A Bold Experiment

By Gilman, Sharon L.; Fout, Martha C. | The Learning Professional, February 2017 | Go to article overview

A Bold Experiment


Gilman, Sharon L., Fout, Martha C., The Learning Professional


The Next Generation Science Standards place an emphasis on the practices of science and engineering, where ensuring that students understand and experience how science works is as important as, or maybe more important than, memorizing facts. The idea is that, while some facts may change, the practices will always be applicable, and it is important for citizens to understand how scientists arrive at their conclusions, in addition to what those conclusions are.

The standards' emphasis on the practices of science represents a culmination of the long-running understanding that people learn science by doing science. In the classroom, this has translated to inquiry-based lessons, where students design and conduct experiments, form explanations from evidence, evaluate and justify those explanations, and communicate their work.

The question is: What is the best way for the teachers to learn the practices and see how they represent how science actually works, and what type of professional learning will best lead them to understand and embrace this approach?

This article describes a model for professional learning in which graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) work with teachers in K-12 classrooms to introduce science research content and practices. It meets the requirements understood to work in quality professional learning, and it enhances relationships between teachers and practicing scientists. As a side benefit, the model also builds the communication skills of future scientists, something increasingly important in building a scientifically literate population.

HOW THE PROGRAM WORKED

In summer 2013, teachers at 18 middle and high schools in a Southeastern state were in the final year of a three-year professional learning program when they teamed with six graduate fellows participating in GK12, a National Science Foundationfunded program that supports fellowships and training for graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program's goal is to improve the graduate fellows' communication and teaching skills through interactions with teachers and students in K-12 schools while enriching STEM content and instruction for their K-12 partners.

The teachers and fellows, who were master's students in an ecology-focused degree program, participated in two weeks of summer workshops as well as follow-up over the course of the academic year. The fellows presented the content portion of the workshops, based on their own research, and focused on the eight science practices in the Next Generation Science Standards rather than on particular content standards.

During the workshops, teachers and fellows spent half the day on content and the other half on lesson development. They learned about the ecology being explored in the research and saw how the scientists used each practice. The teachers worked together in their school or content-area teams to incorporate the practices the graduate students addressed into their own lesson plans. The district uses the 5-E science instruction model, where students are engaged, explore, work toward an explanation which may then be elaborated on, and evaluation occurs throughout (Trowbridge & Bybee, 1996), so lessons followed this format. Teachers then presented their ideas to the whole group at the end of the day, with time for discussion.

All lesson plans were posted on the social network Edmodo. This allowed teachers to communicate among themselves outside the workshop and through the academic year. In addition, they presented their lesson plans to teachers districtwide at the start of each academic year and to their common planning groups at their schools.

Two pre- and post-tests - one addressing specific content from the research presentations, and the other addressing more general understanding of the scientific practices - assessed content knowledge gains. The fellows developed the pre- and post-tests corresponding to their presentations, and the grant evaluator created the more general assessment of the practices using practice questions for the ACT tests. …

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