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Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center (2019)

Chapter: 9 The Education System and Investigation and Design

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Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

9

The Education System and Investigation and Design

Making science investigation and engineering design the center of science and engineering learning in middle and high school classrooms is a dramatic change to the status quo. As described throughout the report, engaging all students in investigation and design requires significant effort by teachers and can only happen if the complex factors outside the classroom support their work. Influences come from the policies and practices at the school, district, regional, state, and national levels. While science education reform has been happening almost as long as science has been taught in schools, this constant quest for improvement had several turning points in the history of science education (see Chapter 2). As this report has illustrated, since the 2006 release of America’s Lab Report (National Research Council, 2006), the education community has been increasing the extent to which knowledge of how students learn is applied to teaching and has been paying more attention to including a diverse range of students in the kinds of science learning that prepare all students for the future (Krajcik and Shin, 2014; Lee, Quinn, and Valdés, 2013).

Previous chapters of this report have looked at the student experience with investigation and design and some of the more closely related parts of the system. In this chapter we turn to consider the system as a whole. Implementation of investigation and design is impacted by multiple other factors: the availability of classrooms well equipped with tools, technology, equipment, and supplies (see Chapter 8); teachers who have access to high-quality instructional resources and professional learning experiences (see Chapters 6 and 7); and the time to prepare and use available resources (touched on in Chapters 7 and 8). Many other interacting factors influence

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

implementation as well, such as the culture of the school and district; state requirements for curriculum, testing, and graduation; and the perspectives and priorities of the local community. There is not a significant research base on systemic issues related to implementation of investigation and design. Therefore, the committee considers here several ways of thinking about the education system and education reform. This serves to inform the discussion of selected efforts to reform education and what might be learned from those experiences that could be applied to the context of investigation and design.

This chapter contains discussion of interacting components of the education system relevant to implementation of investigation and design, a continuous improvement model applied to investigation and design, potential lessons from previous efforts to improve education, and the importance of considering equity and inclusion during reform.

THE INTERACTING COMPONENTS OF THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

The U.S. education system includes control from various levels: school, district, regional, state, and federal. Through the passing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) and codified in the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), test-based accountability policies were put into place to ensure that all students were held to the same rigorous academic standards in core subjects (Penfield and Lee, 2010). There have been many analyses of the complex educational system in the United States (e.g., Cohen, 1995; Ghaffarzadegan, Larson, and Hawley, 2016; Hamilton, Stecher, and Yuan, 2009; Mital, Moore, and Llewellyn, 2014), and it is beyond the committee’s charge to delve into a deep consideration of all the levels and components. However, we have worked to identify some of the key aspects of the system that influence implementation of science investigation and engineering design. Figure 9-1 presents one interpretation of the complex interactions that influence each other in the ways that impact science education in the classroom. As noted in Figure 9-1, the committee identified many factors at different levels that influence what students encounter in the classroom. States often determine the standards that must be met as well as play a significant role in funding of schools. Districts often make decisions about instructional time, space, facilities, and other resources, as well as about course sequences. In addition to these key components, it is important to consider the influences of federal policies, national efforts, and perspectives from the local communities and cultures where schools exist.

Some components that more closely influence what students encounter include teachers who enter the classroom, teacher preparation programs, teacher preparation regulations, how teachers are evaluated, and state and

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×
Image
FIGURE 9-1 Committee’s representation of some interactions within the U.S. education system.
NOTE: These interactions occur within and are influenced by the social, political, economic, and cultural milieu of the United States.

local certification requirements. Others impact the content and focus of the material used in classrooms, such as the curriculum and instructional resources. Assessment policies, including state and federally mandated tests, also influence what happens in the classroom. Standardized tests impact what is perceived as important and this can be challenging when the focus or format of the tests do not align well with the instructional approach chosen. The tests can also constrain course sequencing options because students need to enroll in the expected courses before the relevant required exams. Other components that influence classroom experiences include the approach taken to professional learning and the opportunities and incentives for teachers to participate in professional leaning and to apply their learning to their daily work. In addition, school leaders and teachers’ expectations, priorities, and degree of commitment to equity together create an instructional climate that encourage or discourage particular pedagogical approaches. The literature about how teacher evaluation influences

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

teachers’ values and practices is informative and can provide insight for administrators who observe and evaluate teachers (Firestone, 2014; Harris and Harrington, 2015; Hinchey, 2010).

Other important factors that need to be considered and have been discussed in previous chapters include the role of parents, families, and communities that help to shape a student’s learning. By leveraging the funds of knowledge that these constituents bring to the classroom and school environment, the potential for more equitable learning environments can be attended to. That is, there needs to be greater attention to the sociocultural system. Unfortunately, although the committee acknowledges the importance, they are not included in Figure 9-1 as the influence has multiple touch points and should be a pervasive component of the system overall.

