Adapting a Model of Preservice Teacher Professional Development for Use in Other Contexts: Lessons Learned and Recommendations

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Park Rogers, M., Carter, I., Amador, J., Galindo, E., & Akerson, V. (2020). Adapting a model of preservice teacher professional development for use in other contexts: Lessons learned and recommendations. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 5(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/adapting-a-model-of-preservice-teacher-professional-development-for-use-in-other-contexts-lessons-learned-and-recommendations/

by Meredith Park Rogers, Indiana University - Bloomington; Ingrid Carter, Metropolitan State University of Denver; Julie Amador, University of Idaho; Enrique Galindo, Indiana University - Bloomington; & Valarie Akerson, Indiana University - Bloomington

Abstract

We discuss how an innovative field experience model initially developed at Indiana University - Bloomington (IUB) is adapted for use at two other institutions. The teacher preparation programs at the two adapting universities not only differ from IUB, but also from each other with respect to course structure and student population. We begin with describing the original model, referred to as Iterative Model Building (IMB), and how it is designed to incorporate on a variety of research-based teacher education methods (e.g., teaching experiment interviews and Lesson Study) for the purpose of supporting preservice teachers with constructing models of children’s thinking, using this information to inform lesson planning, and then participating in a modified form of lesson study for the purpose of reflecting on changes to the lesson taught and future lessons that will be taught in the field experience. The goal of these combined innovations is to initiate the development of preservice teachers’ knowledge and skill for focusing on children’s scientific and mathematical thinking. We then share how we utilize formative assessment interviews and model building with graduate level in-service teachers at one institution and how the component of lesson study is adapted for use with undergraduate preservice teachers at another institution. Finally, we provide recommendations for adapting the IMB approach further at other institutions.

Introduction

There is a clear consensus that teachers must learn to question, listen to, and respond to what and how students are thinking (Jacobs, Lamb, & Philipp, 2010; NRC, 2007; Russ & Luna, 2013).  With this information teachers can decide appropriate steps for instruction that will build on students’ current understandings and address misunderstandings.  At Indiana University – Bloomington (IUB) we received funding to rethink our approach to the early field experience that our elementary education majors take in order to emphasize this need for developing our preservice teachers’ knowledge and abilities to ask children productive questions (Harlen, 2015), interpret their understanding, and respond with appropriate instructional methods to develop students’ conceptual understanding about the topics being discussed (Carter, Park Rogers, Amador, Akerson, & Pongsanon, 2016).  Our field experience model titled, Iterative Model Building (IMB), is taken in a block with the elementary mathematics methods and science methods courses, and as such half of the field experience time (~5-6 weeks) is devoted to each subject area.  Over the course of the semester, the preservice teachers attend local schools for one afternoon a week.  In teams of four to six, the preservice teachers engage with elementary students through interviews and the teaching of lessons, and then experience various modes of reflection to begin developing an orientation towards teaching mathematics and science that is grounded in the notion that student thinking should drive instruction (National Research Council, 2007).  Thus, the IMB approach consists of four components that include weekly formative assessment interviews with children, discussions regarding models of the children’s thinking from the weekly interviews, lesson planning and teaching, and small group lesson reflections similar in nature to Lesson Study (Nargund-Joshi, Park Rogers, Wiebke, & Akerson., 2012; Carter et al., 2016). The intent of our approach is to teach preservice teachers to not only attend to student thinking, but to learn how to take this information and use it when designing lessons so they will make informed decisions about appropriate instructional strategies.

In this article we describe not only the original IMB approach, but also demonstrate the flexibility in the use of its components  with descriptions of how Authors 2 and 3 (Ingrid and Julie) have adapted aspects of the IMB to incorporate into their science and mathematics teacher education courses at different institutions.  Although this journal focuses on innovations for science teacher education, at the elementary level many teacher educators are asked to either teach both mathematics and science methods, or work collaboratively with colleagues in mathematics education, as students are often enrolled in both content area methods courses during the same semester.  Therefore, we believe sharing our stories of how this shared science and mathematics field experience model was initially developed and employed at IUB, but has been modified for use at two other institutions, has the potential for demonstrating how the components of the model can be used in other contexts.

To begin, we believe it is important to disclose that Ingrid and Julie, who made the adaptations we are sharing, attended or worked at IUB and held positions on the IMB Project for several years during the funded phases of research and development.  When they left IUB for academic positions, they took with them the premise of the IMB approach as foundational to developing quality mathematics and science teachers.  However, the structure of their current teacher education programs are not the same as at IUB, and thus they adapted the IMB approach to fit their institutional structure while trying to staying true to what they believed were core aspects of the approach for quality teacher development.

We begin with sharing an overview of the components of the IMB approach followed by descriptions from Ingrid and Julie about the context and course structure where they implement components of IMB.  In addition, we share examples of how their students discuss K-12 students’ mathematical and scientific ideas and relate this to instructional decision-making.  Through sharing our stories of adaptation of the IMB approach, we aim to inspire other teacher educators to consider how they may incorporate aspects of this approach into their professional development model for preparing or advancing teachers’ knowledge for teaching in STEM related disciplines.

Overview of IMB Approach – Indiana University (IUB)

As previously mentioned, IMB includes four components: (i) developing preservice teachers’ questioning abilities to analyze students’ thinking through the use of formative assessment interviews (FAIs); (ii) constructing models of students’ thinking about concepts that are asked about in the interviews (i.e., Model Building); (iii) developing and teaching lessons that take into consideration the evolving models of children’s thinking about the concepts being taught (i.e., Act of Teaching); (iv) learning to revise lessons using evidence gathered about children’s thinking from the lesson taught (i.e., Lesson Study). Although these components may not appear to be innovative to those in the field of teacher preparation, the unique feature of the IMB model is the iterative process, and weekly combination of all four components, within an early field experience for elementary education majors that we believe demonstrate innovative practice in preparing science and mathematics elementary teachers.  In addition, the field experience at IUB applies this four-step iterative process in the first 5-6 weeks with respect to teaching mathematics concepts, then continues for an additional 5-6 weeks on science concepts.  In the next few paragraphs, each of the IMB components are described in more detail.  We have grouped components according to those that Ingrid and Julie have adopted for use at their institutions.

Formative Assessment Interviews and Model Building

Formative assessment interviews (FAIs) are modified ‘clinical interviews’ that are aimed at understanding students’ conceptualizations of scientific phenomenon or mathematics problems (Steffe & Thompson, 2000).  From these video-recorded interviews, the preservice teachers identify short snippets that illustrate elementary students explaining their thinking about what a concepts is, how it works, and how they solved for it.  These explanations are then used to try to develop a predictive model to help the teachers consider how the students might respond to a related phenomenon, problem, or task (Norton, McCloskey, & Hudson, 2012).  The Model Building sessions require the preservice teachers to consider what is known about the students’ thinking on the concept or problem, based on the specific evidence given in the snippet of video, and identify what other information would be helpful to know. See Akerson, Carter, Park Rogers, & Pongsanon (2018) for further details on the purpose, structure and ability of preservice teachers to participate in a task where they are asked to make evidence-based predictions regarding students future responses to relate content (i.e., anticipate the student thinking).

With respect to the IMB approach, a secondary purpose of the FAI and Model Building sessions is to develop preservice teachers’ knowledge and abilities to think about how to improve their questioning of students’ thinking within the context of their teaching. This relates to being able to develop their professional noticing skills; a core aspect identified in the research literature (Jacobs, et al., 2010; van Es & Sherin, 2008) and critical to fostering the expert knowledge teachers possess (Shulman, 1987). See ‘Resources’ for examples of the post FAI Reflection Form (Document A) and Model Building Form (Document B) preservice teachers complete at IUB as part of their field experience requirements.

Act of Teaching and Lesson Study

Each week the teams develop a lesson plan using the information gathered from the FAIs, Model Building sessions, and as time goes on, their experience of teaching previous lessons to the students in their field classroom.  With respect to the mathematics portion of the field experience, the mathematics lessons are developed in conjunction with the field experience supervisor from week to week.  However, given the additional time that science has, because the science teaching in the field does not start until halfway through the semester, a first draft of all five science lessons are completed as part of the science methods course. Once the switch is made to science in the field, the preservice teachers then revise the drafted lessons from week to week using the information gathered through the IMB approach and with the guidance of the field instructor.

During the teaching of the lesson, two to three members of each team lead the instruction and the other two to three members of the team move around the room amongst the elementary students observing and gathering information about what the students are saying and doing related to the lesson objectives.  After the teaching experience, all members come together and follow the IMB’s modified lesson study approach that is adapted from the Japanese Lesson Study model (Lewis & Tsuchida, 1998)[1].  Using the Lesson Study Form developed for use in the IMB, the different members of the teaching team reflect on what the children understood about the concepts taught in the lesson and propose revisions for that lesson based on the children’s understandings and misunderstandings.  Possible strategies related to these understandings are also discussed with respect to the next lesson to be taught in the series of lessons.  Supporting them in this reflective process is the evidence some members of the team recorded using the Lesson Observation Form (see ‘Resources’, Document C), as well as what those who taught the lesson assessed while teaching.  The Lesson Study Form (see ‘Resources’, Document D) guides this evidence-based, collaborative, and reflective process.

Stories of Adaptation

In the following sections we describe how Ingrid and Julie have adapted components of the IMB approach for use in their teacher education programs.  To keep with the flow of how we described the IMB approach above, we begin with Julie’s story as she adapted the FAI and Model Building components for use at her institution.  Following her story is Ingrid’s, and her adaptation of the teaching and Lesson Study components of the IMB approach.  While neither of these stories demonstrates an adaptation of the complete IMB approach, demonstrating that type of transfer is not our intent with this article.  Rather, we want to share how aspects of the IMB approach could be adapted together for use in other institutional structures.  Table 1 provides a side-by-side comparison of how the IMB components were adapted for use at our different institutions to meet the needs of our students in our different contexts.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Comparison of IMB components across Institutions

Julie’s Story of Adaptation at the University of Idaho (UI)

In the final two years of the five year IMB, Julie was a postdoctoral researcher and IMB manager for IMB. In this capacity, she taught the field experience course and coordinated with other instructors of the course. At the same time, she worked with participants after they had completed the field experience and moved to their student teaching or actual teaching placements. Julie was also involved with writing a manual to support others to implement the IMB field experience process.

