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.

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on The Card Exchange

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

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

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

Literacy Strategies for NOS Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NOS Statement Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion

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

Early Introduction: A Double-Edged Sword?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Promoting “Science for All” Through Teacher Candidate Collaboration and Community Engagement

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards present a bold vision for equitable and excellent science opportunities through a call for “All Standards, All Students” (Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] Lead States, 2013, Appendix D). Following in the footsteps of the earlier “Science for All” efforts, the NGSS articulate a range of supports for marginalized groups in science, including students with disabilities. For those of us who have worked on issues of science equity and accessibility throughout our careers, it seems implausible that profound educational disparities and attitudinal barriers persist in the 21st Century. Yet despite decades of work on inclusive science research and practice, persons with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in science careers while students with disabilities underperform on science assessments (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011; National Science Foundation [NSF], 2013). Paramount among the factors contributing to this disparity is that science teachers are underprepared to teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, while special education teachers are similarly ill-prepared to teach science ( Irving, Nti, & Johnson, 2007; Kahn & Lewis, 2014). An obvious solution is to have science and special educators co-teach in the classroom, yet research suggests that without preparation and experience in such models, teachers face tremendous obstacles including lack of co-planning time, challenges with establishing roles and responsibilities, and simply lack of familiarity with discipline-specific accommodations (Moin, Magiera, & Zigmond, 2009). This situation creates a pedagogical and, as we believe, a moral dilemma of placing teachers in classrooms without ample preparation, a set-up for attitudinal and practical barriers.

We were therefore interested in developing flexible opportunities for science teacher candidates to interact and co-teach with special education candidates in an effort to provide meaningful experiences for all of our students, contribute to the research base in inclusive science teacher education, and support our greater community. To that end, we developed an Inclusive Science Day during which members of our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter co-planned and co-taught inclusive science lessons with student members of our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery (OVMoD), a local hands-on discovery museum. In doing so, our candidates learned about inclusive science practices, experienced co-planning, budgeting, and delivering science activities for a diverse audience, gained appreciation for the benefits of informal science community partnerships, and learned about themselves as future teachers of all students. This manuscript describes the motivation for, methods, and findings from our project, as well as recommendations for other programs wishing to implement a similar model.

Theoretical and School Context

Teacher Preparation and Science for Students with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, later reauthorized as the IDEIA (2004), guarantees a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. For the more than 6 million students in American schools identified as having disabilities, this means that they are guaranteed opportunities for learning commensurate with their abilities across subjects, including science. While most science teachers at all levels will teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, most receive little formal education in inclusive science practices. In their nationwide survey of 1088 science teachers, Kahn and Lewis (2014) found that, while 99% of the participants had taught students with disabilities during their careers, nearly one-third had not received any training on the subject and of those who had “on the job training” was cited as the most prominent context for learning. Similarly, special education teachers receive little training in science education (Patton, Palloway, & Cronin, 1990), leaving them to frequently be marginalized in inclusive science settings, with science teachers taking the lead. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that students with disabilities underperform on standardized science assessments and are underrepresented in science fields. Without the benefit of teachers who have been adequately prepared to develop accessible lessons using inclusive pedagogical approaches, students with disabilities will continue to be underserved in the sciences.

Although science and special education are often characterized as representing different philosophical stances (McGinnis & Kahn, 2014), contemporary frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2015) can mediate these differences by capitalizing on the abilities and acknowledging the challenges of all students, thereby creating a cohesive approach to ensuring access for the greatest number of learners. We hypothesized that allowing candidates to co-plan and co-teach UDL activities would provide them with the unique opportunity to discover each other’s strengths, assess their own weaknesses, and become exposed to different perspectives. As in most teacher education programs, however, these opportunities were scant for our candidates due to the structural requirements of their different programs of study and teaching placements. It seemed that a less formal opportunity was needed to explore possible benefits and challenges of collaborative inclusive programming. We decided to turn to the OVMoD for assistance.