In other words, what goes on in classrooms is influenced and affected by a variety of factors within and beyond a single school, district, and state. Decisions are made at multiple levels and interact in various ways to influence the education students receive. Therefore, thinking about education and education reform requires a consideration of the complex interacting pieces of the system that can affect implementation of changes. Efforts to bring science investigation and engineering design to all students must be cognizant of the constraints and opportunities coming from many directions. Thoughtful analysis can contribute to the ability to leverage opportunities for improvement and to address challenges that might impede improvement.

Of particular note in the U.S. education system is how education is primarily a state and local responsibility. Although the components of the education system interact mostly at the state level, federal regulations and programs do have an impact on focus and priorities. The federal government’s role in education has varied over time but is relatively minimal in terms of funding, providing only about 8 percent of the money spent on elementary and secondary education (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). The system is also influenced by the participation of many other stakeholders. Public and private organizations develop standards, curriculum, and instructional resources. Often, state colleges and universities prepare and provide continuing education to teachers.

The interaction between K–12 and higher education is complex and multidirectional. In addition to the role of higher education in preparing future teachers and providing some professional learning for in-service teachers, higher education also provides a model for teachers of how science and engineering are taught. When teachers have experiences with separate laboratory sections that do not closely relate to their in-class learning, it can influence their expectations for how K–12 students learn science and what they see as optimal to prepare their students for college coursework. Undergraduate experiences are slowly moving away from these traditional approaches, with more of these students being exposed to evidence-based

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

pedagogy and other new approaches such as course-based undergraduate research experiences (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017).

State standards have a large influence on the type of instruction that takes place in the classroom. Interactions between standards, curriculum, and resources have a significant influence on what is taught and how it is taught. Whereas policy makers may choose standards, the interpretations of the standards and the enacted curriculum are influenced on a more local level. The fidelity of implementation of the intended curriculum is also influenced by the support that teachers receive either via in-service professional development or in their teacher preparation programs and by the funding allocated for the acquisition of instructional resources and construction of instructional spaces that facilitate the type of instruction conductive to the learning outcomes described in this report.

A Framework for K–12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as the Framework; National Research Council, 2012) calls for substantial changes in science teaching and learning that are impacted by and have implications for many of the components of the education system described above. Specific changes needed to put investigation and design in the center of the middle and high school classroom require changes to instruction and the nature of the student experience. They should also build on the experiences students have in elementary school where they begin learning progressions of the Framework. A high priority needs to be placed on professional learning and the selection and use of appropriate high-quality instructional resources, as well as ensuring access to adequate space and suitable equipment and supplies.

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT MODEL

Implementation of investigation and design as the central focus of middle and high school science and engineering courses requires many significant changes and is not expected to happen at once. A continuous improvement model can be applied to the ongoing and sustained efforts that will be needed to enact change. A coherent strategy is more likely to emerge if decision makers have a mechanism for considering the various components of the system and how they interact. In this section, we group the components into three interrelated areas used by scholars who study systemic science education reform in the United States: organizational culture, capability, and policy and management (Blumenfeld et al., 2000). Work in each of these areas can be aligned, and efforts in each area can combine to foster continuous improvement.

The first area is organizational culture, which includes expectations for collaboration and reflection by educators and the local context of school

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

and school district norms, routines, and practices. When considering science investigation and engineering design, key aspects of this area include leadership, accountability, data-driven decision making, and collaboration. School leaders and teachers’ expectations, priorities, and degree of commitment to equity together create an instructional climate that encourages or discourages particular pedagogical approaches. For example, schools and districts will vary in the expectations for teachers to spend time gaining information about new approaches to teaching. District leaders play key roles in supporting and encouraging sincere efforts to improve or being satisfied with the status quo. Reciprocal accountability where teachers and administrators are together and separately responsible for continued improvement can enhance progress. That is, it may be beneficial to make decisions and base district policies on an expectation of good instruction and not merely on compliance with policies and regulations.

The second area is capability, which includes the ability to implement curriculum and strategies and is dependent on educators’ beliefs and expertise. When considering science investigation and engineering design, key aspects of this area include familiarity with Framework-aligned approaches, instructional resources of the type described in Chapter 6, and qualified educators with access to quality professional learning experiences such as described in Chapter 7. Another important aspect of educators’ beliefs is their perspectives about who can and should do science and engineering, and their knowledge about inequality and inequity in science and engineering. Districts vary in their focus on providing high-quality science and engineering experiences for all students, as well as the number and qualifications of their educators and the access provided for teachers to process and utilize instructional resources. The opportunity to collaborate with other teachers and form professional learning communities to work together on implementation and refinement of teaching affects capability for change.

