Science CRAs

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 10:50 -- Hillary Procknow

This entry marks the fourth in a series of five blogs that will explore the College Readiness Assignments (CRAs) in each of the 5 subject areas in which they are housed.

This week, we are looking at the Science CRAs.  Recent discussions about learning science suggest that thinking like a scientist is more than just memorizing definitions for cell structures or formulas for energy conversion.  Thinking like a scientist is about investigating, asking questions, connecting ideas, and working through problems.

Berkeley University’s website Understanding Science, explains:

The simplified, linear scientific method implies that scientific studies follow an unvarying, linear recipe. 

But in reality, in their work, scientists engage in many different activities in many different sequences. Scientific investigations often involve repeating the same steps many times to account for new information and ideas. ("How Science Works," n.d.)

CRAs in science were developed in collaboration with high school and college faculty to introduce students to the process of science, meaning that students are asked to try various hypotheses and repeat steps, rather than follow formulas and memorize answers.

In the sciences, CRAs generally fall into one of two categories: research projects, which involve extensive research and acquisition of knowledge, and laboratory activities, which depend more heavily on students’ prior knowledge. “Cells: The Inside Story” is an example of the former, while “Titration Probe” is an example of the latter.  We’ll look at both of these below, as well as “Hitting the Slopes,” an Independent Study CRA that students can do online without the supervision of an instructor.


Cells: The Inside Story

Developed for biology courses, this assignment asks students to research the structure and function of major cell organelles and use an analogy to another system to describe the functions.  For example, as the instructor, you will describe for students how the cell and organelles function together in the way that a city and its components function together.  The nucleus, which is the control center of a cell, can be compared to city hall. The city’s waste disposal team would be analogous to lysosomes, the power plant analogous to mitochondria, and the post office analogous to the Golgi apparatus.

Students communicate their understanding of cell organelles by producing a digital slideshow or scrapbook, along with a written narrative.  Because CRAs are meant to challenge students’ abilities, beyond just memorizing information, to write and research across the curriculum, you will want to be familiar with the scoring sheets for each assignment.  Download the scoring sheet for “Cells: The Inside Story” here to see how students are assessed on their demonstration of skills that will help them to be college and career ready.


Titration Probe

“Titration Probe” was developed for chemistry courses and is a hands-on laboratory assignment.  For this assignment, students apply the concepts of conductivity and equivalence point to an acid-base reaction, as they determine the concentration in molarity of an unknown Ba(OH)2 solution. Students will first use probeware to collect data as they perform a titration of barium hydroxide with sulfuric acid.  Then, they will use the data to support the location of the equivalence point of the reaction between sulfuric acid and barium hydroxide.


The scoring sheet for “Titration Probe,” as the scoring sheets for each of the other CRAs, assesses students on the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) for science as well as the Foundational and Key Cognitive Skills addressed in the CCRS.  Sharing the scoring sheet with students before they begin the assignment will let them know they are expected to see patterns in data, to work independently as well as collaboratively, and to integrate technology into their scientific framework.  Find the scoring sheet for this CRA here.


Hitting the Slopes – Independent Study

This online Independent Study version of the CRA gets students involved with energy! Students explore different aspects of conservation of energy – addressing initial potential and kinetic energy, conversion of potential to kinetic and vice-versa, total energy of a system, and transfer of energy to the surroundings via friction.  They investigate several scenarios and, in the end, are challenged to design their own skate parks using the insights they have gleaned from the assignment.


This CRA, like all the Independent Study CRAs, is fully online and designed to be completed by students with no (or minimal) outside instruction. As such, it is a great option to assign for extra credit, for students needing additional practice, or for students who want a glimpse of college-level thinking.


As with all CRAs on the website, the science CRAs were field tested by high school, community college, and university faculty to ensure they are both easy for educators to use and effective in helping students prepare for college and career.  Want more information?  Check out our data here (we knew you science-driven folk would want to see it).

For our final installment in the Subject Area blog series, we will look at the Social Studies CRAs on March 24.


This blog entry was developed in collaboration with Jason Dowd, ‎Post-Doctoral Associate at Duke University.



How science works. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2014, from Understanding Science website: