High-Adventure Science

Bringing several unanswered questions in Earth, space, and environmental science to science classrooms.


Many students tune out of science not because they cannot master it, but because they don’t see why science is relevant to their lives. The emphasis on covering content also gives students the misconception that science is about what is known. They get no exposure to how science progresses, what is unknown, and what motivates scientists. Scientists get excited about what they don’t know yet and regard these unsolved mysteries as challenges. Can we generate similar curiosity and enthusiasm among students? Can we encourage students to analyze data and models to seek answers? Can we get them to think like scientists?

We’re bringing the excitement of scientific discovery to students by letting them explore pressing unanswered questions using the same methods that practicing scientists use. The goal of our research is to determine whether the active exploration of these questions helps students come to view science as a dynamic, evolving process.

With our partners at National Geographic Education, we’ve developed computer-based investigations around compelling unanswered questions in Earth and space science to help students learn science like scientists. Six curriculum units have been developed, guided by the following design principles: 1) engage students in real-world frontier science; 2) have students interpret data collected from scientists to make sense of scientific phenomena they are investigating; 3) engage students in experiments with dynamic computer-based Earth systems models; and 4) support scientific argumentation using evidence from data and models and support student attribution of uncertainty sources associated with their claims and evidence.

In the words of Lewis Thomas our goal has been to help students “see science as the high adventure it really is, the wildest of all explorations ever taken by human beings….” This project explores a fresh approach to bringing science into the classroom in a way that is true to the spirit of science, uses computer technology, is based on current research in effective online learning, and has been shown to have a measurable impact on science teaching and learning.


We conducted research in the classrooms of 53 field test teachers over 4,500 students.

  • Though addressing sources of uncertainty is an important part of doing science, it has largely been neglected in assessing students’ scientific argumentation. We defined a scientific argumentation construct consisting of claim, evidence-based explanation, uncertainty rating, and uncertainty attribution and validated that this task structure can measure students’ ability to engage in uncertainty-infused argumentation.
    View Paper
  • Modeling and argumentation are two important scientific practices students need to develop throughout their education. We investigated how middle and high school students construct a scientific argument based on evidence from computational models. Our results indicate that students used models and model-based graphs as evidence to confirm their claims. Students’ assessment of uncertainty related to the argument reflected more frequently on their evaluation of their personal knowledge or abilities related to the tasks than on their critical examination of scientific evidence resulting from models. Some students were able to elaborate limitations of model-based evidence to make definite scientific claims.
    View Paper
  • Over the last several decades there has been a growing awareness of the ways humans impact Earth systems. As global problems emerge, educating the next generation of citizens to be able to make informed choices related to future outcomes is increasingly important. The challenge is figuring out how to prepare students to think about complex systems and sustainability. We exposed students to interactive computer-based dynamic Earth systems models and embedded prompts to help them focus on stocks and flows within the system. This approach helps students identify important resources in the models, explain the processes that are changing the availability of the stock, and explore real-world examples.
    View Paper
  • How do students articulate uncertainty when they are engaged in structured scientific argumentation tasks? We investigated 302 high school students who completed four uncertainty-infused scientific argumentation tasks related to detecting exoplanets. We found that while the majority of students had difficulties in expressing uncertainty in either explanation or uncertainty attribution, students who did express uncertainty in their explanations did so scientifically without being prompted explicitly. Students’ uncertainty ratings and attributions revealed a mix of their personal confidence and uncertainty related to science. If the exoplanet task presented noisy data, students were less likely to express uncertainty in their explanations.
    View Paper


View all these videos and more on the Concord Consortium YouTube Channel.


Conference Publications

  • Guo, Y., Xing, W., & Lee, H.-S. (2016). Identifying students’ mechanistic explanations in textual responses to science questions with association rule mining. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Washington, D.C.
  • Guo, Y., Xing, W., & Lee, H.-S. (2015). Identifying students’ mechanistic explanations in textual responses to science questions with association rule mining. Paper presented at the workshop for Data Mining for Educational Assessment and Feedback (ASSESS 2015) during International Conference on Data Mining 2015, Atlantic City, NJ.
  • Pallant, A., Lee, H.-S., & Pryputniewicz, S. (2013, April). Promoting Scientific Argumentation with Computational Models. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Puerto Rico.
  • Lee, H.-S., Pallant, A., Pryputniewicz, S., & Liu, O. L., (2013, April). Measuring Students’ Scientific Argumentation Associated with Uncertain Current Science. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Puerto Rico.
  • Pallant, A., & Lee, H.-S., (2011, April). Characterizing uncertainty with middle school students’ scientific arguments. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Orlando, FL.

View More

Blog Posts

Learn more about the High-Adventure Science project at the Concord Consortium blog.

Read More


View, launch, and assign activities developed by this project at the STEM Resource Finder.

Project Funder
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-0929774 and DRL-1220756. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Principal Investigator
Years Active