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Articles on Writing Across the Curriculum—Science

Listed below are articles on this topic from the Campus Writing Program library. Short summaries and citations are provided when available.


Allen, Robert D. "Intellectual Development and the Understanding of Science: Applications of William Perry's Theory to Science Teaching."

Science students often experience difficulties as a result of their inability to see that multiple interpretations of the same data can coexist. Perry's scheme helps show that such students are not lazy, but rather that their perceptions are limited by their stage of development. Understanding the different stages may help science teachers consider the best ways of presenting material in order to help students make the transition from one stage to the next.

Audet, Richard H., Paul Hickman, Galina Dobrynina. "Learning Logs: A Classroom Practice for Enhancing Scientific Sense Making." Journal of Research in Science Teaching 33 (1996): 205-222.

A case study of an advanced high school physics class shows that computerized journaling within a collaborative environment helps mediate discussion between teacher and students in such a way as to facilitate the understanding of complex science topics. Originating in an experimental course utilizing computer simulations, the class divided into collaborative groups in reponse to the numbers of students per computer and the need of students in the early stages of the program to help each other with glitches in the simulations. As time went by, and the bugs were worked out, students were required to keep journals in order to record their progress. These journals were also the products of working groups, and daily checked by the teacher, who would enter personalized comments into the students' learning logs. The logs helped to stimulate a host of classroom interactions which support the notion that scientific sense-making is a community product, and not dependent upon any particular individual.

Bazerman, Charles. "Physicists Reading Physics: Schema-Laden Purposes and Purpose-Laden Schema." Written Communication 2.1 (January 1985): 3-23.

Bazerman explores the dialectic between reading and writing that occurs in the sciences by examining the reading processes of seven research physicists. He concludes that their need to conduct research and their understanding of the field shape their reading process. This results in a complicated scheme of selection of reading material. He uses reader response criticism and cognitive psychology models to question the idea of a fixed text.

Berenson, Sarah B. and Glenda S. Carter. "Changing Assessment Practices in Science and Mathematics." School Science and Mathematics 95 (1995): 182-186.

Elementary-secondary school science and mathematics courses use assessment methods more conducive to developing a student's memory than understanding. In order to give students opportunities for making conceptual connections and for reflection upon information, alternative forms of assessment--all of which reward higher order thinking--should be incorporated into the math and science curriculum. Five alternatives are outlined: journal writing, open-ended problem solution, portfolio, interview, and performance assessment. The discussion of each alternative includes a brief overview of the method, sample assignments, and hints for incorporating the alternative into the curriculum.

Brandt, W.W. "Practice in Critical Reading as a Method to Improve Scientific Writing." Science Education 55.4 (1971): 451-455.

Proposes a method for teaching scientific writing in a laboratory course. The method involves choosing a paper from the literature, writing a sentence outline of it, and planting flaws in it. Students must detect and remove the flaws, then write their own sentence outline of the revised paper. Then show students the original sentence outline and whatever flaws remain.

Brillhart, L.L., and M.B. Debs. "Teaching Writing--A Scientist's Responsibility." Journal of College Science Teaching (March 1981): 303- 304.

Describes techniques faculty can use to teach writing in science courses, using lab reports. Discusses steps in writing a lab report, how much information should be given by teacher, and how to simplify grading.

Carlisle, E. Fred. "Teaching Scientific Writing Humanistically: From Theory to Action." English Journal (April 1978): 35-39.

Carlisle discusses his assumptions about language, and about the close relationship between clear writing and clear thinking/research. Outlines relationships that writers need to be aware of: writer to subject, writer to reader, writer to his/her personal values, motives, etc. in writing. Then describes a year- long series of courses designed to teach these relationships and teach scientific writing.

Donlan, Dan. "Science Writing: A Call for Continuing Education." Science Teacher 42 (Dec. 1975): 19-20.