Informal Science Learning

Informal science learning spaces, such as museums, zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens, provide unique opportunities for contextualized science learning for their visitors (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009). By providing materials and exhibits that are not otherwise readily accessible, allowing for open, unstructured discovery, and welcoming learners of all ages and backgrounds, these spaces offer incomparable resources to their surrounding communities (Fenichel & Schweingruber, 2010). Informal science learning spaces also provide powerful contexts for learning, not only for visitors but also for teacher candidates (Duran, Ballone-Duran, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2009). By providing candidates with teaching opportunities in such spaces, candidates learn to “think on their feet” as they are met by learners about whom they have no prior information, and must therefore anticipate challenges and respond quickly. They are also exposed to visitors representing a variety of ages, backgrounds, and abilities, thus necessitating a true “science for all” attitude and approach (McGinnis, Hestness, Riedinger, Katz, Marbach-Ad, & Dai A., 2012). Finally, bringing teacher candidates to informal science learning spaces allows them to learn about and serve their community, and of course, allows the community to become better acquainted with the programs and services available through the university, thereby promoting symbiotic learning opportunities (Bevan et al., 2010).

Our Programs

The Patton College of Education at Ohio University serves approximately 1600 undergraduate and 900 graduate students and uses a clinical model for teacher preparation, thus ensuring extensive in-school opportunities for students beginning in their sophomore year and benefitting from close relationships with partner schools (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010). Within our Department of Teacher Education, undergraduate and masters students can select from a wide swath of science teaching majors leading to certification in middle and secondary science areas. In addition, we have a thriving early childhood program that includes courses in both preschool and elementary science methods. Likewise, our nationally-recognized special education program leads to multiple graduate and undergraduate licensures. Undergraduate licensures include programming for intervention specialists seeking degrees to work with students with mild-to-moderate or moderate-to-intensive educational needs.

As vigorous and comprehensive as our programs are, teacher candidates from science education and special education interact infrequently during school hours due to their divergent course and placement requirements. Fortunately, our college supports (both philosophically and financially) our professional organization student chapters which afford opportunities for flexible collaboration. Our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter welcomes all students with an interest in science teaching and learning. This chapter experienced a renaissance recently with regular meetings, numerous fundraising activities, learning opportunities including attendance at a regional NSTA conference, and a concerted commitment to service learning in our community. This chapter currently has approximately 25 members representing both undergraduate and graduate programs, although most are undergraduate secondary (middle and high school) science education majors. Our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) boasts a large, consistent membership of approximately 35 to 40 teacher candidates who meet regularly, assist with functions held by the local developmental disabilities programs, and provide fundraising support for members of the community with disabilities as well as schools in need of resources for serving students with disabilities. This organization enjoys the leadership of a long-term and beloved advisor who has developed the group through many years of mentoring and modeling. In addition to our college of education, our university’s center for community engagement provides small grants for service learning projects. We were fortunate to receive funding for our Inclusive Science Day project to cover the cost of training materials used with our teacher candidates, consumables for science activities, and refreshments. In addition, this grant provided funds for two of our students to attend a regional NSTA conference early in the year at which they interviewed various leaders in the science education community as well as publishers and science education suppliers about their inclusive science materials. This experience was eye-opening for our students, who presented their findings at subsequent group meetings, as it set the stage for our Inclusive Science Day planning.

The Intervention: Inclusive Science Day

In order to determine the potential for an Inclusive Science Day at an informal learning space, the OU-NSTA advisor raised the idea with a colleague from the College of Education, who is also on the board of the OVMoD to discuss possibilities. The colleague indicated that the museum had made concerted efforts to reach out to visitors with all abilities through use of universally-designed displays and a “sensory-friendly” day; she was completely open to the idea of having teacher candidates plan and teach at the museum but would need to discuss the idea with the museum’s executive director and other board members.  The OU-NSTA advisor then met with the SCEC advisor, who was equally enthusiastic about the prospect of collaboration. Both the OU-NSTA and SCEC advisors then presented the idea to their respective executive board members who were highly receptive. Concurrently, the OU-NSTA advisor participated in an 8-week course on service learning offered by the university’s center for community engagement in order to better understand the dynamics of collaborative endeavors with community entities and to consider in depth both the potential learning opportunities for the teacher candidates and the service opportunities for the museum. While it might have been possible for this project to come to fruition without that training, the advisor felt that it undoubtedly prepared her for the potential benefits and challenges. Once all parties embraced Inclusive Science Day, the two advisors began to plan the training and research.

Planning and Orientation

One of the most daunting tasks was simply identifying a day/time that students could meet for an orientation and training. As this was a voluntary endeavor, we knew that we would need to ensure that our meetings were highly efficient, focused, and would inspire our teacher candidates to collaborate on their own time to ensure availability and convenience. Once we had an announced orientation time, the two advisors met to plan the training. We determined that the 2 1/2-hour evening training would include the following agenda:

  • Welcome, Refreshments, and Survey Invitation
  • Why Inclusive Science Day? and “Can You Name This Scientist?”
  • Collaborative Hands-on Simulation Activity (“Helicopters”) and Debriefing UDL
  • Lesson Planning and Budgeting Activities
  • Next Steps!

