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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: Hands-On Activity Science Program
published: 11/19/1998
posted to site: 11/19/1998


NSF LSC 1997-98 Progress Report

Part I. Annual Overview

This project is a collaborative effort of the Institute for Science Education (ISE) of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and five school districts - Athens, Decatur, Fort Payne, Morgan County and Scottsboro. These six organizations plus other school districts are joined in a partnership named HASP. The goals and objectives for this five-year project are:

  1. Convert to an activity-inquiry science program in grades K-6

    1. Implement an activity-inquiry curriculum
    2. Use appropriate inquiry-based teaching strategies
    3. Guide instruction with authentic assessment methods

  2. All five districts will support a "Materials Resources Center" that develops a capacity to:

    1. Provide kits of materials for all modules as needed in the classrooms
    2. Facilitate professional development of teachers and principals
    3. Assist in curriculum planning

HASP curriculum is a set of four nationally developed and tested modules for each classroom. One of these modules is introduced each year and complete curriculum change requires four years. Kits of classroom instruction materials are distributed through a center paid for by districts and operated by the university. The first year of the LSC grant was 1995-96, but the reform had started earlier, and now curriculum change has been completed in essentially all classrooms.

Annual frameworks to define content and delivery options were developed cooperatively by the partners and utilized in preparing district specific plans and schedules. Four strands or themes for 1997-98 (science inquiry, assessment, use of computers, and integration of math and language arts into science) were selected to address needs identified in evaluation findings. Teams consisting of teachers, a project co-director, and a scientist, and coordinated by the UAH co-project director designed, tested, and refined professional development activities for each strand. The annual professional development program included a variety of formats (study groups, action research, peer coaching and workshops).

There are three teachers-in-residence each year who are assigned full time to the UAH ISE and approximately 100 lead teachers who continue classroom teaching and receive supplementary leadership training. All teachers receive a minimum of 20 hours of professional development per year. During 1997-98 approximately 75 percent of school year professional development was led by a teacher-in residence who was supervised by the UAH co-project director, and approximately 25 percent of professional development was led by a lead teacher.

Three external consultants made annual visits to the project. Maryellen Harmon continued her assistance on assessment, and Karen Worth continued to assist in planning and preparing for delivery of professional development. In addition, Larry Lowery led sessions on learning, student development, and questioning.

HRI teacher questionnaires helped identify a need for increased classroom use of reasoning ability, conceptual understanding, designing and implementing investigations, designing objects under constraints, recording and analyzing data, use of portfolios, use of performance tasks for assessment purposes, use of math, writing reflections, and writing reports. During the year these items were consolidated, and in the future we will concentrate on professional development that helps teachers to:

  • develop students’ conceptual understanding of science
  • develop students’ scientific reasoning ability
  • assess student progress in developing conceptual understanding and reasoning ability

Foundation for this next stage of professional development was started during the year with lead teachers and scientists working cooperatively. Experiences from Exploratorium workshops and serving as a pilot site for CalTech’s project to develop advanced modules also have been helpful.

Project partners believe that reform is facilitated by external stimuli; the grant, the university and partner districts all are contributing factors. Grant funds augment professional development, but funding from the partners supports:

  • providing kits of materials to all elementary teachers
  • curriculum planning around nationally developed and tested modules
  • professional development for all teachers
  • university leadership and assistance

Project leadership recognizes overlap in change advocated for science instruction and change needed in other subjects. District co-directors have been especially appreciative of their own professional growth through participation in the project. They recognize that issues focused upon by the grant are in tune with national reform movements and often precede directions recommended by the state. Districts now are anxious to introduce a HASP-type program in middle schools, and assistance from the university has been sought.

The observation last year, "project expectations are shaped by national standards, but any path to success must pass through the state culture" remains valid. Initiation of state high-stakes standardized exams for grades 3-12 three years ago is impacting the project reform efforts significantly. The evaluation report states:

"Some districts or schools emphasis on teacher coverage of the Alabama Course of study and/or students’ preparedness for the Stanford 9 exams has led teachers to expand the science content areas they teach, abbreviate the HASP modules in terms of time spent on investigating or number of module lessons used; place more emphasis on math and reading components of the tests thus decreasing time spent on science, and/or eliminating some science modules altogether. Left unchecked, this trend could well undermine HASP’s impressive PD and programmatic efforts."

The influence is pervasive; it extends to curriculum materials, beliefs about instruction, teaching practices, and expectations for professional development. Dealing with this influence during the upcoming year is a high priority and may be the most significant test yet faced by the university-district partnership.