Brief description of uses of writing in elementary and secondary science classrooms. Argues that science writing assignments should also incluce analysis of the written paper, to see how many levels of analysis it includes. Comments on student scientific writing that consists of lists of facts without connections.

Driskill, Linda et. al. "Students' Reasoning and Rhetorical Knowledge in First-Year Chemistry."Language and Learning Across the Disciplines 2.3 (1998): 3-24.

A case-based introductory chemistry course tests students' reasoning with essay questions. A protocol analysis project of the relation between successful and unsuccessful students' reasoning about chemistry and their rhetorical knowledge revealed several constraints affecting students' writing. Rhetorical knowledge, though, was a factor influencing student ability to explain and discuss chemistry. Recommendatiosn for new uses of writing in introductory chemistry were developed, based on the differences observed in successful and unsuccessful writers' processes.

Ellman, Neil. "Science in the English Classroom." English Journal (April 1978): 63-65.

Suggests connections between science and language arts curricula in K-12 schools. Lists ways in which science can be used in language arts faculty classrooms, to teach science and writing.

Enke, C.C. "Scientific Writing: One Scientist's Perspective." English Journal (April 1978): 40-43.

Argues that writing is an important activity in science, and describes an expository approach to the organization of the information in the various sections of an experimental scientific paper. Discusses use of figures and diagrams in scientific papers.

Flynn, Elizabeth A., George A. McCulley, and Ronald K. Gratz. "Effects of Peer Critiquing and Model Analysis on the Quality of Biology Student Laboratory Reports." ERIC ED 234 403.

Describes research on the effects of peer review, model analysis, or traditional teaching on the quality of written lab reports in a freshman biology class. (Model analysis is a critique of a published article.) Results: both peer review and model analysis improved the quality of lab reports, and model analysis was more effective than peer review.

Fulwiler, Toby and Robert Jones. "Writing in Biology: A Seminar." College Composition and Communication 30 (October 1979): 308-310.

This article describes an open discussion seminar on writing held for teachers in a single department (biology). The seminar focused on identifying problems in student writing, developing solutions to remedy the problems, and offering constructive comments to improve student writing.

Goodman, W. Daniel, and John C. Bean. "A Chemistry Laboratory Project to Develop Thinking and Writing Skills." Journal of Chemical Education 60.6 (June 1983): 483-484.

Brief summary of writing project conducted in a chemistry class. Students were presented with a problem to solve; as students solve the problems they also write up their procedures. The papers are critiqued and graded (on a 6-point holistic scale) by classmates, using a critique worksheet the class develops.

Hamilton, David. "Interdisciplinary Writing." College English 41.7 (March 1980): 780-796.

Hamilton describes three different approaches to "writing science" which exist on a continuum. The teacher can serve as merely an editor, can serve as a lay audience for the science writers, or can emphasize the conception and planning of research. Hamilton advocates the final strategy, which follows a Platonic model of learning.

Hamilton, David. "Writing Science." College English 40.1 (September 1978): 32-40.

Hamilton analyzes the importance of the phrase "writing science" as opposed to "writing for science" or "writing in science" or "scientific writing". He argues that scientists should move away from using writing merely as a tool and instead should consider writing as an integral act of science, a way to be more creative. He also critiques the use of the passive voice traditionally used by scientists; he wants scientists to take more responsibility through their writing.

Hamilton, David. "Writing Science II." Journal of Education 162.2 (1980): 96-113.

Hamilton revises his earlier ideas about writing science. Argues that there is more of an interdependency between reading and writing in the sciences, and that we should teach students the purpose of writing. Hamilton writes this essay in standard scientific writing format (introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, and conclusion), and discusses the purpose of this format. He analyzes a series of articles about science writing by Peter Medawar, Lewis Thomas, and others that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine between 1960 and 1978. These essayists comment on poor mechanics, wordiness, obfuscation; on how the scientific paper misrepresents the process of science; and on how scientists must be responsible for their own writing.

