The Great Ice Investigation: Preparing Pre-Service Elementary Teachers for a Sensemaking Approach of Science Instruction

Introduction

Many elementary science classrooms have not yet transitioned teaching and learning to meet the expectations of Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Due to this predicament, science teacher educators will remain responsible for initially preparing pre-service science teachers [PSTs] during this transition period. The NGSS represent a contrasting view of science instruction to the vision most PSTs have likely experienced in the past, which will make the transition all the more challenging. In order to help the PSTs in my elementary science methods course, I developed a series of lessons aligned with the guiding assumptions of the Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council [NRC], 2012) to help overcome potentially counterproductive beliefs that may stem from my students’ past experiences in science classrooms. The current article describes the sequence of lessons, readings, and resources I have used to begin my science methods course with the aim being to help the PSTs I work with to view NGSS-aligned instruction as primarily about student sensemaking. Additionally, the article highlights the alignment of assessment design with classroom instruction and also emphasizes multi-dimensional science learning by targeting applicable scientific practices (e.g. Asking Questions; NRC, 2012). In general, the series of experiences takes roughly three weeks, given each class lasts at least two hours. Additionally, the sequence of lessons introduces my students to multi-dimensional, NGSS-aligned science instruction with a particular focus on the practices of science.

Drawing Out Past Learning Experiences

Prior to the first class, I require students to watch a recent video from PBS News Hour (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/in-elementary-education-doing-science-rather-than-just-memorizing-it/) that introduces students to the NGSS by detailing how teachers in Wyoming have been transitioning to the new standards. In brief, the news clip helps students understand change is on the horizon across the country and that for most teachers, the science and engineering practices [SEPs] of the NGSS represent a major driver of that change. In addition to discussing the video during the first class, I ask students to draw a positive science learning experience from their past using the following prompts adapted from Van Zee and Roberts (2001): (1) Think about some of the better experiences you have had as a science learner. Please choose and draw a picture of this experience in the space below. Include a caption for your picture. (2) What factors were important in fostering science learning for you in this instance? (3) What experience(s), knowledge, and interest(s) did you bring into this example that may have contributed to it being a positive experience? Asking students to draw and reflect on a positive experience enables us to begin discussing instructional practices and teacher moves that contributed to making the experience memorable.

After students individually complete their drawing, they partner up in small groups to share and compare their drawings. From here each group creates a large white-board presentation that overviews the group’s positive science learning experiences. Eventually, we all view each group’s poster during a whole-class “gallery walk”. Most students’ past “positive” experiences include the phrases “hands-on” and “engaging”. Additionally, their drawings depict field trips, dissections, explosions (c.f. Figure 1), and challenge-based competitions. After calling the class back together and prompting them to reflect on the frequency of these experiences most acknowledge how infrequent such experiences occurred. With students now thinking they might have missed out on the real value and purpose of K-12 science education, I promise them that by the end of this course they will have a newfound vision of what a positive science learning experience could and should be.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Example positive science learning experience depicting an explosion.

 

Eliciting Initial Ideas

Starting off the Great Ice Investigation is a phenomenon-based lesson adapted from the Exploratorium. The lesson (titled Inverted Bottleshttps://www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/inverted-bottles) is relatively simple to set up and elicits student thinking directly aligned with the forthcoming experiences. During the lesson, I prompt students to first predict the outcome of placing two glass bottles without caps, one with warm water (colored red with food coloring) and one with cold water (colored blue with food coloring), opening-to-opening with the warm-water bottle being placed on top of the cold-water bottle. Students commonly predict the warm water will remain on top of the cold, but cannot provide evidence beyond memorized facts such as warm things are lighter. After making their predictions, I then ask students to write down and draw what they observe happens. After the warm, red-colored water remains in its original bottle (on top), they respond to the prompt: Explanation – What do you think caused this to happen? Students then share their responses with an “elbow partner” prior to moving on. With the alternative set-up ready (cold water on top), we again follow the same sequence of prompts. From here, I continue to elicit and record students’ ideas as we try to make sense of the phenomenon just witnessed. During this time, I make sure not to validate any ideas as correct or incorrect while also asking various probing questions that might enable me to better understand their initial, prior conceptions (e.g. What makes you think that? Where did you get that idea from? When you use that word, what do you mean?).

Using a Discrepant Event to Develop a Testable Question

From here, I continue to engage students in a related phenomenon, but this time for a different purpose. I begin by briefly discussing the role of observations and questions in scientific inquiry and mention a quote from a former mentor that leads us into our next sensemaking event (Science is a search for patterns.). Each pair of students is provided with two 250ml plastic beakers. From here, they are introduced to the remaining materials: room temperature tap/salt water and ice cubes. Pairs of PSTs are prompted to first predict which liquid (salt or tap water) will melt a relatively similar sized ice cube first. During the observation period (~5 minutes), they need to time and record written observations (including simple drawings) in their science notebooks as each ice cube simultaneously melts in two different beakers of water. While this is happening, I circulate around the classroom asking students which beaker will melt the ice cube first as they watch this slow-moving “race”. Additionally, I ask students to explain the reasoning behind their predictions. Approximately 75% of students predict the ice cube in salt water will melt the ice cube first, which they typically explain is based on their past experiences melting ice in the winter with “sidewalk salt”. After each and every ice cube melts faster in the tap water beaker, we discuss the “results” of our simple investigation. Most are surprised the saltwater solution failed to melt the ice cube faster and oftentimes I am asked if I have deceived them somehow. I reiterate I have not and then suggest we use this experience to develop simple, testable questions that we can try and answer with yet another investigation.

As Reiser et al. (2017) suggest, in an NGSS-aligned classroom students need to raise phenomenon-driven questions in order to move a given inquiry forward. Additionally, Reiser et al. (2017) note, teachers will “need to probe and help students refine their questions to expand on things they take for granted and to help them see that there is something there that they can’t explain” (p. 93). I therefore provide students with the following sentence frames: “I wonder why…”, “What would happen if…”, “Next time if…” to encourage wonder and spur continued investigation. From here, each pair is prompted to complete a handout with the following prompts” (1) Testable Question(s) (2) What sparked your interest in pursuing this? (3) Proposed Needed Materials (bulleted list/number requested). I do not provide students with specifics guidelines quite yet for writing their testable question because few have had prior experiences actually setting up dependent/independent/control variables. Typically, students pose a variety of related, yet slightly different questions to pursue. For example, students often ask questions related to the amount of water in the beaker, the temperature of the water, the make-up of the ice cube (i.e. salt water or tap water), the position of the ice cube in the beaker, or the use of liquids other than water (e.g. milk). Each and every question is eventually “approved”, given students have not requested materials I do not have readily available or that they are willing to provide themselves. I then let students know we will run their investigation during the next class and I will bring in the materials requested to do so.

Between Class Readings

Before the next class I assign two readings. The first (titled: Why Teach Science? What Science Should We Teach?; Harlen, 2015) is the introductory chapter to the assigned book for the course. Without describing the contents of the chapter in too much detail, in brief it provides students with three case studies portraying science instruction that aligns with the following features of effective science teaching: (1) Student Engagement (2) Materials for Investigation (3) Linking to Preexisting Ideas (4) Student Talk (5) Developing Inquiry Skills (5) Planning (Harlen, 2015). Additionally, I use a Web 2.0 tool (https://flipgrid.com/) – wherein students record video responses to each of the following prompts (with responses lasting no longer than 90 seconds):

(1) How does the view of science learning for young children match or contradict your own science experiences as a learner? Use specific examples from your life and specific ideas/examples from the reading…

(2) What challenges do you envision for yourself in creating a learning environment that aligns with the view of science learning put forth in chapter 1? What excites or frightens you about creating a learning environment of this nature?

