DISTRICT BACKGROUND INFORMATION
- Approximately 6,300 students in grades 6-8
- Grade configuration for schools including grades 6, 7, or 8:
- 5 6-8 schools
- 2 7-8 schools
- 2 K-8 schools
- 7 K-6 schools
- 64 teachers teaching science in grades 6, 7, or 8
- Approximately 75% elementary certified and 25% secondary certified before 2007-08 school year. As of the 2007-08 school year, all middle school teachers must have middle school certification.
- Case study written after three years of district-wide implementation
I. CURRICULUM SELECTION PROCESS
The district uses a combination of FOSS and other NSF funded exemplary science curriculum materials at the middle school level. The year before adoption, several teachers piloted the FOSS Weather and Water, Populations and Ecosystems, and Earth History courses and other curriculum materials. The curriculum selection was made by a committee of approximately thirty teachers who volunteered after a district-wide call for teachers interested in serving on the committee. Each school that included 6th, 7th, or 8th grade students had at least one representative on the committee. District parents and all middle level teachers had the option to evaluate the materials and give their input. The selection committee members used the AIM (Analyzing Instructional Materials) rubric, developed by BSCS, to evaluate the curricula. The committee members also examined the curricula for its correlation to the state standards, and considered input from the teachers who had piloted the different curricula to make their recommendations.
The teachers on the committee kept the other teachers in their building informed of the decision-making process and of the curricula being considered. The committee selected FOSS Weather and Water for sixth grade, Populations and Ecosystems and Earth History for seventh grade, and Force and Motion for eighth grade. The decision to select these courses as part of the total middle school curriculum was made because:
- FOSS is a hands-on, inquiry-oriented curriculum.
- These courses address the state science standards.
- The concept development spirals and concepts are continually reinforced within the courses.
- There is a high level of content rigor.
- The state inquiry standards (Standards 1, 2, and 3) are incorporated into each course.
Once the curriculum selection had been made and approved by the School Board, the selection committee planned a half-day introduction for the teachers and principals during the spring before the first year of implementation. During the introduction, the teachers and principals participated in selected activities from the curriculum to show them an example of inquiry instruction, how the investigations were structured, and how the curriculum related to the state standards. The level of acceptance by the teachers was very high, especially among those who view the study of science as being an inquiry into the natural world.
II. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT/ STAFF DEVELOPMENT
Teachers who are new to FOSS attend a one-day summer workshop on the first course that they will be teaching. For some of the courses, this is followed up by a full day during the school year after they have completed part of the course. This gives the teachers a chance to debrief the first part of the course and to prepare for the remainder of the course. For teachers who were not able to attend the summer workshops, “just in time” release day workshops are provided just before the teacher starts teaching the course.
The First Two Years
During the one-day implementation workshops the first two years, the presenters focused primarily on having the teachers complete as many activities during the workshop as possible. Classroom visits during the second year of the implementation revealed practices that suggested the teachers did not have an understanding of the learning theory and philosophy upon which the curriculum is based, how the investigation spirals to build a deep understanding of the concepts, or the reason for the sequence of the investigations. For example, many of the teachers seemed to view the curriculum as a collection of interesting activities that could be skipped, replaced by other similar hands-on activities or a textbook reading, or used in a different sequence. Also the multimedia, in many cases an integral part of the concept development, was rarely used.
These conditions were probably a reflection of the strong emphasis on exclusively doing activities in the implementation workshops. The use of the multimedia, the philosophy of the program, understanding the conceptual development process within the courses, the role of the teacher and the student in inquiry instruction, and the rationale for the sequence of instructional activities were either not addressed or were only touched on in the one-day workshops.
The Professional Development Cadre
During the second year of implementation, six lead teachers were identified and received additional training. During the school year and the following summer, they attended multiple-day FOSS leadership conferences, FOSS commercial and pre-conference workshops at NSTA, and some attended week-long “National FOSS Workshops” which focus on a single course. Together with the science coordinator, the cadre developed templates for most of the courses and professional development outlines for each of the middle school courses. These templates include an emphasis on concept development, conceptual flow, information about the theory base and the philosophy of the FOSS courses, the integration of the multimedia, formative assessment strategies, and literacy strategies, including science notebooking.
Starting at the beginning of the third year of implementation, this cadre provided professional development for teachers new to FOSS and “second level” training (notebooking, formative assessment strategies, inquiry strategies, etc.) for experienced teachers. The cadre members commented on how important the additional training they received has been in giving them a much better understanding of the curriculum, providing a model for implementation workshops, giving them the background to recognize poor implementation, and providing them with the confidence they needed to be able to help their peer teachers.
