Scaffolding Preservice Science Teacher Learning of Effective English Learner Instruction: A Principle-Based Lesson Cycle

Introduction

Learning to teach English learners (ELs) in content areas should be a priority for both beginning teachers and teacher educators, as the number of ELs in U.S. schools has increased 152% in the past 20 years (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2009). Indeed, across the U.S., over 11% of all students in K-12 settings are identified as ELs (Lee & Buxton, 2013). To teach ELs effectively, beginning teachers must be able to recognize and use the diverse cultures, languages, and experiences of ELs as resources for instruction in their discipline. Offering methods courses that attend specifically to ELs, including EL-focused methods courses for preservice secondary science teachers, is one way teacher education programs can attend to this pressing need.

The purpose of this paper is to share our approach to embedding best instructional practices for ELs in a secondary science methods course. We begin from the conviction that attending to the resources and needs of ELs is more complex than most of our preservice science teachers (PSTs) envision (Buck, Mast, Ehlers, & Franklin, 2005). We see our approach as innovative in that it reflects calls to move beyond lists of uncoordinated EL scaffolds (Bravo, Mosqueda, Solís, & Stoddart, 2014; Johnson, Bolshakova, & Waldron, 2016) focused on the teaching of vocabulary (Richardson Bruna, Vann, & Escudero, 2007) to promote implementation of coherent, principle-based instruction centered at the discourse level of language. Below, we present the framework we have developed for teaching reform-based science to ELs – four key principles of effective EL instruction and three levels of language – that informed both the larger course and the specific assignment presented here. We then describe how we integrated these key principles and language levels into a model lesson implemented during the second week of the course that served to anchor subsequent lessons our PSTs developed, implemented, revised, and reflected upon. We conclude with PSTs’ reflections on our principle-based framework and suggested steps for other such methods courses.

Theoretical Perspectives and Instructional Framework

Four key principles of effective EL instruction and three levels of language guided our work. This principle-based instructional framework grounded the planning of our methods course; the conversations that we, as instructors, had with PSTs about the teaching and learning of science to ELs; and the structure of our major assignment, the lesson development, implementation, revision, and reflection cycle. Figure 1 presents the framework we developed and used for teaching reform-based science to ELs in visual form. We next describe each element in detail.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Framework authors developed and used for teaching reform-based science to ELs. See text for specific citations for each of the four principles and for the construct of language levels.

Four Principles of Effective Instruction for ELs

As the first part of our instructional framework, we identified four key principles of effective EL instruction. These principles are understood as re-enforcing and overlapping with one another. They are:

  1. Building on and using ELs’ funds of knowledge and resources,
  2. Providing ELs with cognitively demanding work,
  3. Providing ELs opportunities for rich language and literacy exposure and practice, and
  4. Identifying academic language (AL) demands and supports for ELs.

The first principle, building on and using ELs’ funds of knowledge and resources (Lee, Deaktor, Enders, & Lambert, 2008; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Moschkovich, 2002), asks PSTs to identify, celebrate, and use the knowledge and skills students, their families, and their communities bring to the classroom. PSTs were encouraged to engage in such practices as recognizing and utilizing their ELs’ primary languages as resources for learning in addition to encouraging ELs to speak in multiple languages, use different dialects or registers, and/or work across varying levels of literacies in their production and display of ideas. PSTs were also expected to incorporate students’ home, cultural, and community resources into their instruction to make content relevant and meaningful.

The second principle, providing ELs with cognitively demanding work (Tekkumru‐Kisa, Stein, & Schunn, 2015; Tobin & Kahle, 1990; Understanding Language, 2013; Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018), demands that ELs have the opportunity to engage in the same kinds of activities and assignments often reserved only for non-EL students (Iddings, 2005; Planas & Gorgorió, 2004). This principle focuses on student sense-making and reasoning (Windschitl et al., 2018). PSTs were expected to provide analytical tasks that require students to move beyond “detailed facts or loosely defined inquiry” (Lee, Quinn, & Valdés, 2013, p. 223) to focus on the science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013). Indeed, because the eight science and engineering practices emphasize students’ active sense-making and language learning (Quinn, Lee, & Valdés, 2012), PSTs were expected to foreground one or more of these practices in each lesson they designed and implemented.

The third principle, providing ELs opportunities for rich language and literacy exposure and practice (Bleicher, Tobin, & McRobbie, 2003; Khisty & Chval, 2002; Lee et al., 2013; Moschkovich, 2007), attends to the importance of engaging ELs in the language of science. PSTs were encouraged to address this principle by creating opportunities for students to receive comprehensible input through listening and reading and to produce comprehensible output through speaking and writing. In attending to this principle, PSTs were to facilitate their EL students’ participation in constructing and negotiating meaning to advance both their English language development and science learning.

The fourth principle is identifying academic language demands and supports for ELs (Aguirre & Bunch, 2012; Lyon, Tolbert, Stoddart, Solis, & Bunch, 2016; Rosebery & Warren, 2008). This principle asks PSTs to attend to the language demands in the tasks they provide ELs and to implement appropriate supports so that all students can read disciplinary texts, share their ideas and reasoning in whole class and small group discussions, and communicate science information in writing. PSTs could have supported students in learning the language of science by beginning with an anchoring phenomenon and/or driving question to provide context for key vocabulary, concepts, and practices; using gestures, graphic organizers, demonstrations, and other visuals; modeling target language (e.g., what engaging in argument looks like); including sentence starters and/or frames to use in discussions or writing tasks; fostering peer collaboration through think-pair-shares or groupwork; and encouraging use of students’ home language(s). (See Roberts, Bianchini, Lee, Hough, & Carpenter, 2017, for additional discussion of the first three of these principles.)

Three Levels of Language

As the second part of our instructional framework, to deepen PSTs’ understanding of effective EL instruction, we drew from and used Zwiers, O’Hara, and Pritchard’s (2014) three levels of academic language: vocabulary, or word/phrase; syntax, or sentence/structure; and discourse, or message. At the vocabulary level, doing and talking science requires understanding and using general academic and science-specific terms as well as common words that have technical meanings (Fang, 2005). At the syntax level, it entails navigating the lengthy noun phrases and complex sentence structures typical of formal writing (Fang, 2005); being able to control the vocabulary and grammatical resources necessary to perform academic language functions, such as predicting, explaining, justifying, and arguing (Dutro & Moran, 2003); and creating and deciphering graphs, tables, and diagrams (Quinn et al., 2012). At the level of discourse, it involves distinctive ways of structuring information; signaling logical relationships and creating textual cohesion; and setting up an objective, authoritative relationship among the presenters or writers, their subject matter, and their audience (Schleppegrell, 2004). (See Table 1 below.)

We emphasized to PSTs the importance of attending to these three levels of language across the four EL principles – the idea that the principles and language levels overlap and should be used in concert with one another. To use students’ funds of knowledge as resources, for example, PSTs could engage their EL students at each language level: They could ask ELs to define science vocabulary, construct sentences about a class topic, or communicate an argument in either or both their home language and English. We also emphasized the importance of including supports at all three language levels so that EL students could share their ideas and participate in sense-making discussions. We noted that most types of AL support, for example, a teacher’s modeling of target language, could be used to scaffold ELs’ learning at the vocabulary, syntax, or discourse level depending on its implementation. In short, we attempted to underscore for PSTs that while vocabulary is the easiest language level to assess, and syntax is key for building ideas, discourse is necessary for engaging in reasoning and communicating complex explanations and arguments.

Further, to demonstrate the overlapping nature of the principles and language levels, we implemented a model lesson on infiltration near the beginning of our methods course; we discuss this lesson in greater detail below. In this lesson, for example, to address the principle of cognitively demanding tasks, we asked PSTs to engage in a number of the NGSS science and engineering practices, including analyzing and interpreting data, developing and using models,  and engaging in argument from evidence. We supported PSTs’ participation in these science and engineering practices at each level of language: We included visuals, realia, a word wall, and a word bank as supports at the vocabulary level; sentence frames and starters, a conversation support card, and a graphic organizer as supports at the syntax level; and an anchoring phenomenon, a driving question, groupwork, teacher modeling of target language, and home language use as supports at the discourse level. (See again Table 1.)

Table 1
Definitions and Examples of Levels of Language (Adapted From Zwiers et al., 2014)

Methods Course Context

As stated above, this principle-based instructional framework structured our secondary science methods course. This course is part of a small, 13-month, post-baccalaureate teacher education program at a research university in Central California. It is the third in a series of science methods courses completed by PSTs, offered in their final semester of the program; there are typically 6 to 12 PSTs enrolled. PSTs complete their student teaching in a grade 7-12 science classroom while in this course. During the first half of the academic year, PSTs observe and help teach in classrooms as well.

Infiltration Model Lesson: Highlighting the Four Key Principles and Three Language Levels

To situate our course and major assignment (i.e., the lesson development, implementation, revision, and reflection cycle), we implemented an environmental science lesson on infiltration. This model lesson highlighted both our four key principles of effective EL instruction and three levels of language. (The lesson was adapted from Exploration 4 of the School Water Pathways curricular unit, part of a learning progression-based environmental science curriculum. See Warnock et al., 2012.) It was implemented during the second week of the methods course, taking the entire three-hour session. Our PSTs first completed this lesson in their role as students and then discussed its strengths and limitations in their role as beginning teachers.

Overview of the Infiltration Lesson

We began this lesson by introducing the PSTs to the larger School Water Pathways unit. The unit’s purpose is to understand the complexities of the water cycle by exploring relationships among multiple processes, pathways, driving forces, and constraining factors on a school campus. PSTs watched a brief video clip of an anchoring event – rain falling and then pools of water “disappearing” from a school playground – and then were introduced to the driving question – Where does the water that falls on our school campus go? We also asked them to engage in the science and engineering practice of developing and using models by constructing an initial model of the water cycle in small groups.

PSTs then moved to the infiltration lesson, the fourth lesson in the School Water Pathways unit. To situate their infiltration investigation, they first completed a formative assessment, drawing and labeling where water moves after it is poured into a tube, or infiltrometer, and pressed into the ground (see Figure 2). fter sharing their drawings with their elbow partner and then with the whole class, PSTs viewed both PowerPoint slides and physical samples of five surface types present on their campus (i.e., grass, asphalt, gravel, sand, and concrete) as well as made predictions about which surface they thought would be most permeable. They also viewed PowerPoint slides of scientists using infiltrometers; were reminded to consult a word wall of key vocabulary terms and their definitions related to the water cycle and a poster of groupwork norms; and were given a learning log with clear instructions, visuals, a conversation support card (i.e., question starters and response starters), and sentence frames to use for their investigation.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Infiltration formative assessment task. Adapted from Warnock et al. (2012).

PSTs were next put into small groups, assigned group roles (e.g., facilitator, reporter, recorder, etc.), and were asked to select two surfaces found at their campus to investigate. They gathered their equipment (e.g., a bucket of water, an infiltrometer, a graduated cylinder, and a mallet), and moved outside to test the rate of infiltration of these surfaces, recording their data in their learning logs (see Figure 3). After the small groups had collected their data and returned to the classroom, they determined which surfaces were more or less permeable, calculating average rates of infiltration and providing evidence and reasoning for their rankings. PSTs then engaged in a jigsaw, sharing their findings and reasoning with members of other groups. We provided PSTs with a word bank and additional sentence starters and sentence frames to help with these discussions, supporting their work at the vocabulary, syntax, and potentially discourse levels.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Preservice teachers collecting data on the rate of infiltration for grass.

As a summative assessment of understanding, PSTs completed a modified Frayer Model (i.e., a graphic organizer) of permeability that included four sections: definition, examples/representations, connections to the water cycle, and connections to the driving question of the unit. Given the contextualization of vocabulary during the investigation, in addition to a word wall and word bank, we expected PSTs to complete this Frayer Model using scientific terms. The lesson ended with a return to the science and engineering practice of developing and using models. PSTs reexamined their initial models of the water cycle and the driving question: How does this investigation help us understand water processes and pathways on our school campus? If we had additional time, at this juncture, we would press teacher candidates to ensure they bridged their initial ideas about infiltration from the formative assessment with the work they had completed during the investigation – to ensure they understood the concepts of water movement, evaporation, transpiration, infiltration, soil structure, gravity, permeability, and porosity.

Integrating the Four EL Principles and Three Language Levels in the Infiltration Lesson

Below, we briefly discuss how we used this model lesson on infiltration to highlight for PSTs the four principles and three language levels in our framework for teaching reform-based science to ELs.

EL principle funds of knowledge and resources. This lesson demonstrated how PSTs could build from their students’ funds of knowledge and resources in several ways. First, the larger unit was organized around a phenomenon, the science and engineering practice of developing and using models, and a question that connected to students’ daily experiences as members of a school community: the movement of water on their campus. Second, the lesson we implemented began with a formative assessment (see again Figure 2): PSTs were asked to describe what they thought it looked like underground and to use arrows and labels to show where they thought water would move as it drained out of the bottom of an infiltrometer. The purpose of the formative assessment was to learn what students already knew about water, soil structure, gravity, permeability, porosity, evaporation, transpiration, and infiltration from their everyday lives and previous science classes. Because the larger curricular unit was informed by a learning progression framework (National Research Council [NRC], 2007) on water processes and pathways, the instructors were able to align PTSs’ formative assessment responses with learning progression levels as well. Third, PSTs drew on their prior campus and community experiences to make predictions about the permeability of different surfaces before beginning their investigation. Fourth and finally, we encouraged PSTs to use any and all language(s) they knew – from their home language, to informal, everyday registers, to academic English – to complete the series of activities. For example, we reminded students as they worked in groups to record their observations and compose their arguments using whatever words and/or phrases came to mind, encouraging them through instructor questioning and modeling as well as use of the word wall and word bank to gradually move from everyday language to more scientific terms.

EL principle cognitively demanding work. The infiltrometer lesson met the requirements of cognitively demanding work. PSTs engaged in sense-making and reasoning (Windschitl et al., 2018) while completing an authentic, analytic task that allowed students both to actively and meaningfully participate in the work of science and to develop language at the same time (Lee et al., 2013): They explored an NGSS core idea related to the water cycle and engaged in multiple science and engineering practices (NGSS Lead States, 2013). More specifically, in this lesson, PSTs explored performance expectation HS-ESS2-5 (plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes) and disciplinary core idea ESS2.C (the roles of water in Earth’s surface properties). They learned about content related to water, soil structure, gravity, permeability, porosity, evaporation, transpiration, and infiltration. As part of the science and engineering practice of planning and carrying out investigations, PSTs made predictions, identified two different locations on campus to investigate, measured infiltration rates by recording time and amounts of water, and plotted their findings on a graph. As part of the practice of engaging in argument from evidence, they provided evidence and reasoning for their rankings of surfaces. They also used mathematics to calculate infiltration rates and engaged in developing and using models to inform the driving question of water processes and pathways in the context of a school campus.

EL principle language rich opportunities. Throughout the lesson, the instructors created multiple, purposeful opportunities for PSTs to produce appropriate comprehensible output – to engage in talking and writing science. They also provided opportunities for PSTs to receive comprehensible input through listening and speaking. As one example, PSTs worked in small groups to collect and analyze data as well as to share their tentative arguments, grounded in evidence, about the relative permeability of surfaces tested. Groupwork norms and roles were used to productively structure these small group interactions (Cohen & Lotan, 2014). As a second example, in completing both formative and summative assessments, PSTs conveyed their understanding of water processes and pathways using a diagram (formative assessment) and a graphic organizer (summative assessment); in the former instance, they were encouraged to use everyday language, and in the latter, academic language or the language of display (Bunch, 2014).

EL principle academic language demands and supports. The instructors identified the language demands of the tasks that they provided PSTs and created a range of supports appropriate for ELs to help move the PSTs toward participation in a science community of practice. Supports were organized into five categories: creating a meaningful context, making input comprehensible, helping students produce oral and written discourse, validating existing language and linguistic practices, and other (see Quinn et al., 2012, for a similar organization of supports). As one example, the instructors included realia (e.g., an infiltrometer and glass jars of different surface types) and visuals of the tasks that students would complete so that terms like infiltration and permeability would not serve as a barrier to participation. As a second example, the instructors modeled the use of science discourse, included sentence starters on a conversation support card and additional sentence frames in the learning logs (Zwiers et al., 2014), and implemented groupwork to facilitate productive classroom discussions – to help PSTs move beyond a focus on science terminology to encourage investigating, using mathematics, arguing from evidence, and developing and using models. Finally, as noted already under funds of knowledge, PSTs were encouraged to use multiple languages and registers across representations of and discussions about rich science content so as to advance their understanding of the science concepts.

Three levels of language. Across the infiltration lesson, as introduced under our discussion of academic language demands and supports above, we included systematic supports not only to facilitate PSTs’ practice of vocabulary terms, but their production of sentences and discourse as well. We explicitly reminded PSTs of the importance of attending to and including supports not only at the vocabulary level of language, but at the syntax and discourse levels as well. In the section Three Levels of Language and Table 1, presented above, we provide specific examples of supports present in our infiltration lesson at each of these three levels of language (see again Zwiers et al., 2014).

PSTs’ Lesson Development, Implementation, and Reflection Cycle

            In the weeks after participating in this model lesson, PSTs followed a seven-step process to develop, implement, revise, and reflect on their own lesson, using our four EL principles and three language levels as guides. As we explained above, the infiltration lesson implemented in Week 2 served as the backdrop for the PSTs’ own lesson development.

Step 1: Develop Initial Lesson Using the Four EL Principles and Three Language Levels

PSTs worked in partners to develop a science lesson that incorporated all four EL principles as well as at least one support for each of the three levels of language. Zwiers et al. (2014) emphasized the importance of moving beyond vocabulary and grammar rules to teaching students complex ideas through discourse. As such, we pushed our PSTs to support ELs’ development of discourse as well as vocabulary and syntax in their lesson. We note that we scaffolded PSTs in developing and implementing their lessons using supports they could use with their own ELs: We both modeled a lesson (discussed above) and provided them a lesson checklist (see Figure 4), organized by principles and including sentence starters (see also Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018).

 Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). EL lesson plan checklist developed by authors to facilitate PSTs’ use of the four principles and three language levels in their design and implementation of a lesson.

Step 2: Interview an EL to Test Out Part of the Lesson

To begin the revision phase of this lesson cycle assignment, PSTs tried out part of their lesson in an interview with an EL in their student teaching placement. As with each pair’s lesson plan, each pair’s EL interview protocol was unique. We asked PSTs to select a part of their lesson for the interview that they thought was challenging, in order to give them a chance to see how a real student would respond before “going live” with a full class. We viewed the interview as an opportunity for PSTs to work one-on-one with an EL not only to get to know this student better but also to get to know more about what this student understood about the content. PSTs then shared what they had learned from this interview with the other PSTs in the class and wrote a one-to-two-page reflection. Through this process, the PSTs were able to see how well their content and language supports worked with an EL and to have the space for reflection and modifications needed before presenting their lesson to the whole methods class.

Step 3: Meet With and Receive Feedback From Instructors

Each pair of PSTs next met with the course instructors to discuss their revised lesson; this meeting occurred the week before the lesson was to be presented to the methods class. The PSTs walked the instructors through the content goals, the lesson activities and assignments, and how they intended to attend to the four EL principles and the three levels of language. Additionally, because the PSTs had already tried out a part of their lesson in the context of an interview, they shared what they had learned from their ELs and what subsequent revisions they had made. The PSTs then used the instructors’ feedback to revise their lesson yet again.

Step 4: Try Out Lesson in Methods Course

PST pairs presented their lesson to the full methods class; they were given approximately 40 minutes to do so. In the five minutes following the lesson, the PSTs and their peers filled out a self- or peer-assessment that focused on how well the PSTs attended to the four key principles and three levels of language as well as two plusses (things they liked) and two deltas (things they would change) more generally; they referred to the lesson plan checklist to do so. In the next five minutes, the PSTs who presented the lesson highlighted what they thought they did well and wanted to improve, again related to their implementation of the four EL principles and the three levels of language. This provided the foundation for the additional feedback and discussion that followed. At the end of this debriefing session, the PSTs’ peers and instructors provided their written feedback to the PSTs. The PSTs took this oral and written feedback to continue to improve their lesson for enactment in their student teaching placement. They were also encouraged to ask their cooperating teachers for insight and feedback prior to their implementation, based on the individual needs of their students.

Step 5: Enact Lesson in Placement

On the agreed upon day, PSTs taught their lesson in their student teaching placement. The PSTs were expected to take notes about how the lesson went and what they might have done to further adjust the lesson. Additionally, the PSTs collected student work during their enactment to analyze during the following methods course.

Step 6: Reflect on Lesson Using Student Work

Using the below prompts (see Figure 5), which we modified from the National School Reform Faculty (2014) to specifically address our principles and language levels, PSTs individually reflected on three samples of student work, at least one of which was from an EL. Using a structured student work reflection protocol such as this allows PSTs to focus on a specific aspect of instruction: to direct their attention towards students, including EL students, and how they responded to their instruction. Without such a tool, in their final reflections on their lesson, PSTs might instead focus on surface level aspects of their instruction, such as how often they used “um” or their ability to pass out papers with fluidity.

Figure 5 (Click on image to enlarge). Student work reflection prompts completed by PSTs. Adapted from the National School Reform Faculty (2014).

Step 7: Final Share Out of Process

Our final step was to bring all pairs of PSTs together in the methods class to reflect on the lesson cycle collectively. PSTs wrote a second one-to-two-page reflection and shared with each other what they had learned through this process, highlighting the four EL principles and the three levels of language, how they used each to support ELs, and what they learned from analyzing their students’ work. This collective reflection closed the lesson process by allowing PSTs to once again learn from each other.

Preservice Teachers’ Reflections. To summarize, we see our four key principles and three levels of language as useful both for teacher educators in designing and implementing a science methods course to support ELs and for PSTs themselves as they work with ELs in their science classrooms. In our methods course, we used the infiltration lesson to provide PSTs with an opportunity to see the four key principles and three levels of language in situ. The lesson also offered PSTs a shared context to begin discussions with colleagues about how these principles and levels of language could play out and interact with each other when teaching disciplinary content. Further, the principles and levels – as outlined in the lesson plan checklist – served to structure PSTs’ own attempts to craft science lessons responsive to ELs.

We have evidence from PSTs’ written reflections that they found the lesson cycle, framed by the principles and language levels, useful in thinking more deeply about how to teach ELs reform-based science. During our Spring 2018 methods course, we collected two written reflections from each of our PSTs related to the lesson cycle: one after interviewing an EL student about their draft lesson (interview reflections) and another at the close of the cycle (lesson cycle reflections). In analyzing the PSTs’ interview and lesson cycle reflections, we found that each used the four EL principles and at least two of the three two language levels to gain insight into the strengths and limitations of their lessons.

