Design Based Implementation Research

Using Co-Design to Test and Refine a Model for Three-Dimensional Science Curriculum that Connects to Students’ Interests and Experiences


The purpose of this paper is to present an account for how researchers and teachers in a research-practice partnership employed lessons from co-design to test and refine a set of key curricular structures that support students’ three-dimensional science learning.


Contemporary science standards emphasize the need for students to develop an integrated understanding of disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Our approach to curriculum design to support these goals has been to construct and iteratively refine a model focused on building storylines that are organized around helping students build explanatory models of phenomena and solving design challenges that arise from phenomena (Reiser, 2014). Phenomena serve as curricular anchors (Bransford, et al., 1990) around which a class defines a shared and evolving mission focused on accounting for the “how” and “why” of the anchoring phenomenon. Guided by the teacher, student-generated questions motivate exploration of subsequent phenomena, which in turn help students develop and use pieces of disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting practices through engaging in science and engineering practices. Culminating design challenges give students a chance to contribute solutions to community problems that relate to the anchoring phenomenon, supporting students in seeing how science can be personally relevant.

Mode of Inquiry:

This effort is organized as a Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR) effort within a research-practice partnership comprised of researchers and educators from multiple research institutions and school districts.

Sources of Evidence:

This study of iterative refinements to the curriculum model is based on project team meeting notes involving reflections on design challenges, teacher reflections on the co-design process, and teacher feedback on lessons as enacted.

Key Findings:

There have been three significant focal points for iteration on the model that have arisen from challenges that co-designers faced in developing coherent, relevant storylines: selecting anchoring phenomena, creating lessons from storylines, and developing teaching routines. Challenges to finding anchors that were both engaging to students and address three-dimensional performance expectations led us to create an extended process for selecting curricular anchors that incorporated unpacking of standards, generating student explanations for candidate phenomena, a survey of student interest, and a “trial run” of an anchoring event with teachers. Challenges arising from writing lessons that were student centered and maintained integrity to the storyline led us to develop an intermediate template to guide the transition from storyline to lesson writing, as well as a five-part lesson structure. Finally, the recognition of the need for supports for constructing a joint mission and periodically taking stock of progress led to the development of five routines to be used at junctures in a storyline help support coherence from the students’ perspective.

Scientific or scholarly significance of the study or work:

Building curricula teachers can use and that help teachers discern the key teaching shifts implied by the Framework present significant design challenges. Co-design has supported us in learning quickly about what aspects of 3D teaching are likely to be challenging to teachers and target supports to address those challenges.

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    Using Co-Design to Test and Refine a Model for Three-Dimensional Science Curriculum that Connects to Students’ Interests and Experiences

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