Piloting an Adaptive Learning Platform with Elementary/Middle Science Methods

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Vick M.E. (2019). Piloting an adaptive learning platform with elementary/middle science methods. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/piloting-an-adaptive-learning-platform-with-elementary-middle-science-methods/

by Matthew E. Vick, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Abstract

Adaptive learning allows students to learn in customized, non-linear pathways. Students demonstrate prior knowledge and thus focus their learning on challenging content. They are continually assessed with low stakes questions allowing for identification of content mastery levels. A science methods course for preservice teachers piloted the use of adaptive learning. Design and implementation are described. Instructors need to realistically consider the time required to redesign a course in an adaptive learning system and to develop varied and numerous assessment questions. Overall, students had positive feelings toward the use of adaptive learning. Their mastery levels were not as high as anticipated by the instructor. The student outcomes on their summative assessment did not show high levels of transfer of the key content.

Keywords: Adaptive Learning, Science Methods, Pedagogy, Course Design

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References

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Dziuban, C. Howlin, C., Johnson, C., & Moskal, P. (2017, December, 18). An adaptive learning partnership.  EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/12/an-adaptive-learning-partnership

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Sloan, A. & Anderson, L. (2018, June 18). Adaptive learning unplugged: Why instructors matter more than ever. EDUCASE Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/6/adaptive-learning-unplugged-why-instructors-matter-more-than-ever

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Science Units of Study with a Language Lens: Preparing Teachers for Diverse Classrooms

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Heineke, A.J., & McTighe, J. (2019). Science units of study with a language lens: Preparing teachers for diverse classrooms. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/science-units-of-study-with-a-language-lens-preparing-teachers-for-diverse-classrooms/

by Amy J. Heineke, Loyola University Chicago; & Jay McTighe, McTighe & Associates Consulting

Abstract

Recent educational policy reforms have reinvigorated the conversation regarding the role of language in the science classroom. In schools, the Next Generation Science Standards have prompted pedagogical shifts yielding language-rich science and engineering practices. At universities, newly required performance-based assessments have led teacher educators to consider the role of academic language in subject-specific teaching and learning. Simultaneous to these policy changes, the population has continued to diversify, with schools welcoming students who speak hundreds of different languages and language varieties at home, despite English continuing as the primary medium of instruction in science classrooms. Responding to these policy and demographic shifts, we have designed an innovation to prepare teachers and teacher candidates to design instruction that promotes students’ disciplinary language development during rigorous and meaningful science instruction. We add a language lens to the widely used Understanding by Design® framework, emphasizing inclusion and integration with what teachers already do to design science curriculum and instruction, rather than an add-on initiative that silos language development apart from content learning. This language lens merges the principles of culturally and linguistically responsive practice with the three stages of backward instructional design to support educators in designing effective and engaging science instruction that promotes language development and is accessible to the growing number of students from linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Introduction

In science classrooms spanning urban, suburban, and rural regions, students enter with ever diversifying cultural and linguistic backgrounds (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2010). In the context of the United States, 20% of students speak a language other than English at home, with half of these students considered English learners (ELs) due to still-developing English proficiency as measured by standardized tests of listening, speaking, reading, and writing (Linquanti & Cook, 2013; National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). Despite the benefits of linguistic diversity in schools, these demographic shifts provide unique challenges for science teachers, who typically mediate students’ scientific learning, understanding, and achievement using the English language (Lee, Quinn, & Valdés, 2013). To ensure that students have equitable access to science content, teachers must consider and account for language in their daily classroom instruction (Heineke & McTighe, 2018).

Concurrent to the diversification of schools, science education as a field has embraced a vision of students learning and doing science through language-rich scientific and engineering practices, as evidenced by the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council [NRC], 2013) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013). Indeed, the shift to the NGSS has resulted in instructional foci on science and engineering practices that simultaneously involve both scientific sense-making and language use (e.g., asking questions, constructing explanations, communicating information; Quinn, Lee, & Valdés, 2010). The resulting practice-oriented classroom thus serves as a rich language-learning and science-learning setting where science teachers are not perceived as language teachers but rather “supporters of the language learning that occurs in a content-rich and discourse-rich classroom environment” (Quinn et al., 2010, p. 1). Since the shift to the NGSS, scholars have indicated that explicit emphasis on language development is indicative of high-quality science instruction that effectively supports all students’ learning, including ELs (e.g., Lee, Llosa, Jiang, Haas, O’Connor, & Van Boonem, 2016; Maerten, Rivera, Ahn, Lanier, Diaz, & Lee, 2016; Zwiep & Straits, 2013). But achieving this practice requires concomitant teacher education that prepares science teachers to integrate language in instructional design and implementation (e.g., Stoddart, Solís, Tolbert, & Bravo, 2010; Tolbert, Stoddart, Lyon, & Solís, 2014).

Seeking to respond to the diversifying student population and changing educational policy context of teaching content and language in disciplinary classrooms, we have added a language lens to Understanding by Design® framework that already supports the design of effective instruction in thousands of schools across the country and world. Understanding by Design (UbD) prompts educators to design rigorous and authentic instruction that deepens students’ learning and understanding by beginning with the end in mind (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Curriculum designers progress through stages of instructional design – defining learning goals in Stage 1, designing assessments in Stage 2, and planning instruction in Stage 3 – as a means to promote meaningful learning that transfers to contexts beyond the classroom. In this article, we introduce the UbD framework with a language lens in the context of science teacher education. We (a) sketch the components of UbD with a language lens, (b) detail the integration of this approach to prepare teachers, (c) introduce the learning and application of two science teachers, and (d) share recommendations for implementation in science teacher education.

Backward Design for Learning and Language Development

UbD with a language lens uses the existing design framework, but adds a language lens using principles of culturally and linguistically responsive practice to prioritize diverse students while planning instruction that mediates the disciplinary learning and language development of all students (Heineke & McTighe, 2018). In this way, we begin with students, embracing and responding to their unique backgrounds, abilities, strengths, and needs. Grounded in culturally responsive pedagogy (Gay, 2010) and linguistically responsive teaching (Lucas, Villegas, & Freedson-González, 2008), the pre-planning component centers on getting to know learners to prompt dynamic instructional design that taps into students’ background knowledge and experiences, including language backgrounds and proficiencies. Reflecting the foundational basis of responsive and rigorous science instruction, practitioners need to recognize the diversity of students, including students’ language backgrounds, cultural background knowledge, and previous science learning and experiences. In this way, pre-planning involves amassing and analyzing data on students, including formal data (e.g., cumulative files, standardized test scores) and anecdotal data (e.g., observations, conversations).

Following pre-planning, Stage 1 begins with the end in mind by prompting educators to identify the desired results of the unit, including goals for transfer, meaning, and acquisition. Based on established goals (i.e., NGSS), transfer goals prompt students to transfer and use scientific learning beyond focal units of study, meaning goals involve students grappling with essential questions to build deep understandings about scientific concepts, principles, and processes, and acquisition goals focus on related knowledge and skills, which serve as building blocks to achieve larger transfer and meaning goals.

When adding the language lens to Stage 1, we maintain the rigor of scientific learning goals, which promotes the high expectations for all students at the heart of this approach. But science prompts complex and nuanced uses of language, including discipline-specific words, phrases, sentence structures, and text features (see Table 1). In this way, while upholding the high expectations for all students’ disciplinary learning, we want to explicitly target the development of pertinent scientific language, which fosters students’ academic language development and ensures equitable access to content. To accomplish this in instructional design, we (a) analyze the complex and demanding language that students need to achieve the unit’s transfer and meaning goals and (b) target the development of that language by writing objectives focused on language functions (e.g., analyze, critique) and language features (e.g., vocabulary, sentence structures, text features), as well as involving multiple language domains (i.e., listening, speaking, reading, writing; see Heineke & McTighe, 2018 for more information).

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Examples of Language Designs in Science

Stage 2 of UbD centers on designing assessments for students to demonstrate progress toward the unit goals defined in Stage 1. The focal point of unit assessments, performance tasks prompt students to engage in authentic situations that require transfer of scientific learning to real-world problems and practices. As a part of these experiences, students take on particular roles (e.g., scientist, meteorologist, engineer) and use understandings of scientific concepts and processes in simulated situations aligned to the unit’s learning goals. In addition to performance tasks, supplementary evidence involves students demonstrating learning across units via various measures (e.g., tests, quizzes, academic prompts; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

When adding the language lens on Stage 2, the goal is to design and integrate assessments that (a) capture data on both scientific learning and language development, and (b) provide equitable access for all students to demonstrate understanding (Heineke & McTighe, 2018). In this way, units should include performance tasks that are language-rich, culturally responsive, and linguistically accessible. When designed for authenticity, scientific performance tasks are naturally language-rich, as students interact with peers to discuss and solve problems (i.e., listening, speaking), as well as research and share findings via presentations, proposals, dioramas, or other products (i.e., reading, writing). To ensure all students can actively participate, tasks should (b) be culturally relevant to engage learners and not require prerequisite background knowledge, and (b) have linguistic scaffolds to ensure all students can contribute and demonstrate progress regardless of language background or proficiency. In addition to performance tasks, supplementary assessments are integrated to holistically capture students’ abilities, strengths, and needs in both science and language learning.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
GRASPS Task Framework with Language Lens

In Stage 3 of UbD, teachers design learning plans that authentically facilitate student learning and understanding as aligned to Stage 1 goals and Stage 2 assessments. This includes the learning plan, which involves hands-on experiences with real-world application and differentiation based on students’ backgrounds, abilities, and needs, as well as formative assessment embedded in instruction to glean students’ learning across the unit of study. When adding the language lens to Stage 3, we strategically plan instruction to achieve unit goals, including those for disciplinary language development, while responding to the unique and diverse needs of students (Heineke & McTighe, 2018). When planning the learning trajectory of science units, the language lens prompts consideration and purposeful integration of (a) students’ cultural and linguistic background knowledge, (b) collaborative, cognitively demanding tasks that involve listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English and students’ home languages, (c) complex texts that are culturally relevant and linguistically accessible, and (d) differentiated scaffolds and supports based on students’ language backgrounds, proficiency levels, and learning preferences (Herrera, 2016; Walqui & vanLier, 2010).

Preparing Teachers for Backward Design with a Language Lens

In addition to serving as a template to design instruction for K-12 students, UbD with a language lens provides teacher educators with an approach to prepare teachers to support diverse students’ language development in science instruction. In this section, we share ways to tackle this work with teachers in training, including in-class activities and resources for building the language lens on instructional design (for more detailed information, see Heineke, Papola-Ellis, Davin, & Cohen, 2018a).

Introducing science teachers to UbD with a language lens begins with buy-in. Science teachers are typically prepared as content experts with the pedagogical content knowledge to mediate students’ scientific learning (Shulman, 1986). Because of the very nature of schools, where English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Arts teachers maintain the primary responsibility for teaching language, science teachers might need convincing of their role in supporting students’ language development. We have found the most poignant way to achieve buy-in is having teachers begin by exploring data related to students’ linguistic diversity. When looking at formal data like home language surveys and English proficiency scores (e.g., ACCESS), teachers recognize students’ diverse backgrounds and proficiency levels. We then have them probe the multi-faceted nature of individual learners by collecting formal and anecdotal data on students’ background knowledge, cognitive strategies, language preferences, and scientific knowledge and self-efficacy (Collier & Thomas, 2007; Herrera, 2016). Our goal is for teachers to recognize diversity, paired with the need to maintain high expectations for all.

In Stage 1, we center efforts on deconstructing teachers’ and candidates’ linguistic blind spots. Science teachers are experts within particular disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, or biology, and in the context of the United States, many are also native English speakers. Taken together, teachers may not recognize the demanding, discipline-specific language that students need to access and engage in learning and understanding. To develop teachers’ understandings through empathy, we begin by simulating what students might experience linguistically in the science classroom, asking teachers to read highly complex articles from peer-reviewed journals (e.g., Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data) and use them to engage in a particular task (e.g., making a scientific argument using text-based evidence). We then provide specific tools and examples of disciplinary language demands to help teachers uncover linguistic blind spots, such as WIDA’s framework (2012) for academic language at word, sentence, and discourse levels, WestEd’s detailed taxonomy of academic language functions (AACCW, 2010), and Understanding Language’s overview of NGSS language demands (Quinn et al., 2010). Finally, after building empathy and awareness for the language lens in science teaching and learning, we move into analyzing unit-specific language demands and selecting those that are important, aligned, prevalent, and versatile to scientific content to then draft language-focused objectives.

In Stage 2, we want to teachers to embrace the value of performance tasks in promoting and measuring learning, understanding, and language development (Heineke & McTighe, 2018; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). This begins by getting teachers to critically evaluate the traditional testing tools that may dominate their current repertoires. We use actual assessments, such as a summative paper-and-pencil test for a unit provided in the science textbook, to analyze for cultural and linguistic biases based on pre-planning data. Once biases are determined, we discuss the need to assess students’ scientific knowledge and skills without requiring a set level of language proficiency or privileging any particular cultural background knowledge. This then springboards into the exploration of performance tasks as the preferred approach to unit assessment, specifically probing ideas within three language-rich categories (i.e., oral, written, displayed). We then use the GRASPS framework with a lens on language (Heineke & McTighe, 2018; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) for teachers to design performance tasks that align with students’ cultural background knowledge and scaffold access based on learners’ language proficiency (see Table 2). We use WIDA tools to determine developmentally appropriate language functions (i.e., Can-do descriptors; WIDA, 2016) and integrate authentic scaffolds (i.e., graphic, sensory, interactive; WIDA, 2007) to provide students’ equitable access to participate in the performance task.

For Stage 3, we want to build from what educators already know, such as inquiry-based science activities or EL-specific instructional strategies. In our experience working with teachers and candidates, this facet may be familiar based on previous coursework or professional preparation. The key is emphasizing not using a strategy for strategy’s sake, but selecting, organizing, and aligning instructional events and materials based on pre-planning data, Stage 1 goals, and Stage 2 assessments. Flexible based on the professional expertise and experience of the participants, adding a language lens to this stage centers on educators exploring the above facets (e.g., background knowledge, collaborative tasks, complex and relevant texts, differentiated supports) with the primary aim to build awareness of available approaches and resources that can enhance their current pedagogy and practice as science teachers (e.g., bilingual resources, amplification of complex texts). In addition to providing the space to explore high-quality, language-rich approaches and resources for various scientific disciplines, we model how to apply and integrate tools that align to the learning goals of instructional units of study.

The Language Lens in Action: A Closer Look at Two Science Teachers

Let’s exemplify this approach by looking at the instructional design work of two focal science teachers, who participated in a grant-funded professional development series on UbD with a language lens (see Heineke et al., 2018a, 2018b). Using the activities and resources detailed above, these teachers collaborated with colleagues across grades and disciplines to learn about UbD with a language lens and apply learning to their science classrooms.

Bridget, Elementary Science Teacher

Bridget was a sixth-grade science teacher at Wiley Elementary School, a K-6 elementary school with 1200 students in the urban Midwest. With the support of her assistant principal, she secured data to understand the culturally and linguistically diverse student population, including home language surveys and language proficiency tests (i.e., ACCESS). By exploring these data, Bridget learned that the majority of Wiley students spoke another language and approximately 45% of students were formally labeled as ELs. She was not surprised to see that Spanish was the majority language spoken by families, followed by Arabic, but learned about the rich array of linguistic diversity in the community with languages including French, Urdu, Tagalog, Bosnian, Hindi, Bengali, Farsi, Yoruba, Serbian, Romanian, Malay, Gujarati, Korean, Mongolian, and Burmese. Bridget also discerned that 50 of her 54 sixth graders used another language at home, including 10 labeled as ELs with 5 dual-labeled as having special needs.

Bridget chose to work on the first science unit of the school year on space systems, which merged science, engineering, and mathematics principles with the goal for sixth graders to use data and models to understand systems and relationships in the natural world. Per the suggestion of the instructor, she brought a previous unit draft to apply her evolving understandings of UbD with a language lens. Having already deconstructed her expert blind spot to flesh out the conceptual understandings pertinent to science standards and transfer goals, she considered her linguistic blind spot with the support of the instructor and other science educators. Bridget found having examples of science language demands (see Table 1) to be helpful in this process, using the categories and types of word-, sentence-, and discourse-level demands to analyze the disciplinary language her students needed to reach Stage 1 goals, including vocabulary (e.g., gravitational pull), nominalization (e.g., illuminate/illumination), idioms (e.g., everything under the sun), sentence structures (e.g., compare/contrast), and informational text features (e.g., diagrams). After pinpointing these knowledge indicators, she used data on her students’ language proficiency to draft skill indicators with attention to particular language functions (e.g., explain, compare) and domains (e.g., reading, writing).