As one example, Vince and Savannah partnered to develop a middle school life science lesson about a wetland ecosystem (see performance expectation MS-LS2-3, where students are asked to develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem). Working in groups, students were to create a food web organized by trophic levels and use it to predict the effects of species loss. In his reflections, Vince discussed the strengths and limitations of this lesson in terms of cognitive demand, academic language demands and supports, language opportunities, and attending to students’ funds of knowledge. In particular, he viewed the cognitive demand of the lesson – targeted at the discourse level – as a strength:

Students were answering the question, “What is a food web?”, by developing their own model of a food web through peer discourse. . . . In the formation of their model, students analyzed and interpreted data on what each species in their food web ate. This information was used to decide which species belonged in which trophic level and also to model the flow of energy through the food web and ecosystem. . . . Students also used mathematical thinking to calculate the flow of energy from one trophic level to the next by using the 10 percent rule. . . . Lastly, students evaluated their information and engaged in argument using the evidence from their model to form a prediction as to what would happen to their food web if all the fish species were to go extinct.

Vince also noted ways he could further strengthen attention to this principle in future iterations of this lesson:

I would include more of an individual component [in addition to a group poster] to ensure all students are adequately being exposed to the concepts and are thinking critically about them. I also think that it could be interesting to add in a component of designing solutions to species loss or invasive species.

Vince identified strengths and limitations in his efforts to address academic language demands and supports at each level of language. At the vocabulary level, although he had provided students with a list of new vocabulary terms, he “felt that students could have benefited from a more explicit vocabulary acquisition activity” as they “either did not look at the list or immediately lost it.” He thought that “syntax was [adequately] support[ed] by sentence starters on the free response questions.” Further, while the lesson included visuals, peer support, chunking of the task, and student work samples to support students’ oral and written discourse, Vince thought he could have better supported “small and whole group discussions through differentiation of food web questions and providing students with some sort of discussion scaffolds.” He connected this last point to the language production opportunities he provided students:

To improve this lesson in the future, I would build in more discourse and differentiation of questions for the prediction aspect of the lesson and have the students present to the class their arguments [in addition to creating a group poster]. This would allow students to communicate their predictions using academic language.

Finally, Vince thought that attention to students’ funds of knowledge was the weakest aspect of Savannah and his wetlands ecosystem lesson. Although Vince drew from students’ previous understanding of food chains when introducing this lesson, he thought he could have done more. He elaborated, “[T]his lesson was very accessible to all students in the class but was most lacking in this principle. The food web was based on a wetland ecosystem but did not specifically connect with local resources or students’ home backgrounds.” Next time, Vince, continued, he would attempt to use a local wetland as the context for the lesson.

As a second example, Madison and Drew designed a high school chemistry lesson on equilibrium and Le Chatelier’s Principle. Students first participated in a paper-ball throwing activity to develop an initial model of equilibrium, then attempted to make sense of color changes in the reaction [Co(H2O)6]2+(aq) pink + 4Cl-(aq) ⇌[CoCl4]2-(aq) (blue) + 6H2O(l), and finally worked to revise their initial model of equilibrium. The lesson concluded with an assessment: modifying a methanol reaction to create more products. Like Vince, Madison thought Drew and her lesson “was cognitively demanding for students”:

This lesson sequence focused on creating and using models as well as being aligned to the DCI [of chemical reactions]. . . . The assessment is aligned to the performance expectation, HS-PS1-6, which reads: Refine the design of a chemical system by specifying a change in conditions that would produce increased amounts of products at equilibrium.

She noted that while she and Drew had connected the lesson to a performance expectation, disciplinary core idea, and science and engineering practice, they “missed an opportunity to include stability and change,” one of the NGSS crosscutting concepts as well.

Madison discussed the multiple intersections in their lesson between language opportunities and academic language supports at the vocabulary, syntax, and discourse levels. At the vocabulary level, during the assessment, students were provided with “vocabulary terms and definitions . . . so that there is no pressure on memorizing terms, but rather a focus on using them properly in a [written] argument.” At the sentence level, “sentence frames for both writing and speaking are addressing the syntax of this topic.” At the discourse level, students were encouraged to “code-switch” in their small group and whole class discussions, using everyday language to explain when initially engaging in the science and engineering practice of modeling but using academic language to argue why a particular variable (e.g., adding Cl- via KCl, adding heat) caused a color change in the reaction. She added that, next time, she would include “teacher modeling of conversation . . . especially if we are asking students to argue their ideas” as an additional academic language support.

Also, as did Vince, Madison acknowledged that she and Drew struggled to effectively connect this activity to students’ funds of knowledge. For the assessment piece, she positioned students as engineers tasked with producing methanol (CH3OH), because they “are all very eager to begin driving.” She elaborated, “I attempted to connect the assessment to their everyday lives . . . , however, I did not support this with context”: the information that methanol is a cleaner alternative to petroleum. “Moving forward,” Madison continued, “I would either provide more context for the methanol reaction or use the fertilizer reaction instead,” a reaction recommended by a preservice teacher colleague as a way to more directly connect to students’ lives.

Overall, Vince, Savannah, Madison, and Drew developed lessons enacting principles of effective EL science instruction and three levels of language. They thought they had provided their students with adequate opportunities to engage in the principle of cognitively demanding work. Additionally, they immersed their students in language opportunities and language demands at multiple language levels. The PSTs found funds of knowledge the most challenging of the four principles to incorporate and execute in their lessons. They also noted that going forward, they would use modeling as an additional academic language support at the syntax and discourse levels.

Innovations and Next Steps

We think our course and this assignment, in particular, are innovative for three reasons. First, we maintained a focus on ELs throughout our course; there are few science methods courses (or content methods courses, more generally) currently using such an approach. While many methods courses might attend to ELs on a single day, in a single lesson, or with a single reading, our course used a principle-based framework to organize instruction and types of support for ELs. Second, we used a model lesson built on a learning progression (NRC, 2007) to introduce our EL principles and levels of language to our PSTs. Using such a lesson is linked to one of our four key principles, funds of knowledge, which we have found is difficult for PSTs to attend to in their instruction (Roberts et al., 2017). Third, to further strengthen their instructional practice, we encouraged PSTs’ use not only of traditional supports for ELs, but of other research-based practices as well, including groupwork (Cohen & Lotan, 2014) and productive academic interactions (Zwiers et al., 2014), to elicit and build on students’ language.

As the population of ELs continues to grow across the U.S. (Goldenberg, 2008), there is a clear need for all beginning science teachers to be able to support ELs. In other words, as demographics continue to change, ELs are a student population that all teachers need to be prepared to attend to and engage in their instruction. To help PSTs learn to teach ELs effectively requires creating content methods courses that are systematically organized around principles and that focus specifically on how to meet ELs’ needs. In this paper, we attempted to provide insight into what is needed for science teacher educators going forward to better support beginning science teachers of ELs, as well as examples of what this work might look like when implemented in methods courses. Additional research is needed to understand how teacher education programs overall should be structured to support PSTs in working with ELs – so that all ELs have access to effective science curriculum and instruction, and to the larger science communities of practice.

Author Note

Sarah A. Roberts, and Julie A. Bianchini, Department of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara.

This researcher was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DUE-1439923).

Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Sarah A. Roberts, University of California, Gevirtz Graduation School of Education, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9490. Contact: sroberts@education.ucsb.edu

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-7191-9175

Providing Clinical Experience for Preservice Chemistry Teachers Through a Homeschool Association Collaboration

Introduction

Quality clinical experiences, also referred to as field experiences, prior to student teaching are vital to preservice teachers’ learning and development as teachers (Darling-Hammond, Hammerness, Grossman, Rust, & Shulman, 2005; Grossman, 2010; NRC 2010).  However, for many teacher education programs providing sufficient, quality clinical experiences in K-12 classrooms for their preservice teachers is challenging (Fraser & Watson, 2014; Grossman, 2010) for reasons including finding qualified and available cooperating teachers and saturation of the local K-12 schools with preservice students from their programs. Due to the challenges, many programs have developed alternative clinical experiences for preservice teachers that are not in a traditional K-12 classroom to help them develop as teachers. Examples of alternatives include microteaching (Darling-Hammond et al., 2005) or peer-teaching rehearsals (Benedict-Chambers, Aram, & Wood, 2017), virtual classrooms (Kennedy & Archambault, 2012), and experiences in informal educational settings (Cartwright, 2016). While not a traditional K-12 classroom setting, alternative clinical experiences often have several characteristics research has identified as helpful to preservice teachers’ development as teachers (Darling-Hammond & Baratz-Snowden, 2007; Grossman, 2010) allowing the preservice teachers to improve their teaching skills.     

Like many teacher education programs, our preservice chemistry teacher education program faces challenges finding quality local clinical experiences for our students. Within a 15-minute drive of the campus, there are only three high schools with approximately 1800 students each and a small laboratory high school all of which have a limited number of available chemistry teachers and are heavily used for clinical experiences in courses and student teaching placements. Thus, like many schools, we have looked for alternative ways to provide our preservice chemistry teachers in our two content-specific methods courses with high quality clinical experiences. We found one in the form of a collaboration with a homeschool association [HSA]. This article describes this alternative clinical experience for preservice secondary science teachers which simulates a traditional secondary science classroom in some aspects but is not in a 9-12 classroom. In this clinical experience, as described in detail below, preservice secondary chemistry teachers teach a chemistry course for homeschooled students offered on the university’s campus by the Department of Chemistry. While the number of preservice teachers who have participated in this form of clinical experience is small thus far, the research literature and evidence collected provides support for this as a clinical experience that helps the preservice chemistry teachers learn and develop as teachers. As the instructor of the content-specific methods courses which this clinical experience is paired, I also reflect on the benefits and challenges to using it as a clinical experience over a more traditional placement in a K-12 school.

Characteristics of effective clinical experiences

Often when referring to the characteristics which make clinical experiences effective in developing preservice teachers, the characteristics are described for the set of clinical experiences a preservice teacher has over the course of his/her entire program (Darling-Hammond et al., 2005; Grossman 2010); any singular clinical experience will not have every characteristic. The design of the clinical experiences as a whole for a preservice teacher in a teacher education program should strive for the characteristics of effective clinical experiences (Grossman, 2010), however these characteristics also provide guidelines for developing individual clinical experiences as well.  Darling-Hammond & Baratz-Snowden (2007) provide a concise list of characteristics of clinical experiences that have been shown to help preservice teachers develop their skills as teachers:

Successful clinical training experiences have the following characteristics:

  • clarity of goals, including the use of standards guiding the performances and practices to be developed;
  • modeling of good practices by more-expert teachers in which teachers make their thinking visible;
  • frequent opportunities for practice with continuous formative feedback and coaching;
  • multiple opportunities to relate classroom work to university course work;
  • graduated responsibility for all aspects of classroom teaching; and
  • structured opportunities to reflect on practice with an eye toward improving it (p. 124: Emphasis in original).

These characteristics of effective clinical experiences continue to be supported in the research literature (e.g. Grossman, 2010; Grossman et al., 2009). While the list suggest that the number of clinical experiences is important (‘frequent opportunities’), quality of those experiences is also very important. Research has identified that fewer high quality experiences have as much impact on preservice teachers’ development as a larger quantity of lower quality experiences (Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2009; Grossman, 2010; Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012).

Not explicitly mentioned in the list above, but implied in the descriptions, is the importance of the mentor, co-teacher, cooperating teacher, supervisor, or whatever term is used for the experienced professional guiding the preservice teacher during the clinical experience. Preservice teachers need a supportive experienced professional providing them with ideas, guidance, and feedback as they develop (Darling-Hammond et al., 2005; Hollins, 2011; NCATE, 2010). As described below, when used as a clinical experience for preservice chemistry teachers, the chemistry course for homeschooled students has many of the characteristics of clinical experiences shown to make them successful. 

Homeschooling

The opportunity for this chemistry course for homeschooled students described in this article first developed in 2010 when a local homeschool association approached the Department of Chemistry to ask if there was a way for their high school aged students to perform some chemistry experiments on campus. As the number of homeschooled students in the United States has been steadily increasing since the 1990s (Redford, Battle, & Bielick, 2017), homeschool associations (HSAs) or networks have been established, many with a strong local presence, (Kelley, 2017) to “provide an easily accessible network of communication and resources which will better equip parents, enhance the experience for students, and educate local communities about the viability of homeschooling” (para. 1, CAHSA, n.d.). HSAs have approached local organizations like YMCAs or museums to offer courses for their students, or the organizations have begun offering the courses on their own when the population of homeschooled students in the local area is high enough for the venture to be successful (Wang, 2007). In the case of the course described in this article, the approach by the local HSA initially resulted in the department’s Chemistry Club hosting the students a few times a semester to perform some experiments.  After three academic years and a change in leadership in the Chemistry Club, the club was no longer interested in leading these experiments although the department appreciated the outreach the course provided. The methods instructor at the time initially said the preservice chemistry students could set in and provide the same experience the club provided for clinical hours as part of the methods courses. After a year of this, it was recognized that the preservice teachers could be more involved in the design, choice, and assessment of the activities providing a more authentic teaching experience. Thus, with the agreement of the HSA, the experiments shifted to a “class” for homeschool students which would cover topics typically taught in an introductory high school chemistry class. This is the current course, described below, which provides clinical experiences for the preservice chemistry teachers along with the educational opportunity in high school chemistry for the homeschool students.

The Homeschool Chemistry Course

Context

At Illinois State University, secondary teacher education programs reside within the content discipline department, i.e. the English teacher education degree is part of the English Department, chemistry teacher education degree part of the Department of Chemistry, etc. Secondary preservice teacher education majors take a core set of professional education courses from the College of Education, many of which include clinical experiences, but they also take content specific methods courses offered by their major departments. Preservice chemistry teachers have two chemistry specific methods courses prior to their student teaching semester. The first course (CHE 161), which can be taken as early as the second semester of their freshman year, provides an introduction to chemistry teaching and is designed, in part, to help students make an informed decision about their future careers. CHE 161 is offered in spring semesters and, depending on students’ schedules and timing of entrance into the teacher education major, has freshman to senior-level students in it. The enrollment in this course has ranged from 3 in one semester to 8 preservice teachers in another semester in the three spring semesters since the homeschool collaboration with preservice teachers began. Preservice chemistry teachers take the second methods course (CHE 301) during the fall semester just prior to their student teaching. This course is only taken by senior-level students. Between 3 and 6 preservice teachers have enrolled in CHE 301 since the collaboration began.

Logistics and Structure

Once university course times for the fall semester are set, the HSA sends an email to its listserv about “registering” homeschool students for a chemistry course at our university (Note: there is no official registration process through the university. It is simply generating a list of interested students and parent contacts in the spring.) This invitation email from the previous offering course is in Figure 1 and provides a good overview of the course.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Registration email from the HSA to parents about the chemistry course.


Thus far the number of homeschool students registering for the course, several of which register just before school starts, has ranged from 8 to 12 students each year. From the contact list generated, parents are emailed specific details about the course two weeks before the fall semester begins. The course begins the second week of each semester to allow the preservice teachers a week of class before beginning the clinical experience. This week allows the preservice teachers to learn the expectations for the course in terms of assignments and clinical experiences and get organized for their semester and their teaching of the homeschool class in light of their other courses. The homeschool students and their parents arrange their own transportation to and from campus.

There is a parent orientation meeting usually the Friday of the first week of classes during the fall semester. During this meeting, the preservice teachers and homeschool students are introduced to each other, tours of university facilities to be used are given, and laboratory safety regulations and requirements are reviewed. Parents are asked to sign waivers and safety contracts to allow their students to be on the campus and in the laboratories [1]. Students also sign a safety contract.  The parents are asked to sign a waiver allowing the classes to be video-recorded so preservice teachers can watch and reflect on their teaching. They pay a small lab fee for the year (approximately $20), are provided with information on accessing the free learning management software (LMS) being used [2], and have the opportunity to ask questions.

As mentioned in the email to the parents, the fall semester is taught by the CHE 301 preservice teachers and the spring semester is taught by the CHE 161 preservice teachers. Figure 2 provides sample timeline for the academic year for the methods course and the homeschool courses. The times for the homeschool course are “the lab hours” of the CHE 301 and 161 class times, so preservice teachers register for the clinical hours as part of their course schedules, there is a room for the course in the university schedule and the HSA knows the time of the course.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Methods course and homeschool course sample timeline. *First Semester: Methods course met twice a week for 3 hours total on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Homeschool course met for 2 1-hour classes on Tuesdays and Fridays ** Second Semester: Methods course met once a week for 2 hours  on Wednesdays, Homeschool course met for 2 1-hour classes on Wednesdays and Fridays.

 

 

As the methods instructor, I teach the first classes to the homeschool to give the preservice teachers time to lesson plan and prepare for teaching along with providing model science instruction. Figure 2 indicates how the teaching for the homeschool class is divided. In CHE 301 in the fall, during the time I am teaching, the preservice teachers use the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013), which are our state science standards, and other chemistry curriculum resources to decide what we should teach the homeschool students and in what order. They create a general outline of the year, along with lesson planning and teaching in cooperation with me as the methods instructor. In the fall semester, depending on the number of preservice teachers registered for CHE 301, they typically co-teach a set of lessons with a partner, then plan a set of lessons to teach individually (See Figure 2). Collaboration of content and teaching ideas/methods occurs among all the preservice teachers and myself, but lead teacher(s) are set for each course meeting. Preservice teachers who are not lead teachers observe, provide feedback, and may help individual groups of students if the lead teachers ask. In the spring semester with the less experienced preservice teachers in CHE 161, again I teach the first lessons of the semester on topics based on the course outline from the previous semester’s preservice teachers. Then the preservice chemistry teachers in CHE 161 meet with me individually, and we co-plan a single lesson to co-teach (See Figure 2). They then plan and co-teach a lesson with another preservice teacher in the course with strong guidance and feedback from me. Finally, they each plan and teach a lesson independently to the homeschool students. Depending on the number of preservice teachers in the methods course they might get to co-teach more than one lesson, but in this first semester methods course they are only required to independently teach one time.

During both methods courses, preservice teachers are required to submit lesson plans, which include learning objectives, student prior knowledge, instructional activities, assessment plans, and materials among other things, 48 hours prior to teaching. Each methods class, conversations occur about the homeschool course in terms of the previous teaching and what is upcoming. I always encourage them to use what they are learning in the methods course in their lesson planning. I also often meet with them outside of class time to discuss ideas and resources as they are planning before they turn in their formal lesson plan. All lesson plans are returned to students with feedback for implementation, changes to make it more student-centered, and other comments at least 24 hours before they teach. After teaching, the preservice have structured teaching reflection assignments due, one of which includes watching a video of their teaching. After they complete their reflection, they receive comments both on their reflection and their teaching specifically. (Note: As a methods instructor and the cooperating teacher for the homeschool class, I have found if I provide my comments on their teaching prior to their reflection, the opinions and ideas I get in the reflection are my own so I wait until the reflection is complete before providing my teaching feedback.)  The preservice teachers, when they are not teaching, have observations assignments asking them to identify aspects of the course we have discussed and to reflect on the effectiveness for student learning of the instruction. These observations assignments typically start the conversation in the next methods class period, discussing what they saw and what was reflected from our class in the homeschool course. One of the questions in the observation assignments explicitly asks them to connect what they saw to the class. There are other assignments for the methods course not directly related to the homeschool course, e.g. reading assignments and reflections. In addition, during the methods course, we use examples and actions from the homeschool class during discussions and class activities.  For example, when assessment is the topic of class, the preservice teachers analyze assessments they have used when they taught and develop new or alternative ones based on their experiences with the homeschool students.

Aspects of Effective Clinical Experiences in Homeschool Chemistry Course

From the nature of the collaboration and opportunities which arise from the course, the Homeschool Chemistry Course in design has numerous characteristics of clinical experiences shown to help preservice teachers learn and develop. Table 1 connects Darling-Hammond and Baratz-Snowden (2007)’s characteristics of “successful clinical experiences” discussed previously with the design features of the Homeschool Chemistry Course and its implementation just described.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge).
Alignment of the characteristics of successful clinical experiences with the homeschool chemistry course

 

As shown in Table 1 and as described above in the structure and assignments for the course, numerous characteristics of effective clinical experiences are part of the structure of this course which is a collaboration with the HSA. The main characteristic of this structure that provides many advantages is the shared experience of all the preservice teachers in the methods courses. Unlike more traditional clinical experiences for preservice teachers in which one or two students are assigned to a classroom and others assigned to a different classroom, the Homeschool Chemistry Course allows all of the preservice teachers in the same class. Though at times they have different responsibilities in the class as an observer or teacher, the context, events, and student reactions are the same for all the preservice teachers. With the shared experience, two aspects of successful clinical experiences become much easier to achieve as a methods instructor: 1) engagement with model instruction or instructional techniques and 2) connection of the content from the methods course to the clinical experience.

As the methods instructor I teach, co-teach, or co-plan lessons allowing me control of the type of instruction and instructional strategies the preservice teachers experience within the limits of the equipment, space, time, and number of students. This control for the methods instructor is often not present in more traditional clinical experiences when teacher education programs are in need of willing teachers and classrooms to host preservice teachers. Some of the preservice teachers might see model instruction, but since they are likely not all in the same class that is not guaranteed. Experiences with and models of good research-based effective science instruction as preservice teachers help them develop to use these skills in their classrooms (Darling-Hammond & Baratz-Snowden, 2007; Loughran, 2014).  In addition, as the supervisor for the course and as mentioned above in the assignment descriptions, I provide the preservice teachers with formative feedback and guidance on their lesson plans, as they teach, after they teach, and on their reflections, acting as the strong mentor or professional which is important to effective clinical experiences (Hollins, 2011; Loughran, 2014).

The shared experience of the homeschool class also allows for connections between the methods course content and the clinical experience to be made easily for all the preservice teachers. This important aspect of effective clinical experiences helps the preservice teachers connect theory and practice (Grossman et al., 2009; Hollins, 2011). In the methods course, I can say “remember when..” as an example of content from the methods class in action in a classroom and all the preservice teachers will have seen it. The preservice teachers do not need to describe examples from their independent clinical experiences to the entire class for us to have “real” examples connecting theory and practice. Also, the reverse can occur easily. When something happens in the homeschool class, in the methods part of the class we can make connections to the theory to explain it or to help find solutions for it.

Limitations   

While many aspects of this clinical experience align with the desired characteristics for clinical experiences for preservice science teachers, there are some characteristics of this clinical experience that not ideal. As suggested earlier, I, the methods instructor, can provide model instruction to the preservice teachers to the degree the environment allows, but the environment has a few constraints. The number of homeschool students has been twelve at its highest, which is not your typical high school chemistry size, and the students do not represent a diverse population in terms of race or socioeconomic status. All preservice teachers at our university are required to have 50 hours of diverse clinical experiences out of a minimum 100 hours prior to student teaching, which this experience then does not fulfill. We do a lot of student-centered instruction and inquiry using reform-based practices and curriculum materials, but meeting only twice a week, it is not a “typical” high school class. It is more akin to a collegiate model of chemistry instruction. The course does not meeting every day of the week, and when it meets it is only for 50-60 minute classes rather than hour and a half block periods which some high schools use if a class does not meet every day.  If we do not ask the students to do some learning on their own time, as collegiate level courses are often structured, then we would not get far in the content. And the students do not necessarily have access to each other to form study groups or have conversations outside of class like college students do or even traditional high school students. Because of this significant independent work is assigned between classes, which often involves watching lectures or other less active learning instructional methods. These difference from the high school model are discussed directly with the preservice teachers often throughout the methods course; we have discussions about how lessons  might  be different in high school setting rather than a homeschool course setting.

