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The development of the CIPS curriculum was guided by an underlying philosophy that concerns the source of students' knowledge about science, and how they can learn and retain valid scientific knowledge effectively.  This philosophy rests on a set of pedagogical principles that arose from research on how students learn.  These principles include:

  • Students have ideas about science based on their previous school and life experiences. These ideas are sometimes at odds with the science concepts that teachers try to promote.

  • Students make sense of new experiences based on their prior knowledge.  Consequently, interpretation of these experiences may be quite different from those intended by the teacher.

  • Students construct knowledge gradually in a complex process in which they try to reconcile their old ideas and new information. Some of their old ideas may be resistant to change.

  • Interactions with tools (such as hands-on experiments and computer-based simulations) are critical to learning.

  • Students’ learning is mediated by social interactions. Through social interactions, students’ ideas are articulated, refined, appreciated and made available for other students to consider.

  • Complex skills (such as writing a scientific explanation) must be scaffolded over time.

  • Applying knowledge in new situations is evidence of understanding.


These principles informed the design of the CIPS curriculum. Every CIPS unit consists of two or three learning cycles. Each cycle is designed around ideas (called "cycle ideas" below) central to meeting one or more major AAAS Project 2061 benchmark ideas or NRC National Science Education Standards

A typical learning cycle has four phases:

Our First Ideas (elicits students initial ideas) 

Developing Our Ideas (develops cycle ideas)

Putting It All Together (compares class’ and scientists’ ideas)

Idea Power! (applies ideas to new contexts)


Our First Ideas (elicits students initial ideas)

This type of activity elicits students’ initial ideas about the content of a cycle, and occurs once per learning cycle. In an elicitation activity, students offer their ideas about a physical science situation, and are encouraged to be in nonjudgmental about the ideas of others.  By making students curious about whether their ideas are correct, this activity works as a motivational device. It also develops a class set of ideas to build upon or challenge during the development activities.

The elicitation activity is important because:

  • Students must be involved from the start if the content is going to become comprehensible to them.

  • It helps students monitor their personal progress in learning new science ideas.

  • Knowledge of these initial ideas helps the teacher guide students in class discussions as they construct ideas during development activities.


Developing Our Ideas (develops cycle ideas)

Each learning cycle has several development activities, depending on the number of ideas that need to be constructed by the students. Most ideas are developed during a single activity; however, some ideas need multiple activities to be developed.

This type of activity:

  • Challenges common alternative ideas held by students.

  • Tests ideas and seek relationships through carefully crafted activities that may involve hands-on experiments, demonstrations, computer simulations, or videos.

  • Provides evidence and guidance for development of the cycle ideas.


Putting It All Together (compares students' and scientists’ ideas)

Most cycles have one activity of this type. This activity reassures students that the ideas they have developed match those of scientists, and assists in building their confidence in scientific exploration. This activity also serves as a modeling activity, in which the teacher guides students on how to apply the cycle ideas to explain real-word situations.

This type of activity:

  • Provides students with the scientific wording of the cycle ideas.

  • Helps students clarify, justify, and represent the cycle ideas.

  • Helps students connect the cycle ideas to the data they collected during the development activities.

  • Provides guided practice for students on using their new knowledge to explain phenomena outside of the classroom.


Idea Power! (applies ideas to new contexts)

Most cycles have one or two activities in which students apply the cycle ideas to explain real-world phenomena. Although these activities may be used as assessments, CIPS also provides cycle and unit tests.

This type of activity:

  • Allows students to apply their knowledge in order to explain something meaningful in the world.


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