This thesis explores how well the curriculum Great Explorations in Math and Science Space Science Curriculum Sequence (GEMS SSCS) for 3rd through 5th graders helps mainstream and nonmainstream students develop an informed level of understanding of scientific inquiry and examines whether the curriculum teaches students in an equitable manner. Considering that the population of schools is becoming increasingly more diverse and at the same time there is a large achievement gap between mainstream and nonmainstream students (Muller et al., 2001; O’Sullivan et al., 2003) it is essential to determine if existing curricula such as the GEMS SSCS can help close the achievement gap. Not all students are developing scientific literacy which is the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind needed to succeed in society (AAAS, 1989). To achieve scientific literacy students should understand that scientists review literature, ask questions, answer questions, make predictions, plan investigations, make observations, compare results, create explanations, interpret data, debate, and use tools (NRC, 2000), all of which are components of scientific inquiry.
In this study the GEMS SSCS for 3rd through 5th graders was used to teach 4th and 5th grade students about space science. To assess students’ understanding of scientific inquiry students were given the Views of Scientific Inquiry-Elementary assessment (VOSI-E) (Schwartz, Lederman, & Lederman, 2008) once before the space science unit, once immediately after the unit, and once 5 months ± 2 weeks after the unit. For each assessment students were categorized as having a naïve or transitional/informed understanding of scientific inquiry. To analyze the data first a series of χ2 tests were run to identify significant relationships between the various student demographics and student knowledge of scientific inquiry as assessed by the VOSI-E assessment. Second, a two proportion confidence interval was computed to compare the proportions of students with a transitional/informed understanding of scientific inquiry with respect to demographics. Finally, a logistic regression was run to model the probability of students being transitional/informed using language proficiency, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity as predictors. The use of the GEMS SSCS with 4th and 5th grade students varied in how it affected mainstream and nonmainstream students. In some cases the curriculum helped close the achievement gap and even helped advance nonmainstream students beyond their mainstream peers. In other cases the curriculum created an achievement gap in favor of mainstream students. Such results could be expected because the GEMS SSCS embodies many important aspects of a reform-based curriculum – it is student-centered, inquiry based, provides students with opportunities to advance literacy, and considers student background knowledge – but lacks some of the basic tenets of instructional congruence including consideration of student language, values, worldviews, and cultures (Lee & Fradd, 1998). As it stands, the GEMS SSCS is designed in a manner that has the potential to be a useful tool in teaching all students about scientific inquiry. However, the findings of this study indicated that the curriculum may not be consistently equitable or produce equitable results until it considers the important tenets of instructional congruence.