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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: Reforming Secondary Science Through Teacher Enhancement
description: Copyright 1998 by Reforming Secondary Science through Teacher Enhancement
All rights reserved
published: 11/25/1998
posted to site: 11/25/1998

Part I. Annual Overview: Spokane Local Systemic Change Initiative: ESI-9731552

Project Description

The Spokane Local Systemic Change project "Reforming Secondary Science through Teacher Enhancement" was funded by the National Science Foundation effective July 15, 1998. A cooperative effort of Spokane Public Schools (SD 81) and Eastern Washington University, it is directed by Scott S. Stowell, Coordinator of Science and Health Education in the district and Robert E. Gibbs, Professor of Physics at EWU. The goal of the project is to create a 7th - 12th grade science education system in which all students have the opportunity to learn challenging, worthwhile and academically rigorous science subject matter, to develop the ability to conduct scientific inquiry and solve scientific problems, and to successfully communicate their understanding. In planning this effort, the project directors have been primarily guided by the National Science Education Standards and the Essential Academic Learning Requirements adopted by Washington State. Project objectives are divided into Instructional Objectives and Organizational Objectives. The former include creating a new curriculum from exemplary materials, providing professional development for teachers to improve instructional strategies, and the development of an assessment system. The latter include the organizational changes needed to support and institutionalize the instructional reforms. The project serves 102 teachers in six middle schools and six high schools in Spokane, Washington. Evaluation will be carried out by Inverness Research Associates of Inverness, California.

To carry out the project, teams comprised of teachers and EWU faculty have been formed. There are four Disciplinary Teams representing Life Science, Chemistry, Earth/Space Science and Physics. Each team is composed of three teachers and an EWU faculty member, with at least one middle school and one high school teacher on each team. These teams have primary responsibility for creating the curriculum from the new resources purchased by the school district. They also play a leadership role in cooperating with the project directors to plan the workshops for other teachers and carry out the instruction.

Each school has a Building Team which is composed of two or three teachers. Disciplinary Team members are also on a Building Team. These teams coordinate the project in their schools, provide direct support for the building teachers when possible, and marshal the resources and expertise of the project in support of the teachers. They report to the directors on the state of the project in their buildings, documenting successes and needs. They form the nucleus of a community of science teachers created in each school that will work cooperatively to implement the goals of the project. The Building Teams also inform the Disciplinary Teams and directors concerning needed revisions in the curriculum.

A number of local and regional agencies and businesses have agreed to support this project. These include the Washington Roundtable and the Northwest Natural Resources Institute. Specific organizations supporting the project include the Spokane Intercollegiate Research & Technical Institute (SIRTI), Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, and Inland Paper Company.

Eastern Washington University and Spokane schools recently completed a five year reform of the elementary school science curriculum with support from the National Science Foundation. This highly successful effort has set the stage for the current project, which will extend the reform through the remaining grade levels. At the completion of this project in 2003, Spokane will have fully implemented the National Science Education Standards.

Project Activities

Prior to formal funding, there was considerable activity in preparation for this project. During the 1997-98 year, teams of teachers began creating the course of study for each of the discipline units in grades 7-10, drawing on the resources already purchased by the district. In some cases, these curricular units were field tested in classrooms to determine their appropriateness.

The first activity of the project was a two week workshop for the Disciplinary Teams, held July 6-17, 1998. The two themes for this workshop were "Teaching for Understanding" and "Assessment in the Service of Student Learning." The insights gained from activities devoted to these themes were put to use immediately as the teams revised the courses of study and created summative assessments for each curricular unit. At the end of the workshop there was a draft curriculum for each of the four disciplines for grade levels 7-10, a total of 16 units. This effort was substantially aided by the contributions of our consultant Dr. Audrey Champagne, Professor of Chemistry and Education at SUNY, Albany. Audrey was the Chair of the Assessment Committee for the development of the National Science Education Standards, and she is an internationally recognized expert on assessment. Her critiques and advice helped create instruments that will assess student understanding and reasoning ability, and provided significant assistance in the development of the courses of study. In addition, the Disciplinary Teams planned for the workshop they were to help present a week later. This was an enormous agenda for the teams, and they performed their functions wonderfully.

The one week workshop for all teachers was presented during the week of July 27-31, 1998. Attending were 46 teachers plus the 12 Disciplinary Team members. Activities on "teaching for understanding" and assessment were again major emphases of the workshop. In addition, the Disciplinary Teams presented the draft curriculum and assessment instruments to the teachers. This was a busy week, and it seemed too short to accomplish all the goals completely, but great progress was made and the project was underway. Most workshop participants felt ready to start the year with the new curriculum.

The Building Teams met on August 24 - 25 to learn about their role and to organize their approach to carrying out their building responsibilities for the coming year. A total of 34 teachers participated, out of a possible 36, including the 12 Disciplinary Team members.

The first follow-up meeting was held on October 7, 1998, with 57 teachers attending. In this 2.5 hour meeting, they first heard a description of the design of the web page being created by the district to support this project. This had been suggested during the summer workshops, and the district was responding with a possible plan. The teachers made additional suggestions, but approved of the direction taken by the developers. Then they broke into sharing sessions, first for an hour by grade level, then for a second hour by subject matter. These were very active and worthwhile sessions. Many questions were asked and resolved, and many successes and problems were shared. However, the general tone of the meeting was quite positive, showing a commitment to make this project work.

The second follow-up meeting was held November 4, 1998, with 47 teachers attending. They spent one hour on a "jigsaw" activity based on the book "The Teaching for Understanding Guide" (Tina Blythe and Associates, 1998) and the article "Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment." They then broke into sharing sessions with middle school teachers in one group and high school teachers in the other. At this point in the project, 82 of the 102 teachers have participated in at least one of the workshops or meetings.

Accomplishments and Lessons Learned.

The Disciplinary Teams are functioning well. Each team works effectively, and the four teams cooperate with each other. They have developed a good understanding of the project, and they share a sense of commitment and team spirit that is a joy to observe.

It is clear that in most schools the Building Teams have formed cooperative groups of teachers to implement the new programs, and the level of cooperative planning and mutual support is very high. A few schools are finding this more difficult, but they have been identified and will be given additional support by the project. The directors recognize that additional time needs to be devoted to developing the leadership of the Building Teams.

We have found the process of developing coherent curricular units from program standards and exemplary resources to be very challenging. The draft curriculum is being taught for the first time, and while teachers generally like the directions being taken, it is clear that revisions will be necessary. The follow-up meetings have been successful at generating the feedback needed to guide the revision process.

Because the grade 7-10 curriculum is changing from year long discipline based courses to a system in which all four disciplines are taught each year, teachers are being asked to teach subject matter that is less familiar to them. To help them with subject matter understanding, a series of "short courses" taught by EWU faculty and supported by Eisenhower funds are being developed to supplement the NSF funded workshop activities.

Since the curriculum is based much more on activities and not on a textbook, it is more difficult for the teachers to structure make-up assignments for students missing class. Avenues are being explored to address this issue.

The web page under development for the project will provide an electronic means for district teachers and EWU staff to communicate about project issues. It will also establish links to student and teacher resources on the web that are related to the curricular units.