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

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 then 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 identifies 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 have 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.

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

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.

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contextualizing the Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

What is “Effective” Professional Learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case study of Brent A

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

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

[Class watches video.]

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

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

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

STUDENTS: [Silent. Some writing on papers.]

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

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

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

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

STUDENTS B&C: “No”

TEACHER: “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of this PL Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Version 1.0

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

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

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

Course Design and Theoretical Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Version 2.0

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

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

Course Design

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

Version 3.0

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

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

Course Design

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

Reflections and Conclusion

First Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Author

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

PD Audience & Goals

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

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

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

Socio-scientific Issue Teaching and Learning Framework

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

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

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

The PD Process

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

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

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

Experiencing SSI & Examples

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

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

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

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

Unpacking the SSI Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Work & Tools

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Reactions & Feedback

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

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)

Design Team Products and Unit Details

Issue Selection Challenges

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

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

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

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

The Value of Examples

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Planning Challenges

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

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

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

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

Increases in Comfort with SSI and Science Practices

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

A Blended Professional Development Model for Teachers to Learn, Implement, and Reflect on NGSS Practices

Introduction

The incorporation of engineering into science instruction is a vehicle to provide a real-world context for learning science and mathematics, which can help to make “school science” more relatable. Common arguments for the inclusion of engineering education in K-12 settings include providing and promoting: a real-world context for learning mathematics and science content, a context for developing problem-solving skills, the development of communication skills and teamwork, and a fun and hands-on setting to improve students’ attitudes toward STEM fields (Brophy, Klein, Portsmore, & Rogers, 2008; Hirsch, Carpinelli, Kimmel, Rockland, & Bloom, 2007; Koszalka, Wu, & Davidson, 2007). These arguments illustrate the potential for engineering education to make a significant and unique contribution to student learning, particularly for women and minorities (Brophy, Klein, Portsmore, & Rogers, 2008; National Research Council [NRC], 2012). The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) highlight the importance of incorporating K-12 engineering practices and performance expectations into science standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Integration of engineering into science standards requires a shift in current educational practices, as the majority of K-12 science teachers lack knowledge and experience of engineering and engineering education (Banilower et al., 2013; Cunningham & Carlsen, 2014).

As more states continue to adopt the NGSS and other standards that incorporate engineering into K-12 education, there is a critical need to provide practicing teachers with professional development. These professional development experiences must not only support teachers’ understanding of these standards, but also focus on changes in practice that are required in order to implement them (Cunningham & Carlsen, 2014). Calls through national reform documents highlight the integration of engineering into K-12 science standards as a mechanism to both improve the future of the STEM workforce and increase STEM literacy for all (NRC, 2012). Teachers in states like Michigan, which has recently adopted the performance expectations of the NGSS, require professional development in order to learn these new standards and develop a fundamental understanding of the field of engineering. This will allow teachers to help students relate science concepts to real-world issues using engineering.

The professional development described here was part of a state-funded grant to support and deepen in-service science teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical practices. At the time of funding, Michigan had recently adopted the NGSS performance expectations, which highlighted the need to support teachers in making a shift in their practice. Specifically, our work helped secondary physical science and physics teachers improve their understanding and use of inquiry-based and engineering-integrated instruction. The timing of this program was critical in helping our teachers transition from the previous state science standards to the NGSS. This transition is important, as these teachers will soon be expected to bring engineering practices into their science classrooms, but may lack knowledge related to engineering. Through our 18-month long professional development, we equipped teachers with tools and examples of engineering in physical science classrooms, focusing on the integration of these two areas. The work shared here describes our approach to addressing these issues in hopes of providing a framework for others to use in similar settings.

Description of Professional Development

Participants

A total of fifteen middle and high school teachers participated in our professional development over the course of eighteen months as part of a Michigan Title IIA(3) grant. These teachers from across the state applied for the professional development, and spots were filled on a first-come, first-served basis. All but one of these teachers taught a physical science or physics course at the time of the professional development; this last teacher was an industrial technology teacher, who had previously worked as a mechanical engineer. All fifteen teachers were instructing their students in the areas of energy, work, force, and motion, which we advertised as the science content focus of the professional development. Five of our teachers were currently teaching middle school, seven taught high school, and three taught across K-12 grades as the sole science teacher in their rural school. Generally, these teachers were experienced in the classroom; three had been teaching between 0-5 years, five between 5-10 years, 3 between 10-15 years, and three over 15 years of experience. These teachers came from eleven schools across ten school districts, four of which were considered high needs as determined by Michigan Department of Education. The majority of these districts represented rural schools with 50-75% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch and less than 25% of the students were considered minority. For many of our teachers who taught in rural communities, they were either the only science teacher in their school or taught a wide variety of subjects due to the school’s needs. Table 1 provides additional details about each of the districts’ demographics.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
School Demographics from Eleven Partner Schools

Professional Development Framework

Our approach to this professional development was guided by both Michigan’s Title IIA(3) grant guidelines and our past experiences in working with physics and physical science teachers new to engineering (Dare, Ellis, & Roehrig, 2014). As teachers new to engineering often struggle to meaningfully integrate between science content and an engineering design challenge, we suggested three core components be included in professional development (Dare et al., 2014):

  1. Ascertain knowledge about teacher beliefs related to engineering integration prior to the professional development
  2. Foster discussions about what engineering integration in the classroom would look like
  3. Spend time modeling the creation of instructional goals that include both physics and engineering content

These three components framed our overall approach to the professional development in addition to known best practices (e.g., Banilower, Heck, & Weiss et al., 2007; Capps, Crawford, & Constas, 2012; Supovitz & Turner, 2000) to actively engage teachers in hands-on, engineering-integrated instruction. For instance, the literature on teacher learning and professional development calls for professional development to be sustained over time, as the duration of professional development is related to the depth of teacher change (Banilower, Heck, & Weiss, 2007; Supovitz & Turner, 2000). This is important for creating broad changes in overall classroom culture as opposed to small-scale changes in practice (Supovitz & Turner, 2000). For our project, we provided over 90 contact hours of professional development (a requirement of the Title IIA(3) guidelines) over the course of 18 months. Not only is the total number of contact hours important, but also the time span of the professional development experience (i.e. the number of months across which professional hours occur) to allow for multiple cycles of presentation and reflection on practice (Blumenfeld, Soloway, Marx, Guzdial, & Palincsar, 1991; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001; Kubitskey, 2006).

Overview

We provided two one-week summer workshops and sustained support during the school year by creating a blended professional development program that utilized both face-to-face and online meetings (Table 2). As facilitators, we were concerned that the large geographical distances (up for 10 hours away) between ourselves and our teachers would make sustained professional development challenging, particularly once our teachers returned to their classrooms. To mitigate this, we provided academic year support virtually. This blended form of professional development has been gaining traction with other researchers and teacher educators as the ability to communicate virtually is becoming more user-friendly (Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education, 2017). We designed the course of the project as follows: a one-week summer institute in Year 1 led by project staff, academic year follow-up in the form of virtual monthly group and individual coaching meetings, and another one-week summer institute in Year 2, in which teachers led the bulk of the activities. We started with learning the basics of engineering and engineering integration by engaging in example activities and lessons, which were scaffolded in complexity over our week-long workshop. This was followed by academic year coaching to help teachers reflect on their practice in a group setting. Additionally, individual meetings helped teachers reflect on a specific lesson or unit that they implemented and receive feedback from project staff. The second summer allowed for further practice and reflection, focusing on opportunities for teachers to gather feedback from peers and project staff. The following sections describe how each of these components provided our teachers with 18 months of sustained professional development.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Outline of Overall PD Structure

Summer Year 1 Activities

The main focus of the first summer workshop was to provide our teachers with an understanding of engineering through integrated physical science and engineering activities in order to engage all students in authentic scientific and engineering practices. Our three main goals were for our teachers to: 1) learn in-depth content related to forces and motion, 2) learn about the engineering design process, and 3) develop lessons to implement in the following school year. Research identifies professional development that focuses on science content and how children learn as important in changing teaching practice (Corcoran, 1995), particularly when the goal is the implementation of inquiry-based instruction designed to improve students’ conceptual understanding (Fennema et al., 1996). This guided us to create an experience that was interactive with teachers’ own teaching practice. As the facilitators, we modeled instructional practices during the professional development, provided authentic learning experiences to allow teachers to truly experience the role of the learner in an inquiry setting, and supported teacher development of conceptual understanding of the physical science content. By allowing teachers to learn about the engineering design process using hands-on engineering activities in the context of physical science, teachers developed ideas and plans for how to bring engineering to their classrooms. We provided our teachers with a variety of engineering design process models (e.g., Engineering is Elementary, NGSS, PictureSTEM), feeling that it was important that they chose a model that they felt would work best with their students. In addition to modeling integration strategies, we built in time to discuss each activity to assist teachers in thinking about the activity from both a teacher and a student perspective. Figure 1 shows the typical progression when introducing a new activity.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Outline of a typical progression when introducing new activities in summer year 1.

We introduced a variety of topics and engineering design challenges as we scaffolded the complexity of the activities with either more content or new instructional strategies. With each activity that we introduced, we attempted to focus on something new each time (for example, emphasizing teamwork or using data analysis to make design decisions). We frequently moved teachers around and arranged them in different groups, using a variety of means to group them to model different strategies for use in their own classrooms. We discussed how to come up with learning goals/targets that aligned with both science and engineering practices; starting on Day 2, we never shared an activity that did not include both physical science content and engineering standards. This was a strong emphasis throughout the professional development, as we frequently asked questions such as, “What made you decide on that design? What evidence do you have? What standard does this address?” We shared various assessment approaches, focusing on performance assessment. Table 3 describes the core activities that shaped this one-week institute, along with the NGSS standards that were addressed. When appropriate, we discussed safety measures in the classroom, building off of our teacher’s own knowledge of safety in the science classroom.

Table 3 (Click on link to view table)
Summary of Year 1 Core Activities

 

Beyond the core activities, we administered a pre/post content assessment (based on the Force Concept Inventory), an instructional practice survey required by the Michigan Department of Education, and a self-efficacy survey (described below); discussed the nuances of the new NGSS compared to previous state standards through “unpacking the standards” activities; and formatively evaluated the previous day’s learning. We also guided teachers through using both Google Drive (where they were expected to later upload lesson plans and classroom videos) and the Google Site we created for them, where we shared all of our professional development materials (i.e., slides, handouts, materials lists, readings, etc.) and quick links to Google Drive. Throughout the week, we provided teachers with ample time to write lesson plans for their classrooms in the coming academic year, encouraging sharing between peers and facilitators for feedback. On the last day, we supplied teachers with recording equipment (video camera, tripod, and lapel microphone) to record engineering-integrated lesson in their classrooms and discussed what we were looking for in the academic year.

Year 1 Teacher Feedback

As part of our formative evaluation, we provided teachers with a brief course evaluation at the end of the week. This evaluation showed that teachers received the course positively, but most importantly, they felt that our strategies were helpful to their learning. For instance one teacher noted, “One of the best aspects was the instructors didn’t act like this was the best and/or only way to teach this material. Discussions abounded with many alternative ideas.” Teachers appreciated our modeling strategy such that, “The literal hands-on approach made a huge difference in my comprehension of the material. I also felt that by utilizing an open-forum approach we were able to feel more comfortable for invaluable discussion.” Further, “Hands on opportunities to learn from a student’s perspective and reflect from the teacher perspective,” were seen as beneficial. The biggest failure in this first year was that the course was not long enough: “This could be a 2 week class with more emphasis on other standards in the 2nd week,” including, “More time for teacher discussions.” This feedback helped us design the workshop in summer Year 2, where we emphasized a greater focus on teacher-led activities and discussions.

One teacher commented that, “I sent a note to my principal telling him a couple of our teachers [who were not a part of the professional development] could have benefited from the class, too.” It was clear that teachers valued the work they did over the summer. These teachers left feeling confident about the upcoming year, armed with new tools in their teacher tool belts to bring engineering and the NGSS to their classrooms. In particular, “I had such an amazing week and feel so much more prepared to create engineering challenge lessons for my students. The instructors shared great ideas with us and empowered us to come up with our own amazing ideas.” By allowing teachers to struggle with engineering hands-on they felt prepared to add engineering to their instruction.

Academic Year Coaching

In order to support our goal of sustained professional development during the academic year (Garet et al., 2001; Richardson, 2003; Supovitz & Turner, 2000), we provided time for teachers to try out new instructional techniques, obtain feedback, and reflect. Facilitators of professional development should provide opportunities for teachers to reflect critically on their practice and to fashion new knowledge and beliefs about content, pedagogy, and learners (Darling-Hammond, 2005). During the academic year, we set goals for our project in which our teachers would: 1) implement new activities and lessons in their classrooms, 2) receive feedback from professional development facilitators, and 3) develop reflective practice skills. While teachers were expected to implement and video-record engineering-integrated lessons into their instruction during the school year, they were also expected to meet with project staff in monthly group coaching meetings as well as less frequent individual coaching meetings. Individual meetings provided teachers with opportunities to meet one-on-one with project staff and engage in conversations about their individual practice. These intentional conversations provide one of the most powerful forms of reflection (Ortmann, 2015; York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere & Montie, 2006), as “awareness of one’s own intuitive thinking usually grows out of practice in articulating it to others” (Schön, 1983, p. 243). When the conversation partner is a coach or mentor, this practice of reflection is non-evaluative and seeks to deepen the teacher’s reflective practice (York-Barr et al., 2006). This type of coaching has been used in science and mathematics classrooms to effectively expand teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogy (Loucks-Horsley, Hewson, Love, & Stiles, 1998). Further, coaching in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classrooms has the potential to drive success in K-12 STEM education in addition to increasing teacher self-efficacy (Cantrell & Hughes, 2008; Ortmann, 2015).

Monthly group coaching. We scheduled two online meetings each month using Google Hangout; each of the two monthly meetings covered the same topics and were scheduled so that half of the group would meet during the first meeting and the other half would attend the second meeting. Meeting times were determined simply by polling teachers using a Google Form; one meeting was at the end of the school day and one was at a later evening hour. During these group meetings, teachers shared what was going on in their classrooms and elicited help from facilitators and colleagues. The topics of each month were guided by teachers’ interest in topics, which they shared with us at the end of each meeting. As the months continued on, we changed our strategy to make sure that the coaching sessions better met our teachers’ needs. In this, we ended up going through three phases of meeting type.

Discussion and topic driven. For the first meeting, the first author emailed a Google Form to teachers to indicate topics that they would like to address in the first meeting. A short list of specific topics was provided in the form, but respondents were also able to add in their own suggestions. From the responses, we determined that the first topic would be a continuation of a discussion about creating motivating and engaging contexts for student learning. The first four meetings (September to December) followed a similar format that began with a welcome and general check-in with teachers, a short interactive PowerPoint presentation to ground the conversation, whole group discussion and sharing, and a closing. At the end of each meeting, we asked teachers to contribute to a table in Google Doc to note the following: “I’m planning to implement…”, “I’m excited to try…”, and “I’m still wondering about…”. This third item led us to determine the topic for each subsequent monthly meeting, which covered assessment strategies, formative assessment, and planning ahead for Summer 2.

A focus on classroom practice. After the winter break, we adjusted our approach to the monthly meetings. We incorporated breakout sessions in which the meeting would start as a large group, then we would create small breakout groups on the fly in Google Hangouts, and the whole group would finally come back together for the last 10 or so minutes. We created separate Google Hangout links ahead of time and emailed the small groups when it was time for these small group discussions; because we never knew who was attending which meeting, this second part was done in the moment. As the facilitators, we would “drop into” these meetings using those links, much like a teacher would check in with a small group in a classroom setting. During these two sessions, teachers discussed issues, challenges, and/or successes in their classroom (January) and then identified a particular area that they wanted to work on to improve (February). This latter topic helped us in planning ahead for the Year 2 summer institute. In particular, teachers voiced their struggle with classroom management and creating performance assessments, and were proud of their success in increasing student engagement in their classrooms.