Policy and management make up the third area, which concerns funding, resources, scheduling, staffing, and allocation of responsibility, including monitoring and guidance. In the context of investigation and design, this area would include many of the topics discussed in Chapter 8, such as space, equipment, supplies, time, and scheduling, as well as staffing policies. Decisions about instructional time, resources, and course sequences are made at different levels of the system and have a direct impact on and are impacted by the availability and types of instructional spaces and teacher expertise. As such, states and districts may need to consider instructional strategies that have shown the greatest promise when making decisions about courses and teacher expertise. Policies on assigning teachers, courses, and spaces impact the success of implementation of investigation

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

and design. Smaller-scale decisions about equipment and supplies and time to order, prepare, and clean them up can also be important.

POTENTIAL LESSONS FROM PREVIOUS IMPROVEMENT EFFORTS

As described in Chapter 2, throughout history various stakeholders in science education have pursued transformations in science instruction. Different stakeholders have led these pursuits, and the pursuits have targeted different levers in science education. For example, starting in the 1950s and spanning several decades, the National Science Foundation (NSF) spearheaded efforts to change science curriculum; it initiated similarly structured efforts commencing in the 1970s geared toward the professional development of teachers (National Research Council, 2007; National Science Foundation, 2000). Likewise, states instituted a wave of initiatives to raise high school graduation requirements in science in the 1980s (Clune and White, 1992; Lee and Ready, 2009). These pre-1990 reforms generally addressed facets of science education in isolation of other aspects of the system. This section identifies several education reform efforts in the context of their interactions with the system via consideration of the areas in the continuous improvement structure described above.

The observations made about the examples we present are based on available literature and the experiences of the committee. As discussed in Chapter 1, the committee is confident in making different types of conclusions depending on the strength of the supporting evidence. The examples here rely mainly on evaluation studies or summary documents as supporting evidence, most of which have not been subject to peer review. They are nevertheless informative for considering the factors that must be considered in making efforts to implement investigation and design. In addition, most of these efforts pre-date the Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). However, to the extent possible, we have chosen examples in which the general pedagogical approach is similar to, and reflects the intellectual underpinnings of, the Framework. Finally, because research on investigation and design in the way the committee is conceiving of it is scarce, most of the examples focus on the broader idea of science instruction rather than on investigations per se. The examples also do not include engineering because research on K–12 engineering education was even scarcer before the Framework and NGSS. For the sake of the discussion, we use improving instruction as a proxy for improving investigation and design, though we acknowledge that further research is needed to confirm the strength of that connection.

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

REFORM EFFORTS

We consider the ways that these past efforts can provide lessons for achieving Framework- style classrooms with investigation and design at the center. It is important to note that not all of these efforts enjoyed total or sustained success and that many happened in schools and classrooms where the vision of the Framework had not yet been realized. However, they are instructive because they show the complexity and difficulty of meaningful and lasting change, and this can inform attempts to secure science investigation and engineering design for all students.

Policy and Management: San Diego City Schools

In the early 2000s, San Diego City Schools in California began an ambitious effort to improve science instruction at scale (Bess and Bybee, 2004). This effort had strong leadership support and coupled instructional materials with professional development to improve instruction. It also involved a redesign of course sequencing to better serve students.

The instructional materials used by San Diego during this time (BSCS A Human Approach, Active Physics, Living by Chemistry) were all based on NSF-funded research and were developed by practitioners and academic researchers with a robust understanding of the current science education context and research. Yet even when coupled with extensive professional development (2 weeks in- the summer, 7 days during the academic year) and supports from the district and curriculum developers, the improvement work of the district was challenging. Writing about the professional development challenges, leaders of the effort expressed a pessimistic view about the amount of work needed to generate improvements (Bess and Bybee, 2004, p. 7):

Most teachers were unprepared to support an inquiry-based curriculum. Few had any concrete grasp of a sound instruction model. The management of the instructional materials and equipment for use by all students to develop conceptual understanding overwhelmed many teachers. Many teachers hold deep-seated doubt about the capabilities of their students. They are challenged in evaluating conceptual understanding.

Discussing the outcomes of this effort, Bess and Bybee (2004, p. 9) went on to say:

Teachers report that they struggle with classroom and materials management, questioning strategies, assessment tools (other than multiple choice), and supporting English learners. The standards test score data show some improvement on moving students to higher performance bands and some

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

success in moving students from the lowest performance band into to the basic level performance band. There is, however, a great deal of room for improvement.

These findings are sobering for those seeking to implement three-dimensional learning at scale. Quality, research-based instructional materials, strong central support, and extensive professional development resulted in modest improvements in student learning as measured on standardized tests, and only after extensive effort and time.

