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Project Inquiry Annual Overview

submitter: Project Inquiry
published: 12/16/1999
posted to site: 12/17/1999
Community School District Nine
National Science Foundation
School-Based Elementary Science Restructuring Program

Fall 1999 Core Evaluation Report - Baseline:
Project Overview

Maria Santory Guasp, Community Superintendent
Community School District Nine

National Science Foundation
School-Based Elementary Science Restructuring Program
Project Overview: Fall 1999

Project Inquiry is a teacher enhancement grant for systemic reform in science, math and technology, which is an outgrowth of District Nine*s participation in the New York City and Bronx Urban Systemic Initiatives (USIs). The project is overseen by Mr. Fred Remer, the Principal Investigator. Michael Kreindler, the Project Director, and Deborah Disbrow, the Curriculum Specialist, collaborate on the day to day implementation of the grant, including overall program leadership, establishment of curricula, and conducting and coordinating professional development.

Program Context

The staff of New York City's Community School District Nine are confronted with formidable challenges in their efforts to provide a sound science education for their students. District Nine coincides with Congressional District 16, the poorest congressional district in the nation. It has one of the least experienced teaching staff of any of the city*s school districts. In a survey of District Nine teachers conducted during the 1997-1998 school year, the large majority of our teachers expressed greater discomfort with science instruction than with any other curriculum area, while very few were familiar with exploratory, inquiry-based methodology. Virtually none reported using these methods in their classrooms.

Prior to the Local Systemic Change (LSC) award, District policies fell short of what was needed to fully compensate for these conditions. These policies included an in-service training program for new teachers and provision of full-time staff developers for each school. However, no staff developer was provided specifically for science, and the training program focused mostly on literacy and classroom management. At the elementary level, because of the district*s priorities for reading and math, screening of newly hired classroom teachers did not focus on their science background, and supervisory observations did not focus on science instruction. While there were *science leaders* in each school, these staff served primarily as liaisons to the District science department, and were given little or no time to work with other teachers. And while the District*s required *golden hour* and *silver hour* specified minimum daily time allotments for literacy and math instruction, respectively, there had been no district policy addressing the nature and extent of science instruction in the elementary grades. These facts clearly underscore the extent of the need for a science restructuring effort in District Nine. Project Inquiry is particularly well-suited for this effort because of the district's more recent push towards inquiry learning in all subject areas.

Professional Development Strategies

The goal of Project Inquiry's professional development program is to establish a meaningful hands-on science approach which promotes active physical investigations emulating real science experimentation. These investigations would utilize an inquiry-based *learning cycle* process, whereby learning is accomplished by focusing students* ideas about a topic, exploring scientific phenomena, analyzing and reflecting on results, and applying their findings in new contexts. A core aspect of the staff development process is developing 24 Science Teacher Facilitators -- one at each elementary schoolWith the exception of three schools which are being served by a Facilitator who is covering two buildings. -- who will act as science leaders and turnkey trainers for classroom teachers in their respective schools. These Facilitators will assist project staff developers in providing training for classroom teachers, conducting parent workshops, providing for instructional modeling and classroom assistance, and arranging activities with partner science institutes.

The exemplary science materials being utilized for Project Inquiry were first introduced at four demonstration schools in District Nine during the 1998-1999 school year. These materials -- which include science activity kits from Insights, created by the Education Development Center, and Science and Technology for Children (STC), developed by the National Science Resources Center -- were the focus of training which was conducted by the newly established District Science Training Center at Community Elementary School (CES) 4. Classroom teachers from these four sites who attended these workshops received initial training in the materials, including embedded connections between science, math and literacy.

In the spring of 1999, the principals from each of the district*s elementary schools were asked by project leadership to identify a member of their staff as a Science Teacher Facilitator. These Facilitators are now receiving continued training which began in July 1999 and is continuing throughout the school year. Professional development for the Teacher Facilitators includes development of inquiry process skills, provided by the Workshop Center of the City College of New York (CCNY); strengthening science and math content, provided by Lehman College; and training in leadership skills development, provided by the project leadership at the District Training Center. In addition, training in the use of technology as a tool to support instruction will be provided by NetTech.

In addition, the 1999-2000 professional development program will provide a minimum of 118 hours of training for 230 kindergarten and first grade teachers in all elementary schools. Teachers will attend two separate four-day workshop cycles at the District Training Center, one for each of two modules from the STC or Insights kits. These workshops will focus on inquiry-based learning applications of content material from each module, including pedagogical strategies, overview of materials and activities, science concepts, correlations to the New Standards and NYC Curriculum Frameworks, and curriculum integration and extensions beyond the kits. For teachers using the Solids and Liquids module from STC, consultants from the Multidisciplinary Resource Center (MRC)Formerly the Science Technical Assistance Center will provide additional module training, including literacy extension activities. Training Center workshops will also include development of theme-based education modules (T-BEMs) -- thematic webs integrating module topics with math, science, technology, literacy and other curricular areas. On the final day of each four-day workshop cycle, elementary school teachers will engage in staff development activities with collaborating 'informal science institutions' (ISIs) from throughout the city. These institutions will provide further enrichment of both content and pedagogy through inquiry-based, real-world applications and learning extensions to the topics in the science kits. In addition, Facilitator-led teacher teams will provide on-site follow-up and support in use of the kits and development of thematic webs.

Providing a Supportive Environment

Program continuity for Project Inquiry is supported through communications among the Principal Investigator, Project Director, and Curriculum Specialist. These channels of communication will be further formalized through Advisory Panel meetings which will be held during the course of the school year. The project was endorsed by the principals from all 24 elementary schools. In order to help insure its coordination with other school initiatives, the program will be integrated into each school's Comprehensive Education Plan -- a document which serves as a planning guide for integrating all funding streams in support of city, state and district goals. Project leadership has also sought to develop grass roots support for the program through presentations before parent groups and the School Board.

As directed by the District Superintendent, school principals are required to allot 15% of their Facilitators' time for staff development and technical assistance, and to structure their schedule so as to make them available for cross-site, grant related activities such as monthly science inquiry training sessions. Newly established District policies also define the Facilitators* responsibilities for providing staff training, classroom instruction, and materials management, and establish a minimum weekly time allotment for teaching science classes. Project leadership is striving to establish further programmatic support by aiming to identify an administrator at each elementary school who will be made responsible for the supervision of science, and establishing regularly scheduled grade meetings focusing on science and math inquiry.

In addition, ongoing assistance from the project leadership, Staff Developer, and Teacher Facilitators will be available for support in thematic integration, content expertise, and instructional support for inquiry explorations. On-site technical assistance in instructional methodology and curriculum content will also be provided by the Teacher Facilitators, while NetTech will provide telecommunication support.