Another challenge for me as the instructor is that I have become the instructor of two courses, the methods course and the homeschool course. I am not only the preservice teachers’ instructor teaching their methods course, but I am also the instructor of the homeschool class or the ‘cooperating teacher’ in a traditional clinical experience. I am responsible for the homeschooled students’ learning in that class also. While this can be a benefit because I can demonstrate model instruction and use it during the methods courses to make connections between the theory and my teaching practice, I am also responsible for another course. I communicate with parents (which I don’t do for college students), make sure waiver forms are followed, safety rules are enforced, resources are available, assignments completed, the learning management software for the homeschool students is working, etc.  I am the only constant between the fall and spring semester for the homeschool students. When they sign up for the course, as Figure 1 shows, the parents and students know the preservice teachers will be instructing the course, but they still expect chemistry to be taught and learned, and I am the teacher responsible for it, so in some ways it has increased my teaching load without credit for teaching another course.  

Initial Supporting Evidence

The Homeschool Chemistry Course described here (for both methods courses, with the class meeting two days a week) has only occurred in two academic years (2015-16 and 2016-17), and we have a small program. Thus few preservice chemistry teachers have had the opportunity yet to experience two semesters with the homeschool course as their clinical. However, since the collaboration did evolve over time, some current student teachers and some recent graduates of the program had experiences teaching the homeschool students. As described below, their responses to the Homeschool Chemistry Course as a clinical experience provide additional support for its use as an effective clinical experience beyond the support from the research literature described above.

Teachers Reflections on Homeschool Course as Clinical

As reported elsewhere (Boesdorfer, 2018) when asked to reflect on their clinical experiences as preservice teachers during a phone interview, five current teachers had mainly positive things to say about their experiences teaching the homeschool students.  Through interviews, they were all asked to reflect generally on their clinical experiences as preservice teachers. All five discussed their teaching of the homeschool students as a positive experience that helped them develop as teachers.  Below are a few comments about the homeschool teaching experience which are representative of at least 3 out of the 5 current teacher comments if not all of them (also described in Boesdorfer (2018) in more detail):

  • the continuity of the semester with them, and um, I don’t know, it just seems more representative of what I experienced as a teacher [than clinicals in other courses]
  • It’s really the only time in our, in our clinicals where we got to have some sort of ownership over the class.
  • It was very helpful in terms of lesson planning and actually teaching a lesson…..I think that it is a great opportunity to learn

These former students who are now teaching mentioned frequent contact (quote 1), the graduated responsibility of the clinicals (quote 2), and the experiences the class (quote 3); all of these align with Table 1 and aspects of successful clinical experiences. All five recommended keeping the homeschooling course as a clinical experience. The interviews were part of an exploratory study looking at the perceptions of those who participated in the homeschool course as part of their initial teacher preparation (Boesdorfer, 2018).

Current Student Teachers Reflections on Homeschool Course as Clinical

During their student teaching semester, two preservice chemistry teachers who had taught the homeschool course for at least one semester prior to student teaching were surveyed about their clinical experiences overall. Like the teachers described above, these student teachers also indicated that the experience with the homeschool class was useful to them.  The graduated responsibility was an aspect they both focused on heavily in their responses. For example, one said: “It provided a nice transition between being in another teachers’ classroom as an observer and being a student teacher where you are completely in charge of the classroom. We were in charge of the Home School Group, but it was a shared responsibility plus a Professor present just in case.”  Not surprisingly though, they also though both focused on how much they were learning in student teaching. For example,

I’m continuing to grow through my student teaching position but in new ways then I was able to with the Home School Group. I’m developing more classroom management and interacting with students more whereas during the Home School Group I was developing my teaching and lesson planning more.

As they are supposed to, the homeschool clinical experiences prior to student teaching helped prepare the preservice teachers for student teaching by giving the graduated responsibility in a structure environment where they continued to develop as teachers (Castle, Fox, & Souder, 2006; Darling-Hammond, 2005; Grossman, 2010). When asked directly, both recommended continuing the homeschool course for clinical experiences. Other than the positive course evaluations which cannot be used for research purposes, data has not been collected from current preservice teachers as yet.

Conclusions and Future Directions

There are positive and negative aspects to using a homeschool course as a clinical experience for preservice science teachers, but as a program we find the benefits described above outweigh the negative aspects and is worth the effort for our preservice chemistry teachers. We continue to collect data on graduates and feedback from current students to continually assess the effectiveness of the clinical experiences and improve or modify it as needed. With the limited availability of clinical placements around our university in high school chemistry classes and other clinical experience requirements for the chemistry preservice teachers’ other courses, this is one of our best options to provide an experience that helps develop skills to be an effective high school chemistry teacher. We address some of the challenges to using the homeschool course, for example, the lack of diversity among the homeschool students, through other clinical experiences in the professional education sequence of courses and other program requirements.  

Of course, the ability to offer this clinical is highly dependent on the HSA, and its help organizing and contacting potential students. If the number of homeschool students in the area were to decline significantly or parents are no longer interested in maintaining the HSA, this clinical experience would likely end. Using the homeschool course as a clinical experience is a work in progress, but one which the initial analysis suggests is an effective clinical experience; it might be an option for other programs looking for alternative forms of clinical experiences to meet their preservice teachers’ needs.  


[1] With a new university minors on campus policy, the future permissions will also include a permission for minors to be on campus along with our previous waivers. All waivers, including the working in the laboratory, were created under consultation with and approval by university legal counsel.

[2] Since the homeschool students are not university students, they cannot use the university’s LMS and parents need access to it as well. Recently, Schoology has been used as the LMS to share materials and grades. 

Theory to Process to Practice: A Collaborative, Reflective, Practical Strategy Supporting Inservice Teacher Growth

Introduction

Science and engineering influence and are, in turn, influenced by much of modern life, and as such, it is important that students possess sufficient knowledge in these fields to be successful in their daily lives and in the workforce. Yet, many people lack basic knowledge in these fields upon graduating from K-12 schools (NRC, 2012). The National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academies Press (NAP) each developed documents to improve K-12 science education, A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013), respectively. The vision set forth by the Framework is “to help realize a vision for education in the sciences and engineering in which students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields” (NRC, 2012, p.10). This vision “takes into account two major goals for K-12 science education: (1) educating all students in science and engineering and (2) providing the foundational knowledge for those who will become the scientists, engineers, technologists, and technicians of the future.” (NRC, 2012, p.10).

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are based on this vision, representing the most recent effort to improve science education and a “significant departure from past approaches to science education” (Bybee, 2014, p. 213). The NGSS necessitate that teachers integrate a three-dimensional approach to learning, such that students use science and engineering practices to gain a deeper understanding of core science ideas as they apply overarching big ideas to and between content.

Some instructional implications of this shift can be found in the first two columns of Table 1 (NRC, 2015), which juxtaposes current classroom practices with the shifts needed to support the standards. As indicated, content knowledge acquisition should involve less direct transfer of information from teachers to students. Rather, this learning should involve more connected and contextualized experiences facilitated by teachers. These changes will require many in-service teachers to modify how they teach science (refer to column three in Table 1) and challenge some of the ways in which students have come to learn. Teachers will need to shift their instruction from “front-loading” disciplinary vocabulary and explaining concepts to providing information and experiences that students can use to make sense of natural phenomena and solve problems of human importance. The role of the teacher within the classroom becomes one that focuses more on asking questions and prompting students to make evidence-supported claims than for the teachers to do the heavy lifting for students by explaining the connections to them. For some, this will require a dramatic shift in their overall approach to teaching (National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), 2015). Although making such a shift will be a challenge, it is also an opportunity for the nation to address gaps in scientific and engineering literacy and change the direction of teaching and learning in science.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Implications of the Vision of the Framework and the NGSS

Success in meeting this challenge, and opportunity, is largely dependent upon teachers, since they are the most direct link between students and their exposure to the standards (Borko, 2004; Fullan, Hill, & Crevola, 2006; NASEM, 2015). Despite what is known about effective professional learning (PL), a multi-year research initiative examining the state of PL in the United States found that by 2008, teachers had fewer opportunities to participate in sustained, collegial workshops (those that lasted longer than eight hours). In addition, the U.S. invested more funds for teacher learning that focused increasingly on short-term workshops — the least effective models of professional learning (Wei, Darling-Hammond, Adamson, 2010). Additionally, few teachers received more than 35 hours of PL over a three-year period (Banilower, et al., 2013). Moreover, collaborative planning among teachers was found to be limited (about 2.7 hours per week) and ineffective at creating a cooperative school climate for instructional growth and increased student achievement (Wei et al., 2010).  As such, it is imperative that the format of continuing professional learning for in-service teachers be re-thought if they are to adopt practices that support integration of the NGSS, or any other K-12 reform effort.

In addition to a shift toward less effective teacher learning experience formats, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data from 2008 reveal that secondary and rural teachers specifically, receive inequitable access to PL opportunities, as compared to their elementary and urban or suburban school counterparts. In contrast, Banilower et al. (2013) found that elementary, rather than secondary teachers, were less likely to have participated in recent professional learning opportunities and far less likely to have received feedback on their instruction. Thus, it appears there is a need for expanding professional learning for all of these educators and identifying what methods are effective in these settings and for these populations. This article presents an alternative and seeks to address the following question: What support is effective in helping improve teacher instruction for all teachers, but especially for those who receive inequitable access (i.e., secondary, rural teachers)?

Contextualizing the Strategy

The NGSS outline what students should know and be able to do in science after having completed their K-12 education. They formulate science as three dimensional, delineating the (a) practices, (science and engineering practices), (b) core content (disciplinary core ideas), and (c) big ideas (crosscutting concepts) and thus, imply that science should be taught in this manner. In past decades, the main emphasis in K-12 science education has focused on only one of these dimensions – the disciplinary core ideas – while the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts have been absent from, decontextualized, or isolated in many classrooms.  As such, classroom strategies designed for targeting these other two dimensions of science may be new for many current in-service teachers. Additionally, making these connections explicit is important for increasing efficacy of teacher instruction.

With a need to incorporate all three dimensions into the classroom, which is referred to in the literature as three-dimensional science learning or 3D learning (e.g. Krajcik, 2015), teachers will need to gain new knowledge of science practices and ideas, a better understanding of instructional strategies consistent with NGSS, and the skills to implement these strategies (NASEM, 2015). It is also important to consider that, according to Guskey (2002), the biggest struggle for integrating an innovation is not in understanding but in implementing it. Thus, supports are needed not only to help teachers understand NGSS and appropriate instructional strategies, but also to become comfortable with strategies that will promote 3D learning.

While recognizing that teachers will need support to understand and implement the NGSS vision, there are a variety of ways in which this support may be provided. Science Teacher’s Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts (NASEM, 2015) indicates the importance of building collective capacity within schools and districts for science teaching and providing opportunities that support cumulative learning over time and target teachers’ specific needs. Despite their potential benefits, these types of PL have received little attention (NASEM, 2015). Therefore, this article provides one professional learning strategy for supporting teachers in changing instructional practices to support the NGSS that involved developing collective capacity while attending to teachers’ specific needs over time.

The PL strategy (Pick-Do-Share-Repeat) comes from a multi-year, district-wide professional development grant conducted with 7-12th grade science teachers from a small, rural district in the intermountain West. The state in which the district resides was in the process of adopting standards based on and closely aligned with the NGSS. Specifically, this strategy was employed with its secondary teachers in earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics who voluntarily elected to participate in the grant. Approximately 15 of the secondary teachers in the district (grades 7-12), ranging in experience from a second-year teacher to veteran teachers with decades of experience, met for a full day every six weeks during the academic year to gain a deeper understanding of the NGSS and its implications for classroom instruction. A goal of the grant, set forth by the district, was for teachers to identify ways in which students’ thinking could be made visible. In an attempt to align our PL with the district-wide initiative, we connected the notion of making student thinking visible to strategies that were consistent with the NGSS vision.

Given the complexity of these standards, we recognized the importance of supporting teachers through structured workshops with clear goals and opportunities for both understanding the standards as well as identifying ways to integrate them. Thus, the workshops followed a basic format of building understanding, exploring examples, selecting a new strategy to implement, giving teacher time to implementing it, and debriefing the experience in a subsequent workshop. Throughout the planning process, we referenced the effective PL characteristics listed above in order to ensure the workshops aligned.

What is “Effective” Professional Learning?

A growing body of research has identified characteristics that lead to high-quality, effective professional learning for K-12 science educators. In 2007, Cormas and Barufaldi (2011) conducted a comparative analysis of over 20 works published between 1995 and 2006, in which they identified 16 effective research-based characteristics of PL (refer to Table 2). Additionally, more recent studies have found importance in teacher collaboration, the presentation of material via active learning and modeling of content/strategies/activities, and integrated or interdisciplinary approaches to teaching (Beaudoin et al., 2013; Hestness et al., 2014; Houseal, A. K., Abd El Khalick, F., & Destefano, L., 2014; Miller et al., 2014; Nagle, 2013; NASEM, 2015; Reiser, 2013).

In a secondary level (7-12) professional learning program supported by a district-wide grant, the authors as facilitators, used a video analysis strategy that incorporates the characteristics identified by Cormas and Barufaldi (2011) and more recent studies mentioned above. Table 2 provides descriptions of how the video analysis strategy we employed aligns with Cormas and Barufaldi’s (2011) characteristics. Our strategy involved teachers iteratively exploring instructional strategies through vignettes, case studies, or other examples in the context of their classrooms and reflecting upon attempts to implement a strategy. Additionally, we incorporated into our PL, through modeling, the three identified effective characteristics described in more recent studies by bringing teachers together to collaboratively explore new strategies, learn actively, and debrief the experience through video analysis with colleagues. This PL strategy has been coined Pick-Do-Share-Repeat and was used by rural, secondary, in-service teachers as they worked toward full implementation of the NGSS.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Alignment of Effective PD Characteristics with Video Analysis Strategy

Pick–Do–Share–Repeat: Changing Practice while Making Student Thinking Visible

The implementation struggle that Guskey (2002) noted has an effect on the number of teachers who actually implement a new strategies after they learn it. This is further complicated by evidence that teachers only change their beliefs after seeing success with students and that they tend to abandon the practice of a new skill if they do not see immediate success (e.g., Guskey, 1984). Thus, a pivotal component of our in-service teacher professional learning was to have teachers incorporate the use of a new strategy into classroom instruction iteratively throughout the year with the added accountability to share their implementation with others via a video at a subsequent workshop.

Even with structural supports, the decision to redefine one’s pedagogical role in the classroom can be a daunting task; it often requires changes in beliefs and current practice. Thus, without space for posing questions and resolving dissonance, teachers are unlikely to abandon current teaching practices for new strategies that often appear uncomfortable or at odds with their beliefs (Guskey, 2002). Critical reflection can assist in this redefinition (Mezirow, 1990). In this PL, we sought to help teachers incorporate classroom strategies that support the NGSS by giving them time to read about, discuss, and participate in model examples of new teaching strategies before they attempted their own implementation, and to further reflect upon their experience after they tried it.

The specific format of Pick-Do-Share-Repeat was facilitated as follows:

  • Teachers were exposed to a number of teaching strategies
  • They selected one strategy to incorporate into their instruction
  • Teachers video-recorded their attempt, and then
  • They reflected upon that attempt both independently and collaboratively.

Teachers had been exposed to many of the strategies through modeling. For example, facilitators elicited prior knowledge and strategies already used by these teachers in their classrooms. We approach PL with the stance that teachers are professionals in their fields and bring expertise to the table; therefore, it is important to value their ideas and successes. Here, we present one possible format for introducing strategies for the purposes of video analysis. After identifying the strategies, teachers might be given time to explore several resources and note which strategies they thought would align with their classroom setting or target various dimensions of the NGSS. A silent conversation on butcher paper followed by a group discussion might be used to share their findings and discuss the effectiveness of each strategy. A session might end with teachers considering their current classes, identifying a strategy, and planning out how to implement that strategy.

As stated earlier, the shifts required of teachers to successfully implement NGSS are large (Bybee, 2014) and include content knowledge, instructional strategies, and the skills to implement those strategies (NASEM, 2015). Further, these are often new ideas for early career teachers who may have limited exposure as a student or a teacher (Inouye & Houseal, 2018). Thus, PL opportunities should attempt to support teachers on all fronts through the use of modeling good science teaching while helping them to understanding what is good science teaching. Other formats besides that listed above could be used, as long as they were supportive of the NGSS and helped to model the strategies with which we hope to instill in teachers’ repertoire of instruction.

Since the video analysis protocol and the NGSS were new for the teachers, we decided to focus primarily on the science and engineering practice of engaging in argumentation with evidence-based claims, as it tied to the district initiative of making thinking visible. In addition, other formative assessment strategies (e.g., Harvard’s Project Zero’s (2016) thinking routines, Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques (Keeley, 2008) such as, “I used to think…, but now I know…” with an added explanation of “because”) and more traditional and well-known instructional strategies including think-pair-share and gallery walks were also used.

Following the introduction of several instructional strategies, teachers were given time to select a strategy and discuss how they would implement it (Pick-). After the workshop, they returned to their classrooms and video-recorded the strategy before the next workshop (-Do-). We left the selection of the clip to the discretion of the teachers and what they thought most adequately demonstrated their implementation attempt. During each subsequent workshop, all teachers showed a 5-minute segment of their instruction, reflected upon their experience, and received feedback from their peers on the effectiveness of their chosen strategy (-Share-) before repeating the process (-Repeat).

The frequent meetings allowed teachers to cyclically identify new needs and repeat the process multiple times. The use of video analysis was especially important during reflection and teacher discourse because it provided a common reference point (Ball & Cohen, 1999) and challenged teachers to use evidence from the videos to support their claims (Roth, Garnier, Chen, Lemmens, Schwille, & Wickler, 2011). Thus, it served a dual purpose by encouraging teachers to use some of the skills they were asking of their students while building a catalog of common visual examples of each strategy.

Embedded in this particular video analysis debrief was a discussion of how the lesson aligned with three-dimensional learning (described above) and how it elicited student thinking; however, the debrief format can be customized to teacher need, content, and goals. In our case, we chose to provide an opportunity for teachers to (a) reflect on the strategy itself (execution and effectiveness), (b) practice identifying which NGSS dimensions were present, (c) analyze evidence of student learning, (d) receive peer feedback, and (e) ask and respond to questions. Refer to Appendix A for the debrief form that guided the discussions. The format of the debrief followed a structure similar to the critical friends reflection protocol (refer to Table 3), which was first developed by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform (Appleby, 1998). During the presentation, one teacher would frame his/her video clip by describing the lesson, its goals, and why he/she chose the strategy. Colleagues were provided an opportunity to ask any clarifying questions before the video was played. The quiet response occurred as colleagues watched the video and wrote down notes on the debrief form (refer to Appendix A). After watching the video, colleagues would provide suggestions after sharing what they noticed and liked about the teacher’s facilitation of their chosen instructional strategy. Questions on the second side of the debrief form guided this section of the protocol. PL facilitators ensured that colleagues used evidence from the clip to provide feedback based on each section of the debrief form. The debrief ended with the presenter (and colleagues) concluding what was useful and what he/she would take away from the experience.

Table 3 (Click on image to enlarge)
Critical Friends Protocol

Case study of Brent A

As an example, we will look at a second-year middle school teacher whose instructional practice changed during his participation in the program. In October of 2017, during the second workshop session of the year, Brent showed his peers a video in which his students were to brainstorm scientific questions related to a video on water quality. He stated that he was attempting to have students make their thinking visible and build critical thinking skills. The classroom was arranged as single tables, facing forward with one or two students at each table.

TEACHER: “What I want you to do is pay attention to the video that you’re about to see. These are the creatures inside pond water.”

[Class watches video.]

TEACHER: “…Based on what you have seen, what kinds of questions do you think scientists would have that they could test?”

STUDENTS: [Quietly writing. No discussion. One student raises hand, and teacher responds by saying “Answer on a piece of paper.”]

TEACHER: “Everyone needs to have at least two answers on their paper.”

STUDENTS: [Silent. Some writing on papers.]

TEACHER: “Now that you have something written down, I want you to brainstorm at least one more with your partner.”

STUDENTS: [Students quietly talk in pairs. Conversations are short.]

[The lesson proceeds with the teacher asking each group to share a question with the entire class, which he writes on the board. Teacher writes all questions on board; does not ask why they would want to know the answer or how an answer to a question might help scientists.]

TEACHER: “Now, let’s look to see if they are testable questions. (Reads the first). Can we determine this today?”

STUDENTS B&C: “No”

TEACHER: “Why?”

STUDENTS B&C: [Respond; teacher evaluates their response.]

In Brent’s first engagement with video analysis, he tried to use a think-pair-share strategy to help students critically think about feasible scientific questions. However, students did not respond to or critique each other’s ideas, nor did he, their questions. There was no discussion or building on one another’s ideas during the share portion of the strategy. Another strategy used by Brent was first identified by Meham (1979) and termed Initiate-Respond-Evaluate (I-R-E) and was very teacher-centered. Brent had students come up with their own questions, but rarely pushed them to think about why they want to know the answer to their questions or what observation resulted in that question. In the debrief, Brent was able to articulate to an audience of peers how he had tried to make student thinking visible. He also received feedback from his colleagues about successful intentions (e.g., getting students to ask questions) and suggestions for improvement (e.g., asking students why they want to know that question or how that would help the scientific enterprise). During this discussion, another colleague also shared a video in which students were developing questions for further study based on a reading. Here, she invited students to engage in discussion about the students’ thinking that led them to their questions, which provided an example of how Brent might further refine the think-pair-share strategy.

In February 2018, Brent brought a video in which he tried to capture his most recent attempts to make student thinking visible and build their critical thinking skills. The video showed a classroom with pods of tables with three to five students sitting at each pod. It began with the teacher having students think individually, similar to the first video. From there, the implementation of the strategy diverges significantly.

TEACHER: “You all just finished a writing prompt on: What is the worst natural disaster that there could be? In groups, share your response and decide what is the worst and why.”

[Students sharing ideas – lots of talk among all groups, students are arguing, engaged, smiling; Some students reference statistics; some students only use opinions]

TEACHER: [brings students back together to share their claims]

STUDENTS: [Student groups share their claims and evidence with the entire class.]

TEACHER: “We have two tables that think hurricanes are worst, one tornado, and one earthquake. Discuss why [your claim is better supported].”

[After another round of argumentation in small groups, students share reasoning of “the worst natural disaster” to the entire class. There are several instances in which student groups respond to each other.]

From the set-up of the room to the framing of the lesson and the teacher’s role as a facilitator, it was a different classroom. The pod arrangement of the tables promoted group work and student-to-student interaction. Interactions within the classroom were mostly student-to-student with the teacher occasionally helping to direct rather than engaging in teacher-led I-R-E. The enthusiasm and noise level present during student discussions was also testament to the increase in students sharing their thinking and reasoning with each other compared to quiet classroom in the first video. Lastly, in terms of making student thinking visible, Brent posed a larger question (“Which natural disaster is the worst and why?”) to small groups of students and explicitly reminded (e.g., “Remember to use your resources to support your answer”) and prompted (e.g., “What is your evidence?”) them that they needed empirical evidence to support their claims. After being given time to independently collect their thoughts, these students used their resources to create an evidence-supported claim (e.g., “Earthquakes killed almost 750,000 people between 1994 and 2013, and this was more than all other disasters put together.”; “Droughts are the worst because they were only 5% of the events but hurt more than one billion people. This is like 25% of the total.”). This was very different from his first attempt to get students thinking by independently brainstorming and sharing their questions aloud with little interaction between students, few resources from which to draw, and infrequent opportunities to explain their observations or thoughts. In the second attempt, Brent still used I-R-E, but students shared their claims and evidence and then returned to their groups to discuss their claims in light of the other groups’ claims.

