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.

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

Introduction

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

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

Theoretical Perspectives and Instructional Framework

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

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

Four Principles of Effective Instruction for ELs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Levels of Language

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

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

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

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

Methods Course Context

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

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

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

Overview of the Infiltration Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PSTs’ Lesson Development, Implementation, and Reflection Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Meet With and Receive Feedback From Instructors

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

Step 4: Try Out Lesson in Methods Course

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

Step 5: Enact Lesson in Placement

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

Step 6: Reflect on Lesson Using Student Work

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

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

Step 7: Final Share Out of Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovations and Next Steps

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

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

Author Note

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

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

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

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-7191-9175

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

Introduction

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

Drawing Out Past Learning Experiences

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

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

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

 

Eliciting Initial Ideas

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

Using a Discrepant Event to Develop a Testable Question

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

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

Between Class Readings

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

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

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

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

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

Running the Great Ice Investigation

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

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

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

Bringing Density into the Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Class Readings

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

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

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

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

Finishing the Ice Investigation

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

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

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

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

Final In-Class Readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Introduction

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

The Content of Learning and the Learning of Content

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

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

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

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

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

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

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

Professional Learning Community

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

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

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

Context

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

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

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

Early Childhood Teacher Candidates

Case 1

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

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

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

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

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

Elementary Teacher Candidates

Case 2

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

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

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

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

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

Case 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Candidates

Case 4

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

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

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

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

Case 5

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

3-Dimensional Mapping Tool (3D Map)

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

The structure of the 3D Map

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

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

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

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

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

Science and Engineering Practice Tools (SEP Tools)

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

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

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

Implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit in Science Methods Courses

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

Example 1: Starting with the 3D Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example 2: Starting with the SEP Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

Conclusion

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Version 1.0

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

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

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

Course Design and Theoretical Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Version 2.0

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

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

Course Design

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

Version 3.0

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

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

Course Design

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

Reflections and Conclusion

First Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Author

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Context

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

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

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

Participants

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

Description of Participant Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Sources and Analysis

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

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

Quality of Interdisciplinary Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections from PSTs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion and Implications

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

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

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

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

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.