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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: Science Connections Project
published: 11/25/1998
posted to site: 11/25/1998

Science Connections
Local Systemic Change
PI Annual Progress Report

November 16, 1998

Part I. Annual Overview

Project Description

Science Connections is providing comprehensive training for all Montgomery County (MCPS) (Maryland) Public Schools (Rockville, Maryland) middle school science teachers in two-year cycles. Science teachers are trained on science content; instructional pedagogy including constructivist learning, cooperative learning, and inquiry-based teaching; performance teaching and assessment; technology applications; and new science units to be adopted from other National Science Foundation and national curriculum development projects. Additionally, training addresses interdisciplinary connections to mathematics, reading and language arts, and social studies, and all science teachers are trained on intradisciplinary science and the connections among all the sciences (e.g., life, physical, earth). This training is occurring simultaneous to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) middle school science curriculum revision efforts.

In addition to pedagogy and science content training, MCPS is updating the middle school science program to be consistent with National Science Education Standards. This program is drawing from exemplary middle school science curriculum projects such as Event-Based Science (Addison-Wesley), Science Technology for Children (National Science Resources Center), Science Links (The Agency for Instructional Technology/Division of South-Western Educational Publishing), Chesapeake Choices and Challenges (Chesapeake Bay Foundation), Middle Years Digital Library (Learning Group at the University of Michigan), Science Sleuths (Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium), and Science 2000 (Decision Development Corporation).

Major goals of the five-year training plan are as follows:

  • Increase science teachers’ content knowledge in the life, physical, and earth sciences
  • Improve teachers’ abilities to provide inquiry-oriented instruction
  • Encourage collaboration among the disciplines within the middle school setting to improve interdisciplinary connections with science

Year 1 training targeted 35 Master Science Teachers and included eight days of summer institute training and monthly follow-up meeting during the year. These sessions addressed using new science materials, additional science content, intra/interdisciplinary connections, and training-of-trainer skills. Scientists participated in some sessions and provided content expertise and connections to real-world applications.

Beginning in Year 2 (continuing to Year 5), training is taking place for all remaining science teachers in three groups, each starting a year apart in two-year cycles. The first year of the two-year training consisted of two summer institutes (one five-day followed by a three-day institute). Quarterly follow-up training during the school year is also being held to provide opportunities for teachers to explore problems they are encountering with new science units and receive advance training on selected topics such as assessment, technology, and instructional strategies.

During the second year of the cycle, science teachers will receive three days of summer training on science content, technology applications, understanding student and developing strategies for addressing those misconceptions, and accommodating the needs of diverse populations such as special education, English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and gifted students.

Major Accomplishments

The Science Connections Project has produced a committed and well-trained professional development team of Master Science Teachers (MST). These teachers have a comprehensive understanding of inquiry-based instruction, National Science Education Standards, performance-based assessment, science content, reform-based science curriculum, and training-of-trainer strategies and skills. Since November 1997, MST’s have attended monthly training on questioning, technology, science content, curriculum analysis, and working with the adult learner. In June 1998, the project staff and MST’s developed the Year 2 summer institute. In July and August 1998 middle school science teachers, including ESOL and special education science teachers, attended the institute as planned.

During summer 1998, MCPS conducted a second curriculum development workshop. By the end of the twelve-day workshop, new science content outcomes for middle school were written based on National Science Education Standards and the Maryland Science Outcomes for middle school. These outcomes were organized into a grade-level sequence of units, Grades 6, 7, and 8, and exemplary science curriculum materials were identified for teachers to use in implementing the outcomes. These documents, along with the science process outcomes developed during Year 1, are serving as a framework for a new middle school science program, and the First Cohort schools are implementing this framework.

Lessons Learned

The professional development experiences provided to MST’s have made them knowledgeable about good curriculum and effective instruction. Consequently, they are hard to please and are helping to set high standards for adopted curriculum materials. The summer institute stipend pay for participants was not sufficient to attract all teachers in the First Cohort schools. For the Second Cohort schools, the project staff is exploring other incentives such as salary and recertification credit. Several of the Year 2 summer institute presentations were general in nature and while they focused on important instructional strategies, they were not tied to specific science curriculum materials. Some teachers did not recognize the value of these presentations and project staff will modify presentations for Year 3. The Year 2 institute was conducted in collaboration with an annual MCPS-sponsored summer workshop for resource teachers (department chairs and team leaders). This schedule resulted in some conflicts and competing training activities and some participants found their time and attention fragmented. Project staff is considering alternative times and places for future summer institutes. Project staff recognize that some MST’s will need continuing support throughout the project, particularly as they try to work with science teachers in their schools. The staff is exploring ways of supporting the MST’s such as providing sessions in structured observations and putting in place a protocol for MST’s to observe each other’s classroom practice.