Video work. Our original plan was to engage teachers in video reflection during Summer 2, so we shifted our focus in March to prepare teachers for watching their peers’ classroom video to provide feedback. We first introduced teachers to VideoAnt, a free online tool for video annotations, and asked them to view a video from the Engineering is Elementary video collection. Specifically, we asked teachers to annotate 3 things they found interesting, 2 things they would ask the teacher if s/he were present, and 1 implication for their future engineering-integrated instruction. In April, we continued this discussion by encouraging teachers to comment on all of the annotations from the previous meeting. We used this experience to help our teachers generate ideas via a Google Form to establish guidelines/norms for sharing video clips during the summer. The teachers worked together to define the following guidelines, which were implemented in the summer Year 2:

  1. Teachers can share strategies or elicit feedback on specific aspects of instruction
  2. Viewers can help solve a problem
  3. Anyone can ask probing questions
  4. You can give advice related to your own instruction
  5. Everyone will recognize that not all classrooms are the same
  6. No high-fiving or being negative – constructive criticism only!

By May, we realized that a week full of video clips and feedback might be monotonous for this group of teachers who thrived on variety, so we opened up the summer session to include a micro-teaching option. In this option, teachers would be able to showcase or pilot an activity they wanted to receive peer feedback on. This required that we discuss what this meant during our May meeting.

Individual coaching. During the school year, teachers implemented activities and lessons in their classroom that focused on engineering integration (many of which reflected slightly-altered versions of activities shared in the Year 1 institute). In addition to the monthly group meetings, they also engaged in individual coaching meetings. Because of the large distance between the project team and the teachers, teachers video-recorded lessons in their classrooms and shared the recording digitally via a shared Google Drive folder; these were only shared with the project staff, not all of the teachers. The first author then watched these recordings in order to prepare for a one-on-one virtual meeting with the individual to discuss the lesson. During this meeting, the first author used a coaching approach to learn more about the teacher’s experience in implementing the lesson of focus and to inquire about future practice, providing an opportunity for the teacher to reflect on their current practice. Although some specific questions were drafted ahead of time, typically these meetings were organic. Meetings often started with a broad question such as, “How do you think your implementation went?” From here, the first author would elicit not only the teachers’ concerns, but also their successes. These discussions were often centered on student learning and engagement, as teachers were most concerned about this aspect of their instruction. While the project only required one of these meetings, a handful of teachers took advantage of this external support and engaged in multiple conversations.

Summer Year 2 Activities

The original plan for Year 2 was to have teachers share segments of their recorded classroom video, but as the monthly meetings progressed during the school year, we realized that sharing video may limit the activities. Because of this, we altered our plan slightly. We knew from the group meetings that teachers were interested in what their peers were doing in their classrooms, so instead of watching video clips for the entire week, we added the option for teachers to micro-teach a lesson. Teachers could share either what they had implemented in their classrooms or something that they were thinking about implementing (i.e. a pilot). The first author sent out a Google Form to elicit responses and to assure that each teacher signed up for either micro-teaching or video share. We made it clear to our participants that this second workshop would be extremely different from the first, as we would provide very little new information. Similar to professional learning communities, our aim was to continue to allow these teachers to build their knowledge from one another as they continued to develop ideas for classroom use.

This second summer institute followed a similar format each day, where the goals were for teachers to: 1) reflect on experiences from the classroom with peers, 2) build on knowledge gained during the academic year, and 3) continue to develop lessons and units for classroom use. In order to reduce the stress of having a teacher lead a discussion on the very first day, the first author led the group through an engineering design challenge related to forces and buoyancy (Dare, Rafferty, Scheidel, & Roehrig, 2017). This final engineering design challenge – design and build a watercraft for use in floods – was revisited at the end of the week. Each day included video scenarios, two rounds of micro-teaching, and an Engineering with an Engineer segment (described below) or time for lesson development.

Video scenarios. Teachers who elected to share classroom video were asked to select a video clip no longer than 10 minutes to share; this was done prior to the week-long summer meeting and with support from us. Teachers were expected to not only share the video clip, but to ask for specific feedback from their peers. During the professional development we shared the video clips either in a large group or two small groups. After watching the clip, the group engaged in discussion, led by the focus teacher, where others followed the previously established viewing guidelines and constructive feedback norms.

Micro-teaching. Teachers who chose this option provided the first author with a list of materials needed to complete the activity and were asked to prepare any handouts necessary to implement it in the classroom. Teachers were provided approximately 45 minutes to introduce and lead the activity as they would in their classroom; while this meant that a multi-day lesson may not have been fully implemented, this activity provided teachers an opportunity to share enough to receive feedback from their peers. Afterward, the group debriefed the activity, where the teacher asked his/her peers for specific feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Engineering with an engineer. To encourage teachers’ growth in their understanding of engineering, the third author (a doctoral student in Civil and Environmental Engineering) led activities to share more about what real engineers do, using real engineering practices and situating them within an activity. For instance, engineers make informed decisions using a systematic process; this is reflected in NGSS standard MS-ETS1-2. In one activity, teachers were asked to consider how they make decisions while evaluating three different roofing materials. Teachers used a decision matrix (Figure 2) to identify criteria and constraints based on their roof project needs, wants, and overall budget. Once teachers individually documented their ideas, they paired up and shared their decision matrix with a colleague. Each teacher team reached a consensus, agreed on their top three decision criteria, and selected one roofing material. While no physical product was created as a result of this decision-making activity, this exercise is one example of how real-world engineers work in a team, using an objective process to make decisions by prioritizing facts, importance, and values. As part of this process, teachers practiced discussing trade-offs, used the matrix as supporting evidence to determine the best design solution, and enacted engineering practices that they could take back to their classroom.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Example template for a decision matrix used in summer year 2.


Lesson development. In order to encourage continued collaboration within the group, we incorporated time for teachers to brainstorm and write activities and lesson plans. This was similar to the summer workshop in Year 1, but by this point, teachers had been exposed to multiple ideas. Teachers worked both individually and in groups to write down ideas and possible activities for their classroom. As part of this, all lesson plans and handouts from the micro-teaching were shared digitally on our course Google Site.

Year 2 Teacher Feedback

Evaluations from both summers indicated that teachers were positive about their experiences with this professional development approach, emphasized by the fact that they asked when they could work with us next. Specifically, in this second summer, teachers were positive about the video shares and the micro-teaching. They noted, “The time to collaborate with other Science Professionals at all levels was so helpful to view ideas/lessons/concepts from multiple perspectives. This time allowed for troubleshooting, idea formulating, and just plain professional discussion that benefited all.” The collaborative aspect of this second summer appeared to be fulfilling: “The amount of collaboration between teachers was astronomical and really accelerated my understanding of the different sciences and how they are taught.” The micro-teaching enabled teachers to get more ideas of activities to use in their classroom: “Having numerous hands on activities that can be applied directly to class. I also liked talking with others about activities that worked.” It appeared that this sharing of ideas benefited our teachers.
When asked to comment on improvements for us to think about future professional development offerings, most responses were similar to, “None that I can think of,” however, “I think the biggest drawback to this class was the time. It was great to talk with other teachers and how we use stuff in our classes-ideas, ideas, ideas. This class could have easily gone two weeks both summers. There was more than enough useful material.” Teachers appreciated their colleagues and commented, “I know everyone has been suggesting it, but, honestly, a continuation so that our strong network of teachers can meet again.” Without being prompted, our teachers thanked us for providing them with this opportunity:

I just want to thank you for treating us like professionals, allowing us the time to interact in fun and engaging ways that we can apply directly to our classrooms, and for providing this opportunity to connect with other science teachers facing similar issues.

Similarly, teachers felt that this opportunity, “…has helped me improve as a teacher and make my classes better for my students,” and helped gain confidence in understanding the new NGSS standards such that, “I feel much more confident in teaching NGSS after this workshop, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this.” Our format clearly impacted teachers who were hungry to learn more about engineering and to connect with others outside of their schools.

Other Measures of Success

As part of our reporting measures, we administered the Teaching Engineering Self-Efficacy Scale (Yoon, Miles, & Strobel, 2013) as an assessment to measure the impact of our professional development workshop on teacher’s self-efficacy; the first assessment occurred at the beginning of the first summer workshop and the second at the end of the second. The TESS uses a 6-point Likert scale ranging from Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (6). The survey measures four constructs (Yoon et al., 2012): Engineering Pedagogical Content Knowledge Self-Efficacy (KS), Engineering Engagement Self-Efficacy (ES), Disciplinary Self-Efficacy (DS), and Outcome Expectancy (OE). According to Yoon et al. (2013), analysis of the Teaching Engineering Self-Efficacy Scale (TESS) can be done by examining the average score of each of the four constructs and also by looking at the overall score for self-efficacy by summing these averages. This was done for all participants for their pre and post surveys. We used a paired t-test to analyze the significance of any gains (Table 4). Teachers’ self-efficacy significantly increased in two of the four different constructs, as well as overall, using a cutoff of p<0.05. Although teachers rated their Engineering self-efficacy fairly high in the beginning of our time with them, we can confidently say that this professional development helped to build that self-efficacy even more.

Table 4 (Click on Image to enlarge)
Teacher TESS Results (Likert 1-6 scale)

Discussion

As noted by teacher feedback in both Years 1 and 2, teachers felt that the professional development helped them understand the new NGSS-like standards, which would help them to develop activities and lessons for their classroom. Additionally, teachers successfully implemented lessons in their classroom and received feedback from project personnel and peers; this feedback helped teachers reflect on their development. While further study would shed light on aspects of classroom practice, it was clear to us as facilitators that this project was a success. It is also evident to us how important it was for teachers to work through learning about engineering and the NGSS with their peers. While we provided a foundation for their learning, most of their growth appeared to be a result of collaboration with their peers.

Although we had not explicitly planned for it, we believe that one of the most successful aspects of this project was the development of collegiality between the teacher participants; this collegiality was unlike any seen by us. We attribute this success in part to the sustained contact throughout the school year. The inclusion of monthly group meetings allowed teachers to remain connected not only with project staff, but with each other. Additionally, we designed these virtual group meetings to fulfill the needs of these teachers by asking what they wanted to work on and encouraged responses from their peers.

This success also came from our participants. We were extremely fortunate to work with teachers who were eager and willing to learn and push themselves outside of their comfort zone. Their written feedback showed us that our model worked for them and that they built their own learning community within this project. This encourages us to consider improvements to any future professional development opportunities we offer. Many of our teachers asked to keep the video recording equipment that they used during the academic year to continue their growth as educators. This is something we plan to include in our future work to expand the use of video reflection. Unexpectedly, few teachers implemented integrated lessons early in the school year; the majority of them chose to wait until the last month or two. Anecdotally, our prior work in similar engineering-focused professional developments showed similar patterns. We suspect that this is due to teachers viewing engineering as something “new,” meaning there is no time in the school year except at the end; a formal study is necessary to more fully understand this phenomenon. This limited our ability to engage teachers in much meaningful video reflection throughout the academic year; however, during the professional development in Year 2, we felt that teachers began to notice the value of video sharing. It was perhaps an error of ours to attempt to fit so much into summer Year 1, as we missed some opportunities to showcase the benefits of video reflection before teachers returned to their classrooms. This is parallel to teachers’ comments about the need for more time in each of the summer workshops.

Another successful piece of this project was the inclusion of micro-teaching in Year 2. For an activity that we had not originally planned for, teachers rated it as one of their favorite activities on course evaluations. This practice, which is more often used in pre-service teacher preparation, clearly has uses for in-service teacher education as well. This may be an imperative addition when in-service teachers are learning new skills; they need opportunities to engage in new practices in a low-stakes environment, reflect on those practices, and receive feedback from their peers. The lessons that teachers did implement in their classrooms between the two summers tended to be modifications of the activities we shared in Year 1. For teachers new to engineering and engineering integration, this may help to build confidence. At the end of summer Year 2, it was clear to us that teachers were going back to their classrooms with new ideas from their peers, in addition to what we shared with them as facilitators. Further study with these teachers may allow us to understand how these teachers continue to grow with respect to engineering integration once they were equipped with the tools and increased their confidence in understanding the NGSS. If we were able to expand this work and focus on developing high-quality curriculum for classroom use, we believe that we would have seen more novel engineering activities in these classrooms in a second year of implementation. Beginning experiences like these are necessary for teachers who are now expected to bring engineering and NGSS to their classrooms.

Our model used here can be successful outside of rural and remote settings. While we had some bumps along the way, the model of professional development that we used helped teachers develop their practice over time while creating a small community with their peers. We still receive emails from our participants about accomplishments (such as being successful in securing grant money to purchase equipment for their classrooms or participating in professional conferences). We have been fortunate enough to invite these participants to join other projects we are conducting, and we hope to continue working with these amazing individuals over the years. A model of professional development such as the one described here may be beneficial for pre-service teachers, school-wide or district-wide reform, or long-distance professional development opportunities.

Acknowledgment

This study was made possible by MDE Title IIA(3) grant #160290-023. The findings, conclusions, and opinions herein represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of personnel affiliated with the Michigan Department of Eduation.

An Innovative Integrated STEM Program for PreK-6 Teachers

Introduction

In this article, we describe an innovative, 6-course, 18-credit post-baccalaureate certificate (PBC) program for pre-kindergarten through grade six teachers (PreK-6) in Integrated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (iSTEM) Instructional Leadership (hereafter, the iSTEM program) at Towson University (TU). Here, the acronym, “iSTEM,” refers to education that not only addresses each of the S, T, E and M subjects, but also emphasizes the connections among them. We collaboratively contributed to the development of the program, and teach courses within it. The program graduated its pilot cohort of participants in 2015, is running its second cohort, and is recruiting for a third. We begin by describing the program’s origins, courses, and program team, and then expand on what we mean by an “integrated” approach to STEM education. This is followed by a discussion of: key aspects of program design and course descriptions, program evaluation and assessment, and our reflections on the program’s successes and challenges.

Origins, Courses and Program Team

From 2011 to 2014, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) used Race-to-the-Top (RTTT) funding to award institutions of higher education in Maryland with small (max: $40K) one-to-three-year grants to seed the development of programs for preservice or inservice teachers to grow expertise in iSTEM education and be prepared to implement the state’s STEM Standards for K-12 students (MSDE, 2012). We received one of those grants between 2012 and 2014, enabling us to develop four iSTEM courses for in-service teachers. Within this same timeframe, MSDE approved an Instructional Leader: STEM endorsement (i.e., an additional credential for an already certified teacher) for PreK-6 teachers (Appendix 1). This endorsement was developed by a work group comprised of stakeholders – including teachers, school system science leaders, and higher education faculty – from across Maryland, one of whom was the first author (Instructional Leader: STEM (Grades PreK-6), 2014). To meet the needs of this endorsement, the program grew from four to six courses.

Within the six-course program, we refer to the first four courses as its “content courses.” These are: 1) Engineering, 2) Mathematics, 3) Environmental and Biological Science, and 4) Earth-Space and Physical Science in iSTEM Education. (Each content course title ends with “in iSTEM Education.”) These were completely new to TU and underwent the curriculum review process at the university. The fifth course, Transformational Leadership and Professional Development, was an existing course. The final course, Practicum in iSTEM Education, was a revised and renamed course from a previous science education graduate program. In 2014 and 2015, our iSTEM program went through thorough review by MSDE and the Maryland Higher Education Coalition (MHEC), ultimately gaining approval as a new PBC program able to award graduates with the aforementioned endorsement. Each course is three credits, taught one course at a time over a regular (i.e., fall or spring) semester, one evening per week. Our pilot program included a summer semester course; however, this is not a standard program feature.