Consideration of course offerings and course sequencing are important aspects of high school science improvement. In San Diego, leaders addressed this challenge by moving the district to a “physics first” model where students in 9th grade took physics, in 10th grade chemistry, and 11th grade biology. While initially this change had broad support, as the work progressed the change management process became overwhelming. Five years after the change was made, the district reversed itself (Gao, 2006). For science educators seeking to advance instruction along the lines of Chapter 5 of this report, course-taking and course-sequencing are important levers for change, but because of issues connected to teacher credentials and college admissions requirements, making or sustaining the change can be difficult.

The San Diego example also shows the importance of local leadership capacity and some of the pitfalls of centrally directed leadership efforts. In San Diego, “Relying on the constituents to come to consensus on what improvements need to be made, gathering support, creating a model that represents the views of all is a formidable task. (That approach was deemed inappropriate for the identified needs.)” (Bess and Bybee, 2004, p. 11). Instead, the superintendent was “quite direct” and “geared to making immediate changes,” resulting in a hierarchical structure where, ultimately “teachers were expected to follow prescribed daily agendas using curriculum materials selected to meet the needs of their students” (Bess and Bybee, 2004, p. 7).

The three-dimensional science learning described in this report is new—so “relying on the constituents” to generate and embrace the necessary changes could be difficult. However, as the results of the San Diego effort show, a top-down or externally driven agenda will also generate its own set of challenges.

In returning to our continuous improvement model, this example shows the importance of organizational change and especially the role of leadership. It illustrates how school districts are the locus of considerable control. While states set funding levels, standards, and curriculum, districts are important fulcrums of change because they sit at the intersection of policy and practice. District leaders can be important actors in efforts to improve science instruction at scale because they are in a position to exert a

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

strong influence on the instructional approaches that are used, the guidance that is given about using and evaluating those approaches, and the type and level of supports that are provided to implement those approaches. The importance of capability is also illustrated here in the impact of instructional resources and professional learning.

Organizational Change and Capability: Brockton High School Transformation

The difficulties of change in three schools struggling to improve achievement for student groups that have historically underperformed (i.e., African American and Latino students, students with disabilities, and low socioeconomic disadvantaged students) were analyzed by Noguera (2017). One of these schools is Brockton High School (BHS), the largest high school in Massachusetts. In 1999, BHS was described by the Boston Globe as “the cesspool of education,” but by 2010 it was considered a national example of turnaround success.1

In contrast to the San Diego example, the policies that drove the changes at BHS started with teachers. A group of teachers calling themselves the “Restructuring Committee” began meeting to analyze the causes of BHS student failure and develop a plan to address those causes. This effort was supported by the school administration and eventually by the school district central office. The group did not initially include all teachers in the school, but it sought to use evidence of its success to entice more teachers to participate (Noguera, 2017).

Working together, the teachers and school administration identified a series of changes that needed to occur within the instructional program and the school schedule to support students’ academic and nonacademic needs. Key elements of the reform included adopting a curriculum that emphasized “deeper learning” to engage and motivate students, providing targeted support where students needed it the most, and modifying the school schedule to allow sufficient class time to provide that support. Teachers realized that to implement the planned changes, they needed to learn and practice pedagogical strategies such as the Socratic Method, project-based learning, and literacy in the content areas. School administrators monitored professional development and conducted nonevaluative classroom observations to provide the appropriate support to teachers. To help students in need of extra support, teachers also made themselves available before and after school and during lunch periods (Noguera, 2017).

Teachers and school administrators recognized several nonschool factors that were influencing student achievement, such as poverty, trauma,

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1 See https://www.studeri.org/blog/lessons-from-brockton-high-school [September 2018].

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

and homelessness. To address the various effects of these issues on the learning process, the school partnered with community and social service organizations to connect students with services that would address their nonacademic needs. The changes in BHS gradually spread to other schools in the district (Noguera, 2017). But the turnaround was not fast or easy. It was the result of a concerted effort by all levels of the system, starting with teachers and strongly supported by the school administration, the school district central office, and the community. Noguera (2017, p. 29) identified some essential elements that are needed to support this type of turnaround:

  • Clear understanding of the academic needs of students and design of the “intervention” to address those needs.
  • Differentiated training and support for teachers so that particular teachers or groups of teachers receive supports targeted to their particular needs.
  • Collaborative problem solving between central office teams and site leaders to devise strategies for building the capacity of schools. This approach is particularly important for schools that have struggled to meet lower state standards in the past.
  • New systems of support at the state and district levels, combined with equity-based funding policies that provide supplemental social supports to school in high-poverty communities.

