This chapter reviews what is known about formally organized programs of professional development in science, which are the focus of the majority of available research on teacher learning. For purposes of this discussion, formal professional development programs are defined as learning experiences for teachers that (1) are purposefully designed to support particular kinds of teacher change; (2) include a focused, multiday session for teachers that takes place outside of the teacher’s classroom or school; (3) may include follow-up opportunities over the school year; and (4) have a finite duration (although they can take place over a period of 2 to 3 years). These kinds of experiences often are provided by organizations or individuals outside of the school system—universities, cultural institutions, publishers, or contracted providers—but may also be provided by states, districts, or schools.
Depending on access, teachers select from various offerings; in one recent study, The New Teacher Project (2015) found that one district had more than 1,000 professional development opportunities listed in its catalog for 1 year. While the professional development landscape sprawls, it is also disjointed and incoherent; school districts rarely have professional development systems that are aligned with the curriculum and/or opportunities that offer teachers increasingly more advanced study over time (e.g., Wilson et al., 2011). Often, teachers must make choices about programs in which to participate with little outside guidance on their relative benefits or on how a set of experiences might fit together to contribute to
FIGURE 6-1 Connecting the dots: Linking teacher learning opportunities to teacher learning to student learning.
achieving a learning goal. For many teachers, the result is a diffuse and uncoordinated set of learning experiences.
In examining the impact of professional development programs in science, the committee focused on outcomes for teachers and students. Outcomes for teachers include the three domains enumerated in Chapter 5: teachers’ capacity to adapt instruction to the needs of diverse learners, their content knowledge, and their pedagogical content knowledge and actual instructional practices. While the assumption often is made that teachers who develop professional knowledge and practices in each of these domains will have students who learn more, we also were interested in the extent to which the research literature demonstrates improvements in student outcomes. Therefore, we examined the literature for insights that would help us understand these linkages (see Figure 6-1).1
This chapter begins by describing features of effective professional
1Given our conception of teacher learning as both individual and collective and of teachers as participants in larger communities and contexts, the representation in Figure 6-1 is limited. The linearity of the model illustrated in the figure, while helping us emphasize the logic of connecting teacher learning to teacher outcomes to student outcomes, obscures the fact that we view learning as both iterative and dynamic, and as embedded in contexts that fundamentally shape what teachers learn and how they exercise their knowledge and skill. For the purposes of parsing the research literature, however, we use this relatively simple framing of the process.
development programs, drawing on research that is not specific to science. It then examines existing research on professional development programs for science teachers, with a particular focus on the impact of these programs and the nature of the research base. We then consider an emerging field of research on professional development—online learning—which has the potential to expand learning opportunities for science teachers in new and exciting ways.
Organized opportunities for teacher development have a long history in the United States, dating to the 19th century and the origins of the current system of schooling (e.g., Clifford, 2014; Warren, 1989). Attention to professional development as a central lever in school reform rose in the last half of the 20th century, linked to curricular innovations following the launch of Sputnik in the late 1950s, to successive large-scale initiatives following passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, and to efforts at systemic and standards-based reform in the 1980s and 1990s.
In recent decades, syntheses of research across multiple subject areas have yielded what Desimone (2009) characterizes as “an empirical consensus on a set of core features and a conceptual framework for teacher learning” (p. 192). Garet and colleagues (2001) analyzed survey responses of a cross-sectional sample of 1,027 mathematics and science teachers who participated in the Eisenhower Professional Development Program and identified three core features and three structural features of effective professional development. The core features were (1) a focus on content (e.g., science or mathematics), (2) opportunities for active learning, and (3) coherence with other professional learning activities. The structural features identified were (1) the form of the activity (e.g., workshop or study group); (2) collective participation of teachers from the same school, grade, or subject; and (3) the duration of the activity. In a related analysis, Desimone and colleagues (2002) analyzed survey responses from a longitudinal survey of teachers in the Eisenhower program and found that the teachers’ participation in professional development that was focused on particular teaching strategies (such as use of technology), specific instructional approaches, or new forms of student assessment predicted their increased use of those practices in the classroom. These effects were independent of teachers’ prior use of the practices, as well as the subject area.
Numerous syntheses have offered other ways to characterize and conceptualize features of effective professional development (e.g., Abdal-Haqq, 1995; Ball and Cohen, 1999; Blank et al., 2008; Borko, 2004; Borko
et al., 2010; Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Hawley and Valli, 2006; Little, 1988; Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998, 2003; Putnam and Borko, 1997; Wilson and Berne, 1999; Yoon et al., 2007). Drawing on these findings, as well as those of other studies, Desimone (2009) nominated five core features and suggested that they be used to guide research on professional development. We refer to this as the consensus model of effective professional development:
- content focus—learning opportunities for teachers that focus on subject matter content and how students learn that content;
- active learning—can take a number of forms, including observing expert teachers, followed by interactive feedback and discussion, reviewing student work, or leading discussions;
- coherence—consistency with other learning experiences and with school, district, and state policy;
- sufficient duration—both the total number of hours and the span of time over which the hours take place; and
- collective participation—participation of teachers from the same school, grade, or department.
While this consensus view has shaped the design of many professional development programs, it draws on a research base that consists mainly of correlational studies and teachers’ self-reports (Wilson, 2011; Yoon et al., 2007). Few studies have systematically examined each feature to identify variations within and among features and how these variations connect to teacher learning, fewer still have looked at the impact of programs on teaching practice, and even fewer have examined impacts on student learning (Desimone, 2009; National Research Council, 2011). However, recent research has begun to explore these connections (e.g., Heller et al., 2012; Roth et al., 2011). When the elements of the consensus model have been studied using designs that allow for testing of each feature, the results have not consistently supported the model (Garet et al., 2008, 2011; Scher and O’Reilly, 2009), suggesting that these features may capture surface characteristics and not the mechanisms that account for teacher learning.
Consider duration—perhaps the most consistently reported key feature of effective professional development, and perhaps the most difficult element of the consensus model to specify. Studies vary in the number of hours of participation found to be associated with changes in instruction, as well as in the period over which teachers were engaged. Desimone’s (2009) review suggests the need for at least 20 hours of professional development time spread out over at least a semester. Kennedy’s (1999) review of mathematics and science professional development indicates
that 30 hours or more of participation was associated with positive effects on student learning. A review of projects funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Local Systemic Change through Teacher Enhancement Program suggests that changes in teaching practice were evident only after 80 hours of participation, and changes in investigative culture only after 160 hours (Supovitz and Turner, 2000).
Duration may be a proxy for how intensely a teacher engages with a new idea, or it may be related to a teacher’s persistence in trying out new practices until they work. It appears likely that the school and district context, a teacher’s entering knowledge and skill, the type of knowledge that is emphasized (e.g., using a device, knowing a fact, understanding a concept), and the networks in which a teacher participates all influence how readily a professional development experience leads to changes in a teacher’s knowledge and practice.
The contribution of program duration to changes in teachers’ knowledge and practice also appears to be interdependent with other key features of the learning opportunity. In their analysis of a survey of California mathematics teachers’ participation in professional development and classroom practice, Cohen and Hill (2001) conclude that “time spent had a potent influence on practice” (p. 88), but only if the time was spent on content, curriculum, and student tasks. Similarly, the national survey of teachers conducted for an evaluation of the Eisenhower professional development programs (Garet et al., 2001) revealed that the “duration” of professional development (defined in terms of both total contact hours and span of time over weeks or months) achieved its effect primarily through other program features (in a program of longer duration, for example, the greater likelihood that teachers would experience active forms of professional learning).
The consensus model has informed the design of professional development programs in science. In two recent reviews of science professional development (Capps et al., 2012; van Driel et al., 2012), most of the programs studied reflected the consensus model. Across the studies reviewed by van Driel and colleagues (2012), for example, all of the programs stressed active learning, often including inquiry-based activities, and most entailed some degree of collaborative participation and aimed for extended duration.
