New tools to support learning – Foundation for Blood Research

Welcome back! I am starting this school year by hosting two guest blogs.  Like the posting last week from Christine Anderson-Moreshouse these entries will, I hope, provide you with new tools and ideas for the school year.  

I know that electronic tools are basic features of teaching and learning in many Maine classrooms. As schools implement the vision described in a Framework for K-12 Science Education, educators will be looking for high quality resources and effective strategies for integrating probes, laptops, ebooks, apps…to achieve this vision. ScienceWorks for ME at the Foundation for Blood Research has been providing outreach science education and teacher professional development in Maine for over 25 years. Two ScienceWorks tools, Maine Explorer and EvidenceWorks, support the scientific practices outlined in A Framework for K-12 Science Education:  Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas and incorporate the use of electronic tools and modeling. 

Jeri Erickson and Dr. Walt

The EcoScienceWorks project features software simulations of multiple Maine ecosystems called Maine Explorer. This software, developed for middle school use, has been on all MLTI laptops since 2008. Using Maine Explorer, students manipulate computer models to better understand systems – crosscutting concepts in the Framework. Teachers can find out more about the software and associated unit and lesson plans through the Maine DOE iTunesU site where EcoScienceWorks is a content partner. In this entry, Dr. Walt Allan and Jeri Erickson share information about EvidenceWorks, a new tool that ScienceWorks has developed.

EvidenceWorks features Moodle based lessons and an ebook for iPad that include embedded films and a web app.The project developed two curriculum units that scaffold the use of science practices by teaching the evidence-based medicine (EBM) process used by doctors to answer questions about therapies and diagnostic tests. This curriculum for advanced high school biology students can be accessed through at no cost.

The EvidenceWorks EBM curriculum content extends beyond the Framework’s core ideas yet reflects the philosophy of integrating rigorous content with practices and crosscutting concepts that build on the core ideas. It specifically scaffolds these 6 Scientific and Engineering Practices: asking questions, analyzing and interpreting data, using mathematics, constructing explanations, engaging in argument from evidence, and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. In addition, the EvidenceWorks curriculum provides a model for how technology can be used to enhance student learning by integrating resources that are flexible and adaptable.

The curriculum consists of two independent units – Using Evidence-Based Medicine to Answer a Question of Therapy and Using Evidence-Based Medicine to Answer a Question About a Diagnostic Test. Medicine is an area that engages students but to which they have very limited exposure beyond their personal experience and the overly dramatic portrayal in the media. Students with an interest in medicine may take an anatomy/physiology course, but there are few situations in which high school students can engage in authentic investigative science in the medical field.  In EvidenceWorks, students join the medical team via video and are guided through a medical case and the EBM process.  The final portion of each unit is an assessment in which students are provided a new case and challenged to reason through the EBM process on their own to reach a clinical conclusion.

The following YouTube video provides a quick view of the medical team and the setting for learning about EBM in Unit 1: A Question about a Therapy.

The units were developed by a collaboration of medical experts, experienced curriculum developers, and high school biology teachers. Each unit has been thoroughly field-tested in advanced high school biology classrooms with more than 1800 students. Students work along with the medical team using the scaffolded approach to teaching EBM to medical students called the 5 A’s: Ask, Acquire, Appraise, Apply, Assess.

Three of our field-test teachers share their experiences using the EvidenceWorks curriculum and suggest best practices for implementation in the classroom in the YouTube video below.

During the field-test, students made positive comments that suggest they had a new appreciation of how doctors apply scientific practices in making clinical decisions.

 “It’s interesting to see how doctors actually solve cases, and this strategy of using evidence to solve problems can even be helpful for projects and labs in high school science classes.”

It was interesting to learn how evidence, a key part of biology, plays in the real world – a different unit to learn about!”

The curriculum units take 2-6 hours of student time and are available at no cost as online Moodle courses or ebooks for iPad. The Moodle and ebook are self-instructional and the medical experts explain difficult concepts using video.  Field-test teachers noted that by simply working through the course as their students would, they were able to learn the unfamiliar EBM process without face to face professional development. Field-test teachers produced a Teacher’s Manual for blending the digital curricula into the classroom. It can be accessed from and the Maine DOE iTunes U site where EvidenceWorks is a content partner.

A quick overview of the web app tool that allows students to produce a critically appraised topic (CAT) about the medical paper they analyze as part of the curriculum can be found through this link – fastCAT! The app includes instructional videos that provide a look at how the EBM process works (Note – the app works best using Safari, Firefox or Chrome).

Furthers questions about ScienceWorks curricula from the Foundation for Blood Research can be directed to Jeri Erickson (