At her current institution, Julie has incorporated FAIs and Model Building into a graduate course on K-12 mathematics education. The university is a medium-size doctoral granting institution in the upper Northwest of the United States. The course, for which the IMB approach has been adapted, engages masters and doctoral students in exploring: a) connections between research literature and practice (Lambdin & Lester, 2010; Lobato & Lester, 2010), b) the cognitive demand of tasks (Stein, Smith Henningsen, & Silver, 2009), and c) professional noticing (Jacobs et al., 2010; Sherin, Jacobs, & Philipp, 2011). The fully online course lasts sixteen weeks and students engage in weekly modules around these three core foci. Students in the course are primarily practicing teachers from across the state in which the university resides.

The IMB process of engaging teachers in FAIs and Model Building is followed in this course; however, the process spans over a longer period with a whole semester devoted solely to mathematics. Each person designs two FAIs on a specific mathematical topic and completes a Model Building session for each interview. This process is slightly different than the IMB approach because there are fewer students in the graduate class, and since many are practicing K-12 classroom teachers, they have access to students with whom they can easily conduct the FAIs. Despite the teacher population and logistical differences between IUB and UI, Julie used the supporting documents and implemented them in a manner very similar to how they were initially designed and employed for the IMB approach at IUB. For example, at UI each graduate student/teacher selects appropriate mathematics content for the interview based on the standards and learning objectives that are age appropriate for the K-12 student they will interview. They then plan a goal for the interview, along with five problematic questions to be asked during the interview and related follow-up questions. Based on the second focus of the graduate course, they are encouraged to consider the cognitive demand of the tasks they include in their questions. The interview is audio recorded and the graduate students are asked to reflect on the questions outlined on the FAI Reflection Form (see ‘Resources’, Document A).  Referring specifically to the second question on the reflection form, one graduate student responded, “During my post-FAI analysis of the student work and audio, my noticing, once again, improved as I began to consider the relationship between the student’s misconceptions and teaching strategies.” Comments like this were commonly found across the FAI reflection forms, indicating the value of this interview experience in preparing teachers mathematical knowledge of content and students’ understanding of the content (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008).

Following the first FAI, the graduate students are tasked to create a model of the student’s thinking that again mirrors the model-building process of the IMB approach (see ‘Resources,’ Document B). To do this, they are asked to listen to their audio recording and select a clip that highlights what the student says or does as evidence of how the student thinks about particular ideas. They transcribe the segment of audio and conduct an analysis on what the student knows, does not know, and what further information would be helpful. As an example, the following task was given during one FAI conducted by a graduate student — . Going through the Model Building process, the graduate student who gave this question in their FAI highlighted the following portion of their transcript, and provided the accompanying image of the student’s work in solving this question.

Student: I did that because the equal sign is right there.  And so because these numbers are supposed to be at the beginning but they switched them around to the end and then you would add them together to get nine and then you would do plus two and then you write your answer (write 11 underneath the box).

Teacher: How could we check that this (points to the left side of the equation) equals this (points to the right side of the equation?  Is there a way we could check that?

Student: Umm… what do you mean?

Teacher:  So, I saw that you added these numbers together and placed the nine here.  Could we check or is there a way to check that these two things added together equals these numbers added together?

Student: I guess you could just add them together.

Teacher: Do they come out equal?

Student: No because this is eleven (points to left side of equation).  And then this goes three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.  Oh! So it goes eleven like that and then eleven, twelve, thirteen, like that and then that will equal nine.

Teacher: So I saw a light bulb go off.  Is that going to change he number you put in there (points to the box)?

Student: So if was eleven, wait, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two and that equals twenty-two.  And that is your real answer.

Building on this evidence, the graduate student wrote the following model of the student’s thinking with this problem.  This model is the graduate student’s attempt at explaining the student’s thinking with the evidence provided from the task.

Given a numeric equation with values on each side of the equation but a missing value on one side (e.g. 17+5=___+4), the student added the numbers on one side of the equation and placed that sum into the blank space. The student then continued executing computations by placing another equal sign and adding the newly determined answer with the existing value on that side of the equation. This same action happened in two different tasks with the missing value on the left and right side of the equation. Thus, the student does not conceptually understand the meaning of the equal sign and/or the concept of equality. She does not understand that the equal sign describes the relationship between two expressions and that the correct answer should create two equal expressions.  Instead, the student views the equal sign as an indicator to perform computations to find answers.

This model describes what the student knows and understands with respect to different sides of an equation.

Following this first round of FAIs and Model Building, the graduate students then repeat this entire process again, with the same student. However, before the second round, the graduate students have an opportunity to first share their models and thinking in online discussion boards and receive written instructor feedback. Their peers are also required to comment and engage in dialogue with them through the virtual discussions. With the second FAI, the intent is for the mathematical content to align with the content of the first interview, but focus on revealing deeper understandings of this content from the same student. For example, if the first FAI asked questions that broadly addressed fractional understanding at grade three, and the graduate student recognized some misconceptions related to part-whole relationships and understanding, then the second FAI may be designed to focus entirely on part-whole relationships.  The purpose of the second FAI is to dive deeper into a child’s thinking about the concept to obtain a greater understanding of how the child conceptualizes part and whole.

As the graduate students conducted the series of two FAIs and two Model Building exercises, they focused on the same K-12 student to provide an in-depth understanding of that student’s knowledge. As a result, they were then asked to deeply study what they had learned about that student’s mathematical thinking and focus on that student as a case study. This is a component that is not included in the original IMB process.  Julie elected to add this component of a case study to provide her graduate students the opportunity to revisit both cycles of the FAIs and Model Building processes and formulate some ideas around supporting the student based on evidence from interactions across the two cycles. As a part of the case study, they write a formal paper about the student that includes an analysis of the students’ thinking and makes recommendations for supporting the students’ understanding in the classroom context—these components stem from the research literature on professional noticing and the importance of attending to thinking, interpreting thinking, and making instructional decisions of how to respond (Jacobs et al., 2010). In the final component of the case study paper, the graduate student situates the student’s understanding within the broader mathematics education literature. Therefore, Julie has adapted the FAI and Model Building process of the IMB to engage graduate students in the act of professional noticing through a specific focus on one child as a case study (Jacobs et al., 2010).  The following comment from one of the case study reports illustrates the value of this adapted experience for one student, but the same sentiment was echoed by others.

The student thinking uncovered during the formative assessment interviews and the learning from this course on noticing, cognitive demand, and teacher knowledge combined together to profoundly influence on my views of mathematics instruction. Slowing down to thoughtfully probe a struggling student’s thinking revealed so much more than my prior noticing ability would have allowed.

Ingrid’s Story of Adaptation at Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver)

Ingrid joined the IMB as a graduate teaching and research assistant in the second year of implementation. In her first year with the IMB, she instructed a section of the field experience with preservice elementary teachers. Later on in her doctoral program, she taught the affiliated science methods course that is taken in the cluster with the field experience, but was no longer an instructor of the field experience.  During this time however, she remained on the IMB as a research assistant. Therefore, throughout her time on the IMB project, Ingrid worked on many facets of the IMB and was integral in developing procedures and protocols for teaching the IMB approach.

At her current institution, Ingrid has adapted the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study components of the IMB, infusing it into her undergraduate elementary science and health methods course. Her institution is a large urban commuter campus with a large majority of students being undergraduates. The student body is diverse and most are from the expansive metropolitan area. For their field experience, which combines science, health, and mathematics, each preservice teacher is placed in an elementary classroom for 45 hours per semester. In most cases, this is usually the fourth field experience these preservice teachers have participated in for their program. The science and health methods course meets face-to-face for 15 weeks of classes and incorporates a teaching rehearsal experience in the methods course to provide the preservice teachers with the opportunity to practice a lesson they have planned and the Lesson Study component of the IMB approach before completing the teaching experience in the field with children.

The preservice teachers at MSU Denver are placed in separate classrooms for their field experience, thus they plan different lessons and teach the lessons independently.  Despite this independent teaching experience, Ingrid has tried to maintain the collaborative integrity of the Lesson Study component of the IMB by pairing preservice teachers that are placed at the same school or nearby schools.  The purpose of this pairing is so they can serve as peer observers for each other and participate in a shared Lesson Study experience. Unfortunately, this request cannot always be made, and in some instances the preservice teachers work with the mentor classroom teacher through the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study components.

Before the preservice teachers begin their teaching cycle in the field however, Ingrid has her preservice teachers participate in a type of teaching rehearsal (Lampert et al., 2013).  The preservice teachers are placed into teams of four or five and together they develop a learning plan (similar to a lesson) but with a focus on just the first three Es of a Learning Cycle (Engage, Explore, and Explain) and the learning objective.  Preservice teachers usually focus on science, but in some cases they elect to teach a health or engineering lesson. Two groups are then brought together to serve as the different members of the teaching cycle.  When one team is teaching, one member of the other team serves as the peer observer completing the Lesson Observation Form (see ‘Resources’, Document C) and all remaining members of the other group are acting as elementary students for the teaching of the lesson. The group then switches and they repeat the experience for another lesson. Following each rehearsal the two groups then walk through the Lesson Study Form and complete it for each rehearsed lesson.  Ingrid believes taking her students through this rehearsal of planning a lesson, teaching it, and practicing with the forms helps the preservice teachers to be more successful in all aspects of the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study when they conduct it in their smaller pairings and in the context of their field experience classrooms.

Due to the complex structure of field placement at Ingrid’s institution, with it being a commuter-based university serving a large urban/suburban area, Ingrid has made more adaptations to the IMB approach and documents than Julie, some of which are described above. Additional adaptations however, include Ingrid providing feedback on the each preservice teacher’s lesson and then having preservice teachers revise the lesson using this feedback, and having the preservice teacher partners participating in a Pre-Observation Conference.  The purpose of this conference is help the preservice teachers who are partnered for the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study (or the preservice teacher and the mentor teacher) to understand the learning objectives of the lesson and the intentions of the preservice teacher for structuring the lesson in the manner they did.  In addition, there is a section called “look-fors” that directs the preservice teachers to anticipate what the children should be able to do by the end of the lesson (with respect to the learning objective) and what evidence will be gathered to determine this goal was met. This is intended to support the preservice teachers to focus on students’ thinking in the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study processes in the field. The pair completes one Pre-Observation Conference Form (see ‘Resources’, Document E) together for each partner’s lesson. To complete the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study cycle, each preservice teacher is required to submit a packet to document the experience that includes: the Pre-Observation Conference Form, the Lesson Observation Form completed by their partner, their collaborative Lesson Study Form, a revised lesson that incorporates the color-coded revisions suggested in the Lesson Study, and a personal reflection paper about what they took away from the experience.

