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Bay Area Schools for Excellence in Education: Activities and Findings - November, 2000

published: 11/30/2000
posted to site: 11/30/2000
Bay Area Schools for Excellence in Education: Activities and Findings - November, 2000

Bay Area Schools for Excellence in Education: Activities and Findings - November, 2000

Bay Area Schools for Excellence in Education (BASEE) is an eight district collaborative working with Hewlett-Packard Company to improve science instruction for elementary students. The project vision is to provide science content training for approximately 1950 teachers with models of excellent pedagogy. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the participating districts include: Cupertino Union School District, Los Altos School district, Menlo Park School District, Mountain View School District, Palo Alto Unified School District, Redwood City School District, Santa Clara Unified School District and Whisman School District. Each of the districts has participated in Hewlett-Packard's Hands-On Science Program, which included training at the National Science Resources Center in Washington, DC and a three-year $90,000 grant. Each district has had a successful initial curriculum launch. The BASEE project seeks to sustain those efforts and boost districts to the next level with all students learning science and its connections to their world in lively, inquiry-based lessons. Professional development activities are designed to feature science with meaningful connections to math, literacy and technology.

BASEE summer institutes provide a rich avenue for teacher development. Each year our weeklong Invitations to Inquiry institute is filled to capacity. In August, 2000 thirty teachers gathered to focus on this important pedagogy while focusing on the physics of light and color. Our model is patterned after the one we experienced at the Exploratorium. We are delighted to have the benefit of ongoing coaching from Barry Kluger-Bell and Fred Stein to make this a rich offering for our teachers.

Our weeklong summer content institutes (serving over 300 teachers) feature one discipline of science each year on a rotational basis. This past summer it was the Investigating Life Sciences institute. We have learned that the triad instructional team model is a powerful one. A secondary or higher education instructor works with a volunteer scientist and a SRT to design and deliver the institute curriculum. The instructional team is challenged to plan a program that matches the concepts teachers are expected to teach. Each year we offer six sessions so teachers may select the topic they teach. In addition, this year we offered a repeat of a popular geology course as well called Dynamic Earth. This past summer these topics were:

• Animal Adaptations

• Dynamic Earth

• Environments - Water Biology

• Life Cycles - Insects

• Microorganisms

• Plants

Adult field trips during the week bring the content learning to life and have been especially well-received. The closing activity was designed to connect the individual sessions with important linkages across the disciplines of science. This year the program was Art Sussman's now famous 'Guide to Planet Earth' which was a delightful and humorous way to present the big picture.

BASEE is currently in project year four. Our focus again this year is on the use of a science notebook to solidify the science concepts while simultaneously strengthening literacy and math skills. The SRTs developed a 10-station jigsaw style workshop (Science Notebook Faire A) to emphasize how science notebooks can be used to deepen learning. These workshops occurred during the staff development days across all eight districts last year. This year the SRT team has devoted significant time to developing Science Notebook Faire B and a third session called SNF C as we deepen our understanding of how notebooks can be used to strengthen learning. Consequently, this year we are offering SNF B and C across the districts.


Lessons Learned -11.10.00

1. Now in year four, we are beginning to look ahead toward sustainability. To that end, we have had a number of subgroup meetings to grapple with what is essential and what could be changed. We know that we need to continue building capacity. The SRT team is already a self-reflective, self-regulating crew that recognizes and values the differences in talent and contributions of its members. This year for the first time, we have begun to include some of our site-based lead teachers in the role of SRTs during the summer institutes. With lots of coaching, we have seen that the four leads that we included this year were successful. We have learned that it works best to partner a new lead with someone who has had previous summer institute SRT experience. Also significant was to see how much the leads improved in week #2 when we repeated the same weeklong program. Providing the opportunity to immediately repeat the institute turned out to be a predictable advantage to lead teachers new in their summer institute role. These two learnings will definitely be applied to our institute plans for summer 2001.

2. We have come to agreement about several 'mega-messages' that we endeavor to model and proselytize in everything we do. These include:

• the BASEE learning cycle: Engage, Explore, Explain, and Apply

• use of science content to provide the fascinating fodder for building skills also in literacy and math

• use of science notebooks to strengthen the conceptual learning and process skills as well as development in other curricular areas

• use of science notebooks for assessment

• the understanding that good teaching includes hands-on investigations in addition to thoughtful debriefs and opportunities to apply new learning

3. We discovered that we need to be ever vigilant and explicit about these mega-messages. Because of our experience last year with the importance of being very explicit, we cued the instructional teams in advance about the mega-messages that need to be stressed. We were pleased to note that these big ideas were communicated well to our participants.

4. No strand, or audience, can be neglected during a systemic reform process. We believe we've done a good job for most of our constituents with the exception of principals. This illusive group has been difficult to capture even though we recognize their sponsorship is essential to sustainability. To better engage this audience last year, we deliberately set out to design a useful Principals' Toolkit and provide a workshop preview of the Science Notebook Faire prior to the district staff development days. The principals who attended this program were most enthusiastic. This year we have invited Mike Klentschy from El Centro District to share his data collection with our principals. For the first time we will include our lead teachers in the same program with the hope that principals and leads will have an opportunity to work together outside of their regular school environments with a focus on science. This program design was an outcome of Mike's presentation to our superintendents in September. Their enthusiastic response guided our thinking about broadening the audience for powerful data which demonstrates that hands-on science enhances not only science but also literacy.

5. We've learned that we must be nimble on our feet as changes appear from the state. With class size reduction, we've needed to respond to the needs of many more new teachers than we ever anticipated. With the new state adoption process probably excluding the FOSS and STC units we had previously adopted, we will need to develop lessons to fill the gaps and write waivers for continued funding of our kit refurbishment. With the shortage of teachers, districts are changing some of their prior rules regarding teacher compensation. Recently several of our districts are allowing teachers to collect both the NSF stipend for PD along with district PD credit toward salary. In the past this was viewed as double dipping, but presently districts are becoming competitive in order to keep good teachers. Of course a significant disadvantage to a teacher shortage is that districts can no longer find substitutes so it is very difficult for teachers to be released for professional development. In addition, statewide required testing and accountability does not yet include science. Therefore, schools are focused on improving math and literacy scores. We have learned how important it is to demonstrate that the use of hands-on science, science notebooks and non-fiction reading will help students achieve their goals. It seems that every year there are new surprises that require our flexibility and problem solving.

At the same time, we are keenly aware as we work closely with the assistant superintendents that these are people who care deeply about doing what's right for children even though we are buffeted by the winds of political change and demand.

6. Having a corporate partner has been a significant benefit over and over. We receive ongoing advice from our business and industry partner, Hewlett-Packard Company. As the director of the K-14 Education Relations and Philanthropy department, Bess Stephens (also Co-PI) assists with our superintendents' meetings and our work with the school administrators. We are most grateful for her guidance, creative solutions, her supervision of HP's cost share commitment as well as her ongoing willingness to share HP resources. In her role as Co-PI, Bess attends professional development offerings, asks the tough questions, offers an industry perspective on issues and listens carefully to the views of educators. Most important, her ongoing enthusiasm for working with these eight districts has been a source of inspiration for all of us.