During the debrief, Brent’s colleagues and facilitators were able to direct his attention to how his lesson facilitation allowed for more complex and engaging student discourse that promoted the use of data to support their claims. Using the debrief form mentioned above, colleagues watched Brent’s video through the lens of evidence of 3D learning, his use of his selected strategy, and evidence of student learning. After Brent was given five minutes to describe his planning and how he thought the lesson went, his colleagues gave feedback. To help teachers provide objective and meaningful feedback, facilitators prompted them to support their claims with specific evidence from the video or to ask a question that would provide evidence for their claims.

Through this process, Brent received positive feedback from veteran teachers as they helped to support his growth. One of his colleagues made the connection between his and others’ videos to his own instruction:

The…examples of others’ classes and our discussions make me realize that what we have been learning in [these workshops] is very doable for me and all other science teachers that put in a bit of effort.

Brent selected both of those videos, in an attempt to demonstrate his integration of strategies to elicit student thinking and build critical thinking skills. Initially, he struggled with both the idea of making student thinking visible and the selection of an example from his practice that exemplified the process. Given the difference in his selections between workshop #2 and #4, and the debrief conversations, Brent demonstrated that he had shifted his mindset and practice to some extent. This suggests that there were influential factors during this time that contributed to his change in conception of what it means for (a) students to show their thinking and (b) build critical thinking skills. Although we cannot definitively say that the debrief discussions, viewing of their own and others’ videos, and the workshops themselves resulted in Brent’s shift in instruction, the changes seen through this teacher’s videos occurred during the time frame in which this PL occurred.

Benefits of this PL Strategy

To obtain a measure of efficacy for this PL strategy, teacher participants completed a short questionnaire asking them to rate and comment on their self-perceived concerns, confidence, and commitment to the materials and activities presented. These parameters were measured with a 10-point Likert scale and open-ended responses. Quantitative analysis from the Likert-scale questions (Cronbach’s alpha of 0.74) suggested an increase in confidence and commitment and a decrease in teachers’ levels of concern associated with strategy implementation and change in classroom instruction. Results from teachers’ open-response comments revealed that teachers experienced several key benefits from this collaborative, observational, and reflective strategy. Primarily, the video analysis allowed teachers to identify more successes in their implementation, realize the potential of these changes in practice, and gain the confidence and collective commitment needed to continue such practices. Below are several quotes that exemplify these benefits and are indicative of the group’s sentiments:

  • “Watching the video’s this last session increased my confidence.” – 10th grade teacher
  • “I am not feeling as badly about my teaching after our meeting today. It is so nice to have other teachers’ feedback on my teaching habits and their support.” – 9th grade teacher
  • “I can see a difference in my students’ engagement and overall learning with greater incorporation of the strategies.”  – 9th grade teacher

Through this process, teachers built a learning community with common goals among peers as they met to explore new strategies, returned to the classroom to implement a strategy, and reconvened to share the classroom experience. By watching each other’s videos, teachers were able to provide supportive feedback and identify successes missed by independent reflection but celebrated through collective reflection. Thus, another benefit of collaborative reflection is that questions or actions unnoticed by the instructing teacher may be identified by his/her peers and boost that teacher’s confidence as their effective instruction is recognized.

Additionally, we found that teachers not only reflected on their own practice by analyzing their own videos, but they also reflected on their practice through the analysis of other’s videos. By watching their peers try a new strategy, which resulted in high student engagement or teacher excitement, they could envision that scenario in their own classroom and noted increased desires to try new strategies.

Brent is one example of many that occurred during this time period. We have found that this versatile PL strategy was useful in our context at many levels of educational support and across a wide range of content areas and instructional strategies to help change teacher practice in sustainable ways. Therefore, we suggest that the use of video analysis is helpful in changing teacher practice. We found this to be true in specific areas, such as in Brent’s case and more broadly, in terms of promoting three-dimensional learning within classrooms.

One limitation that emerged throughout the PL series was the extent to which teacher could provide feedback on strategies or content with which they had varying levels of expertise and exposure. To provide meaningful feedback, one must understand that which they are observing. As teachers gained deeper understanding of the NGSS and supportive strategies, their feedback got more targeted. Facilitators assisted with this by modeling feedback, asking clarifying questions, and support teachers personal growth on the standards and the strategies involved in the workshop series.

Given the potential vulnerability that a teacher might feel with colleagues critiquing their teaching, it was important that a strong culture be established with clear expectations around the goals and purpose of the workshop series. Unclear goals and/or a lack of trust could be a limitation of this type of PL, but this particular workshops series did not experience difficulties because of these factors.

Final Thoughts

The journey toward full implementation of the NGSS will take time, support, and continuous reflection. Thus, identifying strategies that move teacher instruction toward this vision are worthwhile. Here, we have identified one PL strategy for supporting best practice in the classroom and shifting teacher instruction to mirror it. The Pick-Do-Share-Repeat video analysis strategy served the dual purpose of having teachers use skills they were promoting among their students (e.g., evidence-based claims, reflection, common experience from which to discuss and draw) while building a catalog of enacted strategy examples (their video library).

This paper is intended to offer guidance for professional learning facilitators and school administrators and we believe that the ideas presented can be incorporated at many levels (PLCs, school initiatives, district-wide professional learning, etc.) in an authentic and instructionally relevant manner. Though the process takes time and iteration, the resulting teacher growth proved meaningful and worth the time investment. One 7thth grade teacher supported this supposition stating that “practice and analysis of effectiveness, followed by more practice and analysis of effectiveness” (in reference to Pick-Do-Share-Repeat) would continue to build his confidence and incorporation of the strategies. Thus, the collaborative, reflective, and skill-based emphasis of this strategy provided benefits for teachers through growth in practice, increased confidence, improved instruction, and a network of peer support. We note that this strategy, like any educational strategy or innovation, will never serve as a panacea. Nevertheless, it can provide teachers with instructional support in some very important ways.

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

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.

A Toolkit to Support Preservice Teacher Dialogue for Planning NGSS Three-Dimensional Lessons

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) on which they are based, require a shift in preservice science teacher (PST) preparation. NGSS aligned instruction calls to engage K-12 students and new teachers in the use of authentic science and engineering practices (SEPs) and crosscutting concepts (CCCs) to develop understanding of disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) within the context of a scientific phenomenon (Bybee, 2014; NRC, 2015). Therefore, it must be modeled for PSTs how to weave together these three dimensions in the classroom, as they will be expected to align instruction with these goals as they begin their teaching careers.

At the university level the instructional shifts required to align teacher preparation to meet the vision of the Framework and NGSS are most likely to happen within teacher credentialing programs by revising or replacing some of the components of the science teaching methods courses (Bybee, 2014). Yet to accomplish this, science education faculty leading these efforts require tools or supports that assist PSTs to explicitly unpack standards and illuminate their underlying components (Krajcik, McNeill, & Reiser, 2008). Tools that have undergone systematic analysis and field-testing in real education contexts are required for facilitating such understanding (Bryk, Gomez, Grunow, & LeMahieu, 2015; Lewis, 2015). The Next Generation Alliance for Science Educators Toolkit (Next Gen ASET) presented in this paper was designed to provide such scaffolds to prompt discussion and lesson planning that align with the goals of the NGSS. The toolkit and examples of its integration into science methods courses are featured here.

The Next Generation Alliance for Science Educators Toolkit (Next Gen ASET)

Science educators, scientists, and curriculum specialists worked collaboratively over the course of three academic years to develop the Next Gen ASET Toolkit and integrated these tools into science methods courses across six universities. The Improvement Science (IS) framework (Berwick, 2008; Bryk et al., 2015; Lewis, 2015) informed the design of this study in developing and revising the toolkit in methods courses over this 3-year period. This approach allowed for an iterative design process that involved feedback from both the practitioner and end-users as well as for revisions of the tools as they were implemented as part of instruction.

The Next Gen ASET Toolkit is designed to support science methods course instruction to shift towards NGSS-alignment. This includes consideration of how to effectively integrate the three dimensions outlined in the Framework (NRC, 2012) while still considering other effective instructional practices in science education that are commonly addressed in methods courses. The toolkit consists of a one-page overarching graphic organizer (3D Map) and a set of eight tools with guiding criteria to support understanding of the individual SEPs (SEP Tools). A digital version of the toolkit was created to further support its use in methods courses (https://www.nextgenaset.org). The website provides access to the most current versions of the 3D Map and SEP Tools as well as descriptions and supports specific to the use of each. The tools are not meant to be used in isolation, but with peers to promote discourse for understanding the goals and aligning instruction for the NGSS. When used as part of a science methods course with direction from the instructor, these tools can support PSTs to align instruction to the NGSS vision. The following sections further describe the 3D Map and SEP Tools, followed by examples of how these have been used in methods courses.

3-Dimensional Mapping Tool (3D Map)

The 3D Map (Figure 1) was developed as a one-page graphic organizer to help ground discussions of curriculum and instruction in the dimensions of the NGSS, while linking these to larger topics generally discussed as part of instructional planning in a science methods course. The inclusion of topics outside the three dimensions of NGSS as part of the 3D Map extended beyond simply identifying the standards being used in a lesson, and to make connections of how these can be effectively aligned with instructional practices in the science classroom. The 3D Map was not intended to replace the use of more traditional lesson planning templates or other supports, but instead complement and provide a structure for making explicit the ways in which a lesson or unit integrates the components of NGSS. The 3D Map allows enough flexibility in its use to accommodate consideration of existing teaching strategies typically included in a methods course.

The structure of the 3D Map

The 3D Map is arranged with four rows of boxes, each labeled with an instructional component to be considered with room for notes or description of how each of these elements is addressed in a given lesson or unit. The top two rows of boxes on the 3D Map link to larger topics generally discussed as part of lesson planning in a science methods course and arose from consideration of how this tool would integrate with the other course topics. The bottom two rows of boxes include each of the three dimensions of NGSS and spaces for describing how these three dimensions are connected within a lesson or unit. The individual boxes are connected with arrows to indicate relationships between elements with respect to lesson or unit planning.

The top row of boxes includes elements to help orient PSTs and identify the context, goals, and boundaries of a lesson or unit. From left to right this top row has boxes for “Grounding Phenomenon/Essential Question,” “Conceptual Goals,” and “Performance Expectations.” The placement of the “Grounding Phenomenon” box in the upper left corner of the map was intentional, to prompt users to explicitly consider phenomena at the beginning of the planning process, and to promote anchoring lessons to a natural phenomenon while examining existing science instructional segments or planning for new ones. Given that a phenomenon serves as the driver of the science lessons (NRC, 2012), teacher preparation programs need to include a focus on developing teachers’ abilities to engage their students in explanations of natural phenomena (Kloser, 2014; NRC, 2015; Windschitl et al., 2012). The separate box for “Conceptual Goals” was included to allow users to translate this visual phenomenon they planned to explore into a scientific context. The third box, “Performance Expectation(s)” was included to prompt consideration of these larger learning goals as defined by the NGSS.

The second row of boxes prompts the identification of “Learning Objectives” and “Assessments.” The inclusion of a box labeled “Learning Objectives” separate from the “Performance Expectation(s)” (PEs) box was purposeful.  The intent was to signal PSTs to consider the relationships and differences between this larger benchmark for proficiency in science (i.e., PEs) and the smaller lesson-level learning goals in an instructional segment (Krajcik et al., 2014). Current literature indicates that PEs as written in the standards are not meant to be used as lesson-level learning goals (Bybee, 2013; Krajcik et al., 2014); “many lessons will be required for students to develop skills to reach proficiency for a particular NGSS performance expectation” (Houseal, 2015, p. 58). The separate box “Learning Objectives” was therefore included to prompt PSTs to write more specific learning goals based on, but more narrow in scope than, the PEs. The “Assessment” box was included to align with the structure of backward design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2001), an important component of many methods courses, and utilized within the course the 3D Map was originally developed. Consideration of assessment was intended to support PSTs to develop understanding of how to effectively assess learning goals for a lesson or unit, a key component of planning effective instruction (Davis, Petish, & Smithey, 2006). While the assessment box has an arrow connecting with the box for learning objectives, it does not make a connection with the larger PEs since the goal was to include assessments specific for the lesson or unit level, not these larger goals defined by the NGSS.

The bottom two rows of this graphic organizer consist of boxes for PSTs to list specific components of each NGSS dimension present in the lesson or unit, and then to describe how connections among the dimensions were made explicit (NRC, 2012). This design mirrors the integration of the three dimensions provided in the Framework and the NGSS and is consistent with literature providing the rationale for explicating connections among the dimensions for both content and learning objectives (Houseal, 2015; Krajcik et al., 2014). The structure includes color-coding to match the representation of SEPs in blue, DCIs in orange and CCCs in green. The colors of the boxes for the three dimensions of the NGSS and associated connecting arrows were chosen to align with the colors used by Achieve in the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013) to provide a visual connection back to the standards. The visuals and discrete boxes in the 3D Map promote a constructivist approach to co-creating a group understanding of the shifts in pedagogy and curricular structure necessary to implement the integrated and complex components of the NGSS.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Three-dimensional mapping tool.

Science and Engineering Practice Tools (SEP Tools)

The SEP Tools (see Figure 2 for example) were developed for use in conjunction with the 3D Map to help PSTs identify specific components of a SEP to hone objectives in a given lesson or unit. At first glance the eight SEPs outlined in the NGSS appear straightforward to many PSTs. However, the description of each SEP in the Framework (NRC, 2012) presents a much more complex vision. The goal of the SEP Tools is to make this complexity more explicit. A brief description is provided at the top of each SEP tool as defined in the Framework (NRC, 2012).  Below this description, the tool lists separate subcomponents that classroom students should experience in structured opportunities across the 6-8 grade band in order to completely engage in that SEP. These components are arranged on the left side of a matrix with columns to the right where PSTs may indicate which of these components from a given SEP are present in a lesson. There is also space on the tool to describe evidence of each component, including the actions a teacher takes to facilitate these components as well as how the students are engaging in each.

This matrix for completion by the PSTs detailing the SEP subcomponents is formatted to fit on 1-2 pages depending on the number of subcomponents. The criteria included on the last page of each SEP Tool is meant to be a reference for each component, defining for PSTs what students should do to have a structured opportunity to develop an understanding of each component by the end of the 6-8 grade band, as described in the Framework (NRC, 2012).

Figure 2 (Click on the following link to view). Science and engineering tool example.

Implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit in Science Methods Courses

In this section, we describe examples of how the tools have been implemented within science methods courses at two different public universities. Each of these courses enrolls PSTs who are completing requirements to teach science at the secondary level (grades 6-12). The two scenarios demonstrate the flexibility of the tools as each instructor implemented them in different ways but with the same overarching goal of promoting PSTs’ discussion and understanding of three-dimensional lessons. (Note: some of the 3D Map samples differ in their labels from one another as they were used at different stages in the three-year process of designing the 3D Map).

Example 1: Starting with the 3D Map

This first example describes how the Next Gen ASET Toolkit was incorporated into a yearlong science methods course. The instructor had previously explored ways to incorporate the three dimensions of the NGSS into her course but reported that her students lacked the support to make connections across the dimensions, particularly within the context of a phenomenon. The course maintained its existing pedagogical strategies such as the 5E learning cycle, backward design, and science literacy approach (Bybee et al., 2006; Lee, Quinn, & Valdes, 2013; Wiggins & McTighe, 2001), but then focused the NGSS themed discussions via the toolkit. In this case, the instructor began with the 3D Map to frame the larger picture of the NGSS, and then introduced the SEP Tools later to explore the complexities of the practices within a three-dimensional context.

During the first few weeks of the course, the PSTs were introduced to the following overarching phenomenon: consider the yearly weather and temperature differences between two cities residing on the same latitude approximately 150 miles apart. One city is inland, the other on an ocean coast. The instructor then modeled lessons which could be used in a middle or high school classroom to explore this phenomenon.  Throughout this process, the instructor referred to a large, laminated version of the 3D Map. As the PSTs learned about the 3-dimensions of the NGSS (PEs, SEPs, DCIs, and CCCs), and related concepts of phenomena and essential questions, the instructor noted how these are integrated using the 3D Map. As new phenomena were introduced (such as ocean acidification), PSTs were challenged to add their own ideas of how model lessons incorporated components of the NGSS by gradually adding colored sticky notes into the related sections of the 3D Map on the wall (See Figure 3). This allowed PSTs to engage in making their own connections between sample activities and lessons modeled in the methods class to the boxes on the 3D Map. Throughout the course, PSTs continued to add other sticky notes to the 3D Map to illustrate the multiple layers and interconnectedness characteristic of a larger instructional segment aligned with the goals of the NGSS.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Course example 1 classroom 3D map.

Using the 3D Map in this way was also beneficial in that it allowed the instructor to understand where her PSTs struggled with NGSS. For example, regarding the phenomenon of the two cities described above, the PSTs identified the following performance expectation as relevant: MS-ESS2-6. Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates. However, when pressed to modify their own statement of a phenomenon related to this instructional segment, the PSTs overwhelmingly responded with “properties of water.”  The instructor noted in her reflections with the research team how this demonstrated PSTs’ focus on content with little connection to the larger phenomenon intended. In addition, she cited that the PSTs struggled to indicate how the lessons engaged in specific components of a SEP including data collection, identifying patterns, creating flow charts as descriptions of energy flow, and identifying connections between climate and location of cities. Therefore, she found they required prompting in a more specific manner; this is where the SEP Tool for Analyzing and Interpreting Data became useful for focusing specific student actions aligned with unit objectives and therefore relevant assessments.

A unit plan was used as a culminating assessment for the PSTs to demonstrate their ability to utilize the tools. Teams used the 3D Map to plan an interdisciplinary unit related to climate change topics where specific data collection activities were highlighted with emphasis on the SEPs: Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Constructing Explanations.  For instance, one group designed a unit to investigate the phenomenon of coral bleaching (See Figure 4). As PSTs planned, they utilized the 3D Map to guide the structure of their unit: identifying a particular phenomenon, choosing relevant conceptual goals related to that phenomenon (e.g., ocean acidification, pH changes, carbon cycles, impact of acidification on shelf-forming animals), associated and bundled Performance Expectations; related SEPs that would support the concepts and phenomenon (e.g. collecting and analyzing data from live and archived online estuary stations); chose DCIs that integrated life and physical sciences (LS2.B: Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems; PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life; LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience) and applied appropriate, transcending connections found in at least one CCC (i.e. Cause and Effect) – all of which translated into various formative and summative assessment opportunities aligned to unit objectives.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Course example 1 coral bleaching student map.

Example 2: Starting with the SEP Tools

This second example describes how the Next Gen ASET Toolkit was incorporated into a 1-semester (16 weeks) science methods course. While the course had previously emphasized curricular methods that were hands-on and followed the inquiry approach to teaching science, inclusion of NGSS beyond simply stating the architecture, which provided a surface level introduction, had not yet happened. The course instructor decided to use the SEP Tools in class during the first few weeks to facilitate reflection and discussion, and then introduce the 3D Map later in the semester.

During the second week of class, PSTs engaged in a traditional lesson around scientific inquiry, working to construct a model of what might be happening inside an opaque box. During this lesson, the PSTs worked in small groups to investigate what was inside a given set of black plastic boxes. After completing the activity, the PSTs were given the SEP Tool for Constructing Explanations. They selected which of the subcategories this activity engaged them in and used this tool to guide discussion in small groups and then as a larger class. After using this SEP Tool, during the following class meeting PSTs were given a brief overview of the NGSS architecture and vision for connecting three dimensions in learning. Focus was given to the SEPs when first introducing the NGSS. It was also discussed how some of these traditional lessons around inquiry do not truly integrate elements of each dimension and how these might be modified to allow for exploration of a DCI using these SEPs.

In the following weeks the instructor went into more depth with these PSTs about the other dimensions of the NGSS as well as overarching instructional goals. During the eighth week of class PSTs were shown the 3D Map. At this point in the course they were familiar with the NGSS and its dimensions. They had also spent time learning about how to write learning objectives and instructional strategies in science aligned with inquiry methods.

At this point, the instructor spent two hours in class engaging the PSTs in a model lesson on genetics. The PSTs participated as the students would in the lesson. Groups of PSTs were given various family histories based on genetic counseling interviews. The PSTs were provided some instruction on how to construct a pedigree and then tasked to use the information provided about their given family and construct a pedigree to determine what information they would tell this family if they were a genetic counselor working with them. Within the context of the pedigree sample lesson, the SEP tool for Analyzing and Interpreting Data (see Figure 5 for example) was used to help guide discussion of what is considered data in science and how scientists work with data. The instructor first prompted the PSTs to read the subcomponents listed and indicate which of these they felt the lesson included, supported with evidence of these components in the lesson. The instructor pointed out multiple times that although each SEP had multiple subcomponents, the goal of a given lesson was not to include all of these but instead to practice and assess one or two of them.

Figure 5 (click on image to enlarge). Course example 2 student SEP tool.

After this discussion of the SEP, a laminated version of the 3D Map was revealed to the class. The instructor reviewed how each box on the map related to the NGSS or larger ideas around lesson planning in science. The PSTs were then given sticky notes (each group a different color) and told to use these to put their group’s ideas for each box onto the map. The instructor had put notes for the NGSS standards and PE to focus students’ time on discussion of how these were connected in the lesson as well as related ideas on the map.  At the end of this class period the laminated 3D Map was full of sticky notes indicating each group’s contribution by color (Figure 6).

Figure 6 (Click on image to enlarge). Course example 2 classroom 3D map.

The following class period, approximately 90 minutes were spent discussing the different groups’ responses on the 3D Map. Much of the discussion centered on the phenomenon, conceptual goals, and how the three dimensions of the NGSS were linked in the lessons (bottom row of boxes). The use of the 3D Map guided the PSTs to think about how different elements of the NGSS and lesson planning needed to be considered when planning instruction. While no “best response” was given by the end of the discussion, PSTs expressed consideration of how multiple ideas presented from the sticky notes might help connect dimensions as well as increased confidence in understanding the vision of designing lessons to explore content around a given phenomenon.

Following this discussion using sticky notes, the 3D Map was placed on the wall in the classroom and referred to as the class continued to explore exemplar lessons and dimensions of the NGSS. As in the first scenario, PSTs in this course completed a culminating assessment of a lesson sequence that included completion of a 3D Map. The PSTs in this course completed this assignment individually, with some time in class given to share ideas and critique phenomenon identified for their lessons.

