RECOMMENDATION 5 Begin with leadership. State, district, and school leaders should designate teams that include teachers to lead implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Initial professional development efforts should be focused on these leadership teams. Team members should then be engaged in continuing professional learning appropriate to their roles to lead implementation of the necessary changes in curriculum, instruction and assessment.
RECOMMENDATION 6 Develop comprehensive, multiyear plans to support teachers’ and administrators’ learning. State, district, and school science education leaders should develop comprehensive multiyear plans for professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators. These plans need to balance existing resources, meet expectations for milestones in implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and take advantage of available tools and partners. The plans should take the needs of both current and new teachers into account and allow for ongoing refinement as schools and teachers gain expertise in implementing the NGSS.
RECOMMENDATION 7 Base design of professional learning on the best available evidence. When designing professional learning experiences, district and school leaders and providers of professional development should build on the key findings from research. Professional development should (1) be content specific; (2) connect to teacher’s own instructional practice; (3) model the instructional approach being learned and ask teachers to analyze examples of it; (4) enable reflective collaboration; and (5) be a sustained element of a comprehensive and continuing support system. For sustained implementation, research shows that principals’ understanding of and support for instructional change is key.
RECOMMENDATION 8 Leverage networks and partners. Science education leaders at the state and district level, and lead teachers should take full advantage of and cultivate partnerships with other districts, professional development networks, web-based professional development resources, science education researchers, and science-rich institutions—such as higher education institutions and science technology centers—to facilitate high-quality professional development.
An important first step for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is identifying science leadership teams that will provide a core element of the implementation and professional development. Cultivation of leaders for science starts by identifying teachers and administrators at the elementary, middle, and high school levels who have experience in science teaching and leadership capacity and who have a demonstrated interest in deepening their expertise in the new directions of the NGSS. Team members then need support for their own ongoing professional learning, as well as the responsibility to plan for and organize the professional learning of other teachers. They also need the authority, resources, time, and access for this work and to support and mentor other teachers. See Box 4-1 for a description of the importance of teacher leaders in improving science and mathematics instruction.
TEACHER LEADERS IN SYSTEMIC REFORM
In 1995, the National Science Foundation (NSF) initiated the Local Systemic Change Through Teacher Enhancement Program. The initiative’s primary goal was to improve instruction in science, mathematics, and technology through teacher professional development within schools or school districts. By 2002, NSF had funded 88 projects that targeted science or mathematics (or both) at the elementary or secondary level (or both). The Local Systemic Change (LSC) projects were designed for all teachers in a jurisdiction; each teacher was required to participate in a minimum of 130 hours of professional development over the course of the project. The LSC Program also emphasized preparing teachers to implement district-designated mathematics and science instructional materials in their classes (Banilower et al., 2006).
In addition to providing professional development for teachers, the LSC Program promoted efforts to build a supportive environment for improving science, mathematics, and technology instruction. LSC projects were expected to align policy and practice within targeted districts and to engage in a range of activities to support reform. Those activities included
- building a comprehensive, shared vision of science, mathematics, and technology education;
- conducting a detailed self-study to assess the system’s needs and strengths;
- promoting active partnerships and commitments among an array of stakeholders;
- designing a strategic plan that includes mechanisms for engaging teachers in high-quality professional development activities over the course of the project; and
- developing clearly defined, measurable outcomes for teaching and an evaluation plan that provides formative and summative feedback.
Evaluators of the LSC projects and the project directors concluded that teacher leaders were an essential component of success. Teachers on special assignment and school-based teacher leaders often assumed active roles on school and district committees during the initiative, and many continued in these roles after the NSF support ended. The project directors frequently attributed major project successes to teacher leaders, including efforts to align district curriculum with state and national standards, adopt high-quality instructional materials, and develop aligned assessments. Evaluators reported that teacher leaders’ participation on reform-oriented committees helped broaden their understanding of district policies and practices and provided them with a new perspective on how change happens. According to one evaluation: “[The teacher leaders] are a dynamic group that is likely to influence policies and practices for years to come” (Banilower et al., 2006, p. 81).
