DISTRICT BACKGROUND INFORMATION
- Ethnically diverse, urban district
- 60,544 students in district
- 71% of students receiving free or reduced lunches
- 37% of the students identified as ELL (English Language Learners)
- Approximately 14,250 students in grades 6, 7, and 8
- 42 schools with grades 6, 7, or 8, configurations as follows:
- 14 Elementary and Middle Schools (K-8)
- 18 Middle Schools (6-8)
- 1 Middle and High School (6-12)
- 3 “Exam” schools (admission by examination) (7-12)
- 6 Special Education Schools (K-12)
- 144 teachers teaching sixth, seventh or eighth grade science. This includes special education teachers as well as elementary teachers in K-8 buildings who teach in a semi-departmentalized structure or who teach science as a “pull out” class for all grade levels.
- Approximately sixty percent of the 144 teachers are full-time science teachers.
- Case study written four years after district implementation
I. CURRICULUM SELECTION PROCESS
First, the district Program Director of Science and the Middle School Science Professional Development Specialist conducted a preliminary screening of several curricula based on correlation with the state standards and narrowed the materials to be considered to several courses from the three National Science Foundation funded middle school science programs. During the 2002-03 school year, approximately thirty teacher leaders, usually one from each building, were identified to receive training on the different courses. At least ten teacher leaders at each grade level piloted materials from the different programs. These teacher leaders met monthly during this process to discuss the features of the different programs and share how the piloting was going.
Based on state standards criteria, the district learning standards, student work, and teacher leader evaluations, recommendations were turned in to the district science curriculum staff. Seven of the FOSS middle school courses and one other course were selected to be the district’s middle school science program. FOSS was selected because it is a complete package. It has hands-on materials, activities that have been classroom tested, student resource books, multimedia, plenty of assessments, and student notebooks. In addition the materials were classroom friendly and well suited for the typical middle school classroom. Student enthusiasm for science and the amount of content they were learning and retaining were also factors. How the kits were organized for ease of use, though not the major criteria, played a role in teacher leader recommendations.
During the 2003-04 school year, one course was selected for implementation at each grade level district-wide. A second course was added during the 2004-05 school year, and a third course was added to the seventh and eighth grades during the 2005-06 school year.
II. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT/ STAFF DEVELOPMENT
The district-wide climate for improvement and excellence has been engendered by a comprehensive professional development program. This is an essential component of the success of the implementation of the science curriculum. Teacher leaders in the schools take an active role in organizing and facilitating many of the professional development activities. They are compensated based on the time commitments required for the different activities.
Peer Teacher Leaders
Teacher leaders who piloted the courses initially received one day of course-specific training and then received additional training to become workshop presenters. Some of the teacher leaders have attended extended, course-specific workshops conducted by the Lawrence Hall of Science staff. These workshops taught by the curriculum developers have been especially helpful. Teams of two or three teacher leaders provide training for each of the FOSS courses. In addition the teacher leaders provide support at their school to other teachers, especially first year and non-science certified teachers. They also serve as a liaison between the school site and the district science department.
Several of the teacher leaders have attended extended (more than 2 days) FOSS course-specific workshops presented by the authors of the course. These workshops have provided them with better understanding of their particular course and have been especially valuable in helping them design their own workshop presentations.
Each spring the teacher leaders attend a two-day Peer Teacher Leader Retreat sponsored by a local corporation. The retreat program includes speakers on topics related to the goals for that year and work sessions to plan the professional development that the teacher leaders will present during the summer and the following school year. Knowing the importance of having the teachers and teacher leaders understand the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of the FOSS courses, Dr. Larry Lowery, the Principal Investigator of the FOSS Project, was one of the speakers for the first two years. For the next 3 years Larry Malone and Linda DeLucchi, the FOSS Project Directors, attended the retreat and offered invaluable insights into how concepts build in the courses and why certain investigations are designed the way they are.
Course-Specific Professional Development
The summer before the first course was implemented at each grade level, teachers attended a five-day course-specific institute. The second year a four-day workshop was presented for the second course to be implemented at each grade level. The third summer of the three-year implementation, a three-day workshop was given for the third course. The fourth year, the course specific workshops were shortened to two days. There are also two-day workshops for each course during the school year for teachers who could not attend the summer workshops. All of these workshops are conducted by a team of two or three teacher leaders who are also teaching the course in their own classrooms.
One reason for decreasing the total time over years two, three, and four is because of the quantity of other professional development offered in the district. Also the main audience at this point is ELL teachers, special education teachers, and teachers who have already had FOSS training for a different course. In addition the summer training is competing with summer graduate level science courses that have been designed to bolster the content background of the teachers as it relates to specific FOSS courses.
Teachers are required to attend at least one implementation workshop before teaching the courses, but there are exceptions for teachers who were hired late or for some reason could not attend the summer or school year workshop for a particular course. These teachers are given a one to two hour overview of the FOSS Teacher Guide and receive additional support from a teacher leader at their school.