During year three, the cadre consisted of the science coordinator, the two part-time mentor-coaches, and four full-time science teachers. Two additional experienced teachers attended leadership workshops and were added to the cadre the following summer. The first time new members of the cadre do a professional development workshop, they co-teach with an experienced member.
After each workshop, the new teachers are visited by one of the two coaches at least once. Sometimes, several visits follow, depending on the level of support needed. The coaches also visit the veteran teachers to provide support and to ensure the fidelity of implementation of the curriculum. Assistance might include the first-time preparation of a kit, setting up a lab, co-teaching, or coaching. Not surprisingly, while trust was developing during the first year that the cadre members were available, most requests were for low-level task assistance. The second year included more requests for coaching and co-teaching to improve teaching strategies. The objective is to provide teacher support and embedded professional development within the school day.
Also, during the third year of the implementation, Learning Communities were established to give teachers an opportunity to meet with others teaching the same course. The objective was to learn more about the philosophy and theory behind the FOSS curriculum, to share and discuss student work, to examine formative assessment models, to talk about teaching strategies, to plan lessons, and to conduct peer observations.
In the Classroom the Third Year
During classroom visits in the third year, the teachers obviously had a much better understanding of the conceptual flow within the courses and the objective of each investigation. This resulted in a dramatic improvement in the fidelity of the implementation. The teachers were moving beyond the mechanical usage of the curriculum with some beginning to incorporate “second level” strategies into their instruction.
The dramatic difference in the quality of the classroom instruction between the second and third years was probably due to a combination of
- sustained professional development provided through additional workshops and the Learning Communities that included reviewing and emphasizing the conceptual flow and development in the course, FOSS philosophy, learning theory, and multimedia use;
- the in-class embedded staff development and support from the teacher leaders/coaches; and
- the teachers having one more year of experience with the curriculum.
These observations reinforce the need for implementation workshops to include enough information about the philosophical and theoretical base of the curriculum so that teachers understand the rationale for why the curriculum is constructed the way it is. It also points to the importance of sustained professional development to ensure the fidelity of the program and to develop the second-level skills needed to make full use of the features of the FOSS (or any other hands-on, inquiry-centered) curriculum.
III. MATERIALS MAINTENANCE AND SUPPORT
Each school has one of each kit for each pair of teachers teaching a particular course. The kits are rotated between the pair of teachers within a school. The kits stay at the school, and the teachers are responsible for inventorying and maintaining the kits. One teacher in each school is designated as the Safety and Inventory Specialist (SIS). All materials requests and orders are given to the SIS, who then sends them on to the district science coordinator. The SIS receives a yearly $800 stipend for these duties. The district budget for middle school science materials is $15 per year per student. Consumable items are kept in bulk at the Science Resources Center. Permanent items that are lost or broken are an individual school responsibility and are replaced using the school budget or the science department budget.
Although Delta Education provides an inventory sheet with the kits, a modified inventory sheet has been developed for each drawer of each kit. This inventory sheet has the consumable and nonconsumable items separated, is typed in a larger font, and has columns to check off items when the kit arrives and after the kit has been used. This helps the teacher inventory the kit and facilitates communications with the SIS and the science coordinator. If the Science Resource Center has provided any teacher supplied materials with the kits, these are also included on the inventory sheet for one of the drawers.
Living materials are maintained at the district “critter farm” located at one of the high schools. The critter farm is run by a high school teacher with the assistance of numerous student volunteers. Organisms are delivered to the school sites via the district-wide delivery system every Monday in an ice chest containing an ice pack.
- Administrators: Most of the building principals attended the half-day introduction in the spring of 2005. Another presentation in the spring of 2008 brought administrators up to date regarding the implementation of the science program and how they could provide support. The principals are supportive of the hands-on science curriculum, but in general there is some resistance to teachers missing days during the school year for professional development beyond the initial implementation workshop.
- The Assistant Superintendent in charge of curriculum is a strong supporter of hands-on, inquiry-oriented science. The district has shown its support by providing release time for the lead teachers.
- The school board has provided financial support and is excited about what is going on in science.
- There were a handful of complaints during the first couple of years from parents who wanted their child to be bringing home a textbook. However, the science coordinator has received many positive responses from parents who are very supportive and pleased about what their children are learning and that their children are excited about science.
- There have been very positive articles in a state newspaper and the state Department of Wildlife magazine about the FOSS curriculum and hands-on science.