The committee examined the impact of professional development in science on outcomes that align with the logic model in Figure 6-1: teachers’ outcomes, including knowledge and beliefs about adapting instruc-
tion to students’ backgrounds and needs, content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and instructional practices; and students’ learning and engagement. Our review of the research on professional development programs in science was aided by five recent reviews of the related research literature: Capps et al. (2012), Gerard et al. (2011), Luft and Hewson (2014), Scher and O’Reilly (2009), and van Driel et al. (2012). These reviews differ in scope and focus, but together they cover much of the research on professional development in science published in peer-reviewed journals in the last decade. We also examined studies published after these reviews were conducted.
From an initial pool of 145 available evaluations, Scher and O’Reilly (2009) eventually were able to use only 18 studies: 7 in mathematics, 8 in science, and 3 that concerned mathematics and science. The authors focused on experimental or quasi-experimental evaluations of mathematics and science professional development that had been conducted since 1990. None of the evaluated programs involved a one-shot workshop; all of the programs took place over one or several academic years. Only one study was a randomized controlled trial. Capps and colleagues (2012) reviewed 22 studies published during 1997-2008 covering 17 distinct professional development programs (in some cases, multiple studies addressed the same program). The authors focused on professional development emphasizing the use of inquiry in science classrooms. The review by van Driel and colleagues (2012) included 44 studies (excluding informal in-service and preservice education studies) published from 2007 to 2011. Luft and Hewson (2014) reviewed 50 studies published after 2003 in science education and major education research journals. And Gerard and colleagues (2011) reviewed 43 studies of professional development in technology-enhanced, inquiry-oriented science, focusing on how the professional development enhanced teachers’ support for students’ pursuit of scientific investigations.
Reflecting the trend in the general literature on professional development, few studies included measures of all three outcomes for teachers (their knowledge and beliefs about adapting instruction to students’ backgrounds and needs and about pedagogical content knowledge, and their practice), and none systematically examined each feature of the consensus model. Many studies relied on teachers’ self-reports through questionnaires and interviews. A small number of studies employed rigorous designs—the use of control or comparison groups, random assignment, or large numbers of teachers across different schools or districts. Fewer studies measured student outcomes, so it is difficult to make a strong argument for effects on student learning and achievement. For example, from the original 145 evaluations that Scher and O’Reilly identified for their
meta-analysis, only 18 were left in the pool after the authors reviewed the rigor of the designs and the technical quality of the reported research.
While the committee drew on a wide range of literature concerning science teacher learning, for the analysis reported here we emphasized studies that employed comparative designs or included relatively large numbers of teachers drawn from more than one school or district. We also gave particular attention to studies that examined changes in both instructional practices and student outcomes.
Changes in Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs
Changes in knowledge and beliefs as a result of participation in a professional development program are widely reported in the literature. Teachers’ knowledge for science teaching—content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge—is measured in a variety of ways, including tests, interviews, and surveys. Teachers’ beliefs are measured using surveys or interviews.
Of the 22 studies reviewed by Capps and colleagues (2012), 8 report enhanced teacher knowledge as a result of professional development focused on inquiry; however, only 6 of those include measures of teacher knowledge (content knowledge or knowledge of process skills or inquiry) both before and after the professional development experience (Akerson and Hanuscin, 2007; Akerson et al., 2009; Basista and Matthews, 2002; Jeanpierre et al., 2005; Lotter et al., 2006, 2007; Radford, 1998; Shepardson and Harbor, 2004; Westerlund et al., 2002). Two additional studies report on teachers’ knowledge during their first year of participation in professional development, but knowledge before participation was not measured; rather, the results reported are based on teachers’ own perceptions of their change in knowledge (Lee et al., 2005, 2008). Four studies reviewed by Capps and colleagues report positive changes in teachers’ beliefs as a result of participation in professional development in science (Basista and Matthews, 2002; Johnson, 2007; Lee et al., 2004; Luft, 2001).
Among the 44 studies reviewed by van Driel and colleagues (2012), 4 focused only on teachers’ knowledge or beliefs. These studies included relatively small numbers of teachers and used surveys, interviews, and reflective journals to measure outcomes.
Numerous studies reviewed by Luft and Hewson (2014) investigated the effects of professional development on teachers’ knowledge and beliefs. For example, several qualitative studies found shifts in teachers’ understanding of the nature of science through professional development (e.g., Akerson et al., 2009; Lederman et al., 2002; Posnanski, 2010).
Fewer studies examined the impact of professional development in science on teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. One such study
found that professional development could lead to changes in teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge for argumentation (McNeill and Knight, 2013). This study examined how three professional development programs impacted 70 elementary, middle, and high school teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge related to scientific argumentation. Pre- and post-assessments, video recordings of the professional development workshops, artifacts produced by the teachers during the professional development, and classroom learning tasks related to student work were used to assess two elements of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge: (1) knowledge of students’ conceptions for argumentation, and (2) knowledge of instructional strategies for argumentation. The researchers found that the workshops led to teachers’ increased pedagogical content knowledge in relation to scientific argumentation with regard to the structural components of students’ writing. But teachers struggled to analyze classroom discussions in terms of both structural and dialogic characteristics of argumentation, had difficulty applying the reasoning component of argumentation to classroom practice, and found designing argumentation questions to be challenging.
In another study reporting on the impact of professional development in science on teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge outcomes, Roth and colleagues (2011) examined upper-elementary teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge related to student thinking and the coherence of science activities and ideas. The researchers used a video analysis task that engaged teachers in watching video clips of science lessons pre-, mid- and postprogram. Teachers then wrote an analysis of anything of educational interest regarding the teaching, content, context, and/or students. Teachers in the treatment lesson analysis program became more analytical and made more comments about the science content and about pedagogical content issues after program participation relative to teachers in a comparison group that focused only on deepening teachers’ content knowledge.
Studies on teachers’ beliefs have varied over time. Most studies suggest that professional development programs can shape teachers’ beliefs (Jones and Leagon, 2014). Lumpe and colleagues (2012), for instance, studied the beliefs of more than 30 elementary teachers in a state-wide professional development program. They reported that elementary teachers who participated in more than 100 contact hours displayed significant gains in their beliefs. Larger studies related to teachers’ beliefs and professional development tend to focus on elementary and middle school teachers, which is potentially a result of the widespread use of the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument (STEBI) (Enochs and Riggs, 1990, Luft and Hewson, 2014).
Looking across these results, there is evidence that professional devel-
opment programs in science can enhance teachers’ knowledge of science content and teachers’ beliefs. However, it is difficult to determine what features of the programs are most important in enhancing teachers’ knowledge or fostering positive beliefs.
Changes in Instructional Practice
Most professional development programs in science are intended to catalyze changes in teachers’ instruction, and researchers may use direct classroom observations, teachers’ self-reports, or, less frequently, students’ reports to document such changes. Even when instructional changes are observed, it often is difficult to determine what elements of the professional development program were most important in catalyzing the observed changes. Many studies examining instructional changes involved a small number of teachers and did not employ a control or comparison group.
Of the studies reviewed by Scher and O’Reilly (2009), five examined the effects of professional development on teachers’ practice. In general, the research found positive effects on teachers’ instruction in three studies that examined mathematics and science professional development and one study of science professional development (Lott, 2003). The pooled effect size for the relationship between professional development and teacher instruction was more pronounced than that for professional development and student learning, leading the researchers to conjecture that professional development may have a stronger effect on teacher practice than on student learning. However, the small number of studies that provided sufficiently rigorous evidence on these relationships inhibits the ability to make any causal claims.
Among the studies reviewed by Capps and colleagues (2012), 14 document changes in teachers’ instruction as a result of professional development focused on inquiry-based instruction. Eleven of these studies used classroom observation to assess changes, while 2 (Jeanpierre et al., 2005; Lee et al., 2004) used both teachers’ self-reports and classroom observation. Lee and colleagues (2004) found that teachers’ self-reports of instructional changes conflicted with direct observations, with teachers reporting changes that were not then observed. In contrast, Jeanpierre and colleagues (2005) found that self-reports and observations were consistent and reflected changes in teachers’ practice.