As we had decided to conduct research on teacher candidates’ experiences and attitudes regarding inclusive science practice, we applied for and received IRB approval for a pre and post survey that was distributed anonymously online at the orientation (pre) and after the Inclusive Science Day (post). Students were recruited for the Inclusive Science Day and associated research via e-invitations sent to organization membership lists in advance of the orientation. Because of our desire to avoid exerting pressure on students to participate in either the research or project, we did not require students to RSVP. We were very pleased to see that 18 students attended the training (ten special education and eight science education, including one elementary science methods student). When the students arrived at the orientation, they created nametags, had the opportunity to complete the survey online, and enjoyed pizza. We then distributed students among five tables so that at least one special education candidate was at each table. After introductions, we engaged in a brief brainstorming challenge to identify why inclusive science education might be important.  Candidates actively identified reasons including:

“There aren’t enough scientists with disabilities in the field.”

“Science is part of every child’s life and body.”

“You can teach science through different in different ways (e.g., visual, tactile, kinesthetic, etc…).”

“Knowing about science is important for everyone!”

“We need to know how to teach all students.”

We added three others to the list that students did not mention:

  • Science benefits from having all students contribute to its advancement.
  • There is a moral imperative for all students to have the opportunity to experience science.
  • Science is beautiful!

We then engaged in a “Can You Name This Scientist?” game in which candidates viewed pictures of famous scientists with disabilities and were asked to identify them.  Scientists included Alexander Graham Bell (Dyslexia), Thomas Edison (Hearing Impairment and Dyslexia), Temple Grandin (Autism), Geerat Vermeij (Visual Impairment), Jack Horner (Dyslexia), and Stephen Hawking (Motor Neuron Disease), among others. Most of our candidates were unaware that such accomplished scientists also had disabilities and that their disabilities, in some cases, may have enhanced the scientists’ interests and abilities in their fields. For example, Geerat Vermeij, a world-renowned paleobiologist attributes his nuanced abilities in identifying mollusks to his ability to feel and attend to distinctions in shells that sighted scientists might overlook (Vermeij, 1997). We were excited to see our students’ interests so piqued after this activity.

We then introduced the Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) framework, which allows teachers to develop lessons that meet the needs of the most number of learners thereby reducing the need for specific disability accommodations. The three principles of UDL are: 1) Multiple Means of Engagement (How students access the lesson or materials); 2) Multiple Means of Representation (How teachers present the material to the students); and 3) Multiple Means of Action and Expression (How students interact with the materials and show what they know). To help teacher candidates to better understand the potential barriers that students with disabilities might have in science class, we co-led a science activity in which students followed written directions for making and testing paper helicopters while assigning students equipment that helped them to simulate various disabilities. For example, some students received handouts that had scrambled letters to simulate Dyslexia, while others wore glasses that limited their vision. In addition, some students wore earplugs to simulate hearing impairments while others listened to conversations on headphones to simulate psychiatric disorders. Finally, some students had tape placed around adjacent fingers to simulate fine motor impairments, while others utilized crutches or wheel chairs. Students progressed through this activity for several minutes and then discussed their challenges as a class. We chose the helicopter activity because it required reading, cutting with scissors, throwing and observing the helicopters, and retrieving them; thus, this activity required a variety of intellectual and physical skills. We found that our students were quite impacted by this activity, as many indicated that they had never really thought about the perspective of students with these disabilities. In particular, the student who utilized a wheelchair said that she had never realized how much space was needed to accommodate the wheelchair easily during an active investigation. This led the group to discuss the need for us to set up our tables at the museum with sufficient space for all visitors to comfortably traverse the museum. Of course, we were careful to remind students that this type of simulation cannot accurately represent the true nature and complexity of anyone’s experiences, and that people with disabilities, like all individuals, develop adaptations for addressing challenges. However, this brief experience prompted our students to think about how they could redesign the lesson to ensure that as many students as possible could access it without specific accommodations.

