Making Sense of SCIENCE


“This has been the most powerful learning experience in my 28 years of teaching. The multifaceted teaching cases approach helps me more effectively address students’ misconceptions, and I’ve tightened my teaching to better facilitate student learning... Every science teacher should have the opportunity to participate in this science learning.”

-- Nancy Rankin, teacher, Menlo Park, CA

Program Type

Teacher Development/Training

Target Audience

All Students

Black/African American


Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

English Language Learner

Teachers/Educational Leaders




Pre-K - 5
Grades 6 - 8
Grades 9 - 12

 Accomplished link

Program Impact

Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS) has benefited thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students in U.S. elementary and middle schools. Rigorous studies have shown that MSS greatly strengthens teaching, resulting in higher student performance in science. With outside support, MSS could expand these benefits to hundreds of thousands more students in the coming years.


Program Overview

Making Sense of SCIENCE offers a comprehensive approach to teacher learning that focuses on science understanding, classroom practice, literacy, and pedagogical reasoning. By strengthening teachers’ knowledge and skill, this approach improves students’ science achievement, prepares them for college, and ultimately equips them for the modern workforce.

Teachers who participate are more effective in the classroom. They learn to facilitate hands-on science lessons, support evidence-based discussions, and develop students' academic language and reading and writing skills in science, along with the habits of mind necessary for sense making and scientific reasoning. MSS courses prepare teachers for the Common Core English Language Arts Standards around reading and writing in science, and are aligned with the practices and core topics outlined by the Next Generation Science Standards.

Throughout the project's history, its fundamental goal has been to improve the science achievement and STEM college/career preparation of K-8 students, especially English learners and those with poor literacy skills, by providing top-notch professional development that strengthens teachers' content knowledge, pedagogical reasoning, and instructional skills. 

Evidence from a series of randomized controlled studies have shown that the MSS approach strengthens teachers' content knowledge, transforms classroom practices, and boosts student achievement -- especially for low-achieving students, English learners, and students with poor literacy skills. As a result, MSS can help close student achievement gaps.

How To Get Involved

For about $4,400, MSS can prepare two facilitators to offer professional development to 24 teachers, who in turn teach 3,600 students a year. Donations between $10,000 and $100,000 can provide scholarships for teachers and create regional training hubs, which would greatly expand the number of teachers and students the program reaches.

Funders and Partners

Hundreds of people -- classroom teachers, scientists, literacy specialists, science educators, and researchers -- contributed to the development, evaluation, and refinement of the Making Sense of SCIENCE courses for teacher learning. This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, the Stuart Foundation, and the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation. The materials are published by WestEd in collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association Press.


Kirsten Daehler, Senior Research Associate

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Design Principles

The programs in this database clear a high bar. STEMworks reviewed each program against the Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy.

  • Accomplished
  • Developing
  • Undeveloped

Overarching Principles

  • Need

    Identify and target a compelling and well-defined need.

  • Evaluation

    Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress towards the compelling need identified.

  • Sustainability

    Ensure work is sustainable.

  • Replication and Scalability

    Demonstrate replicability and scalability.

  • Partnerships

    Create high impact partnerships

  • Capacity

    Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals.

STEM Principles

  • Challenging and Relevant Content

    Offer challenging and relevant STEM content for the target audience

  • STEM Practices

    Incorporate and encourage STEM practices.

  • Inspiration

    Inspire interest and engagement in STEM.

  • Under-Represented Groups

    Identify and address the needs of under-represented groups.