Of the studies reviewed by van Driel and colleagues (2012), 25 measured changes both in teachers’ knowledge and in their instruction, but did not employ measures of students’ learning. Most of these studies involved fewer than 20 teachers and included some form of direct class-
room observation. All of the studies showed a positive effect of professional development on teachers’ instruction.
Of the studies reviewed pertaining to newly hired teachers of science (Luft and Hewson, 2014), six observational studies found changes in beginning teachers’ instruction as result of participating in professional development. Borman and Dowling (2008) investigated the results of a professional development program that supported teachers in using inquiry in the classroom. The study involved 80 schools, with approximately half not participating in the professional development program. New teachers who participated in the program had positive student scores, while more experienced teachers had negative effects.
In a review of programs designed to further teachers’ use of technology to support inquiry in science, Gerard and colleagues (2011) found that for programs that lasted 1 year or less, teachers’ use of technology in the first year after participating in the program was influenced primarily by technical and instructional challenges related to implementing the technology in the classroom for the first time, rather than by the design of the professional development program. When professional development was sustained beyond 1 year, teachers and researchers were able to overcome these kinds of challenges.
In one of the few large-scale studies that included teachers from multiple schools and districts, Banilower and colleagues (2007) found that participation in professional development programs in science was positively related to teachers’ attitudes toward science instruction and their perceptions of their preparedness with respect to pedagogical and science content knowledge (see Box 6-1). In addition, teachers were more likely to implement a set of instructional materials if they had received training in the use of those materials. Professional development around instructional materials also was associated with increases in the amount of instructional time devoted to science and was positively correlated with teachers’ use of teaching practices aligned with standards.
Few studies of instructional change in response to professional development in science have used control or comparison groups. Grigg and colleagues (2013) report on a 3-year large-scale randomized trial in the Los Angeles Unified School District focused on studying the effects of a professional development program concerning inquiry science on the instruction of 4th- and 5th-grade teachers in 73 schools. During the study, the school district introduced another district-wide professional development initiative on scientific inquiry. The researchers found that the two interventions increased the frequency of inquiry-based science teaching, and the impact of the professional development was selective: teachers tended to display instructional change in those areas of scientific inquiry that were more emphasized in the professional development. For
A Large-Scale Study of Professional Development
Banilower and colleagues (2007) drew on a large-scale study from the Local Systemic Change Initiative funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF began this initiative (through its Teacher Enhancement Program) in 1995. 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 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 initiative 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 Local Systemic Change Initiative promoted efforts to build a supportive environment for improving instruction in science, mathematics, and technology. The initiative’s 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 included 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 would provide formative and summative feedback.
Banilower and colleagues (2007) analyzed the results for 18,657 teachers across 42 different projects involving science teachers in grades K-8 to examine the impact on teachers’ attitudes, perceptions of preparedness, and classroom practices of professional development that was content based, situated in classroom practice, and sustained over time. The professional development model used in the projects targeted all teachers in a jurisdiction and emphasized preparing them to implement project-designated materials.
example, analysis of classroom observations showed increases in scientific questioning and in students formulating explanations using evidence. There was no increase in students connecting explanations to scientific knowledge, an aspect of scientific inquiry less emphasized in the professional development programs.
A small number of studies have explicitly compared different models of professional development in science. In one such study, Penuel and colleagues (2009) compared three different professional development programs in earth science for teachers from 19 middle schools in a large urban district. Teachers were randomly assigned to one of three program models or a control group. The three professional development programs differed in how teachers were engaged in designing, adopting, or adapting curriculum materials. All of the programs had a positive impact on how teachers planned and carried out their instruction. However, none of the teachers in any of the three programs or the control condition used students’ preconceptions in class, and there were no differences in whether they elicited students’ prior ideas about the concepts taught that day.
Findings across studies suggest that participation in professional development can lead to changes in teachers’ instructional practice, but that those changes often are tightly linked to the aspects of instruction emphasized in the professional development.
Changes in Student Outcomes
As noted above, few studies of professional development for science teachers have measured student outcomes, although this trend is gradually shifting. Nine of the studies reviewed by Capps and colleagues (2012) report enhanced student learning. Two of these studies did not use a control or comparison group, and a third used only a posttest. Only 6 of the 44 studies reviewed by van Driel and colleagues (2012) directly assessed student learning, while 9 asked teachers to report on whether their students had benefited. All 6 of the former studies showed a positive effect on student learning. The review by Gerard and colleagues (2011) indicates that students’ science learning experiences were enhanced for more than 60 percent of teachers who participated in professional development programs that (1) helped the teachers elicit students’ ideas and support them in using evidence to distinguish among ideas and in reflecting on and integrating ideas; and (2) were sustained for more than 1 year.
Scher and O’Reilly (2009) located 18 studies that provided sufficient evidence for inclusion in their meta-analysis (8 of these were in science, and 3 included mathematics and science teachers). The researchers found a positive effect on student achievement, stronger for mathematics than for science programs. They also report that mathematics professional development taking place over multiple years had a more pronounced effect on student achievement than 1-year programs; they did not find the same result in their analysis of the science professional development evaluations. Among the mathematics professional development programs, the
researchers also found a more pronounced effect on student achievement for those programs that focused on content and pedagogy, not pedagogy alone. A similar trend was noted for science, but not as strong statistically. Mathematics professional development programs that included coaching as part of the intervention also had a more pronounced effect. None of the science professional development programs studied included a coaching component.
In general, across all five of the literature reviews the committee consulted, the studies that employed a control or comparison group (thereby allowing for stronger inferences about the effect of the professional development program itself on observed outcomes) report evidence for positive effects on student learning, including among students from economically disadvantaged schools and English language learners. Still, most of the studies employing control or comparison groups included a small number of teachers from a single district.
Lara-Alecio and colleagues (2012) examined how professional development paired with specific science lessons about inquiry-based teaching affected achievement among 5th-grade English language learners. Based on earlier research demonstrating that inquiry-based interventions can improve English language learners’ conceptual understanding of science (Amaral et al., 2002; August et al., 2009; Lee et al., 2005), the researchers examined the children’s learning in a literacy-embedded science instructional intervention. Twelve teachers in 10 lower middle schools participated in professional development that explored science concepts and curriculum materials developed to aid in teaching those concepts in an inquiry-oriented manner. Students whose teachers participated in the professional development and who used the materials had significantly higher scores on five benchmark tests in science and on reading assessments relative to students in the control group. This result accords with the findings of Penuel and colleagues (2011), who also found that students demonstrated greater gains in their understanding of earth science when their teachers had participated in professional development focused on the development of curriculum units.
The Science Teachers Learning from Lesson Analysis (STeLLA) Program features video-based analysis of instructional practice aimed at upper elementary teachers (Roth et al., 2011). This year-long professional development program is organized around a conceptual framework that focuses teachers’ attention on analyzing science teaching and learning through two lenses: the Science Content Storyline Lens and the Student Thinking Lens (see Box 6-2 for further detail). The researchers studied the influence of the professional development program on teachers’ science content knowledge (multiple-choice test), teachers’ pedagogical content
The Science Teachers Learning from Lesson Analysis (STeLLA) Program
The STeLLA Program is an intensive, year-long, videocase-based, analysis-of-practice professional development program in science for upper-elementary teachers. Central to the program is a coherent conceptual framework that encompasses two lenses for looking at science teaching more closely—the Science Content Storyline Lens and the Student Thinking Lens. Drawing on research, this framework identifies eight specific teaching strategies designed to support teachers in making students’ thinking more visible and nine strategies designed to support the development of coherent science content storylines that help students make the links between science ideas and classroom activities. This framework provides strong program coherence by focusing teachers’ attention on a small set of core teaching strategies and supporting them in analyzing and understanding these strategies and using them well. The program’s goals are to deepen teachers’ science content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge about student thinking and about science content storylines in two content areas in the teachers’ curriculum.