In a written reflection at the end of the course, when asked about the experience of implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit, the second instructor reported:

“Before ASET, my approach to the NGSS was almost exclusively through my students engaging in the SEPs – basically, for me, equating having students engaged in learning through the SEPs was equivalent to engaging them in learning science through inquiry. […]  Having done the ASET ‘prompted’ explicit work introducing my students to the DCIs and CCCs, and continuing with the SEPs.  The use of the 3D map as an integral component of my culminating assignment has 1) Supported my own understanding of what 3D planning can really look like in actual classroom practice and thus 2) given me the confidence that using the ASET tools with my students will truly support their understanding of the NGSS and their implementation of authentic and engaging science lessons for their future students.”

This quote suggests that integrating the Next Gen ASET Toolkit into this course not only supported PSTs’ understanding of the NGSS, but supported the faculty instructor in making his own teaching strategies related to NGSS more explicit.

Discussion

While the two examples described start with the use of different tools, they each demonstrate the flexibility of these tools for their use with a variety of model lessons. The promotion of discourse was inherent in the purposeful design of the 3D Map and the SEP Tools. Without the visual scaffold and the ability to make notes on a large laminated 3D Map, or on large handouts in the methods classroom, the complex conversations around planning for the NGSS would be lost in a disconnected set of activities and course assignments.

In the first scenario, the larger vision of NGSS represented by the 3D Map was presented first and then followed with exploring the complexities of the practices through use of the SEP Tools. For instance, activities related to the ocean as a heat reservoir (activities and lessons including models of ocean currents, wind patterns, weather patterns, thermal expansion of water, etc.) initially were perceived by PSTs as isolated activities to illustrate a limited number of concepts. However, conversations guided by the 3D Map framed the phenomenon of temperature differences between a coastal and an inland city at the same latitude; PSTs began to understand the connections instruction should make to connect a series of lessons to support this phenomenon.

In the second scenario, focus was given to the complexity of the SEPs first and then expanded to the 3D Map, including the larger picture of how to align science instruction with the NGSS. In this case, the SEP Tools helped to demonstrate how the practices can be used in different ways depending on the lesson. For example, in the pedigree activity, at first many PSTs did not think of qualitative data as data that students would use for analysis. However, through their discussion, framed by the SEP Tool for Analyzing and Interpreting Data, PSTs were able to focus on the various ways that they engaged with data in this way.

The visual 3D Map and the SEP Tools allowed for discussion of the various ways to make these connections clearer, made assessment possibilities more salient, and reinforced the relationships between doing science (SEPs) and understanding the concepts (DCIs) through specific lenses that link the domains of science (CCCs) serving as ways to assess overarching connections related to a given phenomenon. As is demonstrated in the examples, the role of the instructor was essential to guide this discussion for PSTs. As the instructor highlighted essential elements and relationships on the tools, PSTs were supported to make connections between course activities and the vision of the NGSS. Previous attempts to make broad and unstructured connections between model lessons and the NGSS dimensions were not as successful for either instructor. The first instructor lacked the support to make these explicit connections and the second instructor had only made surface level connections to the architecture with no depth to the vision for instruction aligned to the NGSS.  Integration of these courses with the Next Gen ASET Tookit made elements, which had been implicit, much more explicit to PSTs. They provided the structure and support needed to prompt meaningful discussions with appropriate scaffolds.

The Next Gen ASET Toolkit is not meant to be separated into stand-alone tools but are meant to be used as part of a larger course that together with exemplar lessons and dialogue, support understanding of the complexity of planning for the NGSS, guided by the course instructor.  These tools should not simply be handed to an instructor without support since they may not know how to effectively integrate these tools to support discussion or themselves may be unprepared/untrained in how to align instruction to the NGSS.  The current website provides some support for implementing these tools. These limitations show the importance of using the Next Gen ASET Toolkit while also participating in discussion with other methods course instructors and other individuals who understand how to effectively align instruction to the NGSS.

Next Steps

This paper reports on the first three years of our five-year study as the Next Gen ASET Toolkit was developed and implemented.  The toolkit is currently being implemented in science methods courses across five of the original six university campuses.  The faculty member at the sixth campus, due to commitments on other projects, is not currently able to teach the methods course at the university.  Each of these courses includes a culminating activity for PSTs to generate a lesson sequence or unit plan, using the 3D Map to help guide the development. In each course, the SEP Tools and 3D Map are utilized to help promote and support discussion around the NGSS. Instructors from each campus meet via videoconference monthly and discuss the progress of instruction via use of the tools by sharing data collected on student artifacts and course activities. The project team is currently expanding this network to include more campuses to engage in research using these tools. This expansion includes exploring the use of these tools with inservice teachers as well as with university supervisors to support the reflective dialogue happening as they observe PSTs’ field-experiences.

The instructors currently implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit report that these tools assist their PSTs in developing lessons that integrate the three-dimensionality and complexity of the NGSS. During monthly videoconferences these instructors share results from their courses and suggestions for how to improve instruction. These instructors are also involved with considering any further improvements to the tools based on results from their use in the courses.  The toolkit shows promise to be an example of the tools that have been called for to assist PSTs in explicitly unpacking these standards and illuminate their underlying components (Krajcik, McNeill, & Reiser, 2008).

Conclusion

The university courses currently implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit are shifting instruction within methods courses to align their teacher preparation program to meet the vision of the Framework and the NGSS (NRC, 2012). Integration of these tools into a methods course alongside exemplar lessons allows for the instructor to make explicit connections to the NGSS. The 3D Map allows for a visual scaffold and dialogue of how the lesson or lesson sequence integrates dimensions of the NGSS. The 3D Map also allows PSTs to visualize the variety of components necessary to consider in creating effective lessons aligned to the NGSS. The SEP tools provide explicit ways for the instructor to convey the complexities of each of these practices as well as guiding PSTs to consider how they will best include these in their own lessons. While this toolkit is not meant to be used in isolation, when used to promote discussion and reflection alongside model lessons it has shown promise to allow instructors to shift their instruction to support students understanding of the NGSS.

Acknowledgements

We thank the National Science Foundation who supported the research reported in this paper through a Discovery Research K12 grant, Award No. DRL-1418440.  Thank you to our faculty partners who implemented this toolkit in their courses and support the research efforts:  Jennifer Claesgens, Larry Horvath, Hui-Ju Huang, Resa Kelly, Jenna Porter, Donna Ross, David Tupper, Meredith Vaughn, Lin Xiang.  Thank you also to the many preservice teachers who provided feedback on the tools as they were implemented in their instruction.

Taking Our Own Medicine: Revising a Graduate Level Methods Course on Curriculum Change

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013), are the most significant change to American science education since the publication of the National Science Education Standards (NSES) in 1996 (Yager, 2015). They represent a radical departure in both content and pedagogy from the previous standards and models of science education (Bybee, 2014; Pruitt, 2015).

As a faculty member at the largest teacher-education institution in Rhode Island, the lead author felt that helping in-service teachers make the transition to the NGSS was a priority. To target in-service middle and secondary science teacher, he wrote new curriculum for a three credit graduate-level class which could be taken as a stand-alone or as part of a M. Ed. degree because there are currently no state-mandated professional development requirements for teachers in Rhode Island. This class focused on curriculum change, specifically the upcoming shift from the previous state standards, the Rhode Island Grade Span Expectations (RI GSEs), to the NGSS. This article will discuss the course design and revisions, the impetus for those changes, and the lessons learned. In its first iteration, this class was taken by the second author and both authors have since revised and taught it together.

All three times that this class has been offered, participating teachers were looking ahead to the NGSS and the state testing aligned to it, beginning in the spring of 2018. The disconnect between adoption and implementation created a multi-year period during which the NGSS were the official standards but schools and students were evaluated with an older test aligned to the previous standards (RI GSEs). In order to support improved student performance on high-stakes tests, many teachers continued to use their old curriculum that was aligned to the RI GSEs. Additionally, in our high-stakes teacher evaluation system, failure to meet growth expectations in student learning results in a lower rating; innovation is discouraged (Mangin, 2016).

Version 1.0

Version 1.0 of this course was conducted in the fall of 2013, less than six months after our state had adopted the NGSS. The required textbooks for this course were the Framework for K-12 Science Education, the standards document, and the appendix volume which includes All Standards, All Students, and many other resources for changing the paradigm of science education. As we explored the NGSS, the first author reminded the teachers that this was new to everyone else and that there were no teachers in our state, or any other state, with even a year of experience under this new paradigm, which emphasizes sensemaking versus rote memorization. As one teacher described it:

[The] NGSS sets guidelines on promoting and encouraging students to solve problems, work collaboratively, and apply concepts in a real life situation. Rather than being content heavy, the standards stress how to get to answer rather than memorizing the answers. Facilitation by the teacher requires that students come up with the “answer,” rather than the teacher giving the answer or handing out a cookbook lab for students to repeat.

While the college had an existing graduate science methods class, the first author felt that the move to an entirely new set of science education standards warranted a new curriculum. Rhode Island had pre-existing science standards (the RI GSEs) and a state test to assess them. Teachers were familiar with this structure and had aligned lessons and units to it. These teachers were being asked to replace a known structure into which they had invested a great deal of time and effort with an unknown structure. In order to successfully teach the NGSS, the first author felt that we needed to address the underlying question of “Why are we doing this?”

Course Design and Theoretical Framework

The initial framework was a historical survey of curriculum change in science education. The first author’s original approach was to move from a broad timeline and scale to one that was more local as the semester progressed. While small and moderate scale curriculum changes, such as modifying a lesson or adopting a new textbook, are common enough, changes in the purpose of a curriculum, such as those that occur with a change of standards, have a wide-ranging impact and happen rarely (Fraser & Bosanquet, 2006).

During phase one of the class, the teachers examined changes to science education curricula from other times and places. Phase two of the class looked at the transition to the NGSS in great detail, including the motivations revealed by the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council [NRC], 2012). The final project was to create a scope and sequence for one of their classes aligned to the NGSS.

Rather than dive into the NGSS from the outset, we looked at a variety of other changes to science education in order to situate this change in a historical context. After addressing broad historical change, we then focused on the classroom level. At each point, discussion centered on the following questions: What were the benefits of change? What were the drawbacks of change? Who suffers? Who benefits?

After concluding phase one, the course content shifted to focus on the NGSS and what this transition entailed. The first author modeled several three-dimensional science lessons that teachers were able to experience. One example was the fruit lab, a density lab that calls for students to generate their own question about the sinking and floating of different types of fruit, design a procedure, and evaluate their results. This lab allowed for the introduction of the Herron Scale (1971), which is used to classify the level of inquiry in laboratory work, and allowed teachers to see how the level of inquiry in a lab could be dialed up or down through modification of the instructions. The class examined how a lesson could simultaneously have a content objective, include several practices of science and engineering, and connect to crosscutting concepts. This three-dimensional structure means that the NGSS are structured very differently from our previous content-based state standards.

The unique structure of the NGSS necessitated a detailed lesson in how to read a performance expectation. In many places, teachers asked “Why did they change it?” The Framework for K-12 Science Education, along with NGSS appendices F and G, were important in revealing the three-dimensional structure of the NGSS. They also helped teachers develop the knowledge and vocabulary to discuss the disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), practices of science and engineering (PSEs) and crosscutting concepts (CCCs).

Once teachers grasped how to read a three-dimensional performance expectation, the next order of business was to understand the organization scheme of the NGSS. The size of the document was initially daunting to the teachers but they learned that the standards are listed twice in the main book and represent 12 years of science education. Knowing they were responsible for teaching the standards contained within a few pages, rather than the entire document, came as a relief. Teachers also learned that the standards were part of larger K-12 learning progressions, which answered their questions about the starting and ending points for their own curricula.

A change in standards means that some topics are taught in different grades or not at all. Another question that teachers asked was: What will I be teaching?  To answer this, teachers were asked to select the model from appendix K that best matched their school’s science program and explain its alignment to their existing program. The discussion that ensued expanded to include other concerns such as deficits in teachers’ content knowledge and problems related to resource acquisition within schools. Our state has been and remains one where resources are distributed inequitably.

Curricular change can force a teacher into different, less familiar content and therefore reduce their classroom effectiveness. Given the teacher evaluation system in our state, this was a fate that deeply concerned the teachers. The first author designed the four circles activity to help teachers bring a critical eye to their current curriculum and identify areas of stability as well as areas of change. They were asked to take a look at the units they were teaching now, and divide them into one of four categories: Aligned with the NGSS as is, Aligned to the NGSS with minimal revisions, Aligned to the NGSS with major rewriting, and Incompatible with the NGSS (Figure 2). Teachers self-reported how their curriculum aligned to the NGSS and initially focused largely on the DCIs. This focus on content was not unexpected and teachers need to be prompted to repeat this process twice more with the PSEs and CCCs. In designing their scope and sequence, some of the teachers reused this activity at the lesson level to select lessons for inclusion. Since the NGSS were released in the spring of 2013 and the first version of this course ran in fall of the same year, many of the structures that currently exist to verify alignment, such as the EQuIP Rubric, had not yet been created.

Figure 1 (Click image to enlarge). The four circles activity.

The culminating activity for the course was for the teachers to design a scope and sequence for a single full-year class. This required the teachers to develop a timeline for instruction that included one-third of the content standards for their grade band, all of the PSEs, all of the CCCs, defined units of study based on the three dimensions of the NGSS, a reasonable timeline of instruction, measurable and observable objectives, sample lessons for each unit and Common Core alignment.

Lessons Learned

The primary lesson learned is that this is an emotional process for teachers. The first author had designed the course around an intellectual justification for curriculum change and was less prepared to address teacher concerns about becoming less effective, the disorganization that comes initially with any change of this magnitude, and their professional opinions about what they thought should be in the curriculum. To address these needs, the first author consulted the literature on organizational change and centered the course on a new theoretical framework.

Several different models of change curves exist, though all share some common themes (Elrod & Tippett, 2002; Sotelo & Livingood, 2015). In general, the initial moment of the introduction of change is generally followed by a period where productivity, motivation, or views of self-efficacy decrease (Elrod & Tippett, 2002; Liu & Perrewe, 2005). A middle transitional period follows this wherein productivity, motivation, and self-efficacy reach their lowest point and begin to increase. The ending transitional period sees an increase in productivity, motivation, and self-efficacy as individuals become proficient in their new roles or with new skills. The Bupp change curve (1996) [figure 3] was selected so that the teachers would have a framework with which to understand both historical and present curriculum change.

Figure 2 (Click image to enlarge). Bupp’s change curve.

Introducing the change curve had an additional effect on the class; emotions became one of the official topics. The change curve made it more acceptable to discuss the teachers’ private feelings and lowered the usual barrier to talking about emotion in the workplace. Comments like “I’m feeling denial today” or “I’m definitely over here” [pointing to the change curve] were common.

The adoption of the NGSS occurred at the same time as the revision of our state’s educator evaluation system. The new evaluation system created significant angst for teachers as it was linked to certification and employment. One of the proposed changes to evaluation, which has since been dropped, weighted half of a teacher’s evaluation on student performance on the state’s high-stakes tests. For teachers in the first version of the course, this factor was seen as professionally threatening.

I anticipated a greater skill set from teachers in the area of curriculum development. Teachers wanted reassurance that they were “doing it right”. Sadly, teachers were unaccustomed to having their professional voices taken seriously. Most of their previous experience involved implementing a curriculum picked out by others as prescriptive curricula have become more common in science education. Purveyors of these curricula focus their professional development on training teachers to use their materials as opposed to developing the teachers’ capacity to design their own. Due to time spent teaching basic curriculum writing skills, it became necessary to jettison the plan to align Common Core reading and mathematics standards to teachers’ scope and sequence.

Version 2.0

The second version of this class ran in the spring of 2015. By that time there was a wider variety of resources available to help teachers learn about the NGSS. After attending a one week workshop at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), the first author decided to field test their Five Tools and Processes for Translating the NGSS into Instruction and Classroom Assessment, Figure 3, within the course. Piloting the AMNH tools necessitated strict fidelity to their implementation guide. This meant spending more time on the structure of the NGSS and less time on curriculum change.

Figure 3 (Click image to enlarge). Five tools and processes for translating the NGSS.

Course Design

The overarching three phase structure of the course remained the same, though time allocations changed substantially. The required textbooks for the course remained the same as course version 1.0. Due to the time spent piloting the AMNH tools, the historical perspective of science curriculum change was shortened to one week. This involved omitting The Science of Common Things and drastically reducing the discussion of the Bupp change curve (1996) and 20th century science education reform. It was occasionally awkward to use someone else’s pacing guide but on the whole the teachers did very well.

After we were done with the AMNH tools we moved to the scope and sequence project, omitting the requirement of Common Core alignment from the project directions. Experiences in the first version of the course led the first author to seek out targeted help from members of the professional community. This included inviting the second author to share an example of a scope and sequence aligned to the NGSS which corrected the lack of exemplars encountered in the first version of the class. She was able to offer feedback to the teachers on their projects and, due to her background in instructional design, served as a resource for writing learning objectives.

Lessons Learned

The AMNH tools were preparation intensive and sometimes cumbersome for a single facilitator. Of the five tools, the first and third tool were most appropriate for the course. The most common feedback from the teachers was that we spent too much time on the tools and they would have liked to spend more time on their own scope and sequence.

The first AMNH tool teaches the concept of bundling, in the context of a middle-level unit on ecosystems. This includes DCIs, PSEs, CCCs, and connections to Common Core, nature of science, and engineering, all centered on a common storyline. Building bundled units piece by piece is a powerful teaching method. The structure that exists within the NGSS is markedly different from the content-focused RI GSEs that were designed to be taught sequentially and in isolation.

The third tool is about building units and employs the 5E method to teach three-dimensionally. While most of the teachers had heard of the 5E method, few knew it well and very few used it as their sole method of building units. Comparing the traditional teacher to one who uses the 5E model helped illustrate how classrooms would change under the NGSS. The materials introducing the 5E method were quite clear and easy to follow.

Version 3.0

The third version of the course ran in the fall of 2016 and the second author was invited to serve as the teaching assistant. We revised the class again, keeping AMNH tools one and three, and reintroducing the Science of Common Things and the Teaching Gap into the readings. The time was again redistributed, and ended up where it had originally been. Again, the required textbooks remained unchanged.

Having conducted the course twice using different methods and materials, the authors felt that we were approaching the final version of the course. Lessons learned in the two previous iterations, along with course evaluations from teachers, guided making improvements. The discussion of the history of change in science education was helpful for teachers to situate the transition to the NGSS into a context of other curricular changes. Teachers, through course evaluations, requested more time for the final project, thus it was necessary to reduce the time spent on the NGSS tools.

Course Design

Again, we maintained the three-phase structure that had been used in the previous two versions of the course. To accommodate all of our goals we expanded phase one, contracted phase two, and introduced the final project earlier in the semester. This allowed us to use the time spent with the tools in phase two to help teachers begin to construct their final project.

Phase one in this iteration of the course largely returned to the structure followed in version 1.0. We kept the same emphasis on modeling three-dimensional instruction though it began earlier in the semester. More emphasis was placed on the Bupp change curve (1996) as we were able to incorporate it from the very beginning.

The second phase of the course represented a melding of the previous versions. Tools one and three from AMNH along with the four circles activity and the close read of appendices F, G, and K formed the curriculum. Significant time was spent on the four circles activity as it served as the lens through which we looked at appendices F and G. The 5E model was discussed in detail and teachers were instructed to design a 5E unit plan based on their current curriculum. This assignment helped familiarize teachers with 5E instruction and served as an example for their scope and sequence.

The final project for the teachers was a full-year scope and sequence including the following: one-third of the standards for their grade band, defined units of study based on bundled performance expectations, measurable and observable objectives, alignment to the 5E model, and a reasonable timeline of instruction. An example can be found here.

Lessons Learned

Teachers continue to notice that the NGSS build from K through 12 and high school teachers are reliant on the work of middle and elementary science educators. Committing to the NGSS therefore requires a trust in others’ work which some teachers lack. Another comment, looking in the opposite direction, was that while the NGSS would be an effective way of increasing science literacy, a mismatch between the outcomes specified by the NGSS and faculty expectations of content knowledge at the college level would make college science classes difficult for students.

Other concerns raised by the teachers included system capacity to implement these changes, especially the need to strengthen elementary science education. Earth and space science education is not an area of certification in our state and coursework in Earth and space science is not required, by the state, for any certification. As science teacher educators we continue to advocate for changes in state-level certification policy and provide resources to teachers who wish to develop their content knowledge.

Reflections and Conclusion

First Author

The changes made to this class have improved the students’ ability to explain the context for curriculum change, the goals of the NGSS, and the impacts on classroom practice. The content of the course remains a heavy load for practicing teachers; our goal is not to merely inform, but to change a teacher’s classroom priorities and practice. This is a shift of professional identity. Moving to less familiar methods and curricula could mean a decrease in effectiveness for some teachers.

While it came as a surprise originally, introducing the Bupp change curve (1996) gave teachers license to discuss their emotional reactions to those changes while providing them with a structure to understand and conceptualize their feelings. A change of this magnitude would be stressful for teachers even at the best of times. The NGSS represent a more profound change than many of our teachers initially realized. Coming as it does in our state, on the heels of other stressful changes such as pension reform, adoption of the Common Core, and changes to the teacher evaluation system, some teachers view the NGSS as professionally threatening. A fully aligned curriculum means changing content, pedagogy, and even the purpose of science education.

I have tried to make it clear to teachers that curriculum conversion is a slow process, and both AMNH tool one and the four circles activity emphasize that much of what teachers currently do will remain part of their practice. Tool three, several of the readings, and the scope and sequence final project all emphasize tradeoffs, but some teachers are reluctant to let go of any scrap of content. This holds true even as they examine less-than-great state science results and admit that more needs to be done with regard to science literacy and practice.

One teacher had trouble including waves as content in his chemistry course. As he said “they are important but really, that’s physics”. The response that was persuasive was “many of the tools of the modern chemist, like spectrophotometers, are based on waves and students need to understand how their tools work”. Other arguments had failed because this teacher identified himself as chemistry teacher and not as a science teacher (Paechter, 2002).

I am still concerned about the upcoming assessment; a poor-quality test could imperil the new standards, as the PARCC test did for the Common Core. Our state has dropped the PARCC in favor of the SAT at the high school level and is in the process of developing a Common Core-aligned assessment for the elementary and middle grades.

Interestingly, one of the patterns that emerged over the three versions of the course is that teachers from private schools and non-NGSS states are more willing to take innovative risks with their scope and sequence projects. The most innovative student produced a scope and sequence centered on natural disasters and preparedness. In addition to learning about extreme weather conditions, units also focused on first aid, the requirements to support human life, and signaling. This course, designed as an elective, was built to be interesting to students and featured a very strong use of backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). Course evaluations have been quite strong across all versions, ranging from good to excellent. While we cannot draw conclusions with statistical certainty, this phenomena is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Second Author

Long-term engagement with a course from a variety of perspectives has been an interesting, valuable, and unique opportunity. During the first version of the class, I was a graduate student. In the second, I was the example for the scope and sequence final project and guest assessor. I was asked to be the teaching assistant for the third version of the class, and then participated in the reflection that created the final version we are discussing here (included below). If needed in the future, I may even teach this class as an adjunct faculty member.

