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Reforming Secondary Science Annual Overview

submitter: Reforming Secondary Science Through Teacher Enhancement
published: 11/19/1999
posted to site: 11/19/1999
Annual Report
November 15, 1999
Spokane Local Systemic Change Initiative
"Reforming Secondary Science Through Teacher Enhancement"
ESI- 9731552
Project Directors

Robert E. Gibbs
Professor of Physics
Eastern Washington University

and Scott S. Stowell
Coordinator for Science and Health Education
Spokane Public Schools

Annual Overview

The Spokane Local Systemic Change project "Reforming Secondary Science through Teacher Enhancement" (ESI 9731552) 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 for science 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 a classroom-based 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 is being carried out by RMC Research Corporation of Portland, Oregon. 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 and deliver the workshops for other teachers. Each school has a Building Team which is composed of two or three teachers. In those school that have Disciplinary Team members, those members are also on the 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, problem areas 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.

Since November 15, 1998, the following activities have been carried out.

  1. A three day summer workshop for Disciplinary Team members to revise the curricular units for grades 7 - 10. (All 13 teacher team members and 4 EWU faculty participated.)
  2. A one week summer workshop for Disciplinary Team members with consultant Audrey Champagne to create and revise classroom based assessment instruments for the curricular units in grades 7 - 10. (All 13 team members and 5 EWU faculty participated.)
  3. A one week summer workshop for grade 7 - 12 teachers to present the revised curricular units and the science content underlying those units. The themes of "Teaching for Understanding" and "Assessment in the Service of Student Learning" were emphasized. A total of 69 teachers participated in this workshop.
  4. A one day summer meeting for Building Teams to discuss their operations during the first year of the project and to make plans for the second year. Out of a possible 36 Building Team members, 32 participated in this meeting.
  5. Eight science content courses taught during the academic year by EWU faculty assisted by a teacher member of the Disciplinary Team. Each course met for 10 hours. Topics were: Astronomy/Cosmology, Waves, Forces and Motion, Chemical Change, Atmospheric Science, Ecology, Biological Evolution and Bioenergetics. Total attendance for these courses was 98 teachers. (Some teachers attended more than one course.)
  6. Four after school follow-up meetings, each of duration 2.5 hours. Participating teachers reviewed the curricular units and assessments, shared their experiences, created formative assessments, and viewed the new school district web site dedicated to the project. Teacher attendance at these meetings was 46 (January 13, 1999), 29 (March 3, 1999), 42 (May 5, 1999) and 38 (October 21, 1999).
  7. Four meetings for Disciplinary Teams to plan for follow-up meetings, plan future activities and revise curricular units.
  8. Three days of effort by eight teachers to identify Internet sites to be included on the district science web page.

Of the 102 teachers in the project, 95 have participated in at least one formal activity of the project. Of the seven that have not participated, 5 are new teachers this year, and they have had only one opportunity to participate. A goal of the project is to create communities of teachers working together, especially at the building level. The Building Teams are the primary mechanism to accomplish this goal. In those buildings where teachers are meeting regularly on project issues, the implementation is proceeding effectively. What is more, many of those teachers have recognized the value of cooperation and are committed to it. In those schools where cooperative efforts have not developed to the same degree, the changes envisioned in the project are proving harder to accomplish. The Spokane School District decided to develop a "coordinated science" curriculum in grades 7-10 to replace the previous year long courses. This means that students will experience units of instruction in all four of the science subject matter areas in each of these grades. Average length of the units is 9 weeks. At this point we would not claim that the science curriculum is integrated, the units tend to be independent. However, for the 9th grade the theme of energy was selected for all four units. Teachers are finding areas of overlap as they teach the units, so we expect integration will occur as the teachers become more familiar with the units. In addition, a spiraling approach is built into the framework, so that concepts introduced in grades 7 and 8 are revisited and extended in grades 9 and 10. The process of assembling the curricular units is not curriculum development per se, because very few new materials are being created. It is more a process of matching available materials to the learning targets to construct coherent units of study. It is, however, time consuming and exacting work, so it is not surprising that revisions have been necessary. In addition, the State of Washington Essential Academic Learning Requirements in science changed during the first year of the project, necessitating additional changes in the units. At this point in the project a number of the units are near final form, while others still need work. Overall, this part of the project is taking more time and energy than anticipated. Another important part of the project is preparing the 7-10th grade teachers to teach in all four discipline areas, since previously they taught year long courses in a single subject. The consequences are that the teachers need new content knowledge in up to three new science subject areas, and the instructional units need to be very teacher friendly, with clear directions, information and support.