At the start, there will be a need for focused professional development, likely from outside providers or networks, first for the administrators and teachers who will form the science leadership team, and then progressively involving all teachers who teach science at any level. Teachers need support to find and take advantage of the best available professional learning opportunities, both locally and online, to develop their instructional vision and practice. Administrators’ understanding of and support for the changes in science instruction and learning goals is essential, particularly at the elementary level. Teachers need ongoing support beyond the first year of implementation to integrate the changes into their teaching style and instructional decision making (Allen et al., 2011; Martin and Hand, 2009; Ratcliffe et al., 2007). When significant new curriculum resources are added, professional development that is tightly linked to effective use of those resources will be important.
Professional development should incorporate discussion of the relationships between changes in science teaching expectations and changes in other subject areas, especially for the elementary grades, where most teachers teach multiple subjects. Understanding these relationships will allow teachers to take advantage of the synergies between science, mathematics, and English language arts by supporting development of students’ skills across the curriculum in the context of science learning activities.
Even once the transition to the new standards is “complete,” that is, everyone thinks they are doing what is needed, teachers and leaders should continue working to improve their understanding of the NGSS and of how best to support students’ learning as described in the NGSS. One critical element to support this learning culture is ongoing opportunities for teachers to participate in learning communities facilitated by well-informed teacher leaders, with time to discuss and reflect on science instruction. It is also important to coordinate these kinds of conversations across grades and across disciplines (in the case of middle and high school teachers) on a regular basis. In situations where it is difficult to bring teachers from multiple grades or multiple science disciplines together, technology can be used to support ongoing collaboration.
Wilson (2013, p. 310) suggests that “the U.S. PD [professional development] system is a carnival of options” that is often not well matched to teachers’ needs. Realigning professional development resources toward more effective and sustained approaches is essential for effective implementation of the NGSS.
Studies of professional development programs reveal an emerging consensus about the features that are most promising for supporting teacher learning. Those features, discussed in detail below, are a focus on specific content, connection to classroom practice, active learning, collaboration, and being sustained (Banilower et al., 2007; Borko, 2004; Garet et al., 2001; Heller et al., 2012; Penuel et al., 2009; Putnam and Borko, 2000; Roth et al., 2011; Wilson, 2013; Yoon et al., 2007). There have been only a few studies that specifically examined professional development in science (Heller et al., 2012; Penuel et al., 2009; Roth et al., 2011). Those studies support the findings of the more general studies and also show that professional development focused on students’ thinking and analysis of instruction is more effective than professional development focused only on improving teachers’ content knowledge in science (see Box 4-2).
Professional development needs to be deeply connected to specific content (Garet et al., 2001). In the NGSS, content includes all three dimensions: practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Professional learning opportunities should be designed such that teachers grapple with both the science itself and how students think and learn about that science. Interventions that focus primarily on deepening teachers’ knowledge of disciplinary core ideas are likely to be insufficient. While knowledge of the science itself is essential and lack of such knowledge may pose challenges for teachers (Kanter and Konstantopoulos, 2010), such knowledge is not sufficient for teachers to be able to translate what they have learned into effective lessons for students (Heller et al., 2012). Teachers’ knowledge of how to support student learning typically draws on general principles about learning (e.g., the importance of building on students’ prior conceptions), but it critically depends on understanding those general principles in the context of specific disciplinary core ideas (e.g., the nature of matter) and recognizing the
1This section is based on a paper by Reiser (2013) written for the Invitational Research Symposium on Science Assessment convened by ETS in September 2013.
EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS IN SCIENCE
Simply telling teachers about the new standards or focusing solely on improving their science content knowledge is unlikely to lead to the kinds of sustained changes in instruction that will be needed to support the NGSS. Instead, science teachers need opportunities to examine students’ thinking and analyze instruction. Two recent studies of professional development offer examples of these kinds of learning opportunities for science teachers.
In a large-scale study of 270 elementary teachers in 39 school districts across 6 states, Heller et al. (2012) compared four professional development courses for elementary teachers. All four courses involved the same science content; they differed in the ways they incorporated analyses of students’ thinking and analyses of instruction. Each of the 4 intervention models involved 24 hours of contact time divided into eight 3-hour sessions:
- In one intervention model, teachers discussed narrative descriptions of extended examples from actual classrooms, which included student work, classroom discussions, and descriptions of the teachers’ thinking and behavior.
- In a second intervention model, teachers examined and discussed their own students’ work in the context of ongoing lessons.
