Annual Report Overviews
Minneapolis Public Schools Annual Overview
The Minneapolis Public Schools Systemic Change in Science Initiative
Project Activities & Findings
Science Works!, the Local Systemic Change (LSC) project in Minneapolis, aims to reach up to 1,600 grade K-8 teachers in 75 elementary and middle schools over a five-year term. All MPS K-8 teachers will receive a minimum of 100 hours of professional development in science and 300 leadership teachers will be involved in 240 or more hours. The professional development is expected to provide teachers with the science content knowledge and instructional skills they need to implement the district's new inquiry- and standards-based science curricula for grades K-8. Principals from the district's elementary and middle schools will undertake professional development to enhance their leadership skills in the alignment of science curriculum, instruction and assessment in their schools. A coalition of science professionals including MPS teacher leadership, district administrators, higher education faculty, informal science educators and representatives of local corporations and community organizations is leading the Minneapolis initiative.
Science Works!, has five strategic goals:
-- Adopt a standards-based, hands-on science program and make it available to all Minneapolis students.
-- Give teachers the materials they need to teach hands-on science.
-- Give teachers the knowledge and skills they need to teach hands-on science.
-- Use achievement tests that measure student understanding of science.
-- Link community science resources with the schools so that all teachers and students can use them.
The services of the district's two science centers, which traditionally distributed and refurbished hands-on science instructional materials for elementary schools, have expanded under the project to include coordination of science professional development. The centers are serving five regional clusters of schools. Principals and leadership teachers at the school sites determine the scope of services offered by the centers. Funds to support the centers come from the district, not the budgets of individual school sites. One objective of the project is to determine the funding and governance mechanisms that will be most effective in ensuring that the science centers meet the service needs of all schools in the district. A workable plan is considered to be crucial to the sustainability of the science centers over the long term, and thus to the institutionalization of the LSC reforms in Minneapolis schools.
Efforts of the Minneapolis LSC management team this past year focused on the first two cadres of 'science focus schools' (32 total) where the principal has committed the entire teaching staff to intensive (100 hours) science professional development over two years. The project design is to have four cadres of focus schools over the term of the grant, until all MPS teachers have participated in the professional development. Focus schools receive the services of a regional science liaison that helps coordinate on-site professional development and facilitates the training of three or more science leadership teachers at each site. The leadership teachers are expected to continue as instructional leaders at the schools after the regional science liaisons begin their work at the next cadre of focus schools. At the end of the grant, when all schools have undergone the more intensive science professional development required to implement the science program reforms, a cadre of over three hundred leadership teachers and four regional liaisons are expected to continue professional development leadership and coordination activities.
The K-6 curriculum recommended by the project is a combination of FOSS, STC, and MPS kits that meet the national science education standards. The recommended middle school curriculum includes choices from Science Plus, Science Interactions, an event-based series from the Montgomery County Public Schools, and others. MPS science teachers also have been field testing new middle school kits from the publishers of FOSS and STC, in anticipation of adopting this curriculum when it becomes available.
The LSC project supported staff development in six areas: leadership, curriculum, science content, instruction, assessment, and equity in the science classroom. The focus of K-6 professional development this year was on providing teachers with the content knowledge and skills they need to teach the new science units. The focus of middle school activities was on giving special assistance to new middle school science teachers, assisting non-certified teachers, and continuing to develop a leadership team. By August 1999, one-fourth of MPS elementary school teachers and one-half of MPS middle school teachers had participated in at least 30 hours of professional development. Participation levels for middle school and focus school teachers were substantially higher.
In late Spring the district adopted a much more detailed student 'progress report' for science that will increase parent expectations for documentation of standards-based science instruction in elementary and middle school classrooms. Also, project staff developed many assessments that meet state requirements for graduation standards. The availability of these is driving otherwise reticent teachers to using the curricula recommended by the project. A middle school parent activist, who is a well-known supporter of improved science instruction in the K-8 years, was elected to the school board. Her election is expected to bolster the board's support on some important science budget decisions in the coming year.
Specific objectives to be addressed in the coming year include:
-- Documenting that elementary teachers are actually using the science kits in their classrooms and receiving adequate training in science content.
-- Purchasing new middle school science units from FOSS, STC and Insights and refining the recommended curriculum matrix to incorporate these and other standards-based middle school units.
-- Continuing to find and implement new strategies for finding professional development time for teachers during the school day.
-- Increasing the level of parent awareness of the science curriculum, and how they can bolster its impact on student learning.
-- Conducting further research on possible associations between student achievement in science and the use of recommended science units and instructional practices by teachers.