After adding specific knowledge and skill indicators for language development in Stage 1, Bridget then shifted her attention to Stage 2 assessments. Following exploration of a multitude of language-rich performance task options, including those that prioritize oral, written, and displayed language (Heineke & McTighe, 2018), she decided to redesign her primary unit assessment using the GRASPS framework with a language lens (see Table 2). The resultant Mars Rover Team task (see supplemental unit) aimed to engage her sixth graders in authentic and collaborative practice with components strategically designed to promote disciplinary language use across domains (e.g., listening and speaking in teams, reading data tables, writing presentations) and scaffold for students’ language proficiency (e.g., drawings, technology, small groups). She planned to evaluate the resultant tasks for precise disciplinary language, including the vocabulary, nominalization, and other language features pinpointed in Stage 1 goals. In addition to the performance task, Bridget also added the collection of supplemental evidence to the unit of study, specifically aiming to collect and evaluate data on students’ scientific language development via journal prompts, personal glossaries, and resultant artifacts.

The final facet of the professional development focused on Stage 3, where Bridget revised the unit’s learning plan to target demanding disciplinary language, integrate students’ cultural backgrounds, and differentiate for multiple language proficiencies. Having embraced an inquiry-based approach to teaching science, she already had frequent opportunities for students to collaboratively engage in hands-on exploration and application of scientific concepts. By participating in language-focused professional development, she enriched students’ inquiry by adding opportunities for them to use their home languages as resources for learning, as well as tap into culturally specific background knowledge. For example, she modified her use of space mission notebooks to include personal glossaries for students to document pertinent scientific language, including translations into their home languages. Bridget also sought out and incorporated complex and culturally relevant texts, such as space-related myths, legends, and folktales from students’ countries of origin in Asia, Africa, and South America. Designed with her unique and diverse students in mind, the Stage 3 learning plan outlined her instructional trajectory for students to successfully achieve unit goals.

Jillian, Secondary Science Teacher

Jillian was a science teacher at Truman High School, a neighborhood public high school situated in a vibrantly diverse community in the urban Midwest. She began by exploring the rich diversity of her workplace, learning that 80% of the 1350 students use a language other than English home, representing 35 different languages. Spanish was the primary home language spoken, and 75% of the student body identified as Latina/o, but from countries spanning North, South, and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. Jillian also discovered that of that larger group of bilingual students, 25% are labeled as ELs, spanning a range of proficiency levels across language domains and including both newcomers to the United States and long-term ELs who had enrolled in neighborhood schools since the primary grades.

Jillian decided to focus on a weather and climate unit previously drafted for her earth and space science class. Working with other secondary teachers and using graphic organizers of academic language functions (AACCW, 2010) and features (WIDA, 2012), Jillian analyzed the unit’s transfer and meaning goals for language demands. She noted that her students would need to (a) interpret scientific evidence requiring diverse text features like maps, graphs, and charts, (b) describe weather using words that may be familiar from other contexts (e.g., humidity, temperature), (c) compare climates between local and global settings using distinct measurement systems (i.e., Fahrenheit, Celsius). From that analysis, she pinpointed the linguistic knowledge that her students would need to develop to access the larger learning goals, including weather-based text features and vocabulary terms and comparative sentence structures. She then refined skill indicators to target her students’ language development simultaneous to content, including analyzing weather-related data, interpreting weather patterns, and comparing climates. In this way, Jillian maintained the rigor of scientific learning while adding a lens on disciplinary language development to the Stage 1 goals.

Jillian wanted to design a performance task aligned to unit goals. After analyzing the paper-and-pencil test used by the previous earth science teacher, she realized the need to design an authentic, language-rich task that actively engaged her students in listening, speaking, reading, and writing focused on the disciplinary topics of weather and climate. Reflecting the instructor’s consistent messaging regarding responsive practice, she aimed to tap into her students’ rich sources of background knowledge, including their various global experiences and multilingual backgrounds. Using the GRASPS framework, she drafted a performance task where learners take on roles as potential weather reporters who use multiple sources of evidence to describe how weather affects human life around the globe. Students needed to use disciplinary language (in English and home languages) to compare and contrast how weather and climate influenced one facet of human life in various contexts. To ensure she had data to measure progress toward all Stage 1 goals, Jillian integrated opportunities to collect supplementary evidence throughout the unit.

After refining her goals and assessments with a language lens, Jillian wanted a learning plan that was rigorous, engaging, and interesting for her diverse students. Based on pre-planning data, she wove in students’ cultural and linguistic background knowledge. She began with a context-specific hook, prompting students to compare their city with other locations they had lived or traveled, and continued this strand by using global inquiry teams to analyze weather by continent and expert groups based on learners’ various countries of origin. Jillian then used approaches and resources explored during workshops to attend to disciplinary language, including consistent teacher modeling and student application with strategic scaffolds, such as sentence frames and graphic organizers. Having used the UbD template throughout the process of learning and applying the language lens, she completed a unit with a consistent and deliberate lens on scientific language. In this way, Jillian strategically designed experiences to support learners in reaching unit goals for learning and language development.

Conclusions & Recommendations

UbD with a language lens aims to provide all students with equitable access to rigorous learning and language development (Heineke & McTighe, 2018). By adding a language lens to the widely used UbD framework, educators learn to maintain the rigor of science teaching and learning while attending to disciplinary language demands (Heineke & McTighe, 2018; Lee et al., 2013). This timely innovation in science teacher education corresponds with current policy initiatives in K-12 schools and universities, including the NGSS that emphasize language-rich scientific and engineering practices (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and the Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) that prioritizes academic language embedded in content instruction (SCALE, 2018). In line with these broad policy shifts that bolster the role of language in science teaching and learning, this framework can be used with K-12 in-service and pre-service teachers, whether approached through professional development or university coursework.

Application in Practice

We originally designed and implemented this approach through a grant-funded, professional development project with in-service teachers working in 32 public schools in the urban Midwest, which included Bridget, Jillian, and other teachers spanning elementary, middle, and high schools in culturally and linguistically diverse communities (see Heineke et al., 2018a for more details on the project). Findings indicated that teachers, as well as participating school and district leaders, developed awareness and knowledge of discipline-specific language development, pedagogical skills to effectively integrate language in content instruction, and leadership abilities to shape implementation in their unique educational settings (Heineke et al., 2018b). By integrating the language lens into the existing UbD template, of which they were already familiar and comfortable in using, teachers embraced language development as a part of their regular teaching repertoires, rather than an add-on initiative.

We are currently integrating this approach into a university pre-service teacher education program, and our preliminary work indicates close alignment between the edTPA and UbD with a language lens. Of the many rubrics that are used to assess teacher candidates on the edTPA, over half directly relate to the components of the approach shared above, including planning for content understandings, knowledge of students, supporting academic language development, planning assessment, analyzing student learning, analyzing students’ academic language understanding and use, and use of assessment to inform instruction (SCALE, 2018). In addition to our previous research with in-service teachers, we plan to collect data on the implementation of UbD with a language lens with pre-service teachers, investigating how the approach and related professional learning experiences facilitate understandings, knowledge, skills, and dispositions for supporting language development in the science classroom.

Suggestions for Implementation

Based on our experiences in designing and implementing this approach, we have suggestions for science teacher educators who endeavor to prepare teachers and candidates for instructional design with a language lens. First, use the UbD template as a common tool to mediate both learning and application, adding the language lens to what educators already know and understand as sound instructional design (see Heineke & McTighe, 2018 as a potential resource to mediate teachers’ learning). Next, utilize the expertise of the educators themselves and build capacity more broadly across schools and programs, prompt collaborative learning and application in science-specific groups of teachers and candidates, as well as more diverse conglomerations of educators to promote co-planning and co-teaching with ESL, special education, or STEM teachers (see Heineke et al., 2018a). Finally, to avoid the conceptualization of language as an add-on initiative, integrate the language lens into science methods coursework and professional development for teacher candidates and teachers, respectively.

When approaching this professional learning in either coursework or professional development, we recommend expending ample efforts to initially build the needed buy-in that science teachers indeed play a role in supporting students’ language development. Since the educational institution has long maintained silos that separate language and content, those need to be broken down for educators to embrace learning and application to practice. Awareness of the role of the language in scientific learning can support these efforts, which can be effectively developed via simulations that build educators’ empathy for students’ interaction with discipline-specific language. When teachers are put in the position of students, such as needing to maneuver complex journal articles, they begin to recognize the need to attend to language in science teaching. Finally, emphasize the importance of students’ assets and teachers’ high expectations. The purpose of the language lens is not to reduce rigor in the science classroom, but rather to enhance instruction and provide equitable access for all learners.

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Increasing Science Teacher Candidates’ Ability To Become Lifelong Learners Through A Professional Online Learning Community

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Veal, W., Malone, K., Wenner, J.A., Odell, M., & Hines, S.M. (2019). Increasing science teacher candidates’ ability to become lifelong learners through a professional online learning community. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/increasing-science-teacher-candidates-ability-to-become-lifelong-learners-through-a-professional-online-learning-community/

by William Veal, College of Charleston; Kathy Malone, The Ohio State University; Julianne A. Wenner, Boise State University; Michael Odell, University of Texas at Tyler; & S. Maxwell Hines, Winston Salem State University

Abstract

This article describes the use of an online professional learning community within the context of K-8 science education methods courses. The article describes the unique usage of the learning community with preservice teachers at different certification levels within the context of five distinct universities. While each approach is different there exists commonalities of usage. Specifically, the site is used to develop mastery of science content, exposure to pedagogical content knowledge, and classroom activities that focus on authentic science practices. Each case provides specific details of how the preservice teachers were immersed into a learning community that can serve them throughout their teaching career.

Introduction

What is the purpose of a science methods course? It would seem logical that a science methods course would increase the ability of the candidate to learn science content and pedagogy for that content. The actual methods for helping candidates learn to teach science are diverse and include different learning objectives, ‘student’ learning outcomes, and approaches within the classroom. A brief search of syllabi for elementary and middle grades science methods courses at the university level on the Internet yields vastly different approaches to teaching these courses and the reasons why. Science methods courses can be taught to “build fundamental knowledge of elementary science teaching and learning,” teach “strategies to bring scientific inquiry to the elementary classroom,” “increase confidence and enthusiasm for teaching elementary science,” “develop competence and confidence needed to teach science in elementary classrooms,” and “teach science skills and content.” Teacher candidates do not have the time nor training to be able to learn all of the content needed and experience the methods necessary for becoming an ‘experienced’ teacher in their first year of teaching. This article reviews how several university professors focus on a common approach to teaching a science methods course using an online learning community to guide teacher candidates to become lifelong science educators.

The Content of Learning and the Learning of Content

Methods courses are teacher preparation courses designed to prepare teacher candidates to teach a particular content area. There are typically elements of the course that boost content knowledge, but the crux of these courses is allowing teacher candidates to learn and/or practice pedagogical strategies to teach that content effectively. Methods instructors must be thoughtful about not only the activities they employ in their courses to support this knowledge and skill acquisition, but also about the materials and resources they use to support the activities in the course. Moreover, methods instructors must acknowledge they cannot possibly teach everything one needs to know to teach in their content area. Consequently, instructors must also set the foundation for teacher candidates to strategically utilize resources, many of which may be online, so they will be lifelong learners.

Table 1 provides a comparison of common goals of online syllabi from elementary and middle grades science methods courses. The search terms “elementary science methods syllabus” and “middle school science methods syllabus” were used in the Google search window. The first 40 results were downloaded and examined. Three main themes emerge from the syllabi: learning pedagogical skills to teach the science content, developing a set of habits of mind about science, and knowing the science content. In terms of the K-6 student impact, teacher candidates had to translate those skills to the students so that the students could essentially develop the same habits of mind and science content knowledge. Syllabi for courses that included the middle grades (5-8) demonstrated a change in the tenor of the language. When the middle grades course was combined with an elementary science methods course, the middle grades language, goals, and outcomes were very similar to that of the elementary methods course. At many universities, the middle grades science methods courses were combined with the secondary or high school science methods courses. The main differences between elementary and secondary science methods courses were the emphasis on depth of content knowledge and the lessening emphasis on developing habits of mind. Secondary science teachers are considered to have already developed significant content expertise and scientist’s habits of mind.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Sample Science Methods Goals and Outcomes on Syllabi

Science teachers need science content knowledge and the appropriate pedagogical knowledge to teach at their respective levels. Elementary school teachers usually focus on pedagogy and multiple content areas, especially at the younger grade levels where classes are self-contained. In terms of elementary teacher candidates, it is well documented that they often feel unprepared to teach science or have negative attitudes towards science due in many cases to their own personal experiences with science education (Tosun, 2000). At the middle grades level, most teacher candidates have more preparation in one or two science content areas and as a result typically have greater content knowledge depth than elementary teachers. At the secondary level, science teachers have certification to teach one, two, or multiple content areas and are considered to have significant content expertise. Typically, secondary teachers hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in the content they teach. This system of silos can be summarized with a question asked to each level of teacher, “What do you teach?” The elementary teacher might say “children,” the middle school teacher might say “adolescent kids” or “science”, and the secondary teacher would say “chemistry” or “biology.” Content knowledge is needed by all science teachers at all levels. College does not prepare teacher candidates to teach all the content, concepts, and facts that teachers will encounter while in the classroom. Teacher candidates need examples of convenient approaches to learning more science content and pedagogy that can become part of their lifelong learning as professional educators.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

In addition to knowing the content, science educators at all levels also need the pedagogical skills to teach the content, which is often referred to as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). As Bailie (2017) noted, “PCK has…become a ubiquitous word in the preparation of teachers” (p. 633). Science methods instructors have consistently devised activities and lessons to guide teacher candidates to develop the necessary skills for teaching science. For example, Akerson, Pongsanon, Park Rogers, Carter, and Galindo (2017) implemented a lesson study activity in their science methods course that resulted in the early development of PCK for teaching the nature of science. Hanuscin and Zangori (2016) asked teacher candidates to participate in an innovative field experience that led to the beginning development of PCK for teaching in ways consistent with the NGSS. Finally, Hawkins and Park Rogers (2016) added in video-based group reflections to lesson planning and enactment to support the development of teacher candidates’ PCK. And although Davis and Smithey (2009) state that teacher educators may only be able to support the development of ‘PCK readiness’ because teacher candidates do not have much teaching experience to draw upon, it is widely agreed that strong science PCK is a necessity for successful science teaching.

Abell, Appleton, and Hanuscin (2010) state that the “main aim of a science methods course is to produce graduates who…have a ‘starter pack’ of PCK for science teaching” (p. 81). They go on to suggest that teacher candidates in methods courses should not only learn about science content, curriculum, and the nature of science, but also how to elicit students’ understandings of science, use that data to make informed decisions, and have the knowledge and skills to design instruction that support student learning. These results draw upon the foundational characteristics of PCK that science teachers should have (Veal & MaKinster, 1999). However, as Magnusson, Krajacik, and Borko (1999) and Veal and MaKinster (1999) note, content knowledge is the foundation for PCK. This leads science teacher educators to ask, how does one support the simultaneous development of science content knowledge, pedagogy, and science PCK?

Professional Learning Community

Teacher candidates at all levels learn science content and pedagogy so that they are able to teach the concepts in the appropriate manner to K-12 students. While in college, teacher candidates have the opportunity to enroll and complete science and pedagogy courses, but what happens once they begin their professional career? How do teachers maintain relevancy and stay current with new content or pedagogical practices throughout their career? Lifelong learning of science content and pedagogical strategies should be an emphasis in all methods courses. This is often accomplished by establishing and/or participating in a professional learning community (PLC) or communities of practice. One outcome of a PLC is to increase teacher candidates’ self-efficacy in science by exposing them to inquiry in science during their methods course (Avery & Meyer, 2012) as well as help them to learn more science content. A properly formed PLC can connect and scaffold the teacher candidates’ transition from pre to inservice educator establishing them as lifelong learners (e.g., Akerson, Cullen & Hanson, 2009). Without a proper transition, the elementary teacher candidates with low self-efficacy can become in-service teachers who are less likely to seek out professional development that would support improved science teaching (Ramey-Gassert, et al, 1996). In addition, it has been found that if elementary teacher candidates are uncertain about science then they are less likely to use inquiry oriented pedagogy (Appleton & Kindt, 1999; Ramey-Gassert, & Shroyer, 1992) and the performance of their students can be affected (Bybee et al, 2006).

