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IES Grant

Title: Comparing the Efficacy of Three Approaches to Improving Teaching Quality in Science Education: Curriculum Implementation, Design, and Adaptation
Center: NCER Year: 2005
Principal Investigator: Penuel, William R. Awardee: SRI International
Program: Effective Instruction      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,864,415
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305M050226

The purpose of this project is to compare the efficacy of three competing approaches to improving teaching in middle school science education: (1) training to use a specific curriculum; (2) training to develop curriculum units aligned to local standards; and (3) training to adapt a curriculum to be aligned to local standards.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to test 3 approaches to professional development for science teachers: (1) Provide teachers with high-quality curriculum units and with professional development and follow-up; (2) provide teachers with training in how to develop high-quality curriculum units aligned to local standards and give them time to develop these units, along with follow-up mentoring; and (3) provide teachers with training in how to develop high-quality curriculum units aligned to local standards and give them high-quality materials to revise and adapt in developing units.

Setting: Teachers in 12 middle schools from Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, Florida) will participate in the study.

Population(s): The sample will include at least 1,000 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students, approximately half of whom will be low-income, minority students.

Intervention/Assessment (if applicable): Two widely implemented Earth science programs with preliminary evidence of effectiveness, designed to enhance teacher quality, and corresponding to purposes 1 and 2 (above), respectively, will be used: Investigating Earth Systems (administered by the American Geological Institute (AGI)), and Earth Science by Design, administered by the Technical Education Research Center (TERC)). Both programs use a two-week summer institute to train teachers. AGI has five follow-up training sessions throughout the academic year, whereas TERC has on-line mentoring throughout the school year and follow-up conferences. TERC and AGI will collaborate to construct the third experimental condition, an approach to curriculum design promoted in Earth Science by Design, to train teachers how to adapt the high-quality AGI-developed materials for alignment to local standards.

Research Design and Methods: Schools and teachers will volunteer to participate in the study. Modest monetary incentives and professional development credits will be provided to teacher participants. The study will have four conditions - the three experimental conditions listed above, and a no-treatment control group. Twelve middle schools will be chosen to participate in the study, and four teachers from each school will be involved in the evaluation. Within each school, one science teacher will be assigned to each condition. A total of 48 teachers and their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will participate in the study. Fidelity of implementation will be monitored.

Control or Comparison Condition (if applicable): The control group will have access to the normal district-provided professional development.

Key Measures: Teacher measures will include: Classroom observations, concept maps to analyze teachers' understanding of the main ideas of Earth science, project-developed quality of lessons measures, and standardized student achievement tests will be used.

Data Analytic Strategy: Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) will be used to study the effects of the different approaches to professional development on teachers and student achievement. The focus will be on changes in instruction and achievement year-to-year and over time, controlling for teacher and student background, and school and classroom context variables.

Project Website:


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Penuel, W.R., and Gallagher, L.P. (2009). Preparing Teachers to Design Instruction for Deep Understanding in Middle School Earth Science. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 18(4): 461–508.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Teacher Quality: Mathematics and Science Education in FY 2005.