Klein, Bill, and Betsy M. Aller. "Writing Across the Curriculum in College Chemistry: A Practical Bibliography." Language and Learning Across the Disciplines 2.3 (1998): 25-35.

Reviews literature that links writing to successful learning in chemistry. Included are sections on the general connection between writing and learning, writing in general and first year chemistry, upper division chemistry, overcoming constraints of writing in the chemistry classroom, and resources for students and faculty writing in chemistry.

Kyle, William C., Jr. "Scientific Literacy: How Many Lost Generations Can We Afford?" Journal of Research in Science Teaching 32.9 (November 1995): 895-896.

This editorial raises the questions of what constitutes scientific literacy and how can science educators ensure that students develop the scientific and technological literacy necessary for self- and social-empowerment as adults. He calls for some consensus on the part of science educators in defining what that scientific literacy would include. He suggests that educators must engage the "why" of science education in addition to the "what" and "how."

Kyle, William C., Jr. "Scientific Literacy: Where Do We Go From Here?" Journal of Research in Science Teaching 32.10 (December 1995): 1007-1009.

This editorial calls for science educators to link science to daily lived experience in order to ensure that childhood science literacy translates to adult science literacy. In addition, educators need to convince the public that it is in their self-interest to be literate in science. He defines scientific literacy, following the work of M.H. Shamos, as: "a) having an awareness of how the science/technology enterprise works, (b) having the public feel comfortable with knowing what science is about..., (c) having the public understand what can be expected from science, and (d) knowing how public opinion can best be heard in respect to the enterprise."

Maraffa, Thomas. "Ungraded Writing Assignments in Geography Classes." Journal of Geography in Higher Education 9,2 (1985): 165- 169.

Describes 2 types of writing assignments that can be used in geography classes that use writing to learn, and that don't burden instructors too much: in-class writing, and "periodic" writing (essentially directed journals).

McMillen, Liz. "Science and Math Professors are Assigning Writing Drills to Focus Students' Thinking." Retyped from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 22, 1986.

A news article on using various writing techniques (mainly writing to learn) in math and science courses. Quotes faculty who do this, and ones who don't. Discusses benefits for teachers and students.

Moll, Michael B., and Robert D. Allen. "Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Biology." Journal of College Science Teaching (November 1982): 95- 98.

Describes efforts of biology faculty at West Virginia University to teaching critical thinking skills to introductory biology students. Uses video and discussion during class to enable students to apply concepts as they learn them; derive concepts from observations and data; and practice scientific processes. Presents assessment of the program, including data on improvement in students' critical thinking skills pretest/posttest.

Moore, Randy. "Does Writing About Science Improve Learning About Science?" Journal of College Science Teaching 12 (1993): 212-217.

Moore conducted an experiment while teaching four sections of an introduction to biology course. Students were required to do varying amounts of guided or unguided writing in the four sections. His results showed that providing guided writing instruction in the science class resulted in significantly improved grades on exams and coursework. He argues for the need to go beyond merely writing about science and teach how to use the writing to learn the scientific concepts.

Moore, Randy. "Helping Students Succeed in Introductory Science Courses: How Valid are Students' claims about their Course-Related Behaviors?" Journal of College Science Teaching. (February, 2004): 14-17.

The study looked at the responses and behaviors of 611 introductory biology students taught by the same instructor through the same method. Although students believed that the majority would report their course-related behaviors accurately, empirical evidence shows that the majority of students are not reliable responders. Student misrepresentation gives instructors poor feedback in trying to improve teaching. One possible solution would be to emphasize the rewards for good study approaches rather than penalize poor approaches.

Moran, Charles, and William J. Mullin. "Dialogue Across the Two Cultures."Writer's Craft, Teacher's Art: Teaching What We Know. Ed. Mimi Schwartz. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1991. 69-78.

