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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: Partnership for Elementary Science Education
description: Copyright © 1998 by Partnership for Elementary Science Education
All rights reserved
published: 01/06/1999
posted to site: 01/06/1999


Partnerships for Elementary Science Education (PESE) is a robust collaborative of public schools and private organizations committed to the improvement of science education for all students in southwest Washington state. In year two of a five year project, this fall PESE brought a new district with 450 teachers from eighteen school buildings into the consortium. This brings our total population to 840 teachers serving 21,000 students in seven districts. The PESE science initiative has received considerable attention in the community and has made significant strides forward in building a foundation for sustaining this science education program over time.

Major partners in the project are the seven school districts and three support organizations: Battle Ground SD, Evergreen SD, Hockinson SD, Kalama SD, LaCenter SD, Ridgefield SD, Woodland SD, and Educational Service District 112, Washington State University- Vancouver, and Hewlett-Packards Vancouver Division. Each partner has committed major resources to the project and to date each has followed through to this commitment and then some. We have pooled funds from the National Science Foundation, the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, district general funds, state professional development funds, and private donations.

Our project framework recognizes five major areas of focus: curriculum, professional development, materials support, assessment, and administrative & community involvement. A unique characteristic of this program is the degree to which districts and partners have collaborated. Success has been facilitated by these key values:

  • strong collaboration between program staff and teachers at all levels of planning and implementation

  • commitment to continuous improvement and a belief that we are a learning community

  • adaptation of project activities to meet the changing needs of students, educators, and school communities

  • proactive involvement of community partners including scientists, engineers, informal science museums, and parents

Just as important, school district leadership teams have worked diligently to align district practices in the following areas:

  • a common curriculum adoption across all districts

  • a scheduled rotation of kits so that every teacher in a given grade at a given school now received the same kit at the same time

  • a science materials resource center which coordinates restocking and delivery of kits across all districts

  • shared use of kits to accommodate population differences across buildings

  • ongoing assistance and support available upon request

  • highly skilled and motivated science specialists who conduct professional development and provide technical assistance during implementation

  • a committed corps of teacher leaders who, with assistance, continue to develop their skills as peer instructors and act as champions for science in their districts

Through collaborative planning and negotiation, school district administrators and teachers were able to come to agreement about modifications to how science kits were distributed and scheduled. These changes have allowed science specialists to work more efficiently and effectively with teachers at each building site. Additionally, buildings have adopted a differentiated model of professional development depending on how long their teachers have been using science kits. This flexible model of delivering professional development has been positively received by teachers and their building principals.

The combination of workshops with ongoing classroom assistance remains a powerful aspect of the PESE project. The separate workshop offerings that address science content, inquiry learning, use of the kits, and leadership development provide a comprehensive approach to professional development. The level of onsite technical assistance provided by the specialists holds great potential for significant improvement in the way teaching and learning are carried out in these districts.

PESE is a complex project with multiple funding sources and many partners. As the project continues to grow and change, clear communication and attention to the care and feeding of stakeholders is becoming increasingly important. Key challenges PESE is facing for the coming year:

  • Changes in administration, including superintendents and curriculum directors

  • Management of volunteers including scientists, engineers and science resource center helpers

  • Management of expansion of the science resource center during phase in of eighteen new schools

  • Negotiation of partnership agreements with new partners including business and industry, foundations, and community organizations and agencies

  • Meeting the needs of middle school teachers as students move from elementary into middle schools

  • Alignment of the science program with the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), our new state testing program

Results from the Year 1 Core Evaluation Report indicate that teachers have participated in an average of 22.5 hours of professional development. The teachers showed statistically significant improvement in both pedagogical preparedness and content preparedness from the 1997 survey to the 1998 survey. The composite index for content preparedness increased significantly from 58% in 1997 to 61% in 1998 as did the composite index for pedagogical preparedness, which increased significantly from 68% in 1997 to 75% in 1998. While PESE teachers are beginning to demonstrate significant change toward the implementation of practices that are more investigative in nature; there is, however, considerable room for improvement. We look forward to the implementation, in the coming months, of targeted professional development specifically designed to help teachers move from mechanical use of science kits to more open-ended investigative approaches.


The project evaluator and principal investigator have an excellent working relationship. The Year 1 Evaluation (enclosed) reflect the interplay of data collection, evaluation of data, modification to program based on evaluation, and so on. The project evaluator attends monthly meeting with the staff and is able to recommend specific tools to help guide decisions in specific areas of need. Major modifications to the data base this year allowed us to format data by building and teacher according to type of professional development. We have found this approach most useful in encouraging teachers, buildings, and districts to take more ownership in determining how to address deficiencies and areas of need. It also helped us to celebrate the huge success some of our buildings are experiencing with their science program.

What follows is a brief summary of the major areas of implementation for the first eighteen months of the program for our original six districts. Our newest district, Evergreen School District joined the project in October. Due to the newness of their arrival, I have not included them in this summary.