- In the third intervention model, teachers engaged in reflection and analysis about their own learning as they participated in science investigations: they considered which ideas could be learned through the investigation, tricky or surprising concepts, and implications for students’ learning.
- The fourth course served as a control group and involved only science content.
challenges that students frequently face in making sense of the particular new content ideas (Putnam and Borko, 2000).
Similarly, professional development to introduce science practices should not just provide generic guidance about how to support argumentation or how to help students develop science models. Instead, the practices are best developed, for both teachers and students, in the context of particular core ideas. For example, teachers need to be able to help students develop explanatory accounts of phenomena using the particle model of matter or evidence-based arguments about population biology or to design devices to minimize or maximize the transfer of thermal energy. The specific subject area lends context to the practice at the same time it
All four intervention models improved both teachers’ and students’ scores on tests of science content knowledge more than the scores of teachers and students in the control group. In addition, the effects of the intervention on teachers’ students were stronger in the follow-up year than during the year of intervention.
The Science Teachers Learning from Lesson Analysis (STeLLA) project featured video-based analysis of instructional practice aimed at upper elementary teachers. The year-long professional development experience for teachers focused on how to create a coherent science storyline for students and how to elicit, support, and challenge students’ thinking about specific science concepts. The study involved 48 teachers: 32 participated in the STeLLA program and 16 participated in a content-only program (Roth et al., 2011):
- Both groups participated in a 3-week summer institute focused on science content.
- The STeLLA participants also engaged in video analysis during the summer and in follow-up sessions during the year; they met in small groups facilitated by a program leader to discuss video cases. Teachers began with cases from unfamiliar teachers and later discussed videocases based on their own classrooms.
- The lessons of the STeLLA teachers were analyzed to determine whether they were using the strategies related to creating storylines and supporting students’ thinking.
Both the STeLLA teachers and the teachers in the comparison group showed gains in science content knowledge, but the STeLLA teachers made greater gains. In addition, videotaped samples of lessons from the STeLLA teachers’ classrooms show that by the end of the year they were implementing many of the strategies related to supporting a science content storyline and supporting students’ thinking. Students of teachers who participated in the program showed greater learning gains in the year after the teachers’ participation than students in the year previous to the teacher’s participation.
enriches teachers’ understanding of how student engagement in these practices facilitates and deepens student learning.
Learning opportunities for teachers need to be connected to issues of teachers’ own practice (Ball and Cohen, 1996; Borko, 2004; Garet et al., 2001; Roth et al, 2011). Teachers need opportunities and support to begin to apply the ideas in their own practice (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Putnam and Borko, 2000) and then to discuss with mentors or colleagues the challenges that arise. In the vast majority of cases, those discussions have to include an explicit focus on both spe-
cific content (which includes all three dimensions of the Framework) and specific instructional materials.
Because the issues and professional development needs of elementary, middle, and high school science teachers are different, districts will have to plan separately for each level, while recognizing when and how to facilitate conversations and reflection on progress across these levels. Even within the elementary level, teachers at different grades are responsible for different science standards and may benefit the most from professional development that is grounded in topics that they are expected to teach. It is important to help teachers at all grade levels identify ways to support students’ reading and writing about science and their use of mathematics and computational thinking in science. However, the needs of elementary teachers who typically teach mathematics and English language arts as well as science may be different from those of secondary teachers who do not.
As the implementation of the NGSS progresses, teachers’ need for professional development opportunities does not end, but the type of opportunity that will be most useful to them changes. Ideally, every teacher would have an individual professional learning plan; short of that, there needs to be a rich but coherent menu of professional development opportunities. Some aspects of the professional development menu should consider teaming teachers across schools and districts for focus on a particular grade level. Another possibility is teaming teachers across two or more grades that address similar core ideas, at different levels, so that teachers can connect their own part with what comes before or after in the students’ learning trajectory for that topic.
