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Reforming Secondary Science Through Teacher Enhancement Overview

published: 12/21/2001
posted to site: 12/21/2001

Annual Report
November 15, 2001
Spokane Local Systemic Change Initiative
"Reforming Secondary Science Through Teacher Enhancement"
ESI- 9731552

Submitted by Project Directors:
Robert E. Gibbs
Professor of Physics
Eastern Washington University
and Scott S. Stowell
Coordinator for Science and Health Education
Spokane Public Schools

  1. Participants:
    • Disciplinary Team teacher. These teachers are high school and middle school teachers who play several major roles in the project. As Disciplinary Team members they cooperate with EWU faculty to prepare the units of instruction, write summative assessments, deliver workshops and participate in their Building Teams. To prepare for their roles, they attended a two week summer workshop in summer 1998, eight days of summer workshop in summer 1999, and 5 days in summer 2000. In addition, they attend meetings during the academic year to report on the project and plan for follow-up meetings and summer workshops. They were selected by the Project Directors through an application process and met the selection criteria and distribution requirements set in the proposal.
    • University Scientist. There are six EWU faculty members that have participated as members of the Disciplinary Teams. They include members with subject matter expertise in Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Meteorology, and Physics. These faculty have participated in the same summer workshops as the teacher members of the Disciplinary Teams. Four of the six faculty members served in an earlier NSF funded project for elementary school science education reform.
    • Consultant/Coach. Beginning September, 2000, we have begun to use a new mechanism for assisting teachers in their classrooms. James Slavicek retired from full time teaching, and is now under contract part time to provide professional support in the project. Jim was an exemplary physics teacher, and a member of the physics Disciplinary Team. He has worked closely with Jim Minstrell for years, and thoroughly understands his methods. Jim is available to go out to schools and help individual teachers and groups of teachers, especially with the physics curriculum, computer-based technology, and equipment issues. Jim is able to teach demonstration lessons, provide coaching, and assist teachers in planning their own instruction.
  2. Activities and Findings:
    2.1 Project Activities - What?
    • Annual Overview
      The Spokane Local Systemic Change project "Reforming Secondary Science through Teacher Enhancement" (ESI 9731552) was funded by the National Science Foundation effective July 15, 1998. A cooperative effort of Spokane Public Schools (SD 81) and Eastern Washington University, it is directed by Scott S. Stowell, Coordinator of Science and Health Education in the district and Robert E. Gibbs, Professor of Physics at EWU. The goal of the project is to create a 7th - 12th grade science education system in which all students have the opportunity to learn challenging, worthwhile and academically rigorous science subject matter, to develop the ability to conduct scientific inquiry and solve scientific problems, and to successfully communicate their understanding. In planning this effort, the project directors have been primarily guided by the National Science Education Standards and the Essential Academic Learning Requirements for science adopted by Washington State. Project objectives are divided into Instructional Objectives and Organizational Objectives. The former include creating a new curriculum from exemplary materials, providing professional development for teachers to improve instructional strategies, and the development of a classroom-based assessment system. The latter include the organizational changes needed to support and institutionalize the instructional reforms. The project serves 102 teachers in six middle schools and six high schools in Spokane, Washington. Evaluation is being carried out by RMC Research Corporation of Portland, Oregon.

      To carry out the project, teams comprised of teachers and EWU faculty have been formed. There are four Disciplinary Teams representing Life Science, Chemistry, Earth/Space Science and Physics. Each team is composed of three teachers and an EWU faculty member, with at least one middle school and one high school teacher on each team. These teams have primary responsibility for creating the curriculum from the resources purchased by the school district. They also play a leadership role in cooperating with the project directors to plan and deliver the workshops for other teachers.

      Each school has a Building Team which is composed of two or three teachers. In those schools that have Disciplinary Team members, those members are also on the Building Team. These teams coordinate the project in their schools, provide direct support for the building teachers when possible, and marshal the resources and expertise of the project in support of the teachers. They report to the directors on the state of the project in their buildings, documenting successes, problem areas and needs. They form the nucleus of a community of science teachers created in each school that will work cooperatively to implement the goals of the project. The Building Teams also inform the Disciplinary Teams and directors concerning needed revisions in the curriculum.

      The NSF budget for the project was front loaded into the first three years of the project, which ended in June, 2001. The last NSF funded summer workshop was completed in July, 2000. We have 20% of the project funds budgeted for the final two years. This substantially reduces the number of professional development opportunities we can support. We do have some unspent funds from the first three years, and we have Eisenhower dollars and some school district funds to address the project goals over this period. We are prioritizing our needs to get the maximum value from these limited funds.

        Since November 15, 2000, the following activities have been carried out.

      1. Three series of full day (6 contact hour), building based meetings, a total of 33 meetings for grade 7-10 teachers. Each teacher attended 3 meetings for every grade level that they teach. Project Director Scott Stowell and selected EWU faculty and Disciplinary Team members met with teachers from each middle school and high school in the project. Teachers from a specific grade level were released from their classrooms for a day to participate in professional development activities, discuss the progress of the project in their building and to plan for the implementation of units to be taught in the future. As a result, virtually every teacher in the project attended. These meetings have replaced the after school follow-up meetings in the original project plan, and are proving to be much more effective. This change was implemented last year, and we plan to continue it through the rest of the project. These meetings are more expensive, since we need to pay for substitute teachers.
      2. Two summer workshops, each of 10 hours duration, for grade 7-10 teachers. A total of 32 teachers attended. These workshops concentrated on the major concepts in the units of instruction, and on any difficulties the teachers were having implementing the units.
      3. A half day summer meeting for Building Teams to revise their building plans for the coming year. This meeting was added from the original project schedule. Fifteen teachers attended.
      4. Two day-long orientation sessions (Dec. 2000 and Jan. 2001) for new teachers were held in the last academic year. Approximately 10 teachers attended each of the sessions.

