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Overview of the Keystone Project Activities

published: 11/16/2001
posted to site: 11/16/2001

Overview of the Keystone Project Activities

The Keystone Project was a five year (extended to six years) rural regional professional development program that provided support for teachers in their reform efforts for excellence in science and technology. The Keystone Project's foundation:
  • Students learned best when involved in problems which interest them and which had many solutions or methods of attack. Knowledge was not viewed as being transmitted; but rather understanding happens when students tied new information to the knowledge they already understand. In many science and technology classrooms today, the former was the practice while reformers were advocating the latter. Keystone recognized that the teacher was the key to true reform and provided the bridge to the classroom and the future; therefore, the Keystone Project provided participating teachers with ideas, materials, and financial backing at the classroom level. Awakening, engaging, and empowering the professional staff (teachers and administrators) was the key to the change.
  • To accomplish its goal, the Keystone Project established a school based K-8 teacher enhancement program for science and technology education. A consortium of 21 school districts (one teacher districts, reservation districts, and larger districts such as Bozeman) in collaboration with scientists, businesses, consultants, community organizations, individuals, other educational institutions, and other currently funded NSF initiatives provided professional development, and helped individual schools develop and implement self-sustaining strategic science and technology plans while developing a training model for replication.
Major Project Goals were to: 1) disseminate nationally recognized classroom practices which embody the principles for science and technology teaching with mathematics support, 2) address gender equity, 3) address the needs of Native Americans, 4) address the needs of the rural educator, and 5) create a model training program which may be offered for replication throughout the state in years 4-5, and subsequently be used as the blueprint for a national model of school based reform.

Other Project Goals were to: 1) provide staff development to all teachers as individual school plans were implemented, 2) establish the processes to support the school's effort for reform, 3) provide follow-up activities for teachers who had participated in summer institutes, 4) form partnerships between schools and consortia of schools, and 5) establish and maintain local professional networks of educators, scientists, and community members to provide a forum for interaction and exchange of information on advances in content and pedagogy.

Summary of major activities and accomplishments

Over the life of the grant, Keystone provided professional development for three main groups of educators : 1) teacher leaders: more experienced cadre and school level mentors, 2) teachers and administrators, and 3) school staff in site-based strategic science and technology plan efforts funded through a mini-grant structure. For each group, there were several strands and levels or tiers of activities provided through various avenues such as summer institutes, school year workshops, collaborative partners workshops, individual kit explorations and content sessions, advisory capacity of the Science and Technology Resource Center, Family Science and Family Math evenings, national and state science conferences, reflective best practice sessions, and field experiences with content experts. Scientists and other expert collaborators were provided with activities and materials needed to present the kit based explorations with the mentor teacher leader.

Although year 2000-01 was an extension year in which professional development was optional, Keystone added two notable year-long professional development experiences to its already existing palate of institutes and workshops. New additions were: 1) Project staff successfully taught an on-line distance learning graduate level 1-2 semester leadership course. The 37 administrators and teachers enrolled used action research to reflect on their instructional practices. Participants were encouraged to form study teams within their schools, to present their findings via the on-line discussion forum and chat room. The staff regretted that there was no time left to further refine this mode of professional development since it did fulfill an original goal of developing electronic learning circles which were not feasible at first in schools lacking hardware and/or expertise. This class not only taught the use of research as a tool for reflective best practice, but it also required all participants to hone their electronic communication skills. 2) As an educational hub site for Educational Development Center (EDC), Keystone organized a seminar on reviewing and selecting designated science materials for 55 educators and also established a library resource center for the materials provided by such publishers as Carolina Biological, Delta FOSS, Kendall Hunt's Insights, Sepup, etc. Keystone did seminar follow-up by hosting districts' committees in the library (21 educators) and by doing site-based material implementation workshops ranging from 3 to 5 days in length for 37 teachers.

Other project staff activities where involvement ranged from 3-12 hours for workshops and up to 51 hours for committee advisory work: 1) provided a wide variety of professional development experiences (formative and summative assessment, rubric development, material selection, lesson modeling, and kit presentations), 2) served on and advised science and professional development committees, 3) attended state and national conferences and professional development groups, 4) shared module expertise in the form of half day to two day designated material implementation sessions in Montana and three other Western states, 5) shared strategies, forms, and procedures for development of science center with districts in two other states, 6) coordinated a Montana field test of the Earth in Space module for the National Science Resources Center, 7) worked directly with teachers and students in classrooms, 8) reviewed program performance assessments developed for the designated materials, 9) functioned on advisory committees for several Montana State University grants, 10) worked with local community science groups, and 11) held teacher leader meetings associated with professional development. These activities involved a total of 717 educators.

Institutes and workshops focused on staff development related to project goals, objectives, content, development of leadership capacity, and exploration of standards-based inquiry through questioning and integration. Participant teams provided district professional development. Teacher leader sessions provided background and training needed to promote their leadership ability and capacity to support other classroom teachers. Keystone built a legacy which includes a Science and Technology Material Center (STEC), a strong leadership cadre of teachers and administrators, a professional development resource library, a strategic planning model, a set of assessments for STEC materials, access to the designated materials, and a high percentage of teachers using the designated materials on a regular basis.

According to the Keystone evaluation feedback, participants viewed Keystone's balance of tools, pedagogy, and content professional development as a very positive influence on instructional practices. The project was perceived to be an excellent means to connect isolated teachers in remote areas to resources and to collaborative partners in larger schools. Over the life of the grant, project staff tracked changes in teacher attitude. Feedback from a sample of 53 participants' Stages of Concerns questionnaires revealed that teacher attitudes about science reform shifted from awareness and management issues to ones of collaboration and refocusing on changes to be made. One comment from a previous year summed up participant feelings: "Each time I get to participate in Keystone, I think 'you guys can't get anything to top this.' Every year, I'm wrong. I know you are awesome and we appreciate your work. You make learning fun and breathless. I love it."