Written as a dialogue between an English professor and a physics professor about writing and teaching writing in their disciplines. They agree on the need to know and care about your subject, on the importance of some sort of research/prewriting or writing to learn, and on the benefits of collaborative writing.

Nelson, Craig E. "Skewered on the Unicorn's Horn: The Illusion of Tragic Tradeoff Between Content and Critical Thinking in the Teaching of Science." Materials for IU Teaching Resources Center workshop, February 4, 1991.

Presentation by Craig Nelson on the Perry scale, critical thinking in science and how to foster it, and how to use small group discussion fruitfully.

Nelson, Craig E. "Valuing Diversity in the Educational Process." NSF 1993. Proceedings of the National Science Foundation Workshop on "The Role of Faculty from the Scientific Disciplines in the Undergraduate Education of Future Science and Mathematics Teachers." National Science Foundation Publication 93-108: 71-74.

This article synthesizes a panel discussion on recognizing diversity as a resource, not a problem, into 9 key points. It calls for an examination of the unintended biases and ideologies that are implicit in teaching science, and suggests that teachers can adapt new teaching strategies, such as active, collaborative learning, to reach a more varied student body. In addition, the panel suggests that science teachers should utilize some of the existing research on the topic of teaching diversity.

Patton, Martha D. et. al. "Dealing with Resistance to WAC in the Natural and Applied Sciences." Language and Learning in the Disciplines 64-76. (no date)

Engineering, nursing, and natural resources faculty all share their perspectives on resistance to WAC within each discipline. The rationales are varied: a failure to recognize writing as part of the profession, a preference for objective exams similar to professional licensing exams, and a reluctance to see teaching as a part of scholarship.

Powell, Alfred. "A Chemist's View of Writing, Reading, and Thinking Across the Curriculum." College Composition and Communication 36.4 (Dec. 1985): 414-418.

Describes one professor's use of writing assignments in an organic chemistry course. Discusses different types of writing assignments: abstracts of published articles, concept or project papers, note taking in lecture and lab, and lab reports.

Rosenthal, Lois C. "Writing Across the Curriculum: Chemistry Lab Reports." Preprint (manuscript), submitted to the Journal of Chemical Education, October 15, 1986.

Argues that the writing skills of chemistry majors can be improved by concentrating more on chemistry lab reports. Summarizes some basic composition theory: writing tasks at low, medium, or high levels of abstraction. Relates the various writing tasks to the sections of a lab report. Discusses students' difficulty with notions of audience and the resulting frequent failures to cite evidence to support assertions.

Shahn, Ezra. "Language and Writing as Aspects of Science Learning." No citation.

Argues that science illiteracy is partly a linguistic problem because science uses a lot of terms to indicate abstract relations, and people often misunderstand these words (e.g. "because," "then"). Shahn suggests that the lack of understanding of sequence and causality may result from lack of experiences in childhood that lead to the development of these concepts. Briefly describes an introductory science course that incorporates writing, to address these problems.

Shay, Suellen. "Portfolio Assessment: A Catalyst for Staff and Curricular Reform." Assessing Writing 4.1 (1997): 29-51.

Describes how a portfolio assessment project in a South African chemistry department led to curricular reform. In response to industry complaints that graduates were technically competent, but unable to communicate in the workplace, the University of Cape Town (UCT) set up a portfolio project in which students were to write a series of reports similar to those found in work situations. The assessment process led to a staff dialogue on the nature of written competence within the discipline. The insights from this dialogue helped fuel curricular reform so that students are taught writing conventions and strategies for approaching particular tasks. This sort of reform is important to UCT in light of the influx of students whose education was hindered by the inequalities of apartheid.

Sokal, Alan. "A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies." Lingua Franca. May/June 1996. 62-64.

