Annual Report Overviews
Great Ideas Annual Overview
(Montclair State University, The East Orange Schools District, and The Jersey City Public Schools
NSF- LSC Project #9453152)
Submitted by PI Jacalyn Willis, Ph.D. Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ
In the 1998- 1999 academic year, the Great Ideas in Science Consortium (GIS) was in the fourth year of a five-year project aimed at improving the quality of science education (K-8) in two urban school districts: Jersey City and East Orange. The GIS program has been a collaborative effort of Montclair State University and the two partner school districts since before the preparation of the LSC grant proposal, a result of New Jersey Statewide Systemic Initiative activities.
The challenge of this project -- and its consistent goal from the project's inception -- is to empower teachers and schools to be able to offer standards-based, quality science education in a context which historically has been largely lacking in this area; and to build pervasive local leadership capacity through systemic change so that the districts will be able to sustain and build upon this foundation of 'empowerment' once the project and NSF/LSC funding cease.
The overall impact of the project in four years has been to change the lives of over 1,000 K-8 teachers in two urban school districts-- changed so that they are no longer teaching science as an after-thought, but rather as a central part of the curriculum and in a reflective and purposeful manner. These teachers know what science teaching should be like in order to access higher-order thinking skills. The teachers know what kinds of materials ought to be in their classrooms, and how children's learning should be assessed. Furthermore, with the advanced leadership development experienced by over 200 of those teachers, the "voice" for effective science teaching is quite outspoken.
Regular, comprehensive, districtwide science inservice programs have been instituted in both districts, in order to maintain the momentum of change that has been generated each year in the Summer Institute. To spread the inquiry-based approaches in the Science and Technology for Children (STC) and Event-Based Science curriculum materials within each school, the Great Ideas staff have worked closely with district staff to keep a steady schedule of workshop opportunities for all K-8 teachers. At least 58 GIS staff members, including university scientists, classroom teachers, and consultants, have been providing professional development experiences. Monthly and sometimes bimonthly inservice sessions for science specialists have been held in East Orange, with topics coordinated with STC and Event-Based modules that teachers were scheduled to use, such as Weather, Magnets and Motors, Electric Circuits, Plant Growth, and Earthquake! Saturday STC-focused grade-level workshops have been held six times for Jersey City teachers of grades 1-3 , and for 6-8 on EBS modules, both in the district and on campus (each grade-level group addressed in a separate session each time). A special Saturday morning workshop on 'Systems,' and the role of systems understandings in the Standards, was designed and organized on campus for East Orange teachers of grades 4-8 at the request of Loretta Onyeani, the Principal in charge of the science reform. Three series of three-session computer literacy workshops were held on campus and laptops were loaned to participants for the duration of each mini-course; a geology mini-course for teachers has been organized to be developed and presented by the Sterling Hill Mining Museum, and is scheduled for three Saturdays this Spring. Dr. Ann Marie DiLorenzo, a geneticist, has presented three workshops in the districts on genetics concepts and problem-solving for teachers of different grade levels, from 4-12. GIS is under increasing pressure to include high school teachers in activities, and we have done so when the district has been able to help with the costs, and whenever GIS has staff to spare. A large Science Jamboree for showcasing STC and EBS activities was held for both districts for grades K-12 on campus, and will be held again this December.
Special Leadership Training:
Belize Forest Ecology Travel Course. Eleven teachers from the partner urban districts signed on for a study-tour of tropical rain forest in Belize. The 2-credit graduate course was offered through the Global Education Center at Montclair State, in concert with Great Ideas in Science and the Center for Archeological Studies. It was be taught by tropical ecologist Jackie Willis and archeologist Stan Walling, an expert in Mayan culture. This is the first time the course was offered, and it is also the first time that any of these teachers have been to tropical rain forest. The course focused on both teaching and learning, and especially how to utilize field experiences and how to create outdoor investigations. All participating teachers have started to turn-key their new understandings of ecological principles in their schools. The idea for providing this experience grew out of enthusiasm and interest generated by the Rainforest Connection (at website: www.csam.montclair. edu/ceterms/rainforest). Course dates were August 11 -19, 1999. Two more travel-study courses have been designed for next summer, at the request of teachers in the project. See www.csam.montclair.edu/ceterms/belize
Several key components already in place in the districts will be essential to project continuation, including the advanced leadership training of teachers with talents in workshop facilitation. East Orange has a mentoring plan in place to address the needs of large numbers of newly-recruited teachers, and this could become a vehicle for the reform if the mentors are chosen carefully and provided with training. Jersey City is encouraging school-based inservice activities, especially using the Focus Schools in Science model, in which GIS-trained teacher-leaders run workshops for their colleagues in their own and neighboring schools. Jersey City is still struggling with the challenges of providing high quality, comprehensive, coherent, districtwide inservice for the large numbers of teachers in that district. The GIS Outreach Team is making plans to be able to respond to anticipated requests for large-scale inservice in Jersey City this year, and perhaps after the project ends. Both districts are using their own GIS-trained teacher-leaders to plan, design, and implement districtwide inservice sessions on designated inservice days. Everyone is pleased with the consistent high quality of professional development that has been attained in the last two years, mostly provided now by district teachers. Living Lab summer science camps and after-school clubs have been institutionalized in the Jersey City district, where district funds now support the Living Lab activities. The district program is even called by the same name that we at Great Ideas gave it when we first sought private foundation support. In East Orange, several schools have ear-marked their own funds to support teachers in the development and maintenance of after-school, Saturday, and summer science activities. This means that the roughly $50,000 in private foundation grants that Great Ideas has been awarded annually to support Living Lab (and the broader Focus Schools) activities has been matched many times over by both districts and has made a long-term and wide-reaching change in the systems.