Lastly, Ingrid’s Act of Teaching/Lesson Study cycle concludes with a debriefing about the experience with all students in the class. She focuses much of the conversation on asking the preservice teachers to share what they reflected on in their individual papers about the experience and she guides the discussion with questions such as,

  • What did you think about the peer observation process?
  • How did participating in lesson study support your growth as a teacher?
    • What parts of the lesson study process were particularly helpful for you?
  • What would you do differently if you could do this again?
  • How did lesson study support you in focusing on students’ thinking?
  • What have you learned from the lesson study process that you will take with you in your future classroom?

From this class discussion she is able to glean how they view the whole process as supporting the preservice teachers’ understanding of how to focus their attention on children’s scientific thinking and use this information to inform their future instruction. ​

Reflecting on Our Stories of Adaptation: Lessons Learned

At Julie’s institution (University of Idaho [UI]), implementation using FAIs and Model Building have shown to be beneficial for the graduate students, as most of them are practicing classroom teachers. One accommodation from the IMB model is the time span for the FAIs and Model Building. In the modified version, two cycles are spread over six weeks, as opposed to having a new cycle each week. Additionally, one graduate student interviews one student in K-12, as opposed to working in pairs. This has afforded opportunities for greater flexibility with scheduling and diving in deeper around a specific mathematical topic. However, the graduate student has only one student with whom they work and do not develop a broader understanding of various students, which may lessen their opportunity for understanding the thinking of multiple students. Additionally, at UI, every graduate student selects the grade level and the student with whom they will work. The FAIs and Model Building then focus on their selected student and topic, which restricts collaboration across the graduate students and learning from one another; whereas with the original IMB model, the same mathematics topic (e.g., number sense) is covered by each team.  This modification affords teams experiencing the full IMB model the opportunity to learn from each other within their team, but also across the teams to learn about content progressions. Therefore, a possible limitation of the modification at UI is that every graduate student has a different topic and they are unable to share and discuss students’ thinking and ideas about a similar mathematical domain. Determining ways to work around this limitation depends on the intentions of the course instructor/teacher educator for using FAIs and Model Building.  For Julie, her focus is on developing individual teachers’ professional noticing, thus the limitations in collaborating with others does not prevent her from meeting her intentions.

Another accommodation from the IMB model is that Julie is unable to attend the FAI recordings in person unlike the field instructors at IUB who are present weekly.  The online nature of Julie’s course provided the graduate students with flexibility in accessing students and scheduling the recordings at times throughout the school day that worked for them and the students.  However, being disconnected to the context limited Julie’s abilities, she believes, in providing more targeted or individualized feedback regarding specific student’s thinking.  The inclusion of the case study however, is how Julie works around the limited contextual understanding she feels she has and it affords her the opportunity to dig more into an understanding of the ‘whole’ child that her graduate students’ are presenting to her.  The case study, while it includes evidence from the FAI and Model Building cycles, is only a portion of what is required for the case study paper.  Therefore, we suggest the FAI and Model Building be done not in isolation but merged with other tasks that can help foster deeper professional noticing, such as Julie has done with her Case Study assignment.

With respect to Ingrid’s story of adaptation at MSU Denver, the implementation of the IMB’s modified lesson study has been positively received. As previously described, two accommodations made by Ingrid were the implementation of a modified teaching rehearsal experience and the development of the Pre-Observation Conference Form (see ‘Resources’, Document E).  Considering her field placement arrangements, she learned she needed to include both of these modifications to give the preservice teachers practice with both the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study components before doing it in the field.  Also, because the preservice teachers are not placed in the same classroom (unlike IUB) they need the opportunity to first review each other’s lesson (i.e., Pre-Observation Conference) so they had some idea of what to expect when observing each other teach.

Overall, the preservice teachers at Ingrid’s institution mentioned they enjoy the “lower stakes” atmosphere of being observed by a peer (when possible) rather than a university supervisor and the opportunity to discuss possible revisions to the lesson with a peer considering their different participatory perspectives.  This arrangement can create a challenge however, as not all preservice teachers may provide the same level of constructive criticism for revising the lesson.  Ingrid has attempted to address this challenge by first providing the teaching rehearsal experience in class so students can gain experience in her methods course on how to complete the forms and provide constructive feedback on a lesson.

 Recommendations

There is consensus across both science and mathematics teacher education that for effective teaching to occur teachers must learn to recognize and build on students’ ideas and experiences (Bransford, Brown, &Cocking, 1999; Kang & Anderson, 2015, NRC, 2007; van Es & Sherin, 2008).  Considering this goal, preparation programs often design opportunities for prospective teachers to question and analyze students’ thinking, and when possible do so within the context of teaching science.  However, few programs offer a systematic and iterative experience such as the IMB approach, and this is due in part to the structural variation in teacher education programs and the varied constraints of these different models.  As Zeichner and Conklin (2005) explain,

there will always be a wide range of quality in any model of teacher education….The state policy context, type of institution, and institutional history and culture in which the program is located; the goals and capabilities of the teacher education faculty, and many other factors will affect the character and quality of programs (p. 700).

Therefore, our intent with this article is to show the potential for taking well-recognized practices for teacher education, such as those used in the IMB approach, and demonstrate how they can be combined for use in other science and mathematics teacher education models.  In particular, we wanted to highlight the adaptations made by Ingrid and Julie because their institutions and learner populations are very different from those where the IMB approach was initially developed, and this sort of variation in context is rarely described in the research (Zeichner & Conklin, 2005).  Despite the vast program differences at our three institutions, Ingrid and Julie were able to adapt key aspects of the IMB approach to fit the context and needs of their learners.

More specifically, although we recognize that individually the four aspects of the IMB approach are not innovative, it is the potential for combining features of the IMB, as Authors 2 and 3 have shared, that we believe demonstrates the innovation and potential of the IMB approach for impacting science and mathematics teacher learning. As such, we offer the following recommendations from lessons we have learned through our adaptive processes, with the hope of inspiring others to consider how they may combine features of the IMB for use at their institutions.

  1. Understand your own orientation toward teacher preparation. Begin with selecting aspects of the IMB approach that most align with your own beliefs as to core practices for developing teachers’ cognition about learning to attend to students’ thinking to inform practice. Ingrid and Julie made their selections based on what they viewed as critical practices given the professional development needs of their student teachers (i.e., their population of teacher), as well as the purpose of their course.
  2. Don’t lose sight of the goal! Make modifications to the sample documents provided (see Resources) or provide additional support documents (e.g., the Pre-Observation Conference form designed by Ingrid) to guide preservice or inservice teachers’ cognition of how to uncover K-12 students’ ideas and reflect on their ideas in order to identify rich and appropriate learning tasks.
  3. Choose the strategies that best fit your context. If some components of the IMB approach will not fit into your current program or university structure, select the one that will fit and be most appropriate for your own students and situation. The goal is to help preservice and inservice teachers understand their students’ thinking, and whatever strategies can best work for you and your students given your context are the ones to include.
  4. Remember that improvement is an iterative process. Continue to adapt and refine the approach as needed for your context. Once you have selected the aspect or aspects of IMB that you think will be most impactful, continue to reflect on and obtain feedback about the process from the students with whom you work, and then make modifications to support your goals.
  5. Collaboration is valuable and can take many forms. At the core of the IMB approach is the belief that collaboration leads to better understandings about learning to teach science and mathematics. Whether collaborating to plan, teach, and reflect on lessons taught, or the sharing of models of students’ thinking and engaging through discussion boards online, the notion of collaboration is still at the core of each of our pedagogical approaches to working with teachers. We recognize the structure of various institutions teacher education programs/courses may make it difficult to afford students the opportunity to collaborate in the same physical space (classroom, or school), as did Julie; however, it is worth exploring what technologies your institution may offer to arrange other means of collaborating in synchronous and asynchronous spaces.

[1] For further details comparing these two models of Lesson Study see Carter et al. (2016).

Supplemental Files

IMB-Supplementary-Materials.pdf

References

Akerson V.L., Carter I.S., Park Rogers, M.A. & Pongsanon, K. (2018). A video-based measure of preservice teachers’ abilities to predict elementary students’ scientific reasoning. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology (IJEMST), 6(1), 79-92. DOI:10.18404/ijemst.328335

Ball, D.L., Thames, M.H., Phelps, G.C. (2008). Content knowledge for teaching: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education, 59, 389-407.

Carter, I. S., Park Rogers, M. A., Amador, J. M., Akerson, V. L., & Pongsanon, K. (2016). Utilizing an iterative research-based lesson study approach to support preservice teachers’ professional noticing.  Electronic Journal of Science Education, 20 (8). Retrieved from http://ejse.southwestern.edu/article/view/16434/10861

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Enacting Wonder-infused Pedagogy in an Elementary Science Methods Course

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Gilbert, A., & Byers, C.C. (2020). Enacting wonder-infused pedagogy in an elementary science methods course. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 5(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/enacting-wonder-infused-pedagogy-in-an-elementary-science-methods-course/

by Andrew Gilbert, George Mason University; & Christie C. Byers, George Mason University

Abstract

Future elementary teachers commonly experience a sense of disconnection and lack of confidence in teaching science, often related to their own negative experiences with school science. As a result, teacher educators are faced with the challenge of engaging future teachers in ways that build confidence and help them develop positive associations with science. In this article, we present wonder-infused pedagogy as a means to create positive pathways for future teachers to engage with both science content and teaching. We first articulate the theoretical foundations underpinning conceptions of wonder in relation to science education, and then move on to share specific practical activities designed to integrate elements of wonder into an elementary methods course. We envision wonder-infused pedagogy not as a disruptive force in standard science methods courses, but rather an effort to deepen inquiry and connect it to the emotive and imaginative selves of our students. The article closes with thorough descriptions of wonder related activities including wonder journaling and a wonder fair in order to illustrate the pedagogical possibilities of this approach. We provide student examples of these artifacts and exit tickets articulating student experiences within the course. We also consider possible challenges that teacher educators may encounter during this process and methods to address those possible hurdles. We found that the process involved in wonder-infused pedagogy provided possibilities for future teachers to reconnect and rekindle a joyful relationship with authentic science practice.