Finally, I provide a response to each student’s video and also encourage peer-to-peer responses. In sum, I am more prepared to respond to my students’ needs after listening to their responses to these prompts because it elicits their previous experiences as science learners, which they compare to the ideas presented in the reading as well as a peer’s video responses.

The second reading details the purpose of Disciplinary Core Ideas [DCIs] (Duncan, Krajcik, & Rivet, 2015), which is a phrase most are unfamiliar with given the newness of the NGSS. Again, in brief, the reading details why DCIs are included in the NGSS and also describes how DCIs should be used in combination with other dimensions of the standards. Each of these readings and short “homework” prompts (via Flipgrid) help my PSTs envision how science learning could and should be implemented in elementary classrooms.

Running the Great Ice Investigation

Prior to class I re-type every investigation question (as originally written) students previously generated. I number groups of students off and assign them three or so other group’s questions to examine. I prompt students to determine what each group is suggesting will be changed in their investigation, what will be measured, and what will be maintained (within reason) or controlled. Afterwards, we discuss how in order for each question to be testable it should contain an independent and dependent variable. After clarifying the difference between the two most groups quickly recognize if their question needs to be adjusted. For example, oftentimes students generate questions that contain multiple independent variables (e.g. type of liquid and temperature). Given the right type of support, students usually move on rather quickly once they recognize only one variable can be changed during their investigation.

From here, each group is introduced to the concept of a scientific hypothesis, which most believe is an educated guess. I suggest a hypothesis more likely represents an idea that can be tested, rather a mere guess. As an example, again, a group of students may be interested to find out if increasing the salt contents of multiple water solutions will gradually decrease the melting time that elapses – given the results of the first investigation. Some students better understand the purpose of a hypothesis after I introduce them to a “null hypothesis”. Briefly stated, if data from this hypothetical investigation uncovered that the melting rate remained constant despite the increased amounts of salt added to each solution then the null hypothesis would be supported. After students have adjusted their question, written a hypothesis, and prior to running their investigations, they must write out the steps of their soon to be conducted investigation. Providing students with hot water is the main safety concern when running the investigation. Aside from this, minimal concerns should arise given the parameters of the investigation.

Once each group has completed collecting their data, each group shares out their results, which we record for all to see. Student groups report out their independent variable (e.g. sugar in solution) and final results. At this point I want to ensure everyone begins to realize we all investigated the same phenomenon, and that our separate inquiries could be useful for making sense of the inverted bottles demonstration we discussed last week.

Bringing Density into the Discussion

From here, and in order to connect our in-class investigations with a related, real-world phenomenon, we start thinking more broadly about ocean water movement and its influence on global weather patterns (NRC, 2012). We therefore need to discuss water density and its impacts on the global cycle of water in the oceans. In order to understand how water density influences this large-scale phenomenon, you must first understand how variations in salinity and temperature influence the movement of water around the globe. However, and in line with Bybee’s (2014) suggestion to infuse learning experiences driven by the NGSS with the “5E Learning Cycle” (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate), I had not yet prompted my students to think about water density when initially carrying out their first investigation. Instead, I first engaged my students by introducing them to multiple phenomenon-driven, discrepant events (i.e. inverted bottles), which directed our inquiries towards exploring the phenomenon more purposefully (i.e. The Great Ice Investigation). After completing the first two “E’s”, we move forward to the explain phase of the learning cycle.

Even though my PSTs will be elementary teachers, I target a middle school Performance Expectation [PE] (Disciplinary Core Idea/MS-ESS2-6: Variations in density due to variations in temperature and salinity drive a global pattern of interconnected ocean currents.) because they are adult learners and also because the complexity of many PEs jumps significantly in middle school. Next, I gather students around in a circle and pass out two different “density cubes” to each group. Each homogenous cube is identical in size (1” by 1”), but made up of a different material (e.g. PVC, pine, oak, steel, etc.). After allowing students time to manipulate and ask questions about their cubes, I present them with a relatively large container of water and ask them to predict which of their cubes will float (e.g. oak or steel). Students generally make accurate predictions, but when asked to connect the reasoning for their predictions to the results they just reported out from the ice investigation, most struggle. I therefore prepare one final demonstration by making a single adjustment to the original ice investigation I conducted with tap water and salt water. After again placing two ice cubes in separate beakers of tap water and salt water, I lightly drop three to four drops of food coloring on top of the ice cube in each labeled container (Figure 2). Within about 30 seconds, it quickly becomes clear that the water melting directly off of the ice cube in tap water (Figure 2 – colored blue) is moving differently than the other (Figure 2 – colored red). More specifically, the now visible, blue-dyed water melting off of the ice cube begins dropping down to the bottom of the beaker and spreading throughout the beaker. After multiple drops of ice-cold water rapidly move and spread throughout the beaker the solution soon turns entirely blue. The saltwater solution however, remains relatively clear as the cold red water melting off of the ice cube remains near the top of the beaker thereby keeping the ice cube from melting longer.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Visual demonstration of the ice investigation with food coloring.

With the results of this demonstration still visible, each group is given a small white-board to draw what they are now observing in each beaker. In particular, I ask them to draw “enlarged” dots that represent the salt dissolved in one of the solutions along with colored drawings and arrows that model the NOW VISIBLE movement of water in the tap water solution. After having multiple groups share and discuss their drawings, the idea of “density” inevitably comes up. In addition to saying the “vocabulary word”, I also prompt students to reflect on what density means in relation to the multiple experiences and demonstrations we recently completed. As we discuss our ideas I add additional language and explanation around one of the group’s drawings by introducing them to the word “atoms”. I suggest water (in solid and liquid states) and salt are composed of particles too small to be seen and that these particles: (1) are in constant motion and (2) interact differently depending on certain characteristics like composition and temperature (NRC, 2012). Figure 3 displays how the saltwater solution in one of the beakers prevents the water that melts off of the ice cube from moving downward. In sum, this phenomenon occurs because the cold water melting off of the ice cube is less dense than the “tightly packed” saltwater solution, which contains far more solutes dissolved in solution. With no additional particles being dissolved in the tap water solution (Figure 3, left beaker), gravity forces the cold (more densely packed) water melting directly off of the ice cube to move to the bottom of the beaker. Next the slightly warmer water at the bottom of the beaker moves up towards the ice cube causing it to melt. I often direct students to draw arrows on their diagrams that depict this movement, or cycling, of water throughout the tap water beaker. Note: it can be helpful to provide students with the terms solute (substance being dissolved) and solvent (liquid dissolving the solute), but this is not always necessary.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample model drawing of ice cubes melting in tap water (left) and salt water that includes enlarged salt particles dissolved in solution (right).

