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Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
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Page 138
Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
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Page 139
Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 140
Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 141
Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 142
Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 143
Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 144
Suggested Citation:"Montgomery County, Maryland." National Academy of Sciences. 1997. Science for All Children: A Guide to Improving Elementary Science Education in Your School District. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4964.
×
Page 145

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Montgomery County, Maryland A Large Suburban School District Works to Build a Cadre of Effective Elementary Science Teachers Culturally and economically diverse, Montgomery County Public Schools is the nation's 11th largess school district. Extending from the borders of Washington, D. C., to farmlands near Frederick, Maryland, the school dis- tr~ct serves 63,000 elementary students in 127 schools and has about 2, 600 elementary teachers responsible for teaching science. The children come from upper-middle-class neighborhoods as well as middle- and lower- income areas. The overall minority enrollment is approximately 43 percent, and studentsfrom more than 60 foreign countries are [earning English as a second language. The push for science education reform in Montgomery County began in the 1980s, when a group of community leaders expressed concern about the elementary science program. Since that time, the county has mace great strides in its reform effort. The district has addressed curriculum selection, profes- sional development, materials support, and assessment. An inquiry-centered science curriculum is in place, and the county has developed a cadre of 68 lead teachers. In addition, teachers from 90 schools have been involved in professional development activities. The program has a permanent materials support center. Finally, performance-based assessments and scoring rubrics have been created for each learning module in the science curriculum. What happens when school ad- ministrators offer teachers state-of-the-art science materials and in- tensive training, as well as the guarantee that they will never have to go to the store again to buy cups, paper towels, or any other sup- plies for their science lessons? 138

Montgomery County, Maryland In Montgomery County Public Schools, the result has been a powerful partnership between teachers and administrators that has created an exemplary inquiry-centered science program. 'me made teachers an offer they couldn't refuse," explains William McDonald, coordinator of elementary science. 'We told them that not only would we give them the best curriculum mate- rials available nationwide, but we also would make a commitment to provide intensive training in each module. As a result, they have been receptive and enthusiastic." Indeed, professional development lies at the core of Mont- gomery County's science program. Everyone involved believes that the program must be ([riven by teachers and that only through ongoing support will teachers become expert and able to assume leadership roles among their peers. This conviction has underscored the program since its inception. The Foundation for Reform Montgomery Count,v began its reform effort in 1988, when the su- perintendent of schools convened a task force to assess the county's K-12 science program. Under the guidance of Gerard Consuegra, then coordinator of elementary science, staff began reviewing ant! fielci-testing new curriculum materials. By 1990, staff had selected one module per grade level to place in every elementary classroom. In 1991, the program received a boost in the form of a Teacher Enhancement Grant from the National Science Founcla- tion (NSF). The grant enabled the county to set up an intensive professional development program while the school system made the commitment to purchase the kits needled to implement the new program. Also in 1991, Montgomery County sent a team to the National Science Resources Center Elementary Science Leaci- ership Institute, where team members had time to plan and learn about the new curriculum modules that were available. Team members put the information they had gained at the Leadership Institute to use almost immediately. They returned home and helcl their own two-week summer institute in inquiry-cen- tered pedagogy for a cadre of 40 lead teachers as the first phase of their professional development program. This initial training was bolstered by monthly meetings held throughout the school year. 139