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References

Akerson, V., Morrison. J, & McDuffie, A. (2006). One course is not enough: Preservice elementary teachers’ retention of improved views of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43, 194–213.

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Introducing the NGSS in Preservice Teacher Education

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Hill, T., Davis, J., Presley, M., & Hanuscin, D. (2020). Introducing the NGSS in preservice teacher education. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 5(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/introducing-the-ngss-in-preservice-teacher-education/

by Tiffany Hill, Emporia State University; Jeni Davis, Salisbury University; Morgan Presley, Ozarks Technical Community College; & Deborah Hanuscin, Western Washington University

Abstract

While research has offered recommendations for supporting inservice teachers in learning to implement the NGSS, the literature provides fewer insights into supporting preservice teachers in this endeavor. In this article, we address this gap by sharing our collective wisdom generated through designing and implementing learning experiences in our methods courses. Through personal vignettes and sharing of instructional plans with the science teacher education community, we hope to contribute to the professional knowledge base and better understand what is both critical and possible for preservice teachers to learn about the NGSS.

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References

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Introducing ‘Making’ to Elementary and Secondary Preservice Science Teachers Across Two University Settings

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Rodriguez, S. R., Fletcher, S. S., & Harron, J. R. (2019). Introducing ‘making’ to elementary and secondary preservice science teachers across two university settings. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/introducing-making-to-elementary-and-secondary-preservice-science-teachers-across-two-university-settings/

by Shelly R. Rodriguez, The University of Texas, Austin; Steven S. Fletcher, St. Edwards University; & Jason R. Harron, The University of Texas, Austin

Abstract

‘Making’ describes a process of iterative fabrication that draws on a DIY mindset, is collaborative, and allows for student expression through the creation of meaningful products. While making and its associated practices have made their way into many K-12 settings, teacher preparation programs are still working to integrate making and maker activities into their courses. This paper describes an end-of-semester maker project designed to introduce preservice science teachers to making as an educational movement. The project was implemented in two different higher education contexts, a public university secondary STEM introduction to teaching course and a private university elementary science methods course. The purpose of this article is to share this work by articulating the fundamental elements of the project, describing how it was enacted in each of the two settings, reviewing insights gained, and discussing possibilities for future iterations. The project’s instructional strategies, materials, and insights will be useful for those interested in bringing making into science teacher preparation.

Keywords: constructionism; making; preservice; project-based; science education

Introduction

Over the past decade, there has been a surge of interest in how the field of education can benefit from the tools, processes, and practices of making (e.g., Clapp, Ross, Ryan, & Tishman, 2016; Fields, Kafai, Nakajima, Goode, & Margolis, 2018; Halverson & Sheridan, 2014; Stager & Martinez, 2013). Drawing from a “do it yourself” (DIY) mindset, classroom-based making can be defined as an iterative process of fabrication that allows students to express themselves through the creation of personally meaningful products that are publicly shared (Rodriguez, Harron, & DeGraff, 2018). Like traditional science and engineering practices, making involves the building of models, theories, and systems (NSTA, 2013). However, in contrast to these practices, making explicitly emphasizes the development of personal agency and student empowerment through creative, hands-on learning experiences that are both exciting and motivating (Clapp et al., 2016; Maker Education Initiative, n.d.). A shift towards maker-centered learning provides an opportunity to rethink how we prepare science educators with the aim of bringing more student-driven and personally meaningful experiences to their instructional practice.

Comparable to project-based learning (PBL) and other inquiry-based teaching practices, classroom making involves learning by doing. Maker-centered learning shares many elements found in High Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL, 2018) which suggests that projects should include intellectual challenge and accomplishment, authenticity, collaboration, project management, the creation of a public product, and reflection. These elements overlap significantly with features of classroom-based making (Rodriguez, Harron, Fletcher, & Spock, 2018). However, maker-centered learning draws specifically on the theoretical underpinnings of constructionism (Papert, 1991), where learners gain knowledge as they actively design and build tangible digital or physical objects. Furthermore, maker-centered learning places emphasis on the originality and personal meaning of creations, the productive use of tools and materials in fabrication, the process of iterative design, and the development of a maker mindset that is growth-oriented and failure positive (Martin, 2015). Thus, in maker-centered learning, the skills of construction and design are acquired alongside the content.

There are several examples of the tools and materials associated with making being used as a way to help students explore the natural world (Bevan, 2017; Peppler, Halverson, & Kafai, 2016). For example, the use of copper tape, LEDs, and coin cell batteries have provided an avenue for science teachers to introduce circuits through the creation of interactive pop-up books and user-friendly paper circuit templates (Qi & Buechley, 2010, 2014). Sewable circuits, which use conductive thread, have been shown to improve student interest in science (Tofel-Grehl et al., 2017) and can be used in conjunction with embedded electronics, such as the Arduino-based Lilypad, to introduce computer science through the creation of e-textiles (Fields et al., 2018). However, not all making is digital. Making also includes traditional work such as welding, sewing, wood working, and other techniques that exist outside of the computational world.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has acknowledged the potential of making to foster innovation, increase student retention, and broaden participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (National Science Foundation, 2017). However, more must be done to prepare future science educators to implement these practices in their classrooms. A national survey found that only half of undergraduate teacher preparation programs in the United States provided an opportunity to learn about maker-education and the associated technologies, and that only 17% had a makerspace available to their preservice teachers (Cohen, 2017). As such, many future educators are not exposed to formal training or professional development related to making. Since science teachers often uptake and implement the inquiry-based practices with which they have personal experience (Windschitl, 2003), a lack of exposure to maker-centered pedagogies may leave future educators unaware of the potential benefits of these innovations for their students.

This paper describes an end-of-semester project designed to introduce students to making as an educational movement. The project was implemented in two different settings. One was an introductory course offered as part of a secondary STEM teacher preparation program at a large public research university. The other was a science methods course designed for preservice elementary teachers offered at a private university. The purpose of this article is to share our work by articulating the fundamental elements of the project, describing the project as enacted in these two settings, reviewing insights gained, and discussing possibilities for future iterations.

The Maker Project

The maker project described in this paper was introduced four years ago in a secondary STEM teacher preparation course for a number of reasons. The first was to expose novice teachers to the practice of using open-ended projects with high levels of personal agency to uncover student ideas. The second was to spark creativity in the preservice teachers and engage them in the act of authentic problem solving. The final reason was to provide an opportunity for preservice teachers to interact with up-to-date educational tools that they may encounter in schools. Two years later, an elementary science methods course housed in a private university adopted this activity for similar reasons, with the additional hope of increasing preservice teacher self-efficacy around science content and tool use – a noted deficiency in the literature (Menon & Sadler, 2016; Rice & Roychoudhury, 2003; Yoon, et al., 2006).

The following section outlines strategies used to implement the project in the two different science teacher preparation settings. The fundamental elements of the project in both settings include: a) an introduction to making; b) a station activity to expose students to new technologies and materials; c) an open-ended construction task; d) extended out of class time to create a personally meaningful artifact; e) the public presentation of work to classmates, instructors, and guests; and f) reflections for the classroom. Table 1 provides description of each setting and an overview of how the project features were enacted.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Project Features in Each Context

Context Specific Implementation

Implementation in an introductory secondary STEM teacher preparation course

The introductory secondary STEM teacher preparation course is a 90-minute, one credit hour class in a large R1 university in central Texas. It meets once a week with approximately 25 students in each of five sections. The class is considered a recruitment course and is designed to give STEM majors the chance to try out teaching. In this class, students observe and teach a series of STEM lessons in local elementary schools. Those choosing to continue with the program will go on to teach in middle and high school settings and ultimately earn their teaching certification in a secondary STEM field. In the Fall of 2018, 53% of the students in the course were female and 47% male. 64% were underclassmen, 36% were either juniors, seniors, or post baccalaureate students, and 59% had either applied for or were receiving financial aid. 46% were science majors, 16% were math majors, 11% were computer science and engineering majors, 4% were degree holders, and the remaining students were assigned to other majors or undecided.

In class. The maker project in this course began with a project introduction day occurring approximately three weeks from the end of the semester. To start, students were introduced to the concept of making through a video created by Make: magazine and presented with a prompt, “What is making?”, to think about as they watch the video (Maker Media, 2016). The video describes making as a DIY human endeavor that involves creating things that tell a personal story. After the video screening, students engaged in a Think-Pair-Share activity where they discussed the initial prompt in small groups and shared ideas in a whole class discussion, often describing making as personal, innovative, open-ended, and challenging (See Figure 1).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Student ideas about making.

Next, the criteria for the final maker project was provided. The specific prompt for this project asked students to reflect on their teaching experience and to make an artifact that illustrated the story of their growth over the semester. Students were shown examples of what others had created in previous semesters. Some past projects featured traditional construction and craft materials such as woodworking and papier-mâché while others included digital tools such as 3D printing, block-based coding, and Arduinos. Students were also shown examples of maker projects as enacted in STEM classrooms such as activities that have K-12 pupils creating museum exhibits to learn about properties of water, using paper circuits to create illuminated food webs, and creating interactive cell models using a Makey Makey.

After reviewing project examples, time was spent introducing the class to several digital technologies through a stations activity. Though digital technologies were not given preference for the project, this activity was an opportunity to have students explore some of the digital tools that encourage invention in the classroom. The class was broken into groups and each group was given ten minutes to explore various digital tools and resources including Scratch, Instructables, Makey Makey, and Circuit Playground (See Appendix A). Preservice teachers farther along in the teacher preparation program facilitated the stations and helped current students explore the new technologies. A handout of useful websites and a place to make notes at each station was also provided (See Appendix B). Students rotated stations such that by the end of the activity they had briefly explored each of the technologies. The final part of the project introduction day was a reflective table talk that occurred after the station activity. At this time, students talked with their classmates and discussed ideas for their final maker project. They were encouraged to connect their project to something they cared about or a specific interest.