Professional development tasks need to involve teachers in active reflection and problem solving (Garet et al., 2001). Teachers, like all learners, need to go beyond being presented with ideas and strategies: they need opportunities to analyze specific problems or situations and to figure out what strategies to apply. In professional development, this approach translates into opportunities to study examples of classroom interaction that reflect a particular teaching and learning issue, such as eliciting students’ models and model-based explanations, helping students develop and defend arguments based on evidence, facilitating engineering design, or selecting tasks that can also be used to formatively assess students’ thinking. Such examples can be used as material for analysis and discussion, rather than “model examples” of routines to be followed. In one study, teachers who participated in professional development that included intensive analysis of classroom-
based video cases of particular teaching moments along with a focus on the subject matter learned more and produced more learning gains for their students than teachers involved only in professional development on the science ideas alone (Roth et al., 2011).
Teachers need to analyze and deconstruct teaching examples in order to figure out what can be applied to their own classrooms. They need to work with rich cases that reflect the complexity of the learning desired and contain enough context to explore the rationale for student-student and student-teacher interactions that occur and to track their changes over time (Borko, 2004). Rich cases also provide examples in which teachers can explore what types of tasks can provide experience with phenomena, raise questions, and help students construct explanations to make sense of the target ideas (Ball and Cohen, 1996, 1999; Borko et al., 2008; Roth et al., 2011).
Learning experiences for teachers should be collaborative and support teachers in working together to understand, apply, and reflect on implementation of the NGSS (Garet et al., 2001; Wilson, 2013). Such collaboration is a key strategy for teachers to continue to deepen and refine their understanding of the NGSS (Putnam and Borko, 2000). Collaborative analysis and discussion of specific examples of practice can create opportunities for the analysis needed to dig beneath the surface characteristics of the NGSS and to explore substantive issues in applying the standards in practice (Sherin and Han, 2004; van Es and Sherin, 2007). In investigating cases of science teaching, teachers could work together to debate their interpretations and consensus as they do the science activities themselves, analyze student work, and analyze teaching interactions. This kind of collaboration also develops teachers’ understanding of the importance of collaboration for their students. Teachers also need supportive colleagues and particularly school administrators who understand the needed changes to persist in implementing new strategies learned in professional development programs.
Successful professional development programs require sufficient investment of time to enable teachers to grapple with new ideas, analyze examples of the ideas in action (such as student work or records of classroom interactions), and make step-by-step progress in understanding and applying the new ideas. Repeated
experiences are needed to enable teachers to successfully integrate new elements into their teaching practice and use them flexibly.
Effective professional development programs involve extended sessions, including some that are spread across time, such as long intensive workshops during the summer with follow-up sessions during the school year. A typical program might consist of eight to ten 3-hour sessions in the summer (see Heller et al., 2012) or even more intensive interventions, such as more than 60 hours in the summer followed by 30 hours spread over the school year (Roth et al., 2011). One-shot professional development programs are unlikely to be effective for helping teachers change their instruction (Yoon et al., 2007).
An issue that emerges as critical to changes in practice is the need for alignment of professional development with other components of the system such as curriculum or assessment (Garet et al., 2001). Different aspects of coherence have been highlighted across studies of professional development—coherence with the teachers’ and principal’s goals, alignment with changes in standards, alignment with assessments, and curriculum materials that reflect the reforms (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Wilson, 2013).
To support teacher learning as part of implementing the NGSS, then, connecting to teaching practice requires that teachers explore what a coherent system of student learning, classroom instruction, assessment, and curriculum materials needs to achieve, and work on coordinated changes across these corresponding parts of a system. Teachers (and their supervisors) need to recognize that they and their students will continue to change over multiple years of implementation. For high school teachers, it may be as many as 10 years before the majority of entering students arrive well prepared for the new curriculum that the teachers are expected to implement. Thus, teachers will need to continue to refine their approach and their expectations of what students can do over many years.
In order for school leaders and district administrators to understand the needs of science teachers, administrators will need sufficient professional development to recognize what is and what is not aligned to the new vision and productive for the NGSS learning outcomes. Administrators will need an opportunity to experience the type of science learning envisioned by A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research
THE IMPORTANCE OF ADMINISTRATORS
Directors of the Local Systemic Change (LSC) projects (see Box 4-1) typically cited support by principals as the most important factor in determining teacher participation in professional development and in developing a supportive context for reform at the school level. Evaluators and project directors cited examples of principals who were active participants in professional development and who looked for ways to support teacher leaders, budget new resources, create opportunities for teacher collaboration, and educate parents about new mathematics and science programs. As summarized in the Capstone report on the initiative (Banilower et al., 2006, p. 88):
[I]n many ways, principals played key roles in determining the outcomes of [projects]—from encouraging teachers to participate in professional development, to supporting teachers’ use of high-quality materials and inquiry-based practices, to enabling the work of teacher leaders, to making time for teachers’ to participate in site-based professional development.