Capability: Chicago Public Schools Transformation Efforts

Managing large urban school districts like Chicago is challenging. From roughly 2006 through 2010, the Chicago Public Schools undertook an extensive high school transformation effort that focused on nearly every aspect of high schools including governance, school incubation, enrollment, and accountability (Elmore, Grossman, and King, 2007). A key component of this effort was a focus on providing curriculum and professional development to schools (Gewertz, 2006). An extensive evaluation of this effort was conducted by SRI International and the Chicago Consortium on School Research (Humphrey and Shields, 2009). Most relevant to this discussion of science investigations in middle and high schools was the effort to create “instructional development systems” (IDSs), which were tightly combined combinations of curricula and school supports (Sporte et al., 2009, p. 1), which they described as follows:

[Chicago Public Schools] worked with educational experts to develop two to three comprehensive curricula in each of three subjects: English, mathematics, and science from which participating schools could choose. Each subject area IDS includes curricular strategies, classroom materials,

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

formative and summative assessments, targeted professional development, and personalized coaching. The goal of each IDS curriculum is to prepare students for college and the workforce, and each will be aligned to both state and college readiness standards.

The IDS models in science were selected via competitive bid and all led by university partners with considerable science and science education expertise. While all predated the Framework, two of the three science models featured curricula developed from an extensive research base, built in part with funding from the National Science Foundation. The third featured popular if traditional instructional materials. Schools could choose the option that suited them best, and the work was phased in over several years adding one grade level at a time. All included a full suite of laboratory equipment for each classroom, summer workshops for teachers based on the particular instructional materials chosen by the school, in-classroom coaching by expert science teachers, and extensive data to support implementation. The entire high school transformation effort had quite strong financial and administrative resources.

The evaluation found the IDS intervention was well implemented. Generally, teachers generally liked the instructional materials they received. The effort created coherence and enhanced collaboration. Most teachers thought the professional development and in-school coaching was beneficial (Sporte et al., 2009). However, outcomes of this intervention were mixed, and the limitations in these results have the potential to be instructive to subsequent reformers interested in increasing the quality and quantity of investigations in high schools. Observations of instruction showed that even after implementation, “instruction in IDS classrooms generally needed improvement” (Sporte et al., 2009, p. 17) Teacher expectations of student learning and achievement were “generally low” among IDS teachers. Questioning techniques remained challenging for most teachers, even when supported by instructional materials with questioning supports built in and accompanying professional development sessions. Student outcomes were slightly improved in grade point average, mirroring the system as a whole, with slightly fewer failed courses. In the first few years of implementation, standardized test performance was not different between IDS schools and non-IDS schools (Humphrey and Shields, 2009), though according to internal district records, IDS schools outperformed other schools in later years on standardized tests (Michael Lach, personal communication). Like most large-scale improvement efforts, there was more variance of performance within schools than across schools (Lesnick et al., 2009). And issues of attendance and classroom management were found to be particularly vexing challenges: the engaging, well-supported instructional materials, coaching, and professional development were unable to counter the poor attendance

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

patterns of many schools and unable to balance the challenging discipline issues facing many classrooms (Sporte et. al., 2009).

Findings from this work highlight the challenges facing reformers seeking to advance the vision of science instruction described in Chapter 4:

  • In many high schools, issues of attendance and classroom management dominate the experience of the adults and children. To resolve these issues, a solution focused on instructional improvement is likely necessary but insufficient.
  • Because school-specific issues dominated the data, attention to local school structures, routines, and leadership capacity is essential.
  • Providing equipment and materials at scale is not easy, but necessary (Humphrey and Shields, 2009, pp. 14–16).
  • Given the racial make-up of Chicago, and the fact that observed teacher expectations of students remained low throughout the intervention, future reformers should be reminded of the importance of issues of diversity and equity.

This example shows a strong focus on the continuous improvement areas of capability (providing the units and professional development). It also illustrates that even well-designed and well-implemented curriculum and instructional supports can be drowned out by adult expectations, school culture, and classroom management background if not attended to.

Collaboration and Organizational Change: The Case of Modeling

Collaboration between teachers can facilitate change efforts. In cases where local peers are not numerous links to a larger group can be helpful. For example, many high schools have only one physics teacher and therefore lack a pool of colleagues to form a professional learning community focused on physics (Tesfaye and White, 2012). Modeling is a science teaching approach and a community of science teachers that can in some ways serve as a professional community.2 In modeling, teachers present carefully selected phenomena (such as a ball rolling down an inclined plane) and through a series of experiments, students create a model (often mathematical, but not always) that describes that phenomena and can be used to make predictions about new situations and contexts, much like the “developing

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2 In the mid-1980s, modeling grew into a method of teaching high school physics (Jackson, Dukerich, and Hestenes, 2008; Wells, Hestenes, and Swackhamer, 1995); a method of teaching other high school science courses and topics; a set of instructional materials; a community; and a professional organization called the American Modeling Teachers Association. For more information, see https://modelinginstruction.org/sample-page/synopsis-of-modeling-instruction/ [October 2018].