Teachers meet in small, grade-level study groups (5 to 10 members), led by a STeLLA professional development leader. Teachers first learn about the STeLLA lenses and teaching strategies in a 2-week summer institute, where they analyze STeLLA-prepared videocases from classrooms outside of their own study group. A videocase includes a set of videos from one classroom along with associated materials, including students’ written work/pre-posttests, educative curriculum materials that highlight the STeLLA lenses and strategies (e.g., lesson plans, content and pedagogical content knowledge background readings, compendium of common student ideas), and videos of student and teacher interviews. During the
knowledge (video analysis task), teachers’ practice (lesson videotapes), and students’ science knowledge (pre-post science unit tests).
Students whose teachers had participated in the STeLLA Program showed statistically significant learning improvement relative to students of the control teachers in a quasi-experimental study involving 48 teachers (Roth et al., 2011). Similar results were found in a follow-up study of the STeLLA Program using larger numbers of teachers (144 teachers in 77 schools) and over 2,800 students, PD leaders who were not program developers, a new geographical context, and a stronger comparison PD program. In this randomized, controlled study, students of teachers in the STeLLA Program significantly outperformed students of teachers in the comparison content deepening program on a science content knowledge test (Taylor et al., in press).
In a study focused specifically on strategies related to reading and
school year, participating teachers teach STeLLA lesson plans and analyze videos of their own teaching with their colleagues in monthly 3.5-hour study group meetings. During these meetings, teachers regularly generate questions about their own and their students’ understandings of the science content, so that science content issues are intertwined with pedagogical issues.
Results from a quasi-experimental study (Roth et al., 2011) of 48 teachers, half of whom participated in the STeLLA Program, showed that, in comparison with teachers who received professional development focused only on deepening science content knowledge, program participants developed deeper science content knowledge and stronger abilities to use pedagogical content knowledge to analyze science-teaching practice. In addition, participants in the STeLLA Program increased their use of teaching strategies that made students’ thinking visible and contributed to the coherence of the science lesson. Most important, their students’ learning showed significant improvement. Hierarchical linear modeling analyses revealed that predictors of student learning included teachers’ science content knowledge; their ability to analyze students’ thinking; and their use of four science content storyline teaching strategies: (1) identify one main learning goal, (2) select content representations matched to the learning goal and engage students in their use, (3) make explicit links between science ideas and activities, and (4) link science ideas to other science ideas. Analysis of students’ science content learning showed that students of teachers participating in the STeLLA Program outperformed those of teachers in the content deepening only program. Similar results emerged from a scale-up randomized, controlled study where students whose teachers participated in the STeLLA Program showed stronger science content knowledge than students whose teachers participated in a content deepening PD program of equal duration (Taylor et al., in press).
reading comprehension in science, Greenleaf and colleagues (2011) examined the effects of the Reading Apprenticeship Professional Development Program on high school biology teachers and their students. In a group-randomized experimental design, they used multiple measures of teachers’ practice and students’ learning about both biology and literacy, targeting schools serving many low-achieving students from groups historically unrepresented in the sciences. In total, 105 biology teachers in 83 schools participated (56 in the treatment group, 49 in the control group). Outcome measures for teachers included pre-post survey assessments of teacher knowledge, beliefs, and instructional practices in science and literacy; postintervention interviews; and the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing’s Teacher Assignment instrument, which incorporates student work samples as a measure of teaching practice (Aschbacher, 1999; Clare, 2000). Student outcomes were
measured using student surveys and pre-post assessments of student learning in biology and reading comprehension. Teachers participated in 10 days of professional development in Reading Apprenticeship, an instructional framework that integrates metacognitive inquiry teaching routines (such as think-alouds, text annotation, metacognitive logs, and teacher modeling of reading and reasoning processes) and reading comprehension protocols (such as ReQuest and Reciprocal Teaching) into subject area instruction.
Compared with control teachers, intervention teachers showed increased support for literacy learning in science and increased knowledge of the role of reading in learning and in their repertoire of instructional practices. They also demonstrated increased support for the use of metacognitive inquiry teaching routines, reading comprehension instruction, and collaborative learning structures relative to control teachers. Analysis of their teaching assignments revealed higher ratings for the cognitive challenge in their lessons, both in literacy and in biology, and higher frequencies of reading engagement support compared with control teachers. Students in treatment classrooms performed better than controls on state standardized assessments in English language arts, reading comprehension, and biology.
A program focused on whole-school science professional development developed by Johnson and Fargo (2010) also showed positive effects on students. The researchers employed a randomized controlled research design to study the impact of Transformative Professional Development (TPD) on teacher practice and student learning in a high-needs urban school district. The professional development program spanned 2 years, with a total of 200 hours of professional development. Sixteen teachers participated (8 in the treatment group, 8 in the control group).
Essential to the TPD model is the approach of “critical mass”—that the program includes all science teachers in a building participating together. Careful attention is paid to building relationships between teachers and their colleagues, between teachers and students, and between teachers and university faculty members. In addition, teachers’ voices are honored as the program becomes increasingly co-developed by teachers and university partners over the 2-year period.
Over the 2 years, teachers in the treatment school improved in the design and implementation of their lessons, while teachers in the control schools declined. Pre-post tests for students included items taken from state tests. There was no significant difference between the performance of students in the treatment and control conditions after year 1; in year 2, however, students in the treatment group showed twice as much growth as students in the control group.
In one of the few studies employing a randomized design with a
control group and a large number of teachers across multiple sites, Heller and colleagues (2012) compared three different models of professional development. The study included 270 elementary teachers and 7,000 students in eight sites across six states who were randomly assigned to one of three experimental models of professional development or to a control condition (see Box 6-3 for details). All three models produced significant
A Comparison of Three Models of Professional Development for Elementary Teachers
In a large-scale study of 270 elementary teachers and 7,000 students in eight sites across six states, Heller and colleagues (2012) compared three professional development models for elementary teachers. Teachers were randomly assigned to one of the three models or a control group that received no treatment. All three intervention models involved the same science content; however, they differed in the ways in which they supported teachers in developing content teaching knowledge. Each intervention involved 24 hours of contact time divided into eight 3-hour sessions. The interventions were delivered by staff developers trained to lead the teacher courses in their regions. The models were as follows:
- In one intervention model (Teaching Cases), teachers discussed narrative descriptions of extended examples from actual classrooms, which included samples of student work, accounts of classroom discussions, and descriptions of the teachers’ thinking and instructional decisions.
- In a second intervention model (Looking at Students’ Work), teachers examined and discussed their own students’ work in the context of ongoing lessons.
- In the third intervention model (Metacognitive Analysis), teachers engaged in reflection and analysis about their own learning as they participated in science investigations. They considered ideas that could be learned through the investigation, tricky or surprising concepts, and implications for students’ learning.
- The control group received no treatment during the initial study year, but participants were offered a delayed opportunity to receive the professional development.
All three intervention models improved both teachers’ and students’ scores on tests of science content knowledge relative to 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 intervention year. Achievement also improved for English language learners in both the study and follow-up years. Only the Teaching Cases and Looking at Students’ Work models improved the accuracy and completeness of students’ written justifications of test answers in the follow-up year. Only the Teaching Cases model had sustained effects on teachers’ written justifications.
changes in student scores on selected-response tests of science content, with no significant differences by gender or race/ethnicity. English language learners demonstrated significant gains in content knowledge as well, and students showed significant increases in content test scores a year later. Although all three models generated positive results in terms of student knowledge, the models varied with respect to the quality of students’ written explanations. Only students who worked with teachers who participated in the intervention involving looking at student work from their own classrooms showed improved written explanations during the initial study year; in the follow-up year, written explanations improved significantly for students of teachers participating in both models that included an examination of student work samples. English language learners’ written justifications did not show significant effects during the study year; a year later, however, those whose teachers participated in the intervention that entailed looking at student work had marginally higher scores relative to the control group of English language learners.
Benefits and Challenges of Professional Development Programs in Science
Professional development programs in science offer a number of benefits. First, they can potentially bring coherence to teacher learning. The fact that professional development programs are planned with a focus on specific goals and experiences with which to meet those goals can help teachers step aside from the activities and multiple goals they are addressing each day in their classrooms and persist with a set of key ideas over enough time to make real progress toward transformative change. The time required to develop such coherent programs often is in short supply within school systems, however.