Curriculum - A process of review, revision and expansion is being used to either affirm the original adoption of instructional materials or recommend new materials. This process has worked very well for us. Last year two new kit adoptions were approved and two old kits were retired. At this time all six districts are now using FOSS physical science kits and FOSS and GEMS earth science kits. We began the pilot of life science kits this fall in two of five districts. We will complete the entire K-6 kit adoption by May 1999.

Professional Development - During the period of March 1997 through August 1998 teachers participated in 4,690 hours of professional development. On average that was 22.5 hours per teacher. Our strategy for implementing year 1 professional development was to provide high quality professional development, designed to meet the needs of individual teachers, and to provide technical support in the classroom. Science specialists and the principal investigator meet often and discussed strategies for providing the best service possible to teachers. This meant meeting individually with every teacher, coordinating schedules, and developing rapport and trust with teachers, principals, administrators and support staff. This approach has worked well for us. Moving into year 2, science specialists are in high demand. Teachers schedule appointments by building and team meetings before and after school.

Science courses provided every teacher an opportunity to think about kit based science in the larger context of science disciplines and scientific inquiry. A summary of major course activities follows:

General Offerings for all Teachers

Title of OfferingDuration Teacher AudienceInstructorPurpose
Physical Science Content 12 hours By grade: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Science Specialists, Consultants, Scientists Provide general background and kit specific content
Earth Science Content 14 hours By grade: K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 Science Specialists, Consultants, Scientists Provide general background and kit specific content
SMART Conferences 3x Year 3-hour mini conferences Open to all K-12 teachers By Invitation Topical workshops and a dinner speaker

For Phase I Schools (Those buildings with kits for two or more years)

Title of OfferingDuration Teacher AudienceInstructorPurpose
Hands-on Minds on Science 3 hr Early Release Days Building Based Science Specialists Scientists Science pedagogy and inquiry learning
Technical Assistance Up to 12 hours per teacher Classroom Based Science Specialists Model lessons, peer coaching, kit mechanics, assessment
Team Meetings 1-3 hours after school or weekends By kit/grade level Science specialists and scientists Upgrade content knowledge and pedagogy skills as needed

For Phase II Schools and Teachers (Those buildings AND any teacher using kits for the first time)

Title of OfferingDuration Teacher AudienceInstructorPurpose
FOSS Kit Overview 6 hr. Building Based Consultants (FOSS) To understand how kits were developed and how the build skills over time
Intro to Physical Science Kits 6 hours By grade: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Lead teacher teams Kit specific training
Technical Assistance 3 hours Classroom and Grade Level Science specialists and scientists One on one work with a teacher in the classroom or during prep time

Leadership Development

Title of OfferingDuration Teacher AudienceInstructorPurpose
Content Analysis 6 hrs Select teacher leaders (25) and scientists PI and consultants To clarify kit specific content needs
Content Course 12 hours Same Audience Science Specialists To better understand the content behind the kit - model pedagogy
Leadership Training 12 hours Same audience Science Specialists Develop an agenda for kit trainings
NEXT STEP Institutes 3 days Teacher principal teams from each district Various To better understand the nature of LSC projects

Battle Ground School District is the only district under the targeted 20 hours due to triple levy failures and the ensuing lack of resources for professional development. During the 1997-98 school year, PESE staff made special arrangements to accommodate this special situation. The arrangement relied more heavily on onsite professional development for Battle Ground teachers. Unfortunately, this arrangement did not result in teachers gaining the targeted number of hours of professional development. It did, however, serve the purpose of gaining an even greater level of teacher and principal buy in and support at a time when morale was extremely low. The PESE project was an excellent public relations tool and served the purpose of maintaining strong district support for the science program which has been in existence since 1992.

This strong support has carried the district through the turnover of a new superintendent, assistance superintendent and curriculum director. While I have some concern for whether the district will be able to meet its commitment to the project, I am working with the new administration to determine a mutually agreeable solution. We have once again revised the structure for delivering professional development. This was possible because teachers and administrators agreed to make changes that would accommodate a more efficient delivery of professional development. Teachers now meet three times a year when they have science kits in their classrooms. Each grade level meets with a science specialist for 3 hours to work on the following topics: science content, questioning strategies, and special teacher identified topics. We will evaluate where the district is at the end of this year and collaboratively decide on a course of action.

All PESE course offerings have been well attended and well received. As we move into year 2 we have expanded our work into some new areas:

  • Alignment of science kits with Goal 1 State Essential Learnings in reading, writing, and communications and Goal 2 State Essential Learnings in math and science

  • Development of leadership skills in the use of inquiry learning strategies

  • Strategies for assessing student learning such as performance assessments, questioning techniques and embedded assessments

  • Natural use technology in supporting science teaching and learning

PESE staff continue to meet on a regular basis to trouble shoot problems across the project, within specific districts and with specific buildings and teachers.