This initial explanation of the phenomenon is also accompanied by a “jig-saw reading” of multiple, brief articles about water density and ocean currents taken from different national organizations (c.f. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/density.html). During the jigsaw students discuss the contents of each article with the group after individually reading their assigned article. Contents of each of the articles further describe the role of density, salinity, and/or temperature in various contexts (e.g. climate change) with all involving the movement of water in one way or another. An optional/supplemental lesson fits in well at this point if needed. The lesson (titled: People as Particles; Tretter & McFadden, 2018) targets the structural properties of matter by engaging people (i.e. students) as particles (i.e. atoms) using scientific modeling as the driving scientific practice. With the end of the second class coming to a close, I tell students we will be running the final version of the ice investigation during the next class. However, during this final investigation groups must purposefully infuse their conceptual understanding of water density into the design of the investigation. For example, a student group might propose varying their procedure by modifying the location of the ice cube in the beaker (e.g. near the bottom) using a plastic piece of mesh and a weight. With the ice cube always situated at the bottom of the beaker one can then predict it will melt at relatively the same time in a saltwater and tap water solution because the movement of water (c.f. Figure 2) is no longer a factor in melting the ice cube. In the end student groups often strive to modify their procedure in creative ways at this point given their newly developed conceptually understanding of the phenomenon of interest. Overall, the variety of students’ design ideas at this point make this final round the most engaging of all.

Between Class Readings

I again assign readings between classes starting with the next chapter in the course-assigned book (Harlen, 2015). The chapter (titled – HOW Should We Teach Science?) is accompanied with a prompt and associated response again using Flipgrid. This time around I direct PSTs’ attention to the main points of the chapter with the following prompt:

Science instruction that promotes long-term, conceptual understanding: (1) aligns with one or more “views of learning” (p. 17), (2) emphasizes “big ideas” by utilizing an inquiry approach, and (3) provides appropriate “alternative ideas” when student misconceptions arise. Discuss your understanding of each “statement” (1-3). Reply to one peer’s idea.

PSTs’ responses to this prompt and others like it afford them with the language needed to discuss and think about science instruction in a manner that aligns with my overall goals for the course. More specifically, it builds up a new understanding and foundation for science teaching/learning that we can then refer back to throughout the course. We often reflect back on these initial readings, discussions, and lessons from the ice investigation because we have, in a sense, moved on to more “advanced” pedagogical strategies built upon this foundation.

Finally, I include two additional readings. The first article (titled – Shifting from Activity-mania to Inquiry, Moscovici & Nelson, 1998) describes “activity-mania”, a teaching approach many are familiar with. In brief, activity-mania involves a “collection of prepackaged, hour-long (or less), hands-on activities that are often disconnected from each other” (Moscovici & Nelson, 1998; p. 14). My PSTs often see activity-mania in the science classrooms they observe so this article helps them understand that even if science is “covered” in an elementary classroom via activity-mania that this instructional approach will not enable their students be successful science learners. The last article (titled – DCIs, SEPs, and CCs, Oh My! Understanding the Three Dimensions of the NGSS; Duncan & Cavera, 2015), concisely introduces PSTs to the other dimensions of NGSS (e.g. SEPs) not explicitly discussed in the DCI reading from the previous week (Krajcik, Duncan, & Rivet, 2015). Each of these final two articles will be discussed in the forthcoming class.

Finishing the Ice Investigation

At the start of class, PSTs quickly begin setting up their investigations. Most have brought in additional materials (e.g. chocolate/white milk) to use, which makes the class especially chaotic yet extremely stimulating, for them and myself. During the second to last “E” (elaborate), I feel confident my PSTs can carry out and eventually share the results of a personally meaningful inquiry. After sharing and discussing the final results of multiple group’s investigations with one another, I discuss the necessary assessment opportunity to come up next. I tell my PSTs I created a two-dimensional assessment for learning (Heritage, 2008; Penuel, Van Horne, & Bell, 2016) in order to formatively assess their developing conceptual understanding of the concepts and ideas we have been investigating via a specific scientific practice (conceptual idea – density and water movement; scientific practice – designing an investigation). I also inform them that the classroom-embedded assessment (titled – “The River Deltas”; see Appendix A; adopted from Van Horne, Penuel, & Philip, 2016) is a feedback tool I will use and will return to them with written feedback, questions, and suggestions.

After finishing the assessment, and before the next class, I provide everyone with feedback on the formative assessment (e.g. “What would it look like if you included the particles dissolved in each liquid?; Figure 4). During the next class after receiving the feedback, I provide PSTs with a purple pen and provide time for them to “purple pen” responses to the questions/comments I wrote on their River Deltas assessment. Purple penning (as a formative assessment strategy) reiterates to my PSTs I intend to provide repeated and supported learning opportunities in order for them to be successful because they get to make a second attempt on the task. For many, this assessment experience contrasts significantly with any prior science “test” they had ever taken. We spend some time here discussing the purpose of classroom embedded assessments and the connection between assessments of this nature and our learning experiences leading up to it. More specifically, we discuss how formative assessments can be leveraged to explicitly elicit student thinking in an intentional manner so instruction can then be modified that responds to the evidence garnered.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample written feedback and student response to a formative science assessment.

After this discussion I display a picture of the inverted bottles demonstration from two weeks ago and we discuss the cause of the observed phenomenon that previously few to none were able to make sense of. Finally, I let everyone know we will be ending the Great Ice Investigation and that hypothetically if we had more time we would move on to the next sequence of lessons aligned with the PE (MS-ESS2-6) we would be working towards.

Final In-Class Readings

To wrap up the third and final class of the sequence, I engage everyone as teachers by again “jigsawing” two readings. The first (titled – Using the 5E Model to Implement the NGSS; Bybee, 2014; p. 63) “pulls up the curtain” on the instructional model that guided my instructional decisions during the ice investigation. Throughout the three weeks PSTs usually allude that they are wondering why I so adamantly try to teach them how density impacts the movement of water in the oceans by asking me questions about the pedagogical strategies being implemented. In brief, they want to know why I’m asking the questions I’m asking them and why I’m structuring their learning opportunities the way I am. I continually remind them that when the ice investigation comes to an end, we will break down each and every “stage” of the instructional model. By jigsawing this reading (Bybee, 2013) we start to collaboratively breakdown and discuss the multiple facets of the ice investigation. With one student each assigned one of the five “Es”, they individually read and then discuss their respective “E” with members of the group. During their discussions, the following prompt is displayed, which each member of the group needs to respond to:

  • What part of the Great Ice Investigation relates to your phase?
  • What were you doing as students that was consistent with your phase? What was I (the teacher) doing?
  • What makes your phase different from the other phases?
  • What are some activities/actions that are inconsistent for teachers AND students during your phase? (Bybee, 2013; Table 3.1)

Next, and after discussing the 5Es as a whole group, we move on and each student reads one “Assumptions” from the Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012). The reading contains six sections or assumptions (e.g. Connecting to Students’ Interests and Experiences) that PSTs can now make sense because many of the assumptions were present during the Great Ice Investigation. Each member of the six-student group is denoted as an “expert” to a given assumption, which they display describing their section of the reading to the group.

Overall these final two readings set up an invigorating whole-class discussion because my PSTs, likely for the first time, actually can see how appropriate science instruction helps students develop their conceptual understandings all the while as they engage in and learn about the process of science as a scientist would (Metz, 2008). Smaller details from the sequence of lessons, readings, and resources described here have been omitted; however, a strong instructional “skeleton” has been provided for science teacher educators to make sense of and modify according to their preferences and needs. Again, I have experienced great successes helping my PSTs understand how and why elementary science teaching/learning needs to be primarily about student sensemaking using the above sequence of lessons, readings, and resources. During our final class of the semester I redistribute the drawings they drew of their positive science learning experience (see Figure 1) along with the following prompt: Based on where you are now, how differently would you evaluate a “positive science learning experience” compared to the start of the semester? A representative response to this reflective prompt follows:

A positive science learning experience calls for student-lead experimentation and sensemaking opportunities. I didn’t know much about science inquiry or the practices of science before this course, but I now understand how important it is to teach my own students to question what they see and try to discover reasoning and meaning.