Out of class. Students were given two weeks to independently complete their maker projects. Students were free to incorporate traditional skills such as crafts, sewing, knitting, wood working, or metal working in their creation. They were also free to use the digital tools explored in class, or to combine digital and traditional tools to make something new. There was no additional class time provided however, the instructor and TA were available to help students outside of class. Students were encouraged to upcycle, or creatively reuse materials they already had, in creating their projects. Additionally, students were provided with a list of campus locations where they had free access to fabrication tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines. The students had access to a workroom with traditional school supplies and a suite of recycled materials. Students could also check out digital tools from the program inventory. All of these items were available to them at no cost.

Presentation and reflection. On the last day of class, students presented their creations via a gallery walk format with half of the class presenting at one time and the other half circulating and serving as the audience. Students in the course produced a wide array of personally significant artifacts each of which told a story about their specific experience. Other preservice teachers, staff, and instructors from the program were invited to the presentations giving each student the opportunity to exhibit their work to a large audience. At the end of the presentation session, students completed a short reflection on making, classroom applications, and the project experience. Complete instructional materials for this maker project can be found at https://tinyurl.com/maker-final-project.

Implementation in an elementary science methods course

Elementary Science Methods (ESM) is a required course for all students seeking EC-6 teacher certification at a private liberal arts institution in central Texas. ESM is a 75-minute class that meets twice each week on the university campus in a general science lab. It is offered in the fall semester only and typically enrolls 24 students.  Students are predominantly in their final year of the preparation program before student teaching and ESM is one of two science classes required for their graduation from the institution. In the Fall of 2018, there were 23 total students in the ESM course. Twenty-two (96%) of the students in the course were female and one (4%) was male. Two (8%) of the students were sophomores and twenty-one (92%) were either juniors or seniors. Fourteen students (61%) were elementary teaching majors, eight (35%) were special education teacher majors, and the remaining student (4%) was preparing to become a bilingual elementary teacher.

Inspired by the project described above, the ESM maker final project was added to the syllabus three years ago to address specific issues observed from previous semesters of work with elementary science teachers in this context. First, many of the students in prior iterations of ESM had low self-efficacy about their ability to learn and teach science. Thus, one goal for implementing a maker project was to boost student confidence by engaging in a creative activity with a concrete product related to a science concept. Two additional goals relate to the original project from the secondary program: To introduce students to current knowledge around emerging trends in technology and science and to stimulate discussion around the value and challenges of authentic inquiry as a means for student learning and engagement. Since the act of making requires a personal commitment to the production of a product, the instructor hoped that this activity would enliven student curiosity and demonstrate the value of open-ended projects for their own elementary classrooms.

In class. As with the secondary STEM maker project, this project was framed as a culminating experience introduced near the end of the semester. Similarly, the first day of the lesson began with a video introduction to making. The lesson also included a rotating station activity with a supporting handout. Due to resource availability and focus on elementary school outcomes, the instructor modified the content of the stations. For this iteration, a paper circuits station and a bristlebot station were substituted for the Circuit Playground and Scratch stations. Emphasis was placed on exploration and play at each station and developing a sense of wonder around the materials or ideas. At the end of the class, groups shared what they noticed about the various activities in small groups and the instructor introduced the project options to the class. Students were given a choice to either: a) create a product that documented learning to use a tool or product that would demonstrate its possible usefulness in elementary science, or b) investigate an aspect of making, write a summary of the research, and create a visual product highlighting what they learned.

The second day of the lesson began with a recap of the project criteria. The criteria for this project, while open-ended to allow for authentic, personally meaningful work, included specific elements that related to state standards for elementary science, attention to safety, a projected calendar and a pre-assessment of how project goals and outcomes related to available tools, equipment, and resources to complete the work (see Appendix C). Students were given time to consider potential project options and discuss their ideas with their peers and instructor.

Out of class. Students were provided three weeks to complete the project before the culminating presentation. This timeframe included the Thanksgiving holiday and many students worked on their product at home.  During the last week of classes, the students were given an additional class day to share their projects in an unfinished state for feedback, to revise and refine their ideas, and to borrow tools from the supply cabinet for completion.

Presentation and reflection. During the final exam period, student products were set up and shared with peers and instructor in a maker exhibition. As in the secondary setting, the project presentations took place science fair style with half of the students presenting and half serving as the audience at any one time. Students also completed a written reflection discussing challenges, reiterating connections to science standards, and reflecting on lessons learned from the experience.

Insights from Project Implementation

While there was no formal data collection included as part of this project, student products and reflections from each setting provide initial insights. Figure 2 provides an overview of general insights as well as those specific to each context.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). An overview of maker project insights.

General Insights

The two contexts for maker project implementation differed significantly. However, insights emerged that were common to both settings. First, in both contexts, the preservice teachers developed a wide range of products including both high- and low-tech creations (see Appendix D). Figure 3 shows: a) a DIY water filtration system; b) an interactive neuron model; c) a series of origami swans; d) soldered paper circuit holiday cards e); a fluidized air bed; and f) an interactive model of a new “teacher” with makey makey fruit controls and related story.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). A range of student-generated maker projects.

The work produced for this project was personally connected to the interests and motivations of the makers and rooted in the students’ own lives. Second, reflections from preservice teachers in both courses indicate that, through this project, many students experienced the importance of persistence and adaptability when encountering challenges. The open-ended nature of the project turned out to be one of its most important elements as it challenged students develop an original idea and then persist and adapt to bring their idea to life. Third, in both contexts, many preservice teachers described a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment stemming from the creation and presentation of their work. Finally, students in both courses made connections between their maker experience and the process of teaching and learning. Table 2 shows comments from student reflections related to these themes.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Student Comments From Both Maker Project Settings

Additionally, in both settings, the project encouraged some students to take making further. In the secondary setting, multiple students went on to join the maker micro-credentialing program offered by the teacher preparation program. In the elementary setting, several students completed independent projects in the area of making. For example, two students collected data, worked with university faculty and teachers at local makerspaces, and presented their findings on supporting special needs students in making at a local maker education conference.

Insights from an Introductory Secondary STEM Teacher Preparation Course

Written reflections indicate that many members of the secondary STEM teacher preparation course developed a deeper understanding of the nature of making. As an example, one student wrote that “I thought that making was all about electronics and coding but there is so much more…it generates your own creativity and interests.” Another student wrote, “Making is about putting one’s experiences and passions into a project. Making adds a sense of ownership and differentiation.” This was a first exposure to making for most students and their reflections indicate that the project helped them develop a personal conception of what it means to make.

Second, this project helped model the creation of a safe space for exploration and failure for these students. The class mantra during this project was “You can’t get it wrong” and student reflections illustrated their connection with this part of a maker mindset. For example, one student commented, “Making is about growing as an explorer. Making is not being afraid to fail! At the beginning I thought making was trivial but I now see the importance of hands on learning as a chance to really fail.”  Another student said, “During creating, I asked myself ‘Am I doing it right?’ ‘Is this fine?’ and when I was presenting I realized ‘this is totally fine, there is no right or wrong’.” This positive message about failure is not one that STEM undergraduates at large public universities often hear. Thus, for this group, the project provided an essential model for rewarding effort over the commonly prioritized final product.

Insights from an Elementary Science Methods Course

The elementary preservice teachers in the three-hour course showed increased confidence with a wide array of maker tools and equipment such as soldering irons, electronics, and woodworking equipment. The open-ended nature of the assignment allowed students in this course to make a range of high-level products, from a 2D model of a neural cell that used different colored LED’s to show how a neural impulse moves, to holiday cards, to a fluidized airbed. Reflections indicate that many students felt increased confidence with equipment related to their projects. One student commented, “I never thought I’d be able to solder, but after connecting the LED’s to the paper circuit holiday cards, I can do it!  Thanks for giving me the chance to learn this. I want to try making jewelry next.”

The students in the ESM course also made specific connections to teaching science in the elementary context. Student reflections show that they honed in on ideas of agency and engagement as central features of making that would motivate them to do projects of this kind with their future pupils. For example, one student said, “I am totally going to use making in my science classroom because it makes students take responsibility for their own learning and gives them ownership of their work.” Another student wrote, through making “you can make science fun and creative for students allowing them to take control of creating whatever they can dream of.” These reflections illustrate the potential of this project to influence the classroom instruction of these future teachers.

Finally, one unique outcome was that many members of the elementary group experienced making as an opportunity to create with friends and family. The project implementation in this setting coincided with the Thanksgiving holiday, giving many students the opportunity to work with parents or friends. For example, one student shared the specifics of her maker journey with permission.  When the project was introduced, she considered making something for her father as a holiday gift. She initially wanted to learn how to create fly-fishing flies based on her father’s love of fishing. However, the costs of buying materials were prohibitive. A chance visit to a website that showed a video demonstrating the non-Newtonian nature of a fluidized airbed then excited her to consider making her own model to demonstrate this fascinating phenomenon.  After checking that the proper equipment to make a small model was available in her family garage, she traveled home for Thanksgiving with initial instructions.  She worked with her father over the break to bring her creation to life. Like many maker projects, the initial results required refinement. Challenges included compressor issues as well as using the wrong substrate for the bed material. However, she persisted and was able to present her model at the maker exhibition with pride. The student’s build is documented in this video. It highlights her energy and enthusiasm for the work. She recently shared with Steve that she will be refining her initial attempt again, having secured a bigger compressor and better substrate.

While making is a journey that differs for each maker, many of the students in the ESM class included a significant other in their building process. This was an unexpected outcome and may have led to more collaborative and ambitious creations. This insight highlights the potential of making as a community-building endeavor.

Project Management

It should be noted that some students were challenged by the technical details and time required to produce a working product so it is important to provide extended time and to include out of class support. This might include additional office hours and partnering with more advanced students to provide technical support. Consider working with campus engineering, art, or instructional technology departments to find others willing to help with advice on construction and tool use. In addition, instructors should consult with appropriate university departments concerning risk management strategies to ensure student safety. Requiring students who plan to use equipment with potential risk in their projects (woodworking or metalworking equipment for example) to complete safety training is highly recommended. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides guidelines for safe hand and power tool use (OSHA, 2002).

