The Everyday Classroom Tools curriculum, the Threads of Inquiry, is designed to integrate with your classroom on numerous levels.

This curriculum is designed so that your students will adopt the skills and confidence needed for an inquiry based curriculum to work successfully. Built into the curriculum Threads are a number of tools for you to encourage these changes in your students. You also will find documents written by our partner teachers, administrators, and education specialists on topics (in progress) related to Inquiry in the classroom.

Each Thread in the curriculum is broken down into levels of cognitive development based on the current research in education and from field work in partner schools around the country. This allows you to use this curriculum without the necessity of time needed to adapt it for age appropriateness yourself. It also provides a means of revisiting topics and experiences in subsequent grades without it becoming repetitive for the students. As this curriculum is employed in higher grades, it introduces more abstract concepts and math skills into the students' learning. Simultaneously, the depth of knowledge explored by the Threads is increased. We have also constructed a set of outside resources related to each Thread for you to examine and possibly include in your classroom. These resources include Internet activites, children's books (both fiction and non-fiction), and folklore connections (including stories, historical anecdotes, and anachronistic activities for the class).

Additionally, because of the web-based nature of this curriculum, occasionally there will be additions made to the material as we receive feedback from you and other teachers. The updates are made first in Adobe Acrobat for download and printing, and are hardcopy formatted with page numbers. Click the icon to download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader. Essentially, you can download the entire curriculum and print yourself a hardcopy ready for binding from this web site.

The next sections deal with the roles of development and the National Science Education Standards in the Everyday Classroom Tools curriculum.

The Role of Development in the Threads

The Threads are divided into different grade levels, K-2, 2-4, and 4-6. This breakdown respects the different capacities and motivations that children bring to their learning at different ages. The delineations are not rigid, but rather a device to help teachers quickly orient to and focus on concepts that are most resonant with the age group that they are teaching. Some teachers may want to read through the Threads as they are written at other levels to cull additional information and to provide a greater sense of the developmental trajectory of the concepts. Under each Thread there is a section on Developmental Issues. This section discusses how different ages are differentially motivated and how different ages bring different developmental capacity to the understanding of every Thread. Each is described further below.

The first part of the Developmental Issues section of each Thread at each level discusses developmental motivation. Developmental motivation refers to the best ways to invite learners of certain ages into the material. It suggests patterns for working groups, what angles students might find most appealing, and how children's mental development influences their motivation to learn the topic at hand.

The second part of the section mentions the developmental capacity of the age level being discussed. Developmental capacity refers to the ways in which the particular content should resonate with and/or challenge different ages. A paragraph in the Developmental Issues section alerts teachers to challenges that children may need help thinking through as well as concepts that are particularly well-suited for this age level. It is important to realize that experience with concepts and ideas helps children learn to understand them. This suggests that teachers should not shy away from presenting concepts that are slightly beyond the developmental level of their students, but that they should support the students' developing understanding with other paths to grasping the concept.

General Developmental Issues and Challenges to Keep in Mind Throughout the ECT Program

Kindergarten to Grade 2

Understanding the patterns of the seasons and the "whys" behind those patterns is in some respects, a fitting and other respects, a challenging undertaking for young thinkers. Knowing how the inquiries presented in the ECT Program resonate with this age group as well as where they extend beyond the reasoning abilities of this age group will help teachers deal sensitively with issues of understanding as they arise.

Making observations using one's senses, attending to patterns in ones' environment, and detecting changes and continuity fit well from a developmental standpoint with learning in the early grades. Children are learning to reach out to a social and physical world. They are learning how to look carefully and delight in their discoveries. They are often eager to find out how things work in the natural world and ask many questions. They still look to adults to help them answer their many questions. The ECT curriculum taps this natural curiosity and helps children seek patterns in their observations. The focus on learning from one's experience is a natural developmental fit for this age group, in a sense, they haven't forgotten what it means.

From about age three to seven, children are learning about the appearance/reality distinction. This means that things are not always as they appear. Helping children make observations that eventually get them to question appearance versus reality presents a good developmental fit.

Some of the larger understandings in the ECT curriculum present key challenges for the youngest learners. Understanding in a deep sense that the earth is moving, not the sun and that the tilt of our planet causes the seasons entails a number of distinct difficulties for young thinkers.

In order to deeply understand what is going on, children need to make a perspective shift. Children need to reason from a model and relate it to the world that they are standing on. They need to shift from what they see in the real world and relate it to a model.

Constructing the understanding that the earth must be tilted requires reasoning in a "what if?" manner. One needs to hold in their heads information about possible scenarios and consider which of those scenarios makes a best fit with the information one has observed and the data one has collected. This presents a cognitive load and a thinking challenge better suited to older students.

