LogoScience IDEAS Project: 2002-2009

Science IDEAS Elements
Prior Knowledge/Cumulative Review

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A major emphasis in Science IDEAS is on the cumulative, meaningful learning of science knowledge. In such cumulative learning, accessing student prior knowledge that is relevant to what is to be learned and cumulative reviewing of what has been learned are variants of the same process.

In Science IDEAS, prior knowledge consists of a strategy of teacher-student interaction designed to assess student prior knowledge in advance of instruction while cumulative review is a strategy that schedules curricular reviews on a continuing basis over the school year to insure that students remember what they have learned. Therefore, the prior knowledge strategy is used to precede instruction, while the cumulative review is used to enhance student retention.

Prior-Knowledge Strategy

In the Science IDEAS model, all instructional activities begin with a review. When the activities are part of the same concept-focused, multi-day lesson, then the review is a form of cumulative review (1) described below.

However, when introducing a new unit or concept within a unit on which there has been no prior instruction, then the cumulative review strategies are not appropriate.

In Science IDEAS, the Prior-Knowledge Strategy is designed to elicit student prior knowledge before instruction begins. Based on the degree of prior knowledge exhibited by students, teachers are able to establish an appropriate starting point for new instruction.

The specific procedure consists of the following steps:

Step 1. Teachers select a new concept/topic to be taught, write it on the board, and ask the class what they know about it (have students raise their hands).

Step 2. Teachers call on students who have hands raised and listen to the student answer.

  • If the answer is correct, then the teacher recognizes that for the student and writes the student answer on the board next to the concept.
  • If the answer is not correct, then the teacher tells the student what question the answered offered would fit (i.e., the teacher establishes a positive value for the student response, even if the answer is “wrong”). The result of this procedure is that students are encouraged to respond to questions because they are not afraid of being “wrong”.

Step 3. Once sufficient number of students have been called on, teachers select a new topic for which student prior knowledge is assessed.

Note- The operational advantage of this procedure is that students are encouraged to respond to teacher questions re: prior knowledge and, through informal instruction/explanation, the process provides teachers with an opportunity to insure all students have the prerequisite knowledge needed to understand new material to be taught.

Cumulative Review Strategy

There are two aspects of cumulative curricular review used in Science IDEAS: Review during Science IDEAS instruction on a particular topic/unit and Cumulative review on science topics/units previously completed. These are outlined below.

  1. Review during Science IDEAS instruction on a particular topic/unit.

    This form of “intra-topic” review occurs as a natural part of Science IDEAS multi-day instruction that uses different Science IDEAS elements (e.g., reading, hands-on, propositional; concept mapping). The purpose of this type of review is to focus student attention on the science concept(s) that provide the linkage between the different activities/elements used in instruction. These forms of relationships provide a strong foundation for meaningful student understanding.

    In fact, the conceptual linkages emphasized in instruction should be the concept(s) that teachers used as a basis for selecting the different activities to be used in Science IDEAS multi-day lessons (i.e., for the activities used to teach the concept(s), the concept(s) themselves provide the linkage for relating the activities to each other.

    The explicit procedure followed by Science IDEAS teachers is to first model and then, eventually, query students re: How different activities used in instruction are related as each is completed in a cumulative sequence. An example of a specific question format is:

    • Set the context. “We have now completed activities 1, 2, and 3.”
    • Frame the review question: “For each activity- Who can remember what we did and what we learned”
    • Ask how the activities were related to each other: “Who can explain how these activities are related to each other in terms of what we have learned from them”
      Note- this review procedure can be used as a transition between any Science IDEAS activities (e.g., “Before we start our next activity, let’s quickly review what we have done up to now”)
  2. Cumulative review on science topics/units previously completed.

    This form of review is extremely important to schedule on a regular basis because it insures that students will remember what they have learned on topics/units previously taught and for which instruction has been completed.

    Because instruction has been completed, teachers must formally schedule this form of review. A reasonable schedule would be for this form of review occur every two weeks (e.g., every other Friday). The amount of time scheduled should be sufficient for the review to occur without being rushed. As the number of completed units to be reviewed increases over the school year, then an increasing amount of time should be allocated.

    The general procedure for planning and conducting a cumulative review is similar to that described above for intra-topic reviews, but there are some important differences.

    • Planning a cumulative review. To conduct a cumulative review, teachers must themselves first review the activities that were used in instruction in terms of (a) what was done (i.e., what students experienced) and (b) what was learned. Once this is done, teachers must select the combination of learning activities and learning outcomes to include in the review.
    • Conducting a cumulative review. In a cumulative review, teachers present past learning activities or learning outcomes linked to an activity (or activities) to students. In doing so, An example of a specific question format is:
      • Set the context. “We are now going to spend some time reviewing what we learned about _________”
      • Frame the review questions: For each activity-learning outcome combination, teachers should do either of the following:

        Variation 1
        Name an activity and then ask students (a) “Who can remember what we did in this activity” and then (b) “Who can tell what we learned in that activity”

        Variation 2
        Name something that was learned in an activity (or group of activities) and then ask students (a) “Who can remember what activity or activities we did to learn about this” and (b) “Who can explain what we learned about”

      Note- the cumulative review procedure can be used to help students remember what they have learned previously and what they did to learn. As a follow-up to Science IDEAS instruction, the cumulative review procedure can be done in an efficient manner.

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