Regular check-ins with students are also useful. Instructors implementing this type of activity might encourage students to complete weekly reflections and upload photos to document the evolution of their process. Including documentation practices of this kind models the use of electronic platforms, such as Blackboard or Canvas, now common in many school districts, as portfolio systems that can be used to capture and share the ongoing work of their K-12 pupils.

Discussion

The culminating maker project was an open-ended assignment where students were invited to: a) make an artifact related to STEM teaching; b) present their product publicly; c) reflect on their work; and d) consider classroom applications. In the process of creation and making, the students explored new digital, craft, and construction technologies and created a product of personal significance. Through making, students in the class experienced fundamental aspects of creativity, agency, persistence, and reflection.  These attributes are essential elements of 21st century learning and are traits that early-career K-12 science teachers are expected to model and train their own pupils to embody.  Furthermore, when students integrate scientific practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts in the authentic products they create, then maker-centered instruction can facilitate NGSS three-dimensional learning principles in a personally meaningful way (National Research Council, n.d.).

This open-ended maker project is adaptable to varied contexts thus, the expertise and goals of the instructor or facilitator will likely shape the student experience. For example, in this project, students reflected on their growth as educators but with a different set of criteria in each setting. For the secondary students who were majoring in a STEM field, self-efficacy around science content was not an issue. Because the course was only one-credit hour, creativity and effort producing an open-ended product was emphasized. Additionally, the TA for this course was well-versed in maker-related electronics and provided extra support to students attempting novel projects with these tools. In the Elementary Science Methods course, the instructor focused on connections to science standards and building confidence in the use of basic tools, with which he had extensive experience. Thus, this project can be used to achieve a wide array of outcomes and instructors should be thoughtful about their project aims from the start, paying special attention to providing a wide range of practice, play, and examples from the maker world. Connecting to local makers, artisans, and craftsman can expand the project’s reach.

Furthermore, in both courses, equitable teaching and learning are addressed during other activities. However, because making is often situated in a privileged and gendered paradigm (Vossoughi, Hooper, & Escudé, 2016), future iterations of this activity could include an element that explicitly examines how students can negotiate the opportunities and challenges of the activity in diverse classroom settings. Explicit reflections on equity and readings on these issues as they relate to maker education would be productive additions for future iterations.

Conclusion

Tenacity in the face of adversity is a common trait among successful teachers who must evaluate and adapt their teaching to new situations on a daily basis, and who undoubtedly fail many times but use those failures to learn and grow. In the same way, this culminating maker project was scary, messy, exciting, and inspiring. While student projects rarely turned out as planned, student reflections suggest that the experience helped them to value and embrace this ill structured process. As future teachers, this maker experience may be critical in helping our newest practitioners envision a classroom space where students are personally connected to content, have ownership of their learning, are given the freedom to explore and create without fear, and are encouraged to persist in the face of challenges. In this way, including a project that addresses elements of making and fosters a maker mindset can be a valuable step toward preparing preservice teachers to bring innovative and inspirational practices to science education.

Acknowledgement

This article was developed in connection with the UTeach Maker program at The University of Texas at Austin. UTeach Maker is funded in part by a Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grant from the National Science Foundation (1557155). Opinions expressed in this submission are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The National Science Foundation.

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Piloting an Adaptive Learning Platform with Elementary/Middle Science Methods

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

by Matthew E. Vick, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Backward Design for Learning and Language Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing Teachers for Backward Design with a Language Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget, Elementary Science Teacher

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

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

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

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

Jillian, Secondary Science Teacher

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

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

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

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

Conclusions & Recommendations

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

Application in Practice

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

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

Suggestions for Implementation

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

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

References

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

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McFadden, J.R. (2019). The great ice investigation: Preparing preservice elementary teachers for a sensemaking approach of science instruction. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/the-great-ice-investigation-preparing-pre-service-elementary-teachers-for-a-sensemaking-approach-of-science-instruction/

by Justin R. McFadden, University of Louisville

Abstract

The current article describes a sequence of lessons, readings, and resources aimed to prepare elementary preservice teachers for science instruction wherein student sensemaking, rather than vocabulary memorization, is prioritized. Within the article, I describe how the prompts, questions, and logistics of the The Great Ice Investigation drive my students’ in-class and out-of-class learning to start out every science methods course I teach. The readings and resources detailed that compliment the Great Ice Investigation should benefit both preservice as well as in-service elementary teachers just beginning to align their instruction with the Next Generation Science Standards. The lessons, readings, and resources described should be of value to science teacher educators looking to modify and improve how they prepare their students for next generation science instruction.

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References

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Learning About Science Practices: Concurrent Reflection on Classroom Investigations and Scientific Works

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Basir, M.A. (2019). Learning about science practices: Concurrent reflection on classroom investigations and scientific works. Innovations is Science Teacher Education, 4(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/learning-about-science-practices-concurrent-reflection-on-classroom-investigations-and-scientific-works/

by Mo A. Basir, University of Central Missouri

Abstract

The NRC (2012) emphasizes eight science practices as a constitutive part of science teaching and learning. Pre-service teachers should be able to perform those practices at least in an introductory-level science investigation. Additionally, they also need to be able to elicit and interpret those science practices in the work of students. Through the integration of doing science and reading about how scientists do science, this article provides a practical teaching approach encouraging critical thinking about science practices. The instructional approach emphasizes on performing science practices, explicitly thinking about how students and scientists do science, and reflecting on similarities and differences between how students and scientists perform science practices. The article provides examples and tools for the proposed instructional approach.

Introduction

What if science teachers had a scientist friend who invited them to go with her on a scientific expedition? Wouldn’t it be interesting and exciting? What would they learn during the trip? After returning from the scientific adventure, what could they tell their students about their firsthand experiences? Don’t you think that what they would learn during the field trip could help them make science exciting and accessible to students? Even though such a thrilling experience may not occur for every educator, books about the lives and activities of scientists can take science teachers on a similar trip. Texts about scientists and their research can describe how a scientist becomes engaged with a topic of her/his study, wonders about a set of complicated questions, and devotes her/his life to these issues. This article is intended to illustrate how we could integrate these kinds of texts into inquiry-oriented lessons and how they can increase the effectiveness of the science methods or introductory science courses.

Learning about real scientific and engineering projects can help students develop an understanding of what scientists do. In science textbooks, most of the time students encounter exciting and well-established scientific facts and concepts generated by the science community, but rarely read and learn about how scientists work or generate new knowledge in science (Driver, Leach, & Millar, 1996). Helping students learn scientific practices, science teachers/educators often utilizes inquiry-oriented lessons. The National Research Council (NRC) has defined K-12 science classrooms as places in which students perform science and engineering practices while utilizing crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas (2012). One of the conventional approaches to meet such expectations is to develop a series of model lessons that involve and engage students in some science investigations.

Some years ago, I started a methods course beginning with these ideas and collected data investigating any changes in classroom discourses (Basir, 2014). Results of that qualitative study revealed no significant change in classroom discourse regarding science and engineering practices. Analysis of the results revealed a list of common patterns and challenges about student learning in the courses. My students had vague ideas about what it means to develop and use a model, make a hypothesis, and construct a science argument. Analysis of their reflections also revealed that the keywords associated with the eight science practices (see Appendix I) were not traceable in their written discourses about their science investigations; they had difficulties recognizing those eight practices in their science inquiry. Trying to resolve these challenges was my motive to revise this methods course. In the following, I first describe how the wisdom of practice in science education helped me develop an idea to change the course and how that idea transformed into an instructional strategy. Then, I use examples to illustrate results of this instructional strategy. The presented instructional approach aids students using NGSS framework accurately when they reflect on their science practices and consequently learn science practices more effectively. Hopefully, this could have a positive effect on their science teaching.

Framework

The apprenticeship model (getting engaged in science inquiry while being coached by a master teacher) has been emphasized as a practical and useful approach for learning and teaching science since decades ago (e.g., NRC, 2000). NRC (2000) defined science inquiry by introducing a set of abilities for a process of science inquiry and NRC (2012) has placed more emphasis on those abilities and call them the eight science practices (see Appendix I for the comparison between the set of abilities and the eight science practices). The eight science practices as defined by NRC (2012) and those abilities for science inquiry as defined by NRC (2000) are very similar. However, as Osborne (2014) asked, in what sense the notion of inquiry as defined by NRC (2000) differs from the science practices defined by NRC (2012). One reason, among others, is about the call for more transparency on the articulation of what classroom science inquiry is or what students need to experience during an inquiry-oriented lesson (Osborne, 2014). Aiming to develop such transparency in methods courses for prospective teachers, we may need to consider some complementary instruction to the apprenticeship model. This means that while teachers and students follow the apprenticeship model of teaching and learning, they need to become more conscious about and cognizant of science practices. As a complement to the apprenticeship model of instruction, to some extent, many instructional methods can help students learn science investigations by learning about history and/or nature of science (Burgin & Sadler, 2016; Erduran & Dagher, 2014; McComas, Clough, & Almazroa, 2002; Schwartz, Lederman, & Crawford, 2004), refining their investigative skills (e.g., Hackling & Garnett, 1992; Foulds & Rowe, 1996), conducting context-based science investigation using local newspapers or local environmental issues (e.g., Barab & Luehmann, 2003; Kuhn & Müller, 2014 ), and becoming cognizant of what/how they do science (e.g., Smith & Scharmann,2008).

In the context of higher education, active learning as an instructional approach provides multiple opportunities for students to initially do activities during class and subsequently analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and reflect on what they did during those activities (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). This latter aspect of active learning, critical thinking, plays a significant role in the effectiveness of teaching (Cherney, 2008; Bleske-Rechek, 2002; Smith & Cardaciotto, 2011) and usually is a missing component in the mentioned context. Unlike the regular introductory university-level science courses, in the context of science teacher preparation, it is a common practice to ask students to write a reflection about what/how they do activities. What has been less emphasized in this context is to provide a framework and benchmark helping students to systematically reflect on their science investigation (Ellis, Carette, Anseel, & Lievens, 2014).