Participating in the process of course design, reflection, and re-design has been fascinating. When I was a student in the course, I was largely concerned with what was contained in the NGSS and how it would be implemented in my school. I have since served as the author of the NGSS-aligned biology curriculum for my school district. Conversations with my fellow faculty members have led me to believe that a large number of science teachers are resistant to the NGSS. Some of my colleagues stated that we would be on to the next sweeping change in pedagogy before long, meaning that the NGSS would amount to little more than a series of grand pronouncements, accomplishing little.

Given the concerns of my colleagues, and the poor performance that the students of our state have had on Earth and space science material in the past, I decided to write a scope and sequence for a high school-level Earth and space class. Our current model of teaching Earth and space science topics is to divide them up among Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, where they are every teacher’s least favorite topic and the one most poorly supported by resources. Years ago, there had been a determined effort to move Earth and space science entirely to the middle school. The test aligned to the pre-NGSS science standards has been a clumsy compromise between three states with different science curricula and different teacher certification policies.

Conclusion

We have learned that in order to go beyond the common, single-intervention professional development model, attention must be paid to the emotions of the participating teachers. Curriculum change is a complex process and, in this particular case, the shift to the NGSS is a change in content, delivery, and purpose. It changes what it means to be a science teacher and mid-career professionals benefit from support as they work through these changes. We are pleased with the results of this revised class and are happy to see that most of our teacher participants have made significant strides toward the NGSS. Teachers from this class were selected to rewrite the curricula for several districts. Additionally, teachers have presented at state and national conferences on the NGSS, including presentations on shifting to 3D instruction, challenges in curriculum design for the NGSS, and integration of the NGSS with the Common Core State Standards.  The course has also generated the beginnings of a community of practice across schools where teachers can share ideas and support each other in the transition to the NGSS.

The NGSS are a profound shift in science education and the professional curriculum development industry is still in the early stages of producing aligned materials. This leaves curriculum writing to teachers who have little experience with this work as it has been largely moved out of the hands of K-12 public school teachers in our state. One teacher described this challenge as:

I know that curriculum should be designed around student performance expectations, not a collection of disjointed factual information. That’s good. I know science and engineering practices, core ideas, and cross-cutting concepts are built in to the performance expectations–so that ultimately, when designed thoughtfully, assessments will measure student progress in all three. (also good) I know that there are a variety of ways to assemble a curriculum, and that teachers are being trusted with this responsibility. (also good) I know that design of effective instruction and assessment takes time and effort. This stuff is not quick and easy, but with practice I think the process will run more smoothly as time goes on.

Providing significant support for scope and sequence writing was essential. In hindsight, both authors had experience teaching in Catholic high schools where curriculum writing was an expectation and they developed proficiency with the required skills.

Providing teachers with concrete examples of NGSS-aligned instruction that they were allowed to experience from the perspective of a middle or high school student was critical. Inquiry has been more of a buzzword than an enacted pedagogy in many science classrooms. Three-dimensional instruction goes beyond inquiry and, as a concept, requires time and experience for teachers to grasp. In a final course evaluation one teacher stated:

I will think 3-dimensionally about the work addressing the performance expectations. I will look for cross-cutting concepts which appear between disciplinary core ideas and will look for opportunities to integrate scientific & engineering practices. By using the Performance Expectations, I have developed a scope and sequence which will allow a more investigative and student-centered learning approach. The days of ‘death by powerpoint’ are coming to an end!

It remains to be seen if there will be a clamor for professional development once scores are available from the new NGSS-compatible test from American Institutes for Research. If there is, we have a class that is ready for students. The class should be effective for teachers who are ‘non-volunteers’, but the opportunity to collect that data has not yet arrived.

An Integrated Project-Based Methods Course: Access Points and Challenges for Preservice Science and Mathematics Teachers

Introduction

It has long been understood that our abilities to transfer knowledge to new situations depend on the context in which the knowledge was acquired (Barab, 1999; Boaler, 2002b, 2016; Dewey, 1939). As the nature of jobs continue to change, there is a greater recognition that educational systems must also adapt to keep pace with shifting job markets (Markham, Larmer, & Ravitz, 2003; Pink, 2005) and changing understandings of the skills that will be required by the demands of the 21st century (Bell, 2010; Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), 2009; Pink, 2005). Recently, reform efforts have responded to this shift by redesigning the school experience around learning contexts that promote 21st century skills (Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), 2009). As state and national organizations continue to advocate for instruction that emphasizes conceptual understandings, connections, and problem solving (Berlin & Lee, 2005; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000, 2014; NGSS Lead States, 2013; Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), 2016, 2017)—particularly in mathematics and science—it is becoming even more essential that teacher preparation programs reconsider how they are preparing graduates to teach within this new educational landscape.

Interdisciplinary science and mathematics education may support calls for preparing students for a workforce that demands the application of diverse content and skills to solve challenging problems and design innovations (McDonald & Czerniak, 1994). These transferable connections between disciplines allow for real-world applications and transcend the fragmentation that occurs when subjects are taught in isolation (Hough & St. Clair, 1995; NCTM, 2014). Learning in this manner may simultaneously increase student achievement, autonomy, and motivation—and result in deeper, more connected learning (Barab, 1999; Berlin & White, 1994; Hough & St. Clair, 1995; Huntley, 1998; McGehee, 2001). Researchers have found that interdisciplinary STEM teaching has been shown to positively affect student attitudes and interests in these subjects (Berlin & White, 1994; Yasar, Maliekal, Little, & Veronesi, 2014).

Despite benefits for K-12 students, many teachers experience apprehension when being tasked with connecting mathematics with science in interdisciplinary teaching due to little to no experience with this type of learning (Frykholm & Glasson, 2005). Research suggests that when preservice teachers (PSTs) are prepared within mathematics and science interdisciplinary collegiate teaching methods course(s), they value interdisciplinary teaching and are more likely to emphasize content integration (Frykholm & Glasson, 2005; Koirala & Bowman, 2003). Thoroughly integrating science and mathematics education is challenging (Huntley, 1998), but can be paired with inquiry-based methodologies—such as project-based learning (PBL)—to foster sustained integration.

PBL has been defined in a myriad of ways (e.g., Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006; Markham, Larmer, & Ravitz, 2003; Moursund, 1999; Thomas, 2000). For the purpose of this article, PBL will be defined as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge” (Buck Institute for Education (BIE), 2018d, para. 1). Utilizing PBL as an instructional framework may reinforce content integration as it highlights the partnership between knowledge and its application (Markham, Larmer, & Ravitz, 2003). Students who learn through PBL approaches are found to efficiently construct and connect knowledge concepts (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Boaler, 2001; Braden, 2002; Larmer, Mergendoller, & Boss, 2015) which can then be transferred outside of the classroom (Boaler, 2002b; Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006).

Moreover, PBL has been shown to provide more equitable instruction to students across socio-economic classes (Boaler, 2002a), and to lower-achieving students (Han, Capraro, & Capraro, 2014). Secondary students who learned through project-based methodologies demonstrated increased engagement (Braden, 2002; Merlo, 2011), motivation (Bell, 2010; Boaler, 2002b; Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006), independence (Yancy, 2012), and an awareness of educational purpose (Larmer et al., 2015) compared to those who learn subjects independently. For example, longitudinal comparative studies find that high school students who learned through PBL had higher mathematics and science gain scores, increased problem solving abilities, had higher levels of enjoyment of mathematics, and completed more advanced mathematics courses than students learning through non-PBL approaches (Baran & Maskan, 2010; Boaler, 2002b; Boaler & Staples, 2008).

Although PBL does not require the use of interdisciplinary partnerships, researchers find that mathematics and science PSTs who are trained to teach through interdisciplinary PBL approaches are able to communicate real-life applications to students (see Wilhem, Sherrod, & Walters, 2008). Further, interdisciplinary PBL training of PSTs increase efficacy in content and pedagogy (Frank & Barzilai, 2004). While more research is needed on the effect size of PBL as an instructional approach, Hattie, Fisher, and Frey (2017) found that numerous components of interdisciplinary PBL instruction (e.g., formative evaluation, feedback, goals, concentration, persistence, engagement, second/third chance programs, cooperative learning, integrated curricula programs, inquiry-based teaching) have positive effect sizes in relation to their impact on student achievement. Given the research-based support and positive outcomes of both interdisciplinary STEM teaching and PBL, we merged these two approaches to implement an interdisciplinary mathematics and science methods course for secondary PSTs that utilized the PBL framework described above. This work describes the outcomes of its pilot implementation.

Context

This instructional methods course was part of a one-year teacher preparation program at a liberal arts university in the mid-Atlantic region. Prior to this pilot study, there were two sections for secondary mathematics and science PSTs, respectively, in which PSTs engaged in aligning national and state standards with instructional strategies and appropriate assessments. In the mathematics course, PSTs planned and implemented lessons aligned to state standards as well as those put forth by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM, 2000) while learning about various instructional theories, manipulatives, and instructional models. Similarly, the science planning course required science PSTs to develop 3-dimensional (NGSS, 2013), 5-E lessons (Bybee, 2009) that utilized the NGSS science and engineering practices in relation to disciplinary core ideas and performance expectations. The respective courses were required for science and mathematics majors who were pursuing licensure in secondary science or mathematics teaching and occurred before a 10-week, full-time clinical field experience (e.g., student teaching). This study describes how an interdisciplinary planning course was designed, the initial implementation of this course, and how PSTs utilized and perceived this experience. Prior to this experience, the mathematics and science PSTs had few opportunities to plan and teach together.

The interdisciplinary course was developed as part of a university teaching fellowship that the science educator participated in to diversify innovative experiences and non-traditional teaching approaches for university students. The science educator collaborated with the math educator to co-construct an opportunity for preservice math and science teachers to reflectively apply their skills and knowledge about co-teaching science and math in a PBL course. The instructors designed the course to build on the aforementioned students’ knowledge and experiences in their disciplinary-specific methods course that they had completed the previous semester.

The interdisciplinary course was designed to build on these understandings and refine PSTs’ ideas about teaching, co-designing math and science curriculum using technology and engineering design for students to investigate science and math problems, adapting instruction for the diverse needs of learners, developing inquiry-based lesson plans, working collaboratively, and engaging in sustained reflection throughout the course. Further, the instructors aimed to facilitate horizontal alignment and instructional collaboration between future teachers in science and mathematics. This goal is in accordance with the Virginia Mathematics Standards of Learning Framework (2009) which states that “science and mathematics teachers and curriculum writers are encouraged to develop mathematics and science curricula that reinforce each other” (p. v). Related to these goals, the instructors required preservice teachers to co-design an integrated science and mathematics unit that incorporated technology and adaptations for diverse learners.

Participants

A total of nine secondary PSTs participated in the interdisciplinary mathematics and science planning course, seven of whom would receive a license in a science teaching discipline, one who would receive a mathematics teaching license, and one who intended to be certified in both disciplines. Seven of the PSTs were pursuing their master’s degree in secondary education, and two undergraduates were working towards their secondary teaching license. The instructors of the course were the co-authors, one a math specialist and a Ph.D. student in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership, with vast experiences in project-based and inquiry-based curriculum design and implementation, and the other a professor of science education within the university with over a decade of experience supporting inservice STEM teachers and working on interdisciplinary and culturally responsive engineering designs that are used to inform teacher practice.

Description of Participant Experiences

In an effort to introduce the students to PBL and provide them with a foundational understanding of how PBL can be integrated into classrooms, PSTs observed PBL in action during their discipline-specific methods course the previous semester. These observations took place in a local high school that has partnered with the university. University faculty, including the science educator, worked closely with teachers in the local school to design and implement best practices in interdisciplinary teaching and PBL. Thus, the teachers that PSTs observed were innovative, vetted, and thoroughly immersed in professional development being delivered by institutional faculty. All students observed an interdisciplinary PBL-based physics and algebra class as well as a ninth-grade history-english class. These observations were arranged by the instructors, who accompanied the PSTs during the observations, and were followed up with classroom discussions to ensure that all PSTs had a chance to critically analyze and reflect on both the successes and challenges of PBL. As these observations preceded our instructional planning course, students entered the course with an understanding of how interdisciplinary PBL differed from traditional projects—a distinction we were keen to highlight from the start. Moreover, the PSTs came in with an understanding of how the shift to inquiry-based learning can transform classroom climate and classroom dynamics. Finally, the PSTs entered with an understanding of some of the struggles related to the implementation of PBL and were, therefore, expected to address many of these through the use of rubrics and standards-based intended learning outcomes.

The expectation of the instructional planning course was that the PSTs would work in interdisciplinary teams to develop projects that would engage secondary students in authentic learning (e.g., projects analyzing the impacts of real-world problems such as sea level rise in the local community). Three teams were created around areas of common interest. The first team included two PSTs who had backgrounds in chemistry, one of whom was seeking dual certification in mathematics. The second group included four PSTs—one PST with a mathematics background and three of whom had completed their major in environmental studies. The third group included three PSTs, all of whom had chemistry backgrounds and one of whom had a background in biochemistry as well. Ideally, we would have had more math PSTs in the course, which would have allowed us to make the groups more interdisciplinary. However, as that was not the case, we mitigated the problem by providing all groups numerous opportunities to consult with the instructors and other mathematics and mathematics education faculty members (as discussed later in the manuscript).

The instructors began the course by providing PSTs with a background into the research and history of PBL in order to allow them to ground their aforementioned observations in context and research. This was accomplished by incorporating selected readings (see Appendix A), presentations, and discussions—such as one focusing on the benefits and challenges of PBL-into the course. The instructors also required PSTs to read Setting the standard for project based learning, by Larmer, Mergendoller and Boss (2015), and engage with curriculum, resources, planning guides, and the “gold standard” PBL framework put forth by the Buck Institute. “Gold standard” PBL is a term coined by Larmer et al. (2015), and is comprised of eight research-based characteristics that support high-quality PBL: A focus on standards-based content and success skills, a challenging problem or question, sustained inquiry, authenticity, student voice and choice, reflection, critique and revision, and a public product. This framework scaffolded the design process for the PSTs and provided them with a common understanding of what high quality PBL is, and how to plan and structure effective PBL units. These resources were then supplemented with several banks of curated articles and support documents related to interdisciplinary education, project-based learning, collaboration, and on the effective use of rubrics in assessing student collaboration, communication, and learning (see Appendix A). These resource libraries were designed to allow PSTs to access resources as needed for support during the planning process.

After establishing a common understanding of the necessary components of high-quality PBL, PSTs were assigned the task of designing a PBL unit within their interdisciplinary teams. Due to the daunting nature of this task for those inexperienced with PBL, the instructors provided scaffolds by breaking the process up into smaller chunks—as described below—and by providing all groups with the project design template from the Buck Institute (BIE, 2018b). Furthermore, the instructors created a timeline of suggested due dates to allow groups to assess their progress throughout the course. The instructors met regularly with each group to provide feedback on their progress and formatively assessed PSTs throughout the course. These formative assessments were structured to provide feedback to both instructors and students by requiring various components of their units (e.g., driving questions and entry events), to be presented to the course. These presentations utilized the critical friends protocol (Bambino, 2002), thereby allowing PSTs to receive valuable critique from both peers and instructors within a safe environment.

The first task for each group was to create an authentic driving question and entry event that would engage future middle and high school students in the learning process. Our class used the definition of a driving question from Larmer et al. (2015) of “a statement in student-friendly language of the challenging problem or question at the heart of the project” (p. 92). We also defined an entry event as an intentional event planned by the teacher to stimulate student curiosity and engagement about the project topic (Boss, 2011). After receiving feedback from the instructors and peers, the PSTs used these driving questions to develop content-based and skill-based objectives for their future students that would be necessary to understand the driving question and develop well-articulated projects.

PSTs used blank calendars to align objectives to state mathematics and science standards and to include brief daily pedagogical plans for facilitating instruction. This activity was intended to have PSTs consider the pacing of their units. PSTs also included objectives to intentionally teach critical skills for PBL such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and citizenship (P21, 2009; VDOE, 2016) which were discussed and modeled in class and supported by providing the PSTs with copies of the rubrics from the Buck Institute (BIE, 2018e). The students created their calendars on Google Docs and instructors gave iterative feedback to support students in refining their ideas. These calendars provided an overview of their units and allowed the instructors to ensure that all intended learning outcomes were being met within a realistic pacing structure. A sample calendar from one PST group has been included in Appendix B as an exemplar of this process.

The instructors invited additional content experts to class to review entry events, driving questions, real-world connections, and to probe the PSTs to consider or reconsider strategies for building students’ skills. For example, a former practicing engineer and a multi-certified STEM educator came to support students in more thoroughly integrating mathematics in science-driven units. PSTs additionally connected with mathematics educators at the university. Additionally, at the midpoint of the course, the class virtually connected with two PBL experts via video conference to provide feedback on project ideas and driving questions—one of whom was an author of their textbook. The experts were provided with copies of their project ideas and driving questions in advance of the meeting, and spent an hour providing feedback, answering questions, and sharing experiential advice. The instructors facilitated this by reaching out to the author via E-mail, who then invited a second expert to the video conference. These experts drew on their own experiences with PBL to share key insights into designing effective PBL units and one expert even video conferenced in from a tiny-house that his students had built for him—thus making the experience more meaningful for PSTs by providing them with a vision of what is possible. Following this experience, the groups fine-tuned their questions and projects based on their new insights. Finally, PSTs also sought input from the teachers with whom they were working within the field to understand more about pacing and best practices to develop students understanding of selected science and mathematics content and skills.

In addition to unit planning, each peer group had to teach 30-45 minutes of an inquiry-based lab activity to their instructors and peers, clearly communicating expectations for group norms, collaboration, and communication for their students. At the end of the course, students gave a presentation to the class that narrated pedagogical decisions within the unit. Each group engaged their peers in the first day of their unit, presenting their entry event, driving question, and rubric for the project. The instructors asked PSTs to explain to their peers (as fellow colleagues) the learning goals of the project, a brief overview of the project calendar and timeline, and how their project taught 21st century skills while simultaneously covering requisite standards.

The final assignment was to have students complete a modified Buck Institute Collaboration Rubric (BIE, 2018a) for each member of the group. The rubric was adapted to an online format that utilized branching to tailor the questions to each group. Every PST was required to complete the rubric by reflecting on their own contributions as well as those of their peers. Doing so not only allowed for structured reflection on how well they collaborated with their peers, but also allowed for more holistic grading as these rubrics were then coupled with the project rubric to determine the final grades for each individual.

Data Sources and Analysis

The project design rubric from the Buck Institute (BIE, 2018c) was used to assess the quality of the three interdisciplinary PBL unit plans. The unit plans allowed us to see how PSTs operationalized this rubric to plan a small math and science project for future students. Data on the quality of the created units was generated by assessing the units and their subsequent presentations. Applying the Buck Institute Design Rubric (BIE, 2018c), we specifically assessed the following criteria: the inclusion of key knowledge and skills, a challenging, open-ended driving question that would allow students to look at myriad considerations in answering the driving question, multiple inquiry-based activities included in the unit that guide the understanding of the question and the development, the authenticity of the project in terms of its relevance to students’ lives within the contexts of their clinical field placements, the incorporation of opportunities to elicit student reflection into the unit, and opportunities for peer critiques and revisions.

Following the final presentation of the unit, PSTs formally reflected upon how the course prepared them to plan and teach through interdisciplinary, project-based learning, as well as their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the newly revised interdisciplinary teaching methods course. We followed-up with PSTs again approximately one year after the completion of the course. Students’ responses were read and discussed by both instructors. Each author applied in vivo codes (Creswell & Poth, 2018) to understand students’ perceptions of the course. The authors compared codes to ensure that all students’ experiences were accounted for. The codes were sorted into categories representative of course design, course implementation, and preparation for classroom teaching content. Two themes emerged across each category including “personal meaning and values in course learning outcomes” and “efficacy and practicality of PBL implementation.” These themes guided the discussion of students’ perceptions of the course, and key quotes were selected and presented within the “reflections from PSTs” section of this article to represent students’ perceived strengths and weakness of each theme. The authors elaborated upon quotes with observations that were documented throughout the course, specifically during group presentations, individual meetings, and the rationales of final products.

Quality of Interdisciplinary Projects

The three project units all focused on key knowledge and understandings that were aligned with clear standards-based learning outcomes, thoroughly integrating mathematics and science. All projects contextualized their projects through current issues taking place locally or in the media—organic products in grocery stores, water quality as it relates to health, and global warming. Here, we describe briefly the three units, areas of strengths, and areas that could be improved in terms of their alignment to the BIE Project Rubric (BIE, 2018b).

The first group created an integrated chemistry and personal finance project that focused on organic farming to teach standards related to bonding types, the use of lab equipment, the relationships between chemical properties and biochemistry, the economics of product pricing, advertising and decision making, the life functions of bacteria, protein synthesis, and the principles of scientific investigation. PSTs created the driving question of, “Should people in your community buy organic or traditionally farmed food?” PSTs planned for an opening peer-debate on students’ preconceptions of organic and inorganic foods. The PSTs showed how they would explicitly teach students to debate, teaching the skills of having to communicate and critique ideas related to organic farming. The PSTs developed research and inquiry-based activities for students to investigate the sources of organic and traditional foods in their neighborhoods, consider the extent to which genetic modification has played a role in the farming of these foods, and analyze the intended and unintended outcomes stemming from the use of antibiotics, pesticides, and bacterial growth. These labs were open-ended enough to allow for student voice and choice, but would have benefited from the intentional incorporation of time for students to reflect on their findings, reflect on the relevance of these findings to the driving question, and to critique and revise their work. The culminating experience of the unit was a presentation to members of the community and a mini-research paper.

The second group integrated chemistry, algebra II and English to address content standards related to solution concentrations, solubility curves, acids and bases, titrations, creating and conducting experiments, analyzing data, graphing and analyzing exponential and logarithmic functions, and persuasive writing. The group asked, “what are the actual differences between different types of water we drink?” Although this question is relevant to the lives of high school students who drink from water fountains at school, the question may have benefited from being modified into be more open-ended. The entry event demonstrated the Tyndall effect and compared water from the school fountain with a store-bought bottle of water. Students were then expected to assume the role of scientists by collecting water samples from various sources throughout the school and conducting several labs including creating their own purified water and determining the pH levels of water from different sources. Although these labs targeted key learning outcomes, they were structured with a degree of rigidity and with a narrow focus that limited the amount of student voice and choice, the intensity of the sustained inquiry, the amount of productive struggle (NCTM, 2014) that was encouraged, and the degree to which students would be able to critique and revise their work.

Finally, PSTs ended their unit with a jigsaw activity where students assessed the impacts that water quality can have on economic, health, and environmental considerations. Ultimately, students would share their purified water samples and then use marketing techniques to persuade their peers and school learners that their water was the best source. Throughout this process, PSTs planned for their students to have numerous opportunities to reflect on and share their findings by regularly documenting their learning on Instagram.

The final group created a unit that integrated Earth science, algebra 1, and English standards including conducting investigations, utilizing scientific reasoning, maps, the ocean, the impact of human activity on the earth, inferential and descriptive statistics, and oral presentations. These interdisciplinary standards can be seen in context in the project calendar in Appendix B and the project design overview (see Appendix C), which have been included to provide a more holistic picture of the unit. The group utilized a driving question of “how will sea level rise affect your community?” Their rationale for focusing on this topic was their belief that people are motivated to make personal changes when they are able to see the potential impact that rising sea levels will have on their own homes and communities. This topic was made authentic and meaningful for students because it was context-specific, exploring how sea-level rise affects the mid-Atlantic region in the future. PSTs engaged students by using the Maldives—a popular tourist destination which may be underwater in the coming decades. This entry event showed students how sea level rise could potentially devastate an entire nation in the near future. This sparked the impetus for local investigations of how sea level rise could affect students’ homes.