Program team members were recruited by the first author to develop the pilot program based on their expertise in STEM education and interest in teaching within the program. All team members are engineering, science, or mathematics education faculty (not content faculty). They each have extensive experience providing preservice and inservice teacher education and conducting research in their respective areas of education. For example, among the authors who are also program team members: Lottero-Perdue specializes in engineering and physical science education; Haines specializes in environmental and biological education; Bamberger specializes in mathematics education; and Miranda specializes in Earth-space and physical science education. While some had some experiences integrating their main content area with another (e.g., mathematics and science), most had not engaged in integration across all STEM subjects prior to engagement in this program.

All but one of the pilot cohort instructors have taught or will be teaching the second cohort of the program. The exception is the instructor who helped to develop and taught the practicum course, Ms. Christine Roland. She had extensive science teaching experience, was a STEM coach for a local school system while she taught the pilot cohort, and is currently a Co-Director and Master Teacher for our university’s UTeach program. The new practicum instructor can be chosen from any STEM education area, and we have plans for this replacement. Recently, our mathematics team member, Dr. Honi Bamberger, retired. She recruited another member of her department, Dr. Ming Tomayko, to co-teach the mathematics course for the second cohort prior to her retirement. This provided support to the new team member to teach the mathematics course for subsequent cohorts.

Our participants for our initial pilot program consisted of two elementary art teachers – both of whom were interested in the integrated nature of our program – with the rest being elementary level regular classroom teachers. Our current cohort participants are all regular elementary level classroom teachers who collectively teach grades 2 to 5.

Integration

Integrated STEM education aims to engage students in learning experiences in which STEM subjects symbiotically work together to answer real questions and solve real problems. Rarely are human pursuits solely in one of these particular subject areas (National Academy of Engineering [NAE] & National Research Council [NRC], 2014). Three approaches implemented in PreK-12 education are multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary integration (Vasquez, Sneider & Comer, 2013). In what follows, we briefly review these approaches, and then present our hub-and-spoke model of STEM integration.

In multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary integration, one subject is addressed through the lenses of different disciplines. In multidisciplinary integration, a theme (e.g., penguins) is addressed in each subject, yet there are few conceptual linkages between the subjects. For example, students may learn about penguin habitats in science, and read the fictional storybook Tacky, the Penguin (Lester & Munsinger, 1990) in language arts. In interdisciplinary integration, a disciplinary approach is still taken on a topic, but conceptual links are stronger (e.g., social studies instruction about the geography of Antarctica informs science learning about the habitat of Emperor penguins). Transdisciplinary approaches are guided by an essential question or problem, ideally that has been shaped by student interests. In order to answer the question or solve the problem, students must learn and apply knowledge and practices from various disciplines. For example, if students wanted to design a penguin habitat for a zoo, they would need to explore how and where penguins live in their natural habitats to do so, apply mathematics as they considered the size of the habitat, and so on. Our iSTEM program favors interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches over a multidisciplinary approach, given that our intent is for integration to involve conceptual links across disciplinary boundaries.

Our iSTEM program uses what we call a hub-and-spoke model of STEM integration. Each of the content courses in the program emphasize both content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) for a “hub” or core content area (Gess-Newsome & Lederman, 1999). PCK represents “the distinctive bodies of knowledge for teaching” particular subjects (Schulman, 1987, p. 8). Each content course intentionally and meaningfully connects to other STEM areas via “spokes.” In this way, the hub-and-spoke model emphasizes interdisciplinary integration. The spokes for the engineering course are science, mathematics, and technology (Figure 1). Although not featured as a separate course or hub, technology appears as part of the hub in the engineering course since one conception of the T in STEM, which we will call T1, is that technologies are products of engineering, and can be simple (e.g., pencils) or sophisticated (e.g., robotic arms). Thus, T1 technology and engineering are inherently paired. Another conception of technology, which we will call T2, is that sophisticated tools (e.g., digital scales) are used to develop STEM knowledge; T2 is addressed as a spoke in all of the courses. Hub-and-spoke depictions for the other content courses in the program are shown in Figures 2 and 3.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Hub and spoke model for the Engineering in iSTEM course.
Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Hub and spoke model for the Environmental and Biological Science in iSTEM course and the Earth-Space and Physical Science in iSTEM course.
Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Hub and spoke model for the Mathematics in iSTEM course.

Whether as a hub or spoke, STEM subject matter content and practices are addressed with rigor in the program. This is ensured by requirements across course assignments to reference STEM subject matter standards, e.g.: the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013); Maryland Technology Literacy Standards for Students (MSDE, 2007); the Maryland State STEM Standards of Practice (MSDE, 2012); the Standards for the Professional Development and Preparation of Teachers of Engineering (Reimers, Farmer & Klein-Gardner, 2015); and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices [NGAC] and Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO], 2010).

Course syllabi were developed collaboratively by program team members, contributing to the STEM integration within each course. During syllabi development, team members took on roles as “hub leaders” and as “spoke experts” depending on the course. Hub leaders have explicit expertise in hub areas and were the pilot instructors of program’s content courses. For example, Lottero-Perdue is an engineering educator, conducts engineering education research, and provides PreK-8 preservice and inservice teacher education in engineering. She is the hub leader for the engineering course, and was a spoke expert for the other content courses, offering suggestions and advice to other hub leaders regarding how to approach engineering within their courses.

This collaborative process was most intense during syllabus development, with syllabi developed, modified, and improved with input from hub leaders and spoke experts. Input was provided in face-to-face meetings, as well as electronically. Once courses were in session, hub leaders reached out as needed to spoke experts for additional support. For example, Lottero-Perdue reached out to Bamberger for advice on the integration of mathematics within a new unit for the engineering course that ran in fall 2016 for the second cohort of the program.

The hub-and-spoke integration model in the iSTEM program is consistent with four recommendations made by the NAE and NRC within their report, STEM Integration in K-12 Education, for designers of iSTEM education initiatives. Two of these recommendations are relevant here. First, the report urges designers to “attend to the learning goals and learning progressions in the individual STEM subjects” (2014, p. 9) – i.e., the course hubs. Second, the report encourages designers to make STEM connections explicit – i.e., via the spokes. The two remaining recommendations regarding professional learning experiences and program goals will be addressed in what follows; all four recommendations are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Four Recommendations from the NAE and NRC for Designers of iSTEM Experiences

The hub-and-spoke model is relevant to the overwhelming majority of elementary educators who have dedicated blocks of time in mathematics and science, and can use those “hubs” to reach out meaningfully and purposefully to the other STEM subject areas. This model is ideal for interdisciplinary integration, and is also inclusive of transdisciplinary approaches.

Program Design & Courses

The order of the courses, as well as the degree of structure provided throughout these courses via the instructor and curriculum, was highly intentional in the program’s design (see Table 2 for a summary of program courses). The first course is the engineering course since this is the STEM subject that is most likely to be unfamiliar to elementary teachers (Cunningham & Carlsen, 2014; Cunningham & Lachapelle, 2014; NAE & NRC, 2009; NAE & NRC, 2014). After this course, the integration of engineering within other courses is less onerous. As participants move through the program, the structure provided by the curriculum and instructor is gradually reduced. The first course has participants engage in and reflect on particular, instructor-selected iSTEM units. By the time participants get to the fourth content course, they are driving their own open-ended, transdisciplinary, iSTEM projects. The imposed structure of having to attend to particular STEM content is removed completely within the final two courses in the program. These courses support participants as they develop into iSTEM leaders who decide how to craft their own curricula and design and lead their own professional learning experiences. This addresses the “Professional Learning Experiences” recommendation for STEM education in Table 1 (NAE & NRC, 2014).

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
iSTEM Program Courses

In this section, we describe each content course. Following this, we briefly summarize the final two leadership courses. One common theme across all of the courses is that they all utilize constructivist, active learning approaches (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 2006). In this way, no matter the course, participants work collaboratively, communicate their ideas regularly, think critically, and problem solve.

Engineering in iSTEM Education

Three principles for K-12 engineering education identified in the report, Engineering in K-12 Education, were that engineering education should: 1) “emphasize engineering design,” 2) “connect to other STEM areas”, and 3) “promote engineering habits of mind” (NAE & NRC, 2009, pp. 151-152). The first and third principles represent key “hub” ideas for this course; the second represents its STEM spoke connections. Engineering design involves generating solutions to problems via an engineering design process (EDP). The EDP includes defining and researching a problem, brainstorming, planning, creating, testing, and improving (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Engineering habits of mind are fundamental dispositions of the engineering community, and include creativity, collaboration, systems thinking, and resilient responses to design failures (NAE & NRC, 2009). The hub of the Engineering in iSTEM Education course emphasizes the EDP and engineering habits of mind.

The course is organized into thirds. Participants have reading assignments each week, write a brief reflection, and discuss the readings in peer groups. During the first third of the course, they read sections of a chapter about how to incorporate engineering within science education (Lottero-Perdue, 2017). The chapter provides foundational hub content knowledge and PCK early in the semester. In each of the second and third parts of the semester, participants read a biography of an innovator who – perhaps not by title, but by action – has engineered in a real-world context. One of these was The Boy who Harnessed the Wind (Kamkwamba & Mealer, 2016). At the end of the semester, participants write a paper reflecting on how the individual engaged in the EDP, demonstrated engineering habits of mind, and applied other STEM areas.

There are three major engineering-focused, interdisciplinary iSTEM units in the course. In each unit, science, mathematics and technology are in service to the goal of solving an engineering problem through the use of an EDP and by applying engineering habits of mind. For all three units, participants keep an iSTEM notebook, work in teams, and present their findings in a poster presentation. During one of the class sessions, participants visit a local engineering or manufacturing company relevant to one of the three units; e.g., a packaging facility related to a package engineering unit (EiE, 2011).

The three units focus on different age bands: PreK-Grade 2, Grades 2-4, and Grades 4-6. For example, in the PreK-2 unit, participants used an early childhood EDP to design a sun shelter – a technology – for a lizard (Kitagawa, 2016). They made science connections to thermoregulation in lizards via trade books, and used flashlights to explore light and shadows via experimentation. The EDP reinforced counting and simple measurement, and attended to precision as they planned and tested their designs (NGAC & CCSSO, 2010). After learning the first two units of the course, participants selected one and wrote a paper describing: how they engaged in the EDP and engineering habits of mind in the unit; how the unit connected with other STEM areas; and how they would apply and improve the unit for use within their school.

Environmental and Biological Science in iSTEM Education

A key purpose for environmental and biological science education is to develop students’ environmental literacy, the guiding principle for this course. Developing this literacy involves growing knowledge of significant ecological concepts, environmental relationships, and how humans relate to natural systems (Berkowitz, 2005; Coyle, 2005; Erdogan, 2009). It also focuses on developing responsible environmental behavior, without specifying what that behavior should be. The hub in this course satisfies the central objective of enhancing participants’ environmental literacy, and preparing them to develop this literacy in their students. Course topics include: environmental issues related to the Chesapeake Bay; human population growth; environmental aspects of farming and agriculture; and urban planning. Special attention is given to global climate change and water issues. Emphasis is also placed on applying the concept of field science to students in the elementary grades, encouraging learning in “outdoor classrooms” (Haines, 2006).

The course includes a variety of inquiry-based class activities and projects, including finding the biodiversity of a sample, conducting a biological assessment of a local stream, analyzing physical and biological parameters of habitat, and conducting a soil analysis. Participants engineer solutions to problems (e.g., designing a floating wetland), use technology (e.g., GIS, Vernier probeware), and apply mathematical concepts (e.g., logarithms in pH, biodiversity in square meter plots) as they engage in these activities and projects. As with the engineering course, participants read, reflect on, and discuss reading assignments each week.

Assessments require participants to integrate natural science concepts into a variety of teaching formats, and design learning experiences that combine in class and field based instruction with all STEM subject areas. Final projects are unit plans that must include an outdoor component and issue investigation. Each participant fully plans an iSTEM environmental action project (Blake, Frederick, Haines, & Colby Lee, 2010) appropriate for completion at his/her school site with his/her students. Each project must include a clear rationale as to why the project was chosen for the particular school site. In addition, each project must have planned activities and learning experiences for the K-6 students that integrate environmental content with other STEM subjects. These learning experiences must include written lesson plans that are appropriate for students at the grade level the participant is teaching with appropriate objectives. Emphasis is placed on projects that are focused and manageable. Strong emphasis is also placed on project planning and implementation that are possible at the proposed school. Projects have included stream assessments, installing ponds on school property, planting trees to provide habitat and reduce erosion, and creating rain gardens to alleviate run-off issues on school grounds.

Mathematics in iSTEM Education

The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) represents not only what content and skills K-12 students need to know to prepare them for college and career, it also develops students’ mathematical habits of mind (NGAC & CCSSO, 2010). These habits of mind are developed as students investigate problems, ponder questions, justify their solutions, use precise mathematics vocabulary, and realize how mathematics is used in the real world. There are two primary objectives of this course: 1) to develop participants’ mathematical habits of mind, content and practices, and to prepare participants to help students do the same; and 2) to situate mathematics within the real world, which is inherently integrated in nature.

As part of addressing the first principle, participants routinely solve engaging problems in teams; share diverse problem-solving strategies; and read and interpret graphs, charts, and facts. To address the second, we employ a thematic approach for this course. Thus far, the course theme has been water and its importance to survival; a different theme may be used in the future. Mathematics-infused iSTEM activities related to water and survival topics include: representing the distribution of water on Earth; exploring precipitation amounts around the world and considering the causes and consequences of drought; investigating the causes and effects of floods; considering the effects of the public water crisis in Flint, Michigan; and looking at how water-borne illness is spread (The Watercourse/Project International Foundation, 1995).

During the first half of the course, participants read, write reflections about, and discuss two texts: 1) STEM Lesson Essentials (Vasquez et al., 2013); and 2) the STEM focus issue from the journal, Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2013). In the second half of the course, participants read A Long Walk to Water (Park, 2010), the true story of Salva Duk, one of the “lost boys” of the Sudan who walked 800 miles to escape rebels in his homeland and to find clean water.

There are two major assessed projects in the course. One is the generation of a mathematics-focused iSTEM lesson plan. Participants write the plan, teach the lesson to their students, and reflect – in writing and via a presentation – on the implementation and success of the lesson. The lesson, written reflection and presentation are graded using rubrics. The other major project is the iSTEM Collaborative Research Project. It is a semester-long project in which participants, working in teams of two, decide upon and research a water-and-survival related problem (e.g., oyster reduction in the Chesapeake Bay). Each participant writes an extensive paper reflecting the results of their research, and each team presents the results to the class. Among many other parameters, participants must demonstrate how mathematics is used to better understand the problem, and how connections are made to other STEM subject areas.

Earth-Space and Physical Science in iSTEM Education

This final content course of the program is the second course in which science is the hub; the first science hub course focused on environmental and biological science. As such, this final course reinforces prior learning of scientific practices (e.g., evidence-based argument, development and use of models) and crosscutting ideas (e.g., patterns, cause and effect), while emphasizing a new set of disciplinary core ideas in Earth-space and physical science (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Beyond attending to these dimensions of science learning, the major principle of this course is for participants to learn and practice more student-centered, open-ended, transdisciplinary iSTEM educational experiences. Two related objectives of the course are to: 1) explicitly utilize Project-Based Learning (PjBL) as a framework for transdisciplinary iSTEM education (Buck Institute for Education [BIE], 2011); and 2) employ and practice the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) as developed by Rothstein & Santana (2011), a technique to encourage students to generate their own questions.

