001). Dialogue in the form of argumentation has also been shown to improve student learning (e.g. Asterhan & Schwarz, 2009).
At Mystery Science, student discourse is at the heart of our instructional approach. We engineer our lessons so that all students are at the edge of their seats, eager to participate in the class or small group discussion. Not only are opportunities for discussion incredibly frequent, but they are also highly motivated. In the exploration, the visuals and narratives stimulate students’ ideas and the discussion questions are carefully crafted to invite divergent thinking. Each discussion question is designed to get students talking to each other, whether they are sharing prior knowledge, making predictions, or arguing for their ideas using evidence. In addition to discussion opportunities during the exploration, students are encouraged to share ideas during the investigation and in reflective discussion questions where they synthesize their findings.
“I have never had more engagement...at any given time I had 15+ hands in the air!”
Kara, 3rd grade teacher, Round Lake Beach, IL
“Students quickly improved at citing specific evidence to support their answers and many students who don’t often raise their hands were contributing to class discussion!”
Bridgette, 3rd grade teacher, Dublin, CA
We hope this was helpful! If you have any further questions, please reach out to us.
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