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

Introduction

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

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

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

Backward Design for Learning and Language Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing Teachers for Backward Design with a Language Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget, Elementary Science Teacher

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

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

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

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

Jillian, Secondary Science Teacher

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

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

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

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

Conclusions & Recommendations

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

Application in Practice

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

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

Suggestions for Implementation

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Framework

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

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

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

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

Concurrent Reflections as an Instructional Strategy

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

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

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

Discussing the Suggested Learning Strategy by an Example

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

Phase One: Doing and Reflecting on Science Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion and Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgment

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contextualizing the Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

What is “Effective” Professional Learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case study of Brent A

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

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

[Class watches video.]

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

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

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

STUDENTS: [Silent. Some writing on papers.]

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

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

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

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

STUDENTS B&C: “No”

TEACHER: “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of this PL Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Personal Science Story Podcasts: Enhancing Literacy and Science Content

Introduction

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

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

Digital Storytelling

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

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

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

Academic Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

Procedure for Facilitating the Personal Science Story Podcast

Engage: Listen to Some Podcasts

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

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

Explore: The Story Circle

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

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

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

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

Explain: Researching the Science

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

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

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

Elaborate: Language Analysis, Justification, and Teachers’ Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluate: Assessment

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

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

On Sharing Student Stories

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

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

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

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

Supporting Science Teachers In Creating Lessons With Explicit Conceptual Storylines

Introduction

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

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

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

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

What is a Conceptual Storyline?

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

Conceptual coherence in lessons

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

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

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

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

A Strategy to Supporting Teachers Plan Lessons with Coherent Conceptual Storylines

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

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

Step 1. Building awareness of conceptual storylines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 4. Promote conceptual coherence throughout the storyline

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Context

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

The Origins of the Project

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

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

 Phase 1: Introducing the Project

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

Option 1: Daytime Sky

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

Option 2: Nighttime Sky

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

Option 3: Field/Site

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

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

Phase 2: Initial Connection to Scientific Inquiry

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

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

Phase 3: Independent Explorations

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

Phase 4: Presentations and Reflections

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

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

Reflecting on the Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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