Leaving the Ivory Tower: How Hosting an On-Site University Science Methods Course Can Provide Professional Development for Classroom Teachers

Article excerpt

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It all began with casual conversation between a university supervisor and classroom teachers and approval to use an unused classroom at a local elementary school. The space became the hub of an exciting professional development (PD) opportunity for classroom teachers.

The nearby university's teacher education program had already developed many collaborative projects with the local school district, but this one provided a win-win for all parties involved--the teacher candidates, the inservice teachers, and most important, the hundreds of elementary students who would ultimately benefit from best practices in science teaching strategies and the infusion of technology into science lessons.

Program Development

During the summer of 2008 a school principal, university professor, and district superintendent collaborated to devise a written proposal that identified the project goals, resources required to optimize success, and a projected timeline. The university agreed to begin teaching two on-site elementary science methods sections in the fall semester of 2008, to continue with two sections in the spring, and to offer one section during pre-session (in May). The goals of the project were to provide an authentic teaching experience for the teacher candidates and PD for the classroom teachers. The proposal was ultimately reviewed and approved by the school board in the fall of 2008. The proposal outlined each party's responsibility, stating that the school district would provide the following: an unused classroom (to be transformed into a science room) reserved for university use on Tuesday/Thursday mornings, 8:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.; access to copy machines and bulletin board supplies; an online classroom computer with ceiling-mounted projector; photo IDs for university students; and parking spaces in the school lot. The university (using university enhancement funds) agreed to cover the cost of the following: lab tables and chairs, area carpets, beanbag chairs, consumable supplies for science activities and science centers, interactive bulletin boards, and a portable interactive whiteboard. We agreed that all of the 18 classroom teachers in the building would be invited to participate, but that participation would be voluntary. We also agreed that when the university was not scheduled to use the science room and all of the equipment/ materials in it, both could be signed out for use by any teacher in the building.

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Program Implementation

During the first semester of the program, two sections of university students (56 teacher candidates) signed up to take the off-campus course. After the first onsite class meeting, the teacher candidates were given assignments to transform the empty room into an official science room complete with interactive bulletin boards, science centers, welcoming doors, and a hands-on science wall (Figure 1). Each teacher candidate was required to take two or three photos of the children during the explore phase of their lessons. The intent was to fill the science wall with pictures that showed every student in the building engaged in inquiry. All of the interactive bulletin boards were based on state science standards under the categories of the nature of science (e.g., "Black Boxes Galore"), physical sciences (e.g., "Meet the Nobles"), biological sciences (e.g., "Life Cycles of Plants and Animals"), and Earth science (e.g., "Out of this World Solar System"). The teacher candidates designed the boards and created the materials.

As the semester progressed, the classroom teachers were invited to attend the lectures and demonstrations that were conducted during the methods course every Tuesday and Thursday. During the 15-week class, the teacher candidates spent four weeks in an assigned classroom. During the other 11 weeks, we conducted the methods class as usual with topics about inquiry learning, process skills, discrepant events, constructivism, and more. …