I believe the “lesson plans” detailed above would be of benefit to both PSTs as well as in-service elementary and middle school teachers just beginning to align their instruction with the NGSS because overall it empowers teachers to truly see how and why instructional shifts are needed in order for science instruction at the elementary level to be successful.

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.

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.

Personal Science Story Podcasts: Enhancing Literacy and Science Content

Introduction

I think my science teaching methods courses must feel like “drinking from a fire hose” for teacher candidates at times. These preservice teachers are often balancing a full course load, a field placement, and a job or two; meanwhile, I am trying to give them opportunities to practice teaching science as inquiry, when they might still be struggling with their own grasp of the science content. Many of the elementary preservice teachers in my methods classes struggle to see the connection between their lives and science. On the other hand, many of the secondary preservice teachers in science methods classes struggle with the need to teach literacy while they teach science. One assignment that has given me an opportunity to enhance these connections– between students and teachers’ lived experiences and science, and literacy, and between themselves– is the personal science story podcast. This assignment can be used with elementary or secondary preservice teachers, and a modified version is available for students.

Stories are “at the heart of how we make meaning of our experiences of the world” (Huber et al., 2013, p.214). As a teacher explains in Lisa Delpit’s (2005) Other People’s Children, “teaching is all about telling a story. You have to get to know kids so you’ll know how to tell the story…” (p. 120). The stories we tell can show others who we are and what we value, and giving our students opportunities to tell their own stories shows them that we value them and their stories, and that we want to learn more. In modeling teaching methods for my preservice teachers, I seek to show them that their stories matter, so that they may do the same for their own students. First, however, I need to help them figure out how to tell their stories, and why their stories are worth sharing. The stories come first, and then they connect the science.

Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is the process of using multimedia to tell a story, and is used in many different fields, including education, public health, and law. As Dip (2014) wrote, digital storytelling is useful for “giving a voice to the vulnerable and enabling their story to be told,” (p 30). In science methods courses, we seek to empower our teacher candidates to share their lived experiences and seek to learn from others’ experiences. As a way of learning about teacher candidates, modeling methods by which these candidates can learn about their own students, and giving candidates an opportunity to practice connecting science to a real-life context, I designed the personal science podcast assignment. In collaboration with other methods colleagues, I have used the assignment with both preservice elementary and secondary teachers. These teacher candidates have used the assignment to reflect on their connections to science, and how they use language with their students (Frisch, Cone, and Callahan, 2017).

Engaging in the process of creating a digital story can help students collect information, organize their conceptions, and become more motivated to learn (Burmark, 2004; Hung, Hwang & Huang, 2012; Robin, 2008). Much of the research on digital storytelling includes an approach of integrating photos, videos, and other images along with audio narration to tell a personal story (e.g., Couldry, 2008; Robin, 2008), and the approach detailed in this paper has a primary focus on the audio narration. This focus was intentional: observations during other technology-related studies have provided evidence that students spend a great deal of time and effort on finding and editing the “perfect” image when presented with a digital storytelling assignment, and writing the script and polishing the narration were given much less attention. One focus of this assignment is to encourage teacher candidates to think about the language they use: written and spoken. This led to the podcast vehicle to frame the assignment. Despite the auditory focus, the assignment can still be placed under the umbrella of digital storytelling because it includes each of the seven “elements of digital storytelling” (Lambert, 2002): point of view, dramatic question, emotional content, gift of your voice, pacing, soundtrack, and economy.

To frame lessons in methods courses, we refer to Social Justice Standards developed by Tolerance.org and based on Derman-Sparks’ (1989) four goals for anti-bias education: identity, diversity, justice, and action. The personal science story podcast assignment provides teacher candidates an opportunity to engage with and reflect on the domains of identify and diversity as they relate to science teaching. The digital storytelling skills of remembering, creating, connecting, and sharing are interwoven within the assignment, and each of these practices can help teacher candidates deepen their understanding of their own cultures and identities as well as give them an opportunity to learn about and show respect for the stories of others (Willox, Harper, & Edge, 2012).

Academic Language

Much as teacher candidates feel time pressure to “cover” large amounts of science content when they teach, those of us who teach science methods courses feel pressure to discuss a wide variety of topics in a limited amount of time. My own efforts to meet teacher preparation standards and make sure that my candidates are equipped with a wide variety of research-based best practices for teaching science inquiry has sometimes meant that I have not given my candidates much of an opportunity to think about how they will support science literacy and language development in their classrooms. The widely-used teacher candidate assessment, edTPA, as well as efforts to give teacher candidates more tools to support English Learners in science classrooms, have made me more aware of the need to provide opportunities to think about academic language and science literacy.

We want our teacher candidates to feel prepared to let their students do science; equally important is that they are ready to support their students in writing, reading, speaking, and listening to science talk (Pearson, Moje, and Greenleaf, 2010; Silva, Weinburgh, and Smith, 2013). Science reform efforts can sometimes result in a de-emphasis of these literacy skills, but reading and writing about science does not have to mean less time for inquiry. The type of science inquiry that involves doing science– making predictions, designing investigations, and collecting and analyzing evidence—can be enhanced by conceptualizing science literacy as a form of inquiry (Pearson et al., 2010). The process of composing an appropriate, science-based question to ask and reading through and paraphrasing science texts and journals to communicate what is already known about the answer can be thought of as components of science inquiry (Frisch, Jackson, and Murray, 2017).

Academic language includes both the vocabulary and the syntax that we use primarily in a school-based setting, rather than conversational language. Scientific language is not the same as academic language, though there is some overlap in that both forms of communication require formality, conciseness, and a “high density of information-bearing words” (Snow, 2010, p. 450). Preservice teachers initially focus on these information-bearing words—the vocabulary of science—rather than on the words and concepts that are still academic in nature but not strictly science-based. For example, teacher candidates might make the assumption that their students already understand the difference between “analyze” and “interpret” rather than explicitly teaching these ideas. By giving teacher candidates a chance to analyze their own language use, both academic and conversational, we can model the process of explicitly teaching academic words and skills like “analyze” and how analyzing data is different from simply displaying data. The language analysis component of this assignment supports this kind of reflection.

Teacher-created podcasts are one way to use the assignment; once created, teacher candidates can use the podcasts with their students. Audio podcasts can be an effective way to reinforce academic language, both in terms of vocabulary and in language function and fluency. Putman and Kingsley (2009) found that fifth-graders who used teacher-prepared podcasts that focused on science vocabulary performed significantly better on vocabulary tests than students who received classroom instruction alone. Student responses indicated that students both enjoyed the podcasts and found them helpful in terms of reviewing words they had forgotten. Borgia (2009) found that fifth-grade students who were given access to teacher-created podcasts as a supplementary tool were able to increase their vocabulary retention.

An extension of the assignment, in which teacher candidates give their own students opportunities to create podcasts, has the potential to be even more powerful, both for learning language and inquiry. Dong (2002) observed that effective biology teachers provide English Learners (ELs) with assignments that offer authentic practice in speaking, reading and writing in the context of biology learning, and this additional practice (especially if done in groups) can reduce speaking anxiety and enhance students’ ability to communicate about science. Another goal of the assignment is to give teacher candidates skill in creating the kind of podcast that can enhance understanding of both scientific and academic language, and to gain self-efficacy in supporting their students to make literacy gains.