One method to break the continuous cycle of unprepared elementary (K-6) teachers to teach science is to connect them to a community of practitioners during their science methods class as well as throughout their career. One such community could begin in a science methods course and exist as an on-line platform that allows them easy access to content, new pedagogical techniques, and classroom activities that they can rely upon throughout their career. This community could become a source of guidance as they continue to grow as professional educators of science no matter what grade level they end up teaching. The learning community that the methods instructors establish in their science methods courses must involve the learning of pedagogical strategies and content. Dogan, Pringle, and Mesa (2016) conducted a review of empirical studies investigating PLCs and determined that PLCs increased the science teachers’ content knowledge, PCK, and collaboration about student learning. Educator preparation programs are increasingly using the Internet to deliver and supplement their science methods courses with science content projects, courses, articles, and professional networks/forums. For example, Eicki (2017) studied how Edmodo could be used to create an online learning community for learning to teach science. Part of this learning community involved the communication and exchange of lesson plans and opinions about lessons in an online platform.

Given the vast nature of the Internet, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge the quality, applicability, or ‘user-friendliness’ of Internet resources. To help instructors with this problem, there are multiple legitimate educational organizations that have sites for teachers, videos of instruction, and student- and teacher-based content. For example, in this article, we present multiple cases regarding the use of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Learning Center (LC) as a website in which teacher candidates can learn more about science content, find pedagogical tools that match the content, and begin to see the NSTA LC as a learning community. While this article is not an endorsement of the NSTA Learning Center, we are using the Learning Center as an example of how this site can support teacher candidates in developing the dispositions to become lifelong learners in the science education community.

Context

In science methods courses, instructors try to bring together pedagogy that is appropriate to the science content at the level in which the teacher candidates will teach. The problem with developing one course that fits all students is that science methods courses are often geared toward the developmental level of the future K-12 students. Research evidence suggests that if elementary teachers feel unprepared or negative towards science then they are less likely to teach science to their students (Ramey‐Gassert, Shroyer, & Staver, 1996). The disposition to teach science content using appropriate pedagogy is needed. At the elementary level – which can span pre-kindergarten to eighth grade in some states – most methods courses are focused on broader PCK because it is nearly impossible for the teacher candidates to know the science content across all four science disciplines. However, while elementary standards at each grade level require more integration of concepts and less depth of science-specific knowledge, to choose the appropriate pedagogy to teach content well, one must first know the content itself well. Unfortunately, most elementary teacher candidates only take 2-3 science courses as part of their general education requirements that do not prepare them to teach the breadth nor the depth of science concepts in the standards.

Many middle level certificates overlap grade spans with elementary and secondary, so there exists the potential to have a pedagogically strong teacher needing to teach depth in a science or multiple science areas. For example, in South Carolina elementary certification includes grades 2-6 and middle school includes grades 5-8. On the other extreme, a science discipline teacher may be called upon to teach other courses at the middle school. Middle schools across the country may require science teachers to be proficient in all areas of science (e.g., biology, physics, geology, Earth science, astronomy, and chemistry) since the state or national standards are more integrated or each grade level requires multiple science areas. For example, many states have a general middle grades certificate for science, but Oregon has middle level certificates in each of the science disciplines. How can a middle grades teacher be proficient in all disciplines of science? Just taking the introductory courses in each of the four major disciplines would equate to 32 hours of science (lecture and lab for all courses); and, of course, none of these courses would likely teach how to teach these content areas. In addition, even if they successfully completed these courses, odds are the courses do not cover the basic science content they will teach.

The NSTA Learning Center is an online resource that can be utilized for preservice and inservice teaching and learning by providing a professional learning community in which teachers learn from one another by sharing content knowledge, lesson plans, and strategies. The NSTA Learning Center is an online repository of articles, book chapters, webinars, and short courses aimed at improving the content and pedagogical knowledge of preservice and inservice teachers, connecting teachers through online chats, and delivering depth and breadth of science content for primary, middle, and secondary teachers. The science content, interactive learning modules, and articles are peer reviewed and vetted by content and pedagogical experts. The implementation of this type of content has been described as blended learning by Byers and Mendez (2016). Blended learning involves using online resources with “on-site efforts” to teach students. The case studies in this article show how blended learning, inquiry, project-based learning, and independent learning can be supported to provide science content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and PCK to teacher candidates. While elementary and middle school science methods courses cannot provide all the science content and pedagogical strategies they will teach and use, these science methods courses can provide an opportunity to demonstrate and model effective lifelong learning skills.

Early Childhood Teacher Candidates

Case 1

One university offers certification through an early childhood (K-3) Masters of Education (MEd) program. The science methods course is designed to support teacher candidates learning of 1) pedagogical content knowledge, 2) science content knowledge; and 3) connect them to a community of elementary teaching practitioners to support their life-long learning of the teaching of elementary science. The learning experiences provided them with an understanding of science teaching and learning from the perspective of both learner and teacher. Though this is not a science content course, the class does utilize model lessons that exemplify science standards elementary teachers are expected to teach as outlined in national science standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013).

In order to foster long-term and sustained improvement in standards-based science teaching and learning in elementary schools the teacher candidates are asked to demonstrate their understanding of these standards documents by engaging in lesson development during the semester that exemplifies not only the content standards but also exemplary science pedagogical methods grounded in scientific inquiry. The NSTA LC allows the teacher candidates to encounter the use of the 5E method within classroom activities via articles in Science & Children as well as Science Scope, two practitioner publications from NSTA. In addition, NSTA LC e-book chapters are regularly utilized throughout the course. The elementary teacher candidates are required to use the online site as a source of articles about teaching science, as well as basic educational research supporting practice. These NSTA LC resources are used by the teacher candidates to help them develop lesson plans that are based on activities that excite students as well as connect to science content standards.

One aspect of the NSTA LC that the teacher candidates find the most rewarding is the ability to find articles written by other elementary teachers in practitioner journals that have great ideas for their classrooms. For example, when designing lessons focused on the Engineering Design Process many teacher candidates base their lessons on articles and lesson plans found on the LC.  During focus group interviews after the course, one teacher candidate stated that she found the “…readings were relatable and things that we could see doing in our classrooms. So it was really interesting to like keep going in the article.”

The teacher candidates in this M.Ed. program must complete at least one SciPack, read 5 Science Objects, watch two Webinars, listen to two Podcasts, and participate in online discussions with science teachers outside of their class. Teacher candidates also post comments and read the forum to look at past interactions between educators. The Webinars allowed them to listen to educational researchers and scientists discuss new educational policies. Teacher candidates’ use of these resources within the NSTA LC were easily checked on the site as the Learning Center tracks the use of all the resources by students. Thus, the science teacher educator can see if they have used assigned resources such as the SciPacks. The best part of the LC in the teacher candidates’ view is that they were able to put all of the resources they use into a section of the center called “My Library” and those recourses became theirs for the rest of their career! During the post course focus group interviews, teacher candidates mentioned that one down side of the NSTA LC was the cost for a year subscription. But as one teacher candidate said, “Textbooks are sometimes even pricier but with these articles you could save them. Every article I read I saved because I liked the activities that they had.”

The teacher candidates were required to use the Science Objects and SciPacks to learn science content new to them or review content that they were uncomfortable teaching. One goal of the online communities is to illustrate to them that the SciPacks could not only support their content background but usually contain a list of the most common alternative conceptions held by students thus supporting their lesson planning. At the beginning of the class the teacher candidates had voiced concern about not knowing their students’ alternative conceptions due to their own limited science background so this practice alleviated this concern. As one teacher candidate stated, “The articles were very practical and could be used directly in our classroom.  Science is the subject I am most hesitant to teach but the readings made me see how I could teach it.” Several teacher candidates mentioned that they would buy the subscription in future years so they could continue as a member of this community of practice as in-service teachers.

Elementary Teacher Candidates

Case 2

At one Texas university, the NSTA LC has been adopted as the textbook for the Elementary Science Methods course and has been used for the past five years. Teacher candidates have access to the LC during their final methods block of courses prior to student teaching and during student teaching the following semester. Teacher candidates seeking the elementary teaching credential (EC-6) are required to complete four courses in science that must include one course in introductory Biology, Physical Science and Earth Science in addition to pedagogical courses. Typically, teacher candidates seeking elementary certification enroll in science courses for non-science majors. As these are general science courses, there are no guarantees that these courses prepare future elementary teachers in the science content they will be required to teach their future students in the EC-6 classroom.

One of the goals of the course is to prepare teacher candidates to use assessment data to plan and deliver targeted instruction. On the first day of class, teacher candidates complete the latest released version of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness 5th grade science assessment to develop familiarity with the state assessment and to assess their understanding of the elementary science content they are accountable to teach upon completion of their degree.   Preservice teacher results on the 5th Grade STAAR (state level assessment in Texas) released assessments tend to be disappointing in spite of earning passing grades in the university level science courses. The disconnect between scores on the 5th grade STAAR is in part due to lack of alignment of university science courses that elementary teacher candidates complete and the content they will teach. This creates a dilemma for the science methods instructor. Should class time be utilized and designed to prepare elementary teacher candidates in PCK to remediate content knowledge or stay focused on pedagogy? Future teachers need to be prepared in both content and pedagogy. One without the other is problematic.

To address this issue, the teacher candidates analyze the results of their personal STAAR score. Questions on the released test are categorized by science discipline, and as a PLC they work together to identify the state standard and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) each item addresses (Texas Education Agency, 2017). During this process, teacher candidates identify their areas of science content weakness and complete the appropriate NSTA Indexer in the LC for each content area in need of further development. The course instructor identifies and suggests NSTA Professional Development Indexer assessments that align to the content subsections of the STAAR assessment to help guide teacher candidates. Table 2 shows the science content TEKS and the appropriate corresponding Indexer Assessment.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Relationship between TEKS and NSTA Indexers

Typically, teacher candidates complete 3-4 of the NSTA Indexer assessments as a result of the STAAR analysis. The number of Indexer assignments has ranged from 1 to 6, which depends upon their background content knowledge. For the purpose of this course, the teacher candidates were required to complete both the pre and posttests. While the STAAR was used due to contextual location of the university, the NSTA Indexer can be used nationally. Once teacher candidates complete their Indexer assessments, the methods professor works with each candidate to select up to two NSTA SciPacks to remediate their content knowledge in the targeted areas. SciPacks are online modules that are completed outside of class. On average, the teacher candidates improve their content scores on the NSTA Indexer by 40% when they take the posttest compared to the initial indexer score. Elementary teacher candidates have shared anecdotally that the SciPacks are very challenging. Using the Indexer and SciPacks allows the instructor to focus on PCK in class and improve teacher candidate content knowledge without sacrificing class time that is dedicated for pedagogy. The analysis of personal assessment data from an online science teacher site provided the scaffolding for these teacher candidates to become lifelong learners.

Case 3

In 2012, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction sent three representatives to Washington, DC to consult on the development of the Next Generation Science Standards. As representatives for one of the lead states for standards adoption (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the representatives were also charged with curricular development for K-12 science classrooms in North Carolina and by extension, science teacher education and professional development.  NGSS considers science learning within a 3-dimensional framework: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Shortly thereafter in preparation for NGSS standards adoption, the elementary science methods course was reconceived, using the NSTA LC. The use of NSTA LC addressed a number of concerns.

The elementary undergraduate teacher candidates in the university’s programs are extremely diverse. They have attended all manner of public, private, parochial, and home schools. As a result, their level of science pedagogical understanding is not uniform. Before enrolling in the science methods course, all teacher candidates had to pass at least one college-level life science and one physical science course. Performing well in these courses provided no guarantee of attainment of the extensive science content needed to support K-6 science content knowledge.  These teacher candidates also take the NSTA Indexer, content pretest, as the first step in designing a self-study program that will fill the holes in each teacher candidates’ science content knowledge. Teacher candidates take the same Indexer posttest to determine how well they have developed their content knowledge through self-study over the semester.

The teacher candidates must contend with having to complete their studies in light of securing and sustaining employment, and using the NSTA LC allows them the course schedule flexibility to become a certified teacher. In other words, if they cannot work, they cannot complete their studies. For many, maintaining employment interferes with their studies. Using the NSTA LC allows the teacher candidates to continue to work on their classroom assignments in between their employment responsibilities. By being able to access their assignments using their e-textbook and having access to other preservice and inservice professionals, they can study, ask questions, and share their concerns without carrying heavy textbooks or waiting for office hours. The PLC emerged from the need to find a different pedagogical approach to science methods due to the personal nature of the candidates.

The University’s motto is, ‘Enter to learn, depart to serve.’ The responsibility to promote social justice and lifelong learning is palpable throughout the campus. The teacher candidates are required to buy access to their NSTA LC e-textbook for a year. This allows them to use this resource through their methods course and student teaching field experience in which they have time to strike up online discussions of national and regional social justice issues.

Course evaluations and online data about the teacher candidates’ usage of the NSTA LC indicated that teacher candidates who demonstrate the highest level of science efficacy, as measured by course grades and use of the online resources, were also the ones who have taken greatest advantage of participation in the online learning community. For example, several teacher candidates mentioned how they increased their excitement and comfort with searching for and learning about science content and science lessons. Those who have less science efficacy are reluctant to communicate and ask questions with practicing teachers in the online forums despite knowing its value. Data gathered through the NSTA LC administrator’s page, indicated that as science efficacy increased over the span of the science methods course, teacher candidates took advantage of the online science learning community. Since all teacher candidates were required to maintain an online ‘portfolio’ (Professional Development Indexer or Learning Plan), there was an increase in the amount of online artifacts (downloadable chapters, articles, lesson plans, podcasts, and videos) from the beginning of the year to the end.

The adoption of the NSTA LC supports teacher candidates to conceive science from a 3-dimensional, national perspective, rather than a 2-dimensional, state perspective. It allowed the diverse teacher candidates to personalize their learning of science content with the accessible 24/7 access to content, pedagogical strategies, and online discussions of various social justice issues. The improvement of lifelong learning through the use of an online professional development community requires continued study, but the outcomes are most promising.

Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Candidates

Case 4

In one university in Idaho, teacher candidates seeking an elementary (K-8) certification take one science methods course, typically at the junior or senior level, one or two semesters before they embark on their year-long field experience. Prior to taking this course, PSTs must have taken two natural science courses with labs (for a total of 8 credit hours); these prerequisites run the gamut from geosciences to astronomy and from biology to chemistry. On the first day of class, teacher candidates are asked to describe their feelings about teaching science at the elementary level. The responses are typically split evenly, with half providing some version of “scared” and half providing some version of “excited.” The case describes a journey into how the implementation of NSTA LC evolved over a year of teaching a science methods course.  The NSTA LC was first implemented into this elementary science methods course in the Spring of 2016 with three goals in mind: 1) to introduce teacher candidates to a supportive professional community; 2) to provide science content knowledge support when needed; and 3) to use practitioner articles to illustrate topics in the course.

As previously noted, the NSTA LC houses lesson plans, books and book chapters, and even opportunities for conferences and professional development. By introducing teacher candidates to the NSTA LC, the goal is to motivate them to find NSTA to be a useful resource and become a lifelong learner. These hopes seemed to bear out, as evidenced by the comments received from teacher candidates in course evaluations over five semesters that they appreciated the LC because they could keep documents in their library forever and refer back to them and the LC when teaching. One teacher candidate stated her appreciation of the resource by stating, “The NSTA LC had so many more resources and articles (written by a variety of authors) that we would not have read in a book,” while another teacher candidate said, “I like that I can keep this account and use the information in my own classroom.”

Given the wild variations in content knowledge encountered in the teacher candidates in the course, the implementation of the NSTA LC resources were used to immediately support teacher candidates in their science understandings for the course, and also demonstrate how one could use the LC to learn/review content for future teaching. Throughout the semester, the teacher candidates were required to complete three Science Objects that related to elementary science centers (Kittleson, Dresden, & Wenner, 2013) they taught during the semester. Unlike the case studies discussed above, candidates in this class were not required to complete the entire NSTA PD Indexer for the course, but rather strongly encouraged to complete this and ‘brush up’ on content prior to their science PRAXIS tests. Indeed, some candidates did recognize the usefulness of the LC in terms of boosting content knowledge that then enabled them to better structure their science centers, and by citing how it could support “individual learning” for the PRAXIS tests and in their careers. Beyond qualitative responses on course evaluations, downloaded statistics from each class cohort on the NSTA LC paint a promising picture: The majority of candidates downloaded at least ten Science Objects and SciPacks throughout their semester in the course. While downloading these resources does not necessarily mean that candidates completed/intend to complete them, anecdotally, teacher candidates shared that they often download the Science Objects and SciPacks as a preventative measure of sorts, thinking about what they may need to learn/review once they have their own classrooms. It is certainly encouraging that PSTs acknowledge they may have gaps in their content knowledge and see that the NSTA LC may be a way to help fill those future gaps.