Programs that incorporate a substantial off-site component also have the potential to enable intense teacher engagement as other obligations and distractions are temporarily removed, and teachers are afforded a time and a place conducive to reflection and study. Teachers for whom reform-oriented practices are entirely new may require such immersion to effect the paradigm shift in teaching attitudes and beliefs needed to achieve the vision of science education set forth in A Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Moreover, professional development leaders from outside teachers’ workplaces have an advantage in creating a safe space for challenging teachers’ thinking because they are not linked in any way to evaluations that would affect the teachers’ employment status.
The intensive programs reviewed in this chapter also provide a mech-
anism for connecting teachers with expertise and experiences in science and science teaching that may not be available in their schools and districts. For example, teachers can interact with scientists who can help them better understand the science they are teaching to their students.
Formal programs can be effectively linked with teachers’ work in schools in a variety of ways. Several of the examples discussed in this chapter include sessions during the school year that are based in teachers’ schools. These kinds of school-based efforts are discussed in more detail in the next chapter. Finally, the findings of Scher and O’Reilly (2009) reinforce the idea that sustained professional development leads to increased student learning.
The programs discussed in this chapter also have challenges. One major challenge is that programs that include an intensive, multiday, off-site component can be quite expensive and difficult to sustain. Also, such programs typically reach a small percentage of the teachers who could benefit from professional learning experiences in science. In addition, the coherence that is so valuable in professional development programs can be a problem if it is so preplanned that it cannot be responsive to the varying needs of teachers at different stages of their professional development. Online professional learning may provide a mechanism for overcoming problems of scale and being more responsive to individual needs, but more research is needed to understand how online experiences can maintain the coherence that is such a benefit of professional development programs (see the discussion of online programs in the next section).
Another challenge of professional development programs is that even sustained programs have an end point—rarely do such programs continue for more than 2-3 years. Thus, these programmatic experiences are relatively short-lived, often with no mechanism for providing teachers with ongoing support. Because these programs typically are not embedded in schools, it is difficult to ensure that teachers are supported in implementing the ideas and practices they have learned. A program of 90 hours of professional development in science is meaningless if a teacher’s principal discourages her from teaching science so as to place more emphasis on English language arts and mathematics. Teachers who participate in science professional development programs outside of their school also may feel isolated as they try to implement new teaching strategies, lacking colleagues at their school who can help them plan, debrief, and problem solve. And this isolation also prevents the development of the collective capacity of the science teachers in a school and district. The learning of that one isolated teacher benefits her and her students but is not disseminated to enhance the learning of all.
In summary, a solid body of research on professional development programs for science teachers examines impacts on teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and instructional practice. Using a range of methods, researchers have found intriguing evidence that when designed and implemented well, professional development in science can lead to sustainable changes in teachers’ knowledge and beliefs and their instruction. There is suggestive evidence that professional development programs in science that incorporate many of the features of the consensus model (science content focus, active learning, coherence, sufficient duration, and collective participation) can lead to changes in teachers’ knowledge and beliefs and instructional practice. Many fewer studies have measured student outcomes, making it difficult to offer a strong argument for the effect of these programs on students’ learning and achievement. Still, there is suggestive evidence for the potential of certain strategies to support changes in teachers’ knowledge and beliefs and their instruction that lead to improved student learning. These promising strategies include analysis of elements of instruction, close attention to students’ thinking and analysis of their work, opportunities for teachers to reflect on their own instruction in science, time for teachers to try out instructional approaches in their classrooms, and coherence with school and district policies and practices. Programs typically include a multiday “off-campus” component led by an individual with expertise in science pedagogy and content. Teachers then return to their classrooms to implement some of the instructional approaches they have learned about, during which time they have opportunities to talk with one another and with the professional development providers about their progress.
Findings from those studies that employed a strong design and connected the dots in the teacher learning model depicted in Figure 6-1 by studying the relationships among teachers’ opportunities to learn, teacher learning outcomes, and student learning outcomes suggest a preliminary list of program characteristics that lead to improved student learning in science and go beyond the consensus model:
- Teachers’ science content learning is intertwined with pedagogical activities such as analysis of practice (Heller et al., 2012; Roth et al., 2011).
- Teachers are engaged in analysis of student learning and science teaching using artifacts of practice such as student work and lesson videos (Greenleaf et al., 2011; Heller et al., 2012; Roth et al., 2011).
- There is a focus on specific, targeted teaching strategies (Greenleaf et al., 2011; Johnson and Fargo, 2010; Penuel et al., 2011; Roth et al., 2011).
- Teachers are given opportunities to reflect on and grapple with challenges to their current practice (Greenleaf et al., 2011; Johnson and Fargo, 2010; Penuel et al., 2011; Roth et al., 2011).
- Learning is scaffolded by knowledgeable professional development leaders (Greenleaf et al., 2011; Heller et al., 2012; Penuel et al., 2011; Roth et al., 2011).
- Analytical tools support collaborative, focused, and deep analysis of science teaching, student learning, and science content (Greenleaf et al., 2011; Roth et al., 2011).
The committee offers this list of characteristics with cautious optimism. On the one hand, it is clear that, as Scher and O’Reilly (2009) argue, “Most reasonable people agree that professional development for math and science teachers is a useful and necessary investment [but that] researchers, practitioners, and policymakers need to be more realistic about what we know” (p. 235). Despite these promising findings, the research base remains uneven, and inconsistencies in results need to be explored. As van Driel and colleagues (2012) point out, most studies focus on one program in one setting with a small number of teachers, and there has been an overreliance on teachers’ self-reports. Few studies used strong research designs incorporating pre-post measures of both sets of outcomes shown in Figure 6-1 (teachers’ knowledge and instruction and students’ learning) and a control or comparison group. The field lacks consistently used, technically powerful measures of science teachers’ knowledge and practice, as well as measures that capture the full range of student outcomes.
There are also gaps in the evidence base. As van Driel and colleagues (2012) observe, almost no studies attend to the school organization and context and how they might affect the impact of professional development programs in science. Similarly, no published research examines the role and expertise of science professional development providers and facilitators (Luft and Hewson, 2014), although some research designs allow for that possibility (for one example and preliminary analysis, see Heller et al., 2010, pp. 71-84). Further, given the range of content taught, grade levels, and local and state contexts in which teachers work, even this growing body of research fails to provide definitive answers as to how teachers might best be supported in meeting the challenge of the new vision of science education. Keeping these weaknesses in mind, the committee agrees with Scher and O’Reilly when they remark that “a simple answer that ‘the research base of high-quality evaluation is too thin to
make informed judgments’. . . discounts the decades’ worth of theory and development that have led to many of the current forward-thinking interventions” (p. 237), including those described here. We return to these observations in the chapter’s conclusion.
The explosion of online learning opportunities has led to increased interest in new venues for teacher learning. Professional development designers and leaders have begun exploring the potential of online learning to meet the need for high-quality experiences that are scalable and accessible to large numbers of teachers, flexible enough to meet varying needs and limited schedules, and cost-effective to produce and obtain (Cavanaugh and Dawson, 2010; National Research Council, 2007; Whitehouse et al., 2006). Many also see promise in the online environment as a way to provide professional development experiences that are ongoing, timely, and closely tied to teachers’ classroom practices, as a viable alternative to the one-shot workshops in which many teachers now participate (National Research Council, 2007; Sherman et al., 2008; Whitehouse et al., 2006). As technological capabilities have rapidly advanced, a wide array of online professional development programs for teachers across the educational spectrum have emerged, including those for science teachers. This section describes the nature of online teacher professional development, its benefits and challenges, and the available evidence regarding its effectiveness. It should be noted, however, that research on online programs has proceeded largely independently of the research reviewed in the previous section, and remains in its early stages.
