study of sound. They performed investigations to deepen their understanding; tried multiple representations and materials that might help children understand how sound travels; analyzed the current curriculum unit; rewrote, added, deleted, or resequenced some lessons; read research reports about children’s ideas about sound; and read excerpts from the National Science Teachers Association book Sound: Stop Faking It! Finally Understanding Science So You Can Teach It to enhance their own understanding. Teachers also designed pre-, embedded, and post-assessments to reveal children’s thinking about what makes sounds, how sound travels, and how pitch and volume are changed. The following winter they taught the revised unit, focusing for nine weeks on children’s learning and their own teaching, sharing children’s work across the second-grade classrooms, videotaping and debriefing their lessons, and making modifications both individually and as a unit. The next summer, they met again to refine the unit, based on their documentation, and to share the revised unit with other second-grade teachers in the district.
The kindergarten professional learning community found that they already had a fairly successful unit on trash and recycling but lacked some of the resources needed to help students understand where the trash goes after they throw it away in their classroom. Teachers arranged to visit a local trash and recycling company to deepen their own understanding of the issue, and they videotaped their visit. They then enlisted a communications student to edit the videotape so they could show their students how garbage trucks take the classroom trash to a landfill site, where the trash is bulldozed, covered with earth, and layered in specially designed and sealed areas. The videotape also showed the sorting and recycling operation at the landfill site, including the composting of plant materials. Teachers planned to use the videotape to help their students understand the various ways that trash can be handled, recycled, and composted.
In both of these examples, teachers focused on understanding, representing, and teaching specific content to their students at specific grade levels. They analyzed the curriculum, revising and adjusting it to meet students’ needs, documented what their students thought about and what they were learning, and shared their resources and experiences with other teachers in the district. Each project yielded teacher leaders who formed a particularly deep understanding of the content and curriculum at each grade level. Each project also yielded resources that other teachers, especially new teachers and teachers new to the district or to their grade level, could use. As one kindergarten teacher put it, “I didn’t know what I didn’t understand about trash and recycling before we took this field trip to the landfill. But now I feel like I can truly teach this unit to my kids, and understand the storyline and how it all fits together.”