In this podcasting assignment, teacher candidates are encouraged to use their own language, in the context of their own stories. We want to value the story as we value the person that tells it (Hendry, 2007). Transitioning between the conversational and the academic in a podcast requires a kind of code switching, and teacher candidates can use this assignment to reflect on different uses of spoken and written language, how they are useful, and what they might miss. The process of using the kind of “real life” language to think about more academic topics can be useful to help students increase understanding and skill in how they use language (Amicucci, 2014), and possibly how they go on to teach language use.

Procedure for Facilitating the Personal Science Story Podcast

Engage: Listen to Some Podcasts

To introduce the assignment to the audience (whether that audience is teachers, teacher candidates, or K-12 students), engage them by giving them an opportunity to listen to an example personal science story podcast. I have produced two podcasts to use as examples: one is 5 minutes (http://bit.ly/ISTE_worms) and another is 10 minutes (http://bit.ly/ISTE_helicopter). These examples are available on SoundCloud for public use, and the accompanying teachers’ guides (discussed later) and podcasting resources are available on this website: http://storiesandatoms.weebly.com. Each semester, we ask our teacher candidates for permission to post their podcasts on the SoundCloud channel, and we now have several other example podcasts available with permission (https://soundcloud.com/jennifer-frisch).

Another option is to share episodes from The Story Collider (http://www.storycollider.org/podcasts/), a podcast that allows scientists to share personal experience stories and connect these back to science. We note, however, that this podcast series was designed for adult audiences, and as such, some episodes are labeled “explicit” (usually for language and sometimes content). StoryCorps is another podcast that can be used in a variety of ways with students or teachers to demonstrate the idea of personal story podcasts; it uses an interview format to tell stories, and there are some examples of stories that reflect on personal science as well.

Explore: The Story Circle

The “story circle” is a small group discussion in which students share ideas for their stories, listen to other students’ stories, and provide constructive criticism. When we started doing this assignment, we noticed that many of our teacher candidates (particularly elementary preservice candidates) were struggling with connecting their real lives to science, and their stories started out either heavily expository (explaining a science concept in somewhat stilted language) or without any connections to science (e.g., a personal story without explicit connections to science concepts). Using a structured story circle early in the process has helped strengthen both the science and the narratives in candidates’ story podcasts, while also increasing their collaboration skills and sense of their class as a scientific community.

Students come prepared to participate in the story circle by bringing two ideas for stories from their lives that they want to tell; encouraging candidates to think of a story or stories that tell the audience something about their identity (who they are as a person, where they come from) can be helpful. Some prompts from the “Digital Storytelling Cookbook” (Lambert, 2010) may be provided for those students that are struggling to think of a story. Although students can write down some notes if they wish, the objective is to have them tell the stories, briefly, in a conversational tone to the group. For example, a teacher candidate participated in the story circle by saying, “I was thinking about two different things, but I’m not sure. One story was about this time when I got sleep paralysis, but then I have another story when I broke my arm falling out of a tree.” The other participant-listeners in the story circle then asked questions about the stories, helping her to tell a little more about each incident, and giving her feedback on which story they wanted to hear more about. As a natural part of these discussions, other candidates started coming up with ideas about the science concepts that might be connected with each story.

An important rule of the story circle is that each participant comes prepared to listen to colleagues’ stories and ask respectful questions. A facilitator should be present in the story circle to help remind participants to be respectful of others’ stories and work, and be receptive to suggestions of others. The guidelines posted by Roadside Theater found at https://roadside.org/asset/story-circle-guidelines?unit=117 (Roadside Theater, 2016) can be helpful to review with students before the circle begins.

After participating in the story circle, teacher candidates begin writing the script for their story. Although this process should be iterative, with opportunities for feedback and revision, some teacher candidates may need some initial support in constructing the backbone of their stories. To this end, one could use Ohler’s expansion of Dillingham’s (2001) “Visual Portrait of a Story” (Ohler, 2013; also available online at http://www.jasonohler.com/pdfs/VPS.pdf). The Visual Portrait of a Story diagram can help the writer map out her story’s problem, conflict, and conclusion. For some students, having this structure in place will lead to writing a full draft of the story, but others will prefer to begin working on the science portion before fleshing out the rest of the story.

Explain: Researching the Science

Once students have begun to map out the general structure of their stories, the next step is to decide on a science concept they would like to research and connect to the story. This step typically comes much easier for secondary science teacher candidates and those elementary candidates who are already enthusiastic about science content: in fact, these candidates often have to be cautioned to focus on just ONE science concept to connect to their story, rather than turning their podcast into a lecture on the science concepts and their connections. I reinforce the idea that the language function for the podcast is primarily to ENGAGE the audience, and secondarily to EXPLAIN the science. This reminder serves several functions: 1) to help explain and reinforce the idea of language function; 2) to help students who might be more inclined to write more exposition remember that an engaging story is the more important part of the podcast; and 3) to reassure those students who do not have strong self-efficacy in their own abilities to learn and explain science that the personal story itself is valuable and important.

Teacher candidates identify one or two ideas that their story makes them wonder about. I ask the teacher candidates to stretch themselves and think about a connection they would like to learn more about, rather than a science concept that they already feel comfortable explaining. For example, if a teacher candidate has decided to tell a story about how she broke her arm, she might feel comfortable relating that story to a description of the names and sizes the bones in the arm. With some guidance, an instructor could help her think of some connections that she will have to do some research to answer: how much force would have to be applied to break a bone? How do bones repair themselves? The focus of this part of the assignment is on questioning: find a question you want to know more about, and then research the answer to the question. This is a good time to discuss (or review) the difference between science questions that can/should be answered using experimentation and science questions that are better answered with library-based research.

During this part of the project, talk about how to identify valid and reliable internet sources to help with research, and how to cite sources appropriately. As the candidates conduct their research, they often find more information than they need to answer their question. The next step is to add the science to the story podcast script. Examine the Next Generation Science Standards and identify standards that fit the science focus– these could be disciplinary content standards, science and engineering practices, or integration. Then the candidates can do their research on the science ideas, and work on putting their findings into appropriate language for the grade level band(s) they are targeting. At this stage it is helpful to reinforce the idea that the primary language function for the podcast is to engage the audience. Although we want the science concept to be well-connected to the story, the podcast story itself will only introduce the concept, and the Teachers’ Guide will expand on the concept.

Elaborate: Language Analysis, Justification, and Teachers’ Guide

After teacher candidates have revised their podcast script to include both the story and the science, they analyze the language in their script in two ways: 1) they examine the vocabulary present in the script, and 2) they examine the reading level of their script.

