Celebrating Science in the Classroom

Posted by Lydia Kaprelian, Shelby Lake, Beth Ruedi PhD, November 19, 2018

This past week, we proudly announced the publication of Science in the Classroom’s 100th annotated research paper. In 2009, former Editor-in-Chief of Science Bruce Alberts and former Associate Editor Melissa McCartney created Science in the Classroom (SitC) to bring the cutting-edge research in primary scientific literature to a wider audience. For nearly a decade, SitC has grown our collection of freely available annotated research papers, helping educators and students understand the research in primary scientific literature by using a mix of annotations and providing accompanying teaching materials.

Bridging a gap

Primary scientific literature is a valuable tool in science and engineering classrooms. It offers students a direct look at the scientific enterprise, encouraging them to think about the critical practices that scientists and engineers use to ask questions about and understand the world. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is moving away from memorization of facts and toward engaging with processes of inquiry and investigation; primary scientific literature is effective for creating opportunities to learn about and reflect on these processes.

Even so, reading and understanding primary scientific literature is challenging. Most published primary papers assume expert-level understanding from their readers, and studies have shown that primary literature is becoming more difficult to read over time. Even trained scientists have difficulty reading primary scientific literature in fields outside their own. The complexity of primary literature is a major barrier for “non-experts” like teachers and students.

To bridge the gap between experts and non-experts, SitC provides annotated primary scientific literature. SitC papers have an additional layer of information over the original paper, providing extra context in the form of vocabulary, previous work, methods, and more. Importantly, SitC papers are unabridged—an annotated paper is not a summary of the original paper, it is a more accessible version. One of the goals of reading annotated primary literature is to become familiar with the genre and the skills necessary to understand any paper, not just those with annotations.

Building a community

While we’re excited that we’ve just published our 100th annotated paper, SitC has grown to become so much more than an annotated primary literature resource. We’ve trained educators and researchers and built a community of practice with our users, authors, and partners: We’ve been fortunate to work with over 100 volunteer annotators and more than 125 researchers.

We want to provide scientists with the tools they need to communicate to students and other non-expert audiences, so we’ve produced an online training with readings and reflective activities. We’re also putting the finishing touches on an asynchronous online course that will provide an overview of STEM education frameworks and standards and promising practices in education, which are often missing pieces of professional development for early career scientists. We hope that these and other projects will help us continue to grow a community of practice among our contributors and provide them with additional expertise outside their field.

We are also working to build a community of educators who are interested in using primary scientific literature in the STEM classroom. Twice a year, we host professional development workshops for high school and undergraduate educators, teaching them techniques for how to integrate primary literature into their teaching. We’re beginning to host focus groups with educators to learn how to improve our platform, our “Learning Lens” annotations, and develop some general online teacher guides for using our resources (beyond the educator guides we already have for each paper).

We’re proud of the work we’re doing to link Science researchers to new audiences, build communities of practice, and contribute to excellence in STEM education. We recommend keeping an eye on our founder, Melissa McCartney, as she researches the effectiveness of annotated papers in education (featuring Science in the Classroom) as a faculty member at Florida International University.

We can’t wait to share what’s next!