The current LR-MEL project builds from the foundation of our first two MEL projects. In that first, exploratory project, we investigated instructional scaffolds, pre-constructed MELs (pcMELs), that promote critical evaluation and plausibility appraisal of controversial and/or complex Earth and space science topics. In the second MEL project, students constructed their own model-evidence link (MEL) diagrams. We call these new scaffolds the "build-a-MEL," or baMEL for short.

Third (Current) Lateral-Reading Model-Evidence Link (LR-MEL) Diagrams project

The LR-MEL project's research questions are:

  1. When prompted by an accuracy goal, what are the features of combined LR and MEL instructional scaffolds that support middle and high school students to develop more critical epistemic evaluations?
  2. When engaging in the combined LR and MEL instructional scaffolds, how do students' evaluations relate to their shifts in epistemic judgments (e.g., trustworthiness of sources and plausibility of explanation) toward a more socially-, civically-, and scientifically-valid stance?
  3. How do these evaluations and judgments relate to changes in students' core disciplinary knowledge of social, civics, and scientific concepts related to Earth and environmental socioscientific issues?

The third MEL grant is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Nos. DRL-2201012, DRL-2201013, DRL-2201015, DRL-2201016, DRL-2201017, and DRL-2201018 and is part of NSF's Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program.

The LR Scaffold

We use an instructional scaffold called lateral reading. We introduce the LR scaffold in social studies or language arts classrooms. This scaffold helps students contrast LR with vertical reading (staying on a single webpage) by checking what other websites say about a source vs. what the source says or implies about itself. When doing this, students will examine the trustworthiness of two to three online sources about a particular socioscientific issue. One of these sources includes scientifically valid information, and the other one (or two) includes non-scientific information. This scaffold guides students to resources (e.g., Wikipedia, news stories, and fact-checking organizations' websites) that they can use when laterally reading. For example, in an LR scaffold looking at headlines from online sources about extreme weather events and possible connections to current climate change, students would answer a series of questions, including: (a) What is the name of the organization that published this headline? (b) Do you know anything about this source already? (c) What can you learn about that organization by reading laterally using Wikipedia? and (d) What references were included in the Wikipedia article? Similarly, when comparing the effectiveness of LR to vertical reading students would answer: (a) If you were going to read vertically, what features would you use to determine the trustworthiness of the website? (b) Would you learn anything about the organization's trustworthiness by reading vertically? (c) When reading laterally, what more did you learn about the organization's trustworthiness? (d) What other lateral sources did you use to learn about the organization's trustworthiness and how do you know these other lateral sources are trustworthy? and (e) Based on this information, how trustworthy is this original information source?

The MEL Scaffold

We use an instructional scaffold called the model-evidence link (MEL) diagram to promote students' scientific thinking when confronted with controversial and/or complex Earth and environmental science topics. Students are provided with models that explain scientific phenomena. For a given MEL, students are presented with the scientifically accepted model and an alternative model. They evaluate four lines of evidence that either support, strongly support, contradict, or have nothing to do with the model. Students then complete an explanation task describing their reasoning for how they connected the lines of evidence to the models. We adapted the instructional scaffold to enable students to build their own MEL diagram, which we call the baMEL. With the baMEL, students choose two models from a set of three that they find to be most plausible to explain a given scientific phenomenon. They then choose four lines of evidence from a larger set. Once again, they evaluate the lines of evidence, connecting them to the models with arrows that indicate whether the evidence supports, strongly supports, contradicts, or has nothing to do with each model. During the process of building their MEL and baMEL diagrams, students work in groups discussing the models, the lines of evidence, and the rationale for their choices. MEL and baMEL activities may help students to critically evaluate connections between evidence and explanatory models. At the conclusion of a MEL or baMEL activity, students revisit their original ideas and deepen their understanding of scientific concepts and practices as they are led through a discussion of the scientifically accepted model of the phenomenon and associated lines of evidence.

Second Build-a-MEL (baMEL) project

The baMEL project's research questions are:

  1. Do baMEL activities tested in multiple high school classroom settings promote critical evaluation, plausibility reappraisal, and scientifically accurate knowledge construction about controversial Earth and space science topics?
  2. How do these additional baMELs differ in promoting critical evaluation, plausibility reappraisal, and knowledge construction from pre-constructed MELs?
  3. To what extent does repeated use of both pre-constructed MELs and baMELs result in student engagement of scientific practices?

We developed four baMEL activities and four associated pcMELs that focus on important topics in Earth and space science:

  • Extreme Weather
  • Fossils and Earth's Past
  • Freshwater Availability
  • Origins of the Universe

The second MEL grant was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. DRL-1721041 and DRL-2027376 and is part of NSF's Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program.

First Pre-constructed MEL (pcMEL) project

In our initial exploratory grant for this project, we examined the use of instructional scaffolds called model-evidence link (MEL) activities to facilitate high school students' coordination of connecting evidence with alternative explanations of particular Earth and space science phenomena, as well as their collaborative argumentation about these phenomena. We also examined how high school students use these tools to construct scientifically accurate conceptions about major topics in Earth and space sciences and deepen their abilities to be critically evaluative in the process of scientific inquiry.

Four teachers, two from Clark County School District in Nevada and two from school districts in New Jersey, teamed up with the PI and Co-I in the development of these MEL diagrams, with their supporting evidence texts and evaluation instruments. The project employed a design-based research methodology and occurred over three years.

We developed four pcMEL activities that focus on important topics in Earth and space science:

  • Climate Change
  • Earthquakes and Fracking
  • Wetlands Use
  • Formation of the Moon

The first MEL grant was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. DRL-1316057 and was part of NSF's Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program.

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The MEL projects are part of a larger group of projects from the Science Learning Research Group (SLRG) at the University of Maryland, College Park and Temple University.

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