PSTs planned for their students to observe a variety of phenomena that included curated videos and images of thermal expansion and the ice caps. Additionally, students would observe and manipulate data through various modeling and mapping websites, and collect and analyze data to understand and predict the impact of sea level rise within a case-based model. The activities gave secondary students voice and choice in terms of allowing them to focus on their own neighborhoods, choose which sources they collected data from, and allowing the final presentation and infographic to be open-ended and uniquely creative. This final project and infographic was the culmination of sustained inquiry of the data, and showcased study analysis through charts, graphs, and images that displayed how sea-level rise could affect their hometowns. The PSTs planned a culminating event at which students would present their investigations and findings at a local oceanography seminar.

This project was chosen as an exemplar in part because of the intentionality the group showed in integrating key suggestions from the Buck Institute Design Rubric (BIE, 2018c) into their project. For example, as mentioned above, the groups entry event is one that would capture student attention and excitement in a way that would easily transfer to the driving question. Moreover, the group built in authentic, sustained inquiry by curating extensive lists of videos, websites, and sources of relevant data that students were then expected to synthesize and apply to a case-based analysis. Finally, PSTs planned for students to present findings at an oceanography seminar, allowing them to take on the role of scientists who are investigating this important issue. The only aspect of the project that necessitated further consideration was the degree to which independent learning opportunities were extended to K-12 students. Although several aspects of the project allowed for independent learning, we felt that more of the activities that were teacher-lead could have been more open-ended, allowing for a higher degree of student autonomy.

Reflections from PSTs

We asked the PSTs to reflect on the course outcomes immediately following the last class and then followed up with PSTs one year after the course to have them reflect on the aspects of the course that have been useful or not useful to them during their first year of full-time teaching. All PSTs wrote a reflection after the course and 5 of the 9 teachers emailed us a retrospective reflection. Following the course, students noted a more thorough understanding of what interdisciplinary PBL planning and implementation can look like. All PSTs felt more confident planning for a unit that incorporated two or more subject areas, and designing a small-scale project. Specifically, PSTs felt that the course prepared them to consider the logistics, need for communication between teachers, and pacing when implementing interdisciplinary PBL units. Moreover, the PSTs noted that the experience helped them become more creative educators and to value collaboration and peer feedback. PSTs perceived the size of the unit (2-3 weeks) as manageable, and a “great first look at the logistics of planning an interdisciplinary PBL.” One of our participants looks back as a first-year sixth grade teacher and notes that the class experience helped her to understand early PBL trainings that she is required to participate in through her school district.

This awareness developed the interest of some of the PSTs to begin implementing PBL into their classrooms. For example, one PST in the course actively sought out a PBL school to teach in during the course and was hired as a first-year science teacher following graduation. Currently, she works with other teachers across disciplines to thoroughly integrate standards and skills across thematic units to develop multifaceted projects. She shares:

Unlike most of my peers I would imagine, I teach in a school that operates through only PBL teaching, as well as mastery based grading with scientific skills, design thinking, and a set of core values. My current focus has been on building PBL projects that require students to work through several iterations using their design thinking while also developing their values. With a PBL, in my classroom, it has been less of a focus on content, but rather how you use skills to digest and interact with the content.

Other PSTs reported that they are either currently using PBL in their classrooms, using aspects of PBL to frame their instruction, or are hopeful that they will be able to use it in the future. For those who are beginning to incorporate projects in their classroom, a middle school mathematics teacher advises that “it is important to start small when first trying out PBL in your classroom… Don’t try to do all of it on your own and go for a really big and complicated project first time out.”

Prior to this course, the PSTs had no experience planning across disciplines, nor were they being mentored by teachers who collaborated in this way. PSTs noted the benefit of seeing the two methods instructors planning, culminating resources, and implement the course together. One PST said, “[the professors’] co-planning and organizational skills added to the overall effectiveness of the course.” PSTs enjoyed working with each other. This is evidenced by a mathematics PST who stated that their “favorite part [of the course] was getting to work with the science kids and hearing the different experiences they had in the classroom so I could learn from these experiences prior to student teaching.” PSTs hoped to collaborate with others in their future job, and viewed the course as “great practice collaborating with peers and different disciplines.”

Our analyses also supported the conclusion that PSTs wanted to learn more about the day to day routines and methods in the classroom. Evidencing this, one student shared that the instructors did “a phenomenal job in allowing us to plan on a larger scale…taking more time to identify what a day to day looks like would be more realistic for a classroom.” While we assumed PSTs felt confident in teaching methods from their experiences in the semester prior, it became evident that none of the PSTs’ cooperating teachers, and few of the positions that they secured post-graduation, utilized project-based learning and the ideas taught in instructional planning were new to the veteran teachers who were mentoring the PSTs. PSTs wanted more models and “more input from teachers that have actually implemented PBL in their units before.” Additionally, the PSTs felt that the course did not adequately prepare them for the difficulties of implementing PBL within schools that have not fully adopted it. As one PST noted, “a lot was left out in terms of actually implementing [the PBL units] and the roadblocks that occur during implementation.” The PST went on to suggest that the experience “revealed the importance of a whole school culture shift and support.”

Because PSTs were not placed within PBL schools with a focus on interdisciplinary planning and teaching, they felt that the course did not align to the actualities of their clinical field placement. While PBL units included a variety of instructional models to teach content and skills necessary for a culminating project, some PSTs had difficult with the overall practicality of the course. For example, one PST shared after the course:

While PBL mirrors the ideal teaching experience, it is not necessarily the reality of what
we will be facing in our 10 weeks of student teaching. I think that the overall course was effective and useful, but I do wish that the course scaffolded our 10 week student teaching experience a bit better.

This point was similarly made by an earth science teacher who looked back on the class:

The PBL lesson planning remained mostly theoretical and abstract. Since we were not expected to or could not implement them in our student teaching experiences, we could design the best possible PBL units—not the most realistic…Possibly designing a lesson for a school that has already made the switch to PBL rather than designing units for science classes that have had no to very little prior exposure to PBL would have been more practical.

PSTs felt that more practice developing and implementing more traditional lesson plans would have better prepared them for the normal classroom and for their current students, rather than for the ideal. One PST suggested that it would be possible to learn both PBL and traditional teaching methods if “PBL could be factored into the methods course with [the instructional planning] course focusing more on diverse teaching methods.

Despite these feelings, the PSTs valued the course and follow-up reflections suggest that they will continue to draw from their class experiences with their future students. They see interdisciplinary PBL teaching “as way of the future.” Most significantly, the teachers perceived the course with emphasizing the importance of making learning more meaningful and relevant to students. One teacher explains- “I have transferred a lot of the aspects of PBL to my everyday teaching style…Most importantly, the student directed learning, the importance of real, meaningful questions and data and impactful summative assessments.” Our practicing PBL science teacher explained that the class helped to shift her mindset from “grading on something other than content standards and the importance of that in creating well rounded students.”

Conclusion and Implications

The pilot implementation of an interdisciplinary mathematics and science PBL course produced promising outcomes that can continue to be developed through future iterations of this course. By students producing PBL unit plans, PSTs were able to conceptualize how collaborative planning can be achieved as well as interdisciplinary, real world contexts (Wilhem, Sherrod, & Walters, 2008). Importantly, the PSTs valued stepping out of their disciplinary silos and working with others outside of their expertise. The PSTs were able to observe integrating content areas in action, and many noted how integrating mathematics and science instruction enriches both content areas. Such activities are important for preservice teachers to consider what school can look like even when it is different from their own personal experiences (Frykholm & Glasson, 2005; P21, 2009).

A common challenge perceived by the PSTs during and after the course was the alignment of instructional methods courses with clinical field placements, a challenge frequently addressed in teacher education research (see Allen & Wright, 2014). Ideally, such placements would align with coursework to allow PSTs to apply new pedagogical knowledge, such as knowledge of integrated PBL, in the classroom (Zeichner & Bier, 2015). As this was not the case here, the PSTs in this study felt a disconnect between the pedagogical strategies learned in the course and the ones that they were observing from the mentors. The result of this disconnect was that the PSTs preferred a smaller sample of PBL, and more of an emphasis on diverse teaching methods. It is important for the PSTs to realize (and articulate to mentor teachers), that PBL requires a diverse array of pedagogical strategies, mini lessons, and formative assessments to prepare students to develop a final product. PBL is not a strategy, but rather an umbrella that can cover all of the strategies that teachers have learned. It is, therefore, important that PSTs realize that teachers using PBL still have to use diverse instructional strategies like modeling, investigating, and developing explanations to create a comprehensive interdisciplinary project.

As one of our participants noted, interdisciplinary PBL is best supported when there is buy-in from teachers and school leaders. For preservice teachers to realistically see how this method and mindset of planning and teaching plays out, it is important that they have clinical field placements in schools with teachers who have experience with cross-disciplinary planning and PBL (Zeichner & Bier, 2015). It is well-established that the mindsets, experiences, and practices of mentor teachers carry over to teachers-in-training (Carano, Capraro, Capraro, & Helfeldt, 2010). At the very least, methods course instructors should consider including mentor teachers in project development so that unit products can logistically be implemented in classrooms. We also note that a limitation of this study is that we only had one math preservice teacher. In addition to mediating this by having PSTs collaborate with professors in math, science, and engineering in class, it may also be beneficial to have science PSTs collaborate with mathematics mentor teachers (and math PSTs with science mentor teachers) to develop robust, interdisciplinary units.

The development and initial implementation of this interdisciplinary math-science planning course structure suggests benefits of this model to students. While not a focus of this study, the development of this course was a PBL experience for the instructors—a project that was continuously reflected upon and redesigned based on the formative feedback of the PSTs. We, therefore, recommend continuous planning sessions between instructors who desire to co-teach in a similar manner along with reflective sessions after each class to revise instruction for future iterations. We also recommend that instructors intentionally model key components of such structures to their PSTs. Such components include bringing in outside experts, co-planning, and engaging in active reflection throughout the process.

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

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.

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

Introduction

It is more important than ever that teacher candidates have a clear understanding of why scientists do what they do and what science is all about. Science methods courses are opportunities to help students develop tools and skills to engage with and deepen their understanding of the nature of science (NOS), a necessary skill set for teaching at the elementary and secondary grade levels.  Dynamic activities, such as Cobern & Loving’s (1998) Card Exchange encourage teacher candidates’ inquiry, and critical thinking about NOS and the incorporation of cross-curricular literacy strategies promotes cooperative, collaborative interactions between students.

The consensus among science organizations is that developing an understanding of NOS should be one of the primary objectives of science teaching and learning. Organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993), National Research Council (NRC) (2013), National Science Foundation (NSF) (1996) and National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) (2012) recognize that understanding NOS is as essential to student success in science as scientific knowledge and skills. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) (2008) has also called for the restructuring of teacher preparation programs to ensure science teachers are confident in both their science content knowledge and ability to engage students in the NOS.

Cobern and Loving’s (1998) Card Exchange “works well,” explains Cobern (1991), “because it begins with students getting up, moving around, and talking to each other, things almost all students like to do” (p. 45). The card exchange is an engaging and non-threatening method of introducing NOS to teacher candidates.  It allows for students to reflect upon their conceptions of NOS that lead to both small group and class-wide discussion on NOS.

Teacher candidates have commented that the card exchange was not only fun but also gave them a better understanding of how and why we do science. Students comments on the card exchange noted the activity broadened their perception of science, enhanced their ideas about science, and increased their appreciation the role of philosophy in science. They have also reported increased confidence and science teacher self-efficacy. However, despite enjoying the overall experience and providing positive reviews about the card exchange, some teacher candidates have had difficulty with the vocabulary and card statements used during the exchange.

This article explores how integrating simple, constructivist cross-curricular vocabulary and literacy instructional strategies teacher candidates needed tools and skills to engage with Cobern and Loving’s (1998) Card Exchange.  It also describes the integration of simple, yet powerful, vocabulary and literacy instructional strategies. The incorporation of dynamic literacy strategies encouraged students’ inquiry, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills and has transformed the card exchange into a broader and more impactful activity for teacher candidates.

Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange

The game is run as described by Cobern and Loving (1998) with some minor changes. While Cobern and Loving (1998) describe running the card exchange in classes of 30 to 40 students, I run it in classes of 15 to 25 students with each student receiving six cards.  I have also taken to numbering the cards and card statement categories consecutively.

Cobern and Loving’s (1998) process takes students from an internal dialogue on the card statements towards building group consensus (first in groups of two and then in groups of four) and finally a whole class discussion. The overall structure of the exchange allows students to debate the merits of some statements over others and share their thoughts on statements with others in the class.

1) Six to eight cards are distributed randomly to students.  They have 5 minutes to read their cards and think about what the statements mean and rank their cards from their most to least favorite statement.

2) Stage I (10 minutes): Students trade cards (one-for-one) with each other to try to improve their hands.  Their goal is to gain more cards with which they agree while discarding cards they do not like.

3) Stage II (10 minutes): Students pair up and compromise to reach eight cards on which both can agree.  During this process, students must contribute at least three of their cards.  Students return extra cards to the instructor.

4) Stage III (15 minutes): Students form groups of four, (two pairs) and compromise to reach a total of eight cards on which all four students can agree.  During this process, each pair must contribute at least three of their cards.  Students return extra cards to the instructor.  Students then rank the cards in order of importance and write a paragraph statement answering the question “What is Science?” based on their cards.

At the conclusion of the game, groups share their statements aloud and other groups comment.  What follows is a discussion as to why a group chose some cards and rejected others and cross-group discussion.  Students debate the merits of some statements over others and share their thoughts on statements with which they agreed but were not chosen by the group and vice versa. Additionally, Clough (2011) suggests questions relating NOS and science education such as “how does the work of [insert scientist(s)] illustrate that data does not tell scientists what to think, but instead that creativity is part of making sense of data?” (p. 58) that can be used to create classroom discussion and debate.

Card categories and statements of their meanings are revealed at the conclusion of the activity as part of an overall group discussion on NOS. This revelation has led to exciting student insights into biases that exist concerning NOS and individual versus group preferences for statements during the card exchange activity. Finally, I allow time to address questions and comments students might have about the game or NOS in general.

Reflections on The Card Exchange

During the card exchange, teacher candidates often experienced difficulties with the vocabulary and the wording of card statements.  The students’ inability to unpack the meaning of the cards in the time allotted prevented the game from flowing the way it was supposed.

While not technical, the card statements can be confusing. Students found the concepts described in non-technical and procedural vocabulary on the cards to be abstract and lacking in contextual detail. The words and phrases “operate with expectations,” “strive,” “refined,” “logical construct,” “dogmatic,” “pragmatic,” “social negotiations,” “Nature has nothing to say on its own behalf,” and “infallible propositions” on cards 1, 2, 5, 12, 31, and 38 respectively were sources of confusion and frustration for some students. The dense wording on some cards also proved to be a source of student frustration. On more than one occasion, after I explained a card statement, students responded “Well why doesn’t it just say that!” or “Why do they have to use all these big words?  Why can’t they just say what they mean?”

One of the factors that make the card exchange work is the pace. Momentum builds throughout the game as students move from working individually to pairs to groups of four and finally to the broad class discussion. This pacing gets lost when the game is put on hold to address vocabulary and phrasing of the statements. These types of discussions are still teachable moments and can improve student literacy and can eventually lead to a better understanding of NOS. However, valuable class time was spent defining terms and unpacking the meanings of card statements instead of thinking about and discussing the statements to advance their understanding of NOS. What should be an exciting experience becomes frustrating to students and teachers and a tool that can help gain a better understanding of NOS is ignored and discarded.

Literacy Strategies for NOS Learning

The adoption of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is changing the way teachers and students approach and engage in science content through crosscutting concepts that connect core ideas in different disciplines.  It is also, to a certain extent, changing the language that teachers are using.  Science already relies heavily on the use of specific vocabulary.  Ardasheva and Tretter (2017) note “a pressing need for all students to master the academic language and vocabulary” (p. 252).  This includes science-specific technical terminology (e.g., ‘photosynthesis’), non-technical vocabulary (e.g., ‘component’), procedural/signal vocabulary and general academic vocabulary (e.g., ‘the result of’) (Ardasheva & Tretter, 2017; Harmon, Hedrick, & Wood, 2005; Taboada, 2012).

Researchers such as Miller, Scott, and McTigue (2016), Shanahan and Shanahan (2012), and Vacca, Vacca, and Mraz (2016) believe literacy activities and strategies aid to encourage students’ interest, inquiry, critical thinking, and problem-solving in disciplines such as science. Reading and language ability has been shown to be factors that impact student achievement in science (Reed, Petscher, & Truckenmiller, 2016; Taboada, 2012).  Like my students, Collier, Burston, and Rhodes (2016) have noted that science-specific vocabulary is akin to learning a second, or for some students a third, language.

Integration, repetition, meaningful use (Nagy, 1988; Nagy & Townsend, 2012) and scaffolding (Jung & Brown, 2016; Van Laere, Aesaert, & van Braak, 2014) can be applied to the Card Exchange to support student achievement in both literacy and NOS. Research by Harmon et al. (2005) describes independent reading, providing context, student self-selection of terms, and teaching targeted vocabulary words as strategies that support students struggling with the science-specific academic language.

The literacy strategies implemented in the NOS statement review for the Card Exchange promote cooperative, collaborative interactions among students.  The idea is to generate a more authentic form of hands-on and student-centered instruction, along with the possibility for a more meaningful, genuine, and personal kind of learning. Additionally, integrating literacy strategies with science concepts demonstrates how to integrate seemingly content-specific learning strategies across the curriculum (Moje, 2008).

Both the expansion from a one to three-week activity and introduction of the statements prior the card exchange game uses the principle of repetition – providing multiple exposures to targeted terms. “While this practice may seem obvious, it is an essential one, especially for those readers who need more time and repetition to learn key vocabulary than other students” (Harmon et al., 2005, p. 276). Rather than pre-teaching the statements, this solution offers students the opportunity to highlight, draw attention to, and then discuss difficult terms.

The structure of NOS statement review also utilizes the principle of meaningful use.  Students engage in individual reflective thought followed by small group and class-wide discussion of card statements. The students’ active involvement in this process, particularly their thinking about and discussing word meanings and using the new words meaningfully, leads to more learning and deeper processing of the underlying concepts of the card statements (Ardasheva & Tretter, 2017; Nagy, 1988).  Talking about ideas and concepts in a text can improve vocabulary, academic language development, helps students make sense of their thinking, and can foster academic language development.

The long-term goal is for students to learn science-specific technical vocabulary and integrate new words into their vocabulary. However, before the integration of unfamiliar words and phrases, it is necessary to scaffold science-specific academic language by presenting targeted terms in a way that is more familiar and contextual to students (Ardasheva, Norton-Meier, & Hand, 2015; Jung & Brown, 2016; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012; Vacca et al., 2016).

The NOS Statement Review

The NOS statement review gives students time to examine the statements individually, think about their meanings, self-identify words and phrases they find confusing, and discuss the statements in small groups and later as a class. Early introduction of the statements makes use of ‘powerful’ vocabulary instruction principles such repetition and meaningful (Nagy, 1988).  Additionally, the transformation of the Card Exchange from a once-and-done activity to a multi-class exercise encourages both independent reading and learning by allowing students to self-select words and phrases (Harmon et al., 2005).

The overall goal of the NOS statement review is threefold: 1) to help students unpack the card statements and gain a better understanding of their meanings, 2) the come to class-wide understandings on the meanings of the different statements, which could include rephrasing, and 3) to prepare students to participate in the Card Exchange activity.

The review is run in four phases over two class periods and mirrors the structure of the Card Exchange, which is run during the next class following the review.  During phase 1, students receive a graphic organizer (see Figure 1) with card statements from each of the card topic categories as a homework assignment at least two weeks ahead of the card exchange activity. The graphic organizer has the prompts “What do you think this statement means?” and “What word(s) or phrase(s) do you find confusing?”  Assigning it as homework allows students to read and reflect on their particular statements at their own pace. As students read through the cards, they are encouraged to answer the prompts and to circle or underline parts of the card statements (see Figure 2).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Graphic organizer for students with assortment of card statements and reflective prompts.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Student work sample.

Phases two through four occur during the following class.  During phase two, students use their completed graphic organizers and are given ten to fifteen minutes to have several small group discussions.  First, they are grouped (two to three students) based on the number in the upper right-hand corner of their worksheets. This ensures that students with the same card statements have the opportunity to share their thoughts and comments with classmates that read and reflected on the same statements.

Phase three involves students moving around and meeting with classmates who were assigned different card statements.  Students have ten to fifteen minutes and can meet one-on-one or in small groups of no more than four students.  The groups must consist of students with different card statements, and each member of the group must have the opportunity to share.

As the instructor, both phases two and three are opportunities to circulate work with students individually or within the small groups.  It is a time to listen to student conversations, ask guiding questions, address individual concerns and questions.

During the fourth phase of the NOS statement review, all of the students come together to engage in a class review and discussion. Students receive a second worksheet (see Appendix) with all of the card statements and students are invited to share their respective statements with the entire class.  Cross-group discussion is encouraged with the instructor as moderator.

At the conclusion of the NOS statement review, we try to come to some understandings about specific terms used in the card statements and what they mean in and out of science.  Sometimes the discussion involves the rewording of a statement.  For example, in one class statement 12 (see Appendix) was reworded to read “Science is never opinionated; it is practical and open-minded – always subject to adjustment in the light of solid, new observations.” In another class, statement 32 (see Appendix) was reworded to say “When scientists work together they can be influenced by each other.  Therefore, it can be hard to identify alternative ways of thinking.” Finally, students are then encouraged, but not mandated, to look over all the statements before the card exchange activity during the next class (week 3).

Discussion

Introducing and discussing NOS is still tricky and finding active methods to engage students in NOS discussion can be a challenge.  Herman, Clough, and Olson (2013) lament that “much is understood about effective NOS teaching and learning, but while the phrase nature of science is widely recognized by science teachers, accurate and effective NOS instruction is still not widespread” (p. 2). Since language ability is quickly being recognized by both NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012) and NGSS (2013) as a critical component of student success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) the integration of literacy strategies can help address both NOS and literacy skills for students of all ages.  Integrating simple, yet effective, literacy strategies in the form of a NOS statement review before Cobern and Loving’s (1998) Card Exchange transforms the activity into one that emphasizes both NOS and literacy skills.

Early Introduction: A Double-Edged Sword?

The introduction and repetition of the card statements benefit students by providing them with time to reflect upon and discuss the meanings of the NOS statements.  However, there was a fear that a review could take away from the trading aspect of the game. By reading, reflecting, and discussing the statements, students could have already made up their minds about the statements before the actual activity.