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

and using models” practice from the Framework. Modeling classrooms typically feature extensive group work, lots of student discussion and debate, and a focus on precise communication of scientific ideas.

While modeling initially expanded thanks to an NSF Teacher Enhancement Grant in 1994 (Hestenes et al., 1994), the subsequent expansion of modeling has generally occurred without the direct support of states, districts, or schools that many other middle and high school improvement efforts benefit from. This follows from the context: in more than 80 percent of U.S. schools where physics is taught, there is only one person teaching the subject (White and Tesfaye, 2010). An approach designed to forge connections across schools between individual practitioners makes sense. Generally, modeling workshops are organized by teachers and partners at local universities, often using competitive math-science partnership grant funding or some sort of fee-for-service configuration. The community is deeply distributed and nearly all online, sharing lessons, activities, and insights through a variety of email lists and social media.

Several factors likely contribute to this decentralized and significant expansion. The community is driven to a large degree by a focus on assessment and data. A set of conceptually focused assessment instruments, including the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) (Hestenes, Malcolm Wells, and Swackhamer, 1992) and the Mechanics Baseline Test (MBT) (Hestenes and Wells, 1992), were used to drive the change process. Physics teachers using traditional pedagogies were generally amazed at how poorly their students do on this exam, which focuses on conceptual understanding, leading them to be more open to suggestions from teachers who use the different conceptual and student-centered approaches as described earlier in this report. A design-test-iterate cycle, using concept inventories as the benchmark, resulted in ever-improving sets of lessons, tasks, and units that are shared online within the community. By routinely collecting and sharing outcome data (for instance, Hake, 1998), the modeling community was able to both spread the word about their efforts and make it easier for interested scholars and practitioners to build on existing efforts. Efforts to increase the quality and quantity of Framework-based investigations could learn from this teacher-focused, data-rich, distributed community approach to improving instruction at scale.

This example shows how the continuous improvement area of organizational change can expand to include collaboration across schools and between K–12 educators and universities, and provide another viewpoint to illustrate the many interconnections between K–12 and higher education. The development of instructional resources and the organization of multiple types of ongoing professional learning show the importance of attention to capability.

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

Challenges of Alignment: State Systemic Initiatives

In the early 1990s, NSF supported a series of systemic initiatives—first, in 1991, focused on states (state systemic initiatives, or SSIs), and later, in 1994, focused on urban districts and rural regions:

NSF specified a set of key “drivers” of systemic reform, asking each SSI to report its progress in terms of: (1) implementation of comprehensive, standards-based curricula; (2) development of a coherent set of policies to support high quality science and mathematics education; (3) convergence of the use of resources in support of science and mathematics education; (4) broadbased support for the reforms; (5) evidence that the program is enhancing student achievement; and (6) evidence that the program is improving the achievement of all students, including those that have historically been underserved (Webb et al., 2003, p. 2).

This concept of engaging entire systems was chosen in an effort to align different parts of the system (e.g., requirements mandated by policy, curriculum, assessment, administrator and teacher professional development) toward a common goal. The SSIs made some inroads toward these goals. They created conditions for improvement (Horn, 2004; Huffman and Lawrenz, 2004; National Science Foundation, 2000; Zucker et al., 1998), provided needed capacity in challenging regions (Heck et al., 2003), and contributed to improvements in student mathematics performance (Webb et al., 2003). However, sustaining the SSIs became impossible after nearly a decade in part due to lack of support from local and state policy makers to sustain these initiatives (Hoff, 2001).

There is much to learn from the SSIs that might be relevant to current efforts to change the instruction of science teachers at scale. Perhaps the key lesson is that coherence matters. When components of the system—including, at the district level, for instance curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development—articulate with one another clearly and cleanly, improvement accelerates. As the final evaluation of SSIs indicates:

Change is most effective when multiple components are addressed in concert: i.e., when the SSIs served as catalysts for other reform efforts that states had initiated, they achieved optimum impact. When state policies are aligned with the goals of a systemic initiative and when state infrastructure supports teachers and schools as they change their practices, reform can result in substantial achievement gains in a relatively short time (Heck et al., 2003, p. v).

In revisiting the continuous improvement model, this example illustrates the challenge of alignment and the opportunities and challenges that lie in efforts to focus all the components on shared goals and approaches.

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

Lessons Learned from Previous Efforts

The examples discussed illustrate that coordinating states, local educational agencies, and schools to increase the quality and quantity of science investigations in the context of supporting three-dimensional science learning is a multifaceted effort. Paradigmatic instructional changes (such as shifting to three-dimensional learning) are difficult to achieve at scale and even more difficult to sustain. There are no silver bullets or magic formulas. Moreover, as the examples illustrate, although instructional change manifests at the classroom level, it does not happen in the isolation of a classroom. A myriad of other changes within the education system are necessary to support a shift toward the desired instructional approach. Identifying, planning for, making, and sustaining these changes takes time, patience, and commitment from the parties who have a stake in the success of the reform and who, by working together, have the different types of expertise to make it happen.

