Hilary Marcum

Unlocking the Power of Science Vocabulary

I began to notice that there was a problem in students science vocabulary as we started getting back to the new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. Students seemed to really struggle answering DOK level 3 and 4 questions and most of that was attributed to not knowing the meaning of vocabulary words used within the questions or passages. After careful deliberation of tools from “The Thoughtful Classroom,” I chose the Vocabulary Knowledge Rating Tool to help me solve my problems. First, I selected two classes that were similar in both academic ability and socioeconomic status. Those were my two Honors Biology classes. One class was labeled the experiment class, and one class was labeled the control class. The experiment class was subjected to a pre-unit test, a survey, the VRK tool, a word wall, and a post-unit test.  The control class was only subjected to the pre-unit test and the post-unit test. The pre- and post-unit test was composed of 10 DOK level 4 questions with target vocabulary. Students scored within the 40% range on average on the pre-unit test. They were then given a survey to understand why they may have missed each question. The survey showed that not understanding vocabulary terminology was the number one chosen answer on 6/10 questions. They were then given the VKR tool where many students were not able to accurately explain vocabulary words. During the course of the unit, students were exposed to a word wall that was displayed in the classroom and referenced as we completed the unit. At the end of the unit, students were given the VKR tool again and had much more success in understand the vocabulary terms and could even explain them in their own words. They were then given the post-unit exam where students in the experiment class outperformed the control group by 18 percentage points. This research project has shown me that these tools help educators become more intentional in their teaching and reach deeper levels of thought. They are truly a game changer in any classroom big or small!

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