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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview for Middle Grades Hands-on Activity Science Program (MGHASP)

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

Annual Overview for Middle Grades Hands-on Activity Science Program (MGHASP)
by Richard H. Comfort and Sandra K. Enger

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is partnering with seven North Alabama school districts to support middle grades (6-8) science education reform over a five-year period. The project is impacting 160 middle grades teachers and their 11,500 students from the seven districts. These districts are quite diverse, ranging from rural to urban. Their students come from several traditionally underserved groups and include many who qualify for reduced lunch prices. Facilities for science instruction range from ordinary classrooms to fully equipped science class laboratories. The Middle Grades Hands-on Activity Science Program (MGHASP) is focusing on the development of standards-based curriculum and assessment frameworks, selection of exemplary instructional materials to support these frameworks, and provision of professional development in support of curriculum implementation. This project builds on the enduring partnership established through the Hands-on Activity Science Program (HASP), a highly successful NSF-funded K-6 science education reform initiative.

Guiding this project is the common vision of the partners to provide an inquiry-based science program for all middle grades students in order to:
Foster creativity and curiosity
Develop understanding of both the content and processes of science
Prepare students to effectively apply this understanding to daily life in a dynamic, technological society.

Initial project activities have focused on a standards-based middle grades curriculum, and this process is driven by several factors. First, in February 2001, the Alabama State Department of Education adopted a new Alabama Course of Study: Science, aligned with the National Science Education Standards. Second, this 2001-2002 school year in Alabama is a science curriculum adoption year, and the curricular decisions made will impact what occurs in the science classrooms for the next several years. Third, new standards-based, inquiry-centered middle grades curriculum materials have just recently become available. Based upon these considerations, we have worked to provide the MGHASP middle grades teachers with an introduction to inquiry-centered science teaching, and some exposure to curricular materials that support this approach to teaching.

MGHASP professional development has included opportunities for teachers to peruse the new Alabama Course of Study: Science before many of the states' teachers would have done so. To help evaluate the alignment of the Alabama Course of Study: Science and curricular materials, teachers have used several evaluation instruments to work through the alignment process. Teachers have an opportunity to dialogue and collaborate with other teachers in examining how well the available materials align with the course of study, and this process should also help teachers make more informed decisions when selecting materials. Furthermore, this empowers teachers in making choices within the project. Much of this work was accomplished at the three-day 2001Summer Institute, which included a curriculum showcase featuring FOSS, SEPUP, and STC-MS curriculum materials for middle grades. The institute leaders worked to model constructivist practice and inquiry-centered pedagogy.

Following the Summer Institute, at least one pilot teacher from each partner district participated in training to teach either Properties of Matter or Energy, Machines, and Motion. Both of these selected modules were developed by STC-MS, and district science teachers, even before the Summer Institute, had had an opportunity to at least preview some of the available modules. Half the pilot teachers are teaching these modules in the fall 2001 semester, and the other half will do so in the winter/spring semester. Midway through the classroom teaching, the pilot teachers are brought together to share their experiences, both successes and difficulties, and to help refine and improve future training and to address issues they have encountered in their classrooms. All of these pilot-training sessions have included one or more resource scientists who hold advanced degrees in the content area of the module. These scientists have also participated in professional development that was focused upon working with teachers in this type of contextual setting. A Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) has helped plan and deliver the professional development and has made weekly visits to pilot classrooms to observe and support the pilot teachers in whatever ways have been needed. This has provided invaluable support for the pilot efforts.

We are working with the partner districts in whatever ways helpful to them to in educating their personnel who will be selecting science curriculum materials for adoption. The pilot teachers and the engagement and successes of their students with the modules is a message that speaks volumes to the materials currently being piloted.