The use of practitioner articles found in the NSTA LC brings the realities of science activity implementation into the classroom. The articles connect theory and practice and illustrate what elementary science can look like. On average, 30 NSTA practitioner journal articles (from Science and Children and Science Scope) are assigned for teacher candidates to read throughout the semester. These readings cover topics such as integrating the NGSS and Common Core State Standards (CCSS, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) , argumentation, science for all students, assessment, and engineering at the elementary level. Many teacher candidates commented on the usefulness of these articles, stating, “The articles that we read were beneficial and related to the discussions we had in the classroom,” and “I will refer back to all the articles when I am teaching.” And while the majority of articles downloaded by teacher candidates were the assigned readings, nearly all of them downloaded additional articles related to other assignments in the course (lesson plans, student misconceptions, etc.), indicating that teacher candidates found the articles to be useful resources. The ensuing discussions about content from the articles helped to establish an atmosphere of professional exchange of ideas to teaching science concepts that they intend to use well into their careers as lifelong learners.

Case 5

This elementary and middle level science methods course is taught at a university in the southeast. The course focuses on the PCK necessary to teach science, which includes science content knowledge and instructional strategies. Since the focus is on teacher candidates who will become certified to teach from grade 2 to 8, the focus is on general science pedagogy with content-specific examples so that activities and demonstrations can show the depth of concepts at different grade levels within the spiral curriculum. For example, two weeks are spent discussing misconceptions related to seasons and moon phases. The content is appropriate in that the activities relate the content at the fourth and eighth grade levels due to the science standards in the state. While discussing how to introduce and conduct activities, teachers need to know depth of knowledge so that they can address potential and real misconceptions. The teacher candidates must learn the content of why there are seasons and why there are different phases of the moon not just the facts of seasons and the names of phases of the moon.

The course emphasizes learning appropriate science content knowledge for specific lesson plans so that inappropriate activities and misconceptions are not taught. While the course grade and objectives cannot require the students to know all science content knowledge in the grade 2-8 standards, it is a learning outcome that the teacher candidates can research the content needed for that lesson plan. Reading book chapters and articles and communicating with classroom teachers in an online platform helped teacher candidates understand how to teach specific topics better as evidenced by their graded and implemented lesson plans over the course of the semester. The NSTA LC was chosen for its ease of use and type of activities that could be used by teacher candidates so that they could learn content, develop pedagogical skills, and participate in a community of teachers who share ideas.

The teacher candidates in the combined elementary and middle grades science methods course subscribe to the NSTA LC for six months. During this time period they download any content they feel they can and will use in the future. These downloaded resources are theirs for a lifetime. The NSTA LC is integrated into a project for integrating science content and pedagogy. The project requires the teacher candidates to take a pre-test exam, gather online resources from the site’s resources, complete mini-courses about the science topic, and complete a posttest after six weeks. While not part of the course grade, participating and engaging in the online professional discussions and posts is encouraged so that the teacher candidates learn to become part of an extended PLC. Besides the use of the NSTA LC as a project assignment, the website is used during normal instruction to show other possible activities, lesson plans, and explanations of concepts. The project and use of the NSTA LC is more of a self-guided endeavor because when they become classroom teachers they will have to learn more science content on their own and this is one effective method for doing it. Online learning of science content within a community of science teachers is how current teachers develop and grow the depth of their topic-specific PCK. This project and use of the NSTA LC allows teacher candidates to learn this process in a controlled environment in which the content is controlled and other professionals can assist in the learning to implement science content.

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, this article showcased multiple ways to use the online NSTA Learning Center as part of pK-8 science methods courses. The LC has been used as a method to learn topic-specific PCK in multiple contexts as well as an interactive tool for teacher candidates to investigate general pedagogy. In all of the cases there is anecdotal evidence concerning the effectiveness of using the LC either as an addition to one’s course or in lieu of the course textbook. However, as can be seen in a number of the cases the LC is not just a tool one can use in the science methods course but can become part of the teacher candidates’ journey as professional educators to become lifelong learners as they develop PCK. The authors feel that these benefits far outweigh the cost of the use of the LC and put the teacher candidates on the road to becoming highly efficient teachers of science. As one teacher candidate stated:

I found the resources provided for us….like we got NSTA. Most of those articles were pretty applicable. They had ideas you could use in your own classroom. It is so beneficial. It was pricey but it was worth it as we used it every week. The site had very valuable information that I would use in the future.

Part of establishing a community of lifelong learners is to develop the context in which teacher candidates can learn from multiple resources, participate in active dialogue about teaching and learning science, and develop appropriate lesson plans and activities using diverse sources of science content and pedagogy. The introduction and discussion of forming a community of lifelong learners necessitates the need for research to determine the benefits of using online, interactive, and collaborative sites in developing science teacher candidates. The idea and implementation of a single textbook and downloaded articles are gone. The new generation of teacher candidates need more dynamic and interactive methods for developing science content and pedagogy. Online sites for promoting lifelong learning of content, pedagogy, and PCK will become the standard in the near future.

References

Akerson, V. L., Cullen, T. A., & Hanson, D. L. (2009). Fostering a community of practice through a professional development program to improve elementary teachers’ views of nature of science and teaching practice. Journal of research in Science Teaching46, 1090-1113.

Appleton, K., & Kindt, I. (1999). Why teach primary science? Influences on beginning teachers’ practices. International Journal of Science Education21, 155-168.

Avery, L. M., & Meyer, D. Z. (2012). Teaching Science as Science Is Practiced: Opportunities and Limits for Enhancing Preservice Elementary Teachers’ Self‐Efficacy for Science and Science Teaching. School Science and Mathematics112, 395-409.

Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Powell, J. C., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins and effectiveness. Colorado Springs, Co: BSCS5, 88-98.

Byers, A., & Mendez, F. (2016). Blended professional learning for science educators: The NSTA Learning Center. Teacher learning in the digital age: Online professional development in STEM education, 167

Dogan, S., Pringle, R., & Mesa, J. (2016). The impacts of professional learning communities on science teachers’ knowledge, practice and student learning: A review. Professional Development in Education, 42, 569-588.

Ekici, D. I. (2017). The Effects of Online Communities of Practice on Pre-Service Teachers’ Critical Thinking Dispositions. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics Science and Technology Education13, 3801-3827.

Kittleson, J., Dresden, J., & Wenner, J.A. (2013).  Describing the Supported Collaborative Teaching Model: A designed setting to enhance teacher education. School-University Partnerships, 6(2), 20-31.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Authors: Washington D.C.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Ramey-Gassert, L., & Shroyer, M. G. (1992). Enhancing science teaching self-efficacy in preservice elementary teachers. Journal of Elementary Science Education4, 26-34.

Ramey‐Gassert, L., Shroyer, M. G., & Staver, J. R. (1996). A qualitative study of factors influencing science teaching self‐efficacy of elementary level teachers. Science Education80, 283-315.

Veal, W.R., & MaKinster, J.G. (1999). Pedagogical content knowledge taxonomies. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 3(4). Retrieved from http://ejse.southwestern.edu/article/view/7615/5382

Vick, M.E. (2018). Designing a third space science methods course. Innovations in Science Teacher Education 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-a-third-space-science-methods-course/

Rigorous Investigations of Relevant Issues: A Professional Development Program for Supporting Teacher Design of Socio-Scientific Issue Units

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Peel, A., Sadler, T.D., Friedrichsen, P., Kinslow, A., Foulk, J. (2018). Rigorous investigations of relevant issues: A professional development program for supporting teacher design of socio-scientific issue units. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/rigorous-investigations-of-relevant-issues-a-professional-development-program-for-supporting-teacher-design-of-socio-scientific-issue-units/

by Amanda Peel, University of Missouri; Troy D. Sadler, University of Missouri; Patricia Friedrichsen, University of Missouri; Andrew Kinslow, University of Missouri; & Jaimie Foulk, University of Missouri

Abstract

Socio-scientific issues (SSI) are complex problems with unclear solutions that have ties to science concepts and societal ideas. These complexities make SSI ideal contexts for meaningful science teaching and learning. Although the student benefits of SSI in the classroom have been established, there is a literature gap pertaining to teacher preparation and support for SSI teaching and learning, and the design of SSI units. In order for successful and meaningful SSI incorporation in science classrooms, teachers need professional development (PD) experiences that scaffold their understanding of the complexities associated with SSI teaching and learning. As such, our team designed and implemented a PD program with explicit examples and design tools to support teachers as they engaged in learning about SSI teaching and learning. Additionally, our PD program supported teachers as they designed their own SSI units for classroom implementation. We describe our PD process for supporting in-service secondary biology, chemistry, and environmental science teachers as they learned about SSI instruction and co-designed their SSI units.

Before our work with this group of teachers began, our research team designed and implemented SSI units, and these results informed development of the SSI-TL framework. The SSI-TL framework has been helpful as we continue to design and structure new SSI units, so we made it a central aspect of the PD to guide what SSI teaching should entail. This framework and other tools were used to support teachers as they designed their own SSI units. The PD was successful in that all groups designed SSI units, and many were able to implement in their classes. The teachers indicated the PD was effective from their perspective and they learned about issues and practices. Specific feedback around scaffolding tools we provided indicated the tools helped teachers navigate the design process.

Introduction

Socio-scientific issues (SSI) are complex problems with unclear solutions that have ties to science concepts and societal ideas (Sadler 2004). These complexities make SSI ideal contexts for meaningful science teaching and learning. The benefits of SSI instruction have been widely documented in science education literature and include gains in the understanding of science content (Klosterman and Sadler, 2010), scientific argumentation (Dawson and Venville, 2008; 2010), and epistemological beliefs about science (Eastwood, Sadler, Zeidler, Lewis, Amiri & Applebaum, 2012). Although the student benefits of SSI in the classroom have been established, there is a literature gap pertaining to teacher preparation and support for SSI teaching and learning, and the design of SSI units.

A few studies have characterized some challenges associated with SSI teaching in classroom contexts. When teachers included SSI in their classrooms, they used SSI as a way to get students interested in and motivated to learn a science topic, but they tended not to include ethical concerns or biases about the issue or the science, resulting in a lack of awareness of the interdependence between society and science (Ekborg, Ottander, Silfver, and Simon, 2012). Teachers also struggled to incorporate evidence and critical evaluation of evidence through media literacy and skepticism in their teaching about SSI and informed decision-making (Levinson, 2006). Even after a targeted intervention focusing on the social, moral, and ethical dimensions of issues, teachers struggled with effectively incorporating these dimensions in their classrooms (Gray and Bryce, 2006).

In order for successful and meaningful SSI incorporation in science classrooms, teachers need professional development (PD) experiences that scaffold their understanding of the complexities associated with SSI teaching and learning (Zeidler, 2014). Additionally, teachers need explicit examples of SSI teaching and learning to support their adoption of instructional techniques for incorporating new ideas in science classrooms, such as media literacy, informed decision-making, and highlighting social connections to an issue (Klosterman, Sadler, & Brown, 2012). As such, our team designed and implemented a PD program with explicit examples and design tools centered around our SSI Teaching and Learning framework. To support teacher learning about SSI teaching and learning, we engaged teachers in 1) SSI unit examples and experiences as learners; 2) explicit discussion and unpacking of the approach; and 3) designing in teams with active support from the research team. Our PD program supported teachers as they designed their own SSI units for classroom implementation with various tools developed by our team, including the SSI-TL framework, a framework enactment guide, the planning heuristic, an issue selection guide, and unit and lesson design templates. We describe our PD process for supporting in-service secondary biology, chemistry, and environmental science teachers as they learned about SSI instruction and co-designed their SSI units.

PD Audience & Goals

To ensure effective teacher participation in the PD program, we identified and invited 30 science teachers from diverse geographic locations throughout the state who met the following criteria:

  1. Currently teaching secondary biology, chemistry, or environmental science.
  2. Receptive to learning about socio-scientific issue instruction and curriculum design.
  3. Commitment to teacher learning and professional growth.

Eighteen teachers accepted our invitation to participate in the workshop. Participant teaching experience ranged from 1 to 32 years. Seven (39%) were early-career teachers with 1-5 years teaching experience. Five (28%) mid-career participants had taught for 6-10 years. The remaining six (33%) participants were veteran teachers with 10 or more years of teaching experience. Over half of the participants (55%) taught at schools within urban clusters as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, with populations of 2,500-50,000 people. Just over one fourth (28%) of participants taught in urbanized schools within cities of 50,000 or more people, and 17% of the teachers worked in rural districts.

Socio-scientific Issue Teaching and Learning Framework

Our research group has developed a framework for SSI teaching and learning (SSI-TL) for the purpose of designing SSI based science units (Figure 1). An overarching goal of SSI-TL is to provide students with a context for developing scientific literacy through engaging in informed and productive negotiation of complex societal and scientific issues. The SSI-TL framework is composed of three sections, the first of which is Encounter the Focal Issue. In this section, students encounter the SSI and make connections to the science ideas and societal concerns. In the second section of the model, where a majority of classroom activities take place, students Develop science ideas and practices and engage in socio-scientific reasoning (SSR; Sadler, Barabe, & Scott, 2007; Romine, Sadler, & Kinslow, 2017) in the context of the SSI. Learning activities in this section focus on science content embedded within opportunities to engage in science and engineering practices. In terms of focal practices, our group emphasizes modeling, argumentation, and computational thinking because of the potential for these practices to promote sense-making. To facilitate socio-scientific reasoning, we emphasize opportunities for learners to consider the issue from multiple stakeholder perspectives and to consider consequences of potential decisions and actions from a range of vantage points (e.g., economic, political, ethical, etc.). The last section of the SSI-TL framework calls for student Synthesis of ideas and practices and reasoning about the SSI through engaging in a culminating activity.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Socio-scientific issue teaching and learning (SSI-TL) framework.

The SSI-TL framework aligns with various essential learning outcomes, which include awareness and understanding of the focal issue, understanding of science ideas, competencies for science and engineering practices, and competencies for socio-scientific reasoning. As teachers utilize this model, they may choose to focus on various discretionary learning outcomes, such as competencies in media literacy, understanding of epistemology of science, competencies for engineering design, and interest in science and careers in STEM. We leveraged this SSI-TL framework during a series of PD sessions to support teachers as they designed SSI units for their classrooms.

The PD Process

An initial meeting of the teachers and our research group took place in December, 2015. At this brief meeting, the participating teachers and the research group members introduced themselves and discuss their interests and experiences regarding SSI teaching. We provided a brief overview of the PD program and our expectations for the participating teachers. The teachers were also given a brief overview of SSI teaching and learning to introduce them to examples of issues they would be choosing in their design teams.

A second full group meeting took place over two days in March, and a third meeting occurred over three days in June. These in-person meetings were used to engage teachers in SSI teaching and learning and to provide structured planning and design time with the help of the PD team. Initially, teachers were grouped by content and assigned a mentor from our research group to aid in SSI learning and the design process. Teachers then chose design partners from their content groups and worked in groups of two to three to design SSI units for their classrooms during and in between the formally organized meetings. To maintain communication between meetings, we used an online community to share content readings and exchange ideas. Teachers read two articles and responded to prompts by commenting on each post (Figure 2; Presley, Sickel, Muslu, Merle-Johnson, Witzig, Izci, and Sadler, 2013; Duncan, and Cavera, 2015). More reading resources can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/going-further/related-reading.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Reading response prompts.

Experiencing SSI & Examples

To familiarize teachers with SSI learning, we engaged them as learners in a portion of a fully developed SSI unit. The unit explored the issue of the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria with a focus on natural selection as science content and the practice of scientific modeling. The unit was developed for high school biology classes and had been implemented in several classrooms (Friedrichsen, Sadler, Graham & Brown, 2016). The learning experience was led by one of our teacher partners who had used the unit prior to the workshop. She introduced the issue as she did in class by having participants watch a selection from a video about a young girl who contracts methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). After being introduced to the issue, teachers engaged in a jigsaw activity in which each group was given a different source with information about MRSA to begin the discussion of credibility of different sources and the ways in which scientific information is used by different stakeholders interested in an issue. The groups read over their source and presented to the whole group. Sources included blog posts, a USA Today article, and Centers for Disease Control fact sheets. This activity was followed with a discussion of the different sources and their varying levels of credibility. After these learning activities, the teachers were given an overview of the full unit and shown student work samples, including student models of antibiotic resistance and natural selection, and synthesis projects which called for students to develop and advocate for a policy recommendation to stem the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The full antibiotic resistance SSI unit (Superbugs) can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/ri2modules/Superbugs/intro.