The course has three major units in which assignments and course readings are interwoven: 1) Landforms & Topography on Earth and Beyond, 2) Communicating with Light and Sound and Other Signals, and 3) Tracking the Sun: Solar House Design. Each unit includes an iSTEM project, primarily done during class time. For example, in the second unit, the hub focused on science content knowledge and PCK related to light travel, light reflection, sound travel, electromagnetic waves, and satellites. Participant teams are informed that they are members of the Concerned Citizens about Asteroid Impact on Satellites (CCAIS) and are asked to write a persuasive letter to Congress arguing how our current communication satellites are in danger of asteroid impact, what effect that might have on society, and how funds should be directed towards research and development on alternative communication systems. Teams specifically connect to other STEM areas by drawing from knowledge of satellite technology systems, mathematical and scientific principles of those systems, and knowledge of asteroid impact likelihood in their argument. Teams are assessed for project quality and presentation quality. Individual team members are assessed by their team for their collaborative efforts and contributions to the team, and by the instructor through a short (one-to-two-page) reflective paper regarding the project.

There are two out-of-class projects in the class. One of these is the Encouraging Student Questioning through QFT Project. In this project, each participant identifies an opportunity in her/his science, mathematics or STEM curriculum to apply the QFT. Each participant writes a proposal explaining the context in which she/he will apply the QFT and the details of the planned QFT focus (Proposal Stage). After employing the QFT in her/his classroom as planned and collecting student artifacts, each participant writes a reflection regarding the process, impact on students, and impact on subsequent engagement in the curriculum (Reflection Stage).

The second major project in the course is the iSTEM Unit Analysis and Redesign Project. Each participant redesigns an existing Earth-Space science or physical science unit of instruction in his/her school system, redesigning it within iSTEM PjBL framework that utilizes at least one QFT experience. For the first part of the project, each participant conducts an analysis of the existing unit. For the second, each participant submits a redesigned unit proposal and a PjBL plan, including a Project Overview, Teaching and Learning Guide, and Calendar (BIE, 2011).

Leadership Courses

After growth in content knowledge and PCK in the four content courses in the program, participants focus on the development of leadership skills in their final two courses. The first of these courses, Transformational Leadership and Professional Development, helps grow participants’ knowledge base regarding best practices and standards for professional learning at the school and system level (Leaning Forward, 2012; Reeves, 2010). This course is taught within the TU College of Education’s Department of Instructional Leadership and Professional Development (ILPD). Kathleen Reilly, an ILPD faculty member, has taught this course for the iSTEM program, helping participants to identify an area of need and create a plan for an iSTEM professional learning experience (PLE) within their school or system. Part of the second leadership course, Practicum in iSTEM Education, involves implementing that PLE plan and reflecting upon it. Participants meet face-to-face for approximately half of practicum sessions. Participants must design a second PLE in the practicum, implement it, and reflect upon it; this second PLE must be different than the first.

Additionally in the practicum, participants must design and teach an iSTEM lesson to preK-6 students in a grade level other than those whom they normally teach, and include an assessment of impact on student learning for that lesson. For example, a second grade teacher in the program may develop, teach, and reflect upon an iSTEM lesson for fifth grade. Each participant negotiated teaching a class in another grade level. Participants arranged to swap with another teacher in the school for approximately three to four one-hour teaching sessions. Participants were required to organize this, and administrators were supportive of their need to do so.

At the end of the practicum, participants reflect upon and present to an audience of peers, teachers, administrators and instructors about their iSTEM leadership growth. Throughout the course, participants work in professional learning communities (PLCs), i.e., peer groups who provide feedback and input as participants develop and reflect on their iSTEM professional development, lesson, and leadership growth projects (Dufour, 2004). Across all of these projects, participants implement essential learning from previous coursework about integration, STEM standards and best practices, and best practices in professional learning and leadership.

Program Evaluation and Assessment

Program quality has been evaluated via: 1) external evaluation of the grant-funded portion of the four-course pilot (engineering, environmental and biological science, mathematics, and the practicum); 2) the development and subsequent external approval of its assessment plan; 3) results from assessment implementation; and 4) the new opportunities made available to and work of its graduates.

External Evaluation of the Pilot Program

The external evaluator’s review of the four-course pilot program was extensive and included: 1) a short pre-program survey; 2) affective behavioral checklists given after each of the three content courses (Appendix 2); 3) visits by the external evaluator to each class, including to major project presentations within each course; 4) a 37-question final program survey (Appendix 3); and 5) exit interviews conducted after each course. It is beyond the scope of this paper to share all results from the evaluation report; we share major findings here.

The pre-program survey indicated that 9 of the 10 incoming pilot program participants had received some PLEs in STEM subject(s) prior to the program; for six, this included a week of participation in a Science Academy. Also on this survey, when asked about their comfort level giving a one-hour presentation on iSTEM education in the next month, the responses were: Very uncomfortable (1 participant); somewhat uncomfortable (2); slightly comfortable / slightly uncomfortable (3); somewhat comfortable (4); very comfortable (0) (median = 3).

Aggregating affective behavioral checklist data across all three content courses, all 10 participants felt: more confident using, teaching or designing iSTEM lessons; and that the courses increased their interest and/or capabilities of assuming future iSTEM leadership roles in their schools, the school system, and the state. Post-course interviews included feedback – given anonymously to the instructors through the external evaluator – from participants about each content course; feedback was both positive and constructive.

Eight of the nine participants who completed the first four courses of the pilot program completed a final program survey. This survey utilized an ecosystem rating scale (Suskie, 2009) to assess confidencea in STEM subject and iSTEM teaching, curriculum writing and analysis, and leadership at program completion compared to recalled confidence at the start of the program. Confidence was indicated as follows: not at all confident (Score of 1); a little confident (2); somewhat confident (3); confident (4); very confident (5). Post-program confidence was higher than recalled pre-program confidence for all 37 criteria, as determined by Wilcoxon Signed Rank Tests (a < 0.05). For two final program survey items – “presenting curriculum development or other work in iSTEM to peers, teachers, and administrators” (post-program median = 5) and “presenting curriculum development or other work in iSTEM to parents and other members of the public” (post-program median = 4) – all eight participants moved from “not at all confident” or “a little confident” at the start of the program to “confident” or “very confident” at the end of the program. (These recalled low-confidence levels are consistent with the aforementioned pre-program survey result.)

While post-program responses were most often “confident” or “very confident” across all measures, for three criteria, half or fewer participants expressed that they were “very confident.” These criteria suggest areas in which participants are continuing to grow, and in which the program can improve. Each of these criteria regarded aspects of iSTEM leadership. Half of the program survey participants indicated that they were “very confident” “planning and leading iSTEM PLEs for teachers or administrators;” the remainder were “confident.” Similarly, half were “very confident” critically analyzing and evaluating engineering curriculum, while one participant was “somewhat confident” and the rest were “confident.”  One quarter were “very confident” with regard to “presenting curriculum development and other work in iSTEM to parents and other members of the public;” one participant was somewhat confident, and the remainder were “confident.”

Program Assessment and Approval

While innovative assessments of student learning were developed for each program course – including those in four-course pilot – a formal program assessment plan was not implemented for the pilot cohort. Rather, the assessment plan was developed as the pilot cohort of the iSTEM program took their courses. Also, the pilot cohort took the courses out of order. This was due to the initial grant-funded version of the program being four courses (engineering, mathematics, environmental and biological sciences, and the practicum), and the final version being six courses (adding the leadership and professional development course and the Earth-space and physical science course) in order to earn the endorsement. The endorsement was not in draft form until after two of the first four courses had been taken by program participants; it was not formally approved until after participants completed the fourth course.

Ultimately, seven key program assessments were developed to evaluate the program (Appendix 4). These assessments address required outcomes of the program for the Instructional Leader: STEM Endorsement, i.e.: STEM subject content, iSTEM content, iSTEM research, planning, impact on student learning, and leadership. Five assessments measure student performance directly via course assignments evaluated via extensive rubrics. Two are indirect measures: grades and the final program evaluation.

As mentioned previously, the six-course iSTEM program underwent rigorous external, administrative review by the state MSDE and the MHEC. Representatives from these agencies ensured that the program’s assessment plan addressed the aforementioned outcomes. MSDE representatives not only reviewed the overall plan, but also reviewed each assessment and corresponding rubric to determine whether or not the program addressed specific aspects of state STEM standards. Formal approval of the assessment plan and program was finalized in May 2015, just days before seven pilot program participants earned their iSTEM PBC.

Initial Results from Assessment

As our assessment plan suggests, a robust program assessment includes both direct and indirect measures. Much of the external evaluation of the pilot program included participants’ assessments of their learning outcomes (e.g., in the final program evaluation). While these provide some good information, participants’ answers may have been biased towards attempting to please the external evaluator or its instructors. Grades are another indirect measure of program success, but are more objective. Of the 7 PBC graduates from the six-course pilot program, all earned As or Bs in their courses. Thus far, all participants in the second cohort have earned As or Bs in their first two courses. More telling about learning outcomes is participant performance on direct assessments. What we can share here are results from two of those: 1) from the first cohort’s iSTEM Unit Analysis and Redesign Project; and 2) from the second cohort’s iSTEM Research Project (see Appendix 4 for a more robust description of these projects). On the iSTEM Unit Analysis, after revisions were allowed to improve overall quality, grades ranged from 80% to 100% (mean = 94%); the range was from 60% to 100% initially. The range for the iSTEM Research Project was 70% to 80% (mean = 92%).

Opportunities for and Engagement of Graduates and Participants

The external evaluator also mentioned anecdotal evidence in her report that spoke to participants’ iSTEM leadership potential and engagement at the end of the program. S/he noted: at the end of practicum final presentations, leaders from two school systems in which participants taught inquired about their interest in designing new iSTEM units for the school system; one participant got a new job at a private school in a large city as a science and math teacher; another received a grant from an ornithological organization; and three were planning to deliver an iSTEM PLE to administrators in their school system.

Since this time, most of the 9 pilot program completers and 7 PBC program graduates have stayed in their classrooms, have become enrichment teachers, or work as integration specialists. Collectively, they have led numerous iSTEM PLEs for teachers and administrators, some of which have been at the state level. They have implemented iSTEM clubs and family nights at their schools, contributed to re-writing district science curriculum to better align with the NGSS, and three have earned regional recognition as “Rising Stars” or “Mentors” in STEM education by the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council. Of the ten members enrolled in the ongoing second cohort of the program, two have recently received scholarships to receive Teacher Educator training through the Engineering is Elementary program in Boston, Massachusetts.

Challenges and Successes

The biggest challenge we face has to do with teacher recruitment. Many teachers may be too overburdened with curricular changes and new testing demands to begin a new and optional program. Also, for some school systems – particularly without STEM funding through efforts such as RTTT – iSTEM is less of a priority compared with other initiatives in early childhood and elementary education. Further, some school systems have clearer career pathways (e.g., STEM specialist positions) than others to motivate teachers to join an iSTEM program or earn the endorsement. For those who are interested in iSTEM education, we have competition; participants can choose from about five other programs in the state that offer a path to the endorsement (funded by the same grant that seeded our program.) A secondary challenge is retention. We have a master’s-level program; rigor is essential, but participants with many demands and busy schedules may drop out if the work burden is too high. Some attrition is to be expected, yet we are observing and making some changes to ensure that the program has the right balance of rigor and flexibility to meet the needs of busy, hardworking teacher-participants.

Despite these challenges, we are optimistic about our current and future cohorts, and have made changes to improve recruitment. Our program is available as a stand-alone post-baccalaureate certificate (PBC), and it serves as a set of electives for a master’s degree in educational leadership. This provides future graduates with master’s and an administration certificate in addition to the PBC and STEM endorsement. The first author, who is also the program director, has worked with colleagues in the ILPD Department of TU’s College of Education to make this combined degree pathway clearer to our students.

We offer courses during the regular semesters (fall and spring) of the academic year, typically once per week in the evening. This is preferable for full-time faculty who teach in its courses and typically want the courses to be taught as part of their teaching load. This also works with school systems’ reimbursement schedules (e.g., for those that offer two courses per year worth of reimbursement to participants in system-supported programs). Recently, we have begun to blend the iSTEM PBC, mixing online with face-to-face instruction. Our goal: content courses will be one third online and two thirds face-to-face; the fifth course will be completely online; and the final practicum course will be half online and half face-to-face. This will reduce the frequency of participants’ visits to campus, focusing those face-to-face visits on hands-on, team-based experiences, and will encourage participants’ use of interactive technologies (e.g., uploading project-related video logs).

Conclusion

We conclude by sharing that the process of growing this program has been messy and non-linear. A more straightforward trajectory would have included knowing the parameters of the endorsement prior to creating a program that aimed to address it. Instead, these criteria arrived mid-way in our innovation process. Such is the case with design: sometimes the criteria or constraints change, and designers must respond accordingly. The (small) amount of seed money that we gratefully received from the MSDE aimed to spark the creative development of an iSTEM program for practicing PreK-6 teachers, something that had not been done before. Five years after receiving this award, we continue to improve and refine our program, and yes, we continue to innovate. Innovation is generative, exciting and frustrating, and for this program, has contributed to the growth of our iSTEM program graduates who – we believe – are prepared to lead students, teachers, and administrators in meaningful iSTEM learning experiences.

Supporting Science Teachers In Creating Lessons With Explicit Conceptual Storylines

Introduction

Lesson planning is a central activity for developing and enacting teachers’ instructional practices. A well-designed lesson plan concretizes the multiple decisions made by teachers to organize their instruction, based on their knowledge of teaching and student learning (Remillard, 2005). However, lesson plans–even detailed ones—do not necessarily convey the rationale behind choices made regarding teaching approaches, sequences of ideas, and specific activities and representations of content (Brown, 2009). In fact, teachers use a variety of lesson plan formats that require a variety of different components, often based on school or district priorities (e.g. connections to other content areas, integration of technology, etc.). Likewise, some lesson plans have teachers indicate the science standards that are aligned with the activities, while other lessons do not.

In our professional development program targeted to elementary science teachers and focused on physical science concepts (see more details of the PD model in van Garderen, Hanuscin, Lee, & Kohn, 2012), we support teachers in making the central features of a lesson plan more explicit. Given that the teachers who participate in our professional development program come from different school buildings and districts (and may use different curricula), we are interested in promoting their pedagogical design capacity (Brown, 2009) so they can apply and adapt the central features of lesson plan design into their particular contexts. We also use the 5E Learning Cycle (Bybee et al., 2006) as a model for guiding the organization of their lesson activities. A substantial body of research over past decades shows that lessons that utilize a learning cycle framework (Bybee, 1997) can result in greater achievement in science, better retention of concepts, improved attitudes toward science and science learning, improved reasoning ability, and superior process skills than would be the case with traditional instructional approaches (e.g., Bilgin, Coşkun, & Aktaş, 2013; Evans, 2004; Liu, Peng, Wu, & Lin, 2009; Wilder & Shuttleworth, 2005). During our professional development program, teachers learn first about physical science concepts, and then, they refine their understanding of the 5E Learning Cycle and select activities that are aligned to the purpose of each phase in their lesson plans. We know that learning to plan using the 5E Learning Cycle may be challenging for some teachers, as described in previous research studies (e.g., Ross & Cartier, 2015; Settlage, 2000). However, in our experience working with teachers, we noticed a new challenge for teachers’ lesson plan design: recognizing the sequence of concepts so that the lesson has conceptual coherence.

Although teachers were often adept at aligning particular activities with specific phases of the 5E Learning Cycle based on their intended purposes, the complete sequence of activities they chose did not always exhibit strong conceptual connections or align with the scientific concepts stated in lesson learning goal(s). Many teachers focused more on the activities in which students engaged than the science concepts that students should be developing through the activities. A similar finding was also described in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) video analysis study, which indicated that in the majority of US classrooms, “ideas and activities are not woven together to tell or reveal a coherent story” (Roth et al., 2011, p. 120).

In our experience, we found that even teachers who are provided lesson plans that have a coherent sequence of concepts may not recognize this key element of lesson design, and may make adaptations to lessons that are counterproductive to their intent and purpose (Hanuscin et al., 2016). We saw teachers struggled to select activities whose underlying scientific concepts were connected to one another and followed a coherent progression that helped students connect the different concepts to better support their learning. That is, the particular challenge we noticed was related to the creation of a coherent conceptual storyline.

