GEMS is a leading resource for innovative science and mathematics education. Developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science, the public science education center at the University of California at Berkeley, and tested in thousands of classrooms nationwide, over 70 GEMS Teacher's Guides and Handbooks offer a wide range of supplementary learning experiences for preschool through 8th grade.

GEMS activities engage students in direct experience and experimentation to introduce essential, standards-based principles and concepts. Clear step-by-step instructions enable all teachers to be successful presenting the activities. GEMS units offer effective, practical, economical, and schedule-friendly ways to provide high-quality science and math learning to all students.

GEMS Curriculum Products

GEMS Teacher's Guides

GEMS Teacher's Guides are clearly organized, easy to use, and do not require special background in math or science. Each unit stands on its own, though many complement each other nicely, and we have prepared recommended sequences of units at various grade levels. Every classroom session is outlined with an overview, materials list, and preparation requirements, followed by clear, step-by-step directions. Complete background information is provided for the teacher, along with photographs, illustrations, assessment suggestions, and often examples of student work. Throughout each guide there are comments on presentation strategies and practical advice to help the teacher, many of them suggested by teachers who tested the units.

GEMS Curriculum Sequences

GEMS Curriculum Sequences are a new series of products, created by GEMS and published and distributed by Carolina Curriculum. The first units in the series are two Space Science Sequences, one for Grades 3-5 and one for Grades 6-8. Curriculum Sequences provide in-depth instruction on key science topics, and include an integrated assessment system, a technology component, extensive background for the teacher, readings, and more. This series represents implementation of the latest cognitive theories on learning, adapting classic GEMS instructional approaches into a more coherent, next generation Curriculum Sequence.

Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading®

Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading is a new curriculum for grades 2 through 5, featuring integrated science and literacy instruction. Students alternate inquiry science sessions with reading sessions that feature original, content-rich, 4-color student books. It is being developed by GEMS in conjunction with the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley, with financial support from the National Science Foundation. The program is published by Delta Education. Concurrently we are engaged in research projects to demonstrate the effectiveness of the integrated approach. When the currently planned units are completed the program will include 12 units, four at each of three grade bands (2/3, 3/4, and 4/5), including 27 student books and 120 one hour sessions at each grade band.

GEMS Development and Testing Process

GEMS units are subject to rigorous national field testing. Initially, activities are mined from the enormous wealth of classes and programs developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science over the last 30 years or created new. GEMS authors begin by testing activities in local classrooms. After these early pilot tests, the activities are revised by a group of curriculum developers. A first draft of the unit is then typically classroom tested by teachers in diverse urban and rural settings. Feedback from these trials is used to again revise the unit. Next, an updated trial version is sent to sites across the country for a third round of testing. The data from these national trials is compiled and final revisions are made to the teacher's guide. Even after publication, GEMS units are revised and updated to incorporate feedback as more teachers use them in the field. Many of GEMS more successful older guides are currently being rewritten and enhanced to reflect current pedagogy and ensure their continued relevance; these guides are then rereleased with the "New GEMS" brand.

GEMS Activities Engage Students

GEMS units are widely known to be engaging and motivating for students. One of the central goals in the development and testing process is to maximize the interest and participation of all students. Captivating the imagination of students by challenging them is a strong emphasis of the GEMS approach. Students come away feeling that they can be successful at math and science. High student interest increases the quality of their learning and the likelihood that they will continue to study science.

All Teachers Can Be Successful with GEMS

The extensive classroom testing and review process deepens the educational content of each unit and ensures that all teachers can be successful presenting the activities. Due to their accessibility and rich content, GEMS units serve as exemplars to teachers, encouraging them to incorporate more inquiry-based learning into their teaching. GEMS units are frequently used as models in preservice and educational methods courses.

GEMS Activities Utilize Readily Accessible Materials

Most materials needed for GEMS units are everyday items that can be either collected or purchased inexpensively. Certain materials can also be ordered from sources whose names and addresses are listed in the guides. GEMS Kits are also available for most units, and kits are available as well for Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading units and for GEMS Sequences.


GEMS History and Philosophy

The Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) program began at the Lawrence Hall of Science in 1984.  Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) is the public science and mathematics curriculum development and educational research center of the University of California at Berkeley and has long been recognized as a leading resource for inquiry-driven, activity-based science and mathematics instructional materials. Nobel Laureate and Chair of LHS Glenn T. Seaborg, now deceased, served as GEMS Principal Investigator, with Jacqueline Barber as GEMS Director (she remains in that position and is now also LHS Associate Director). 

