Cultivating Young Scientists: Expanding Foundations of Science Literacy
Co-Principal Investigator: Jess Gropen (Education Development Center, Inc.)
Purpose: Teaching children how to think scientifically in the preschool years has the potential to address an existing achievement gap in early science and provide all children with the skills necessary to continue learning and thinking critically throughout the school years. Unfortunately, early childhood teachers typically lack content and pedagogical knowledge in science, and are not prepared to provide developmentally appropriate experiences that support children's early science learning and readiness. In order to address these challenges, the researchers will develop the Cultivating Young Scientists (CYS) intervention, which includes a professional development program for early childhood educators, science curricular content, and a set of formative assessment tools. The intervention is intended to lead to an increase in teachers' use of science instructional content and practices in preschool settings and improvements in young children science content knowledge and scientific thinking skills.
Project Activities: This study will develop and test the intervention. The fully developed intervention will include professional development sessions for preschool teachers, content-specific modules focusing on science topics, and supports for teachers to implement the inquiry-based science concepts in their classrooms. Researchers will develop two new modules of the teacher professional development component of the intervention. Researchers will also revise an existing module, and conduct pilot tests on the program implementation. In addition, researchers will develop formative assessment tools for use with the program. Finally, the research team will also develop a online website to provide support and resources to teachers.
Products: The products of this project will be a fully developed science intervention () for use with teachers and children in preschool settings. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.
Setting: The project will take place in preschool programs in an urban area in Connecticut.
Sample: The study participants will include 60 preschool teachers and approximately 200 preschool aged children (3- to 4-years old). The majority of the child sample will be African-American or Hispanic and most of the children will be from low-income families.
Intervention: The intervention is intended to build teachers' pedagogical science knowledge and support their ability to teach science to young children in the domains of earth, life, physical science, and engineering. The intervention includes three components: (1) professional development sessions for preschool teachers that will introduce key concepts, skills, and strategies; (2) content-specific modules that will provide a complete course in science topics (water, structures, and nature); and (3) supports for teachers to implement the inquiry-based science concepts in their classrooms. Teachers will receive ongoing coaching to support their use of the formative assessment tools and their implementation of the curricular content. Additional supports will include the fully developed Young Scientist Series, a preschool science curriculum, and formative assessment tools that will be developed in this project.
Research Design and Methods: The CYS intervention will include three science content modules. Members of the research team will develop the content and deliver each professional development module to preschool teachers over the course of the project. In year 1, researchers will develop the content for the Structures and Nature modules of the teacher professional development component of the intervention. Researchers will also revise the existing Water module, which was previously developed with IES funding. In the iterative development and feasibility study phases of the project, carried out during years 1 and 2 of the project, researchers will implement each module, collect classroom- and teacher-level data, and use the classroom observational data and teachers' feedback to revise the content for each of the three modules. The researchers will also develop a set of module-specific formative assessment tools. In year 3 of the project, the research team will conduct a pilot study with a new cohort of teachers and children using a pre-/post-test study design. The research team will implement each module over a four-month period and collect classroom-, teacher-, and child-level data before, during, and after the implementation of each module to examine the promise of each module as well as the fully developed intervention. The fidelity of the professional development training of teachers and the fidelity of teachers' implementation of course instructional practices with children will be examined. The research team will also collect and analyze formative assessment data from a sub-sample of participating children.
Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.
Key Measures: The research team will assess preschool teachers' knowledge and understanding of science concepts and facts about water, building structures, and nature. Teachers' will also report on their attitudes towards science and science instruction. The pilot study phase of the project will include classroom-, teacher-, and child-level data collection. Two classroom observation measures, the Science Teaching and Environment Rating Scale and the Formative Assessment Observation Protocol, will be used to collect data on classroom instructional practices. The researcher-developed Science Learning Questionnaire will be used to assess teachers' knowledge of the science content covered in the three modules. The research team will use the Early Childhood Science Teaching Interview Protocol and the Early Childhood Teachers' Attitudes Toward Science Teaching questionnaire to assess teachers' attitudes towards science and science instruction. The research team will use the Preschool Assessment of Science, a researcher-developed measure, to assess children's ability to apply science knowledge in the context of making predictions and solving challenges. The Direct Assessment of Preschool Science will be used to assess children's science content knowledge and science process skills.
Data Analytic Strategy: In the development phase of the study, researchers will conduct qualitative analyses to code for specific themes related to the quality and usability of the teacher professional development training sessions. Researchers will code the observational data from teachers' use of the formative assessment tools and conduct analyses to examine the feasibility of teachers' administration and use of the formative assessment data to inform classroom instruction. In the pilot study phase of the project, repeated-measures analysis of variance and planned contrast analyses will be conducted to examine the promising effects of the teacher professional development modules on teacher- and child-level outcomes.