Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What are “Great Discoveries”?

“Great Discoveries are units of instruction designed to provide students grades four through eight with connections to health topics such as hearing, vision, nutrition, human locomotion and prosthetics, and microbes. Introduced through a personal story featured in a multicultural setting, each health topic is explored through hands-on science investigations.

How are the lessons of “Great Discoveries” designed?

Each lesson connects students to a world outside school with vignettes of discoveries made by great scientists/inventors and through stories of individuals around the world addressing significant health problems. Students are engaged with narrative and then invited to participate by conducting an experiment or inquiry that informs or helps explain the story. For example, we tell the story of Dr. Beaumont and his experiments with the stomach of Alexis St. Martin. Students continue this story by conducting their own digestive experiment studies.

What science content is taught in “Great Discoveries”?

Each unit is designed to consider the National Science Standards and the Oregon Common Curricular Goals for science and health. The aim of this curriculum is to not only satisfy but to also transcend the content expectations of the standards. For each unit and lesson, content is an essential and important aspect of the curriculum that supports the inquiry.

What is the pedagogy of the “Great Discoveries” curriculum?

The curriculum design employs discovery and inquiry as its main elements of student learning. In many lessons, teachers guide students to determine the scientific concept or relationship by conducting a series of experiments or explorations. In this style of instruction, students rediscover significant principles of science. For example, in The Human Machine, students discover the mechanical advantage of the wheel and understand why wheelchairs are designed with large rather than small drive wheels. In each unit there are also opportunities for student-generated inquiry. Students work on a particular problem, choose a way to address the problem, and then conduct an exploration to find out. For example, in The Human Camera, students experiment with gel lenses to invent glasses that might assist someone with a vision disorder. Although much of the curriculum uses discovery and inquiry, there are specific times when a direct instructional approach is recommended.

What experimental materials does “Great Discoveries” rely upon?

The curriculum takes into consideration the meager means of elementary and middle school classrooms. The discoveries and inquiries use simple materials designed to be at low cost to the school. Most materials can be locally acquired at markets or hardware stores. The experiments are designed to not rely on regular laboratory space or equipment. No natural gas or unusual venting is necessary to conduct these experiments nor are there unusual chemicals that require special disposal techniques.

How does “Great Discoveries” employ technology?

Most of the lessons and support materials are connected to reliable and vetted information sources available on the world wide web. Text and graphic sources as well as streaming and mpeg video support  students’ engagement and help explain scientific principles. Student explorations employ some simple technologies as well as sophisticated applications of digital multimeters and lasers.

What are the ethical/aesthetic/social/cultural messages of “Great Discoveries”?

The authors of the curriculum have made a concerted effort to connect students with health issues that are contextualized with stories from around the world. In every place possible a connection is made to individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds. In this sense, this science and health content and exploration is interwoven with society, culture, and values. In each unit, students are challenged to view the problems presented, to learn something about the science of the problems, and ultimately, to take some personal or collaborative action to address the problems and issues. “Great Discoveries” should motivate students to act locally and globally.


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