A challenge for this age group will be finding out that they observe many patterns that they cannot easily find answers to and that there will be many unanswered questions for now. However, this is an important lesson in learning to think as scientists do. There are many unanswered questions in the world and we continue to seek answers as we learn more and more.

In order to accommodate both the readiness and the challenges that the ECT curriculum poses for the youngest learners, the focus in the threads as written for them is one observing patterns in the world around them, connecting to their own experiences, and beginning to learn how recording information can help them extend their thinking about what they see. You will see this focus play out in a variety of ways throughout the threads as written for K-2. In addition, you will also see instances where information is recorded on paper so that young learners have less to hold in their heads and become familiar with forms of representation of the concepts being discussed. Downloading some of what needs to be remembered helps young learners make better sense of the concepts in question.

Grade 2 to Grade 4

By second to fourth grade age, students are increasingly able to think about abstractions and different perspectives. They can reflect on their thinking and can consider whether their reasoning follows well from the evidence that they have collected. They have already learned a lot about the world in which they live and use this knowledge to support their reasoning about what the world is like and why things are the way they are. Sometimes their observations lead them to knowledge that fits with scientific views of the world and sometimes it leads them to unscientific views.

By second and third grade, children are increasingly able to use representations and models to reason from. They are still helped by downloading information to external sources so that they are able to focus on thinking about rather than trying to remember and think about the concepts.

By this age, children are moving out into a broader social world and the world of peers is becoming very important. They begin to question adults and rely on their own observations and inferences to a greater extent. Some children go through a phase where they secretly believe that no one knows quite as much as they do (particularly adults) and may challenge what adults tell them.

The ECT Curriculum invites 2nd to 4th graders to explore puzzles and patterns in their world and to make a purposeful link between their own learning and school learning. It encourages them to reason from the evidence that they collect and to come up with their own explanations. This is a good developmental fit for this age. Making a purposeful link between home and school learning is very important at an age when so many children begin to create boxes for their knowledge and to hold separate school learning and their own everyday experiences. It invites them to use their increasing ability to abstract and consider logical alternatives.

At the same time, second through fourth graders will need guidance in reasoning about the puzzles that they find. While they may be able to make predictions and detect certain discrepancies between the data and what they predict, they don't always resolve the discrepancies as a scientist would. They are just learning about how a scientist thinks and so they don't hold the same assumptions in their heads. For example, they might create a customized theory to explain one instance of a phenomenon and a different theory to explain another instance that scientists would consider contradictory to the child's initial theory. Helping students to see how scientists would reason about the event helps them learn not only content, but what it means to be a scientist.

While these students will be able to answer more of their questions than younger students, they , too, will be learning that science is a continuing process of seeking answers. This is an important understanding about the nature of science and is helped when children see that scientists have questions that they cannot presently answer but seek to answer.

Grade 4 to Grade 6

By fourth to sixth grade age, students have gained a great deal of knowledge and ability to reason in a logical, hypothetical manner. They are coming to understand many of the "tools" that scientists use, such as the importance of trying to isolate and control for certain variables. They are able to hold more information in their heads and while downloading information can still be helpful, they depend less on doing so than younger children.

Fourth to sixth graders are also growing into a time when they are establishing a firm sense of self. They often compare themselves to others, are becoming more introspective, and are developing an understanding of their own uniqueness. With these developments comes an increased concern for risk-taking and standing out as well as wanting one's own forms and instances of expression to be validated. Therefore, teachers need to be particularly sensitive to risks that they ask students to take and to enabling multiple forms of expressing ideas and understandings.

The ECT curriculum invites students to use their logical, deductive reasoning to make sense of their experiences and the related data that they have collected. It invites them to make sense of the world and its mysteries by collecting clues and reasoning about them--an activity that is highly developmentally resonant with this age group.

The ECT Curriculum encourages students to put forth their understandings and theories and signals to students that science is making sense of one's experiences, that theories evolve, and that the process of seeking theories that explain more is valued. It separates the value of theory and ideas from the person by stressing the process more than whose idea it was. This is a message that fourth to sixth grade teachers will want to pick up on in particular.

The Role of the National Science Education Standards

With education reform happening at so many levels, you may wonder whether or not it makes sense to learn a new curriculum; will it survive? Our research shows that for those few states which have reformed their curricula standards, on the whole their standards are reflections of the National Science Education Standards. Therefore, each Thread of this curriculum begins by telling you how the National Standards are incorporated. Through this feature, we hope to allow you new freedom in your science curriculum, while assuring you that our program fulfills requirements you are being asked to meet.

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