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice Working with science educators en c! scientists from the com- muni~cy, the lead teachers attended sessions on recent research in science education and learner! about examples of science curricu- la in the well-established school districts of Mesa, Arizona; Anchor- age, Alaska; and Schaumburg, Illinois. Leacl teachers also explorer! such topics as the nature of science, learning theory, the construc- tivist approach to learning, cognitive development, integrating math and language arts into science, and cooperative learning. Training emphasized acceptance of a wide variety of learning styles and the importance of solving problems within the rigor of scien- tif~c methodology. The institute also focused on the necessity of bringing science to everyone, including children from groups typi- cally underrepresented in the science professions-females and minorities. Then teachers were acquainted with curriculum modules from several national curriculum projects, as well as trade books to be used in conjunction with the kits. The goal was for the lead teachers to field-test these modules in their classrooms during the 1991-92 school year. The following school year, an additional 28 lead teachers were aclded to the project. All 68 lead teachers spent hours poring over curriculum materials, f~eld-testing modules, and considering whether the materials reflected the new pedagogy and included examples of authentic assessments. Each month during the school year, they met to discuss what was happening in their classrooms. From this process, the lead teachers selected curriculum modules from a range of national curriculum programs, including Science and Technology for Children (STC), Insights, Creative Publica- tions, and the Full Option Science System. Choosing teaching ma- terials from an eclectic assortment of curricula has worked well in Montgomery County. Assessment is also a key ingredient of the county's program. Teachers are working to develop assessment strategies to measure not just what students know, but also what they can do in science. Teachers are learning how to assess student attainment of science process skills through performance-based assessments, many of which are embedded in the modules themselves. In addition, final performance-based assessments and scoring rubrics have been 140

Montgomery County, Maryland created for each module. These assessment strategies help prepare teachers and students for the Maryland State Performance Pro- gram assessments, which are given at the end of grades 3 and 5. Implementing an Ambitious Professional Development Plan By 1993, the lead teachers and NSF project staff were prepared to begin their ambitious training effort. Their goal was for the lead teachers to train 2SO teachers from IS schools in 1993 and 560 teach- ers from 31 schools in 1994. The plan is to train all Montgomery County elementary science teachers by the 1997-98 school year. Working in conjunction with Thomas DuMars, NSF project specialist for the county, the lead teachers conduct a week-long summer institute similar to the one they attencled. During the in- stitute, teachers receive an initial overview of the new modules; then they break into small groups by grade level, where they have an opportunity to work closely with their peers and with the expe- rienced lead teachers. "The teachers benefit from the camaraderie of the other teach- ers," says Wanda Coates, a thircl-grade lead teacher. 'NVhen they go back to the classroom, they experience a high level of success." But the training doesn't stop after the summer institute. Teachers receive three units throughout the year in ~ 2-week cycles. Before receiving any materials to support the module, all partici- pating teachers are released from class for a half clay of training in the new module. Halfway through the teaching cycle, teachers also attend an after-school support meeting. The purpose of these meetings, Coates explains, is for teachers to go beyond the initial training anti discuss ways to extend the experiences, as well as to discuss any problems teachers may be experiencing. "Even teachers who are reluctant to teach science are able to follow the directions and complete the lessons," says Celeste King, a fifth-grade lead teacher. "As a result, teachers who never taught science are now doing it." The literature on professional development makes a strong case for ongoing discussions among peers. What makes this possi- ble in Montgomery County is the high degree of administrative support for the efforts. Participating schools release teachers so 141

Fizz Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice that they can attend these meetings. In addition, teachers can now receive science content credit for attending the summer institutes. These benefits provide added incentives for teachers new to in- quiry-centered science to attend the meetings en cl institutes. Teachers aren't the only group that needs administrative sup- port to make a contribution to inquiry-centered science. Princi- pals also need to be informed about the new teaching strategies. "Principals were telling me that they also neecled opportunities to get together and talk," says McDonald. 'We decided to include them more." So, starting with the summer institute held in 1995, the coun- t,v offered its first science training for principals. During the insti- tute and four follow-up meetings held during the 1995-96 school year, principals were given much-nee(led information about the new pedagogy en cl the science modules. The result has been more knowledgeable principals who are better equipped to observe teachers engaged in inquiry-centered science en c! to offer con- structive advice and criticism. Bringing Scientists on Board Recently, the project has acldecl a new dimension to training-sci- entists. Through a partnership with the American Physical Society, Montgomery County is working with 45 scientists who have been trained to work with elementary school teachers. After attending a day-Ion" workshop where scientists are alertecI to the issues facing elementary school teachers, the kinds of curriculum materials they are using, and the role they can play in training, scientists vol- unteer their time by participating in workshops designed to intro- duce teachers to inquiry-centered modules. In that setting, scien- tists join teachers as learners, moclel inquiry, and validate science as an interesting way to explore the world. "Science is inquiry," says Ramon Lopez, the (Erector of edu- cation and outreach programs for the American Physical Society anti the creator of the program. "Give scientists materials and they are off asking questions en cl experimenting. We try to instill the same spirit into the teachers." In addition to serving as a model for the pedagogy behind in- quiry-centered science, scientists can answer teachers' questions 142