Graduate Level Content Courses
Early in the implementation process there was an identified need for improving the content background of teachers so they could more successfully engage in inquiry instruction. Two-week long, graduate level summer courses have been co-designed by the science faculty at two local universities and teacher leaders as part of an NSF-funded Science Partnership. These courses are specifically designed to address the content of particular middle and high school courses. These courses are co-taught by the teacher leaders and the university faculty member, emphasizing both rigorous content and its application in the inquiry-oriented middle school and high school curricula.
District-wide Professional Development Priorities
The school district sets priorities each year that are the focus of the district-wide professional development. Many of these priorities, such as improving student engagement and accountable talk, developing student assessment portfolios, and encouraging more meaningful student notebooks, are totally congruent with and reinforce the goals of the science department.
School-Embedded Science Professional Development
Teacher leaders in the schools mentor new teachers and provide support for other science teachers.
About a third of the teacher leaders also organize and facilitate Collaborative Coaching Labs in their schools. The teachers at a school decide on the teaching strategy, such as improving inquiry instruction or encouraging better student explanations, that they would like to implement more effectively. They then read and discuss related research followed by identifying classroom indicators of successful implementation. Next the group visits a classroom where the strategy is being modeled by one of the group members, usually starting with the teacher leader. There is a debriefing session after each classroom visit. Other classrooms of group members are visited where the strategy is observed and later discussed. A typical coaching cycle takes eight to ten weeks and involves four or five classroom observations and eight meetings to establish goals, decide on observable criteria, process observations, and summarize.
Other groups use the book Science Curriculum Topic Study: Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Practice by Page Keeley as a guide for looking at science concepts and how they are developed through the grades. These may be facilitated by the Middle School Professional Development Specialist.
III. MATERIALS MAINTENANCE AND SUPPORT
During the 2002-03 (first year of implementation) school year, the district science department and teacher leaders gathered information from conferences and other districts to develop a materials management system and a budget to support the materials management.
The district is divided into three zones for the purposes of rotating the kits. The kits are rotated three times during the year. At the end of each use, kits are refurbished at the district science center. One-third of the kits are always at the district science center being refurbished while the other two-thirds of the kits are out in the schools. All of the teachers at the same grade level in a building are teaching the same course at the same time.
Consumable items are kept in bulk at the district science center and are replaced when the kits are refurbished. Permanent items that are lost or broken are an individual school’s responsibility and are replaced using the school budget or the science department budget. At the end of the school year, all the kits are returned to the district science center for refurbishment.
Living materials order forms are sent out with each life science kit. Teachers can send the form to the appropriate company, and the live materials are sent directly to the school.
The science directors have shared the FOSS materials at Directors of Instruction meetings so the other curriculum directors will be aware of how FOSS supports writing, language development, math, and other areas. Similar presentations have been done at the Building Level Administrators meetings. Presentations have also been made to the School Committee (School Board) to improve their understanding and encourage their support for hands-on science.
For the last five years, the middle school professional development specialist has met monthly with administrators from all the middle schools. At those meetings he has conducted one-hour overviews for each of the kits.
The district has an active and productive relationship with the universities in the area. There is an organization of retired engineers and scientists who volunteer their time at the schools. The retirees have also attended the FOSS training workshops so that they understand the philosophy of the program and how inquiry instruction is conducted.
Teacher-organized Science Socials
Early in the implementation, NSF and Urban Systemic Initiative grants funded stipends for Teacher Leaders for their extra time spent during the adoption process, including monthly meetings at the Science Department. When funding ended, the monthly meetings ended. One year later, three Teacher Leaders took the initiative to form a networking group among all science staff in the district. They coordinated monthly after-work “Science Socials” at local restaurants and bars. New teachers and pre-service teachers were also invited, as were involved staff of local partnership universities. The turnout in the first year was impressive, often drawing up to 60 or 70 teachers and support staff. This was indicative of the culture of networking and communication among science educators in the area that had been initiated by the Science Department’s work during the adoption process. These monthly science socials, rotating around city neighborhoods and open to all science teachers, provide a place for teachers to stay connected with colleagues.
V. PROGRAM EVALUATION
The district uses several methods to determine the level of implementation and to evaluate the science program. The state-mandated test is administered during the spring semester of the eighth grade year. The district also has grade level end-of-year exams for middle school science. When compared to nine other large urban districts with similar demographics, this school district ranked first on NAEP science scores.
In order to insure the fidelity of the program and to encourage communications between teachers, administrators, and the district science department, the district science curriculum team conducts Curriculum Implementation Reviews (CIRs), which are like mini high school evaluations. During years three and four of implementation, one to three people visited each science class in the school, made observations about student engagement, instructional strategies, concept development, fidelity to the philosophy and goals of the program, etc. At the end of the CIR, the science directors met with the teachers and the building administrators to share their observations and make recommendations. Each year there has been a noticeable increase in the fidelity of the program. A CIR visit is planned for each school approximately every other year. Recent budget cuts and a large deficit in the district’s general budget have cut staffing and may reduce the number of future CIR visits.