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Science Connections Local Systemic Change Annual Report Overview

published: 12/07/2000
posted to site: 12/07/2000

Science Connections

Local Systemic Change

PI Annual Progress Report

November, 2000


Project Description

Science Connections is providing comprehensive training for all Montgomery County (MCPS) (Maryland) Public Schools (Rockville, Maryland) middle school science teachers in two-year cycles. Science teachers are trained on science content; instructional pedagogy including constructivist learning, cooperative learning and inquiry-based teaching; performance teaching and assessment; technology applications; and new science units to be adopted from other National Science Foundation and national curriculum development projects. Additionally, training addresses interdisciplinary connections to mathematics, reading and language arts, and social studies, and all science teachers are trained on intradisciplinary science and the connections among all the sciences (e.g., life, physical, earth). This training is occurring simultaneous to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) middle school science curriculum revision efforts.

In addition to pedagogy and science content training, MCPS is updating the middle school science program to be consistent with National Science Education Standards. This program is drawing from exemplary middle school science curriculum projects such as Event-Based Science (Addison-Wesley), Science Technology for Children and Science and Technology Concepts for Middle School (National Science Resources Center), Chesapeake Choices and Challenges (Chesapeake Bay Foundation), Middle Years Digital Library (Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education, University of Michigan), Science Sleuths (Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium), and Science 2000 (Decision Development Corporation).

Major goals of the five-year training plan are as follows:

  • Increase science teachers’ content knowledge in the life, physical, and earth sciences
  • Improve teachers’ abilities to provide inquiry-oriented instruction
  • Encourage collaboration among the disciplines within the middle school setting to improve interdisciplinary connections with science

Year 1 training targeted 35 Master Science Teachers and included eight days of summer institute training and monthly follow-up meeting during the year. These sessions addressed using new science materials, additional science content, intra/interdisciplinary connections, and training-of-trainer skills. Scientists participated in some sessions and provided content expertise and connections to real-world applications.

Beginning in Year 2 (continuing to Year 5), training is taking place for all remaining science teachers in three cohort groups, each starting a year apart in two-year cycles. The first year of the two-year training consisted of two summer institutes (four-days each session). Quarterly follow-up training during the school year is also being held to provide opportunities for teachers to explore problems they are encountering with new science units and receive advance training on selected topics such as assessment, technology, and instructional strategies.

In the second year of the cycle, science teachers receive three days of summer training on science content, technology applications, understanding student and developing strategies for addressing those misconceptions, and accommodating the needs of diverse populations such as special education, English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and gifted students.

Major Activities and Accomplishments for the Year

The Science Connections Project has produced a committed and well-trained professional development team of Master Science Teachers (MST). These teachers have a comprehensive understanding of inquiry-based instruction, National Science Education Standards, performance-based assessment, science content, reform-based science curriculum, and training-of-trainer strategies and skills. This group of teachers continues to meet with project staff on a monthly basis to enhance and refine their skills. MST's were also responsible for the majority of training during the summer institutes. Sessions during the year address topics that became part of the summer institute. The major focus of the past year was the formation of study groups. Each group was comprised of 5-6 MST's. Groups selected their own focus topic. Topics selected included student misconceptions, technology use; books and literature; and grade level science content topics.

Professional development activities conducted since the Year 3 Annual Progress Report for cohort teachers include a wide variety of activities. These sessions focused on inquiry instruction, expansion of content knowledge for teachers as related to grade level units, lessons for use in particular units, and a review of the research data collected by the evaluation team.

Project Training and Lessons Learned

While the professional development experiences provided to science teachers during the summer institutes received highly favorable ratings, many teachers were dismayed at the low stipend pay. Consequently, project staff submitted the institute plans to the Maryland State Department of Education for continuing professional development education credits. During this institute, participants could choose between stipend and credit and concerns over stipend have decreased. There were still some teachers who, not needing professional development credit, did not attend the summer institute because of the low stipend. The additional problem of lack of sufficient substitute coverage for teachers to attend the half-day follow-up sessions during the school year continues to be a concern, not just for this project, but for the district in general. Project staff continues to struggle with attendance at institutes. Staff has been working with district personal to develop alternative forms of professional development. This may include study groups and independent study plans as options for teachers to follow to increase their knowledge and skills in content areas and instructional pedagogy. These alternative forms of professional development would be an integral part to the sustainability of reform at the end of funding.