What is a Conceptual Storyline?

We use Ramsey’s (1993) definition of conceptual storylines in our professional development program. The conceptual storyline of a lesson refers to the flow and sequencing of learning activities so that concepts align and support one another in ways that are instructionally meaningful to student learning. We focus on ensuring that the sequence of activities for a particular lesson plan is coherent; that means, the organization of the underlying scientific concepts allows students to develop a full understanding of the scientific concepts stated in the lesson learning goals. Therefore, we expect the conceptual storyline of a lesson to be coherent both in terms of activities and scientific concepts to help students build an organized understanding of a scientific phenomenon (McDonald, Criswell, & Dreon, 2007). Similarly, incoming research suggests that the use of some strategies related to building coherence in lesson plans can impact student learning (see Roth et al., 2011).

Conceptual coherence in lessons

The conceptual storyline of a lesson is often an implicit dimension of planning and, as such, teachers may lack awareness of storylines and how to develop them. Therefore, a key goal that we implemented in our professional development model was supporting teachers’ development of coherent conceptual storylines as an explicit element of lesson design. We have been working with several strategies to help teachers recognize conceptual storylines as an explicit and central component of a lesson plan. We begin by using a Conceptual Storyline Probe (Hanuscin et al., 2016), an example of which is shown in Table 1, to highlight differences in two teachers’ lesson plans. Showing these differences to teachers is the first step to help them recognize that lessons have storylines with different levels of coherence.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Two Lessons with Different Levels of Conceptual Coherence

After reading both lessons, teachers share examples of the criteria they used for evaluating the lessons. In doing this, it is very important that PD facilitators or instructors let teachers talk and provide all the criteria they consider relevant. For example, these criteria might include whether the lesson is hands-on, and whether or not there are connections to the students’ daily lives. Sometimes, during the discussion teachers make comments about the sequence of activities (see examples of teachers’ responses in Figure 1). When prompted about this, teachers mention that there is ‘something’ in the lesson activities that make them flow differently. To be clear, Diana’s lesson includes different ideas about bulbs that lack connections between each other, while Michelle’s lesson organizes its activities in a sequence by which students can build an understanding of a central concept (switches). Therefore, noticing the difference in each lesson’s conceptual coherence is the first step in recognizing conceptual storylines as a component of lesson design.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Examples of teachers’ initial responses to the evaluation of two lessons with different levels of conceptual coherence.

A Strategy to Supporting Teachers Plan Lessons with Coherent Conceptual Storylines

Given the challenging nature of identifying the conceptual nuances in lesson plans, we recognize the importance of providing teachers support in constructing lessons with coherent conceptual storylines. To help teachers recognize coherent conceptual storylines as essential for well-designed lessons and encourage them to plan lessons that are conceptually coherent, our team has developed a strategy that includes four distinctive steps, as illustrated in Figure 2. Although our prior work was situated in elementary science, awareness of conceptual storylines can extend to all grade levels.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Steps for supporting teachers in developing a coherent conceptual storyline.

Step 1. Building awareness of conceptual storylines

For teachers unfamiliar with conceptual storylines as a component of lesson planning, we help them build their awareness of what storylines are, how important they are for meaningful instruction, and how they may support student learning. We help teachers think about the storyline of an instructional lesson or learning cycle by making an analogy using two familiar television shows, Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Downton Abbey. While SNL has consistencies in structure between shows (e.g. musical guest, celebrity monologue, etc.) the storylines of sketches within an episode, and indeed from episode to episode lack coherence. This means that the viewer can watch a whole episode or pieces of a given episode in any sequence. In contrast, to make sense of the storyline of Downton Abbey, one needs to watch the episodes in sequence to connect the events and ideas. Thus, Downton Abbey exemplifies a coherent storyline within and across episodes. When discussing this analogy between TV shows, teachers easily recognize that lessons also need to organize their concepts sequentially so each activity is necessary and sufficient for promoting student understanding. Drawing on this analogy helps teachers realize that conceptual coherence is an important feature of a lesson and that planning with conceptual storylines allows students to build science concepts within a larger arc and in connected ways—rather than as disconnected pieces.

Step 2. Analyze the coherence of the conceptual storyline of existing lessons

Once teachers recognize the importance of conceptual coherence in a lesson, they can use conceptual storylines for analyzing existing lesson plans. Some teachers examined their own lesson plans and others focused on district-provided lesson plans or lesson plans from commercial curricula. To help teachers learn how to identify and evaluate conceptual storylines, we provide them with two contrasting lesson plans, similar to the lessons presented in Table 1. One lesson has a coherent set of activities focused on a single concept (coherent conceptual storyline), and the second lesson includes activities that address multiple concepts loosely related to a topic (incoherent conceptual storyline). As teachers compare and contrast these lessons, they identify key considerations of different types of conceptual storylines. For example, the coherent conceptual storyline would sequence a key concept in such a manner that one concept builds to the next and allow students to develop the scientific concepts of the lesson learning goal, scientific phenomenon, or big idea.

We also provide teachers support in identifying the lesson’s main scientific idea and the key concepts that students should develop in each phase of the 5E Learning Cycle. For example, we use a card-sorting activity to help teachers make connections between the specific key ideas in a lesson and the phases of the 5E Learning Cycle. Before introducing this aspect of lesson plan design, we have teachers sequence the activities of a lesson based on their own understanding of a good instructional sequence. After learning about the 5E Learning Cycle and conceptual storylines, teachers sort the cards again and provide a rationale for their choices. To illustrate this we include responses of Anne, a fourth grade teacher, to the card sorting activity about a lesson focused on identifying characteristics of conductors and insulators (See Figure 3). At the end, Anne was able to justify that the activity in which students test a mystery box for electrical connections was not adequate for the Engage phase of the lesson, because this activity did not provide enough evidence for students about the components of an electric circuit that would serve as a foundation for the following activities through the lesson. We recognize that the process of learning about conceptual storylines is often slow, and needs to be fostered through several activities.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Responses to a card sorting activity before and after learning about conceptual storylines.

Overall, these learning opportunities allow for the teachers to examine different lesson plans and engage in discussions about what a coherent conceptual storyline looks like, as well as potential implications for student learning when using coherent or incoherent lessons.

Step 3. Creating an explicit conceptual storyline as part of the planning process

Once teachers were able to identify a lesson’s conceptual storyline and assess it for coherence, we engaged them in the design of a new conceptual storyline for their own lesson plans. We scaffolded this process by helping teachers break down a main concept, a scientific phenomenon, or big idea into more specific key ideas. Similarly, the use of the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas can help teachers identify key scientific concepts to organize the conceptual storyline. The example presented in Figure 4 shows how the main concept about magnetic poles is ‘unpacked’ in several sub-concepts. The teacher began the sequence by anticipating a student misconception and used it to build the storyline.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Examples of specific concepts about magnet poles organized by teachers in the creation of a conceptual storyline.

To support teachers in making explicit connections among those key ideas, we introduce teachers to a Conceptual Storyline Map, an instructional scaffold adapted from Bybee’s (2015) work (see map in Appendix A). By using this map, teachers sequence the specific concepts and are able to connect two concepts through a linking question, while making connections to the phases of the 5E Learning Cycle. For example, one third grade teacher created a lesson plan to help her students understand how magnetic objects interact. When articulating the conceptual storyline she linked two important key ideas: 1) that magnets can attract, repel, or have no interaction with other objects, and 2) that magnets attract or repel other magnets, attract some metals (ferromagnetic), but have no interaction with other materials. In this case, the second idea builds on the first one and supports the construction of a conceptual storyline. The teacher included a linking question to make the connection between both ideas explicit, “What types of interactions do magnets have?”.

We note this process may be frustrating for some teachers who are not as familiar with the content knowledge or struggle to articulate the links between key concepts in a conceptual storyline. We recommend that PD instructors or facilitators do not provide the connections between the key concepts of the conceptual storyline, because these connections are not necessarily explicit for teachers. In our experience, having teachers create the conceptual storyline in collaborative teams has been helpful for addressing these potential problems.

Articulating concepts in a coherent conceptual storyline as an explicit component in lesson planning provided the teachers’ with a basis for the selection of activities and content representations. Therefore, the storyline acts as a backbone for the lesson. That backbone is a necessary foundation for the lesson, but does not provide a complete lesson plan; teachers must still select the particular activities and content representations to complete the lesson. In this way, the activities and content representations become the ‘connective tissue’ to the backbone of the lesson.

Step 4. Promote conceptual coherence throughout the storyline

Following teachers’ identification of the big idea or main concepts for the storyline, as well as the specific key ideas targeted during each phase of the learning cycle, the last step in teachers’ construction of conceptual storylines involves the ‘fine grain’ work needed to secure conceptual coherence in a lesson. In this step, teachers select activities and content representations (e.g., models, diagrams, analogies), and make any adjustments to their lessons to retain the conceptual coherence.

As teachers select activities and content representations, they must attend to the ‘big idea’ they developed in Step 3 that encompasses the various activities in the lesson. Likewise, these activities might provide opportunities to explore a scientific phenomenon and engage students in tasks related to the NGSS performance expectations. Whether teachers use curricular standards for their big idea or independently identify the main concepts, the main ideas guide the development of the lesson storyline. To assist teachers in planning a lesson with a coherent conceptual storyline, we provide teachers with a lesson plan form that designates the first column to the main concept that students are developing in that particular phase of the 5E learning cycle. Consequently, those concepts help teachers select and organize the activities of a lesson. For example, one fifth grade teacher created a lesson plan named “What is matter?”, in order to help students develop a scientific definition of matter and an understanding that matter can take multiple forms (see Appendix B).

The process of selecting particular activities and representations is iterative, and multiple adjustments can and should be made to ensure conceptual coherence across the big idea, the key concepts of the storyline, the concept representations, and activities. Because lesson plans are not created in isolation, we encourage teachers to make connections with ideas that were developed in previous lessons or relate to prior knowledge and students’ ideas.

Concluding Thoughts

Designing lesson plans with a coherent conceptual storyline may take more time initially because of the added layer of complexity in aligning concepts and activities. However, every lesson plan is based on a storyline—coherent or incoherent. If teachers do not plan for coherence, the result may be a set of disconnected concepts and activities.

In our professional development experience, we have noticed that teachers not only use conceptual storylines to select activities and content representations, but also for assessment purposes. In the last iteration of our program, we started supporting teachers in making connections between the concepts included in particular storylines and the ways to assess these concepts—either formatively or summatively (see matrix on Appendix C). We decided to include this component because we noticed teachers struggled to select topic-specific assessments strategies throughout the lesson. Given that many lesson plans require the inclusion of the assessment strategies, the use of conceptual storylines may help teachers identify what concepts need to be assessed during the lesson and when. The use of conceptual storylines may become an important tool to gather students’ evidence, especially to guide students in developing main scientific ideas.

In addition, the use of conceptual storylines is key towards building conceptually coherent lessons and thus, helping students build foundational science concepts. In our work, participant teachers are able to recognize the importance of planning lessons with conceptual coherence as an explicit component of lesson plan design and as a guide for the use of activities and representations. As one participant teachers stated:

When we planned our entire learning cycle we really did go over what the storyline would be…I think [PD facilitator] really helped us understand what may be a huge piece of what’s missing with a lot of instruction…the storyline of each of the learning cycles really built upon the previous one.

Conceptual storylines are just one tool that teachers can use to create coherent lesson plan designs. In emphasizing the importance of conceptual coherence, we do not mean to imply that content has greater importance than the process by which students learn the content—indeed, careful consideration should be given to the kinds of activities that will support students in building new understandings, developing facility with new skills, and developing confidence and competence as learners. We recognize that to create conceptual storylines, teachers need strong foundations in content knowledge to identify the key scientific concepts and the ways they are connected to each other. Therefore, in our professional development program, learning about conceptual storylines is embedded as part of a comprehensive curriculum that integrates content knowledge about physical science concepts and pedagogical lenses. For professional developers interested in adapting this strategy in their contexts, we recommend that learning about conceptual storylines be embedded in a larger professional development program rather than included as an isolated feature of lesson design.

Designing and using multimedia modules for teacher educators: Supporting teacher learning of scientific argumentation

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a new vision for science teaching and learning, requiring teachers to blend disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts (Pruitt, 2014). The focus of the NGSS is on providing students with more authentic experiences in science, with an emphasis on students using their understanding of disciplinary core ideas to make sense of the natural world (Schwarz, Passmore, & Reiser, 2017). This represents a departure from traditional science instruction that focuses more on memorizing science knowledge and less on students engaging in science as a practice (Ford, 2015). However, the NGSS provide little guidance for teachers with respect to what these science practices should look like in science classrooms, or how teachers can design lessons to include them (Windschitl, Schwarz, & Passmore, 2014). Consequently, it can be difficult for teachers to incorporate science practices into their instruction.

In our work, we focus on one particular science practice, argumentation. A key aspect of argumentation is to promote student understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge and the culture of science (NRC, 2012), or science as knowledge and practice (Osborne, Erduran, & Simon, 2004). We conceptualize scientific argumentation as consisting of both a structural and dialogic component (McNeill, González-Howard, Katsh-Singer, & Loper, 2016). The structure of an argument consists of a claim about the natural world that is supported by both evidence and scientific reasoning (McNeill, Lizotte, Krajcik, & Marx, 2006). The dialogic component of argumentation emphasizes science as a social process in which students construct arguments through interactions with their classmates (Berland & Reiser, 2011). Although we describe structure and dialogic interactions as two different components of argumentation, they are often intertwined in classroom instruction. For instance, a student might critique the source of evidence a peer is using during a small group discussion.

Research has shown that scientific argumentation is difficult to implement in classrooms, particularly the dialogic component, which differs greatly from traditional, teacher directed, science instruction (Berland & Reiser, 2011). Studies around this science practice have shown that teachers’ argumentation instruction is influenced by their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and beliefs. PCK refers to professional knowledge specific to teaching and learning about a particular science concept (Shulman, 1986). Recent studies have highlighted the importance of PCK for the science practices, such as argumentation (e.g., McNeill, et al., 2016). Teacher beliefs about argumentation, and the value of argumentation, can also influence how teachers incorporate this practice into their instruction (Sampson & Blanchard, 2012).

In our previous work (McNeill, et al., 2016), we explored teachers’ beliefs around argumentation in three areas related to their classroom instruction: 1) students’ backgrounds, 2) learning goals and 3) self-efficacy. In terms of students’ backgrounds, some teachers believe argumentation is too hard for some students (Sampson & Blanchard, 2012) or that argumentation may create confusion and lead to student misconceptions about science concepts (Osborne et al., 2004). Research also indicates that teacher beliefs about student ability to engage in argumentation vary based upon factors such as the socioeconomic status of their students (Katsh-Singer, McNeill, & Loper, 2016). In addition, teachers’ understandings of argumentation, and their beliefs about how knowledge is created and used in the classroom, can influence the ways teachers plan for and teach argumentation activities in the classroom (McNeill, et al., 2016; Marco-Bujosa, McNeill, González-Howard, & Loper, 2017). These learning goals play an important role in teachers’ approach to argumentation instruction. For example, in a study of the impact of teachers’ beliefs on instruction of scientific argumentation, Zohar (2008) found teachers who believed that the goal of science instruction was to provide content knowledge only rarely engage students in activities requiring critical thinking, an essential aspect of scientific argumentation. Finally, teacher beliefs about themselves have been shown to influence their instruction (Bryan, 2012). For example, in prior work we found that teachers’ confidence in their ability to teach argumentation can influence their instruction (McNeill, et al., 2016). These kinds of beliefs may cause teachers to undermine the goals of argumentation by placing an instructional priority on transmitting knowledge.