The stories or case studies about how actual scientists do science can function as a benchmark for students who do classroom science investigations. Comparing an authentic science study with a student-level science project can make students aware of possible deficiencies and missing components in their classroom inquiry. Presumably inspired by medical science, case study teaching approaches have been utilized for teaching science (Herried, 2015; Tichenor 2013) and showing promising effects on student learning (Bonney, 2015; Tichenor, 2013). Specifically, science educators have developed many case studies for how to teach science—many of these cases related to science methods are available at National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS; http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/).

In this paper, I describe how particular kinds of case studies, the stories of contemporary scientists and their projects, can be used as a complementary teaching component to inquiry-oriented instruction. The objective is to provide an environment in which students could see the “sameness and difference” (Marton, 2006) between what they do and what scientists do. They could use the stories about actual science investigations as a benchmark for reflecting on what they do in the science classroom.

Concurrent Reflections as an Instructional Strategy

Drawing on the reviewed literature, I developed a three-phase instructional approach (Figure 1). In each phase of the instruction, students are assigned with specific task and concurrently reflect on that task. In the first phase, students have multiple opportunities to do science investigations, compare and contrast how they did across the small groups, recognize and interpret the eight science practices in their work, and document their reflection about how they do science on the offered template (Figure 2). This activity helps students conceptualize the eight practices implicitly embedded in those inquiry-oriented lessons. In the second phase, students read and reflect on a case study (i.e., a book about a scientist and her/his project). By reading about scientists and scientific projects, students have the opportunities to discern first-hand instances of the eight science practices. In the third phase, students compare those first-hand investigations done by real scientists, as benchmarks, with what they do in inquiry-oriented lessons and accordingly critically reflect on how to improve their science practices.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Illustrates the suggested learning cycle.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Template for comparing instances of science practices (SP) in different contexts.

Discussing the Suggested Learning Strategy by an Example

In the following, a three-session lesson (about 4.5 hours) based on this instructional approach is presented. Currently, this lesson is included in one of my science courses (how to do straightforward scientific research). The course is a general education course open to all majors, and secondary and middle-level pre-service teachers are required to take the course. In my previous institution, a similar lesson was included in a science course required for prospective elementary teachers.

Phase One: Doing and Reflecting on Science Practices

In this phase of the learning cycle, students conduct a science investigation and are asked to match the eight science practices with different components of their science inquiry. Students are required to document their interpretations in the provided template (Figure 2). Students are given a worksheet for investigating electromagnet. The very first question in the worksheet is about drawing an electromagnet. This question aims to check how much they know about electromagnets. Figure 3 shows five student responses to the mentioned question. These are typical responses at the beginning of this investigation. Most students know little about electromagnets. After receiving these responses, I put students in small groups and made sure that each group had at least one student who drew a relatively correct preliminary model of an electromagnet. Due to space limitation, only four of the eight science practices have been discussed in the following.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Illustrates how students drew the model of an electromagnet as their initial idea.

Asking Questions. Students, as a group of four, were given different size batteries, nails, wire, and paper clips. They were supposed to make an electromagnet and then they were given a focus question: how you can change the power of the electromagnet. Some groups had difficulty building and/or using their electromagnet due to issues such as a lousy battery, open circuit, not enough loop, trying to pick up a too heavy metal object by the electromagnet. With minor help from me, they were able to build the electromagnet. Some groups developed yes-no questions (i.e., does the number of loops affect the electromagnet?). I helped them revise their question by adding a “how” to the beginning of their question. Typical questions that students came up with which focused the small group investigations were: How does the voltage of the battery affect the power of the electromagnet? How does the amount of wire around the nail affect the strength of the electromagnet? How does the insulation of the wire affect the power of the electromagnet?

Developing and Using Models. Scientists utilize scientific models and discourses to explain the observed phenomena. However, students usually use vernacular discourses instead of using science/scientific models for explaining a phenomenon. Students needed to develop a hypothesis related to the questions they asked. Here are two typical hypotheses that student groups came up with: 1) making the loops tighter and the wire would have a stronger effect on the nail and in turn, the electromagnet would become more robust, or 2) a bigger battery would make the electromagnet stronger. When (at reflection time) students were asked to think and explicitly mention any models they used, they sometimes talked about the picture of the electromagnet that they drew as a model of the electromagnet (Figure 2). Nonetheless, they typically didn’t see the role of their mental model in the hypotheses they made. With explicit discussion, I helped them to rethink why they generated those hypotheses (i.e., bigger battery or more loops, more powerful magnet). I expected them to mention some of the simple electromagnetic rules learned in science courses; however, most of the hypotheses stem from their vernacular discourses rather than science/scientific discourses. Through discussion with small groups and the whole classroom, I invited them to think about the background knowledge they utilized for making those hypotheses. We discussed the possible relationship between their hypotheses and the vernacular discourses such as “bigger is more powerful,” “more is more powerful,” or “the closer the distance, the stronger interaction”—These vernacular discourses are like general statements that people regularly use to make sense of the world around them. If we use a bigger battery and more wire, then we will have a stronger magnet.” Later, as they collected data, they realized that the vernacular ideas did not always work, a 9-volt battery may not provide as much power as a 1.5-volt D battery.

Constructing Explanations. The relation between different variables and their effects on the strength of an electromagnet is a straightforward part of the investigation. However, most of the groups were not able to explain why the number of wire loops affects the power of the electromagnet, or why uninsulated wire does not work. One of the common misconceptions students hold is the thought that uninsulated wire lets electricity go inside the nail and makes the nail magnetic by touch. I did not tell them why that idea was not correct and then motivated them to explicitly write their thought in the template (Figure 4).

Engaging in Argument from Evidence. We had different kinds of batteries, so one of the groups focused on the relationship between voltage and the electromagnet power. Through investigation, they realized that a 9-volt battery did not necessarily increase the strength of the electromagnet in comparison with a D battery. Another group focused on the relation of the number of cells and the electromagnet power. I encouraged them to discuss and compare the results of their studies and find out the relation of batteries and the power of the electromagnet. However, neither group had students with enough science background on electromagnetism to develop better hypotheses.

Phase Two: Reading and Reflecting on How Scientists Perform Science Practices

As mentioned before, we can use many different kinds of texts about scientists and their projects for this instructional approach. Table 1 suggests some book series appropriate for the proposed strategy. For instance, “Sower series” can help students to learn about historical figures in science and their investigation or “scientist in the filed” is about contemporary scientists and their projects. Stronger than Steel (Heos & Comins, 2013) from the scientist in the field series is discussed to illustrate how we can use these books in the classroom in the following.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Suggested Textbooks Describing Scientists’ Biography and Their Projects


The summary of the book. Stronger than Steel is about Randy Lewis, his team, and his long-term research project about spider silk. Randy’s early research questioned the structure of the spider silk: how spider silk could be so strong and at the same time so flexible. By applying the well-established models and methods for the analysis of the matter, Randy and his team were able to develop an explanation for why spider silk is both strong flexible at the same time. They found out that the particular spider silk they analyzed was made of two proteins; a combination of these two proteins is responsible for super flexibility and strength of the spider silk. Building on genetic theory, the research team examined spider DNA. It took them about three years to isolate two genes associated with the proteins responsible for the strength and flexibility of the spider silk. Familiar with the transgenic models, in the late 1990s, Randy’s team designed bacteria producing the main ingredient of the spider silk, the two proteins mentioned before. In the next step, they injected those specific spider genes into goat embryos and achieved incredible results. Some of the transgenic goats were able to produce the spider silk proteins, but of course not like Spiderman. The transgenic goats are very similar to regular goats, but their body produces extra spider silk proteins in their milk. Randy’s team milked the transgenic goats, processed the milk, separated the spider silk proteins, and finally spun the spider silk fibers from the mixture of those two proteins. Currently, they are working to find alternative organisms that could produce spider silk more efficiently than transgenic spider goats. They are working on two other organisms: silkworms, which are masters in making silk and alfalfa, which is a plant that produces much protein.

As can be seen in this summary, the book has many examples of eight science practices from the first-hand science projects (i.e., the research questions about making spider silk, the theory-driven hypothesis explaining the possibility of using transgenic methods and making silk from goats). We can use different reading strategies in this phase of the instruction. I often have students submit answers to a set of guided questions as they read the books. The objective here is to motivate students to match and interpret the eight science practices in the work of the scientists as described in the case study. Table 2 illustrates some of the reflections that students submitted on the reflection template (Figure 2) after reading the book.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Instances of Science Practices as Interpreted by Students

Phase Three: Comparing and Reflecting on How Scientists and Students Perform Science Practices

In this phase of the learning cycle, students had small-group activity comparing the instances of the science practices in the case study with the instances of science practices in their electromagnet investigation. We also had a whole-classroom discussion coordinated by me.

Asking questions. Randy utilized transgenic and genetic models to do the investigation. Students were asked to think about the research questions that led Randy’s work. Here are the typical responses students came up with: Why is spider silk is so strong and flexible at the same time? What spiders’ genes are related to spiders’ ability to produce silk? Can other organisms produce spider silk? How can other creatures produce spider silk? We discussed how the questions in Randy’s project are model-based and theory-laden. Then students examined their electromagnet questions and tried to transform them into model-based and theory-laden questions.

Figure 4 depicts how student questions changed and improved after the mentioned discussion. We discussed that if we used the magnetic field model to describe what was happening around a magnet, then we could have asked how to increase the magnetic field at the tip of the nail. By discussing the formula related to the magnetic field and the amount of electric current, students were able to ask a question about the relation of electric current and power of electromagnet instead the relation of voltage of batteries and the power of electromagnet.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Illustrates the changes in student groups, A and B, before and after of the case study.