Instructional materials support - Each district continues to support a percentage of the science resource center based on the number of teachers in the project. Battle Ground serves as the host district and is looking at moving the center to a larger location. New districts have completed the purchase of Physical Science and Earth Science kits (start up costs) and have followed through on their commitment to support refurbishment of materials (operating costs). Hewlett Packard is providing staff expertise to detail out the long term growth of the center. This last year they purchased $30,000 in science kit materials and $35,000 in computer equipment including laptop computer for every specialist. We have just received a similar award for year 2 of the project.

Washington Mutual Bank and Hewlett Packard also provided $35,000 in funds to purchase non-fiction trade books to accompany each kit. These books are in the process of being catalogued and added to kits for use this year.

Assessment: On July 17, 1998 Washington State approved the new science standards and began work on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning for science, grades 8 and 10. Elementary assessments will begin in the year 2001. In preparation for this, Battle Ground began work on performance assessment this year. A small group of teacher leaders will develop sample assessments which will be piloted and eventually used as a starting place for district wide professional development in this area. Our project evaluator will in turn begin to develop some tools for us to try to better understand changes in student knowledge, skills and attitudes as a result of the kit based science program.

Program assessment is well documented in the Year 1 evaluation document enclosed.

Administration: Overall, the project has excellent support from administration and school boards. Principals attended three meeting last year and superintendents also met three times. We have strong support from the five Phase II districts, including Hockinson, Kalama, LaCenter, Ridgefield and Woodland. Battle Ground struggled issues that were beyond the scope of the grant, and the PI worked closed with the interim superintendent to find a system that worked (outlined above). With the new administration, we have been busy bringing them up to speed on the scope and intent of the project. In September, the district did pass their levy. It is expected that this will relieve some of the perceived fiscal pressures.

Community: The institutionalization of the system to involve local scientists and engineers implemented during Year 1 has not yet been realized. The lead scientist on the project, Scott Cameron, donated his salary to support the work of both a recruiting arm and a professional development arm of the scientist piece. The Water Resource Education Center took on the task of maintaining communication with the scientists and coordinating events organized by the scientists steering committee. Even so, we experienced some challenges in placing scientists appropriately once they had been through orientation and training. As we move into year 2 we have re-organized this aspect of the project and have established a new recruitment office to be housed at Washington State University, Vancouver.

Recruiting through the schools, we identified over sixty volunteer scientists and engineers from the community. Lead scientists offered three separate orientation activities in conjunction with professional development offerings. Each of these lead scientists has been with the project for at least two years and all have attended the American Physics Society annual leadership training. Once volunteers have been through the orientation, they were invited to attend (as observers) workshops and courses alongside other teachers. A few then went on to participate in leadership training and are beginning to assist in professional development workshops.

Efforts to gain widespread community support for the project are underway. Our strategy is to maintain support for the project at the highest levels and to encourage community leaders to embrace this as a region wide initiative. Key events included:

  • Organizational leaders (superintendents, deans, CEOs) visit NSF, the NSRC at the Smithsonian, and the Montgomery County Science Materials Center to learn about support for science education reform; follow-up is planned for this fall

  • PESE staff present to the Columbia River Economic and Workforce Council and invite businesses to support science education in the region; follow-up meeting are planned for this fall

  • PESE presents the Murdock Foundation and is invited to submit a letter of inquiry for support (3-5 year grants); this will go before the partnership for consideration

  • PESE is invited by Washington Mutual Bank to submit a proposal for support

  • A blue ribbon committee made up of district leaders is convened to deal with expansion of the science materials center

  • A staff person is assigned to develop a web presence and manage volunteer recruitment and community outreach

Staffing Issues: Both Co -Pis participate in an advisory role. They attend staff meetings and make occasional presentations to community groups. With the establishment of a recruiting office on the new campus we look forward to expanding the participation of university partners in the project.

Summary: The year 1 Core Evaluation Report does an excellent job summarizing year 1 activities. The recommendations made by the evaluator have been shared with PESE staff and have served to guide some of our current work. We are very proud of the success we have experienced during the first year of the grant. Every teacher in every building has access to high quality materials and the support they need to implement kit-based science. Most teachers are interested and motivated to work with us even though there is a huge amount of pressure from the state to focus on reading, writing, communication and math. Attendance at workshops and courses is high and evaluations are generally positive. We have strong support from principals, superintendents and the community.

Some anecdotal feedback from participants (not verbatim):

From Terry Weishaar, Principal, Union Ridge School "This is one of the best organized and successful professional development programs our school has been involved with. Our teachers are excited about the science kits and have the support they need."

From Steve Wright, Principal, Hockinson Intermediate "Every one of my teachers are using the kits, we have 100% participation, they love having the materials and support."

From Vicky Ridge Cooney, PhD, one of our scientists... "I didn't really get it the first year either, I had a lot of questions about my role, but after a while it just sort of makes sense what we are doing."

Battle Ground teacher "Having help from the specialists is wonderful, I got the help I needed to improve my science teaching--this is a curriculum adoption the way it should be done."