National Science Foundation
Foundation Science: Challenging Students to Learn
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The Hindenburg Burns: Why?

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State: Massachusetts

What caused the airship Hindenburg to burst into flames and crash in 1937? How could analysis of sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner’s record-breaking 100-meter race in 1988 help improve her performance as a runner? These are some of the challenges students tackle in Foundation Science, an articulated series of full-year introductory courses in high school physics, chemistry, biology and earth science currently under development at Education Development Center, Inc., with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

To meet the challenges posed in the curricula, students pursue understanding of scientific concepts on a “need-to-know” basis through a variety of learning activities including reading narrative and expository science text, observing demonstrations, conducting investigations, collecting and analyzing data, and discussing their results and conclusions. Students synthesize the information gathered through these activities to achieve understanding of scientific concepts, and to express their understanding in writing and presentations. In analyzing the mystery of the Hindenburg, students acquire an in-depth understanding of physical and chemical properties of matter and chemical change. The concepts of speed and acceleration are brought to life and acquire real meaning when students analyze data from FloJo’s races and their own races.

To date, four semesters of Foundation Science have been intensively evaluated by scientists to ensure the scientific accuracy and rigor of content. Field tests involving over 1,000 students in more than 50 urban, suburban and rural classrooms in 15 states indicate that using these instructional materials produces significant learning. In addition--and perhaps as significantly--the field tests indicate that this approach motivates a broad range of students to engage in the excitement of learning science.

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