The Nature of Online Professional Development
The range of online programs for teacher professional development varies by the intended programs’ purpose, objectives, content area, and pedagogy, as well as the ways in which the programs are delivered, assessed, and evaluated (Whitehouse et al., 2006). Dede (2006, pp. 2-3) describes the overarching goals of online teacher professional development as “introducing new curricula, altering teachers’ instructional and assessment practices, changing school organization and culture, and enhancing relationships between district and community”—goals that overlap with those face-to-face programs. To achieve these goals, online programs employ a range of methods, including providing materials designed to enhance content knowledge, along with opportunities for reflection and discussion; access to subject matter and pedagogical experts; forums for discussing with other teachers experiences in implementing
new practices; ongoing mentorship; and libraries of tools, resources, and video examples. Programs that employ these methods may be delivered online only, but some offer a hybrid model with a combination of both face-to-face and online components.
Dede and colleagues (2005) conducted an extensive review of approximately 400 articles published in the previous 5 years regarding online, face-to-face, and hybrid models of professional development. They identified 40 empirical studies that articulated a clear research question, used rigorous data collection methods, and conducted analyses of and interpreted the data related to the research questions. Nearly half of the 40 studies focused on programs in either mathematics (8) or science (9). The remainder focused on programs in multiple subjects, language arts, special education, foreign languages, or technology integration. Pedagogically, the approaches employed in the online programs studied took a largely social constructivist approach, which included problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, mentoring, and communities of practice.
Effectiveness of Online Professional Development
A body of research has examined the effectiveness of the online professional development approach in engaging teachers, building community, and improving teacher learning. Much of this research has been based on participant satisfaction surveys, course evaluations, and some pre- and posttesting of participants’ learning (Dede et al., 2009).
The majority of the studies reviewed by Dede and colleagues (2009) are qualitative and tend to focus on the nature of participant interactions and the design elements and contexts of the online programs that contributed to teacher learning and community. Some compare these elements in online versus face-to-face programs. Although few studies entailed measuring teacher or student outcomes empirically, results of the reviewed studies suggest some of the key elements that may be necessary to make engagement in online professional development productive. First, multiple studies demonstrate the importance of facilitation for interactions among teachers online, echoing a similar and consistent conclusion regarding the importance of facilitation in face-to-face professional development. Merely creating an online forum for connecting was found to be insufficient for on-topic, productive interactions in which teachers feel safe in discussing their understanding of science concepts and their instructional practices. Similar findings emerged regarding the use of video examples: skilled guidance is required to lead discussions around the examples. Some studies found that facilitators need specifically to elicit contributions focused on teacher practices, to pose pointed questions, and to ask for evidence in support of claims.
Studies comparing online and face-to-face interactions also suggest that teachers may be more reflective about practices online than face-to-face. Dede and colleagues (2005) note the very limited empirical data available on teacher and student learning; however, they did find some support for teachers’ ability to learn science content more effectively through online than through face-to-face learning.
Few studies have included measures of teacher practices in the classroom or measures of students’ learning (Dede et al., 2009). One recent study by Fishman and colleagues (2013) is an exception. This study consisted of a randomized experiment evaluating two different approaches to professional development designed to prepare high school teachers to implement an environmental science curriculum. One condition consisted of a 6-day, 48-hour face-to-face workshop; the other consisted of an online workshop with a series of self-paced short courses that teachers completed on their own, and included a facilitator who was available to assist teachers and answer questions. Although teachers in the second condition completed the courses online, they also participated in a 2-day face-to-face orientation session designed to prepare them to be successful with the online tools. Thus, the second condition may more appropriately be considered a hybrid approach to professional development.
Researchers measured teachers’ beliefs and knowledge, coded videos of their classroom practices with particular lessons from the curriculum, and measured student learning on a multiple-choice test about environmental science. Overall, 25 teachers participated in the online condition and 24 in the face-to-face condition, with 596 and 493 high school students, respectively. Findings indicated that teachers and students in both groups improved in their content knowledge but did not differ significantly in this regard from one another. Teachers in the two groups also did not differ significantly in their beliefs about efficacy and teaching environmental science, or in a range of beliefs about their knowledge and inquiry practices. Nor did the groups differ significantly on measured classroom practices. In their discussion of these findings, Fishman and colleagues suggest that the variability of total contact hours among the online group members, who were able to pace their own learning, indicates the potential effectiveness of this type of flexibility to fit the needs of various participants. However, the authors and others (e.g., Moon et al., 2014) caution that these findings should not be taken as representative of all online professional development, which should be seen more as a delivery vehicle than as a specific approach. Rather, these findings point to conditions that may enable teachers to capitalize on the efficiency, timeliness, and reach of an online environment.
Results of an evaluation of a hybrid model of professional development aimed at helping middle and high school teachers across sub-
jects adopt inquiry-based practices in teaching about energy suggest that online programs may not always lead to positive changes in teachers’ beliefs and instruction (Seraphin et al., 2013). The program consisted of a 2-day face-to-face workshop, followed by participation in an online segment that included a peer forum with expert presentations that participants reviewed and discussed. The researchers found that the program was effective at generating interest in teaching about energy. However, teachers’ confidence in their ability to teach about energy adequately through inquiry-based methods remained low, as did their knowledge and application of inquiry practices (based on teacher self-reports).
A pilot study of modules created by the National Science Teachers Association to improve the science content knowledge of teachers compared an online-only form with a hybrid form that included a 6-hour in-person workshop in addition to the online segment, which was designed to take a total of 6-10 hours (Sherman et al., 2008). Forty-five middle school teachers across three states participated. Scores in teachers’ science knowledge increased from pretest to posttest in the online-only condition, but not among the hybrid group. However, the authors caution that these gains were still quite modest and may not be sufficient for proficiency in the content. Moreover, confidence scores improved a great deal among the hybrid group, “suggesting a disconnect between feeling confident in teaching a particular subject and actually knowing the content well” (p. 30).
Finally, studies have begun to examine the elements and conditions that make online professional development effective, as well as whether there are some teachers for whom this approach works best. In an attempt to better understand why there are high levels of noncompletion of online courses among teachers, for example, Reeves and Pedulla (2011) conducted a pre- and postsurvey of satisfaction among 3,998 elementary and secondary teachers participating in the e-Learning for Educators initiative across nine states. Overall, prior experience with online courses, course organization, helpful feedback from a facilitator, quality of learner interactions, clarity of expectations, user-friendliness of the interface, ease of content transferability, beneficial nature of discussion topics, and effective linking of content and pedagogy were positive predictors of satisfaction. Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, facilitator expertise, materials that were culturally unbiased, clarity of goals, and the facilitators keeping discussions on topic were negative predictors of satisfaction. Taken together, these positive and negative predictors explained nearly half of the variance in teacher satisfaction. Silverman (2012) notes that when teachers are more active contributors to online discussions, they achieve greater gains in mathematical content knowledge learning.
Russell and colleagues (2009) evaluated the effects of four different
levels of support and pacing of online professional development for middle school algebra teachers. They randomly assigned participating teachers to one of four conditions: self-paced online-only, high support with a mathematics instructor, and two different intermediate supports—online facilitator only and facilitated peer support. The purpose of the study was to help determine the relative importance of maximizing flexibility for participants and maximizing interactions with facilitators and peers. Of an initial sample of 235 teachers who agreed to participate, almost half dropped out of the study, with a greater percentage dropping out of the high-support group, although characteristics of those not completing the 8-week course did not differ among groups. Although the researchers had anticipated that the condition with facilitated peer support would yield the greatest gains in teacher beliefs and pedagogical practices (e.g., using worksheets, asking students to explain their thinking), they found that the groups did not differ on either front.
To summarize, intriguing and emerging research examines the promise and pitfalls associated with online learning as a venue for professional development. In particular, Reiser (2013) suggests that professional development for the NGSS should “structure teachers’ sense making around rich images of classroom enactment” (p. 15), noting that the online environment is an important vehicle for making videocases more widely available to teachers.
However, the research base is not yet strong enough to support claims about the relationships between online professional development and changes in teachers’ knowledge or practice and their students’ learning. Other research on online learning across K-12 and higher-education settings suggests that effective online learning is the product of high-quality program design and implementation, supportive contexts, and understanding of how learner characteristics interact with technology (Means et al., 2014). Thus, future work in this domain will need to be as sensitive to issues of context as the research reviewed here and in the following chapter.