The research base includes seminal work on the learning cycle by Karplus, Atkin and others, a large body of research on activity-based learning that grew out of the early development of the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) at LHS, since amplified and refined by many scholars, as well as more recent research on the brain and learning—combined with a carefully developed classroom testing process common to all LHS programs and fully implemented by GEMS.  Coordinated by Director Barber, many talented and experienced LHS educators, in partnership with teachers nationwide, helped launch the GEMS project. In response to needs expressed by teachers and educators for high-quality, effective, accessible, and practical hands-on math and science instructional materials, the most effective and unique activities from LHS classes and public programs were crafted into curriculum units that could be used as a highly flexible enrichment program—to deepen, supplement, and enrich student learning, and—as the number and content range of the units grew—could also be used to construct innovative curriculum sequences that could extend over a longer time period or be presented in articulated fashion at different grade levels.  As the 21st century begins GEMS is embraking on the development of two major expansions to its offerings, the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading program and the GEMS Curriculum Sequences, both described above.

There are now more than 70 GEMS guides and handbooks, ranging in grade level from preschool through 8th grade. More than 1.6 million GEMS guides have been distributed.  GEMS units feature clear step-by-step instructions for teachers.  All units are tested intensively, carefully modified and refined, and adapted for use in school classrooms for all students by teachers without special background in math or science. After this thorough testing process, activities are published for widespread distribution.

The national GEMS staff is drawn from a core of senior LHS educators with extensive teaching, curriculum development, and educational research experience.  LHS staff have contributed to the development of national and state standards and frameworks in science and mathematics. The program also has the benefit of being part of one of the leading research universities in the world—the University of California at Berkeley—and many LHS programs, including GEMS, often work in collaboration with leading scientists, mathematicians, and educators on the Berkeley campus and/or the University system.

Original funding for GEMS was provided by the A.W. Mellon Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, with equipment donations from Apple Computer.  Under a grant from the National Science Foundation, GEMS Leader’s Workshops were held throughout the United States. In recent years, GEMS has also received grants from: the McDonnell-Douglas Employee’s Community Fund and McDonnell-Douglas Foundation; the Employees Community Fund of Boeing California and the Boeing Corporation; the people at Chevron USA; the Hewlett Packard Company; Join Hands, the Health and Safety Educational Alliance; the Microscopy Association of America; the Shell Oil Company Foundation; the Crail-Johnson Foundation; and the William K. Holt Foundation. Very recent and current development projects are funded by the National Science Foundation; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the United States Department of Education; the Noyce Foundation; the Packard Foundation; and by other generous organizations.   Early development of a number of the PEACHES early childhood series, later published by GEMS, was funded by the US Department of Education FIPSE program and the National Science Foundation. 

From 1988–1990, a dissemination grant from the National Science Foundation enabled the presentation of GEMS Leader’s Workshops throughout the United States and at major educational meetings and conferences. The grant called for the training of 2,000 leaders, and more than 2,600 were reached. By 1999, well over 15,000 teachers and educators have been trained as GEMS Leaders, establishing a solid national network of GEMS users and teacher-trainers.  In 1996, a new leadership category, the GEMS Associate, was created, requiring completion of intensive professional development conducted by GEMS staff.  There are now more than 2,200 GEMS Associates nationwide. 

A network of GEMS Network Sites and Centers, staffed by leading GEMS Associates, has grown rapidly across the United States.  There are more than 60 GEMS Network Sites and Centers, nationally and internationally, that provide ongoing training and support to teachers in how to use GEMS effectively within their larger curriculum. A subset of the GEMS Network, as well as additional sites, are now forming a similar network around the new Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading® program. 

Reports from the field indicate that many teachers use and rely on GEMS units in delivering their science and mathematics programs. Leading national educators suggest that GEMS is one of the most accessible science and mathematics programs and has perhaps received the greatest degree of penetration into classrooms of any science instructional program.  We have numerous letters from GEMS Associates, GEMS Leaders, and other teachers who use GEMS to construct or enhance their curricula, and rely on GEMS activities because of high motivational level and their effectiveness in advancing the scientific and mathematical literacy of all students.  It is estimated that more than 700,000 teachers and 10 million students have experienced GEMS activities over the past 16 years.


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Lawrence Hall of Science    © 2014 UC Regents. All rights reserved.    Contact GEMS    Updated June 20, 2011