Meeting the Challenge of Initiating, Implementing and Sustaining Standards-based Science Education in High Schools
In their publication, Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) asserts that "the terms and circumstances of human existence can be expected to change radically during the next human life span. Science, mathematics, and technology will be at the center of that change – causing it, shaping it, responding to it. Therefore, they will be essential to the education of today's children for tomorrow's world."
But, what should the substance and character of such education be?
Washington State LASER has taken up the reform challenge in secondary science education through a partnership with the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) Center. Together, they are bringing in the National Academy of Curriculum Leadership (NACL) to help answer the question of substance and character for Washington state's high schools.
What is the NACL?
With funding from the National Science Foundation, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study developed NACL in 2001. As part of its mission, BSCS provides professional development to improve science education and conducts research and evaluations that demonstrate the effectiveness of reform-based science programs.
Developed as a national model, NACL focuses on secondary science reform through district- and school-based professional development. NACL assists schools and districts in building the capacity to design, implement, and sustain an effective high school science education program. It uses inquiry-based instructional materials that address the National Science Education Standards. Through a three-year professional development sequence, it assists high schools and districts to develop science education leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to implement inquiry-based learning and the abilities to effectively use standards-based instructional materials.
NACL initially worked with two national cohorts of school districts that involved more than 80 high schools in nine states. NACL's work clearly impacted inquiry-based learning and teaching in high school science classrooms and established a strong record of success. NACL develops leadership teams who can design and implement plans focused on changing the learning and teaching of high school science through the implementation of standards-based instructional materials. Teams learn to:
- apply tools and strategies for effective analysis and selection of inquiry-based instructional materials;
- design and initiate a strategic plan for ongoing professional development that incorporates a variety of models, links professional development to teacher change, school change and student learning, and includes an evaluation component;
- sustain the impact of curriculum implementation on students, teachers, and other members of a school community;
- use facilitation skills and reflective dialogues to plan, build collegiality, mediate conflicts, and monitor group processes;
- understand the research on teachers' professional communities, curriculum implementation, transformative professional development, and organizational change in schools; and
- establish a professional learning community among a school's science teachers that demonstrates shared norms and values, a collective focus on student learning, collaboration, practice and reflective dialogues.
Science Education Reform in Washington State
In 1999, Washington State was selected as one of eight regional sites to participate in the Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform program. (LASER) This partnership program started with the National Science Resources Center, the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Battelle, Pacific Science Center, Educational Service Districts and lead school districts from across Washington State. Through 2003, LASER primarily worked on K-8 science education reform.
To address high school needs, Washington State's LASER leadership team began discussions in fall 2003 to include the NACL in LASER's set of science education "products and services." In December 2003, BSCS staff visited Seattle and briefed a LASER review team on NACL. The briefing described a three-year process of academies/workshops for professional development and science education reform at the secondary level. BSCS staff showed how the NACL incorporated the transformation of the thinking and practice of educators through the implementation of standards-based curricula and inquiry-oriented approaches for high schools, grades 9-12. The LASER review team recognized the potential connection between the programs (NACL and LASER). It appeared that each program could play a complimentary part for enhancing science education reform, K-12, in Washington. To be implemented, however, funding sources, program development and school participation would be needed.
There were several things that encouraged Washington LASER to partner with BSCS on the NACL. They were:
1. Evergreen School District (Vancouver) was a member of an original NACL National Cohort (with a life science focus) and strongly advocated using the NACL model at the high school level in Washington.
2. School district leadership teams could easily connect key elements of the two models to their work back home, because the NACL was complimentary in philosophy and in its educational research base to the LASER model.
3. Agilent Technologies, with support from the Dupont, Intel and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, agreed to substantially underwrite NACL pilot project costs in Washington , making it attractive to LASER districts ready to expand their work to high schools.
In early spring 2004, school districts from across Washington were sent applications encouraging them to apply for NACL. By June, sixteen Washington teams had been selected. Through their connections to Agilent and Dupont, one team from California and one team from Delaware were added to bring the total to 18 leadership teams.
Structure/Implementation of NACL
NACL divides its program into three-year cycles that consist of one leadership institute in late summer, one fall academy and one spring meeting. In between the fall and spring workshops, the NACL also provides on-site technical assistance to leadership teams. The leadership development within a dedicated team is crucial to build the capacity for sustainable curriculum reform and the development of a professional learning community.
Each school chooses a leadership team of two or more classroom teachers, one administrator and one coach. Their roles are
- coach – facilitates and guides team to reflect about adult learning and the education reform process; organizes mini-workshops between the academies; acts as the "glue" or cohesive force of the educator team;
- teacher – implements, pilots, assesses, and institutionalizes new instructional materials developed/adopted by the educator teams and the other educators in the school district; and
- administrator – a science supervisor, district curriculum coordinator, or science department chairperson who supervises and coordinates science curriculum; supports the educator teams professionally and financially; communicates the progress of the reform process to higher administration and the community.
Each leadership team in the NACL program is supported and challenged by a coach who is selected by the team. Coaches are critical to the success of the leadership team in a school or district. They help team members communicate within the group and become more reflective about adult learning and the change process.
