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Institute of Education Sciences


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IES Grant

Title: Understanding Science: Improving Achievement of Middle School Students in Science
Center: NCER Year: 2007
Principal Investigator: Schneider, Steve Grantee: WestEd
Program: Teacher Quality: Mathematics and Science Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,990,754
Goal: Development Award Number: R305B070233
Description:

Purpose: On the 2005 National Assessment of Education Progress, 41 percent of eighth-graders scored below the basic level in science. In the 1999-2000 school year, 42 percent of public school students were taught physical sciences by teachers who had neither a major nor certification in the field. The purpose of this project is to develop three teacher professional development courses in the Understanding Science series that address challenging physical science and earth science topics: heat and energy, plate tectonics, and climate and weather. The first two courses have a pedagogical focus on supporting students' writing in science and the last one has a pedagogical focus on supporting students' reading in science. Each professional development course will consist of eight three-hour sessions that address both physical science content and instructional approaches for supporting student learning. The courses are intended to build the science content knowledge of middle school teachers (grades 6-8), and thereby improve the science achievement of middle school students.

Project Activities: The research team is developing three professional development courses to address physical science and earth science topics and instructional approaches for middle school teachers. In addition, they are conducting a series of small, randomized controlled studies to assess the potential efficacy of each of these courses separately to improve teacher content knowledge and student learning, and the reduction of the science achievement gap between English learners and English-proficient speakers. A fourth study will assess the potential efficacy of the entire sequence of courses on teacher knowledge and student science achievement.

Products: Products from this project include three new Understanding Science professional development courses for middle school science teachers, as well as published reports on the potential efficacy of these courses for improving teacher knowledge and student science achievement.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop three teacher professional development courses that cover physical science and earth science topics (see below). The courses are intended to build the science content knowledge of middle school teachers, improve teachers' instructional practice, and thereby improve the science achievement of middle school students, especially English-language learners.

Setting: The schools are located in California.

Population: Participants include 60 middle school science teachers and 1,200 students. The schools serve a high percentage of minority students and English learners.

Intervention: Understanding Science is a series of professional development courses for middle school teachers (grades 6-8). In this project, the research team is developing three new courses in this series to address challenging physical science and earth science topics for middle school teachers: understanding heat and mechanical energy, uUnderstanding plate tectonics, and understanding climate and weather. The courses are designed to help teachers learn major concepts of science, examine how children make sense of those concepts, and analyze and improve their teaching. Each course includes 24 hours of professional development divided into eight three-hour sessions. The first two courses have a pedagogical focus on supporting students' writing in science, and the third one has a pedagogical focus on supporting students' reading in science.

Research Design and Methods: An iterative process will be employed for developing, pilot testing, and revising products, including internal review, pilot testing with local teachers, and pilot testing of facilitator materials, and an external review from multiple perspectives (scientists, teachers, science educators, and other experts). Pilot data will include teacher feedback on surveys at the end of each session and each course, teacher and facilitator focus group discussions, facilitator and observers' notes, and audiotapes of course sessions. After completing the development of the three new courses, the research team will conduct three small randomized controlled studies to assess the potential efficacy of each of the three Understanding Science courses developed here on improving both teacher and student science knowledge. In each study, 10 teachers are randomly assigned to the intervention group and 10 teachers are randomly assigned to a delayed treatment control condition, for a total sample of approximately 20 middle school teachers and their 400 students per individual study. A fourth study will preliminarily test the efficacy of the entire sequence of courses. In this study, 10 teachers each will be randomly assigned to the three-course sequence, to only one of the three Understanding Science courses, or to a delayed treatment control group. Each of these conditions will also preliminarily test 200 students (20 per teacher).

Control Condition: Teachers in the delayed treatment control groups participate in whatever professional development training their districts typically provide, and will have the opportunity to participate in one of the treatments the following year.

Key Measures: Outcomes in this study are being assessed with multiple measures, including previously developed and validated tests on science knowledge for students and teachers (Misconceptions-Oriented Standards-Based Assessment Resources for Teachers (MOSART) and Assessing Teacher Learning About Science Teaching (ATLAST)), the Grade 8 California Standards Test in science, content tests for both teachers and students, and classroom observations during science instructional units.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team is using hierarchical linear modeling for analyzing student outcomes, analysis of covariance for teachers' outcomes, and nonparametric statistics as well as descriptive methods for analysis of qualitative classroom data.

Program Website: http://www.wested.org/understandingscience, http://www.wested.org/mss

Publications from this project:

Daehler, K. R., Folsom, J., and Shinohara, M. (2011). Making Sense of SCIENCE: Energy for Teachers of Grades 6–8. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

Daehler, K. R., Shinohara, M., and Folsom, J. (2011).Making Sense of SCIENCE: Force & Motion for Teachers of Grades 6–8. WestEd.

Shinohara, M. and Daehler. K.R. (2008). Understanding Science: The Role of Community in Content Learning. In A. Lieberman and L. Miller (Eds.), Teachers in Professional.


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