The academic vocabulary is analyzed using AntWordProfiler (Anthony, 2014), an open-source program that is available for free at (http://www.laurenceanthony.net/). Students input their script as a text file, and the output is color-coded (Figure 1), showing the number and percentage of words that are Level 1, or in the first 1000 most common words (red font color) in the English language according to the General Service List (GSL, West & West, 1953); Level 2 words, or the second 1000 most common words (green font color) from the GSL, Level 3 words (blue font color), or words on the Academic Word List (AWL, Coxhead, 2000); and Level 0 words (black font color), which are not found on any of previously mentioned lists. AntWordProfiler also allows you to program your own lists of words, so if an instructor or candidate would like to target Dolch words or words from a particular science language list, that can also be done. A ten-minute script is short enough that we can ask teacher candidates to look through the words identified as “level 0” and select those words that they feel would be classified as “scientific” for the analysis (other “level 0” words could be proper names, slang, misspelled words, or other uncommon words: candidates have to determine which words they think are “scientific” and justify their responses).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample output from the AntWord Profiler (Anderson, 2014) program after teacher candidate input her draft script.

The next part of the analysis uses readability-score.com to gather data on the readability of the script. Teacher candidates can copy and paste their text into the site (the free version will analyze the full text of a ten-minute podcast script, but one can only enter three files a day for free). The output includes readability grade level scores including the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning-Fog score, Coleman-Liau Index, SMOG index, Automated Readability Index, and an “average grade level” that takes each of the above indices into account. The site also provides assessment of text quality, syllable counts, adverb counts, and reading and speaking time (Figure 2). Although I note that students can often hear and understand text at a higher level than they can write or read, this step is helpful to get candidates thinking about some of their assumptions about what level of language they are using with students; secondary teacher candidates, in particular, often assume that students will understand complex words even if they are English Learners. The language analysis worksheet (Appendix A in the Appendices) guides teacher candidates in reflecting on the extent to which this language-based evidence reflects the grade level they are targeting with their podcast, and justify whether they think they should change some of their language. One goal of this portion of the project is both to get our teacher candidates to reflect on how they use language and to model the process of analyzing data and justifying reasoning. In this case, the data is in the form of the information provided by the software: percentage of words at each level, readability scores based on different criteria, text quality and syllable counts. Based on these data, candidates make decisions while editing their script, and they must also justify their decisions using data. For example, a candidate that noticed that her script had 6 sentences in passive voice and 27 sentences with more than 20 syllabus decided to re-write all sentences to be in active voice and break up her long sentences to make the language both stronger and more accessible to her target group of students. Making and justifying decisions based on data are skills we are also trying to teach candidates to support in their students.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample output from the readability-score.com website after candidate submits the text of a draft of her planned story.

The Teachers’ Guide is an extension of the podcast for teacher candidates. While the audience for the podcast should be a class of students, the audience for the Teachers’ Guide is the students’ instructor. If the podcast is used as an “Engage” activity, the Teacher’s Guide can guide the “explore,” “explain,” and/or “elaborate” portions of a lesson: it provides a teacher with activities connected to the concept (explore) that students could do as well as background information about the concept (explain). Throughout the methods course, candidates have been practicing how to teach science by incorporating aspects of the Essential Features of Inquiry, and this framework is used to guide candidates in creating or adapting an appropriate activity for students that could connect science concepts with their story. Additional guidance provided to preservice teachers through the course includes practice with language supports such as graphic organizers, sentence starters, and sentence frames that could be used to enhance their students’ developing science literacy. While developing their Teachers’ Guides, candidates apply their skills in planning both inquiry-based activities that allow students to collect and make sense of data and language supports in the context of their science story. Required components in the teachers’ guide include connections to Next Generation Science Standards, background and supplemental information on the science concept, vocabulary with definitions, and activities that could be used to allow students to explore and expand on the concept by collecting and/or analyzing data. Teacher candidates are asked to cite sources they used for enhancing their own understanding of the concept and any sources they used to develop the activities.

Evaluate: Assessment

For the final step in the project, candidates will record, edit, and ‘produce’ their podcasts, including (creative commons) sound effects or music to enhance the soundtrack if they wish to do so. Students are encouraged to use Audacity to edit their podcasts, because it is free and easy to learn with a variety of tutorials that are updated often on YouTube (one current favorite is http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Category:Tutorial). If students have the access (e.g., through university computer centers) and the desire to use different software such as Adobe or Garageband, they are encouraged to do so, with the caveat that they will have to find their own tech support, and that the school they teach in may not have access to the software they are gaining skill in using.

The rubric used to assess the personal science story podcasts (Appendix B in the Appendices) is designed to support both the product and the process. At each part of the process, candidates are given extensive feedback to use for revision of the final project. The assignment integrates a variety of skills and objectives, so it is spread out through the semester, in connection with other methods being taught: for example, the story circle can be connected to an introduction to culturally responsive pedagogy, the language analysis component is connected to talk moves, and the Teachers’ Guide construction is done in conjunction with practice with language and literacy supports. At the end of the semester, we have a “science story listening party” where students share their final podcasts in small groups, and those that are comfortable doing so can submit their podcasts and teachers’ guides for me to post online.

On Sharing Student Stories

Many teacher candidates that have completed the assignment have found it to be meaningful in helping them gain skill and self-efficacy in using technology, in learning about science concepts and the Essential Features of Inquiry, and in language analysis. In addition, the process of creating and reflecting on individual (rather than group-created) digital stories can help preservice teachers show increased evidence of self-awareness and emotional engagement (Challinor, Marin, and Tur, 2017), and we have seen this in candidates completing this assignment through their final self-assessments, in which students report increased understanding of their identities and those of some of their colleagues. For some projects in the course, candidates express a strong preference to work in a group, but the “personal” aspect of the story podcast encourages them to push themselves, while still giving them a group “comfort zone” when making use of the story circle idea.

It goes without saying that posting podcasts online should only be done with the consent of the authors. If doing this activity with K-12 students, you will also need parent permission. Although voice-only podcasts are less problematic than posting video, voices and the stories they tell can be individually identifiable so care should be taken to make sure that authors are aware of that possibility.

There are a variety of different platforms one can use to post a podcast series online, and these come with advantages and disadvantages. If you want to make your podcast episodes private (so that only the students in your class can listen to them), it is easiest to just use a learning management system (e.g., Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.). Universities that have an iTunes U account often have tech support for uploading class-created podcasts to that platform. Another option is to develop a website that you can use to host your podcast (e.g., WordPress, Weebly), although if you plan to upload audio you will generally need to pay an additional fee to accommodate the extra storage. Each website builder may have a media hosting service it recommends (e.g., Blubrry, SoundCloud) and these, too, will come with an additional fee. One newer app/service, http://anchor.fm, shows promise for creating and publishing story podcasts using phones or tablets, including unlimited storage of episodes, analytics, and transcription, and it is free.

The preservice teachers with whom we have shared this project have found it engaging and valuable. Different teachers enjoy different parts of the project: some like the process of constructing a story, some enjoy researching and communicating about a science concept, and some are most engaged by getting a chance to record and edit their stories. The listening parties give the teachers a chance to share their work in their story circle. I ask them to reflect on what they learned from the project: many students reflect on the extent to which the project has taught them something about their colleagues, something about their connections to each other and to science, and something about the power of story to enhance or bring these connections to light.

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.