Since implementing the NOS statement review, I have asked students to provide feedback on whether the review enhanced or took away from the Card Exchange.  Students (n = 64) were asked to fill out a short online survey at the conclusion of the card exchange that asked them to rate two statements about the NOS statement review and card exchange on a four-point Likert-like scale (1 = strongly disagree:4 = strongly agree).  The voluntary survey has an average response rate of 87.7%. In response to the statement “Reading, reviewing, and discussing the card statements ahead of the card exchange enhanced the card exchange game” 81.8% responded that they “strongly agree.” Conversely, 78.2% “strongly disagreed” that reading, reviewing, and discussing the card statements “took away” from the card exchange game.

One of the more difficult aspects of the NOS statement review, mainly during phases three and four, was keeping students focused.  During both small group and class-wide discussion, students kept veering away from focusing on the meanings of the statements instead wanting to debate the merits of the statements.  While appreciating their enthusiasm, they were reminded throughout these phases that they would have the opportunity to debate the merits of the statements and whether they agreed or disagreed with them, during the Card Exchange.

Conclusion

The importance of understanding NOS is important to the science and science education community.  However, there is still a need to find interesting and exciting methods of engaging teacher candidates as well as elementary and secondary students in discussions about NOS. Cobern (1991) concluded his original article stressing the card exchange activity’s effectiveness at hooking his students into discussing and considering NOS – a subject, according to him, they had previously avoided. Speaking about science teacher candidates, he noted that the card exchange “capitalizes on the innate gregariousness of students and the diversity of opinion among students” (p. 46) and stressed the need for “creative instructional strategies” for NOS instruction to be effective.

Despite the issues cited earlier with vocabulary and phrasing, the Card Exchange is still a creative and effective introductory NOS activity for both elementary and secondary teacher candidates.  Integrating cross-curricular literacy strategies, such as a NOS statement review, enhances the Card Exchange without taking away from the initial focus of the Card Exchange activity. Instead, it creates a deeper more meaningful learning experience for students.

Designing a Third Space Science Methods Course

Introduction

Science methods courses for preservice teachers (PSTs) can be redesigned not only for the benefit of these university students, but also for inservice mentor teachers (MTs). Embedding a methods course at a local elementary school creates a hybrid or “third space” (Zeichner, 2010) in teacher education with the opportunity of helping guide both preservice and inservice teachers toward inquiry-based teaching practices and three-dimensional science instruction as envisioned by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Three-dimensional science instruction involves designing lessons and units around disciplinary core ideas from science content, scientific and engineering practices that these fields of inquiry use, and crosscutting concepts that are themes found in all of science. This article will describe how this model was implemented and revised over six academic semesters with a vision of improving science education for both current and future teachers.

The Third Space of Teacher Education

The traditional model of preservice teacher education in the United States consists of methods courses in which PSTs learn pedagogy in university classes. Then, PSTs apply what they have learned in field experiences in schools (Cochran-Smith, & Lytle, 2009; Korthagen & Kessels, 1999). Thus, the first two “spaces” of teacher education are the academic college classroom and the field practicum/student teaching site. A “third space” approach to teacher preparation seeks to break down the divide between the practical knowledge of the K-12 school and the academic knowledge of the university during the early and mid-stage “methods courses” (Zeichner, 2010).

Zeichner argues that third spaces in teacher education move away from the view of academic knowledge as the authoritative source of knowledge. He states that in the traditional college classroom, academic knowledge is privileged over practical knowledge. A third space reduces this privileging. One of Zeichner’s categories of third spaces includes mediated instruction and field experiences in which methods courses can be taught in an elementary or secondary building in such a way as to leverage the practical knowledge of the inservice teachers. An effective third space methods course requires that university faculty develop collaborative relationships with teachers so that university faculty also engage in learning (Taylor, Klein, & Abrams, 2014). Also, the course schedule needs to be designed for the benefit of PSTs being in classrooms rather than convenience of scheduling the activities and discussions led by the university instructor (Sanderson, 2016).

Third space methods courses have been shown to have positive effects on PSTs and MTs. Examples of third space methods courses were found in the literature related to math methods more than examples of science methods. These examples guided the work of the university-school partnership being studied in this paper. While from math education research, the focus on reforming the instructional practices of preservice and inservice teachers toward methods that engage students in understanding concepts more than procedural knowledge make them relevant to the design of a third space science methods course.

Bahr, Monroe, and Eggett (2014) argue for the importance of structural interweaving and conceptual interweaving when designing a third space course. The five structural elements are (1) an immediate application of methods in clinical settings, (2) gradual increase in teaching responsibility in clinical work, (3) methods instructor supervision of clinical work, (4) relationships between inservice and preservice teachers that enhance mentoring, and (5) partnering preservice teachers with each other in shared clinical placements. Conceptual interweaving involves ensuring that the inservice teachers understand and use methods that preservice teachers are taught in their methods coursework. These elements have all been used in the design of the science methods course for this paper.

PSTs showed significant positive change in their beliefs about reform-based mathematics instruction in a third space methods course (Bahr & Monroe, 2008). PSTs also showed positive changes in their beliefs toward teaching math with reform practices when taking the course alongside inservice teachers (Bahr, Monroe, Balzotti, & Eggett, 2009). Wood and Turner (2015) used a shared task of analyzing problem solving interviews with elementary students between PSTs and inservice teachers to create a third space with rich pedagogical conversations between PSTs, inservice teachers, and the university instructors. University instructors labeled inservice teacher statements and findings with appropriate academic pedagogy to link academic and practical knowledge.

Another study (Bahr, Monroe, & Shaha, 2013) compared a math methods class that was followed by a practicum against a methods course that had college-peer teaching. Both groups had statistically significant changes in their beliefs toward teaching math with a reform pedagogy, but the greatest change was by those who had the integrated practicum, even though the teachers used traditional practices. If science methods MTs teach with non-inquiry-based practices, this suggests that the placement will still benefit the PSTs.

Overview of a Third Space Elementary Science Methods Course

The methods course described by this paper is a semester-long (14-15 week) course which consists of a single meeting time each week for 150 minutes. The course meets approximately 10-12 times at a local elementary school with the other course sessions being conducted asynchronously online. There are no on-campus meetings. The online class periods are a practical measure to deal with scheduling conflicts with the elementary school (e.g. book fairs or assemblies) and student preference to reduce overall driving requirements since the site is about 35 minutes away from the college campus. Pedagogical instruction occurs in the school library, led by the university professor. PSTs spend time each week with an inservice MT in his/her classroom.

This course evolved from a traditional campus-based science methods course that consisted of two 75-minute sessions per week that included four class periods in a local elementary school at the end of the course. Groups of PSTs taught a sequence of four lessons to apply their knowledge from the methods course. The third space course balances pedagogical instruction and application-oriented fieldwork each week. The third space course readings were basically the same as the traditional methods course, given the continual updating of articles used. The assignments also began being the same as the traditional course but evolved to mostly be lesson plans that required application of different pedagogical concepts.

The principal initially recruited nine teachers to serve as MTs for the first semester of the third space methods course. Of these nine, three had served as MTs under the previous model of the course. Additional teachers were recruited so that all grade levels (five-year-old kindergarten through sixth grade) were included. The number of volunteers grew to 15 MTs collaborating in the sixth semester of implementation. MTs are volunteers and not compensated. All grades from K-6 are used for this methods course because licensure in this program’s state is for general education in the elementary and middle school.

This science methods course addresses many of the structural elements of Bahr et al. (2014). There was an immediate application of methods strategies in a classroom, a gradual increase in teaching responsibilities, supervision by the methods professor of the practicum work, a natural emergence of a mentoring relationship between the preservice and inservice teachers, and the partnering of preservice teachers into pairs to teach in the elementary classrooms. When the course was beginning, PSTs were each assigned to their own MT and classroom. As enrollment grew, they teach in groups of two most of the time, but there are some singles. The conceptual interweaving of the philosophy of the MTs and the university instructor was constructed through relationship building between the university instructor and MTs through weekly professional interactions in the building and the collaboration between the PSTs and MTs during the lessons planned and led by PSTs. The university professor would arrive early each week and stop by the teacher’s classrooms to ask if there were any concerns. A basic understanding of the philosophical foundations of the methods course is shared through a meeting before the school year in which the professor shares lesson plan expectations and rubrics. Because lesson plans are required to have elements of inquiry and the NGSS, the MTs became at least aware of these elements.

Building a University-School Partnership

Before designing a third space methods course, an interested school partner needs to be identified and a relationship formed. The partnership described in this paper developed gradually. It actually began with a “cold call” email from the professor to the school principal asking if any of the inservice teachers would be willing to host groups of four science methods students to teach a sequence of four lessons. The principal was receptive as a service to the education profession. Inservice teacher volunteers were identified and matched with the PSTs. After three years of this cooperation, an outreach grant opportunity emerged. The principal collaborated with the professor to write the grant proposal which was funded. This provided funds for some professional development opportunities for the inservice teachers. The timing was also very opportune. The district was investigating new science curriculum series for adoption the following year and the professional development conversations around science instruction were hoped to guide this process.

Once the grant funding was over, both the district and the university were interested and eager to continue the partnership. It has been conducted without additional funding from either party. The district continues to provide the meeting space in the school library and the instructor teaches the course as a part of a standard teaching load. As new teachers have volunteered to serve as MTs, they have been oriented to the program with a brief, half hour session in which they are introduced to the schedule and the lesson planning rubric. Other university-school partnerships could be created without the luxury of grant funding so long as both parties realized that the relationship building between the instructor and inservice teachers will take time to develop. Also, MT knowledge of lesson planning expectations will likely develop further over time.

Design Improvements for Third Space Methods Courses

The course design was improved each semester based upon feedback by both PSTs and MTs. Each of the categories of improvement are described separately to allow for other methods course instructors to focus their instructional design on specific elements. The initial schedule of the course is presented in Table 1. Modifications to the course during the first four semesters were relatively minor because the number of students enrolling stayed small (6-9) during the first three semesters. After 24 students (the maximum) began enrolling in the fourth semester and beyond, the course structure was modified much more taking the greater amount of PST feedback into account. The revised schedules for the fifth and sixth semesters are presented in Tables 2 and 3 respectively. The broad categories for improvements are each explored below. Table 3 displays the current format of the course.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Initial Third Space Methods Course (150 minutes, once weekly)

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Revised Third Space Methods Course (5th Semester) 
Table 3 (Click on image to enlarge)
Revised Third Space Methods Course (6th Semester)

Informal Structure to Formal Structure

With the initial course only having six students enrolled, the structure was informal. Discussions about assigned readings on pedagogy were conducted with the whole group. Some model lessons demonstrating the 5E instructional model (Bybee) were also conducted by the professor with the PSTs in the role of students. The mentor teachers asked for the PSTs to come into their classrooms at a variety of times, so PSTs flexibly left the whole group activities and went into the classrooms. This allowed time for the university professor to go and observe the PST planned and led instruction and to give feedback.

As course enrollment grew to 24, the course had to adopt a more structured approach. The classroom times with the mentor teachers continued to vary due to practical limits (different prep schedules, recesses, etc.). An attempt to use online activities during the course meeting time to model inquiry and the scientific and engineering practices from the NGSS was not received well by the PSTs who felt that they should be able to do those activities on their own time. The eventual schedule that worked well in the sixth term was to work with the mentor teachers so that they agreed that to schedule their science lesson times to be at only one of two start times (9 or 10 AM) rather than a variety of times. Most of the teachers moved their normal science time (in the afternoons) into the meeting time of the methods course. The PSTs then were divided into a group that went into the classrooms at 9AM and another at 10AM. The professor then led active group activities and pedagogy discussions for the half of the PSTs not in the classroom during each hour block. This led to better results in terms of PST engagement with discussions and activities, which preserved the “methods” component of the course so that it did not become a practicum with occasionally professional development.

Role of Online Modules

The course has used a blended learning format since its beginning, in part due to the commuting times (about 30 minutes) from the campus to the participating school site. However, this was leveraged to move content that was factual outside of the face-to-face class time, similar to the flipped classroom philosophy (Educause, 2012). All online activities were created by the professor. This includes creation of question banks for low stakes quizzes. During the first few semesters, this involved pedagogical readings on the Nature of Science and articles focused on knowledge-centered science, community-centered science, and learner-centered science.

The Nature of Science module included some readings and online quizzes assessing basic understandings about how science works, the difference between a theory and law, and other related topics. The other three online class periods focused on having students create their own presentation (usually with PowerPoint) with voice over narration summarizing an article and then leading an online discussion about it. Each student read a different article. When asked, PSTs did not find these online modules productive or useful and they reported disliking the making of the narrated presentation.

By the fifth semester, the online modules were mostly quizzes on the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards and two topics that were not able to be worked into the rest of the schedule (inclusive teaching and classroom management). While PSTs reported fewer problems with these online modules, the content was artificially paced for weeks when the course could not meet at the elementary school. This made it difficult to tie knowledge of NGSS elements (such as specific scientific and engineering practices) to expectations in terms of lesson planning.

Finally, in the sixth semester, a self-paced “module 0” was created for the dimensions of the NGSS and the overall concept of three-dimensional instruction called for by these standards (intertwining disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific and engineering practices). PSTs had until spring break (about 8 weeks) to complete these modules  that included both readings and quizzes with the quiz questions pulled from a question bank created by the professor. PSTs were allowed two attempts for each topic, but the questions varied each time from the bank. While PSTs were expected to include portions of the NGSS in lesson plans before the due date for the module. This requirement motivated them to complete modules before the deadline.

Time and Activities in K-6 Classrooms

For the first five semesters, mentor teachers could determine the length of time that the PSTs were in their classrooms. Topics were chosen by the MTs. Most of them asked the PSTs to teach a lesson from their current science unit (providing them with materials and planning guides). Some MTs have allowed PSTs to pick any topic. The model was for them to start by reading non-fiction science literature to the class for about fifteen minutes and to gradually build up to a 45-minute inquiry-based science lesson. As mentioned previously, a challenge was in coordinating these teaching times to permit some time for whole class discussion and activities in the library with the professor. Additionally, PSTs made many remarks similar to this one:  “I found it challenging that we only were actually in the classroom a few times. I didn’t feel as if I could really get to know the students, teacher, or classroom.”

For the sixth semester, it was collaboratively decided between the mentor teachers and the professor that PSTs would spend one hour each week in the K-6 classroom. It was acceptable if the PST helped with non-science instruction, especially in younger grades that did not typically plan on spending an hour on science. This was in response to PST feedback that they wanted more time in the K-6 classrooms in order to get to know the elementary students and mentor teachers better in order to be able to plan more effective lessons. It was received very well by PSTs and MTs during the semester.

Activities in the K-6 classroom originally consisted  of a gradual process of building up planning  expectations that moved from no planning to complete lesson planning. Observations were conducted during the first week. Students then acted as a helper. For two weeks, they brought science-related books into the K-6 classroom to lead a “read aloud” along with before (prediction), during (comprehension), and after reading questions (comprehension, synthesis). Using the 5E model (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate), they then added an additional “E” each week  until they were up to teaching two full 5E lessons at the end of the semester. The professor modeled aspects of the 5Es during the pedagogical part of the methods course.

For the fifth semester, PSTs moved more quickly into planning full lessons. Instead of picking their own science books, they were directed to use Everyday Science Mysteries (Konicek-Moran, 2008) in an attempt to incorporate more questioning into their lessons. They still were to select an Outstanding Science Trade book from the NSTA list to read to the class on a different day. Each of the planned lessons required them to incorporate either an element of the Nature of Science or one of the scientific and engineering practices from NGSS. Only the final two lesson plans were formally graded.

The 5E/7E lesson planning approach is no longer the cornerstone of the course that it had been. It continues to be presented as a model of inquiry (including a model lesson on magnetism using the 5E model in the first class period). This change is in part due to practical considerations of time with the greater emphasis on NGSS and more in class teaching time, but it is also philosophically a response to the scientific and engineering practices of the NGSS which do emphasize inquiry but also other methods and skills of science and engineering such as argumentation, computational thinking, and communicating information.

In the sixth semester, PSTs followed a similar pattern as the fifth semester, but they were required to submit a formal lesson plan for each week. This was in response to mentor teacher feedback requesting a mechanism to “force” PSTs to show that they had adequately planned before teaching their lessons. This created more grading for the professor, but it did lead to greater satisfaction by mentor teachers that their PSTs were prepared each week.

Role of Co-teaching

While co-teaching is recommended by Bahr  et al., it has been implemented in this setting mostly as a practical measure to utilize the number of mentor teacher volunteers each semester. The professor does consult with the principal to make sure that teacher volunteers are good matches with the philosophy of the methods course. Co-teaching was not really used until the fourth semester when the course enrollment reached 24 students. While two PSTs were assigned to a mentor teacher that semester, they were each expected to plan and lead their own 30 minute lesson and then act as an assistant for their peer’s lesson.

For the fifth semester of the course, PSTs were formally assigned as co-teachers to a mentor teacher’s classroom. They were given an article from Educational Leadership with several co-teaching models presented (Friend, 2015-2016). Table 4 summarizes these approaches. While the professor encouraged them to experiment with different models, PSTs generally used teaming (both PSTs acted as instructors at the same time in the front of the room) and some parallel teaching (where the students were in two groups with a PST leading each group). PSTs were required to show contributions through highlighting from each person on their graded lesson plans. In the sixth semester, 15 mentor teachers volunteered for a class of 24 PSTs, so co-teaching was not used by all of the PSTs. Once again, teaming was the most common approach  that those in a co-teaching situation used.

Table 4 (Click on image to enlarge)
Methods of co-teaching (from Friend, 2015-2016)

Role of the Mentor Teacher

Mentor teachers  have been collaborators in developing the course since its beginning. They have given important feedback in terms of projects and expectations for the PSTs. Their role has remained fairly constant in terms of being asked to give feedback to the PSTs on their initial lesson plans and after their delivery. This feedback does vary in quantity and quality. Some MTs provide emailed feedback during lesson planning while others indicate  that the plan is acceptable. Instructional feedback is primarily given verbally after the PSTs teach their lesson. While more formal feedback in a written form that could be directly shared with the professor is desirable, it has not been required so as to not add a burden onto the MT volunteers.

The only large change was in the sixth semester when mentor teachers were asked to allow the PST in their classroom for one hour each week rather than between fifteen and forty-five minutes. This was not reported to be a hassle, especially since it was clear that it was OK if the PST helped with non-science instruction. This added time was reported to really benefit the relationship between the PSTs and the mentor teachers by giving them time to get to know each other (as well as the elementary students) and for PSTs to be seen as a resource in the classroom. PSTs very much appreciate their mentor teachers and have said “The greatest benefit of this course was being able to be at the school every week and being able to interact with the teachers and students.”

When the school principal first agreed to collaborate with the university on this course, it was his hope that the methods course would serve as a change catalyst and a form of professional development in work (Bredesen, 2003) in comparison to models of professional development outside of work consisting of workshops or expert presentations. The National Academies of Sciences (2015) concluded that understanding how to best teach science requires inservice teachers to alter the way they teach even though they have little experience with the instructional practices described by the NGSS. A third space methods course presents itself as a vehicle for inservice teachers to experience inquiry-based models of instruction from the lessons based upon new models that preservice teachers design and teach in their classrooms. Interviews and lesson plan analysis do show initial support for the claim that the third space methods course helps engage inservice teachers in pedagogical change, increasing rigor, and understanding of inquiry-based instruction (Vick & Reichhoff, 2017).

Future Directions

This model of third space methods continues to expand at this university. While continuing the course at its current site, an additional section of the methods course will be conducted at an additional elementary school site  in a different school district in the coming academic year. Continuing challenges involve getting students to incorporate the concept of three-dimensional teaching from the NGSS in lessons. While students can connect lessons to the three dimensions, they are not yet fully connecting the dimensions in an integrated manner. For instance, the PST lesson plan may not have elementary students use a scientific practice to learn about or apply disciplinary core ideas. Also, finding better methods to engage PSTs in reflection is a high priority. Weekly reflections  were required during the sixth semester of the course, but they were often reports of what happened with a few sentences stating what went well and possibly something to change in the future. This was despite a requirement to include analysis and connect the reflection to the NGSS or other pedagogical ideas. PSTs often referred to the reflections as “busy work” in their course evaluations. Finally, feedback on teaching primarily comes from the mentor teacher, which seems to be acceptable to PSTs. However, the university professor would like to be able to give some feedback on instruction rather than just planning. While video recording of lessons is a possibility, concerns about elementary student privacy, logistics of a person moving the camera around during non-whole group instruction, and realistic workload  of the professor watching the videos are initial concerns. It is possible that video clips may be utilized in the future.

Suggestions for Starting a Third Space Methods Course

Professors and instructors interested in developing their own third space methods courses should consider some of the following during their planning and implementation:

  1. Begin by building a relationship with a school’s principal, possibly with mini-field placements or assignments with current models of instruction.
  2. Build relationships with the inservice teachers during this initial phase of collaboration. Make it clear that you value their practical knowledge in addition to your academic knowledge.
  3. Discuss with the principal how to recruit volunteer MTs. Discuss how to ensure that MTs will be open to the pedagogy of the methods course. They do not need to be experts in NGSS or inquiry. In fact, the school in this paper participated in order for teachers to receive “in practice” professional development about these concepts.
  4. Realize that activities and discussions from traditional methods courses may need to be modified to online activities or discussions to make time for the classroom work.
  5. PSTs may try to focus on lesson planning with a peer rather than focusing on instructional activities during the portion of class led by the professor. Be sure to lay out clear expectations for participation in sample lessons and other pedagogical activities.
  6. Be sure to include PST feedback and MTs in course revision each semester. Inservice teachers need a voice in planning.

Conclusion

In summary, a third space approach to elementary science teacher education has perceived benefits by both preservice and inservice teachers. PSTs praise the format with comments such as “I like being out in the schools and able to work with a teacher. I also like the aspect of teaching lessons to the class; it is a great way to practice teaching.”  Mentor teachers continue to volunteer in large numbers to participate and do report some indications  of better understanding about modern science pedagogies (Vick & Reichhoff, 2017). Finally, the university professor also is immersed in the practical concerns of science instruction in the elementary school and continues to learn a lot of practical knowledge about the challenges faced by inservice teachers.

As this third space model is being expanded to a second site at our university, many of the same challenges remain, but the process can hopefully continue to be improved. This site will not have the benefit of grant funding to establish the relationships. The district’s director of instruction has chosen the mentor teachers who will participate. The university instructor will meet with them briefly before the school year begins to explain the goals of the course and the lesson planning expectations for the PSTs. The mentor teachers will be asked to give any preliminary feedback on the structure of the course, but with it being the first semester in this district and a dialog already started with the director of instruction, it is not anticipated that there will be too many changes until a second semester at the same site.

This course will meet in the adjoining district office boardroom for instruction by the university instructor. The elementary school is connected to this building and PSTs will go into the K-5 classrooms similar to the current model. Half will go at one time and the other half at a second time. This course was able to be scheduled in the afternoon, so it will be during the standard science instruction time. This district uses a different curricular series for science and engineering. The instructor is considering ways to engage PSTs from the two third space courses into a dialog about the different curricular choices of the two school districts.

Other methods professors and instructors are encouraged to approach local school districts about partnering to conduct a third space methods class. The concept was heartily embraced by school and district leadership not only as a service to the future of the profession, but as a method of providing experiences for inservice teachers in curricular innovation and instructional coaching in science teaching.