Year 4 institute activities continued to have the first four days of the institute focus on instructional pedagogy. The following responses were given by institute participants when asked to complete the following statement: "These four days of training … "

    • "have opened my eyes to how far we have come but how far we still have to go before our teachers open up to good science instruction"
    • "helped me to start thinking about the changes and modifications I can make to my teaching style so that my students can become active learners."
    • "have inspired me to shift my thinking toward inquiry learning"

The second four days of the institute and the follow-up sessions during the school year were more specific to recommended middle school curriculum and instructional materials. The sessions were lead by a combination of MST's, high school content teachers, and scientists. Comments from teachers included:

  • "They presented a balance between kit-based and non-kit-based materials, they modeled the 5 E's and the different inquiry-based instruction levels."
    • "good lab activities, nice to have an "expert" and a teacher explain to all what worked and what didn't"
    • "Hey, I can do this (even though I never taught these topics) and the students are really going to enjoy these activities (but some are going to be hard for them)"

During evaluator's classroom observations and project staff classroom visits, it was observed that teachers were in fact using LSC supported materials (55.3%) or instruction consistent with the LSC approach (55.9%).


Project staff continues to recognize that some MST’s need support on working with and supporting science teachers as they implement new instructional strategies and curriculum materials. Year 4 MST meetings attempted to address these needs. The initiation of study groups with the MST's and continued sessions on working with adult learners and presentation skills were rated helpful by the lead teachers. These skills will be instrumental in the proposed plan to differentiate professional development models to meet the needs of all teachers.

Outreach Activities

During the past year, Science Connections has engaged in formal and informal outreach activities to promote the NSF goals of increasing interest in science learning and careers and enhancing public understanding of science and technology. These activities included:

Presentation at the Annual Convention of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). In April, project staff made a presentation on "Increasing Teachers Knowledge and Skills Professional For Middle School Teachers" at the NSTA annual meeting at Orlando, FL. The presentation focused on professional development strategies to (1) deepen teacher understanding of science content and (2) encourage their use of the best pedagogical practices in the classroom. All of these strategies, and their supporting instructional and assessment materials, were devised and proven to be successful as part of this NSF grant. This outreach activity exposed over 60 science educators to the Project and ways it might be useful to their school systems

Presentation for the American Evaluation Association (AEA) In November, project staff made a presentation for the AEA in Honolulu, HI. The presentation, "Systemic Reform through the Eyes of Three Stakeholders," focused on techniques for (1) building stakeholder support for change and (2) engaging stakeholders in meaningful measurement of the impact of change. Staff presented options that they had used in working with stakeholders and lessons learned along the way. Participants came away from the session with increased awareness about the needs of stakeholders. In addition, the presentation exposed over 20 professionals to the Project and its methodology, and enriched Project staff’s thinking about stakeholder issues.

Presentations to Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and Principals. During the academic year, Project staff made several presentations to middle school PTA's and Principal groups. These presentations focused on the changes being made in instructional content and methods to: increase students’ scientific curiosity, prepare interested school children for careers in science and technology, and enhance public knowledge of these fields. The staff also explained how the Project provides strategies and tools so teachers can make these changes most effectively. In addition to educating the PTA's and Principals about the Project, these meetings enhanced the staff’s appreciation of the community’s commitment to education.

MCPS website and On-line Discussions. The MCPS website ( and teacher discussions on-line are used regularly by our science educators to discuss: strategies for enhancing science teaching, new content available for various classes, and how best to incorporate these ideas into classroom instruction. The MCPS Science site along with the Science Connections page links adds invaluable information to these topics. Science teachers and administrators system-wide now are able to download and employ this information to further enhance their professional skills. Through translating these ideas into classroom activities, each teacher is able to reach out to 150 students in classes with varied levels of science competence and arouse their interest in science careers, the implications of science for society, and how the scientific thinking can help their own decision-making skills.