      We made an extensive effort to refine our curricular materials. We reduced the number of activities in many units, and developed a coherent flow of activities for each unit that supports the learning goals. While further refinements will undoubtedly be made as teachers use these materials, we think that the units are in essentially final form.

      As we review our achievements to date, it is clear to us that we are having more success implementing the goals of the project in the high schools than in the middle schools. We are feeling good about 4 out of the 5 mainstream high schools. The one exception is a school that was in temporary quarters the last two years while remodeling was carried out. This school is necessarily a little behind the others. The small alternative high school in the district is having to adapt the curricular units to their special student population, so it is also not as far along.

      Our biggest concerns are in the middle schools. There is only 1 out of 6 middle schools that is completely accomplishing what we envisioned (collaborative planning around effective student learning and effective instruction). At least this tells us that our goals can be realized in this setting! The other 5 schools have individual teachers that are succeeding, but within each school, teachers are not working as cooperatively as we intended, so the collaborative culture around teaching and student learning is not being developed to the needed degree. In particular, some teachers are having difficulty implementing the student-centered, constructivist mode inherent in "teaching for understanding." They have not been willing or able to make the transition from their traditional methods. What we need is the ability to intervene in the individual classrooms and provide the professional assistance needed. This presents two problems. First, our professional development model in this project, up to this point, has not been powerful enough to do this. We have relied on working with groups of teachers in workshops, where we can motivate and demonstrate the techniques and encourage their adoption, but the project was not designed for intervention with individual teachers. Second, there are issues raised by these teachers that impede this intervention. These include teacher attitudes, such as the students in middle school are different and will not respond to these teaching techniques, teachers will lose control of their classrooms, and intervention is not professional development but a method of performance evaluation. In spite of these difficulties, Scott Stowell and his supervisor, Karin Short, have met with middle level principals this fall to discuss these issues, and have gained their support to begin working more closely with specific science teachers in schools during the coming year. The intended purpose is to assist teachers in planning and organizing instruction, lesson design, the use of student assessment data to focus instruction, and to conduct more student-centered approaches to student learning. Furthermore, Scott Stowell is assisting some buildings with other implementation issues, such as the organization of equipment and supplies. Of course we do have the ability to send Jim Slavicek to help out those teachers who request help. Our major challenge involves those teachers who need assistance, but who are not actively seeking support.

    • 2.2. Project Findings - What?
      To implement the science reform agenda at the secondary level requires a number of significant changes in the way that science is taught and learned. For many teachers, this amounts to a cultural change that requires them to give up practices previously considered appropriate in favor of practices that have been demonstrated to improve student learning. Here are some lessons we have learned in this project.
      1. Turnover has been a problem. We started with 102 teachers in the eligible pool, and we now have 67 of that original group still with us. That's a 34% loss in three years. Some have left the district, and some have had a change in their teaching assignment. New teachers must be oriented to the project each year.
      2. There are some teachers who are not delivering the curriculum in a manner consistent with the project in spite of extensive professional development. In our project, these are mostly middle school teachers. We need to have a more powerful model that allows for direct, positive intervention and support at the classroom level (coaching, mentoring, etc.).
      3. What teachers believe about students' capabilities, the nature of the learning process, and teaching can prevent meaningful change.
      4. Schools that develop a professional learning community of teachers focused on teaching and student learning can effectively change and improve. Those that do not develop such a community are drastically impeded from instituting improved practices and elevating student performance.

    • 2.3. Project Training/Development - What?
      1. Deepening teachers' content knowledge. By changing from year long courses in a single discipline to teaching all four sciences each year in grades 7-10, we have needed to supplement the science understanding of our teachers. We have done so in past years with content specific short courses utilizing the expertise of the EWU faculty. Content knowledge is still addressed in the continuing workshops of the project, but we now feel that other implementation issues have a greater priority.
      2. Deepening teacher understanding of effective pedagogy and assessment that promotes student learning. We have addressed pedagogy extensively in the workshops in the past, and we continue to do so in the limited number of professional development opportunities we can present. As discussed above, we believe that we are at the point where classroom intervention is necessary to achieve further improvement. We will be attempting this during the coming year, but lack the resources to do so widely. Our classroom based assessment system is in place. A major focus of our continuing workshops is the review of student results and improving the assessment instruments.
      3. Helping teachers become conversant with the instructional materials designated for classroom use. This was an emphasis in the building based meetings held last year. This phase of the project is essentially over, although changes are still being made in the curricular units that need to be tried by the teachers. The building based meetings will continue to deal with these issues.
      4. Supporting teachers as they implement the materials in their classroom. Our mechanisms to address this issue include the Building Teams, the district science web page, and the building meetings. This is probably sufficient for those teachers that have conscientiously adopted the goals of the project, but may not be enough for the "slow adopters." However, not all the Building Teams have been effective at developing their professional community of teachers, and in those schools progress is slowed.

    • 2.4. Outreach activities - What? While no formal presentations were made, both project directors have had extensive informal interactions with other interested school districts. We have submitted an application for a presentation at the NSTA meeting in San Diego.

  3. Publications and Products:
    The project has produced the sixteen units of study for grades 7-10, along with summative assessment instruments for each unit. Unit information is posted on the district science web page, which is also a product of the project. However the very latest versions of the units have not yet been posted on the web page. The URL address for this page is:

  4. Contributions to Resources for Research and Education - What?
    In the last year the district used about $33,000 of its Eisenhower funds to support the project. Long term support for lead teachers will come from funds budgeted by the district and from the Eisenhower program.

  5. Special requirements:
    Nothing to report.