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Volume 26, Number 4
July/August 2010

Learning Progressions in Science

A new approach emphasizes sustained instruction in big ideas


Students from Candace Chick’s science class at the Samuel W. Mason School investigate the transformation of water by studying changes in its weight and volume over time.

Candace Chick is the first to admit that she’s not an expert in science. Far from it, the teacher at the Samuel W. Mason Pilot Elementary School in Roxbury, Mass., only took one basic science class during her undergraduate and graduate studies and, until recently, quaked at the idea of teaching the properties of matter to her fifth-grade students. “I have always been insecure about science,” she says. “It is not one of my strengths.”

But now, she is positively ebullient about the progress both she and her students have made in the subject. Her class has been investigating molecular change, conducting hands-on experiments, and watching computer simulations. The students’ knowledge has grown deeper than simply being able to define terms like “condensation” and “evaporation.” They readily discuss their ideas and frequently engage in polite, intellectual arguments that influence each others’ learning. “Their knowledge isn’t, ‘Oh, there is a puddle on the sidewalk and when the sun comes out it evaporates and goes magically into a cloud and then it comes down again when it rains,’’’ Chick explains. “They understand how those molecules start to move and bounce around like mad as they evaporate. They really understand this in a way that they didn’t before.”

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Causal Patterns in Science: A Professional Development Resource:

Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards. The Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council. Available online at

T. Corcoran, F.A. Mosher, and A. Rogat. Learning Progressions in Science: An Evidence-based Approach to Reform. Consortium for Policy Research in Education, Center on Continuous Instructional Improvement,
Teachers College, Columbia University, 2009. Available online at

Environmental Literacy. Michigan State University:

The Inquiry Project. TERC:

Learning Progressions in Science Conference:

Understandings of Consequence Teacher Resource: