The Black Hills Science Teaching (BLAHST) Project provides professional development for teachers of grades K-8 and supports them in the implementation of exemplary, inquiry-oriented science instructional materials. The project involves eight school districts that cover 8,200 square miles of western South Dakota and serve 7,500 students at the targeted grades. Each of the 377 target teachers is expected to participate in a minimum of 100 hours of professional development over the 5 years of the grant. Districts are responsible for the initial purchase of instructional materials, and a materials center is responsible for the replenishment of consumable items. All districts have selected FOSS modules for the elementary grades. At the middle grades, there is less uniformity across the districts with FOSS, STC, and SEPUP modules all in use. Most districts are still in the process of juggling units from one grade level to another and pilot testing new units in an effort to maximize alignment with state standards.
The project is guided by a Project Management Team that meets approximately once every two months throughout each school 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, research assistant, and 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.
Over the past year, BLAHST provided 59 days worth of project-wide professional development (PD) workshops ranging in duration from one to six days. Average attendance at project-wide workshops was 18. The majority of PD (38 days worth) was 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-oriented approach. Content topics are selected based on needs reported by teachers and on the South Dakota Science Standards. In addition to content-focused workshops, the project offered 18 days of workshops focusing on instructional materials, a 1-day workshop connecting science and literature, and a 2-day leadership workshop. Within individual districts, the project also provided site-based workshops, classroom coaching, model-teaching, and mentoring, and it facilitated the formation of study groups.
To date (49% of the way through the grant period), 96% of the target teachers have participated in the project, and 50% of the necessary professional development hours have been accomplished. Roughly 92% of those hours were accomplished through workshops, and the remaining 8% were associated with classroom coaching and other site-based offerings. Project-wide workshops are clearly efficient, but site-based offerings play a crucial role in building support for the project and providing project leaders with information about the needs of participating teachers.
Districts are in the process of purchasing enough instructional materials so that all teachers have access to at least 2 inquiry-oriented modules. To date, the eight districts have purchased 343 modules. Also, the Center for Math and Science Education at Black Hills State University has assembled a collection of 134 K-8 modules (FOSS, Insights, STC, and SEPUP), which are available to participating teachers for checkout. Over the past year, 41 kits were checked out by teachers within the project.
The project offers graduate credit at reduced tuition through Black Hills State University. Roughly 90% of teachers attending workshops have taken advantage of this opportunity. A total of 332 graduate credits were earned through the project over the past year. Teachers may apply up to 9 graduate credits earned through participation in BLAHST workshops toward BHSU's 36-credit master's degree program in curriculum and instruction.
Participants' satisfaction with project-wide workshops has been extremely high over the past year. On a scale of 1-low to 5-high, overall workshop feedback scores have averaged 4.8. While participant satisfaction is by no means a complete measure of success, the project views it to be an essential ingredient.
For many of the content-focused workshops, instructors have attempted to measure participants' learning. In a 15-hour weather class this past summer, for example, participants completed free-response pre- and post-assessment questions addressing such concepts as "how clouds form." Results from these assessments provide evidence of participants' growth in conceptual understanding but also remind the project of the difficulties associated with teaching and learning science content in depth over brief periods of time.
During the summer of 2001, BLAHST proposed and received supplemental funding for a research project focusing on student outcomes at the sixth grade. A multiple-choice pre-test developed by Horizon Research, Inc. was administered to all 804 sixth graders within the project this fall and a post-test will be administered in the spring. In addition to analyzing how students perform on HRI's pre and post-tests, BLAHST will assemble and examine data from other standardized tests and conduct observations of instruction within each sixth grade classroom. Results from this research will be used to inform the project. Results will also perhaps help make the case for institutionalizing essential components of the project.
In conclusion, 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. Challenges to be addressed over the coming years include issues of sustainability and declining enrollments (which translate to decreasing levels of funding). More than anything, it is essential that district leaders (administrators and lead teachers both) maintain ownership of the project and continue to play the major role in shaping it.