During the June meeting, teachers were provided with an overview of an SSI unit related to water quality that had been developed and implemented in a high school environmental science class. This unit focused on a local water resource issue with conceptual links to ecological interactions, nutrient cycling, and water systems. The scientific practices emphasized in the unit were modeling and argumentation. One of our team members who was the lead designer and teacher implementer of this unit led a presentation of an overview and key aspects of the unit. The full water quality unit (the Karst Connection) can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/ri2modules/The%20Karst%20Connection/intro.

Including SSI in science classrooms can be challenging because science teachers are often unfamiliar with or uncomfortable addressing the social connections to the issue. To help scaffold this addition to science curricula, we engaged the teachers as learners in an activity highlighting social and historical trends from an SSI unit related to nutrition and taxation of unhealthful foods (a so called “fat tax”). In this activity, groups of teachers were assigned different historical events that had to do with nutrition and nutrition guidelines. Each group investigated their event and wrote the key ideas on a sheet of paper. These papers were placed along a timeline at the front of the room (Figure 3). Each group shared out to the full group about their event, and as each group presented, they drew connections between historical events and nutrition guidelines of the time. For example, one event was a butter shortage, which resulted in the nutrition guidelines urging people to exclude butter from their diet. This activity allowed teachers to see and experience an example of making social connections to an issue while exploring how the social and science concepts impacted each other over time. The full description of this learning exercise can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/ri2modules/Fat%20Tax/intro.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Nutrition timeline activity.

Unpacking the SSI Approach

After experiencing SSI as learners in our March meetings, we introduced the teachers to the SSI-TL framework (Figure 1) with emphasis on the three main dimensions of the framework: Encounter the focal issue; Develop ideas, practices, and reasoning; and Synthesize. Using the antibiotic resistance unit as an example prior to introducing the framework allowed us to make connections between the framework and what they experienced as learners. Along with the framework, we introduced a framework enactment table, which depicts student and teacher roles and learning outcomes associated with each dimension of the framework. The enactment table allowed teachers to develop a more in-depth understanding of what each section of the framework entails. The framework enactment table can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/content/RI%C2%B2-Framework-Enactment.

Focus on NGSS Practices. At the time of the PD program, our state had recently adopted new science standards that are closely aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013). Like NGSS, the new state standards prioritize 3-dimentional (3D) science learning, which calls for integration of disciplinary core ideas (DCI), crosscutting concepts (CCC), and science and engineering practices. Due to the interwoven nature of the two, our team has chosen to combine CCCs and DCIs into a single construct of “science ideas”, as seen in the SSI-TL framework (Figure 1). There are eight science and engineering practices outlined in the NGSS, but our team has chosen to focus on a subset of practices: modeling, argumentation, and computational thinking. We chose these practices because they are high leverage practices, meaning that in order to engage in these practices at a deep level, the other practices, such as asking questions or constructing explanations, are being leveraged as well. For example, we posit that in order to create a detailed model, students engage in constructing explanations and analyzing and interpreting data. Our SSI-TL framework calls for 3D learning by engaging students in science ideas and high leverage science practices in the context of an SSI.

Because 3D science learning and practices were new to all of the teachers in the PD, our team offered breakout sessions focusing on a specific scientific practice: modeling, argumentation, or computational thinking. Teachers chose which of the three sessions to attend based on their interests and the practices they planned to feature in their own units. In each session, teachers were engaged in the practice as learners, and then were shown examples of student work pertaining to each practice. Examples were from prior unit implementations and depicted 3D learning through the incorporation of the science practice with science ideas. For example, in the computational thinking session, teachers were shown student generated algorithms of the process of translation, which incorporated computational thinking with the science ideas of protein synthesis. These practice-specific sessions allowed teachers to get an in-depth look at modeling, argumentation, and computational thinking in order to support the incorporation of high leverage practices into their SSI units.

Socio-scientific Reasoning & Culminating Activity. Socio-scientific reasoning (SSR) is a theoretical construct consisting of four competencies that are central to SSI negotiation and decision-making:

  1. Recognizing the inherent complexity of SSI.
  2. Examining issues from multiple perspectives.
  3. Appreciating that SSI are subject to ongoing inquiry.
  4. Exhibiting skepticism when presented potentially biased information (Sadler, Barab, and Scott, 2007).

SSR competencies are key to the SSI teaching and learning approach; therefore, we highlighted them in a demonstration and discussion during the PD. Teachers were introduced to the four SSR competencies, and they explored examples of activities designed to strengthen student SSR competencies. For example, engaging students in a jigsaw activity where they explore an issue from the perspectives of different stakeholders encourages students to engage in SSR because they deal with the complexity of the issue, bring up questions that remain unanswered, analyze information with skepticism about biases, and recognize the limitations of science pertaining to the issue. This session supported teachers in their understanding of SSR and provided them with multiple examples of how this construct can be used in the classroom within SSI contexts.

The culminating activity called for as a part of the Synthesis section of the SSI-TL framework was challenging for the teachers to conceptualize after the first PD session. To support teachers in their understanding of the culminating activity, we presented sample activities and student work from the units we previously developed and implemented. The goal of the culminating activity is to give students a final task where they can synthesize and reason through their ideas about the science behind the issue, the social connections to the issue, and the science practices employed in the unit. This session presented teachers with specific examples and ideas for culminating activities to be used in their SSI units. Teachers engaged in a jigsaw activity and each group examined a different culminating activity example and shared out to the whole group. Teachers discussed how they could alter activities for their classrooms and their units to support the inclusion of culminating projects in their SSI units. An example culminating activity can be accessed in “Lesson 6” at http://ri2.missouri.edu/ri2modules/The%20Vanishing%20Prairie/sequences.

In order to further support teachers as they designed their SSI units, we held a panel discussion where various members of our team (SSI unit designers and implementers) shared information about their units and experiences. In particular, panelists discussed the issue they chose and why they chose it, the science practices featured, and their culminating activities. After each panelist shared, the teachers asked questions about the units and experiences; they were particularly interested in hearing more details about ways in which SSR was incorporated in the units and the culminating activities. They also posed several questions about assessment generally and the scoring/grading of culminating activities more specifically. To further address these questions, we provided the teachers with samples of student work and a rubric that was used in one of our implementations for assessing the culminating activity. Through the various sessions and panel discussions, teachers were supported in their understanding of the overall SSI teaching and learning approach.

Teacher Work & Tools

As the teacher design teams worked through the PD program, the goal for each team was to develop a complete SSI unit ready for implementation in their classrooms. By the end of the June PD session, the expectation was for teams to have completed a unit outline and two lesson plans. The full units were due by the end of the summer. Teachers were responsible for choosing an issue, science ideas, and science practices for their units. In order to support teachers as they designed their unit overviews and lesson plans, we scaffolded their design process with various group techniques and planning tools as described in the following sections.

Group Work & Processes. Initially, teachers worked individually to brainstorm ideas for their units, including possible issues, science ideas, and relevant science practices. Teachers then presented their ideas within their content groups (i.e, biology, chemistry, and environmental science) in order to find shared interests. Based on these discussions, teachers formed design teams, which consisted of two or three teachers who worked together on the design of a unit for the upcoming school year. The composition of design teams ranged from groups with teachers from the same building to groups made up of teachers from different parts of the state.

Planning Heuristic. To scaffold the design process, our team introduced a Planning Heuristic: a table outlining a simplified process for beginning the design of an SSI unit. It describes design steps, products associated with each step, and examples of products from one of the units our team designed. For example, the first step of the heuristic is: explore possible issues, big ideas in science, and target practice(s). The products from this step are a large-scale issue, science themes and focal practices. Examples of these from one of our sample units are climate change as the issue, ecology as the science theme, and modeling as the focal practice. Teachers were encouraged to use the planning heuristic to aid them in their design process. The full Planning Heuristic can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/planning-heuristic.

Issue Selection Guide. Choosing an issue to center a unit around can be a daunting task. To support teachers in their issue selection, our team designed an Issue Selection Guide. Each design team worked through the guide resulting in narrowing their ideas about possible issues, and ultimately deciding on an issue. The guide poses several reflective questions about the issue to help teachers decide on the appropriateness of that issue. Prompting questions fall under three main questions: 1) Is the issue an SSI? 2) Is the issue a productive SSI for the intended audience? and 3) What instructional moves should be considered in presenting the issue? The Issue Selection Guide can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/issue-selection-guide.

Design Templates. To align teacher units with our example units for ease of planning and designing their units, we provided teachers with unit design templates. We provided teachers with a Unit Plan Template, which was used to outline the unit and the key ideas within the unit, such as science ideas, science practices, and the issue. We provided teachers with a Lesson Plan Template that presented a basic structure for each lesson, including time the lesson will take, goals for the lesson, lesson assessments, resources needed for the lesson, and an instructional sequence. These templates can be accessed at http://ri2.missouri.edu/templates.

Teacher Reactions & Feedback

The goal of producing SSI units was met because every design team was able to select an issue and complete design of a unit. Table 1 depicts the teams, the issue they selected, whether or not they completed their unit, and whether or not they implemented their unit in their classrooms the following year. Although implementing their units was not a requirement of the PD program, 12 out of 18 teachers implemented the units they designed in their respective classrooms. Six teachers did not implement their units for various reasons. The food additives, made of up a first and second year teacher, did not feel that their unit was far enough along in its development so they decided to wait until the following year to try it. A few of the other teachers experienced changes in their teaching assignments, which made implementation of their units difficult.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)

Design Team Products and Unit Details

Issue Selection Challenges

Interviews were conducted with all of the teachers after the final PD session in June. During these interviews, teachers were asked a series of questions about what they learned and the extent to which the developed tools helped them. Teachers identified the Issue Selection Guide as one of the most useful tools because it helped them narrow down their ideas about issues and allowed them to determine if it was appropriate for their unit. Multiple teachers said that selecting an issue was the most challenging aspect of designing their units:

“[We] had a real issue finding an issue, and [it] was difficult… I had a lot of ideas” (T2, June Interview).

“I had no idea what could be a social and science issue… I used the topic selection paper, that chart thing that you guys made to help work up to picking an issue after – I had a whole bunch of ideas storming around, and it helped me narrow it down and select one that would work for this unit.” (T3, June Interview).

The Issue Selection Guide was useful to the teachers who were struggling with selecting an issue because it helped them narrow their issue ideas and choose an issue that would fit the instructional needs of their classes.

The Value of Examples

When asked what the most valuable part of the PD was, teachers identified the SSI unit examples and experiences as the most helpful:

“Seeing the variety of lesson topics and ideas, working through some of the lessons.”

“The sample SSI units were very helpful in seeing [SSI] in action.”

“The parts of model lessons where we participated in the student portion of the lesson” (Teacher Responses, Anonymous Post Survey, June 2016).

Teachers found the explicit examples of SSI-TL implementation to be the most helpful when learning about SSI and designing their units, indicating that the PD design supported teacher engagement in SSI teaching and learning.

Lesson Planning Challenges

In addition to selecting an issue, teachers identified writing lesson plans as a challenge in their design process:

“I never actually had to sit down, and write a lesson plan before… so going through and planning something start to finish, is not something that I have had to do… that was a challenge for me” (T1, June Interview).

“[The] process of putting it [unit plan] together is a challenge. Because most of the time I just sort of do it internally, I don’t really write it down” (T4, June Interview).

Most of the teachers were experienced teachers, so they didn’t need to write out every lesson because they felt comfortable with what they were teaching and how they were going to teach it. Because the SSI teaching and learning approach was new to the teachers, we were explicit in the structure of these units. The provided unit plan and lesson templates helped the teachers work through a planning and documentation process that was more formal than most of the participants were used to, and it resulted in materials that could be shared with other teachers.

Increases in Comfort with SSI and Science Practices

Teachers also responded to a Likert scale survey before and after the PD with questions about their comfort in teaching SSI, designing SSI units, and utilizing science practices. Ten survey items yielded statistically significant increases from before the PD to after the PD (Table 2). The first two items deal with teachers’ abilities to teach SSI in the classrooms. After the PD more teachers agreed they knew enough about SSIs in their area to design instruction using them, indicating teachers felt more comfortable with SSI design after the PD. More teachers also agreed they were able to negotiate the use of SSIs in their classrooms when talking to community members and parents with concerns, indicating an increase in comfort level with using SSI in their classrooms. The remaining items related to the teachers’ comfort level with scientific practices. Teachers increased in their comfort with the scientific practices of modeling, explanations, argumentation, and evaluating information.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Survey Items with Statistically Significant Increases from Pre to Post PD

Conclusion

Teachers are important agents of change, and, given proper supports, they can successfully facilitate SSI learning experiences for their students. Before our work with this group of teachers began, our research team designed and implemented SSI units, and these results informed development of the SSI-TL framework. The SSI-TL framework has been helpful as we continue to design and structure new SSI units, so we made it a central aspect of the PD to guide what SSI teaching should entail. This framework and other tools were used to support teachers as they designed their own SSI units.

The PD employed a blended model of face-to-face meetings and communications with an online networking tool. During the PD we alternated among three sets of activities to support teachers: 1) SSI unit examples and experiences as learners; 2) explicit discussion and unpacking of the approach; and 3) design teams working together with active support from the research team. Throughout the PD we provided design supports with various tools developed by our team, including the SSI-TL framework, the framework enactment guide, the planning heuristic, the issue selection guide, and unit and lesson design templates. The PD was successful in that all groups designed SSI units, and many were able to implement in their classes. The teachers indicated the PD was effective from their perspective and they learned about issues and practices. Specific feedback around scaffolding tools we provided indicated the tools helped teachers navigate the design process.

As we consider ways of advancing this work, we are interested in exploring ways to work with school-based teacher professional learning communities (PLCs). Bringing together teachers from across widely varying school contexts and facilitating their work together was a challenge. We think that supporting communities of teachers familiar with the same local affordances and constraints may be a more effective way to bring about more lasting incorporation of SSI teaching into science classrooms. We are also interested in extending our investigations to learn more about the ways in which teachers implement their units. In the current project, we were able to elucidate some of the challenges teachers faced in designing SSI units (like selecting issues) and presented tools to help teachers navigate these challenges (e.g., the issue selection guide). We think that it would be a productive step for the SSI-TL agenda to do this same kind of work (understanding challenges and designing tools to address them) for implementation.

References

Dawson, V., & Venville, G. (2008, April). Argumentation and conceptual understanding: Grade 10 students learning about genetics. A paper presented at the annual international conference of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Baltimore, 30th March–2nd April.

Dawson, V. M., & Venville, G. (2010). Teaching strategies for developing students’ argumentation skills about socioscientific issues in high school genetics. Research in Science Education, 40(2), 133-148.

Duncan, R. G., & Cavera, V. L. (2015). DCIs, SEPs, and CCs, Oh My!: Understanding the Three Dimensions of the NGSS. The Science Teacher, 82(7), 67.

Eastwood, J. L., Sadler, T. D., Zeidler, D. L., Lewis, A., Amiri, L., & Applebaum, S. (2012). Contextualizing nature of science instruction in socioscientific issues. International Journal of Science Education, 34(15), 2289-2315.

Ekborg, M., Ottander, C., Silfver, E., & Simon, S. (2012). Teachers’ Experience of Working with Socio-scientific Issues: A Large Scale and in Depth Study. Research in Science Education, 43(2), 599-617. doi:10.1007/s11165-011-9279-5

Friedrichsen, P., Sadler, T. D., Graham, K., & Brown, P. (2016). Design of a socio-scientific issue curriculum unit: Antibiotic resistance, natural selection, and modeling. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 7(1), 1-18.

Gray, D. S., & Bryce, T. (2006). Socio‐scientific issues in science education: implications for the professional development of teachers. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(2), 171-192. doi:10.1080/03057640600718489

Klosterman, M. L., & Sadler, T. D. (2010). Multi-Level Assessment of Scientific Content Knowledge Gains Associated with Socioscientific Issues-Based Instruction. International Journal of Science Education, 32(8), 1017-1043.

Klosterman, M. L., Sadler, T.D, & Brown, J. (2012). Science teachers’ use of mass media to address socio-scientific issues and sustainability. Research in Science Education, 42, 51-74. DOI: 10.1007/s11165-011-9256

Levinson, R. (2006). Teachers’ perceptions of the role of evidence in teaching controversial socio-scientific issues. Curriculum Journal, 17(3), 247-262. doi:10.1080/09585170600909712

NGSS Lead States (2013). Next generation science standards. For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Presley, M. L., Sickel, A. J., Muslu, N., Merle-Johnson, D., Witzig, S. B., Izci, K., & Sadler, T. D. (2013). A framework for socio-scientific issues based education. Science Educator, 22(1), 26.