This chapter has focused on professional development programs that are purposefully designed to improve aspects of teacher knowledge and practice. These programs typically are developed and led by educators from outside schools and districts—university researchers, informal science education leaders, researchers at research and development centers,
and so on. These professional development experiences, while linked to teachers’ classroom experience, commonly take teachers out of their school setting for a significant block of time (often at summer institutes).
Most professional development programs documented in the research literature have been found to have positive impacts on teachers’ learning and practice. A growing body of evidence also traces the effects of professional development programs on teacher knowledge, teacher practice, and student learning. Effective professional development programs provide teachers with opportunities to practice and reflect on new instructional strategies, to analyze student thinking and student work, and to analyze examples of the target instructional practices.
Conclusion 5: The best available evidence based on science professional development programs suggests that the following features of such programs are most effective:
- active participation of teachers who engage in the analysis of examples of effective instruction and the analysis of student work,
- a content focus,
- alignment with district policies and practices, and
- sufficient duration to allow repeated practice and/or reflection on classroom experiences.
Conclusion 6: Professional learning in online environments and through social networking holds promise, although evidence on these modes from both research and practice is limited.
That said, the evidence base on professional development programs in science is not very robust. Many studies focus on one program implemented in a single location with relatively few teachers, typically volunteers. Few studies have employed control or comparison groups, and few have measured multiple outcomes for teachers and students. Still, the available evidence is suggestive of elements that hold promise for supporting changes in teachers’ science content knowledge, their content knowledge for teaching, and their instructional practices. These elements include engaging teachers in analysis of student thinking and learning; incorporating specific supports to help teachers use new knowledge to change their teaching practice; providing an expert program facilitator; attending to school context, such as principals’ support and curriculum alignment; and considering issues of sustainability in the program design. The available evidence also points to numerous issues for future research and policy to consider.
Abdal-Haqq, I. (1995). Professional Development Schools: Weighing the Evidence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Akerson, V.L., and Hanuscin, D.L. (2007). Teaching nature of science through inquiry: Results of a 3-year professional development program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(5), 653-680.
Akerson, V.L., Cullen, T.A., and Hanson, D.L. (2009). Fostering a community of practice through a professional development program to improve elementary teachers’ views of nature of science and teaching practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(10), 1090-1113.
Amaral, O.M., Garrison, L., and Klentschy, M. (2002). Helping English learners increase achievement through inquiry-based science instruction. Bilingual Research Journal: The Journal of National Association for Bilingual Education, 26(2), 213-239.
Aschbacher, P.R. (1999). Developing Indicators of Classroom Practice to Monitor and Support School Reform. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Evaluation, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California.
August, D., Branum-Martin, L., Cardenas-Hagan, E., and Francis, D.J. (2009). The impact of an instructional intervention on the science and language learning of middle grade English language learners. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(4), 345-376.
Ball, D.L., and Cohen, D.K. (1999). Developing practice, developing practitioners: Toward a practice-based theory of professional education. In G. Sykes and L. Darling-Hammond (Eds.), Teaching as the Learning Profession: Handbook of Policy and Practice (pp. 3-32). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Banilower, E.R., Boyd, S.E., Pasley, J.D., and Weiss, I.R. (2006). Lessons from a Decade of Mathematics and Science Reform: A Capstone Report for the Local Systemic Change through Teacher Enhancement Initiative. Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research.
Banilower, E.R., Heck, D.J., and Weiss, I.R. (2007). Can professional development make the vision of the standards a reality? The impact of the National Science Foundation’s local systemic change through teacher enhancement initiative. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(3), 375-395.
Basista, B., and Matthews, S. (2002). Integrated science and mathematics professional development programs. School Science and Mathematics, 102(7), 359-370.
Blank, R.K., de las Alas, N., and Smith, C. (2008). Does Teacher Professional Development Have Effects on Teaching and Learning? Analysis of Evaluation Findings from Programs for Mathematics and Science Teachers in 14 States. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.
Borko, H. (2004). Professional development and teacher learning: Mapping the terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3-15.
Borko, H., Jacobs, J., and Koellner, K. (2010). Contemporary approaches to teacher professional development. In E. Baker, B. McGaw, and P. Peterson (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education (Part 7, 3rd ed., pp. 548-555). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.
Borman, G.D., and Dowling, N.M. (2008). Teacher attrition and retention: A meta-analytic and narrative review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 367-409.
Capps, D.K., Crawford, B.A., and Constas, M.A. (2012). A review of empirical literature on inquiry professional development: Alignment with best practices and a critique of the findings. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(3), 291-318.
Cavanaugh, C., and Dawson, K. (2010). Design of online professional development in science content and pedagogy: A pilot study in Florida. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 19(5), 438-446.
Clare, L. (2000). Using Teachers’ Assignments as an Indicator of Classroom Practice. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Evaluation, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California.
Clifford, G.J. (2014). Those Good Gertrudes: A Social History of Women Teachers in America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Cohen, D.K., and Hill, H.C. (2001). Learning Policy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R.C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., and Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on the Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad. Washington, DC: National Staff Development Council.
Dede, C. (2006). Online Professional Development for Teachers-Emerging Models. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Dede, C., Breit, L., Ketelhut, D.J., McCloskey, E.M., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An Overview of Current Findings from Empirical Research on Online Teacher Professional Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Dede, C., Ketelhut, D.J., Whitehouse, P., Breit, L., and McCloskey, E.M. (2009). A research agenda for online teacher professional development. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(1), 8-19.
Desimone, L.M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38(3), 181-199.
Desimone, L., Porter, A.C., Garet, M.S., Yoon, K.S., and Birman, B.F. (2002). Effects of professional development on teachers’ instruction: Results from a three-year longitudinal study. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24(2), 81-112.
Fishman, B., Konstantopoulos, S., Kubitskey, B.W., Vath, R., Park, G., Johnson, H., and Edelson, D.C. (2013). Comparing the impact of online and face-to-face professional development in the context of curriculum implementation. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(5), 426-438.
Garet, M.S., Porter, A.C., Desimone, L., Birman, B.F., and Yoon, K.S. (2001). What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 915-945.
Garet, M.S., Cronen, S., Eaton, M., Kurki, A., Ludwig, M., Jones, W., Uekaway, K., Falk, A., Bloom, H., Doolittle, F., Zhu, P., Sztejnber, L., and Silverberg, M. (2008). The Impact of Two Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and Achievement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.
Garet, M.S., Wayne, A.J., Stancavage, F., Taylor, J., Eaton, M., Walters, K., Song, M., Brown, S., Hurlburt, S., Zhu, P., Sepanik, S., and Doolittle, F. (2011). Two-Year Findings from the Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.
Gerard, L.F., Varma, K., Corliss, S.B., and Linn, M.C. (2011). Professional development for technology-enhanced inquiry science. Review of Educational Research, 81(3), 408-448.
Greenleaf, C.L., Litman, C., Hanson, T.L., Rosen, R., Boscardin, C.K., Herman, J., and Schneider, S. (2011). Integrating literacy and science in Biology: Teaching and learning impacts of reading apprenticeship professional development. American Educational Research Journal, 48(3), 647-717.
Grigg, J., Kelly, K.A., Gamoran, A., and Borman, G.D. (2013). Effects of two scientific inquiry professional development interventions on teaching practice. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 3(1), 38-56.
Hawley, W.D., and Valli, N. (2006). Design principles for learner-centered professional development. In W. Hawley (Ed.), The Keys to Effective Schools (2nd ed., pp. 1-23). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Heller, J.I., Daehler, K.R., Wong, N., Shinohara, M., and Miratrix, L.W. (2012). Differential effects of three professional development models on teacher knowledge and student achievement in elementary science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(3), 333-362.
Jeanpierre, B., Oberhauser, K., and Freeman, C. (2005). Characteristics of professional development that effect change in secondary science teachers’ classroom practices. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(6), 668-690.
Johnson, C.C. (2007). Whole-school collaborative sustained professional development and science teacher change: Signs of progress. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18(4), 629-661.
Johnson, C.C., and Fargo, J.D. (2010). Urban school reform enabled by transformative professional development: Impact on teacher change and student learning of science. Urban Education, 45(1), 4-29.