The successes and challenges of the efforts described in this chapter, together with research from other reform efforts, reveal elements that seem to be important when changing science instruction at scale. These include the following:

  1. High-capacity leadership that brings both resources and political cover. The onus of changing how students engage in investigations and design in science classrooms should not fall solely on individual teachers. Whether at the federal, state, or district level, reformers who are savvy about the change process, skilled in the art of compromise and making difficult tradeoffs, and able to balance the needs of often-competing interests can have impact. School and district administrators provide time, curricular, and professional resources for growth. If they also understand the goals and highly effective practices envisioned within three-dimensional science classrooms (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2015), they can facilitate implementation of science and investigation in the classroom. If administrators are not aware of innovations of Framework-based standards, teachers may become hesitant to implement those innovations if they receive conflicting messages or guidance about what constitutes effective instruction (Allen and Penuel, 2015). If administrators are not focused on understanding and addressing the impediments to equality and equity, it is difficult to alleviate persistent disparities between groups of students. In short, this vision of investigation and design for all demands leaders who know both science education and who are able to deftly lead schools and districts.
Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×
  1. Science-specific (as opposed to content-agnostic) strategies. Some instructional practices, such as inclusive pedagogies and the use of formative assessment, are essential ingredients of quality teaching. Although there is some evidence that these types of strategies also are effective in science, they might be operationalized differently in science instruction, because science is different. As the previous chapters have shown, science instruction has its own set of considerations that should be integrated into any improvement effort from the beginning. Given the specialized content knowledge and instructional strategies required in science, efforts to improve instruction at scale might require collaboration and partnerships to bridge gaps in expertise between partners who are more expert in science and science education and partners who are more expert in educational systems and structures.
  2. Iterative improvement. The efforts described above unfolded with careful planning, development, and coordination, and many took years to reach their full maturity. They encountered challenges that slowed their intended progress (e.g., classroom management issues in Chicago) and that required adjustments to respond to local contextual factors. These kinds of unexpected setbacks and ongoing adaptations mean that change will be incremental and require a long view to recognize the progress that is being made along the way.

Several of these efforts also focused on providing professional learning for educators that was coupled with well-designed instructional materials enacted in line with the local context. These strategies recognize the centrality of teachers to any instructional improvement effort, and the need to ensure that they have sufficient supports and capacity to improve their practices.

PULLING THE PIECES TOGETHER

Beyond these general principles for improving science instruction at scale, this committee’s specific focus on investigation and equality and equity intersect with different aspects of the education system in ways that warrant additional consideration. Teaching science in the ways described in this report requires that students and teachers have access to ongoing investigations, appropriate space for students to work in small groups with real materials, appropriate tools to make the measurements needed, curriculum and assessment resources aligned to the teaching goals including appropriate video and simulation resources, and the technology for students to access and manipulate these resources at the level of small groups

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

or individually. It is especially important for under-resourced schools and districts to have these tools and resources available to all of their students. Chapters 6 and 8 of this report explore the issues of instructional resources and space and facilities in more detail. These chapters point out numerous instances of inequitable resource distribution and its potential for large effects on student learning. These inequities impact all three of the continuous improvement areas discussed here. Equity audits can be a useful tool for ensuring accountability to equitable education. Organizational culture will impact the way stakeholders respond to the audits and to the underlying situation. Qualified educators are key to having the capability to work towards science investigation and engineering design for all, but these educators require funding for salaries, space, equipment and supplies, all items that fall under the area of policy and management.

Schools that serve primarily groups underrepresented in science rarely have the best space, equipment, and instructional resources, but even these are of little value unless the teacher knows how to use them effectively. Thus, as we have discussed in Chapter 7, teacher preparation and ongoing professional learning are keys to effective science teaching. Teachers not only need a sound understanding of the science being taught, but also they need to have experienced the type of science learning that they are being asked to deliver—for example, to have developed their own models and explanations for phenomena or planned their own experiments. These experiences allow them to develop their own understanding of the science and engineering practices and of the role of the crosscutting concepts; alongside an understanding of how to teach science in this way. Coordination between schools of education, science departments, and state education policies on science teacher qualification could achieve better science teacher preparation and certification for secondary science teaching that achieves Framework-based standards, without diminishing the importance of science teachers knowing the science they are teaching. Teacher preparation programs that integrate science learning and learning about appropriate science pedagogy can provide teachers with the types of experiences they will be providing to their students. Significant change at the K–12 level and the undergraduate level will not happen without attention to the way that courses offered to undergraduates impact the future teaching of K–12 students.

