Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Using Teacher Reflective Practice to Evaluate Professional Development in Mathematics and Science

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Using Teacher Reflective Practice to Evaluate Professional Development in Mathematics and Science

Article excerpt

Systemic reform has been a key element of the mathematics and science educational agenda for the past decade. Systemic reform proponents advocate emphasizing mathematics and science from kindergarten through 12th grade; adopting new math and science education standards; providing ongoing professional development for teachers (Frechtling, Sharp, Carey, & Vaden-Kiernan, 1995); and aligning policy, practice, and assessment procedures. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported the development of systemic reform by funding statewide, urban, and rural systemic initiatives to improve K-12 mathematics and science education throughout the United States (Fitzsimmons & Kerpelman, 1994).

In the past decade, professional development has evolved in content, delivery, and style. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards and the National Science Education standards clearly define a new direction for effective mathematics and science instruction. The standards incorporate constructivist teaching and learning techniques reflecting changes in learning theory and focusing on student-centered learning and real-life applications of concepts. These standards promote instructional approaches that prepare students to take more active roles in their learning and work independently and collaboratively. The goal is for students to construct more powerful and flexible knowledge and understanding. To use these approaches, teachers must think in ways substantially different from how many of them were taught about students, subject matter, and the teaching and learning process (Borko & Putnam, 1995). Effective professional development can provide teachers with the means to engage in exploration, research-based inquiry, reflection, experimentation, and practice, while providing collegial sharing of knowledge and opportunities to draw on the expertise of others in the community. Abdal-Haqq (1996) and Joyce and Showers (1982) have identified several factors essential in delivering effective professional development programs: providing training, practice, and feedback; providing opportunity for reflection; allowing opportunity for group sharing and inquiry; focusing on student learning and assessment practices; incorporating constructivist approaches to teaching and learning; recognizing teachers as professionals; and providing adequate time and follow-up support. Most of these elements were in the professional development workshops that were the subject of our evaluation.

Professional Development Workshops

The Nebraska Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was one of the initial group of 11 statewide systemic initiatives NSF funded to develop projects leading to systemic change in mathematics and science education. One primary strategy of NMSI was the PEERS (Promoting Educational Excellence Regionally and Statewide) Academy--a series of 2-week professional development workshops to increase teacher understanding of mathematical and scientific processes, improve teaching methods in math and science, and create a supportive network for systemic change in the state. Nebraska classroom teachers who had earlier participated in two 5week residential summer NMSI Institutes conducted the PEERS workshops. These workshop leaders, called Lead Teachers, were role models and advocates for change in math and science education by working with participating K-12 teachers to incorporate more constructivist, standards-based, and inclusive teaching practices in their classrooms. Conducted in grade-related groupings (e.g., K-3, 4-6, etc.) the PEERS workshops modeled best practices in K-12 teaching and included many key components of standards-based practices. Workshops were comparable in their goals across the different grade levels, but individual Lead Teachers tailored activities and lessons within workshops. Districts were required to commit funds for their teachers, ensuring that administrators were supportive and knowledgeable about the professional development efforts. …

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