We then informed the groups that they were each to develop plans for two activities that would be presented at the Inclusive Science Day. Based on discussions with museum administrators, we decided that having several “make and take” activities was desirable, in part because it allowed the learning to continue at home, but also because our university is in a very rural, high poverty region thus making these types of materials a particularly welcome benefit for many families (United States Census Bureau, 2014). Together, we reviewed the lesson plan document which was less formal than our typical lesson plan document (due to the informal nature of the museum activity stations format) but nevertheless, had specific learning outcomes, considerations for diversity (including gender, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, and ability), and a budget (See Figure 1 for a Sample Lesson; a blank lesson plan template is available for download at the end of this article in supplemental materials). We then informed teams that, thanks to the grant we had received, they had $50 to spend on their two lessons and that they should anticipate approximately 50 visitors to their tables (based on prior museum visitation counts). Teacher candidates then used their laptops and various resource books we provided to identify activities and develop materials lists with prices. We decided the easiest way to ensure that all materials would be received in time, and to avoid dealing with reimbursements and other financial complexities was to have students submit their final budget sheets to us during the week following the orientation. We would then order all the materials using one account and notify students once the materials were received. Students were responsible for bringing in “freebie” materials such as newspaper, aluminum cans, matches, etc. Once materials were received, student groups came to the central storage room at their convenience to check and prepare their materials in ample time for the program. We also encouraged students to create table signs for display at the Inclusive Science Day. They did this on their own time as well. Some of the activities that students developed were:

  • Fingerprint Detectives
  • Creating a Galaxy in a Jar
  • Chemical Reactions in a Pan (using baking soda and vinegar mixed with food coloring)
  • Exploring Static Electricity with Balloons
  • Egg Drop
  • Making and Testing Kazoos
  • Blobs in a Bottle (with vegetable oil and Alka-Seltzer tablets)
  • Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry
Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample lesson plan for “Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry.”

In addition to identifying activities that engaged different senses, our students thought about how to meet a variety of learners’ needs. For example, magnifiers and large ink stamp pads would be available at the fingerprint station for all students, while the “Blobs in a Bottle” activity station had alternative “jelly balls” that could be felt by visitors who couldn’t see the vegetable oil “blobs.” The kazoo station, which used toilet paper tubes, waxed paper, and rubber bands, allowed visitors who could not hear to feel the movement of the waxed paper when the kazoos were played. The station also had adaptive scissors and pre-cut waxed paper for visitors needing fine motor skill support. The UDL considerations and accommodations provided for each activity are contained in Table 1 below.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
UDL Considerations and Accommodations for Accessibility on Inclusive Science Day

The Day of the Event

The Inclusive Science Day was announced by the museum on social media, through our local schools, and through the local newspaper. The museum generously waived their admission fee for the day in order to encourage attendance as well. On the day of the program, students were asked to arrive two hours in advance to set up their stations. We provided lunch to ensure that we had time to speak to the group about the importance of the work they were about to do, and to allow the museum staff to convey any final instructions to the students. When the doors were opened, we were thrilled to see large numbers of families entering the museum space. Over the two hours that our program ran, the museum estimated that we had over 150 visitors, approximately three times their expected attendance. The attendance was so good that some of our student groups needed to send “runners” out to purchase additional materials; our “Galaxy in a Jar” group even began using recycled bottles from our lunch to meet the demands at their table.  Safety was a consideration at all times. Goggles were made available at all tables with splash potential, and safety scissors were used at stations with cutting requirements. In addition, our students (and we) wore our clubs’ T-shirts so that visitors could easily identify instructors. Each activity table had at least one science education and one special education candidate co-teaching. We supervised the students by assisting in crowd control, helping to ensure that visitors could easily navigate through the rather limited museum space, obtaining written permissions for photos from parents/caregivers, and responding to candidate questions. Some photos from the day are shown in Figures 2-4.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). “Blobs in a Bottle” activity demonstrating density and polarity of water and oil. Tactile “jelly balls” and magnifiers were available for visitors with visual impairments.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). “Chemical Reactions in a Pan” activity using baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring. Varied sizes of pipettes and pans were available to address diversity in visitors’ fine motor skills.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). “Exploring Sound with Kazoos” activity. Visitors were encouraged to use their senses of vision, touch, and hearing to test the instruments.

Research Findings/Project Evaluation

Overall, our teacher candidates found this project to be highly meaningful and helpful for their professional learning. Perhaps one of the most important themes that emerged from our evaluative research was that science and special education candidates welcomed the opportunity to collaborate as none of them had reported having opportunities to do so in the past. Some of the student post-activity responses included the following:

“[Inclusive Science Day] allowed me to gain more experience and to really learn what it is like to teach students who have disabilities. I also was able to see how students with different disabilities reacted to the same activity. I found that those students who had a disability found a different way to cope with their disability than we had thought they would.”

