June 1, 2004
Walk into Gail Sanderlin's seventh grade science classroom and you won't find students sitting quietly at their desks. Instead, small groups of students are spread over the entire classroom, where strands of green crepe paper hang from the ceiling to simulate an underwater kelp forest. A group of three students stands at the teacher's desk, making faces while tasting an actual piece of kelp. A pair leans over microscopes set up on a countertop, peering at slides of kelp. A group of four fills a plastic jug with water, preparing to conduct an experiment to test which is stronger, a kelp blade or a leaf from a spider plant. Five students crowd around a table, flipping through books about animals who live in kelp forests. Two more sit at computers in the front of the classroom, searching the web to gather information for a project on what Ms. Sanderlin has called "kelp critters." The remaining students sit at desks around the room, writing in handmade journals about their findings. Other days, students watch video of scientists working in a kelp forest. They participate in online simulations, for example, creating a marine reserve in a kelp forest while taking different stakeholders into account. Whether doing an experiment, collecting data, researching, reading, or writing, each student in Ms. Sanderlin's class is engaged in learning about kelp and kelp forests.
In Ms. Sanderlin's heterogenous science class, students are learning through hands-on activities and rich multiple media. This paper addresses what students in Ms. Sanderlin's class -- as well as students in eight other classes -- said about learning scientific content and concepts using a multimedia, inquiry-based science curriculum.
For our study, we selected schools and student populations that were diverse in terms of geographic location, socio-economic status, linguistic background, race, and ethnicity, including students who attended a school located on a Native American Indian reservation, those in an urban setting where most children live in homes where English is not spoken, those placed in self-contained special education classes, and those in schools with high poverty levels.
1. Gail Sanderlin is a pseudonym. All names and identifying details have been masked to ensure participants' confidentiality and privacy.