Developing and Using Models. Based on the transgenic model, Randy’s team hypothesized that if they put those two genes in a goat embryo the goat body is going to produce those two proteins and possibly the goat milk is going to contain those two proteins. I led the whole classroom discussion focusing on how students’ hypotheses, similar to the transgenic goat project, should be based on science/scientific knowledge. I emphasized that they need to replace their vernacular discourses, described above, with simple electromagnetic models. In this phase, students were either asked to do some library research to review electromagnetic laws and formulas, or given a handout including rules and formulas related to electromagnets (the version of the worksheet designed for the elementary pre-service teachers is less demanding). Students had an opportunity to revise their vernacular ideas about electromagnets. For instance, they discussed the formula (B=μ0I/2πr) that illustrates factors affecting the magnetic field around a straight wire with electric current. They saw that the magnetic field around the wire is inversely related to the distance from the wire. We discussed how this formula is connected to the vernacular idea that the less distance from the electromagnet, the more powerful electromagnet. They also examined the formula related to the magnetic field in the center of a loop (B=μ0I/2R), which shows that the power of an electromagnet increases when the electric current increases in a circuit. With this formula, they can better explain why doubling the number of batteries increases the strength of the electromagnet or develop a hypothesis as to why D-batteries make a more powerful electromagnet than 9-volt batteries. For instance, one of the small groups initially claimed, “If we use a bigger battery and more wire, then we will have a stronger magnet.” After going through the complete lesson, they revised their claim, “If there is a stronger current, then the magnet force will increase.”

Constructing Explanations. As a part of the structured reflection on the case study, students were supposed to recognize scientific explanations that Randy’s team developed. Here are some of the scientific explanations we discussed in our class: Randy’s team used the biomaterial models to understand the structure of spider silk. They figured out why spider silk is so strong and at the same time so flexible. They described how two essential proteins make the spider silk, one makes the silk stronger than steel, and another make it as elastic as rubber. Using the genetic models, they had the understanding that specific genes carry the information for the production of particular proteins. So, after a two-year examination of the spider genes, eventually, they pinpointed the two specific genes and developed an explanation of how/why those two genes are responsible for making those proteins. These discussed scientific explanations provided a rich context and a benchmark for students to improve their explanations about electromagnet. The model-based explanations in Randy’s project encouraged students to use simple electric and magnetic laws and tools for developing explanations about the electromagnet investigation. For instance, looking at the hypothesis that group A and B made (Figure 4), we could see that both initial hypotheses look like a claim with no explanation (i.e., the more wire on the nail, the more powerful the electromagnet). However, after the discussion about Randy’s project, both groups added some model-based explanations to their claims. In the revised version of their work, by measuring the electric current, group A figured out that why a 6-volt battery created a stronger magnetic field than a 9-volt battery. Group B used the formula for electric resistance to explain why electric current would increase in the coil. They also used a multimeter and Tesla meter for measuring electric current and magnetic field for collecting supporting data.

As part of their homework, students were asked to reflect on how their explanation was changed during this lesson. Some of them emphasized the role of scientific background knowledge and the tools they used in the second round of the investigation. One of them said:

In the second explanation, we had more background knowledge about the subject, so we were better able to develop a hypothesis that was backed by a scientific theory. This led to more accurate results. We also used tools that measured the exact amount of electric current and the exact magnetic strength in the second experiment.

It is important to mention that student-teacher discussion essentially facilitated the use of background knowledge in the second round of the investigation. One of the students mentioned:

One of the explanations comes from the knowledge that we brought (which is none, or little knowledge of magnetism). The other explanation utilizes the outside knowledge that Dr. Mo presented us with. The equation that explained what makes a magnet stronger. We were then able to adjust the explanation to be more accurate.

Engaging in Argument from Evidence. Some of the discussed points from the case study that are related to engaging in argument from evidence are typically either mentioned in student reflection or suggested by me. Randy’s team used the genetic theory arguing for the relation between alfalfa, silkworms, and goats. Then they collected empirical data and developed evidence for that argument. Randy’s team developed a strong argument from evidence to convince the funding agencies for exploring the alternative methods for production of spider silk. Randy is also engaged in the debate from evidence to support the claim that transgenic research is beneficial to our society. He argues that although this kind of investigation could be misused (i.e., designer babies or spread of transgenic animals in natural environments), the beneficial aspects of transgenic research are immense.

In comparison with Randy’s work, we discussed how science goes beyond the walls of the science labs and how science, society, and technology are mutually related—one of the eight aspects of NOS based on NGSS is “science is a human endeavor.” Regarding this relationship in the context of the electromagnet investigation, through whole-class discussion, we came up with some library research questions: how a Maglev works or how electromagnetic field/wave possibly could have some possible sides effects on the human brain.

Furthermore, Randy’s work provided an environment for us to have a discussion related to the coordination of theory and evidence, which is another aspect of NOS based on NGSS: “science models, laws, mechanisms, and theories explain natural phenomena.” In return, the discussion helped students use scientific knowledge and tools for developing hypotheses. In the first round of investigation, students asked questions and developed explanations with little attention to scientific knowledge, a required component for asking scientific question and explanation. In the second round, they used scientific laws, units, and sensors to develop their hypotheses (compare before- and after-condition of the hypotheses in figure 3). The discussion about Randy’s work helped them to be conscious about the coordination of scientific background knowledge and making hypothesis and explanation. As shown in Table 3, in response to a question on the group assignment, group A mentioned:

When we read about Randy’s investigation, we understood that sometimes it is necessary to draw from the knowledge that already exists on the topic. For example, Randy knew that bacteria could be used to produce penicillin. In our electromagnet investigation, once Dr. … showed us the slides, we knew that electrical current influenced the strength of the magnet. With this knowledge, we created a better hypothesis of what was happening.

Table 3 (Click on image to enlarge)
Instances of Student Response to a Reflective Group Assignment at the End of the Lesson

Discussion and Conclusion

This article seeks ways to improve pre-service teacher learning about NGSS’ eight science practices. This learning objective can be accomplished in the suggested learning cycle (Figure 1). As discussed, in the first phase, when students work on their science investigation, what naturally comes out of students’ work are vernacular discourses, based on their mental models used in their daily life practices, rather than science models and discourses. As Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten (2008) put it, one of the fundamental problems with student science investigation is the modeless inquiry (i.e., students conduct investigations without utilizing scientific models). Here students managed to investigate variables that affect the power of an electromagnet such as the kind of battery, number of loops, size of the nail, and diameter of the loops. At this stage, however, they were not able to utilize science models to explain “why” those variables affect the strength of the electromagnet.

In the second phase, due to the authenticity of the scientific project described in the case study, it was easy for students to recognize instances of the eight science practices in that project. Through reflection, students realized that the scientific investigation in the case study was vastly built on scientific models and theories.

In the third phase, through the negotiation process between the students and teacher and by comparing their work with Randy’s work, a majority of the students became cognizant of the fact that the electromagnetic models were almost absent in their initial electromagnet investigation. Randy’s project functioned as a benchmark assisting pre-service teachers to compare their work with the benchmark and revise their science practices. Additionally, the comparison between classroom science and actual scientists’ work provided an environment for discussion about some aspects of NOS such as the relation of science-society-technology, and the coordination of theory-evidence. In return, those discussions helped students improve their electromagnet investigation.

As a limitation of the presented strategy, it can be asked, what would happen if the case study was eliminated? Students would go through the electromagnet investigation, then I would give students the background knowledge about electromagnet, and then students would do the investigation for the second time. Probably, due to doing a similar investigation two times, we should expect some improvement in the quality of their investigation. However, the case study functioned as a benchmark and guidance. During the discussion about Randy’s work, students became cognizant of the critical role of background knowledge, modeling, and scientific lab technology for doing science. Importantly, they realized that for making hypotheses, observation and collecting data is not enough; they need to bring scientific knowledge to the table to develop a hypothesis. Accordingly, it seems that the case study provided a productive environment for students to do science investigation and learn about the eight science practices.

As Hmelo-Silver (2006) stated, scaffolding improves student learning when it comes to how and why to do the tasks. The discussed structured reflection can help students learn how and why they conduct science investigations and encourage them to critically think and talk about science practices (nature of science practices). Going through multiple inquiry-oriented lessons provides an environment for students to do the NGSS eight science practices described. To develop a thorough understanding of those practices, however, students need to repeatedly think critically to discern instances of science practices from what they do, compare them with a benchmark, and find out a way to improve their science practices. By going through the concurrent reflection embedded in all three phases of the suggested instructional strategy, prospective teachers experienced the fact that classroom science investigations should go beyond a “fun activity” (Jimenez-Aleixandre, Rodriguez, & Duschl, 2000) and the vernacular discourses that they know, and must be based on scientific knowledge, models, and technology, and explicitly relate to society.

Acknowledgment

I would like to show my gratitude to James Cipielewski and Linda Pavonetti for sharing their wisdom with me during the initial phase of this project.

Supplemental Files

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Partnering for Engineering Teacher Education

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Smetana, L.K., Nelson, C., Whitehouse, P., & Koin, K. (2019). Partnering for engineering teacher education. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(2).     Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/partnering-for-engineering-teacher-education/

by Lara K. Smetana, Loyola University Chicago; Cynthia Nelson, Loyola University Chicago; Patricia Whitehouse, William C. Goudy Technology Academy; & Kim Koin, Chicago Children's Museum

Abstract

The aim of this article is to describe a specific approach to preparing elementary teacher candidates to teach engineering through a field-based undergraduate course that incorporates various engineering experiences. First, candidates visit a children’s museum to engage in engineering challenges and reflect on their experiences as learners as well as teachers. The majority of course sessions occur on-site in a neighborhood elementary school with a dedicated engineering lab space and teacher, where candidates help facilitate small group work to develop their own understandings about engineering and instructional practices specific to science and engineering. Candidates also have the option to attend the elementary school’s Family STEM Night which serves as another example of how informal engineering experiences can complement formal school-day experiences as well as how teachers and schools work with families to support children’s learning. Overall, candidates have shown increased confidence in engineering education as demonstrated by quantitative data collected through a survey instrument measuring teacher beliefs regarding teaching engineering self-efficacy. The survey data was complemented by qualitative data collected through candidates’ written reflections and interviews. This approach to introducing elementary teacher candidates to engineering highlights the value of a) capitalizing on partnerships, b) immersing candidates as learners in various educational settings with expert educators, c) providing opportunities to observe, enact, and analyze the enactment of high-leverage instructional practices, and d) incorporating opportunities for independent and collaborative reflection.

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

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

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

Abstract

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

Introduction

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

The Content of Learning and the Learning of Content

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

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

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

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

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

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

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

Professional Learning Community

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

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

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

Context

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

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

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

Early Childhood Teacher Candidates

Case 1

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

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

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

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

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

Elementary Teacher Candidates

Case 2

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

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

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

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

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

Case 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Candidates

Case 4

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

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

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

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

Case 5

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

References

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

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