Teachers need support to develop their PCK and beliefs about argumentation. To do so, teachers need to see the practices in action, and understand how they are different from traditional approaches to science instruction (Hanuscin, Arnone, & Bautista, 2016; Osborne, 2014). The challenge for teacher educators is that most science teachers, or prospective science teachers, received little support to develop knowledge of the science practices in their science education experiences or teacher preparation programs (Osborne, 2014). Consequently, teachers may be unfamiliar with the science practices, both as a science learner and as a teacher, and will need support to incorporate the practices into their science teaching. Additionally, research has shown that considering how teachers learn is important in supporting teachers to teach science practices (Allen & Penuel, 2015; Hanuscin, Arnone & Bautista, 2016) and argumentation in particular (Marco-Bujosa, et al., 2017). Thus, teacher learning experiences about the science practices, such as argumentation, may need to shift to better support teacher learning. This has implications for curriculum, learning structures, and strategies used in teacher preparation and professional development (Bybee, 2014; Hanuscin et al., 2016).

We developed multimedia modules about scientific argumentation to change teacher beliefs about argumentation in three ways that have been shown to support teacher instruction of this practice: beliefs about student abilities to engage in this scientific practice; beliefs about the importance of teaching argumentation (learning goals); and beliefs about their ability to teach argumentation (self-efficacy). In this paper, we focus on the features of the multimedia modules, which are designed to help teacher educators support teacher learning of scientific argumentation. In particular, these online modules were developed to incorporate the lessons emerging from research on supporting teachers to learn about the science practices. Specifically, four features provided the backbone of our module design approach: (1) providing images of practice, (2) problematizing instruction, (3) offering the student perspective, and 4) encouraging teacher reflection. These features are based upon research and best practices (e.g., van den Berg, Wallace & Pedretti, 2008; Zhang, Lundeberg, Koehler, & Eberhardt, 2011), as well as our personal experience working with teachers and teacher educators around argumentation. Additionally, creating these modules in an online platform offered an innovative means by which to support teacher learning through the use of multimedia supports. Furthermore, the online platform permits flexible use by teacher educators, specifically allowing for customization and adaptation to their needs, as well as the needs of the schools and teachers they serve. In the next section, we describe the context of our work – a research and development project around the practice of scientific argumentation – that provided the impetus for the development of these modules.

Context of our Work

​We developed the teacher learning modules as a part of The Argumentation Toolkit, (http://www.argumentationtoolkit.org/), an online collection of resources designed to help teachers understand and teach scientific argumentation, which we will refer to as “the toolkit” for the remainder of the article. The toolkit was developed as part of a research and development project to support middle school teachers in integrating argumentation into their science instruction. This project is a collaboration between the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley and Boston College.

In order to effectively teach argumentation, teachers need an understanding of this science practice and of instructional strategies to engage and support students. Thus, we developed the toolkit to support both teacher understanding of argumentation and to provide teachers with classroom strategies. The toolkit was developed around four elements of scientific argumentation that are particularly challenging for teachers and students. Two of these elements relate to the structural component of argumentation – 1) evidence, and 2) reasoning – while two correspond to the dialogic aspects of this science practice – 3) student interaction, and 4) competing claims (Figure 1).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Argumentation elements.

In our work developing resources for teachers, we found that teacher educators also require resources and support to facilitate their professional development efforts around argumentation. We approached this need through the development of multimedia modules for scientific argumentation, which were added to the toolkit website to provide support for teacher educators using the toolkit resources. The following sections describe our design approach, specifically illustrating the utility of particular features in a multimedia format that guided our development of the modules. Additionally, we provide an illustration of the first author’s use of these multimedia learning modules during professional development for science teachers. This example is intended to highlight how the flexibility of these modules allows teacher educators to modify and adapt them to their own setting.

Module Design

We developed four multimedia teacher learning modules around scientific argumentation. The four modules consist of an introductory module, which introduces teachers to argumentation using the four common student challenges previously described, and three advanced modules, which provide teachers with additional depth and practice related to teaching argumentation. More information about these modules is provided in Table 1, and on the toolkit website under the “Teacher Learning” tab (http://www.argumentationtoolkit.org/teacher-learning.html). Each module consists of four sessions, which can be presented all at once in a 3 hour long session, or as individual, 45 minute sessions. Modules provide teachers with the opportunity to engage in a variety of argumentation activities, review student artifacts and student talk (e.g., writing and video), and design or revise their own argumentation lessons. Additional information about the design and organization of the modules is provided below in the section of this article entitled, “Using the Module.”

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Description of Teacher Learning Modules

Each module, and its corresponding sessions, was designed to incorporate four features intended to support teacher learning of the science practices: (1) providing images of practice, (2) problematizing instruction, (3) offering the student perspective, and 4) encouraging teacher reflection. Table 2 provides a summary and a description of how each feature is incorporated in the modules.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Module Design Features to Support Teacher Learning

We next describe and illustrate each of these design features using examples from one session, the fourth session from the Introductory Module on Scientific Argumentation, entitled, “How do we support students in interacting with peers during argumentation?” (The agenda for this session is provided in the Appendix, and can also be accessed on the toolkit website.) This session was designed to help teachers develop an understanding of argumentation as a social process in which students question and critique claims using evidence and reasoning.

Design Features to Support Teacher Learning

Providing images of practice

To incorporate the first feature, providing images of practice, the modules make rich images of classroom enactment of science argumentation available to teachers. Images of practice serve as useful instructional models for teachers in preservice classes and professional development, particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the practice and lack context for how argumentation activities may differ from traditional science instruction (Reiser, 2013). In our learning modules, these images are incorporated through videos of teachers and students engaging in argumentation activities.

As compared to text-based supports, these videos provide teachers with real world examples of argumentation in science classrooms. The videos feature footage of real classrooms with teachers enacting a curriculum on argumentation with their students. The teachers in the videos were using a curriculum with a strong focus on scientific argumentation. This context was used with the hope that it would provide strong examples of what argumentation may look like in a classroom. Each video was created with a particular goal for teacher learning. For instance, while some videos provide an overview of the elements that are particularly challenging for teachers and their students, other videos highlight classroom activities and strategies to support engagement in argumentation. For each video, specific clips were selected to illustrate the particular goals of the video. Further, the videos are edited and have voice overs to emphasize particular goals, and teachers reflect on challenges and successes of implementing these activities in their classroom.

The fourth session begins with an activity “Video & Discussion.” This video supports the dialogic elements of argumentation, and is specifically focused on encouraging student interaction (Figure 2). The videos support teacher learning by providing an overview of the practice, a rationale for supporting student interaction in the science class, and footage of students in actual science classes critiquing each other’s ideas across different types of argumentation activities (e.g., pair feedback on written arguments). These videos also provide a vehicle for helping teachers see the interconnectedness of argument structure and dialogic interactions. For example, in this video, students draw upon evidence to convince their peers.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Image of practice and problematizing instruction.

Problematizing instruction

The second feature, problematizing instruction, helps teachers recognize how their current instruction may be different from instruction authentically incorporating the science practices, such as argumentation (Osborne, 2014). As mentioned earlier, our four modules were explicitly designed to address four elements of argumentation that research has found to be particularly challenging for teachers and students (evidence, reasoning, student interactions, and competing claims) (McNeill et al., 2016). Across the four modules, each session title is a key question of practice related to an argumentation challenge, which serves as a guiding question for session activities. The question both identifies the argumentation focus for the session, and also encourages teachers to make connections between this science practice and their current instruction. For example, the fourth session in the Introductory Module is entitled, “How do we support students in interacting with peers during argumentation?” This question focuses on the challenge of student interactions, and all activities are around helping teachers provide support for student interactions in their science class.

Moreover, discussions following different activities in this session prompt teachers to consider challenges their students face. For example, in a discussion following the first activity, “Video & Discussion: Encouraging Student Interactions,” participants are asked: “What are the benefits to having students interact with peers during argumentation tasks?” Questions like these encourage teachers to consider the ways in which incorporating argumentation into their instruction supports student learning (Figure 2).

Offering the student perspective

Teachers are given the opportunity to engage in numerous argumentation activities during sessions from the student perspective. Research has shown it is important for teachers to develop knowledge of how students learn (Lee & Luft, 2008; Park & Oliver, 2008). One way to support teacher understanding of how students learn about argumentation is to have them engage in argumentation activities as a learner themselves. This feature addresses the lack of familiarity and experience many teachers have with argumentation, and allows them to understand the challenges students may encounter. For example, session four in the Introductory Module introduces teachers to the experience of student interactions by having teachers work in groups to collaboratively analyze data from three different studies related to a claim about metabolism (Figure 3). Teachers are encouraged to interact around evidence by asking each other questions, building off of one another’s ideas, critiquing each other’s claims, and persuading one another—all key dialogic aspects of argumentation. Following the activity, teachers are prompted to reflect on their experience of having engaged in this argumentation task as a student (“What did you talk about when you engaged in this task? How did interacting with others influence the argument you developed?”). Afterwards, they shift back to a teacher perspective to discuss instruction, particularly the supports they anticipate their students may need to productively interact with their peers in this argumentation activity (“What types of supports do you think your students might need to engage in this element of argumentation?”).

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Student perspective.

Encouraging teacher reflection 

The fourth feature we incorporated into the modules is encouraging teacher reflection. Research has shown that professional development supporting teachers’ PCK should provide teachers with opportunities to both enact instructional strategies and opportunities to reflect on those enactments, both individually and as a group (Van Driel & Barry, 2012). Thus, in each session, multiple opportunities for discussion among teachers are provided. Questions prompt teachers to reflect on their own instruction after different activities, such as after viewing a video or engaging in an argumentation task. In the example discussed earlier, numerous opportunities are provided for teachers to engage in sustained reflection on how to support student interactions in their science classroom. For instance, all sessions include an optional extension, which can be used to encourage teachers to further reflect on their argumentation instruction. Session four in the Introductory Module begins with a debriefing of an argumentation task teachers were asked to try with their students following session three. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on a lesson they developed addressing reasoning with their peers, specifically discussing what went well and what was challenging, as well as sharing student writing (Figure 4).

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Teacher reflection from extension discussion.

Teachers also engage in a reflective discussion following “Activity: Analyzing data with peers.” Specifically, they are prompted to consider, “What type of supports do you think your students might need to engage in this element of argumentation?” Additionally, in a culminating activity for the module, “Discussion: Connections between argumentation elements,” teachers make connections across all four argumentation elements introduced in the session, and consider the strengths of science instruction incorporating these elements, as well as any challenges students may encounter. Such a discussion is meant to support teachers in considering the needs of their students in planning for instruction.

As these examples from just one session illustrate, the four design features underlying this module (providing images of practice, problematizing instruction, encouraging teacher reflection, and offering the student perspective) are synergistic, working together to support teachers in developing their understanding of argumentation and how to incorporate it into their instruction. In particular, the videos (which offer teachers an image of practice) provide the teacher educator with a natural vehicle to facilitate teachers’ ability to engage in two other features, problematizing their instruction and reflecting on their practice. Moreover, although each session focuses on one particular challenge identified in the question framing the session (evidence, reasoning, student interaction, or competing claims), the other challenges are interwoven across different session activities. For example, the focal session described above addressed the challenge of supporting student interactions, but activities also incorporated the structural elements of argumentation, notably student use of evidence and reasoning.

Using the Module

Our experience leading professional development and working with other teacher educators guided our approach to the development of these modules. Though the modules were developed as self-contained units, the fact that these modules are provided online enable these resources to be flexibly used and easily customized.

The first author used the modules to prepare a professional development (PD) session about scientific argumentation for a school district. The district requested a PD session specifically focused on the structural elements of argumentation (i.e., how a claim is supported by evidence and reasoning). The district had a particular goal to better support student writing of science arguments, and requested a focus on reasoning, which they found had been an area of challenge for both teachers and students. Furthermore, because this PD request was designed to support a new district initiative that encompassed a goal for vertical alignment, the audience included teachers of science from grades 4-12 (most of whom were new to argumentation). As such, the goal of the PD was to introduce teachers to argumentation, and to begin the process of modifying instruction to incorporate more opportunities for authentic student argumentation.

Because no individual module aligned with the district’s request and goal of focusing solely on the structural components of argumentation (evidence and reasoning), I identified sessions across the four learning modules that provided a variety of activity types for teachers to learn about evidence and reasoning and consider implications for their instruction. (See the Teacher Learning tab on the toolkit website for more information: http://www.argumentationtoolkit.org/teacher-learning.html). Specifically, I used the first session and the third session from the Introductory Module (What is the role of evidence in a scientific argument? and What is the role of reasoning in a scientific argument?) to introduce teachers to evidence and reasoning. Then, to support teachers in identifying opportunities in their current curriculum and instruction to support student argumentation, I drew upon sessions from different advanced modules, specifically session 3 from the Advanced Module on Evidence and Reasoning (How can you support student use of reasoning in a scientific argument?) and session 1 from the Advanced Module, Designing Rich Argumentation Tasks (How can you design rich argumentation tasks to encourage student use of evidence and reasoning?). Even though the selected sessions and activities were designed to support teacher learning about argument structure, the videos included in these sessions also provided footage of students engaged in argumentation activities. Videos encouraged teachers to problematize their instruction and reflect on their practice to incorporate the dialogic components of argumentation, notably student interaction. For example, the video in the session introducing reasoning not only provides examples of classroom activities that can support student use of reasoning, such as group work, but also provides teachers with footage of students using reasoning in real classrooms engaged in argumentation activities. The discussion questions following this video (“How do the activities featured in the video encourage students to use reasoning?” and “What challenges do your students encounter using reasoning?”) encourage teachers to reflect on this practice and the implications for their own instruction.

As illustrated in this anecdote showing how the modules can be used, the online platform makes them flexible and easily modified to serve different purposes and audiences. For example, the modules are flexible with respect to time, since each module can be delivered as one 3 hour session, or four separate 45 minute sessions, depending upon the timing and format of the PD session. If presented as four separate sessions, optional “extension” activities are included to provide connections across session topics. Furthermore, though designed for a middle school audience, the sessions can be utilized with teachers across grades K-12, and even with a preservice audience. This flexibility is facilitated with references and supports around science content to enable teachers to engage in the argumentation activities regardless of their content knowledge.

Additionally, the modules can be used in any desired combination or order. They were designed to be presented as stand-alone learning experiences, or as a series, with an introductory module and several options for more advanced practice on argumentation. Or, as illustrated by the previous example, teacher educators can organize the learning experience based upon the needs and interests of their audience. Each session is cross referenced by the argumentation element (evidence, reasoning, student interactions, and competing claims) and by the argumentation activity focused on in the session (Figure 5) to facilitate teacher educators in customizing the learning experience.

Figure 5 (Click on image to enlarge). Argumentation element and activity.

Finally, each session can be viewed in one of two ways to allow teacher educators easy access to resources for planning and presenting. Specifically, each session can be displayed on the website as either 1) a scrollable lesson plan, which provides an outline of all activities, with links to session resources, or 2) as a slideshow, which includes any videos at the bottom of the page. Both views offer the same learning experiences to teachers. Additionally, an agenda is provided for each module, which includes tips for facilitators, and time estimates. This document can be edited, allowing facilitators to customize the lesson plan for their session.

Evidence of Success: Teacher Beliefs and Understanding of Argumentation

There is evidence that the types of supports included in our learning modules are desired by teachers and teacher educators who are interested in incorporating the scientific practice of argumentation into classroom teaching. This demand is evident in the number of hits the modules have received. Specifically, since we posted the first module in June 2016, we have had 10,508 unique page views for the teacher learning modules in just over six months (as of January 2017). The last module was posted in late December 2016.

Although we have not yet collected data from teachers who participated in PD using these modules, we can report data about changes in teacher beliefs about argumentation from a pilot of resources for teachers provided in the toolkit, including the videos featured in the teacher learning modules. We explored teacher beliefs about scientific argumentation through a survey consisting of 22 items measuring three aspects of teacher beliefs (self-efficacy, learning goals, and beliefs about student background and ability) after using a web-based teacher’s guide that included videos and other supports. Sample items and consistency ratings for these three scales are reported in Table 3.