Romine, W. L., Sadler, T. D., & Kinslow, A. T. (2017). Assessment of scientific literacy: Development and validation of the quantitative assessment of socio-scientific reasoning (QuASSR). Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54, 274-295 DOI:10.1002/tea.21368

Sadler, T. (2004). Informal reasoning regarding socioscientific issues: A critical review of research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(5), 513-536. doi:10.1002/tea.20009

Sadler, T., Barab, S., & Scott, B. (2007). What do students gain by engaging in socioscientific inquiry? Research in Science Education, 37(4), 371-391. doi:10.1007/s11165-006-9030-9

Zeidler, D. L. (2014). Socioscientific issues as a curriculum emphasis: Theory, research and practice. In N.G. Lederman & S.K. Abell (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Science Education, 2, 697-726.

 

 

Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange Revisited: Using Literacy Strategies to Support and Enhance Teacher Candidates’ Understanding of NOS

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Allaire, F.S. (2018). Cobern and Loving’s card exchange revisited: Using literacy strategies to support and enhance teacher candidates’ understanding of NOS. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/cobern-and-lovings-card-exchange-revisited-using-literacy-strategies-to-support-and-enhance-teacher-candidates-understanding-of-nos/

by Franklin S. Allaire, University of Houston-Downtown

Abstract

The nature of science (NOS) has long been an essential part of science methods courses for elementary and secondary teachers. Consensus has grown among science educators and organizations that developing teacher candidate’s NOS knowledge should be one of the main objectives of science teaching and learning. Cobern and Loving’s (1998) Card Exchange is a method of introducing science teacher candidates to the NOS. Both elementary and secondary teacher candidates have enjoyed the activity and found it useful in addressing NOS - a topic they tend to avoid. However, the word usage and dense phrasing of NOS statements were an issue that caused the Card Exchange to less effective than intended. This article describes the integration of constructivist cross-curricular literacy strategies in the form of a NOS statement review based on Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange statements. The use of literacy strategies transforms the Card Exchange into a more genuine, meaningful, student-centered activity to stimulate NOS discussions with teacher candidates.

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References

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Ardasheva, Y., Norton-Meier, L., & Hand, B. (2015). Negotiation, embeddedness, and non-threatening learning environments as themes of science and language convergence for English language learners. Studies in Science Education, 51, 201-249.

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Clough, M. (2011). Teaching and Assessing the Nature of Science. The Science Teacher, 78(6), 56-60.

Cobern, W. W. (1991). Introducing Teachers to the Philosophy of Science: The Card Exchange. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 2(2), 45-47.

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Personal Science Story Podcasts: Enhancing Literacy and Science Content

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Frisch, J.K. (2018). Personal science story podcasts: Enhancing literacy and science content. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/personal-science-story-podcasts-enhancing-literacy-and-science-content/

by Jennifer K. Frisch, University of Minnesota Duluth

Abstract

Podcasts (like “You are Not So Smart”, “99% Invisible”, or “Radiolab”) are becoming a popular way to communicate about science. Podcasts often use personal stories to connect with listeners and engage empathy, which can be a key ingredient in communicating about science effectively. Why not have your students create their own podcasts? Personal science stories can be useful to students as they try to connect abstract science concepts with real life. These kinds of stories can also help pre-service elementary or secondary teachers as they work towards understanding how to connect science concepts, real life, and literacy. Podcasts can be powerful in teaching academic language in science because through producing a podcast, the student must write, speak, and listen, and think about how science is communicated. This paper describes the personal science podcast assignment that I have been using in my methods courses, including the literature base supporting it and the steps I take to support my teacher candidates in developing, writing, and sharing their own science story podcasts.

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References

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Challinor, J., Marín, V. I., & Tur, G. (2017). The development of the reflective practitioner through digital storytelling. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning9, 186-203.

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Frisch, J.K., Cone, N. & Callahan, B. (2017). Using Personal Science Story Podcasts to Reflect on Language and Connections to Science. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 17, 205-228.

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Designing a Third Space Science Methods Course

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Vick, M.E. (2018). Designing a third space science methods course. Innovations in Science Teacher Education 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-a-third-space-science-methods-course/

by Matthew E. Vick, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Abstract

The third space of teacher education (Zeichner, 2010) bridges the academic pedagogical knowledge of the university and the practical knowledge of the inservice K-12 teacher.  A third space elementary science methods class was taught at a local elementary school with inservice teachers acting as mentors and allowing preservice teachers into their classes each week.  Preservice teachers applied the pedagogical knowledge from the course in their elementary classrooms.  The course has been revised constantly over six semesters to improve its logistics and the pre-service teacher experience.  This article summarizes how the course has been developed and improved.

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References

Bahr, D.L. & Monroe, E.E. (2008, Nov 25). An exploration of the effects of a practicum-based mathematics methods course on the beliefs of elementary preservice teachers. International Journal of Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from http://www.cimt.org.uk/journal/bahrmonroe.pdf

Bahr, D., Monroe, E. E., Balzotti, M., & Eggett, D. (2009). Crossing the barriers between preservice and inservice mathematics teacher education: An evaluation of the grant school professional development program. School Science and Mathematics, 109(4), 223-236.

Bahr, D.L., Monroe, E.E., & Eggett, D. (2014). Structural and conceptual interweaving of mathematics methods coursework and field practica. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 17, 271-297.

Bahr, D., Monroe, E. E., & Shaha, S. H. (2013). Examining preservice teacher belief changes in the context of coordinated mathematics methods coursework and classroom experiences. School Science and Mathematics,113(3), 144-155.

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Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S. L. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. New York: Teachers College Press.

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National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2015). Science teachers’ learning: Enhancing opportunities, creating supportive contexts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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Taylor, M., Klein, E. J., & Abrams, L. (2014). Tensions of reimagining our roles as teacher educators in a third space: Revisiting a co/autoethnography through a faculty lens. Studying Teacher Education, 10(1), 3-19. DOI: 10.1080/17425964.2013.866549.

Vick, M.E., & Reichhoff, N. (2017). Collaborative partnerships between pre-service and inservice teachers as a driver for professional development. In R.M. Reardon & J. Leonard (Eds.) Exploring the community impact of research-practice partnerships in education. A Volume in the series: Current perspectives on school/university/community research (pp. 199-224). Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC.

Zeichner, K. (2010). Rethinking the connections between campus courses and field experiences in college and university-based teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 89-99.

The Home Inquiry Project: Elementary Preservice Teachers’ Scientific Inquiry Journey

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Kazempour, M. (2017). The home inquiry project: Elementary preservice teachers’ scientific inquiry journey. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/the-home-inquiry-project-elementary-preservice-teachers-scientific-inquiry-journey/

by Mahsa Kazempour, Penn State University (Berks Campus)

Abstract

This article discusses the Home Inquiry Project which is part of a science methods course for elementary preservice teachers. The aim of the Home Inquiry Project is to enhance elementary preservice teachers’ understanding of the scientific inquiry process and increase their confidence and motivation in incorporating scientific inquiry into learning experiences they plan for their future students. The project immerses preservice teachers in the process of scientific inquiry and provides them with an opportunity to learn about and utilize scientific practices such as making observations, asking questions, predicting, communicating evidence, and so forth. Preservice teachers completing this project perceive their experiences favorably, recognize the importance of understanding the process of science, and reflect on the application of this experience to their future classroom science instruction. This project has immense implications for the preparation of a scientifically literate and motivated teacher population who will be responsible for cultivating a scientifically literate student population with a positive attitude and confidence in science.

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References

Adams, A., Miller, B., Saul, M., Pegg, J. (2014). Supporting elementary preservice teachers to teach STEM through place-based teaching and learning experiences. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 18(5). Retrieved from http://ejse.southwestern.edu/issue/view/1119

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Chichekian, T., Shore, B., & Yates, G. (2016). Preservice and practicing teachers’ self-efficacy for inquiry-based instruction. Cogent Education, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2331186X.2016.1236872?scroll=top&needAccess=true

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Hechter, R. P. (2011). Changes in pre-service elementary teachers’ personal science teaching efficacy and science teaching outcome expectancies: The influence of context. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 22, 187–202.

Kazempour, M. (2013). The interrelationship of science experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and self-efficacy: A case study of a pre-service teacher with positive science attitude and high science teaching self-efficacy. European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 1(1), 106-124.

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Kazempour, M., Sadler, T. D. (2015). Pre-service teachers’ science beliefs, attitudes, and self-efficacy: A multi-case study.” Teaching Education, 26, 247-271.

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Lewis, E., Dema, O., & Harshbarger, D. (2014). Preparation for practice: elementary preservice teachers learning and using scientific classroom discourse community instructional strategies. School Science and Mathematics, 114, 154-165.

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Mulholland, J., & Wallace, J. (2000). Beginning elementary science teaching: Entryways to different worlds. Research in Science Education, 30, 151– 171.

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A Lesson to Unlock Preservice Science Teachers’ Expert Reading Strategies

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Mawyer, K.K.N. & Johnson, H. J. (2017). A lesson to unlock preservice science teachers’ expert reading strategies. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/a-lesson-to-unlock-preservice-science-teachers-expert-reading-strategies/

by Kirsten K.N. Mawyer, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; & Heather J. Johnson, Vanderbilt University

Abstract

New standards for K-12 science education task science teacher educators with providing preservice teachers strong preparation that will help them to embrace their role as teachers of science literacy (National Research Council, 2012). Even though there is a growing trend for teacher preparation programs to offer literacy courses that focus on reading in the content areas, often they do not provide aspiring science teachers the science-specific tools needed to teach reading in secondary science contexts. This article addresses the question, “How can we, as science teacher educators, prepare our teacher candidates to teach reading in the context of science?” We designed an initial literacy lesson to help preservice teachers enrolled in two science methods courses to unpack their content knowledge about literacy in science. Our hope was that by unlocking their personal strategies they would be better positioned for engaging in conversations about literacy. We found that using this initial literacy lesson provided our preservice teachers with a solid foundation for engaging in conversations about how to scaffold student reading. This lesson also provided preservice teachers an opportunity to collaboratively develop a common beginner’s repertoire of reading strategies that we subsequently used as a building block for designing activities and lessons that engage middle and high school students in big science ideas and understanding real-world phenomena through reading a variety of kinds of science texts.

Introduction

According to literacy researchers, different disciplines demonstrate both social and cognitive practices that embody distinct ways group members use reading and writing within their discipline (Buehl, 2011; Goldman & Bisanz, 2002; Heller & Greenleaf, 2007). The Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and Common Core State Standards (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) all specify that literacy—the ability to read in the context of science—is an essential scientific practice. These recent national reform documents emphasize that by the time students graduate from high school they should be able to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information from scientific texts (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010; NGSS Lead States, 2013; National Research Council, 2012). Thus, it comes as no surprise that science teachers must incorporate literacy into their curriculum and instruction. In the wake of these reforms, the expectation that students will have more opportunities to engage with scientific texts is now firmly in place. However, this vision of ‘literacy for all students’ (Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010) can only be achieved to the extent secondary science teachers are able or inclined to meet this goal (Cohen & Ball, 1990).

In response to this call for literacy, experienced secondary science teachers we talked to expressed that they feel they “have a responsibility to work on literacy” but do not know how to go about teaching and incorporating reading in their instruction. Unfortunately, the majority of otherwise competent or even expert teachers do not have the knowledge or training to teach literacy skills required to engage students with science texts (Norris & Phillips, 2003; National Research Council, 2012). Secondary science teachers are largely unprepared because their teacher preparation programs included little or no coursework focused on literacy. Even though there is a growing trend for teacher preparation programs to offer literacy courses that focus on reading in the content areas, often they still do not provide aspiring science teachers the science-specific tools needed to teach reading in secondary science contexts. One inservice teacher we spoke with commented that while she had taken a literacy course in graduate school it “really didn’t help me at all because it was too general and disconnected from the kind of reading you have to do in science.” Her sense that strategies introduced in her graduate school preservice coursework were too generic is not surprising given that science texts require content specific approaches and an understanding about how to read and engage with various disciplinary-specific genres (Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010; Lee & Spratley, 2010). This raises the question, “How can we, as science teacher educators, prepare our teacher candidates to teach reading in the context of science?”

Instead of depending on general content area courses designed for preservice teachers regardless of discipline or specialty, science teacher educators need to design lessons for secondary science methods courses that target how to teach reading as an integral and integrated component of 6th-12th grade science curricula. Fortunately, preservice science teachers are not walking into science methods classes as blank slates. They enter with extensive science content expertise and are generally proficient or advanced readers of scientific texts. The challenge for science teacher educators is that even though preservice secondary teachers know how to read and make meaning of texts within their discipline, it is difficult for individuals to leverage well-developed personal strategies for reading a variety of science texts in their planning and instruction to support struggling readers (Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010; Norris & Phillips, 2003). If reading is to play a more prominent role in secondary science, preservice teachers need help in making tacit knowledge about how to read common genres of science texts, such as popular science texts, textbooks, and primary scientific literature, explicit so they can use this knowledge as a foundation for learning how to teach middle school and high school students to read and make sense of science texts.

Context & Framing

The context for this study was a one semester secondary science methods course we taught at our respective institutions to a mix of undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and masters students. We co-designed and taught a sequence of seminar sessions on how to use literacy activities, specifically reading different genres of science texts, to meaningfully help students learn science. This paper describes the first session in the sequence. We framed the design of the lesson using Ball & Bass’s (2000) notion of decompression. This is the perspective that as individuals learn to teach they need to unpack, and make visible the connections between the integral whole of their content knowledge so that it is accessible to develop pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986) In this particular case the knowledge and skills necessary to use literacy strategies to teach reading in the context of science (Figure 1). Why is unpacking preservice teachers content knowledge about science reading strategies important? Unless one’s content expertise is the study of reading, the act of reading can seem or intuitively be thought “a simple process” in which “text can seem transparent” (Norris & Phillips, 2003, p. 226). Helping preservice teachers identify their existing “expert” knowledge of how to read science texts—and preparing them to design lessons that productively incorporate literacy activities into their science instruction—is foundational for developing strategies to teach middle school and high school students how to read science texts.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). As preservice secondary science teachers decompress their content knowledge about literacy and their personal reading strategies they develop PCK for teaching reading in science.

 

 

Lesson Design

In order to unpack preservice teachers’ genre specific strategies, we designed a structured introductory literacy activity that would:

● Help preservice teachers identify existing personal reading strategies for reading science texts
● Compare personal reading strategies with other preservice teachers
● Identify general and science genre specific reading strategies
● Engage preservice teachers in a dialogue about text features of different genres of science texts
● Brainstorm ideas about when and why teachers would want to use different genres of science texts in instruction
● Provide a foundation for designing lesson plans that include literacy activities that support ambitious science teaching practices—eliciting student ideas, supporting ongoing changes in student thinking, and pressing for evidence-based explanations (Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012).

Specifically, we asked our preservice teachers to read three common genres of science texts—a newspaper article (popular science text), a science textbook (science text for education), and a scientific journal article (primary scientific literature)—that a science teacher might have their students read in class (Goldman & Bisanz, 2002). Relatively short texts about the same content—global climate change—were purposefully selected. Each student was given a packet of the readings that they were welcome to write on. We instructed preservice teachers to read each article with the goal of making sense of the text. They were given 10 minutes to read each text. How they spent this time, including what order they read the different texts, was left up to them.

After reading all of the texts, we made the preservice teachers aware of our purpose. We did not seek to assess them on their understanding of the content within each text. Instead, we wanted to make visible the strategies they used to read each type of text. Before we debriefed as a group, we asked each preservice teacher to respond in writing to the following questions for each genre of text:

● What did you do as you read the text?
● How did you make sense of the text?
● How did you interact with the text?
● Why did you approach the text in this way?

Asking preservice teachers to notice strategies encouraged them to make visible the latent expert knowledge they use to analyze the texts (Sherin, Jacobs, & Philipp, 2011). After students individually responded to the prompts on how they read each of the three texts, we split them into small groups of 3-4 to identify and record the reading strategies used to make sense of each text type. This activity was followed by a whole class discussion about reading order, reading strategies, and patterns in reading approaches across the three genres of science text: a newspaper article, a science textbook, and a journal article. Our preservice teachers’ discussion and written reflections revealed that they did indeed have both general and subject specific approaches to reading different kinds of science texts.

Reading the Newspaper Article

Popular texts, such as newspapers, magazines, online sites, trade books, and longer nonfiction science texts, take complex scientific information and phenomena and simplify it for the public—generally for the purpose of raising awareness and increasing understanding of important issues that are relevant to and impact citizens’ everyday lives (Goldman & Bisanz, 2002). The newspaper article our preservice teachers read introduced international efforts to draft a world climate policy to limit global warming to 2oC by drastically cutting down on fossil fuel emissions to head off the negative impacts, such as rising sea-levels, of global warming (Gillis, 2014).

