IPCS Curriculum Overview

The curriculum framework for Innovations contains an integrated, thematic approach infused with inquiry and project-based learning, using standards to guide instruction. Students are placed in multi-aged groupings for their core curriculum as well as resource classes and interest groups.

Innovations is committed to providing every child with a quality education. Using new technologies together with proven ideas about learning, every child is challenged and experiences success.

"Best Practices" in Science Education heavily influence our curricular approach. To promote meaningful learning, six practices designed to engage students are used by Innovation's instructors.

Curriculum Foundations:
  • Student-Centered Instruction
  • Hands-On/Minds-On Learning
  • Authentic Problem-Based or Issue-Based Learning
  • Inquiry Approaches
  • Emphasis on Communication Skills
  • Ongoing, Embedded, Authentic Assessment

The following section defines the practices and provides curriculum resources that support each of the practices in the classroom setting. (Source: Best Practices in Science Education by Judith Sulkes Ridgway, Lynda Titterington, and Wendy Sherman McCann)

Student-Centered Instruction

Student-centered instruction is at the heart of current research on how children learn. This approach allows children to identify the paths they find most fruitful in constructing knowledge. Instruction is based on what children know and what they need to know, and children are encouraged to choose topics of study from their everyday lives, interests, and needs.

By controlling the selection of classroom topics, children realize that their thoughts are valued, feel more of an investment in the lessons, and therefore have greater motivation to learn. Student-centered instruction stimulates children's curiosity, requires them to think analytically and creatively, and requires them to use logic to make sense of the information and data they gather in class. Students rely on their reasoning to answer their own questions.

Teachers engage children by allowing them to conduct investigations, often in groups. Teachers facilitate investigations by providing children with the materials they need, by asking them questions that help focus their study, and by allowing them to discuss and test their ideas.

Hands-On/Minds-On Learning

Many people might say, "Gee, those sound like buzzwords to me. Do they have any substance?" The answer is yes. If children are generating their own ideas in a student-centered classroom, they need the freedom to be physically active in their search for knowledge. How can children begin to understand the nature of the world in which they live if they experience it vicariously? For this reason, the many of the activities that children perform are physical explorations. Physical explorations not only make the concepts more tangible but also appeal to children's diverse learning styles and take advantage of their multisensory strengths. If children are physically involved, they are more apt to be mentally engaged.

Authentic Problem-Based or Issue-Based Learning

Neither student-centered learning nor hands-on learning is as effective when children confront concepts that are not applicable to their own lives. This supports the idea that knowing a concept is being able to apply it; new knowledge becomes more meaningful when children can tie it to their real-life experiences. Children engaged in authentic problem-based learning apply their knowledge to questions they have about why things happen in their world, and they discuss their social ramifications.

Inquiry Approaches

Inquiry is a method of approaching problems that is used by professional scientists but is helpful to anyone who scientifically addresses matters encountered in everyday life. Inquiry is based on the formation of hypotheses and theories and on the collection of relevant evidence. There is no set order to the steps involved in inquiry, but children need to use logic to devise their research questions, analyze their data, and make predictions. When using the inquiry methods of investigation, children learn that authorities can be wrong and that any question is reasonable.

The most abstract component of inquiry is imagination. Both students and professional scientists have to be able to look at scientific information and data in a creative way. This unconventional vision allows them to see patterns that might not otherwise be obvious.

Teachers incorporate inquiry approaches to learning by allowing small groups of students to explore ideas. The children can then reconvene as a class, discuss their observations, and compile a list of several different hypotheses from this discussion. Each group can choose a hypothesis to investigate.

Emphasis on Communication Skills

Children learn to share ideas with members of their study group and to report the results of their investigations to the rest of the class. Communication can take the form of casual conversations or more formal presentations, such as oral reports, posters, or written reports. Using the Internet, students also learn to exchange ideas with experts in the field or with children in other parts of the world who may be interested in the same questions.

Children need to employ scientific language or terminology to communicate meaningfully. If they are helping each other define a problem, trying to devise the best method to test an idea, or helping each other analyze the results of an exploration, children need to use language that is scientifically appropriate. Teachers engage children by training them to use the language of science.

The development of communication skills also entails the ability of children to relate science to other school subjects. Teachers facilitate this process and enrich the learning experience by providing bridges from science to other disciplines, such as art, history, or language arts. This helps children see that authentic scientific investigations are not isolated from the rest of their school subjects.

Ongoing, Embedded, Authentic Assessment

How do teachers get an idea of what students know and can do in the "best-practices" learning environment? Teachers assess children's knowledge and scientific reasoning skills throughout the instruction process. Teachers gauge preexisting knowledge from the questions that children generate for investigation. This process allows teachers to decide how to help students realign their conceptions with more scientifically accepted ideas. Similarly, as children are gathering background information and devising their experiments, the teacher is observing their techniques.

No matter how the teacher has designed the lesson, knowledge can be assessed when children are asked to communicate what they have learned. Computers can assist in this process. Teachers see student responses to questions or prompts in the program. Teachers also evaluate children who are using presentation software to communicate their understanding.


The teacher's role is to ensure that students achieve their primary goal: meaningful understanding of concepts. The practices described above help bring this about in several ways. When instruction centers on students and focuses on hands-on experience, learning becomes exciting. When instruction concentrates on the investigation of current problems and issues through scientific inquiry, learning becomes relevant and meaningful. When instruction emphasizes the development of communication skills, the classroom becomes an invaluable place for preparing children to tackle the challenges of adulthood.


National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 391 690.

Judith Sulkes Ridgway is a Graduate Research Assistant Abstractor for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is also a doctoral student in science education at the university.

Lynda Titterington is the Senior Science Abstractor for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is also a doctoral student in science education at the university.

Wendy Sherman McCann is the Science Education Analyst and an AskERIC Specialist at the ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She is also a doctoral student in science education at the university.