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Annual Report Overviews


DESERT Annual Overview

submitter: DESERT Project
published: 12/02/1999
posted to site: 12/03/1999
The D.E.S.E.R.T Project
Annual Overview Year One 1998-99

Description of Project

The D.E.S.E.R.T. Project (District wide Emphasis on Science Education Reform in Tucson), located in Tucson, Arizona is now (9/99) in the beginning of its second full year. The overall aim of the project remains to create systemic change in the way science is perceived and taught, so that all students, K-8, develop scientific literacy: All students will know, understand, and apply scientific concepts and skills to solve problems and make decisions about important issues that involve science and technology in the workplace and the community. The Project, in collaboration with the University of Arizona and the business community, has three primary goals to:

  • promote clear standards for effective science education which follow the guidelines outlined by the National Science Education Standards;
  • provide both district wide and site-based professional development for educators to develop capacity to teach science and to improve student achievement;
  • develop sites as learning communities to sustain system wide reform efforts

The district serves over 63,000 students, 53 percent of whom are ethnic minorities and 56 percent of whom receive free or reduced lunch. Bilingual education (Spanish) is a significant focus in 60 percent of schools in the district. TUSD operates 74 elementary schools, 20 middle schools, and 11 high schools. The mission of the district is to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and personal qualities they will need to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Over the five years funding, the Project will provide both district wide and site-based professional development for roughly 1600 teachers, 94 principals, and 28 assistant principals. Three strands of professional development: leadership, district wide, and site-based, target different systemic levels and concerns of staff throughout the district.

The leadership strand provides the necessary knowledge and skills to support the change guides for science education reform in the district. The strand currently includes all 94 K-8 principals, 25 assistant principals, nine Collaborative Teachers, 98 school-based Site Facilitators, and a teacher leadership cadre of approximately 25 teachers, including some whose focus is action research, and others professional development facilitators.

All Principals attended sessions to review the results of the baseline evaluation data provided by Horizon and it’s implications for understanding the reform proposed by D.E.S.E.R.T. and to dialogue about the issues of teaching and learning at the heart of this reform effort. Twenty Cohort 1 principals attended a two hour orientation to a site profiling process to help their sites develop action plans. In response to principal surveys, the Project’s second two-day Principals Understanding Leadership in Science Education (PULSE) conference in May 1999 addressed the connections of science and literacy. Fifty six principals attended. Annually scheduled PULSE conferences will support principals to facilitate site-based reform.

The Collaborative Teacher (CT) professional development activities have focused on understanding the change process, using the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) activities; honing facilitation skills to enhance effectiveness at the sites; exploring classroom management strategies to strengthen their roles as mentors/coaches. A retreat in September 1998, allowed the CT’s to develop consistent and coherent professional development goals to share with the 10-12 school sites they each worked with in year one. CT’s also expand their knowledge and understanding of the district’s science curriculum and build expertise related to reform, through weekly group sessions, visitation with teacher leaders in other LSC communities, and attending conferences, and institutes.

Following their orientation in August 1998, the 94 K-8 Site Facilitators participated in monthly two hour professional development sessions throughout the school year (9 total). They also attended a two day session in August 1999 to explore inquiry science teaching & learning and the role of questioning in the district CORE science curriculum. Fred Stein, from the Exploratorium, Institute for Inquiry, assisted with the design and delivery of this summer program.

Ten selected classroom teachers and the 13 D.E.S.E.R.T. staff participated in a biweekly introduction to collaborative action (teacher) research from January to May of 1999. This group, lead by Dr. Kathy Short from U of A, will develop the design for a teacher research strand. More classroom teachers were expected but the district could not provide substitutes for release time last spring. The Action Research effort will continue to build during the project as teachers are provided more time for reflection.

A group of teacher leaders assisted CT’s with basic workshops in the spring and summer of 1999, This group attended a one day inservice on presentation skills in May, 1999. Continued inservice will be available for these teacher leaders throughout the project to develop their capacity for consistent, high quality, professional development during scale up. Much of their continuing preparation will come from teaming with CT’s.

The district wide professional development strand provides opportunities for all K-8 teachers to meet the science instructional needs of diverse learners. Basic or Foundation courses address introduction to CORE units, and are designed for first time users of CORE programs. Extension courses for each grade level expand the participant’s experience with inquiry & content and allow more in depth work on how to build students’ conceptual understanding through the activities in the modules. These grade specific courses will develop a more consistent district wide curriculum and increase teacher confidence and expertise to provide effective science instruction. Since August 1998, 67 sections of Basic courses have been offered. Extension courses began in January 1999. D.E.S.E.R.T developed few content courses during year one. However, teachers enrolled in over 50 different content offerings available through either district or community sources. Basic, extension and content courses will be offered each year of the Project. Professional development focused on assessment literacy will begin in spring 2000. The expectation is for all K-8 teachers in the district to participate in these four types of professional development during the five years of the D.E.S.E.R.T. Project.

The site-based strand has been introduced with a choice of two to eight hour learning forums for small groups at the Cohort 1 sites: Effective Teaching or Classroom Climate. These develop the site learning community, encourage peer collaboration, and promote shared leadership among staff. As this strand develops over the five years, the D.E.S.E.R.T. staff will facilitate site planning sessions, introduce topics and strategies such as community building, peer coaching, scope and sequence, teacher research, journaling, mentoring, networking, formative assessment and formats for site based study groups.

The first Cohort of 20 sites, selected in the fall of 1998, underwent a site profiling process provided by team of external and district staff in the spring of 1999. Their leadership teams of five to ten members attended a four day Summer Institute in July 1999. They began intensive work with an assigned CT this fall that will extend over at least the next two years. Additional cohorts (20 sites each) will be initiated each summer. Each site begins by conducting a site needs assessment profile to define the site’s progress toward the goals of the D.E.S.E.R.T. project in five critical areas: vision/leadership, professional development, curriculum and materials, assessment and supporting & enabling structures. This process will help them develop a customized site plan of action.

The D.E.S.E.R.T. Project partnership with The University of Arizona supports science content learning for K-8 teachers. Partners from the U of A Science and Mathematics Education Center (SAMEC) participated in professional development workshops, institutes, and academies to join TUSD educators increase their understanding and developing scientific habits of mind, as well as to encourage increased science content knowledge related to curricular materials. Over the past year, SAMEC has developed a web page to help teachers and sites locate appropriate outreach experiences and resources. In year one, scientist partners who had previously undergone orientation to staff D.E.S.E.R.T. programs were sufficient to meet project needs. In the future, the University is committed to expanding the Scientist Partners program and will begin funding a position during year two to recruit and provide orientation for additional Scientist Partners. They will also coordinate the schedules of Scientist Partners with various activities of the project.

Two district coordinated support components enhance the process of systemic reform: Special Presenters, and D.E.S.E.R.T. Web technology infrastructure. In order to provide critical release time for teacher professional development, specially-trained presenters visit classes using an in-depth, critical thinking and science exploration tool, The Private Eye, while teachers attend site based inservice. The D.E.S.E.R.T. Web is intended to provide convenient access to information about the project and a vehicle for collaboration and networking among participants. The Web provides links to additional on-line tools, such as ENC, NSRC, NCREL’s Pathways to School Improvement Network (1993) etc.

The D.E.S.E.R.T. Project initiated all of it’s intended programs for year one, with the primary emphasis on leadership. Approximately 66% of professional development this first year was related to the leadership strand. The goal for year two will be to increase the scale of professional development offerings for classroom teachers and increase emphasis on pedagogical content and assessment.