The discussion kicked off with one preservice teacher noting that the “writing was very straightforward” so it was not necessary to take notes as compared to engagement with the textbook or journal article. Another echoed this sentiment commenting that she read it like a story with a “main thread…which I grasped and everything else revolved around”. Several made remarks that were consistent with the objective of this text genre such as, “I wasn’t really ever exposed to the 2o C global climate change goals before so I felt I had to keep ready to gain more insight as to what it is and why it is important” and “science is controversial—one group may agree and another group may disagree”.

It was clear from the discussion that preservice teachers had a deep, established, and readily accessible understanding of the structure and purpose of a scientific newspaper article and that these pre-existing orientations to this genre shaped how they read the text (Figure 2). Strategies our preservice teachers used to read the newspaper article included:

● Using the title to identify who/what/when
● Using the first sentence to identify the tone
● Identifying the writer’s position and identifying bias
● Identifying stakeholders and different opinions with respect to the issue
● Evaluating the credibility of the source
● Identifying evidence, notably by locating quotations from scientists
● Skimming for the main idea and ignoring the “fluff”

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Preservice teachers’ strategies for reading newspaper articles.

Reading the Textbook

Science textbooks, the mainstay of secondary science, are expository which means they are written to inform, describe, explain or define patterns, and to help students construct meanings about science information (Goldman & Bisanz, 2002). Even though the objective of textbooks is to scaffold student learning, students often find them difficult reading because of content density, complex text structures, domain specific vocabulary, multimodal representations, lack of relevance to students’ lives and prior knowledge (Lee & Spratley, 2010). The textbook reading on global climate change detailed specific consequences of global warming including warmer temperatures, more severe weather events, melting ice and snow, rising sea levels, and human health (Edelson et al., 2005).

As preservice teachers reflected on and discussed how they read the science textbook we observed a high degree of commonality across the approaches utilized. Most notably, conversation centered on text features that organize information in the text. For example, one preservice teacher shared that he “figured that a textbook would give the big ideas in the title and probably within the first couple of lines of the section so this helped me to get to the point faster, it helped me understand with less reading”. Similarly another said “I first flipped through the text [and] read all of the headings and subheadings” upon which other students elaborated that “the headings and subheadings are great clues as to what the text is talking about” and that headings and subheadings helped to “identify the main idea of each section”.

As with the newspaper article, the discussion of the textbook reading revealed that our preservice teachers have well developed strategies for reading science textbooks. Their strategies included:

● Reading the title to identify the focus of the entire reading
● Reading headings and subheadings to determine the main idea of each section
● Asking how the section relates to the title
● Asking how each section is connected to the sections before and after
● Reading for the main idea
● Reading first/last sentences of each paragraph
● Making a distinction between main idea(s) and evidence
● Skimming for unfamiliar science words, bolded vocabulary and associated definitions

Reading the Journal Article

Goldman and Bisanz (2002) point to the research report, such as a journal article, as the primary text genre used by scientists. Research reports are of particular interest because they are vehicles through which scientists present a scientific argument for consumption, evaluation, and response by their peers. Publication, circulation, evaluation, and response serves as a mechanism for providing information about research, making claims, and generating new scientific knowledge. According to Phillips & Norris (2009) journal articles present arguments about the need for conducting research, enduring or emerging methodology, analysis and provisions against alternative explanations—all in the service of supporting interpretation of authors’ findings. Generally, these types of texts are infrequently used in the science classroom. The journal article we asked our preservice teachers to read presented an index for when temperature will increase beyond historic levels yielding worldwide shifts in climate (Mora et al., 2013).

Preservice teachers agreed that of the three texts the journal article was hands down the most difficult to read and understand. Even though they struggled with this article they had no trouble articulating how they read this text. As with the other two text types, preservice teachers used specific text features of journal articles to scaffold their reading. One shared that she “usually start[s] with the abstract of a journal article because it tends to give some sort of summary of the whole article.” Another built on this by saying that the “abstract is a good summary of key points.” In addition to the abstract, preservice teachers focused on reading the “intro and conclusion because they highlight scientist’s argument and claims,” as well as on “tables and figures because they provide evidence visually.” There was also widespread agreement with one preservice teacher that if the goal is to understand the article, it was fine to “skim the methods [because]…taking the time to read the methods portion would not provide me with the important information to understand the context.”

The discussion of the journal article reading uncovered that our preservice teachers have well developed strategies for reading scientific texts. Their strategies included:

● Reading abstract, introduction and conclusion for summary of argument and primary findings
● Reading discussion for explanation of findings
● Looking at graphs, tables and figures for evidence supporting claim
● Skipping or skimming methods
● Asking do I understand what this article is about
● Reflecting on whether I can tell someone what this article is about

Reading Across the Science Texts

We noticed that in addition to the genre specific strategies outlined above, preservice teachers talked about how—as they read with the goal of making sense of the texts—almost all indicated that they annotated the text in some fashion. When we collected and analyzed preservice teachers’ annotated texts, we observed that they had underlined, highlighted, and jotted down questions or comments directly on the text. When they reflected on their textual reading practices, they indicated that they marked-up the text because they planned to re-read the texts and that annotating and highlighting specific features (headings, main ideas, or writing questions), would facilitate their future re-skimming of the texts and allow them to focus on only re-reading the most relevant sections or re-engaging with the most salient information in the article (Mawyer & Johnson, 2017). It seems that preservice teachers engaged in a meta-dialogue with the text that would allow for the most effective and efficient interaction with the text to maximize understanding.

Preservice Teachers’ Ideas for Scaffolding Literacy

After students discussed the various texts and worked together to identify patterns and commonalities in how they read the three texts, we asked them to talk about implications of their personal strategies for reading different types of science texts for their own teaching. One of the preservice teachers commented that going into the activity she did not really think that she had any specific strategies for reading science texts and “felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed about the prospect of teaching literacy” and that the activity helped her to see that she “had more experience with literacy” than she originally thought. We noticed that in both of our classes the literacy activity our preservice secondary teachers engaged in and their subsequent small group discussions allowed them to think deeply about how to concretely support literacy. They were able to work together to develop ideas about how they could build on the reading strategies they identified in our class to design their own lessons and curriculum in order to integrate literacy activities into their teaching practice. Specifically we observed students leveraging their personal strategies into supports that could be helpful to students before, during, and after they directly interact with the text (Table 1).

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Preservice Teachers’ Ideas for Scaffolding Literacy for Different Types of Science Texts

Formal lesson plans and classroom observations revealed that after this literacy lesson our preservice teachers began incorporating these three genres of science texts into their science instruction and put the strategies and supports they identified into practice. For example, one student adapted a journal article to make it easier for her students to read. She structured reading by giving her students the following instructions:

“You will mark the text, highlight words you do not know or feel that are important, write in the side columns thoughts/responses/ideas, and form a thesis summary. To form a thesis means to make a conclusive statement (claim) on what you read. You will support this claim by providing 3-5 key details.”

The observation that our preservice teachers started using science texts after this literacy session, suggested they had more confidence in engaging their own students with literacy activities in the science classroom.

Implications for Science Teacher Educators

The Framework specifies that preservice science teacher education needs to be aligned with the scientific practices. Furthermore, it tasks science teacher educators with providing preservice teachers strong preparation that will help them to embrace their role as teachers of science literacy (National Research Council, 2012). In response to this call we designed this initial literacy lesson to help preservice teachers enrolled in our science methods courses to unpack their content knowledge about literacy in science with the hope that by unlocking their personal strategies they would be better positioned for engaging in conversations about literacy. In the words of one preservice teacher this activity helped him realize that his reading strategies were “so intuitive that they were tacit” and that previously he never “consciously thought about the text and how I approach reading”.

Challenges in implementation

As noted earlier one challenge that arose during this lesson was that our preservice teachers struggled with reading the journal article. Often journal articles are quite lengthy so we purposefully selected the shortest article we could find about global climate change in the hope that they would be able to read it in its entirety in the allotted 10 minutes. As the lesson unfolded we realized that this particular article was exceptionally dense conceptually and included a large number of visual representations.

Suggestions for future implementation

As we tweak this lesson for future use we plan to select another article that is more typical of scientific journal articles. That said, the very rich conversation that we had around the difficulties surrounding reading this particular article led to productive lines of inquiry in subsequent literacy sessions. In particular, we used it as a jumping off point for talking about adapting primary literature (Philips & Norris, 2009) to make scientific journal articles accessible to middle and high school students. We also realized that we needed to include explicit instruction around scaffolding reading visual representations such as tables, graphs, and diagrams. Another modification that we are considering is assigning the three readings and written responses to the four prompts as homework. This would allow preservice teachers to read each text at their own pace and take away the artificial constraint of a time limit.

Conclusion

This lesson highlights that preservice teachers’ actual familiarity with reading strategies and content specific literacy expertise is different from their initial self-perception that they know very little about literacy. The combination of genre specific and general reading strategies our preservice teachers used demonstrated that they use visual and symbolic cues in the text in combination with prior knowledge to construct new meaning from the text by utilizing comprehension strategies as they read. The fact that preservice teachers have these highly developed metacognitive strategies to pinpoint important ideas, make inferences, ask questions, utilize text structure, and monitor comprehension while reading highlights a high level expertise (Gomez & Gomez, 2006; Pearson, Roehler, Dole & Duffy, 1992; Yore, 1991, 2004; Yore & Shymansky, 1991).

We found that using this initial literacy lesson provided our preservice teachers with a solid foundation for engaging in conversations about how to scaffold student reading. This lesson provided preservice teachers an opportunity to collaboratively develop a common beginner’s repertoire of reading strategies that we subsequently used as a building block for designing activities and lessons that engage middle and high school students in big science ideas and understanding real-world phenomena through reading a variety of kinds of science texts. Also, compared to previous years, we noticed that how these preservice teachers were able to design and scaffold reading with their students was objectively more sophisticated and would allow students to engage with the science in more meaningful ways.

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You Learning Cycled Us! Teaching the Learning Cycle Through the Learning Cycle

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Hick, S.R. (2017). You learning cycled us! Teaching the learning cycle through the learning cycle. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/you-learning-cycled-us-teaching-the-learning-cycle-through-the-learning-cycle/

by Sarah R. Hick, Hamline University

Abstract

Frustrated by how much difficulty my preservice secondary science teachers were having understanding the essence of the learning cycle and crafting learning cycle lessons, I changed both the language of the learning cycle and the way I taught it.  Using ConceptDiscovery,” Concept Clarification, and Concept Application (DCA) as the names of the stages, I began to teach the learning cycle through a learning cycle.  In my series of lessons to help them build understanding of the DCA learning cycle, I first have students analyze vignettes of learning cycle lessons in order to “discover” the critical elements of each stage.  To “clarify” the concept of the DCA cycle, I spend several class sessions leading model lessons and engaging my pre-service teachers in discussions about each stage.  To help them “apply” their understanding to teaching, I scaffold them through writing their own learning cycle lesson with help from a categorization scheme I developed for types of discovery learning experiences.  Finally, in a short additional learning cycle, I have my pre-service students compare and contrast this model with others learning cycle models as a way to become knowledgeable about the history of the learning cycle and competent in the dominant discourse around it.

Introduction

When I started teaching high school biology, I figured out early on that my students were motivated by puzzles.  I made it my challenge, then, to devise lessons in which the learning experiences were structured as puzzles for my students to solve.  My early attempts included the extremely popular—though cognitively questionable—“Word-Scramble Treasure Hunts.”  In teams, students answered fill-in-the-blank questions from the text, then rearranged the circled letters of each answer to reveal the location of their next set of questions.  The treasure hunts—and the bag of donut holes for the winning team—were a huge hit with lecture-weary students.  For me, though, the logistics of the seven separate treasure hunt paths on seven different colors of paper for five different periods was overwhelming.  Plus, I had to be honest: it was simply a worksheet cut into strips.  Surely, I could do better.

Over my next few years teaching, the clues of my puzzles shifted from being words to being data.  I developed a habit of beginning instruction on a new topic by providing students with a puzzle in the form of an experimental question or a set of data—numbers, graphs, images, observations—that they collected or that I provided to them.  Their challenge was to analyze the data and draw a conclusion.  The conclusion they drew was—by my design—the concept that I wanted them to learn that day.

When I began taking courses in my doctoral program, I learned that what I was doing with my students was, in the main, a form of constructivist and inquiry teaching.  More specifically, this approach (and the learning experiences that followed) closely paralleled what was known in the field as a learning cycle.  Briefly, a basic learning cycle involves students 1) beginning their learning about a concept usually through a hands-on investigation of a phenomenon or materials; 2) getting a clearer understanding of the concept through a variety of instructional approaches including additional labs, readings, lecture, videos, demonstrations, and others; and 3) applying the learning in a new context (e.g., Bybee, 1997; Bybee, Taylor, Gardner, Van Scotter, Powell, Westbrook, & Landes, 2006; Bybee, Powell, & Trowbridge, 2007; Karplus & Thier, 1967; Lawson, Abraham, & Renner, 1989).

As I looked to move from my career as a high school science teacher to the one ahead as a science teacher educator, I was thrilled to learn that what I had been doing had a name, theory, research (e.g., Bybee et al., 2006; National Research Council 2006), and even curriculum behind it.  Because my own teaching had become so much more powerful for my high school students—and so much more enjoyable for me—I was driven to teach the learning cycle to the new science teacher candidates so that they could use it to support learning and thinking in their own classrooms.  I was pleased that I would have more legitimacy behind my aspirations for my pre-service teachers’ instructional designs than simply, “Hey, this really worked for me and my students!”  The published and researched versions of the learning cycle were so well developed, so well articulated, and so integrated into the world of science education, that I felt that helping new teachers learn to plan using that model would be fairly easy—certainly easier than the fumbling around that I had done for a few years.

Naming Rights—or Naming Wrongs?

I was caught entirely by surprise, then, when the preservice science teachers whom I mentored and supervised in my doctoral program struggled so much to learn and adopt the learning cycle in their planning.  What seemed to be such a straightforward concept to me perplexed and befuddled them.  For all the time they spent learning and writing using the Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate (5E) model (e.g., Bybee 1997, 2002, 2006; Bybee et al. 2007)—two four-credit secondary science methods courses over two terms—they struggled enormously to write lesson plans using the model.

A troublesome aspect of the 5E model seemed—ironically—to be the clever, alliterative 5E naming system itself: the preservice secondary science teachers struggled to remember what each of the Es of the 5E model stood for.  Worse, tripping up over what the Es stood for made them lose track completely of the overarching idea of the progression of thinking and learning that make up the pedagogical foundation of the learning cycle.   The typical response to being asked about the 5E Learning Cycle was a variation on a theme: “The five Es?  Um, I think explore, and expand, . . . explain, and . . . and . . . oh yeah, evaluate, and . . . shoot.  How many is that?”  The few students who could come up with all five names could not name them in order.  It seemed that while “5E” was catchy, the real meat of the learning cycle was not.  The students were—I really cannot resist this—missing the forest for the Es.

When I graduated from my doctoral program and began teaching science methods courses myself, I tried both the 5E model because of its power, presence, and ubiquity in science education and the three-part Exploration, Term/Concept Introduction, Concept Application model (Karplus, 1979; Karplus & Butts, 1977; Karplus & Thier, 1967; Lawson et al., 1989) because of its simplicity, permanence, and historical importance.  But the Explore/Exploration name in both models was too loose for my students.  What did it mean to “explore”?  “Exploration” could be a lot of interesting but aimless wandering.  My students could come up with all sorts of cool hands-on “explorations”—opportunities for students to put their hands on materials and play around with them—but to what end?  That was the problem with “exploring;” there was no promise or expectation that one would actually find anything.

The implication set by the words “exploration” and “explore” was setting the bar too low for both teacher and students.  With the publication of both A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the importance of using planning schema that emphasize scientific and engineering practices—especially, in this step, making hypotheses, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence (NRC, 2012)—cannot be underestimated. Bybee et al. (2006) articulated about the Explore stage that, as “a result of their mental and physical involvement in the activity, the students establish relationships, observe patterns, identify variables” (p. 9). The language of “exploration,” however, allows the novice teacher-planner to underestimate the possibility for real conceptual learning and for engagement in scientific practices.

Re-Branding the Stages

Based on the difficulties with the stage names that I saw my preservice science students experiencing, I devised a new naming system to use as I introduced the learning cycle to them. I stuck with the original core three stages—or, put another way, I lopped off the first and last of the 5Es that had been added to the older models (Bybee et al., 2006).  My reasoning for the lopping was not that engagement and assessment (“evaluation” in the 5E) were in some way insignificant; to the contrary, I lopped them out of the learning cycle because they are critical components that should frame—and be seamlessly woven throughout—all lesson plans, not just those using a learning cycle approach.  Our licensure program uses a lesson plan template that requires our preservice teachers to articulate their assessment plans (prior knowledge, formative, and future summative) as well as their plans to motivationally, physically, and cognitively engage their students in the learning.  Because of that requirement, and because of the months that we have already spent in class building skills in engaging students and designing assessments, including the “Engage” and “Evaluate” portions of the learning cycle were unnecessary—and, in fact, a bit awkward—in instruction about the learning cycle as a distinct approach to teaching and learning.

