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science teacher in classroom
It all began about seven years ago at the beginning of a project where teachers were asked what their biggest teaching challenge was. Samantha, a sixth grade science and former special education teacher, told us that although her students understood a science concept or data gathered in an experiment, the biggest barrier for them was to be able to communicate their understanding in writing. So Sam and the folks at CAST put their heads together to discover how to support writing science reports.
Phase I and II OSEP Steppingstones grants were obtained to build a web-based writing environment that incorporated some of the scaffolds known to support students in a non-technology environment like breaking the writing into smaller pieces, self-checks, vocabulary support and a place to practice. The technology allowed us to provide other supports as well: animated agents for directions and models of work, text-to-speech so students could hear their writing read back to them, real time teacher feedback and progress monitoring/CBM that was easily administered and in part automatically scored.
The supports evolved over time. During an early session students were still struggling with the “blank, white space”, so Samantha started writing sentence starters on the board. This proved so helpful that paragraph headings and sentence starters were incorporated into the next iteration of the tool. The Science Writer efficacy study showed that headings and sentence starters had the most significant effect on improving student writing!
We will be posting the results of a year long, multi-state state efficacy study in the next few weeks.
Now, thanks to a generous grant from NEC a free student version of Science Writer is available for all to use.