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Black Hills Science Teaching Project Annual Overview 2002

author: Ben Sayler
submitter: Ben Sayler, Black Hills State University
posted to site: 12/03/2002

Black Hills Science Teaching Project (BLAHST) 2002 Annual Report Overview

The Black Hills Science Teaching Project (BLAHST) provides professional development for teachers of grades K-8 and supports them in the implementation of exemplary, inquiry-oriented science instruction. Over the past year, the project has expanded from eight (8) school districts to ten (10). The project now covers nearly 10,000 square miles of western South Dakota and serves over 10,000 students at the targeted grades. Each of the 447 targeted teachers is expected to participate in a minimum of 100 hours of professional development over the duration of the grant, which is anticipated to end in May, 2005.

The project is guided by a Project Management Team that meets approximately once every two months during the academic year. This leadership team consists of a primary representative from each district (superintendent, curriculum coordinator, and/or principal), a project director, project manager, lead teachers, lead scientists, external evaluator, materials coordinator, and research assistant. The project is run through South Dakota's Center for the Advancement of Mathematics and Science Education, which is part of Black Hills State University.

Over the past year, BLAHST provided 67 days of project-wide professional development workshops (PD) ranging in duration from one to eight days. This number of workshop days represents an increase of 16% from 00-01 and an increase of 52% from 99-00. Average attendance was 20.5 over the past year, which is up from 18.5 in 00-01 and 16.5 in 99-00. The majority of PD (69%) focused explicitly on science content. An inquiry approach was used in each session to help teachers deepen their understanding of important science concepts relevant to K-8 classrooms and to model effective instruction. One content session also focused on the integration of science with mathematics. Each content session was facilitated by one of the project's lead scientists with guidance from the Project Manager and other project leaders. Content topics were selected based on needs reported by teachers, based on the content addressed within instructional materials used widely across the project, and on the South Dakota State Science Standards. In addition to content-focused workshops, the project offered 18 days of workshops focusing on instructional materials, a 1-day workshop connecting science and literature, and a 2-day leadership institute. Workshops focusing on instructional materials were typically facilitated by a lead teacher from a participating district and included a scientist in a supporting role. Within individual districts, the project also provided and/or supported site-based workshops and study groups, and it offered classroom coaching, model teaching, and mentoring.

To date (58% of the way through the anticipated 6-yr grant period), 57% of the 48,000 targeted professional development hours have been accomplished. Approximately 85% of those hours have been accomplished through project-wide workshops, and the remaining 15% have been associated with such activities as classroom coaching and site-based study groups. Project-wide workshops are clearly efficient, but site-based offerings play a crucial role in building support for the project and provide project leaders with information about the needs of participating teachers.

Districts are in the process of purchasing enough instructional materials so that all teachers have access to at least 2 inquiry-oriented modules. Also, the Center for Math and Science Education at Black Hills State University has assembled a collection of 124 of the most popular K-8 modules (e.g., FOSS, Insights, STC, and SEPUP), which are available to participating teachers for checkout. Twelve of those modules were acquired over the past year (an increase of 11%), and the Center's inventory is expected to continue expanding. Over the past year, kits were checked out 94 times by project teachers, which is more than double the number of checkouts the previous year (up from 41).

The project offers graduate credit at reduced tuition through Black Hills State University. Roughly 86% of teachers attending workshops to date have taken advantage of this opportunity. A total of 378 graduate credits were earned through the project over the past year (an increase of 14% from the previous year), and since the project's inception, it has provided a total of 1,036 credits. Teachers may apply up to 9 credits earned through participation in BLAHST workshops toward a 35-credit master's degree program in curriculum and instruction.

Participants' satisfaction with project-wide workshops has been extremely high over the past year. On a scale of 1-low to 5-high, overall feedback scores for the year averaged 4.78. While participant satisfaction is by no means a complete measure of success, the project views it to be an essential ingredient. And while the 4.78 average is high, it does represent a marginal drop from the previous year, which had an average of 4.82. The decline may stem in part from the fact that the project scaled up and involved many new workshop facilitators. It is interesting to note that while content-focused workshops (which were 56% more prevalent than kit-focused ones) were in substantially higher demand, they received somewhat lower feedback scores on average (4.72 for content vs. 4.88 for kits). Nonetheless, the vast majority of participants are giving both types of workshops an overall rating of 5 (the highest possible rating). For further comparison, the average feedback score for 99-00 was 4.5.

During the summer of 2001, BLAHST began a research project focusing on student outcomes at the sixth grade. A multiple-choice pre-test developed by Horizon Research, Inc. was administered to all 804 sixth graders within the project last fall and a post-test was administered in the spring. Data from that first iteration were released last month by HRI, and project leaders are currently analyzing them. Also, earlier this fall, a second iteration of student testing began with another pre-test, and the second post-test is scheduled for late spring, 2003.

In addition to analyzing how students perform on the pre and post-tests, BLAHST is assembling and examining data from statewide tests and conducting multiple observations of instruction within each sixth grade classroom. Preliminary results from the observations suggest two interesting findings. The first is a correlation between lesson quality and the number of hours of professional development that a teacher has within the project, and the second is a correlation between lesson quality and the use of project-designated instructional materials. While numerous counter examples exist (e.g., highly rated lessons taught using non-designated resources), and the correlations are modest, they do appear to be statistically significant. It will be interesting to see if these findings hold up as more data are collected and whether or not any statistically significant correlations between instructional practice and student achievement are detectable. Results of this work will be used to inform the project and to make the case for institutionalizing its most effective components.

In conclusion, BLAHST is running quite smoothly under the direction of the Project Management Team, and project-wide workshops are well received by the vast majority of participants. Perhaps the greatest challenge to be addressed over the coming years is the issue of sustainability. One strategy to address this issue is providing increased support for lead teachers. Site-based activities such as peer coaching and the establishment of study groups will pay important dividends well beyond the end of the grant.

Copyright © 2002 by Ben Sayler
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