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Our curriculum team has been developing the 13-hour curricular unit (fourth – sixth grade) with a team of scientists, doctoral students and education experts. Researchers has shown the 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) structure for the order of the lessons and types of activities included were successful in a variety of classrooms. The 5 E’s were modified to 4E’s and an S (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Synthesize) to better fit the goals of this curriculum. The 5Es have been used both in the individual lessons as well as to guide the overall curricular unit which ends with a student presentation of biodiversity findings and solutions. Because of the comprehensiveness of this project, several persons of varying expertise, including technology with badging and professional development experts have been working diligently alongside the curriculum development team to ensure continuity of lessons and activities throughout all aspects of this work.
Philly Scientists conducted its first beta test of the full curriculum in the Fall of 2017. This included a professional development workshop for the participating in-school and out-of-school instructors. A smaller scale beta test that was conducted previously to measure student engagement with the curricular activities and mobile application provided insight on how to best modify the lessons for Fall 2017. After the Fall implementation of the curriculum, the students’ urban biodiversity solution and teacher professional development feedback was analyzed and the re-designed for a Spring 2018 implementation. The curriculum was again modified based off of feedback for the Fall 2018 program.
A unique feature of the Philly Scientists project is the inclusion of digital badges. Digital badges refer to the practice of awarding and certifying accomplishments and recognition for skills, interests or cognitive demonstrations, such as those demonstrated in immersive tasks similar to those in online games. Each badge describes the accomplishment of experiences that were required for the achievement. The Philly Scientists digital badges can be stacked in order to achieve higher levels or final badges. Optional badges can also be earned to encourage students and teachers to engage in the project outside of the formal learning environment. Additionally, the student digital badges promote career awareness goals such collection and observational skills through the Urban Scientist badge. The learning pathway for digital badging provides links between the badge, demonstrated task, and career awareness goal for the lesson.
To date, over 100 students have used the Philly Scientist curriculum! In Lesson 2 of our curriculum, the students choose a tracker name and group role. Once each student understands their role in the group, the students observe plants and animals using the Philly Scientist App in their schoolyard for the first time. They are encouraged to collect an animal or plant to bring back into the classroom to discuss observations.