The study took place during science instruction in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms in 77 public elementary schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas of Colorado. The sample consisted of traditional public schools and excluded charter and magnet schools. The study authors did not specify the number of districts.
The study sample included 2,823 students (1,485 in the intervention group and 1,338 in the comparison group) in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms in the participating schools. In the participating schools, 52% of students were male, 59% of the students were White, 4% were Black, 2% were Asian, and 28% were Hispanic, on average. Twelve percent of students in the participating schools had limited English proficiency, and 43% qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, on average.
Science Teachers Learning through Lesson Analysis (STeLLA®) is a professional development program, developed by BSCS Science Learning, that aims to improve students’ science achievement by improving teachers’ science content knowledge and their abilities to (a) explain science concepts to students, (b) clearly identify to students the science concepts used in student learning activities, and (c) engage students in thinking about science.
Over the course of 1 school year, teachers in the intervention group participated in the STeLLA® professional development program, starting with a 2-week summer institute (approximately 60 hours), followed by eight once-monthly meetings during the school year in school-based study groups (approximately 30 hours). Teachers focused on two science topics that they would teach in their own classrooms in the upcoming school year: “the earth’s changing surface” and “food webs” for fourth-grade teachers, and “matter and molecules in the water cycle” and “the sun’s effect on climate/seasons” for fifth-grade teachers. In the summer institute, teachers alternated half-day sessions on developing science content knowledge, led by postsecondary science faculty, with half-day sessions led by STeLLA® professional development staff in which they became familiar with STeLLA® lesson plans and teaching strategies and analyzed videorecordings of experienced teachers delivering model lesson plans. During the school year, teachers videorecorded themselves delivering lesson plans (program-provided or developed with their study group) and participated in monthly 3- to 4-hour school-based study group sessions facilitated by a STeLLA® professional development leader to analyze one another’s instruction.
Teachers in the comparison group participated in a 1-year professional development program focused on developing science content knowledge in the same two topic areas as the intervention group: “the earth’s changing surface” and “food webs” for fourth-grade teachers and “matter and molecules in the water cycle” and “the sun’s effect on climate/seasons” for fifth-grade teachers. The program began with a 2-week summer institute (approximately 60 hours), followed by five 6-hour meetings during the school year (30 hours total). Postsecondary science faculty led both the summer institute and school-year sessions. In contrast to teachers in the intervention group, teachers in the comparison group did not receive training or support from STeLLA® professional development leaders. Teachers in the comparison group also did not receive STeLLA® lesson plans, learn about instructional strategies, nor participate in analysis of videorecorded science instruction.
Support for implementation
An external evaluator conducted an implementation study and gave similar ratings to the professional development provided to the intervention and comparison groups. The ratings were for the following indicators: effectiveness of the professional development provider, pacing of the sessions, teacher engagement, and collaboration among teachers. Observers rated the STeLLA® intervention group as spending more time on pedagogical issues and lesson analysis, and less time on science content, than the comparison group.