Table 3 (Click on image to enlarge)

Teachers’ Beliefs About Scientific Argumentation

Overall, we found significant increases in teachers’ self-efficacy, their learning goals for their students, and beliefs related to student background and ability as a result of learning about argumentation using these supports (Table 4).

Table 4 (Click on image to enlarge)

Changes in Teachers’ Beliefs About Scientific Argumentation

Interviews with teachers about how they used these videos in preparing for instruction offered insights into how teachers interact with these features, resulting in instructional changes. In interviews following their instruction of a focus lesson on argumentation, teachers were asked to comment on how they used the resources to prepare their argumentation instruction. Several teachers commented on the benefits of the videos in helping them develop their own understanding of argumentation and of what it looks like in the classroom. One teacher described how the videos were helpful in providing a clear explanation of the structure of a scientific argument.

[I] watched the video… just to go over what a claim is, because I think I’ve had different definitions of it over, you know, different iterations, the definition over the past three years and these definitions seem very tight, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room with what it means, so that was my biggest concern, is talking about the evidence and talking about the process of making an argument.  

Another teacher found the videos to be particularly helpful in supporting her understanding of what argumentation looks like in a science classroom, and instructional strategies that can facilitate student engagement in the dialogic components of this science practice.

So I did watch the video, and it was more specific in terms of language than the previous ones I had looked at had been, so I did take the time to watch it a second time and freeze the screen and write down some of the questions because it was new language to me, and I just wanted to integrate it more and to, so that I would be able to reinforce it as I was talking to individuals. 

As such, the videos that we included in our teacher learning modules have shown promise in supporting changes in teachers’ beliefs about argumentation, as well as shifts in their instruction around this science practice. This suggests that the modules themselves may have promise to support changes in teachers’ beliefs.

Conclusion and Implications

Our work contributes to bridging the gap between teacher education and the classroom, specifically in helping teachers incorporate the science practice of argumentation into their science classes. Our modules provide teacher educators with a tool to better support teacher learning around argumentation in their professional development efforts. Specifically, in this paper we described the research-based features we incorporated in our design of the modules, and offered contextualized examples of what each of these features look like. Research on argumentation, and personal communication from teacher educators, reveal there is a need for these types of resources. Our teacher learning modules, freely available online, are both flexible and easy to access and use with a variety of teacher audiences, easily modified for particular instructional goals related to argumentation, and engage teachers in meaningful, reflective activities to support their understanding of argumentation.

 

A Scientist, Teacher Educator and Teacher Collaborative: Innovative Professional Learning Design focused on Climate Change and Lessons Learned from K-12 Classrooms

Introduction

In the scientific community, a highly respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the certainty of the climate change problem and the evidence that humans are the main cause with the highest greenhouse emissions in history (2014). The panel’s report also drew attention to impacts of climate change on the natural systems and on societies (Field et al., 2014). Despite strong evidence provided by scientists, citizens have doubts on humans as the cause of this problem somewhat due to lack of understanding of the practices of climate science (Sezen-Barrie, Shea, & Borman (2017). The recent standards document, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) addressed this issue by increasing the focus on climate science (Sullivan, Ledley, Lynds, & Gold, 2014) and using the term “climate change” explicitly (Hestness, McDonald, Breslyn, McGinnis, & Mouza, 2014). This shift in the standards was encouraging, however research shows that teachers need significant support to be able to implement any reform within the realities of their classrooms (Janssen, Westbroek, & Van Driel, 2013).

Driven from the theories of effective professional learning (PL) in the fields of science and environmental teacher education (Shepardson, Niyogi, Roychoudhury, & Hirsch, 2012; Sondergeld, Milner, & Rop, 2014; Wilson, 2013), this paper presents the design of an innovative PL experience on climate change. The recent research on effective PL draws attention to the following aspects: a) alignment with policy and practice; b) active learning opportunities for teachers; c) science content (i.e., what teachers need to learn) and practices (i.e., what teachers need in order to teach the content); d) integrating local environment and relevant context; e) enabling the collective participation of teachers; and f) sufficient duration. After we give a description of the climate change activity and the relevant context, we will describe how we attended to these aspects of effective professional learning.

The Classroom Activity: Looking Backward, Looking Forward

The PL workshop was designed around a classroom activity, Looking Backward, Looking Forward (Stapleton, Wolfson, Sezen-Barrie, & Ellis, 2017); overview in Appendix A) that uses changes in past climate as a stepping stone to learn about current patterns in climate change. LBLF has students take on the role of paleoclimatologists, a field not usually addressed in typical science classes, allowing students an opportunity to learn about the diversity of science fields of study while tackling common misconceptions in understanding past versus modern climate change (“Skeptical Science”, n.d.). The activity was developed using an authentic data set (Yuan, 1995) from the Anacostia watershed region (located just north of Washington D.C., in Prince George’s County, Maryland) allowing students to explore a phenomenon that is locally relevant. One central goal of the activity was supporting students as they make sense of how scientists use observation and inference to build, analyze and interpret data for phenomena that they did not, or could not, ‘see for themselves’ (i.e. changes in climate over the past 12,500 years).

In the activity, students collect data from models of sediment samples from 340 years before present (ybp), 3,000 ybp, 10,000 ypb and 12,500 ybp. The models are small bags of potting soil that contain differently colored beads that represent pollen from various taxa in amounts equal to those found in actual sediment cores (Yuan, 1995). This model serves to both actively engage students while reinforcing how paleoclimatologists collect authentic data. Once students identify percentages of ‘pollen’ taxa using a key provided, they graph their results and are challenged to look for patterns in types of taxa present or absent. Using the observed patterns, they infer past climate based on temperature and moisture requirements of the various taxa. Students then create written scientific arguments (using evidence and reasoning) to support their claims of what the climate in the area was like over the past 12,500 years. The second part of the activity has students exploring rates of change between past and current climate change events to expose and address a common misconception that because climate has changed in the past, current rates of climate change are not of concern. Students are challenged to analyze a graph showing temperature anomaly over the past ~20,000 years. This graph shows a general upward trend in temperature anomaly, with a dramatic increase in the last 200 years (and a predicted continued increase for the next 80 years). After analyzing and interpreting the patterns in the graph, students are challenged to consider what is happening in today’s world that is causing the dramatic temperature anomaly increase and the impacts to ecosystems as a result of these changes in climate.

The Professional Learning (PL) Workshop

The innovative PL workshop came out of a collaboration among teachers, teacher educators and scientists with a focus on climate literacy. The LBLF lesson was designed as an activity for secondary science teachers as part of an equipment loan program offered by a local university that supports STEM education in K-12 school systems. The equipment loan program provides science ‘kits’ (which include curriculum, reagents and equipment) to secondary schools to support and facilitate hands-on, inquiry based instruction in classrooms throughout the state. The main impetus for creating this new activity for the equipment loan program was to address science education standards related to climate change that are part of the new NGSS.

At the time of the  workshop (2016-2017 school year), Maryland school systems were preparing for the planned implementation of the NGSS standards in the 2017-2018 school year. The Climate change PL workshop around LBLF was designed to address the needs of Maryland’s inservice secondary science educators by providing them with information about how to effectively implement three-dimensional instruction that is the foundation of NGSS in their classroom, thereby aligning with relevant policy and practice (Wilson, 2013). Three-dimensional teaching refers to instruction that integrates each dimension (practices, core ideas and crosscutting concepts) of the NGSS into curriculum. For example, the practices are not meant to be taught in isolation as a set of skills to be learned, but rather should be used by students as they apply core ideas and crosscutting concepts to make sense of phenomena (Krajcik, 2015).

The goal of the PL workshop was to provide contextualized training on the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013) to inservice science teachers while receiving feedback on the newly designed LBLF lesson. In this activity, we also aimed for the coherent building of ideas (i.e. understanding how scientists can use pollen to infer past climates and how understanding past climate patterns can help us understand current climate change patterns). In our professional learning workshop, we supported teachers as they worked to put a meaningful, coherent storyline together (Reiser, 2014). The pilot LBLF lesson was designed for secondary students and the 22 workshop participants were from 18 schools throughout Maryland (Table 1). The workshop was 12 hours over 2-days, eight weeks apart (see Appendix B for agendas). The first day of the workshop was designed to introduce teachers to the classroom activity through active learning, provide opportunities for discussion with a climate scientist, and to introduce participants to the practice of writing scientific arguments. Teachers were then provided with the materials to implement this activity in classrooms. Day 2 of the workshop (~8 weeks later) was designed to allow teachers to share the results of their implementation, provide feedback on the design of the activity and continue to learn about the NGSS.

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We assessed the effectiveness of the workshop and solicited feedback from the workshop participants through several formats including a) a pre-workshop survey, b) verbal feedback during the workshop sessions, c) exit tickets after each workshop, d) written feedback on an ‘Implementation Feedback Form’ as well as e) written feedback generated by round-robin groups of participants during Day 2 of the workshop. In addition, one of the authors observed the implementation of the activity by a workshop participant in a middle school classroom.

Features of Innovative PL on Climate Change

The professional learning environment utilized ideas from studies on effective strategies for teacher education such as aligning the workshop to policy and practice and providing support to teachers in sufficient time for their learning. However, our learning environment was also unique in combining research-based strategies that are rarely seen in teacher learning programs. For example, in our PL design teachers not only went through the activity themselves, but were also a crucial component for improving our activities (i.e, teachers assumed the role of critical consumers). Moreover, the PL design focused on accessibility of authentic data from scientists in every classroom (Roth, Reis, & Hsu, 2008).

Alignment to policy and practice

A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Resource Council 2012, hereafter referred to as “Framework”) calls for a significant shift in K-12 science teaching and learning. This new ‘three-dimensional’ model calls for students to engage in the science and engineering practices (Dimension 1) to provide explanations for real-world phenomena that include crosscutting concepts (Dimension 2) and relevant disciplinary core ideas (Dimension 3). One of the biggest challenges facing inservice science teachers with respect to the new standards is understanding what three-dimensional teaching is, what it looks like in a classroom, and how it may differ from current teaching practices (Reiser, 2013). In addition to changes in how science is taught, the recent reforms in K-12 science education are changing what is taught. In particular, there is an increased emphasis on climate literacy as an instructional goal (National Research Council, 2012), and, as a result, an increasing demand for classroom lessons and activities such as LBLF that focus on climate change. In addition to the disciplinary core ideas related to climate change, three-dimensional learning requires students to also engage in the practices of science. A central focus of the LBLF classroom lessons is engaging in argument based on evidence. Argumentation, as a ‘high-leverage’ practice in the NGSS, connects crucial parts of learning but is more challenging to implement (Reiser et al., 2016). The LBLF activity was also developed around the crosscutting concept of observing and using patterns as evidence for explanations of natural phenomena (National Research Council, 2012). These recent shifts in what, and how, students should learn in the classroom require changes in how science is taught and inservice teachers will require support as they shift their instructional practices to this type of instruction (National Research Council, 2012).

Active learning opportunities for teachers

To address this PL need, we chose to have the workshop participants work through the activity as their own students would. We also built-in deliberate opportunities for explicitly addressing both general pedagogy and pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986; Gess-Newsome & Lederman, 1999.) As a result, teachers were active participants (Wilson, 2013) as they learned the content of this activity while explicitly exploring how to effectively engage their own students in the science practices, an important component of three-dimensional instruction. In exit surveys, more than a third of workshop participants (8/21) identified working through the activity as one of the most useful parts of Day 1 of the Workshop

During the workshop we wanted to make sure to also provide active learning opportunities that integrated scaffolding and instruction on how to effectively engage students in the practice of argumentation. To that end, we provided teachers with two contexts during the workshop in which they could practice constructing scientific arguments. For the first context, we provided teachers with an already constructed argument (Appendix C). We then introduced a rubric for assessing a scientific argument (Figure 1). The rubric, adapted from materials provided by Science Learning Design, Engineering and Robotics at Georgia Tech (“Making a Strong Argument,” n.d.), addresses the three components of a scientific argument; the claim, the evidence and the reasoning as well as an additional element, persuasion. The argument we used for this exercise was constructed at the middle-school level, allowing all workshop participants to readily comprehend the material, regardless of their primary content area. Participants were given time to work individually, then as pairs, to assess the argument using the rubric provided. Post-program feedback from participants indicated that several teachers used this same example argument to introduce their students to the use of the rubric. We then discussed, as a large group, the various assessments made by participants using the rubric. Much productive discussion came out of this exercise as participants became familiar with the rubric and the progressions of each element. For example, teachers spent time debating whether a claim presented at the end of a written argument was as effective as a claim clearly stated at the beginning of the same argument. Teachers also expressed enthusiasm for including a persuasion component in the rubric, stating that it provided an explicit opportunity for them to discuss the importance of good writing and communication skills in science and served as an answer to the often asked question “Why do we have to write in science class?”. We also spent time discussing the different components of the ‘evidence’ and ‘reasoning’ elements included in the rubric. For example, we discussed how separately assessing the ‘use of data’ and ‘interpretation’ of data can provide more specific and clear feedback for students on the strength of their scientific argument.

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 Situating PL in science content and practices

Next, we returned to the scientific argument that the teachers themselves had created in the LBLF activity to answer the question “What was the climate like in this region over the past 12,500 years?” This second context was important, as it required teachers to actively participate in the construction of the argument (as compared to the first context where the argument was presented to them) situated in the specific content (climate change) that was the central focus of the workshop, both important components of effective PL (Wilson, 2013). For this exercise, participants were placed in pairs (after individually constructing their own argument) for a peer-review session. Each member of the pair was asked to share their scientific arguments verbally. Once both partners had shared their scientific arguments, we asked them to then critique their own written arguments using the provided rubric. We chose to structure the peer review process in this way in order to model for them a low-risk method they could use in their classroom to encourage and scaffold peer review, collaboration and self-assessment. In this model, participants have an opportunity to hear other ideas, as well as receive verbal feedback from their partners and are then able to focus on assessing their own argument using the rubric. There are many other ways in which peer review sessions can be done. For example, in workshops or classrooms where participants may already be familiar with scientific arguments and/or the rubric, you could choose to have peers assess each other’s arguments against the rubric (instead of only assessing their own). Several of our participants indicated they had modified the peer review process to use a peer-review model they already had in place in their classrooms.

Interestingly, our pre-workshop surveys revealed that a majority of teachers were already familiar with argumentation prior to this workshop, as 15/21 were able to accurately identify and define the parts of a scientific argumentation (claim, evidence, reasoning). However, despite their familiarity with this practice, five of those same teachers who were familiar with argumentation and used it in their classroom expressed that they found the opportunity to explore the practice in more detail during the workshop valuable (see comment 1 in Table 2). This feedback from the participants supports the idea that effective transitions to the new NGSS are dependent on teachers being able to access high quality PL opportunities focused on three-dimensional learning (National Research Council, 2012; Reiser, 2013).

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 Integrating local environment and relevant context

Recent research suggests activities that are relevant to local environments of teachers and their students are most effective, especially when teaching climate (Shea, Mouza, & Drewes, 2016). Sondergeld and colleagues (2014) report that when using data that come from a foreign environment, teachers and their students will have more difficulty understanding data and will be less likely to be engaged in finding solutions to climate change problems. The LBLF lesson, based on authentic data, challenges students to ‘figure out’, not just ‘learn about’, a natural phenomenon (changes in past climate) for a region that is local and relevant to them (Passmore & Svoboda, 2012). For example, instead of simply reading a description about what the past climate was like, students used the data they collected (from a model that simulates real data counts from a research group at a local university) on percentages of pollen taxa to ‘figure out’ what the climate was like at different periods over the past 12,500 years. In addition to having the teachers in the workshop complete the activity themselves (as their students would), we intentionally added in discussion and reflection questions about how this activity allowed students to ‘figure out’ versus just ‘learn about’ a phenomenon. This explicit approach to exploring how the new vision for science teaching and learning differs from current instructional practices provided teachers with a common context and example. Furthermore, the data are locally relevant to students and teachers, having been collected within the Anacostia watershed, a watershed system in Maryland which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Because many school systems in our state focus on local watersheds, particularly those that drain into the Chesapeake Bay, students and teachers are generally familiar with this area already and are able to relate to it on a more personal level. The Framework suggests that “connecting to students’ interests and experiences” is an important component of science learning (National Research Council, 2012, p. 28) and feedback from several teachers support this idea that authentic, relevant data is useful for engaging students (see comment 2 in Table 2).