“I saw how different general education and special education teacher think. There were many differences to our approaches to creating the lesson.”

“I really liked that I was able to consult with the special education teachers if I was unsure of how to help a student with disabilities.”

“I had a great time sharing my content knowledge of science with those whose specialty is special education. Conversely, I had a great time learning from experts in special education and I really enjoyed seeing them be so in their comfort zone when we did have kids with exceptionalities. I envy their comfort levels and it makes me want to reach that level of comfort.”

“We were well prepared for any differentiation that would have needed to be done. And we all learned from each other.”

“I feel this was an awesome experience. The people I worked with really added something to our experiments that I otherwise may not have thought about.”

Challenges cited by our students included feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of visitors at each station, not having knowledge about the visitors’ backgrounds in advance, and difficulties in maintaining visitors’ focus on the science content. We found one student’s reflection to be quite sophisticated in its recognition of the need for more training on inclusive science:

“I still feel that I would like more professional development when it comes to leading science activities for students with disabilities. I had an experience with a wonderful young man and I felt very challenged because I don’t feel comfortable enough to gauge what I should be allowing him to do on his own and at the same time I didn’t want to hinder him from reaching his full potential. So, I feel like further professional development in that area is needed for me.”

Qualitative  analysis of candidate pre and post responses resulted in themes that included: 1) candidates’ assessment of collaboration as a powerful professional development opportunity; 2) identification of different perspectives between science and special education candidates; 3) a common desire to do good work by making accessible for all students; 4) recognition of informal learning spaces as viable teaching venues; and; 4) a strong need for more training and opportunities to teach science to students with disabilities. Our findings support earlier research suggesting that teacher candidates are inclined toward inclusive practices (McGinnis, 2003) and that opportunities for collaboration with special education candidates enhance their comfort level in co-planning and co-teaching (Moorehead & Grillo, 2013). Our teacher candidates’ expressions of the depth of impact this professional development experience had on them makes sense when considered in light of Kahn and Lewis’ (2014) study which suggested that teachers’ experience with any students with disabilities increased their feelings of preparedness toward working with all students with disabilities. In addition, our findings reinforce studies suggesting that informal learning spaces can provide unique and flexible learning opportunities for teacher candidates, particularly in that they provided multiple opportunities to teach the same lesson repeatedly, thus allowing for reflection and revision (Jung & Tonso, 2006). Perhaps most importantly, this study underscores the desire for and efficacy of increased training and experience in implementing inclusive science practices during teachers’ pre-service educations.

Future Plans and Conclusion

Based on the feedback from the teacher candidates and the museum, we are planning to make Inclusive Science Day an annual event. However, we are considering several changes for future projects including:

  • Multiple training evenings for teacher candidates
  • Pre-registration for Inclusive Science Day so that we can anticipate attendance size and specific needs of visitors
  • Creating a “Quiet Zone” area at the museum for visitors who would benefit from a less bustling environment
  • Identifying additional sources of funding for consumable materials
  • Greater outreach to our early childhood teacher candidates to encourage participation

As students with disabilities are increasingly included in science classrooms, it is incumbent of teacher education programs to ensure that their science teacher candidates acquire the tools and the dispositions for teaching all learners. While more formal approaches, such as dual licensure programs and co-teaching internship placements are on the horizon for many programs, teacher education programs should not overlook the power of extracurricular events, informal learning spaces, and student organizations to provide important professional development opportunities for teacher candidates, pilots for new program development, and occasions to both serve and learn from the community.

 

An Innovative Integrated STEM Program for PreK-6 Teachers

Introduction

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

Origins, Courses and Program Team

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

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

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

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

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

Integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program Design & Courses

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

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

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

Engineering in iSTEM Education

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

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

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

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

Environmental and Biological Science in iSTEM Education

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

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

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

Mathematics in iSTEM Education

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

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

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

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

Earth-Space and Physical Science in iSTEM Education

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

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

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

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

Leadership Courses

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

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

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

Program Evaluation and Assessment

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

External Evaluation of the Pilot Program

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

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

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

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

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

Program Assessment and Approval

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

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

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

Initial Results from Assessment

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

Opportunities for and Engagement of Graduates and Participants

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

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

Challenges and Successes

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

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

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

Conclusion

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