Kennedy, M. (1999). Form and substance in mathematics and science professional development. NISE Brief, 3(2), 1-7.
Lara-Alecio, R., Tong, F., Irby, B.J., Guerrero, C., Huerta, M., and Fan, Y. (2012). The effect of an instructional intervention on middle school English learners’ science and English reading achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(8), 987-1011.
Lederman, N.G., Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R.L., and Schwartz, R.S. (2002). Views of nature of science questionnaire: Toward valid and meaningful assessment of learners’ conceptions of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(6), 497-521.
Lee, O., Hart, J.E., Cuevas, P., and Enders, C. (2004). Professional development in inquiry-based science for elementary teachers of diverse student groups. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(10), 1021-1043.
Lee, O., Deaktor, R.A., Hart, J.E., Cuevas, P., and Enders, C. (2005). An instructional intervention’s impact on the science and literacy achievement of culturally and linguistically diverse elementary students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(8), 857-887.
Lee, O., Lewis, S., Adamson, K. Maerten-Rivera, J., and Secada, W.G. (2008). Urban elementary school teachers’ knowledge and practices in teaching science to English language learners. Science Education, 92(4), 733-758.
Little, J.W. (1988). Teachers’ professional development in a climate of educational reform. In R.J. Anson (Ed.), Systemic Reform: Perspectives on Personalizing Education (pp. 105-135). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Lott, K.H. (2003). Evaluation of a statewide science inservice and outreach program: Teacher and student outcomes. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 12(1), 65-80.
Lotter, C., Harwood, W.S., and Bonner, J.J. (2006). Overcoming a learning bottleneck: Inquiry professional development for secondary science teachers. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 17(3), 185-216.
Lotter, C., Harwood, W.S., and Bonner, J.J. (2007). The influence of core teaching conceptions on teachers’ use of inquiry teaching practices. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(9), 1318-1347.
Loucks-Horsley, S., Hewson, P.W., Love, N., and Stiles, K.E. (1998). Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Loucks-Horsley, S., Love, N. Stiles, K.E., Mundry, S., and Hewson, P. (2003). Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Luft, J. (2001). Changing inquiry practices and beliefs: The impact of an inquiry-based professional development programme on beginning and experienced secondary science teachers. International Journal of Science Education, 23(5), 517-534.
Luft, J., and Hewson, P. (2014). Research on teacher professional development in science. In N.G. Lederman and S.K. Abell (Eds.), Handbook of Research in Science Education (vol. II, pp. 889-909). New York: Routledge.
McNeill, K.L., and Knight, A.M. (2013). Teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge of scientific argumentation: The impact of professional development on K-12 teachers. Science Education, 97(6), 936-972.
Means, B., Bakia, M., and Murphy, R. (2014). Learning Online: What Research Tells Us About Whether, When, and How. New York: Routledge.
Moon, J., Passmore, C., Reiser, B.J., and Michaels, S. (2014). Beyond comparisions of online versus face-to-face PD: Commentary in response to Fishman et al., “Comparing the impact of online and face-to-face professional development in the context of curriculum implementation.” Journal of Teacher Education, 65(2), 172-176.
National Research Council. (2007). Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Committee on Science Learning, Kindergarten through Eighth Grade. R.A. Duschl, H.A. Schweingruber, and A.W. Shouse (Eds.). Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2011). Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Committee on Highly Successful Science Programs for K-12 Science Education. Board on Science Education and Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
The New Teacher Project. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development. Brooklyn, NY: The New Teacher Project.
Penuel, W.R., McWilliams, H., McAuliffe, C., Benbow, A.E., Mably, C., and Hayden, M.M. (2009). Teaching for understanding in earth science: Comparing impacts on planning and instruction in three professional development designs for middle school science teachers. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 20(5), 415-436.
Penuel, W.R., Gallagher, L.P., and Moorthy, S. (2011). Preparing teachers to design sequences of instruction in earth systems science: A comparison of three PD programs. American Education Research Journal, 48(4), 996-1025.
Posnanski, T. (2010). Developing understanding of the nature of science within a professional development program for inservice elementary teachers: Project nature of elementary science teaching. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21(5), 589-621.
Putnam, R.T., and Borko, H. (1997). Teacher learning: Implications of new views of cognition. In B.J. Biddle, T.L. Good, and I.F. Goodson (Eds.), International Handbook of Teachers and Teaching (vol. II, pp. 1223-1296). Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.
Radford, D.L. (1998). Transferring theory into practice: A model for professional development for science education reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35(1), 73-88.
Reeves, T.D., and Pedulla, J.J. (2011). Predictors of teacher satisfaction with online professional development: Evidence from the USA’s e-Learning for Educators initiative. Professional Development in Education, 37(4), 591-611.
Reiser, B.J. (2013). What Professional Development Strategies Are Needed for Successful Implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards? Invitational Research Symposium on Science Assessment. Princeton, NJ: K-12 Center at Educational Testing Service.
Roth, K., Garnier, H., Chen, C., Lemmens, M., Schwille, K., and Wickler, N.I.Z. (2011). Video-based lesson analysis: Effective science PD for teacher and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(2), 117-148.
Russell, M., Kleiman, G., Carey, R., and Douglas, J. (2009). Comparing self-paced and cohort-based online courses for teachers. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 443-466.
Scher, L., and O’Reilly, F. (2009). Professional development for K-12 math and science teachers: What do we really know? Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(3), 209-249.
Seraphin, K.D., Philippoff, J., Parisky, A., Degnan, K., and Warren, D.P. (2013). Teaching energy science as inquiry: Reflections on professional development as a tool to build inquiry teaching skills for middle and high school teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 22(3), 235-251.
Shepardson, D.P., and Harbor, J. (2004). ENVISION: The effectiveness of a dual-level professional development model for changing teacher practice. Environmental Education Research, 10(4), 471-492.
Sherman, G., Byers, A., and Rapp, S. (2008). Evaluation of online, on-demand science professional development material involving two different implementation models. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17(1), 19-31.
Silverman, J. (2012). Exploring the relatioship between teachers prominence in online collaboration and the development of mathematical content knowledge for teaching. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 20(1), 47-69.
Supovitz, J.A., and Turner, H.M. (2000). The effects of professional development on science teaching practices and classroom culture. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(9), 963-980.
Taylor, J., Roth, K.J., Wilson, C., Stuhlsatz, M., and Tipton, E. (in press). The effect of an analysis-of-practice, videocase-based, teacher professional development program on elementary students’ science achievement. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.
van Driel, J. H., Meirink, J. A., van Veen, K., and Zwart, R.C. (2012). Current trends and missing links in studies on teacher professional development in science education: A review of design features and quality of research. Studies in Science Education, 48(2), 129-160.
Warren, D. (Ed.). (1989). American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: Macmillan.
Westerlund, J.R., Garcia, D.M., Koke, J.R., Taylor, T.A., and Mason, D.S. (2002). Summer scientific research for teachers: The experience and its effect. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18(1), 63-89.
Whitehouse, P., Breit, L., McCloskey, E.M., Ketelhut, D.J., and Dede, C. (2006). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. In C. Dede (Ed.), Online Professional Development for Teachers: Emerging Models and Methods (pp. 13-29). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Wilson, S.M. (2011). How can we improve teacher quality? Recruit the right candidates, retain teachers who do well, and ensure strong preparation, good working conditions, and quality professional development. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(2), 64.
Wilson, S.M., and Berne, J. (1999). Teacher learning and the acquisition of professional knowledge: An examination of research on contemporary professional development. In A. Iran-Nejad and P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Review of Research in Education (vol. 24, pp. 173-209). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Wilson, S.M., Rozelle, J.J., and Mikeska, J.N. (2011). Cacophony or embarrassment of riches: Building a system of support for teacher quality. Journal of Teacher Education, 62(4), 383-394.
Yoon, K.S., Duncan, T., Lee, S.-W.-Y., Scarloss, B., and Shapley, K. (2007). Reviewing the Evidence on How Teacher PD Affects Student Achievement. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.