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Annual Report Overviews


Middle Grades Hands-on Activity Science Program (MGHASP) 2002 Annual Report Overview

author: Richard H Comfort
submitter: Richard Comfort, The University of Alabama in Huntsville
posted to site: 12/03/2002

Middle Grades Hands-on Activity Science Program (MGHASP) 2002 Annual Report Overview

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is partnering with seven North Alabama school districts to support middle grades (6-8) science education reform over a five-year period. The project is impacting 187 middle grades teachers and their 11,500 students from the seven districts. These districts are quite diverse, ranging from rural to urban. Their students come from several traditionally underserved groups and include many who qualify for free or reduced lunch prices. Facilities for science instruction range from ordinary classrooms to classrooms fully equipped as laboratories. The Middle Grades Hands-on Activity Science Program (MGHASP) is focusing on the development of standards-based curriculum and assessment frameworks, selection of exemplary instructional materials to support these frameworks, and provision of professional development in support of curriculum implementation. This project builds on the enduring partnership established through the Hands-on Activity Science Program (HASP), a highly successful NSF-funded K-6 science education reform initiative.

Guiding this project is the common vision of the partners to provide an inquiry-based science program for all middle grades students in order to:

  • Foster creativity and curiosity
  • Develop understanding of both the content and processes of science
  • Prepare students to effectively apply this understanding to daily life in a dynamic, technological society.

Year Two activities have been directed toward the piloting and beginning implementation of curriculum materials which were selected by district co-directors as primary candidates for adoption. Alabama is a 'textbook adoption' state and the 2001-2002 school year was the time for adoption of science curriculum materials. In the first year, we supported the training of pilot teachers from each of the districts in several modules from STC/MS, FOSS, and SEPUP. These had been examined and their alignments with the new Alabama Course of Study: Science had been determined. During this year the piloting took place and was supported on site by a Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) (released by her district for the school year to work full time with and for the MGHASP Project.) This TIR helped the pilot teachers initially organize materials, and she visited each teacher's classroom on a weekly basis. During the piloting in both the fall and spring terms, an additional day of module training was provided on the large modules (Properties of Matter and Energy, Machines, and Motion) and teachers were able to raise questions on both pedagogy and content as well as voice concerns, identify additional needs, and point to improvements in future training. Following completion of the piloting each term, a half day debriefing session was held in which teachers were encouraged to reflect on their experience, provide feedback for improving training and identify student successes and their own successes. They also noted challenges that remained in the use of the materials. The importance of the support of the TIR to these pilot teachers has been expressed by the teachers during the debriefing and on many other occasions. Some indicated that they could not have survived without that support and encouragement. Those particular modules are demanding in both content knowledge and organizational competence (since they are very complex logistically). The success of the pilot effort depended on that TIR support and had the pilot effort failed, district-wide implementation would have been unlikely.

Following successful completion of both terms of piloting, the second MGHASP Summer Institute was held. This two-day Summer Institute provided additional professional development on inquiry pedagogy and related topics, including cooperative groups and classroom management, science notebooks, Alabama classroom safety requirements relevant to the science modules, Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM), reading and writing in science, various forms of assessment, and computer tools, such as Powerpoint presentations and graphic organizers like Inspiration. These were designed to prepare peer teachers for module training in the modules which had been piloted the previous year. Most peer teachers were trained in two modules to be implemented in the following school year. Pilot teachers were trained in the modules they had not piloted. Most of the module training was led by either the TIR or pilot teachers who had taught the module in their classrooms the previous year. All teachers used as trainers who had not previously led professional development were required to participate in a leadership workshop on facilitating adult learners.

During the current school year, all 187 MGHASP teachers are implementing one or more middle grades modules selected by their district (typically done by teacher committees). Modules have been acquired and scheduled through the UAH Materials Center. No teacher who has not participated in the relevant module training is provided a module. This has caused some delays involving teachers who were hired at the beginning of the school year, but this requirement is considered essential for the effective module use by the teacher and for the safety of both students and teachers. Once again the onsite support of the TIR is proving very helpful to the implementing teachers. There are now many more teachers implementing these materials than with the pilot effort last year, so the TIR cannot provide as much support to each teacher. However, each district has teachers who have piloted at least the more complex modules and can provide some local support. Also, the fact that other teachers in the district are engaged in implementing the same materials allows teachers to support each other, with only the more difficult situations requiring support from the TIR. We continue to work closely with districts and their teachers as the implementation of new science modules proceeds.

Copyright © 2002 by Richard H Comfort
All rights reserved