Teachers Learn to Use Primary Literature in the Classroom

Participants in the Science in the Classroom workshop made connections with fellow educators and learned about the role of primary literature in the classroom.  | Imtiaz Ahmad/Effat University

Articles published in scientific journals can effectively teach scientific concepts to high school and college students, educators participating in a two-day workshop hosted by AAAS’ Science in the Classroom learned.

Thirty high school teachers, college educators and students preparing for science teaching careers participated in a two-day workshop on Sept. 15 and 16 to learn about the power of incorporating primary literature into their biology, chemistry and physics classrooms.

Science in the Classroom makes scientific research papers from the Science family of journals freely available online specifically for use in high school and college science classrooms. The online tool provide additional information geared toward students, including a glossary defining potentially unfamiliar words or words used in new contexts, previous research in the field, further information on the scientists’ methods and techniques, a breakdown of the papers’ results and conclusions, links to news about the research findings and information about policies influenced by this research.

Volunteer scientists and educators compile the annotations, which are reviewed by Science in the Classroom staff to ensure readability for their target audience. Original authors then sign off on the annotations to ensure scientific accuracy.

Some papers include multimedia – such as videos featuring the researchers or other prominent scientists or high-resolution maps – or hands-on activities. “Those with data activities are some of my favorite papers,” said Beth Ruedi, project director of Science in the Classroom.

At the September workshop, the teachers became the students as they read a research article under the guidance of Sally Hoskins, a professor at City College of New York who studies such educational methods and teaches biology courses that use primary literature in lieu of traditional textbooks.

Yet scientific literature is often jargon-filled and challenging to students to decipher, Hoskins acknowledged. To give students the tools to read and understand beyond the paper’s abstract, Hoskins developed the five-step “CREATE” method to guide educators in teaching their students to read primary literature: consider, read, elucidate the hypothesis, analyze and interpret the data, and think of the next experiment.

The workshop participants went beyond just reading “Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats,” an article published in Science in 2012 by Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety and Peggy Mason. They worked in teams to paraphrase sections of the paper and sketched the setups of the experiments. Hoskins sometimes assigns students to annotate research figures or diagram the relationships between key ideas presented in the research paper, something called a concept map.

The CREATE method is designed to engage students and encourage them to use creativity in their approach to the challenge. It is the opposite of rote learning, instead getting to students confront what they do not understand, she said.

“There are many ‘why?’ questions in a CREATE classroom,” Hoskins said.

The workshop, held over a weekend, allowed participating teachers to return to their classrooms on Monday ready to incorporate primary literature into their lesson plans. Each participant also selected an annotated paper available on the Science in the Classroom website and developed a draft lesson plan centered on the paper.

Using scientific literature in the classroom does more than supplement lessons – the articles made available by Science in the Classroom also align with educational standards such as the Framework for K-12 Science Education, the Common Core, Advanced Placement practices and competencies suggested in Vision & Change in Undergraduate Biology Education, said Shelby Lake, senior program associate of Science in the Classroom. Educator guides on the program’s site suggest which scientific paper can meet a particular science standard, he said.

“For instance, a paper talking about protein-folding patterns is a great example of the practice of making models to understand phenomena, while preliminary results from a study of black holes might be a great way to ask students to examine what the next steps would be for the researchers, allowing them to develop hypotheses and design possible experiments,” Lake said.

When using primary literature, Hoskins encourages her students to look beyond the paper’s results. As a new teacher, Hoskins was surprised to find that many students assumed that researchers, after publishing one paper on a subject, moved on to another area of study.

“When Watson and Crick figured out the structure of DNA, everyone stopped working on DNA,” Hoskins joked. On the contrary, she said: science is an iterative and constantly advancing process, drawing upon existing research and inspires future work.

When Hoskins’ students finish reading a paper, or two or three, students design potential follow-up experiments and hold in-class “grant panels” to select the best proposals based on criteria that the students themselves develop. This helps teach students about the practice of science, something not often highlighted in textbooks.

“Science is so much about discussion and debate,” Hoskins said.