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Annual Report Overviews


BLAHST Annual Report Summary

published: 02/09/2001
posted to site: 02/09/2001


Funding Agency: National Science Foundation
Reporting Period: November 16, 1999 - November 15, 2000

The Black Hills Science Teaching Project (BLAHST) is designed to support K-8 teachers in their use of exemplary, standards-based, inquiry-oriented science instructional materials. The project currently involves eight school districts separated by as much as 180 miles across western South Dakota. The eight districts include a total of 367 teachers of science at the targeted grades. Each of these teachers is expected to receive a minimum of 100 hours of professional development over the 5 years of the grant. Each district is responsible for purchasing instructional materials, and the project's materials center supports each district with maintenance of their science units and replenishment of consumables. All districts have selected FOSS kits for the elementary grades. At the middle grades, there is less uniformity across the districts; FOSS, STC, and SEPUP units are all in use. Most districts are still in the process of juggling units from one grade level to another and pilot testing new units to determine the ideal sequence given students' readiness and South Dakota's new science standards.

The project is guided by a Project Management Team that met approximately once every two months over the past year. This leadership team consists of a primary representative from each of the 8 participating districts (superintendent, curriculum coordinator, and/or principal), project director, project manager, lead teachers, lead scientists, external evaluator, materials coordinator, and an administrative assistant. The project is run through South Dakota's Center for the Advancement of Mathematics and Science Education, which is part of Black Hills State University.

The project manager position was created during the past year and filled with a master K-8 teacher. The Project Management Team decided to establish this new position so that the project could offer more site-based professional development and classroom coaching and to strengthen the project's focus on instructional materials.

Over the past year, BLAHST provided a variety of project-wide professional development (PD) workshops ranging in duration from one to five days. The majority of PD sessions were designed to help teachers deepen their understanding of earth, physical, life, and space science concepts. Each of these content sessions was facilitated by one of the project's lead scientists and taught using an inquiry approach. Content topics were selected based on the results of a survey of project teachers and on the South Dakota Science Standards. In addition to content-oriented workshops, the project offered kit-specific implementation workshops and project orientation workshops. Within individual districts, the project also facilitated study groups and provided classroom coaching, mentoring, and model-teaching. Lead Teachers from across the participating districts played the primary role in developing and facilitating kit-specific workshops. The project director and project manager oversaw most orientation workshops. The project director and project manager also provided instructional support to participating teachers at the classroom level.

To date (30% of the way through the grant period), 63% of the target teachers have participated in project workshops, and 25% of the necessary professional development hours have been accomplished. The project's best estimate about classroom implementation is that 284 kits have been purchased (many of which are used by more than one teacher), and 90% of the target teachers are using kits.

The project's offering of graduate credits at reduced tuition through Black Hills State University has been well received. Over a third of the teachers attending workshops have taken advantage of this opportunity for a total of 240 graduate credits. Also, a new master's degree program designed in part to accommodate BLAHST teachers began this fall. In its first semester, 15 BLAHST teachers enrolled. Up to 9 graduate credits earned through participation in BLAHST workshops can be applied toward this master's degree.

Participants' satisfaction with project-wide workshops has been high over the past year. On a scale of 1-low to 5-high, overall workshop feedback scores have averaged 4.6. While participant satisfaction is by no means a complete or sufficient measure of success, the project views participant satisfaction to be an essential ingredient of systemic science education reform.

For many of the content-oriented workshops, lead scientists and project personnel collaborated to develop assessment tools to measure what participants' learned. In a 3-day weather class, for example, participants completed free-response pre- and post-assessments addressing such concepts as the variation of temperature with height in the atmosphere and how clouds form. Results from these assessments provided evidence of participants' growth in conceptual understanding but also reminded the project of the difficulties associated with teaching and learning science content in depth over brief periods of time.

In summary, BLAHST has established a good foundation within the eight participating school districts, is running smoothly under the direction of the Project Management Team, and seems to be well received by the vast majority of participants.