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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: KEYSTONE: A Rural Regional Training Program for Excellence in Science and Technology
published: 11/25/1998
posted to site: 11/25/1998

Keystone Annual Overview

The Keystone Project is a five year K-8 science and technology rural regional teacher enhancement program that provides support to the reform efforts of twenty-one school districts. Our consortium consists of one teacher districts, K-8 elementary districts which feed into larger districts for high school, small K-12 districts, K-12 reservation districts, and large K-12 districts such as Bozeman.

The overarching goal of Keystone is to enhance teachers' best practices in science and technology. Our five major goals are: 1) disseminate nationally recognized classroom practices which embody the principles for science and technology teaching with mathematics support, 2) address gender equity, 3) address the needs of Native Americans, 4) address the needs of the rural educator, and 5) create a model training program which is to be offered for replication throughout the state in years 4-5, and subsequently be used as the blueprint for a national model of school based reform.

The name "Keystone" is not an acronym; it is a metaphor for the most important effort we can make, the creation of a functional, powerful support system between the intellectual efforts of well-meaning adults and the child in the classroom. The keystone completes the universal support structure, the arch. We support things with arches- like bridges, cathedral ceilings, and aqueducts. We also suspend and display impressive and expressive things from arches in places we could not otherwise reach.

In our efforts, knowledge is not viewed as being transmitted; but rather understanding comes only when students can tie new information to the knowledge they already understand. This paradigm shift requires changes in the way students are taught and the material used to instruct them. Students learn best when involved in problems which interest them and which have many solutions or methods of attack. The potential rewards for students are great when an integrative, constructivist science program of experiential learning promotes intellectual improvement. For some, these experiences will be the key to lifelong learning or economic involvement with science.

Since our project holds the belief that true and lasting systemic change in education begins with addressing the interaction between student and teacher in every classroom, the key to reform therefore is changing behaviors within the teacher. Improving the teacher's attitudes, abilities, and confidence will certainly improve the overall learning environment. Although the need for reform is global in scope, change is a highly personal experience. Its success depends on the appropriateness of timing, location and relevancy. Therefore, Keystone's efforts support a rural collaborative training program which provides mentor coaching, material support, and networking with scientists and other educators to combat isolation, lack of materials, and lack of professional support that is typical in the rural educational scene. Awakening, engaging, and empowering the professional staff (teachers and administrators) is the key to the change we seek.

Keystone has a strong mentor teacher leader team due to its having had the time to focus on building leadership capacity during the first year. Now that all the consortium schools are actively involved, this focus on leadership is invaluable in assisting districts that are at different stages of science planning and in implementing staff development using the school's mini-grant funding from Keystone. With the schools being so geographically widespread and many are not very accessible in the winter, it is impossible for the Keystone staff to be at each location for all events. Teacher leaders have to take an active leadership role in their schools. Institutes and follow-up contacts which prepare mentors to address cognitive skills, inquiry, pedagogy, coaching, change, and teleconferencing have been taking place since October, 1995 and will continue throughout the life of the grant. The number of hours attained so far varies from school to school due to mentors being identified at varying times, mentors retiring or leaving to raise a family, mentors moving out of district and between schools, and mentors going back to school to work on degrees. (see Appendix B: Mentor and Participant Hours)

1997-98 was filled with many very satisfying staff development activities. Using a collaborative model involving mentor leaders, scientists, businesses, consultants, community organizations, individuals, other educational institutions, and other currently funded NSF initiatives, Keystone provided in 1997-98 1) six summer institutes which stressed parent involvement, best practices and content through exemplary material explorations, 2) four school year content workshops, 3) six individual school inquiry workshops, and 4) two mentor leader mentoring and inquiry experiences as well as many workshops supported through the individual school's mini-grant funding. Individual schools were assisted in revising existing plans or in developing new self-sustaining strategic science and technology plans. A non-Keystone district was assisted in its science adoption process. In addition, we shared our model for the perusal of other school districts. (see Appendix A: description of activities and institutes) Keystone schools were used as a part of Susan Mundry's case study project. (see Appendix F: Case Study Results)

Over the last three years, mentors, depending on entry point, have had the opportunity for 220 hours of the promised 180 hours of inservice. Part of this training was a 3 graduate credit course on action research and an in-depth focus on inquiry using the Exploratorium model. Other participants (teachers, principals) have had the opportunity to attend more than 185 hours of offerings. Not every participant has taken every workshop or institute; however, 65% of the teachers are well on their way to meeting the 100 hour goal. The number of hours for mentors and participants is influenced by the opportunity for multiple entry points. (see Appendix B: mentor and participant hours)

The capacity of the Science and Technology Resource Center to supply the demand for kits continues to be taxed by heavy use. Some of the county schools and the county superintendent are purchasing their own kits (one per grade level per year) and using the center for refurbishing. This has lessened the pressure on some of the center's kits.

Since our project is in its fourth year, sustainability is major concern for us. Our major tasks will be to act upon the more specific school needs that have been gleaned from the strategic science and technology plans as well as continue to disseminate the model to other rural schools through local, state, and national conferences as we have done for the past three years. Plans for addressing the sustainability issue will be addressed in more depth later in the project narrative.

The major lessons learned: 1) Staff developers need to be constantly adapting the approach to fit individual need. 2) Teachers have an informal network--teachers from many locations have called to attend our workshops. It is difficult to say no when teachers call and ask to become part of the project. 3) Material resources continue to be an issue since supplying over a long distance is difficult. What we really need is time to find funding sources for kits to place in individual locations. 4) Teachers are curious and will run with an idea if barriers are not too great. Principals seem to be more supportive of teachers efforts for reform. 5) Change happens over time--some schools are now taking a closer look at their curriculum and using Keystone strategies to adapt activities into a more inquiry approach. 6) Collaboration on putting on a workshop really takes a lot of time. 7) It is difficult to stay focused on science reform when school closure and large budget cuts are waiting in the wings. If the Montana legislature does not do something about education funding, this will be a reality again this coming year. (see Appendix C: In the News).

Although inquiry is critical to the change that we seek, we need to also recognize that good teaching comes in other guises; and that some of our greatest assets for success are people and good schools. Keystone is fortunate to have many note worthy participants. (see Appendix C: In the News)