Students’ ability to participate in and learn from investigations is determined, in part, by the courses they are enrolled in and the design of those courses. As discussed in Chapter 3, current high school course structures do not support the breadth of topics addressed in Framework-based standards. Moreover, states that require fewer than three high school science courses for graduation might not be adequately preparing students for the performance expectations of Framework-based standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013, App. K).

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

Thus, broader changes to the scope and sequence of high school course offerings are needed to achieve three-dimensional learning at scale. A severe constraint on this reorganization is that the majority of high school science teachers and even many middle school science teachers are certified to teach in only a single disciplinary area (see Chapter 3). In addition, few high school science teachers have sufficient experience or background in teaching engineering design, so the incorporation of engineering projects across all disciplines of science will further stretch the capacity of most education systems. If high school course offerings are revised, it is likely that eventually graduation requirements and college entrance requirements would need to be rewritten to move away from requiring a certain number of “laboratory science” courses to instead include descriptions that more closely reflect the role of investigation in three-dimensional learning.

Bringing these changes to scale so that all students engage in high-quality science investigation and design will require changes to assessment systems in addition to the many other changes already discussed. New approaches to state testing of science that takes into account how students learn through science investigation and engineering design and is aligned to the Framework would facilitate change. Framework alignment would mean inclusions of earth systems science, physical sciences (both chemistry and physics concepts), and life sciences (including both biology and ecology concepts) as well as engineering. Appendix A discusses some specific issues related to designing assessments that capture three-dimensional learning.

Finally, any effort to take three-dimensional learning to scale must take into account how policies of tracking students into particular course options and sequences has limited participation of students from underrepresented groups in advanced courses and contributed to the well-documented inequities in science and engineering majors and careers. Students perceived as college bound have traditionally taken a biology-chemistry-physics sequence, plus possible honors or AP science courses, all including laboratory. Students with lower scores (particularly in mathematics) are often assigned a lower track where they take a different sequence with fewer science courses overall, no access to advanced courses, and fewer laboratory opportunities. For some students, career and technical education courses count toward science requirements for graduation. These courses may or may not include opportunities for learning rigorous science content, although recent reforms such as “linked-learning” academies attempt to design career-linked and project-based course sequences that integrate standards across all disciplines and prepare the students for college entry (e.g., the University of California Curriculum Integration Program to include academic content needed for university admission in high school career and

Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

technical courses).3 Notwithstanding these types of academies, career and technical education generally does not meet the entry requirements of the top-level state university systems. The career and technical education track, together with differentiated mathematics course sequences, have long acted as gatekeepers for college entry and preparation to major in a science or engineering area in college.

SUMMARY

Systemic reform is needed to ensure access to science investigation and engineering design for all students. Policies at all levels can impact opportunities and requires attention to potential sources of inequity and decision points that limit opportunities for historically underrepresented groups. Moreover, it is important to consider the changing role of the teacher and to provide access to appropriate instructional resources, professional learning, funding, space, equipment, supplies, and student safety. This chapter presented a framework for continuous improvement that focused on organizational culture, educatory capability, and policy and management. Although discussed as separate components, it is crucial to recognize the interrelationships among the components of the continuous improvement model to ensure that schools provide high-quality access to science investigations and engineering design.

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Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
×

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Suggested Citation:"9 The Education System and Investigation and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25216.
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It is essential for today’s students to learn about science and engineering in order to make sense of the world around them and participate as informed members of a democratic society. The skills and ways of thinking that are developed and honed through engaging in scientific and engineering endeavors can be used to engage with evidence in making personal decisions, to participate responsibly in civic life, and to improve and maintain the health of the environment, as well as to prepare for careers that use science and technology.

The majority of Americans learn most of what they know about science and engineering as middle and high school students. During these years of rapid change for students’ knowledge, attitudes, and interests, they can be engaged in learning science and engineering through schoolwork that piques their curiosity about the phenomena around them in ways that are relevant to their local surroundings and to their culture. Many decades of education research provide strong evidence for effective practices in teaching and learning of science and engineering. One of the effective practices that helps students learn is to engage in science investigation and engineering design. Broad implementation of science investigation and engineering design and other evidence-based practices in middle and high schools can help address present-day and future national challenges, including broadening access to science and engineering for communities who have traditionally been underrepresented and improving students’ educational and life experiences.

Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center revisits America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science in order to consider its discussion of laboratory experiences and teacher and school readiness in an updated context. It considers how to engage today’s middle and high school students in doing science and engineering through an analysis of evidence and examples. This report provides guidance for teachers, administrators, creators of instructional resources, and leaders in teacher professional learning on how to support students as they make sense of phenomena, gather and analyze data/information, construct explanations and design solutions, and communicate reasoning to self and others during science investigation and engineering design. It also provides guidance to help educators get started with designing, implementing, and assessing investigation and design.

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