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ASSET Annual Overview

submitter: Asset Teacher Enhancement Program
published: 12/09/1999
posted to site: 12/10/1999
ASSET Teacher Enhancement Project
ASSET Inc., Pittsburgh, PA

1998/99 Project Overview

ASSET (Allegheny Schools Science Education and Technology) Inc., an independent nonprofit organization, composed of education, business and community leaders, is committed to changing the way science is taught and learned in southwestern Pennsylvania. The organization coordinates and facilitates over 100 hours of professional development for teachers involved in the program. Teachers are also supported through the provision of hands-on curriculum materials, guidance in assessment, and involvement from community scientists and science resources.

The hands-on, inquiry-based science program is being implemented in K-6 classrooms in 30 of the 42 school districts in Allegheny County. With approximately 1,800 teachers involved in the project, at least 45,000 children experience science the hands-on way. Over the course of the project, these teachers have accumulated roughly 70,000 training hours. In order to foster district leadership over the long term, teacher leaders and principals take a leadership role in professional development by planning and facilitating cross-district sessions. Together with ASSET Resource Teachers on loan from their districts and ASSET staff, a multi-faceted professional development program integrates knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students.

The good news for the project this year is that we have experienced a major leap in our understanding of what it takes to apply the elements of inquiry learning in the elementary classroom. Through our relationship with the Institute for Inquiry, and specifically Dr. Doris Ash, we challenged the districts to commit two people to join an Inquiry Focus Group. This group utilized inquiry methods to extend their understanding of the inquiry process and its application in the classroom. As a result, a cadre of teacher leaders and principals developed a sense of how instruction can improve to promote meaningful learning. In addition, it provided a model for study groups as a vehicle for professional development.

One major accomplishment for the year is the development of an ongoing principals' strand in professional development guided by the Director of the Principals Academy at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to study groups of principals and sessions for principals linking inquiry to school improvement, principals are opening their schools to each other for "walk-throughs," during which they observe children's activities, discuss their learning, and focus on students' work as a vehicle for improved instruction. Another major accomplishment is the completion of the first complete draft of a Performance Assessment Framework for all STC and FOSS units. The framework includes identification of two "enduring learnings," or key concepts or skills identified in the National Science Education Standards, a performance task and rubric for each, and anchor papers of student work aligning with each level of the scoring rubric. These documents were developed and validated by groups of teacher leaders and principals working together in an assessment focus group. A third major accomplishment for the year is the development of a field-test version of an Inquiry-Science Endorsement Guide. It is intended for use by preservice students majoring in elementary education at Duquesne University, Carlow College, and the University of Pittsburgh. The student-driven Guide allows students to demonstrate and document the skills new teachers need to be able to guide learning in hands-on, inquiry-based science classrooms. ASSET superintendents initiated its developed and worked with practicing teachers, ASSET Resource Teachers, and university faculty to develop the field-test version of the Guide. We expect it will be a useful tool for the preparation of teachers.

We learned that the best way for teachers to understand the role of inquiry in children's learning is for them to experience it themselves. A team consisting of a university science professor, a science education professor, ASSET Resource Teachers, and a middle school teacher developed the first Summer Science Institute. This week-long Institute, designed for teachers who had taught earth science modules at least twice, was such a success that it has become a professional development model for advanced inquiry learning in the other sciences. The Institute set a new standard for the power of professional development necessary to effect systemic changes in classrooms.