 

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

Introduction

In the past two decades, there have been continued calls for elementary teachers to encourage children’s natural curiosity by providing opportunities for children to be actively engaged in various aspects of scientific inquiry including making observations, developing questions, performing investigations, collaborating with peers, and communicating evidence and findings (NGSS Lead, 2013; NRC, 2007; NSTA, 2002, 2012). The National Research Council’s utilization of the term ‘practices’ is aimed at providing a more comprehensive elucidation of “what is meant by ‘inquiry’ in science and the range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that it requires” (NRC, 2012, p.30). Engaging students in these scientific practices through experiential learning opportunities enables them to “to deepen their understanding of crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas” (NRC, 2012, p.217). Regrettably, the reality of science instruction in the early grades is contrary to the recommendations. In addition to the obstacle of lack of instructional time, elementary teachers’ own inadequate scientific knowledge, inaccurate beliefs about the nature and process of science, and negative attitude and low self-efficacy with respect to science and science teaching (Kazempour & Sadler, 2015; Fulp, 2002; Keys & Watters, 2006; King, Shumow, & Lietz, 2001) are all major contributing factors accounting for the minimal and mediocre coverage of science witnessed in the early grades (Banilower, Smith, Weiss, Malzahn, Campbell, & Weiss, 2013).

Prior studies have indicated that elementary preservice teachers view science as a rigid and linear process, the scientific method model, that is solely focused on experimentation, proving or disproving hypotheses, and accumulating facts (Kazempour, 2013, 2014; Kazempour & Sadler 2015; Plevyak, 2007). Many in this group believe that scientists mainly work individually and isolated from their peers except to communicate their findings with the scientific community. Furthermore, they possess stereotypical images of scientists as mainly aging, white male figures, with lab coats, glasses, and other such features, whose work involves the use of beakers, Bunsen burners, microscopes, and chemicals to perform experiments and advance level research in their laboratories (Barman, 1997; Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996; Kazempour & Sadler, 2015; Moseley & Norris, 1999; Quita, 2003). Consequently, elementary preservice teachers typically view science as a tedious, irrelevant, and boring process that they find uninteresting and out of reach (Kazempour, 2013, 2014; Kazempour & Sadler 2015; Tosun, 2000)

As highlighted in a number of studies (e.g. Adams, Miller, Saul, & Pegg, 2014; Chichekian, Shore, & Yates, 2016; Kazempour & Sadler, 2015; Lewis, Dema, & Harshbarger, 2014), for many preservice teachers, particularly elementary preservice teachers, their beliefs about the process of scientific inquiry and the scientific community stems from their prior experiences with science, especially as part of their K-12 science education. Elementary preservice teachers often describe their previous experiences with science as inadequate, unmemorable, or negative (Kazempour, 2013). Their recollections of school science commonly include teacher-led lectures or whole-class discussions, heavy reliance on the textbook, infrequent labs and activities that were often completed to confirm ideas discussed by the text or the teacher, and, of course, fact-based tests that would often conclude their science chapters and units (Kazempour, 2013; Kazempour & Sadler2015)

Elementary preservice teachers’ prior K-12 encounters with science not only shapes their beliefs about science, but also significantly influence their attitude toward the subject and level of confidence in learning or teaching science (Appleton, 2006; Avery & Meyer, 2012; Hechter, 2011; Kelly, 2000; Tosun, 2000). According to the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, only 39% of elementary teachers indicate feeling “very prepared to teach science” in comparison to 81% in literacy and 77% in mathematics (Banilower, et al., p. 41). The combination of negative attitude and low self-efficacy with respect to science and science teaching often influence elementary teachers’ instructional practices; either avoiding science altogether or relying on brief, scripted, and text or worksheet focused strategies.

Achieving the goal of developing young children’s understanding of the scientific process will depend extensively on the type of educational experiences they encounter in the classroom. Hence, it is critical that teachers be provided transformative and reflective opportunities that lead to changes in their beliefs, attitudes, confidence, and ultimately their science instructional behaviors (Mullholland & Wallace, 2000). Elementary science content and methods courses which account for and address preservice teachers’ prior experiences, beliefs, and attitudes through alternative science experiences have been shown to lead to positive changes in these domains (Morrell & Carroll, 2003; Tosun, 2000). This article focuses on a project, the Home Inquiry Project, that I have implemented in my elementary science methods course so that preservice teachers have an opportunity to experience and be immersed in the process of scientific inquiry in order to gain a more accurate and complete understanding of the process.

Context

The Home Inquiry Project is a component of the science methods course that I teach at one of the campuses of a large Northeastern university. The elementary teacher candidates enroll in the science methods course during the fall semester of their senior year in the program. They are concurrently enrolled in the social studies and mathematics methods courses and the two-day field experience in the local urban school district. Most of the students in the course are female, Caucasian students from either the small towns or urban cities in the approximately 50-mile radius of the campus. During the first two years of the program, they are required to enroll in three science content courses, one from each discipline of life, physical and earth science.

The Origins of the Project

The Home Inquiry Project originated from an idea I had come across in several articles dealing with engaging preservice teachers with their own authentic inquiry investigations as a component of their science content or methods course. However, the authentic experiences described in these examples only focused on the design and implementation of scientific investigations with emphasis on hypothesis testing and identification of variables. As Windschtill (2004) suggests, preservice teachers may still hold on to their longstanding views of science as the step-by-step and linear scientific method and that such investigation experiences may “do little more than confirm these beliefs through the course of investigative activity” (p. 485). In my methods courses, I introduce students to the cyclical and complex model of scientific inquiry as depicted in Figure 1. This model is comprehensive in that it encompasses the scientific practices emphasized by the NGSS, underscores the importance of community analysis and feedback, and emphasizes the interdependence of science, engineering, and technology, and the influence of science, engineering and technology on society and the natural world (NRC, 2012). Therefore, I wanted to design a project that would provide my students an experience which would more genuinely mimic this cyclical and more complex process of scientific inquiry, including the components of the process that typically receive less attention such as the connection of science to society, community feedback, role of serendipity and creativity in science. Since 2011, I have implemented the Home Inquiry Project in my methods courses and the impact on the preservice teachers’ views about and attitude toward science has been remarkable (Kazempour, in press).

Figure 1. (Click to Enlarge) Flow Chart Depicting the Process of Science. Source: The University of California Museum of Paleontology – Understanding Science –  www.understandingscience.org 

 Phase 1: Introducing the Project

The various components of the project are introduced in segments throughout the semester in order to better demonstrate the process of scientific inquiry. Students are given the initial instructions for the project early in the semester as soon as they are introduced to the scientific practices of developing questions and making observations. The initial prompt is simple and instructs them to choose one of the three options and generate questions and make observations for several consecutive days. The three options that students may choose from to focus their observations include the following:

Option 1: Daytime Sky

On a daily basis, observe the sky and record your observations. Try to do so at the same location. Include the date and time, location, a description of what you observe, a drawing or a photo of what you see, questions you wonder about, etc.

Option 2: Nighttime Sky

On a nightly basis, observe the sky and record your observations. Try to do so at the same location. Include the date and time, location, a description of what you observe, a drawing or a photo of what you see, questions you wonder about, etc.

Option 3: Field/Site

Pick a site (same location each day). It could be your backyard, a local park, on a beach, next to a pond, in a field, etc. On a daily basis, observe the area (choose a smaller area within that location to focus on if the location is too large) and record your observations. Include the date and time, location, a description of what you see, a drawing or a photo of what you see, questions you wonder about, etc.

During the next class session, they are introduced to different types of observations (qualitative vs. quantitative), inferences, and predictions, and are asked to extend their inquiry to include different types of observations, inferences, and predictions.