Where LSC projects established strong working relationships with district administrators—including superintendents, school boards, curriculum directors, and others—project directors and evaluators noted that the potential for sustained support increased significantly. Superintendents were integral to removing roadblocks and demonstrated their commitment by using general funds to adopt new materials after they were taken off the state adoption list. Other superintendents who attended national leadership institutes with leaders of the initiative often demonstrated high levels of commitment by promoting the adoption of designated instructional materials or mandating participation by teachers or principals in professional development (Banilower et al., 2006).
Council, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and to discuss with others what this means for their schools and the teachers teaching science within them. See Box 4-3 for a discussion of the importance of administrators.
Teachers, administrators, and professional development providers who view the Framework and the NGSS through the lens of current practice may underestimate the need for change (Spillane et al., 2002). For example, physics teachers may consider their students are already learning engineering by building and testing model
bridges or conducting egg-drop contests. However, these activities do not necessarily represent the NGSS-aligned engineering instruction unless they have been carefully designed to incorporate engineering practices (such as defining problems in terms of criteria and constraints) and involve students in building, extending, or using scientific concepts as part of the engineering project (such as forces or transfer of energy). Similarly, many teachers or administrators may see the science and engineering practices as essentially equivalent to “inquiry” with just a new name or equivalent to teaching “the scientific method” (Reiser, 2013; Windschitl et al., 2008). Such views miss the NGSS’s emphases on knowledge building, social interaction and discourse, analysis, and reasoning as part of scientific and engineering practices.
It will be easy to underestimate the degree of change in instructional practice needed in order to engage students in the practices of science and engineering. Existing activities for students may have the appearance of engagement in a science or engineering practice because they are hands on or involve students designing experiments, but they may miss the critical aspects of building and testing explanatory ideas.
Some elements of the Framework and the NGSS are already being implemented in some classrooms. Indeed, the vision of the Framework and the NGSS is built on a firm foundation of classroom-based research about what is most effective for science learning. However, few classrooms have been implementing the full range of practices. In addition, the sequencing of core ideas across grades requires some rethinking of what is taught when. Simply doing a check-the-box alignment of old standards, curricula, curriculum materials, or assessment tasks that matches them to pieces of the new standards will not be sufficient for implementing the vision embodied in the NGSS.
Teachers need time to practice, and they need ongoing reinforcement to support the effort it takes to change both their own teaching practice and their classroom culture. It takes sustained effort and ongoing learning and reflection for any teacher to achieve facility and flexibility in implementing a new approach to instruction. Support can take the form of mentoring, more and different professional development opportunities, or time for participating in a professional learning community. Support for teachers also requires that school and district leaders have themselves received appropriate professional development about the NGSS and
thus share the vision of teaching and learning and have the knowledge to appropriately respond to teachers’ practice and learning needs.
School administrators who do not understand the nature of the changes required by the NGSS may place demands on teachers, including criteria for evaluating teachers, which undermine implementation of the new strategies needed. It is unrealistic, for example, to assume that each day or two the classroom should move onto a different performance expectation or to assume one-to-one mappings between sequences of lessons and performance expectations. Multiple lessons will need to build toward performance expectations over time (Krajcik et al., 2014). It is essential that administrators themselves learn about the goals and strategies to meet them that are implied by the adoption of the NGSS so that they recognize the changes that teachers are attempting and support teachers in implementing them effectively. Opportunities for administrators to become familiar with the Framework and the NGSS will need to be provided by districts and states.
Different teachers at different grade levels have different needs. Even at a given level, some teachers have stronger science backgrounds than others or are at different places along the path toward teaching aligned to the vision of the Framework and the NGSS. A common complaint of teachers is that their districts require them to “waste their time” attending professional development that is directed to skills they already have or generic teaching strategies not well matched to the subject matter that they teach. It is critical that district leaders ensure that their professional development opportunities are structured to make effective use of teacher time and meet the teachers’ needs. In general, this approach will require offering a menu of options and giving teachers some choices about how best to meet their professional development needs.