For the first stage, I decided on the name Concept Discovery.  In this stage, students are provided with a phenomenon, a structured or guided inquiry lab opportunity (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005), or a set of data to examine.  Often, they are provided an investigable question for which they propose a hypothesis, then design and carry out a test of that hypothesis.  Using inductive reasoning, they examine the data and draw a conclusion—often the noticing of a pattern, relationship, or cause and effect—which they then justify with evidence and share out with peers.  As they work, the teacher supports learning by watching, listening, asking probing questions, and providing scaffolding as needed.

I am intentional about using the word “Concept” in the name: I want it to be exceptionally clear to the teacher-planners that students are discovering a particular concept in this stage; they are not simply being tossed into a murky sea of data or materials with the hope that they may discover something.  The quotation marks are also intentional. The “Discovery” going on is akin to Columbus “discovering” America: students are not really discovering anything new to the world, they are discovering something new to themselvesToo, the discovery is contrived: they are participating in a learning experience specifically engineered to allow them—through the processes of interpreting data and making and defending claims (and, quite often, brainstorming variables, making predictions, designing tests, and engaging in scientific debate)—to come to the intended meaning.

The second step I named Concept Clarification.  The focus in this step is the teacher making sure that, regardless of—but built through discussion of—individual or group findings, the whole class comes to a common understanding of the main idea arising from the discovery experience.  The teacher makes sure that appropriate terms are introduced and defined, preferably with definitions crafted as a class based on their experiences of the concept during the Concept Discovery stage.  The teacher also uses discussion, notes, video clips, images, modeling, readings, additional laboratory experiences, and other instructional strategies to help students refine the understanding they built in the Concept Discovery stage.

The third step I left intact as Concept Application, the step in which students apply their new learning—often in conjunction with their understanding of previous concepts—in order to solve a new problem.

The naming and structure of the Concept Discovery, Concept Clarification, Concept Application (DCA) learning cycle is intended to help my preservice secondary science teachers plan single lessons or multi-day instructional sequences that allow their students to discover one concept, achieve clarity on that same concept, and then apply it to a new situation before moving on to learn the next concept.

Practicing What I Teach

The naming systems were, of course, not the only thing—and likely not the major thing—holding back mastery of the learning cycle.  I realized as I began to teach science methods courses myself that the very thing that had made learning science so difficult for me in high school—traditional instruction that started with terms, notes, and readings—was keeping the preservice science teachers from learning the learning cycle.  If leading with new terminology and following with notes and examples did not work for teaching meiosis or the rock cycle, why would it work for teaching the learning cycle?  I realized that if I wanted my own preservice teachers to learn to teach using the learning cycle, I would need to help them learn it through a learning cycle.  Over the past decade, then, I have worked to develop and refine a way of helping preservice teachers master the learning cycle in a way that honors the pedagogy of the approach itself.

I begin my lessons on the learning cycle with an assessment of prior knowledge that also serves to pique my preservice students’ interest.  I ask my students to write out or diagram what they regard to be a good general structure for the teaching of their content, be it life science, chemistry, or physics.  I have my students share their representations with their content-area partners to see if they find any similarities.  With little variation, they include lecture and lab—always in that order—as central to science teaching.  I then let them know that we will be learning a lesson structure called the “learning cycle” over the next several class periods.  In my efforts to model good instructional technique, I post the following objectives on the board:

  • Name and describe the stages of a learning cycle;
  • Create an instructional sequence using the learning cycle.

Concept Discovery

To begin the Concept Discovery stage for my students to learn the DCA learning cycle, I pass out vignettes of four lessons, one each for class sessions in Language Arts, World Language, Mathematics, and Health (see Appendix A for these vignettes).  I use examples from non-science classes because I want my students to focus on the type of thinking and tasks happening, not on the content or if they think there is a “better” way to teach that content.  Each vignette is divided into three short paragraphs, each paragraph describing what the teacher and students are doing in that stage of the learning cycle.  Importantly, I do not label the names of the stages at this point as that would undermine my preservice students’ opportunity to “discover” the heart of each stage.

I ask my students to read through the vignettes—the “data,” though I do not call it that—first without making any notes.  Then, I ask them to read through them looking at just the first stage in all four, then just the second stage, then just the third stage.  I then ask them to make notes about what the students and the teachers are doing in each stage and try to come up with a name for each stage.  Once they have completed that individual work, I put my students into groups of three to four to share out their ideas.  I spend my time roaming the room, informally checking in on their ideas as they talk and write.

Concept Clarification

Once my student groups are ready to share out, I put a chart on the board with “Stage 1,” “Stage 2,” and “Stage 3” down the left side and “Teacher does” and “Students does” on the top.  I ask them to tell me which stage they feel most confident about and want to start with (it is always the third stage).  I get them to fill in the boxes in the chart for that row and suggest a name (it is almost always “application,” lending support to the appropriateness of this name).  We then move on to the other rows and do the same.  Once we have the table filled in and I have circled the things they contributed that are central to the learning cycle and not simply to good teaching (for example, “students looking for patterns” is central to the first stage of the learning cycle but “students working as individuals and then small groups” is not), I unveil my “real” names for the stages and we craft short definitions of each from what we have recorded on the board (Figure 1).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample chart on board.

I then have students read a handout I wrote that summarizes each stage of the DCA learning cycle (see Appendix B).  For the next several class sessions, I model learning cycle lessons in science for them, with them as my mock middle and high school students.  The examples I use (see Appendix C for summaries of the example lessons) involve an array of concepts (both declarative and procedural) from life science, chemistry, and physics; contain Concept Discovery experiences that use a wide variety of data types, data-gathering techniques, and data analysis approaches; and vary tremendously in the length and complexity of both Concept Clarification and Concept Application activities.  My goal in using such a broad range of experiences is to help my methods students see a) that learning cycles can be used in all areas science, and b) that while the type of student cognitive work in each stage is consistent across different topics, there is great diversity in the types of learning tasks, instructional strategies, and assessment practices that a learning cycle can employ.

After each model lesson that I lead, I ask students to first write individually and then discuss with their partner where each stage began and ended in that lesson.  Though I have shown for the reader how the three parts of each lesson are broken up, I do not reveal those transitions to my students while I am leading the lessons.  I want them to have to puzzle through the boundaries of the stages as part of their cognitive work in learning the stages.

After informally keeping track of student ideas as they work, I lead a discussion of their perceptions and my intentions about the boundaries of the stages. I also help them see the fuzziness of those boundaries in transition: Is group share-out part of Concept Discovery or Concept Clarification?  Is practice part of Concept Clarification or Concept Application?  I remind my students that relative order of learning experiences is what is paramount, not how we divide up the sometimes fuzzy borders.

After the wrap-up discussion of the last lesson, I ask them to reflect on how I had helped them learn about the learning cycle: What did I have you do first? Then what did I have you do?  Very quickly, someone cries out, “You learning cycled us!”  I ask them why they think I “learning cycled” them instead of having them learn it in a different way.  Someone is always quick to suggest—correctly—that I must think that using a learning cycle is the best way to help people learn something new.

Concept Application

I then ask my preservice teachers what stage we haven’t done yet (Concept Application) and what an effective application for the concept of the learning cycle might be.  They gulp when they realize that, of course, I’ll be asking them to create a learning cycle lesson.  I start their work on learning to write learning cycle lessons by assigning students concepts in their discipline and asking them to brainstorm things they might include in a DCA learning cycle lesson that would help students learn that concept.  While I observe and scaffold with prompts as needed, students combine into groups to create and share a DCA lesson on their assigned topic.

Students then are asked to plan one learning cycle lesson on their own as part of a larger summative assessment for the course—a unit plan that they research and build over the term.  I ask them first to submit to me—for points—the objective(s) for the lesson as well as a rough description (a few sentences) of their plan for each stage of the learning cycle.  If the idea is viable, I allow them to move forward with their planning.  If the idea is confusing or not viable, I ask them to resubmit it as many times as necessary.  If they are unable to make a workable plan, I point them in a workable direction for the lesson with the understanding that they will not get credit for the draft.  I then have the students lead the Concept Discovery portion of their lesson, and other stages if time allows, either in their clinical placement or with their peers in our class.  They gather feedback from the students, reflect on what they learned from their experience teaching, and use that information to write the final draft of their lesson (see example student lesson plans in Appendices E and F).  The learning cycle aspect of the lesson plan is then evaluated using a brief scoring guide that evaluates the degree to which each stage achieves its goal:

  1. Concept Discovery section is appropriately designed so that students can “discover” a new-to-them concept (60%).
  2. Concept Clarification section sticks to the exact same concept, not just same topic or benchmark, and fully clarifies it with examples, notes, definitions, and whatever else would be helpful and relevant for that concept (20%).
  3. Concept Application asks students to use exactly the same concept in a new way, alone or in conjunction with previously learned concepts (20%).

I weight the Concept Discovery section three times as much as each of the other two stages because it is the lynchpin of the learning cycle.  Excellent Concept Clarification and Concept Application plans are evidence of excellent learning cycle planning skills only if the Concept Discovery phase is workable.  Without a workable Concept Discovery stage, I do not have evidence that my students can plan a learning cycle lesson.

Next Steps

Once my students have had the opportunity to complete their application of the learning cycle concept by writing a learning cycle lesson plan, I move to the next need: translating their understanding of the DCA learning cycle to the models used in the field of science education.  It is critically important to me that my preservice students are able to engage in the discourse around the learning cycle in their professional networks, in their planning, and in their professional development.  In the end, the DCA learning cycle is not meant to be an end in itself—I have no interest in seeing any of the other models ousted—it is only meant to serve as a clearer means to teach the underlying framework or philosophy of “the” learning cycle, whichever final model one chooses.

For this brief learning cycle, I set the objectives as, “Explain the evolutionary roots and development of ‘the’ learning cycle” and “Defend a lesson plan using published learning cycle theory.”  For Concept Discovery, I ask my students to examine the 5E model and Keeley’s (2008) SAIL model, then craft text or a diagram that articulates the areas of alignment and divergence that they see (Figure 2, Figure 3, Figure 4).  After students share those models with each other, for Concept Clarification, I diagram the areas of alignment on the board along with a branched evolutionary timeline showing the learning cycles by Karplus (Karplus, 1979; Karplus & Butts, 1977; Karplus & Thier, 1967), Lawson (Lawson et al., 1989; Lawson, 1995), Bybee (1997), and Keeley (2008) as a background for why the alignments are present.  For application, my students need to rewrite the rationale for the pedagogy of their lesson plan using one of the published models of the learning cycle as the theoretical base in place of the DCA cycle.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 1.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 2.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 3.

Additional Support for Creating Concept “Discovery” Activities

I recognized a few years into my career as a science teacher educator that my preservice teachers struggled the most with creating discovery portions of the learning cycle.  After a couple years of beating my head against a wall and wailing at the reading of some of my students’ derailed, tangled, or simply traditional confirmation labs (Bell et al., 2005) they were calling “discovery,” I realized that they needed more help in conceptualizing and building true, inductive, Concept Discovery experiences for their own secondary students.  They also needed help moving beyond simply thinking about labs as ways of learning, especially for content that did not lend itself to laboratory investigations

As I analyzed my own learning cycle lessons trying to figure out how I was crafting them, I realized that there were some unwritten templates that I was employing.  I first identified three main categories into which the Concept Discovery activities fit: drawing conclusions from data; inferring rules, definitions, or relationships from examples; and ordering or sorting based on observable characteristics. As I used those categories over the years and added examples, I found that all three categories—not just the first—really involved students in “drawing conclusions from data.” Additionally, I realized that I was subdividing the examples in the first category in ways that were more helpful than the larger category itself.  I then arrived at six main—and, at times, overlapping—categories into which Concept Discovery learning experiences fall:

  • investigating a hypothesis in a laboratory investigation;
  • finding patterns in extant data sets;
  • experiencing the phenomenon (live or through simulation);
  • mimicking the way the relationship or phenomenon was discovered by scientists;
  • ordering or sorting based on observable characteristics; and
  • inferring rules, definitions, or relationships from examples.

Each approach involves students in using the science practices of “analyzing and interpreting data” and “constructing explanations” as well as one or more additional science practices (NRC, 2012).  I provide my science methods students with a handout on these categories of Concept Discovery experiences (Appendix D) and ask them to identify which type each of my example learning cycle lessons employed.  Providing my preservice science teachers with this categorization of Concept Discovery has helped them to expand their imagining of Concept Discovery experiences from just laboratory investigations to a myriad of data-driven inductive cognitive experiences.  That freeing of their imagination has been especially helpful to students in chemistry and biology who frequently find themselves needing to address standards that do not seem to lend themselves to laboratory investigations.

Taking Stock, Moving Forward

Student Perspectives

My methods students and I have a tremendous amount of fun with the learning cycle in my courses.  The amount of laughter and engaged conversation during the learning cycle experiences lets me know that they are enjoying themselves; the quality of their related assignments, lessons plans, and microteaching lets me know that learning and growth is happening.  Responses to open-ended questions in on-line course evaluations, too, show that students really value the learning cycle experiences in shaping them as teachers.  One student’s entry into the “best part of the course” section nicely captures the range of sentiments that students share:

I really enjoyed and got a lot out of all of the mini inquiry/discovery lessons we got to experience. They were fun, but they also gave me many concrete and easy­to­remember examples of how to get students involved in discovering concepts. Very good meta­teaching. I also enjoyed planning for and teaching the mini lessons. It was good, low­pressure practice.

The bulk of the comments each term focuses on the role of “modeling” of effective instruction.   When students write about modeling, they are at times referring to the fact that I practice “what I preach” in the instruction of our class: I teach the learning cycle through a learning cycle.  At other times, they are referring to my leading of demonstration science lessons with them as stand-ins for secondary students.  Comment after comment makes clear that whether the student has never seen constructivism in action, learns best by doing, wants to see more practical examples of best practices or inquiry in science, or just appreciates the alignment of my expectations of their teaching and my teaching, they find the modeling to be powerful.  One student, for example, wrote,

I liked seeing the activities from the point of view from the students. Moreover, I like the way you role played the teacher trying not to break character. This gave me more insight on how the flow of the classroom should be directed and how to use open questions.

Students also express relief in finally being able to put some meat on their skeleton ideas of what “constructivism,” “inquiry,” and “student-centered” really mean.  One student wrote, “I liked having the opportunity to see lots of discovery and inquiry activities, instead of just hearing that I’m supposed to use inquiry.”  Another shared,

Before this class I had lots of vague ideas about the importance of student centered learning…I have been able to focus my ideas and see examples and practices to turn these ideas into great instruction. I feel much more confident as I proceed into teaching.

The comments also confirm for me that part of why these learning experiences are effective is that they are, after all, constructivist.  Occasionally, a student recognizes the constructivist possibilities that the approach affords, like my student who wrote, “I learn sciecne [sic] best by hands on and that is exactly what this course was and by doing activites [sic], it was easy for me to see where students may stumble.”  Fortunately, the constructivism can be just as powerful for students who are traditional in both their own learning preference and their teaching philosophy.  One student wrote that the modeling and micro-teaching “pushed me toward a more student centered teaching and away from my own way of learning.”

Given that I see my two main professional challenges in science methods instruction as 1) changing the belief structures of my traditional learners towards a constructivist paradigm for teaching, and 2) supporting the motivated constructivists to develop constructivist practices, the comments from my students let me know that the learning cycle experiences are helping me make progress towards those goals.

The View from Here

After almost a decade teaching the DCA learning cycle in a learning cycle format and six years providing examples of the types of discovery experiences teachers can design, I have gotten to a place of more comfort with what my preservice science teachers are able to do.  Sure, I still have a few students who cannot create a coherent discovery experience as part of a meaningful learning cycle, but they are now the exception rather than the rule.  They are students whose content knowledge, focus, beliefs, or academic skills are simply not aligned with those needed for the immense cognitive task of creating Concept Discovery experience.  But my other students, most of my students—including many with in-coming traditional beliefs about teaching and learning—are able to successfully craft excellent learning cycle experiences and are able to articulate the theory supporting that lesson model.  They are thus, I believe, well-positioned to enter the field of science teaching ready to build their planning, instructional, and assessment skills in ways that align with what we know in science education about effective teaching.  My next big task?  To help them do just that in their first few years in the classroom.

References

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