Phase 2: Initial Connection to Scientific Inquiry

During the following week, a segment of the class is devoted to discussing their initial observations, questions, and inferences as well as their thoughts on the process up to that point. The team and subsequent whole-class discussion prompts students to think about possible questions that they are interested in or ways they can extend their observations. For example, they point out that their initial observations were limited to what they could “see” and how after our discussion they were incorporating their sense of smell, hearing, and even touch. Some of them indicate during the first discussion session that they are already losing interest in what they were initially making observations of and have found themselves wondering about other things that they were noticing. For example, students who observe the daytime sky, often speak about becoming interested in the birds that flew by or the jet contrails they could observe in the sky. We discuss the fact that they can make observations of and ask questions about anything that interests them and are not confined to a particular aspect of the sky or the field.

During the next two class sessions, they are introduced to the scientific inquiry model through a number of collaborative activities, discussions, and the video, Science in Action: How Science Works, by California Academy of Sciences, about the accurate model of scientific inquiry and its connections to authentic scientific work. At this point, I have them work in small teams to discuss the components of the inquiry model they have already been involved with in the Home Inquiry Project and ways they could engage in more components. They are instructed to make another week’s worth of observation, as frequently as they deem necessary, and explore how they may want to extend or redirect their projects. We discuss the flexibility of the process and how they are not confined to the original options they had selected which were meant to simply provide them an initiation point.

Phase 3: Independent Explorations

During the next class session, after we briefly discuss their ongoing experiences and possible modifications in their project, I provide the final set of instructions for the project. They are instructed to continue with their projects in any way they wish to as long as they are engaged with the components of the scientific inquiry model. I explain that they can refine their investigations, continue gathering data, search the literature, reshuffle their project at any time, and so forth. Some may wish to gather evidence while others may want to restart with an entirely different question or simultaneously investigate several related questions. Similarly, some many want to explore societal connections of their topic or search the literature to expand their understanding of the concepts or issues they encounter. At this point, they are informed that the project will culminate in approximately six weeks with individual presentations of their projects during week 10 of the course.

Phase 4: Presentations and Reflections

Depending on class size, students are allotted approximately ten minutes to present their projects. Presentation must be in the form of narrated PowerPoint, narrated Prezi, or an iMovie or other format video. Regardless of the format, the presentations must address: (a) a thorough description of their journey, (b) connections to the process of scientific inquiry, and (c) implications for future teaching.

In describing their journey, students are instructed to explain what observations or questions they started with, how their questions may have evolved, evidence they gathered, transitions they made along the way, and any other aspect of their experience. They are reminded that each individual will have a different journey and that there is no “correct” path that they have to take during the project or explain during their presentation. As part of their descriptions they need to include photos, drawings, videoclips, charts, and other pieces of evidence that would aid in understanding their projects. Second, in describing their project, they are instructed to clearly make connections to and describe the specific components of the scientific inquiry process that they were engaged with throughout their project. Finally, students are asked to reflect on the implications of their experiences for their future classroom teaching. In doing so, they could either discuss their own specific projects or the Home Inquiry Project in general.

Reflecting on the Project

Each presentation is followed with a brief question and answer session where students can engage in conversations regarding specific questions they may have for each presenter or items they found interesting. Afterwards, the class engages in a reflective class discussion about the Home Inquiry Project, their experiences, and overall understanding of science that they gained from the experience. Students’ presentations and verbal comments during the reflection session suggest an overall positive perception of the project and an improved understanding of the process of scientific inquiry.

In the beginning of the semester when the project is first introduced, students continually ask about more specific instruction or check to make sure that they are “on the right track.” It is often strange for them how open ended the instructions are at first, but as we proceed through the project and they learn about the cyclical process of scientific inquiry and through continued in-class discussion and reflection they begin to recognize the rationale for the open-ended nature of the project as suggested in this student reflection except.

The first night I began my observations, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for.  I simply went outside and looked up at the sky.  I didn’t have any questions I was looking to answer.  As time progressed, a very natural curiosity began to develop. I initially began to wonder why I couldn’t always see this moon.  This soon expanded to ‘why can’t I see the moon OR stars on many nights?’

In their final reflections, students comment on the flexible nature of the project and how they felt interested in what they were investigating and motivated to do the project because they chose the path rather than being dictated what to do. Furthermore, they comment on the improvement in their observation and questioning skills and how they find themselves asking questions and making observations more routinely throughout their daily lives and how they are increasingly aware of their surroundings.

The actual experience of being involved in the process of going back and forth between the various components, such as tweaking questions, searching in the literature, making additional observations, and communicating and collaborating with their peers, allows them to notice the resemblance of the process to the fluid nature of scientific inquiry as opposed to the scientific method model.

I have found that the skills developed through science inquiry are skills that are essential in everyday life. There is value in understanding the “why” and “how” in unfolding events. These skills are vastly different from the traditional scientific method, where conclusions are based on the accumulation of facts. Creative thinking and problem solving skills innately develop from the nature of the process found in scientific inquiry.

What is exciting about the inquiry learning is the unknown direction that it will take you. I never thought staring at the night sky could lead me to learn about the different spectrums of light.

Their experiences not only allow them to utilize scientific practices and witness the fluid and iterative nature of scientific inquiry, but it also allows them to better experience and understand cross cutting concepts (NRC, 2012) such as patterns, stability and change, cause and effect, similarity, and diversity.

Finally, they reflect on the numerous implications of the project for their future teaching. Some indicate how a similar project could be done with their own students by asking students to perform similar explorations in their backyards or location of their choice. Teaching in an urban area, they recognize the flexibility of the project in allowing students to focus on even the simple things in their surroundings. They also discuss, as suggested in the excerpts below, the importance of being able to utilize their improved understanding of science in more accurately depicting the scientific process in their science lessons and units.

This experience will follow me into my future classroom and into my future science lesson plans. Inquiry based learning will not only be a part of my science curriculum but also a majority of other subjects with incorporating interdisciplinary objectives.

In my future teaching, I want to help my students feel the way I have come to feel about science.  I realize now that science is more about the journey you take. Finding answers or possibilities (or maybe nothing at all!) are just the end products of that process.

I learned it does not take much to find something amazing relating to science.  I don’t think this is specific to the area we live in but I do think there are so many resources in this area that could be utilized by an elementary class to extend science learning to the outside world.  There are waterways, nature trails, ample wildlife, even their own backyards, etc. The options are endless for relating lessons in the classroom to locations very close to the school.

Conclusion

Authentic experiences, such as the Home Inquiry Project, which immerse preservice teachers in the various aspects of the process of scientific inquiry have the potential to influence preservice teachers’ understanding of science as well as their attitude and confidence toward doing and teaching science. If the ultimate goal is the development of scientific literacy through engaging K-12 students, particularly those in the early grades, in authentic inquiry experiences, then we need to better prepare the teacher population that will be responsible for implementing this type of instruction in the classroom. Elementary teachers will continue to either avoid teaching science altogether or do so in a superficial, test preparation and coverage-focused manner that does not accurately depict the reality of the scientific process unless science content and methods courses begin to actively engage them in these forms of inquiry and reflective practice.

A Lesson to Unlock Preservice Science Teachers’ Expert Reading Strategies

Introduction

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

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

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

Context & Framing

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

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

 

 

Lesson Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading the Newspaper Article

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

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

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

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

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

Reading the Textbook

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

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

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

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

Reading the Journal Article

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

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

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

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

Reading Across the Science Texts

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

Preservice Teachers’ Ideas for Scaffolding Literacy

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

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

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

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

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

Implications for Science Teacher Educators

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

Challenges in implementation

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

Suggestions for future implementation

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

Conclusion

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

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