Sokal confesses that his article "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," which appeared in Social Text, was a parody. He indicates that the degree of unverified claims and assumptions should have indicated that the article was "liberally salted with nonsense," even though it conformed to the conventions of academic discourse and the ideology of the journal. Sokal points to several reasons for his parody, including the desire to show the dearth of critical reasoning in general, and the particular problem of denying the practicality of an external reality in favor of a reality made up of social constructs. This denial of any external reality is, Sokal claims, a result of the arrogance of postmodern literary theorists who apply theory to areas in which they have no expertise in order to put forth political agendas. Sokal does not take issue with the political agendas themselves, but with an academic subculture that ignores or disdains reasoned criticism.

Steiner, Richard. "Chemistry and the Written Word." Journal of Chemical Education 59.2 (Dec. 1982): 1044.

Correlates writing with improved performance on tests in a chemistry course. Students wrote summaries of chem lectures, which were evaluated on a 1-5 scale. Score on written assignments correlated positively with subsequent exam grade. Conclusion: writing improved understanding; writing showed prof what students did or didn't understand, and hence improved lectures.

Stout, Roland. "Writing in the Science Curriculum: Methods that Work Both as Writing and as Science." Conference paper.

Writing in a freshman chemistry course helps students to think clearly and become engaged with scientific concepts in a variety of ways. The bulk of the presentation is taken up with explanation of different sample assignments designed either to get students to understand specific concepts or to get students to understand chemistry in a broader context. Sample assignments include: a term paper, two-step writing exercises, abstracting, multipart questions, and writing in cooperative learning activities. While most assignments come from freshman level courses, a few are from upper division courses.

Sublett, Michael D. "A Model Essay: One Way to Improve Students' Writing." College Teaching 41.1 (1993): 11-14.

Describes the use of a model essay in a geography course. The model essay is about essays, and gives guidelines for good writing (avoid passive voice, use topic sentences, etc.).

Swan, Judith A. "Reflections Across the Divide: Written Discourse as a Structural Mirror in Teaching Science to Non-Science Students" manuscript submitted to Writing on the Edge .

Science is difficult because it orders information from the perspective of the expert scientist, not from that of the non-scientist. From teaching an environmental science course to scientists and non-scientists alike, the author realized that scientists organize their lectures and their papers in such a way that the specific principle involved is fronted as the issue. The issue is related in a technical fashion, followed by a variety of examples meant to illustrate the principles. Non-scientists are trained to read for a general overview and familiarization. To compensate for the way in which non-scientists approach their work, the author restructured the course so as to put the specific chemical principles within a meaningful context. The success of this approach reveals that it is not science per se which is difficult, but rather that the rhetoric of the discipline is challenging to those not already trained in the disciplined.

Turner, Michele. "Writing Across the Curriculum and Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing 414." Writing Across the Curriculum. 9 (May 1998): 1-2.

Describes three assignments used to develop critical thinking skills in a course entitled, "Applying Neuroscience Nursing Principles to Practice." "Development of a Concept" requires students to use journals to develop a historical review of the evolution of a neuroscience nursing concept. student-developed questions relating to the daily topic and based upon the preparatory reading, and a textbook exercise meant to stimulate students to become more critical readers as they search for outdated or inaccurate information in the assigned textbook.

Wilkinson, A.M. "A Freshman Writing Course in Parallel with a Science Course." College Composition and Communication 36.2 (May 1985): 160- 165.

Describes a writing course linked to a biology course. Writing assignments in the 2 courses coordinated; writing for the biology course was discussed in the writing course. Authors note disadvantages (lack of biology background of faculty; difficulty in constructing a syllabus for the writing course, given that it was dependent on the biology course syllabus) and advantanges (students wrote more, and in more different forms; easy for students to move from consideration of published papers to their own papers).

Zimmerman, S. Scott. "Writing for Chemistry: Food for Thought Must be Appetizing." No journal title. 55.1 (Nov. 1978): 727.

Article aimed at students, giving suggestions to improve writing: get organized, write a first draft, revise several times for different things, get feedback from someone else.

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