Frequently Asked Questions


How were the William & Mary science units developed?

The science units were developed as part of a project funded by the United States Department of Education. The National Science Curriculum Project examined major recommendations from national science reform reports, as well as a review of the literature on effective science curriculum for high ability learners, to develop the rationale on which the William & Mary science curriculum is based. This rationale was developed through the collaborative efforts of project staff, consultants, scientists, science teachers, and gifted education specialists.

The rationale was translated into six key goals included in exemplary science curriculum for high-ability learners: (a) study of broad scientific concepts, (b) engagement in scientific investigation, (c) in-depth opportunities to learn special topics in science, (d) understanding the role of science in society and relationship of science to all areas of human activity, (e) foster curiosity about the world through problem-based learning, and (f) understand and develop scientific habits of mind.

Why do the science units use problem-based learning?

Problem-based learning was chosen for the science units in order to allow students to acquire significant science content knowledge in the course of solving an interdisciplinary, 'real-world' problem. This format requires students to analyze the problem situation, to determine what information they need in order to come up with solutions, and to find that information in a variety of ways. The problem-based method also allows students to model the scientific process, from the problem-finding and information-gathering steps to the evaluation of experimental data and the recasting or solution of the problem.

Why do the science units focus on the concept of systems?

The use of concepts promotes higher-order thinking, and the use of a conceptual framework supplies a meaningful way of organizing and incorporating new information, which then encourages the transfer of knowledge learned in one situation to other situations. A system forms a complete and complex whole from a group of interacting, interrelated, or independent elements. Because students are themselves elements of or influenced by numerous systems, they benefit from an understanding of these systems, their component parts, how systems function, how they interact and influence one another, and the outcomes they produce.

The overarching scientific concept of systems provides students with a framework for the analysis of both their experiments and the problem as a whole within each science unit. Examples of systems addressed in the science units include ecological, transportation, chemical reaction, and global (i.e., weather, planetary) systems as well as political, cultural, economic, and geographical systems.

The units seem to cover material that would be good for all students to learn. Can I use these units with students that are not in gifted classes?

We believe that the units may be used effectively with students other than high-ability groups. We have several sites in which teachers use all of the models with all of their students to some degree. If teachers are going to try to use the models with all students, we recommend that they: (a) provide support for students with content knowledge deficits, (b) allow gifted students to work together in groups for group activities rather than making small groups heterogeneous, and (c) modify the experimental assignment for average-ability students.

What's the time frame for teaching the units?

Our science curriculum is not really intended to be core science curriculum and is more of a supplementary program. It is frequently used for enrichment and extension rather than as a central emphasis. We estimate that full implementation for one of the science units ranges from 6 to 9 weeks of instructional time, depending on the specific curriculum unit chosen and the weekly amount of instructional time available.