Enabling collective participation of teachers as critical consumers of curriculum

With the implementation of new science standards occurring in many states across the U.S., inservice science teachers are faced with the challenge of implementing (and many times developing) new curriculum in alignment with the new vision for science teaching and learning. To make this task even more challenging is the fact that many pre-packaged curriculum and texts (such as widely used Project-Based Inquiry Science curriculum) are only partially aligned to the NGSS (Allen & Penuel, 2015). Of additional concern is a report by Banilower et al. (2013) that suggests many science education experts are critical of textbook quality, while most teachers consider the textbooks they use in their classroom to be of high quality. As such, it is imperative that inservice educators are equipped with skills and tools that will allow them to become critical consumers of curriculum and be able to identify curricula and other classroom resources that truly support student engagement in three-dimensional learning. During this workshop, in an effort to support teachers’ ability to critically consume curricula, we introduced teachers to the Next Generation Science Standards Connections table (Appendix D) that was provided with the LBLF activity. This table, modeled after the tables used in the NSTA practitioner journals (Science & Children, Science Scope and The Science Teacher), makes explicit connections between curriculum and the three dimensions of NGSS. Workshop participants discussed how the activity, as presented to them, aligned with the new NGSS. Additionally, we encouraged them to adapt the activity to fit the needs of their students (while still engaging in instructional practices aligned with three-dimensional teaching) and share with us what changes they made.

Duration of professional learning workshop

Wilson (2013) identified sufficient duration as an important element of effective PL. Despite having 12 contact hours with teachers over a 2-month period, we found the contact hours of workshop too short to fully address all the changes called for in the Framework (National Research Council, 2012) with respect to science teaching and learning. For example, one teacher reported on their exit ticket after the first day of the workshop when asked to describe what was least useful about the workshop: “Not covering the NGSS connection. I believe we will do that in May”. While she was correct that we would focus more on the NGSS connections on the second day of the workshop, it did highlight that more time for learning about NGSS prior to teaching the lesson may have been beneficial. However, this PL workshop was not intended to provide all the PL teachers will need as they work to align their teaching practices with three-dimensional learning. The professional learning opportunities offered to inservice science teachers by our institution of higher education (which is, by definition, external to the formal K-12 school systems) are meant to supplement the professional learning provided by 24 independent school systems throughout the state. By focusing deeply on a single practice, that of argumentation, we were able to provide teachers with specific tools they could (and did) use in their classrooms as they begin to shift towards three-dimensional teaching and learning. Furthermore, the learning opportunities related to this PL workshop were not confined solely to the 12 hours of the actual workshop. We intentionally designed the workshop to require teachers to implement what they learned about three-dimensional teaching in their own classrooms, and then provide reflections and feedback on those experiences. The comprehensive nature of this PL increased the amount of time workshop participants dedicated to learning about NGSS and the shifts they will need to make in their own teaching practices.

In this section, we described the key components of our professional learning design as they are informed by research on teachers’ learning, reform-based science education and climate change education. The following sections will highlight the affordances that we observed during and after teachers’ implementation of Looking Backward, Looking Forward activity. These affordances will explain the benefits of the PL design on teachers’ implementation. We will also point out the limitations that were apparent upon the completion of our study. These limitations will shed light into future design of PL environments for learning to teach climate change.

Affordances and Challenges to Effective Implementation

Improving teachers’ knowledge about NGSS and the scientific practices

During our workshop, we did not simply provide teachers with an activity that aligned with the NGSS and three-dimensional teaching; we also provided opportunities for participants to explore how and why the curriculum modeled three-dimensional instruction and aligned with NGSS. For example, we provided teachers with a chart that listed each NGSS component addressed in the lab and indicated exactly where and how in the activity it was addressed (Appendix D). In addition, instead of simply having the teachers construct a scientific argument as part of the activity, we spent time discussing how they could scaffold the process using the claim-evidence-reasoning framework developed by McNeill and Krajcik (2012).

While we provided teachers with a comprehensive facilitation guide and student handouts for this activity, we actively encouraged teachers to modify the lesson to fit the individual needs of their students. By enabling the collective participation of teachers (Wilson, 2013) we provided teachers with an opportunity to apply their increasing knowledge of NGSS and three-dimensional teaching in their own unique contexts. The reality of the need for teacher modification of curriculum was supported by a statement provided by a participant (Teacher A) on their implementation feedback form (see comment 3 in Table 2). This type of pedagogical decision making is constantly happening in the classroom. If teachers do not have a strong understanding of the new vision for science teaching and learning as described in the Framework (National Research Council, 2012), they may not be able to effectively tailor instruction to meet both educational goals and specific student needs. For example, consider the statement provided on the implementation feedback form by Teacher B about the LBLF lesson (see Comment 4 in Table 2). In contrast to the statement by Teacher A, it seems this teacher did not place the same emphasis on the argumentation portion of the activity, which was presented as the focal point of the activity. As such, the data collection portion of the activity was more aligned with a structured inquiry (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005) to allow more time for students to focus on analyzing and interpreting data and engaging in argument from evidence. As authors of the activity, our goals were more in alignment with Teacher A (building argumentation skills in students) and less with those of Teacher B whose focus was on ‘planning and carrying out investigations’. While both practices are equally important, it is not possible to engage in all practices all the time. Further, Teacher B’s statement regarding aligning the lesson to PE’s (performance expectations) rather than just DCI’s (disciplinary core ideas) indicates s/he may not yet fully understand the goals of our lesson, which were directly aligned to practices and crosscutting concepts in addition to DCI’s (Appendix D), while supporting students’ ability to successfully demonstrate their understanding on selected PE’s. By increasing teacher understanding of goals of the NGSS and how to effectively engage students in each of the science and engineering practices, they will then be able to choose and/or modify activities appropriately to fit the needs of their students.

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We found that teacher self-reports of familiarity with the NGSS increased between pre- and post-program surveys (Table 3). We also assessed participant knowledge of scientific arguments by asking on both the pre-and post-surveys “What are the components of a scientific argument? Describe each component in your own words”. While the majority of teachers were able to successfully list and describe most of the components of a scientific argument on the pre-survey, we still saw an increase on the post-test of participants successfully listing and defining all three components (Table 4).

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Tackling a misconception on past vs. modern climate change

Misconceptions, or alternate conceptions, are a critical component of science teaching and learning. While many teachers view misconceptions as ‘wrong’ ideas that need to be immediately corrected in students, they can actually be a useful tool for engaging students in the science and engineering practices. Indeed, Campbell, Schwarz, and Windschitl (2016) suggest misconceptions provide a critical ‘stepping stone’ for students as they work toward forming more accurate understandings of how the world works. In the LBLF lesson, we provide students an opportunity to explore the common misconception that current climate change is no different than past climate change events and therefore is not something humans need to be concerned about. Rather than just tell the students current climate change is different than past changes in climates because of its cause (release of CO2 into atmosphere due to consumption of fossil fuels by humans) and the rapid rate at which it is occurring, we had students examining a graph of rates of climate change for the past 20,000 years. This part was last in the series of activities within the LBLF lesson.

Of the 14 teachers who submitted post implementation reports, eight reported that they did not do this part of the activity. Teachers may have chosen not to complete this part of the lesson for many different reasons, including being uncomfortable teaching about a controversial subject. However, our data suggest that it was lack of time, and not a reluctance to address the content, that prevented teachers from completing this part of the lesson. Seven of the eight teachers who did not complete this part of the activity indicated lack of time was the reason (with five teachers indicating they hoped to come back to it and complete it when their schedules allowed, see comment 5 in Table 2 for example of typical response for why teachers did not complete this part of the activity). Interestingly, one teacher (Teacher C) pointed out (and we agree with the assessment) that the LBLF lesson was more focused on having students develop a scientific argument to explain how the climate has changed, with less focus on the misconceptions related to causes and rates of current versus past climate change (see comment 6 in Table 2). During the LBLF development, we struggled with balancing the number and depth of activities within this lesson, against the amount of time teachers had available in the classroom. We also focused the majority of the workshop time with teachers on this first goal (developing a scientific argument), with less time spend on the second goal (understanding the differences between current and past climate change events). That, combined with the fact that the activity that explored misconceptions about past versus current rates of climate change came at the end of the lesson suggests teachers who did not complete this section of the lesson did so because of time, and not because of a reluctance to teach this topic. It is also interesting to note that Teacher C was the only teacher to report implementing all activities within the lesson and the total time s/he reported devoting to the LBLF lesson (158 min) was well below the average (216 min) of those who were not able to implement all parts of the lesson. This suggests that perhaps Teacher C was addressing each topic in the lesson in less depth than other participants. While the new vision for science teaching and learning calls for “a deep exploration of important concepts, as well as time for students to develop meaningful understand, to actually practice science and engineering, and to reflect on their nature” (National Research Council, 2012, p. 25) it is a reality that instructional time is limited and teachers feel the pressure to move quickly through vast amounts of material.

On the limited boundaries of time

As curriculum developers and PL facilitators, these results suggest several changes we can make in our practices to address the issues of running out of time and, therefore, not addressing key learning goals. The first is to make sure that we find the time in our PL workshops to model all of the activities for the teachers. Similar to what happened to the teachers in the classroom, we ran out of time and were not able to walk teachers through the rates of change part of the activity. This may have contributed to the teachers not implementing it in their classrooms, either because they were not as familiar with it or because they assumed it wasn’t as important. Secondly, we can also look for ways, whenever possible, to integrate key concepts throughout the activity. For example, if we had integrated the ideas about differences between current and past climate change earlier in the activity timeline, it is possible that teachers would have been less likely to have omitted this part of the lesson.

Evidence from one classroom suggests that if teachers are able to find time to implement the part of the activity devoted to how current climate change is different from past climate, it can be effective. Students were asked to respond to the prompt: “I heard that the climate has changed before and this current climate change we are talking about is just like that. So we don’t have to be worried. It’s the same thing.” Of 46 responses (received from two different classes from a single teacher), 31 indicated we should be concerned and suggested the rate of change was the reason (Figure 2a), ten indicated there was cause for concern but did not provide an adequate reason, three suggested there was no cause for concern but did not provide a reason and only two suggested that there should be no cause for concern and gave past climate change as a reason (Figure 2b).

Click on image to enlarge

 Conclusion

Recent reforms in K-12 science teaching necessitate high quality PL opportunities for inservice science teachers (National Research Council, 2012; Wilson, 2013). In the paper, we report on an innovative climate change PL workshop designed to increase inservice secondary science teachers’ knowledge of, and experience with, the three-dimensional model of teaching and learning (National Research Council, 2012) while actively engaging them in a lesson they used in their own classrooms to teach about climate literacy issues. By providing conceptually (e.g. changes in climate) and epistemologically (e.g. argumentation) aligned instruction and assessment tools, the workshop provided teachers with the necessary resources to effectively engage their students in learning climate science as practice. In accordance with theories of effective professional learning, we used a specific, local context in the LBLF lesson to actively engage teachers in collectively learning about both science content and pedagogy that directly aligned with state and school system policies. Teachers identified the active learning aspect of the workshop, focused on a particular climate change lesson, as one of the most valuable components. Our PL design gave teachers authority not only to consume what they learned, but contribute to their peers’ learning and to the improvement of the LBLF activity.

While the opportunities afforded to workshop participants increased their ability to engage their students in three-dimensional teaching and learning, it is clear that continued professional learning support will be necessary as teachers learn to become critical consumers of curriculum and develop the knowledge and skills needed to fully understand, adopt and implement the NGSS. Teachers in this climate change PL workshop expressed their need for more learning opportunities and support to effectively implement the scientific practices in their classrooms. It is likely that these needed supports will come from a variety of sources and take on a variety of forms. For example, school systems often provide district-wide professional learning opportunities for their employees. However, many teachers supplement the mandated district professional learning with opportunities provided by outside entities, such as universities and informal science education programs (e.g. science centers and museums). Engaging in professional learning opportunities by choice (rather than those mandated by the school district) offers educators the ability to choose opportunities tailored to their specific needs. These professional learning opportunities may take the form of professional learning communities (either in-person or on-line), weekend workshops, or extended summer research experiences.

Providers of these professional learning opportunities, whether internal or external to the formal K-12 school systems need to be responsive to the needs of teachers in their areas. Additionally, the increased focus on many climate change ideas and issues in the NGSS (e.g. glacier melting, ocean acidification, carbon cycle, etc.) necessitates on-going support for inservice classroom teachers on the breadth of climate change issues addressed. Finally, providing teachers with support as they begin to make connections to climate change issues in all science domains will increase the likelihood that students will receive multiple opportunities and contexts within which to learn about this important topic.

Research suggests that effective professional learning for teachers should be of sufficient duration. However, even the most carefully designed professional learning opportunities are constrained by resources (most often money and time). While individual professional learning opportunities (such as the workshop described in this paper) may be finite, if they provide teachers with tools they can use to continue revising and reflecting on their teaching practices, their influence continues long after the workshop has ended. For example, instead of simply presenting teachers with a new activity that was “aligned to NGSS” we intentionally integrated opportunities for teachers to explore and understand some of the fundamental shifts called for in the NGSS. As a result, teachers can apply what they learned about NGSS in the context of a single activity to any lesson or curriculum they implement in their classrooms.

Going forward, we suggest paying particular attention to providing teachers with opportunities to deeply engage in the science practices themselves as they learn how to effectively facilitate student engagement in these same practices within the context of their classrooms. Continuing attention should also be paid to supporting teachers in understanding common misconceptions with respect to climate change and how best to elicit and address them with their students. In addition, we responded to research showing that teachers pay little attention to coherence building, but rather choose to implement only engaging and fun activities (Hanuscin et al., 2016). In this workshop, we developed the instructional resources with a focus on coherence building. We not only gave teachers an investigation to do with their students, but we also provided the related argument and data providing conceptual and epistemic coherence. We further suggest that teachers experience coherence building in a variety of professional learning environments so that seeking coherent ideas becomes a habit in the culture of science classrooms. Finally, although this PL learning workshop focused on a population of inservice teachers, we suggest that a future study can focus on preservice teachers’ challenges on coherence building (Hollins, 2015). We built formative assessment tools throughout the LBLF activity to support coherent and meaningful learning of the scientific ideas within our activity (Furtak, Morrison, & Kroog, 2014.) For example, a group of preservice teachers engaged in their final teaching internship may take part in a similarly designed workshop (either during or outside of formal classroom time) and be encouraged to implement the common activity (aligned with NGSS and three-dimensional teaching) within their assigned classrooms.

Implementation of NGSS in science classrooms requires a cultural shift for teachers and therefore they need extensive support (Windschitl & Stroupe, 2017). In our paper, we describe the details of a professional learning workshop designed in collaboration with a scientist, teacher educators and with feedback provided from K-12 teachers. In this description, we highlighted effective and/or innovative aspects of our design such as alignment to policy and practice, active learning opportunities for teachers, situating PL in science content and practices, integrating local environment and relevant context, determining an appropriate duration for PL design, and enabling collective participation of teachers as critical consumers of curriculum. Although some challenges remained, considering these aspects can create a supportive learning environment for teachers as they incorporate three- dimensional teaching and learning into their classrooms.

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank Dr. Jane Wolfson for her contributions to the design of the professional learning workshop. This work is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant#1239758. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation