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Replacing the science textbook with journal article

Can kids learn science from journal articles instead of the standard science textbooks they typically use? One professor thinks it's very possible and has a new teaching method that does just that.

C.R.E.A.T.E.  (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment) uses the real language of science, the journal article, to empower students to think like scientists. The method improves students' critical thinking and content integration abilities, while at the same time enhancing their self-reported understanding of "who does science, and why," according to its creator Sally G. Hoskins, a developmental biologist at City College of New York.

AAAS MemberCentral talked with Hoskins to find out more about C.R.E.A.T.E and how it can be intigrated into current curriculums.

AAASMC: What is C.R.E.A.T.E. and what makes it innovative?
Sally G. Hoskins, City College of New York:  C.R.E.A.T.E.  (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment), is a novel strategy for using intensive analysis of primary literature to demystify and humanize science. Students work their way through a series of papers that were published sequentially — either a series from a single lab group following a particular line of investigation or papers published from multiple labs following the same scientific question(s). Students use innovative pedagogical tools, including concept mapping, cartooning, figure annotation, and experimental design, to reconstruct the studies.  The C.R.E.A.T.E. classroom ideally resembles a lab meeting, with open-ended analysis and discussion of the experiments or field studies represented in the paper's figures replacing passive acceptance of data.  Brief lectures (10-15 minutes) by the instructor may be used to fill in particular knowledge gaps, but the majority of class time is spent in discussion.  At the conclusion of analysis of each paper, and before seeing what paper follows, students design experiments indicating how they personally would follow up the previous study.  Students' proposals are vetted in a classroom exercise that mimics the activities of bona fide grant review panels. 

Late in the semester, students generate their own questions for authors about "the research life" (e.g. "What would be your dream discovery?"  "Do you have to be brilliant to become a researcher? Did you get straight A's as an undergrad?"  "What do you do besides science?"  "Have you ever had a grant proposal or paper rejected?  How did you deal with it?").  The questions are discussed and edited into a single survey (10-12 questions) that is emailed to every paper author.  The range of responses from postdocs, graduate students and senior scientists reveal researchers to be a diverse group of individuals, and scientific research to involve much more collaboration and teamwork than students typically expect.  Thus the email survey complements the deep analysis of papers, to humanize "the people behind the papers." 

AAASMC: Why should faculty consider C.R.E.A.T.E. an innovative approach to teaching (about) science?
Hoskins:  If faculty want their students to learn to analyze and think critically and creatively about scientific findings while simultaneously consolidating their fragmented understanding of science content and deepening their understanding of the nature of science, they should consider C.R.E.A.T.E.

Many faculty want to teach with primary literature but are unsatisfied with the typical "one student presents the paper to the class" model, which tends to be useful (if at all) only for the presenting student.  C.R.E.A.T.E provides students a stepwise approach (via the C.R.E.A.T.E. toolkit) to reconstructing the study design and initiating a close examination of the paper's figures and tables, pre-class.  Tools include concept mapping, annotation of figures, sketching experimental designs, and filling in templates that trace the logic of the experiment, providing students specific ways in which to prepare for class. 

Because students arrive in class with a baseline understanding of the study, faculty are freed from the tedium of "teaching by telling," that is, walking the students through every aspect of the paper.  Instead, C.R.E.A.T.E. faculty leverage their "insider understanding" of science and of the research process by leading a discussion that goes beyond simple description of each figure and table.  Students learn to formulate their own opinions, and defend them, in the friendly argumentation that characterizes authentic scientific discourse but is largely absent from textbook or lecture-based science.

Finally, discussion of author responses to the email survey (usually 50-60 percent of authors respond) provides novel insights into the lives and motivations of scientists, dispelling misconceptions about "who does science and why?" 

AAASMC: What is the typical resistance you have experienced to C.R.E.A.T.E.?
  Some faculty feel that primary literature is too difficult for undergraduates, or that it takes too much time to analyze papers in detail. Some faculty do not realize that broad areas of content can be reviewed in the context of analyzing papers, and avoid this approach because of their desire to "cover" a breadth of content in a textbook-based manner. 

AAASMC: What happens at C.R.E.A.T.E. workshops?
Hoskins: We explain the C.R.E.A.T.E. strategy and initially model it using the faculty workshop participants as students. Faculty also learn to select primary literature or other scientific reading appropriate for their classes,  how to develop their modules of papers and prepare to teach them, and how to guide their own students in deep analysis of literature without doing the analyses themselves.

AAASMC: What evidence do you have that C.R.E.A.T.E. has the intended effects on students?
  C.R.E.A.T.E., with NSF support through the CCLI/TUES program, was developed and piloted at the City College of New York, one of the most diverse colleges in the country.  C.R.E.A.T.E. led to significant gains in students' critical thinking abilities, content integration abilities, self-assessed learning, and multiple aspects of their understanding of the nature of science and of scientists (Hoskins, Stevens and Nehm, 2007). At CCNY, the C.R.E.A.T.E. course was found to positively shift students' perceptions of their reading/analytical ability and to promote development of more mature epistemological beliefs about science (Hoskins, Lopatto and Stevens, 2011). In an expansion of C.R.E.A.T.E. to multiple campuses in the New York area, changes like those described at CCNY were seen (Stevens. Lopatto and Hoskins, in preparation). 

A second round of C.R.E.A.T.E. faculty development workshops, also NSF-sponsored, will be held in summer 2013. See for application information this fall.

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Daryl E. Chubin