Throughout the three-year cycle, there will annually be a leadership team Institute in August, followed by a five-day Fall Academy and a two-day Spring Meeting.
First NACL in the TriCities
Ultimately, the goal of NACL is to help leadership teams a) establish criteria for selecting instructional materials, b) complete an evidence-based screening process that leads to piloting, c) make a decision based on the pilot results and d) purchase new instructional materials. Beginning in 2004, teams from California, Delaware and Washington (East Valley-Yakima, Evergreen-Vancouver, Everett, Hockinson, Kennewick, La Center, North Beach/Wishkah Valley, North Thurston, Pasco, Puyallup, Richland, Selah, Sunnyside, Tacoma, West Valley-Yakima, and Yakima) accepted the invitation to participate in the three-year NACL program.
In August, the administrator and coach from each participating team met with NACL staff in Richland for 3 and ½ days. Topics covered in the workshop included
- understanding the change process,
- building highly effective teams,
- teaching inquiry-based science,
- using inquiry instructional materials,
- employing processes and tools to assess instructional materials
- learning norms of collaboration.
The summer institute "foreshadowed" a follow-up academy involving full leadership teams scheduled for November.
In November, 2004, full leadership teams from the 18 school districts met for their first Academy. It consisted of a five-day intensive workshop that followed NACL's first-year program focus on awareness and selection, The same range of topics covered by the Leadership meeting in August were expanded for this first Academy meeting in November.
The November agenda covered
- understanding the change process
- BSCS curriculum implementation process
- building highly effective teams
- abilities needed and essential features of inquiry-based teaching
- data and collaborative inquiry
- inquiry materials
- Assessing Instructional Materials (AIM) process and tools
- long-term planning.
From November to May, BSCS technical assistance teams provided on-site assistance for regional "follow-up" events. These technical assistance efforts helped NACL leadership teams build their capacity to disseminate their learning to colleagues "back home."
In May 2005, leadership teams attended a two-day meeting. At this meeting, team members:
- developed deeper understandings of their individual personality preferences and how those preferences impact team interactions.
- developed understandings of the factors that inhibit or support change in educational settings.
- Learned about the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) that supports planning and assessing change efforts.
- Deepened their understanding of the AIM process and tools as they related to 1) selection and implementation of instructional materials, 2) professional development, and 3) student concept development through the use of standards-based curriculum.
As year 1 closes, Washington LASER and NACL are developing a high school learning community with a collective sense of responsibility for student learning that will be the cornerstone for sustainable science education reform. Visit us again to learn more about what is planned for years two and three.
The cost of the pilot was made possible by cash and in-kind donations from several sources — Agilent, Dupont, Intel, and PNNL. These resources were combined in cover the costs of offering the NACL to interested school districts. To provide an incentive for school district participation, up to 50% of the registration fees required of school districts was paid. Agilent Technologies was the major corporate sponsor of the pilot project. (See sidebar interview with Lynn Nixon, Manager, Agilent's Worldwide Corporate Giving Program) more...
An additional twist to the NACL story is the involvement of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). PNNL is the first DOE lab to host a NACL event. Over the three years of the pilot project, PNNL staff will coordinate all of the on-site arrangements and logistics for NACL, which is being held in the Tri-Cities. PNNL's manager of Science & Engineering Education Programs, Jeff Estes, serves as the Co-Director, Washington State LASER and has oversight of the NACL project. But, that is only one reason that PNNL participates in NACL.
NACL is helping PNNL meet the goals of a national teacher program. The Laboratory is involved in a DOE national teacher enhancement program, the Laboratory Teacher Professional Development Program (LSTPD). LSTPD's goals are to connect classroom teachers with laboratory scientists and engineers. Through hands-on, Lab-based experience, teachers will deepen their understanding of the nature of science and technology, enhance their science content knowledge and skills and take leadership roles in their schools and districts.
Four school districts — Kennewick, La Center, Pasco and Richland — are part of LSTPD and NACL. Lead teachers from these districts spend their summers at PNNL, receiving summer research stipends, professional development grants, a classroom materials grant, and payment for their NACL registration fees. The teachers are given the unique experience of doing research with world-class scientists and engineers and accessing state-of-the-art Lab facilities and resources. During the school year, the teachers join their coaches and administrators at NACL academies and get to work with national leaders in high school science education reform.
The NACL experience is crucial to the LSTPD program at PNNL, which is based on the following "if/then" proposition:
- If you immerse teachers in Laboratory-based research experiences, then you will deepen their understanding of the nature of science and technology.
- If you couple this deeper understanding of the nature of science and technology with current knowledge about learning, teaching and organizational change in schools, then you can truly create teacher leaders who can effectively work in classrooms, buildings, and districts at community, state and national levels.
- If you build the confidence and competence of teachers by providing these opportunities for renewal, revitalization, and recognition, then you will develop a cohort of key classroom leaders capable of leading standards-based science education efforts in schools/districts.
- If you use reform-oriented, standards-based, instructional materials and multiple professional development strategies to enrich teacher knowledge and skills, then you will enhance student achievement while promoting teacher collaboration. more...