Montgomery County, Maryland about content. Lopez recalls a moment during the meeting on the STC module Electric Circuits when several of the teachers were puz- zled by a phenomenon they tract noticed while making a moclel of a light bulb using nichrome wire. The teachers hacl observed that if the nichrome wire was too Tong, the bulb clid not glow. They wondered why. "That's a great question for physicists," says Lopez, "and they provided a good, simple explanation. The teachers then respond- ed by discussing how they could use the information to extend the activity. It was a perfect example of professionals interacting and providing expertise from their respective areas." Establishing a Science Materials Support Center As part of Montgomery County's commitment to teachers, pro- gram leaders establishecl a science materials support center within the first two years of the program. As in many school districts around the country, it was a challenge to find a space large enough for such a facility. The materials center has already been housed in three different spots. Now, however, it has found a permanent home in an unused elementary school builcling in the western part of the county. DuMars runs the materials center. "There's a Tot to do," DuMars says. "The logistics of picking up kits and delivering them requires planning, not to mention constructing kits and replenishing those that come back from the teachers." One of DuMars's biggest discoveries is the importance of bicI- ding to get the best deals. "The big wholesale suppliers will help you keep your prices down," he says. "And it is far cheaper to con- struct your own kits than to buy the materials from the publishers." By cheap, DuMars means about $3 per chilcI for refurbishing for a whole year. And buying consumables, such as different kinds of liq- uids, in bulk is another way to save money on some of the more ex · . pensive Items. To help pack, ship, and refurbish approximately 3,10-0 kits three times a year, DuMars depends on four full-time employees for assistance. Currently, there are enough kits available for 150 teachers to teach a module simultaneously. Does the system work perfectly? No. Are there problems? Of 143

Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice course. But on the whole, teachers get the supplies when they need them so that they can teach science on time. "Teachers need to be educated, too," says DuMars. "Our teachers have a tendency to hoIct on to the kits, which jams up the system. When the 12 weeks are up, we neec! to have the kits back." The project also realizer! that the support of secretaries and building service workers is critical in getting the kits in and out of schools on time. To help enlist this support, DuMars implementecl training for these in(lividuals (luring the summer institute anti maintains direct contact with them throughout the year. Plans Forsythe Future In less than a decade, Montgomery County has evolved from a clis- trict depending largely on textbooks to one using materials as a springboard for inquiry-centered learning. Although the district has come a long way, much work remains to be clone. Even with an intensive professional development program in place, many teach- ers have yet to be introduce to the science modules. And those using the modules would like to reach the point where they can tailor the science module to the interests of their class. Montgomery County is also working to take greater a~lvan- tage of computer technology to enhance student learning in sci- ence. For example, the county is working toward creating a dis- trictwicle telecommunications network, which will enable students to transmit collected data and conclusions to their peers at other schools. Some schools in the county already have this capacity. Stu- dents are also using graphing software in their investigations and experimenting with specially clesigned cameras, which offer inno- vative ways for students to communicate what they have Earned and to create student portfolios. To continue to grow professionally so that they can use innova- tive curricula and technology effectively, many teachers wouIcI like ad- clitional training. '1he training r have received is sufficient, but it is not enough," says King. "I would like to have a stronger science back- ground so I can answer my students' questions more completely." 'dine would all welcome additional training," says McDonald. "Our goal is to raise all our teachers to the next level." 144

Montgomery County, Maryland Teachers need support and extensive professional development to be prepared to teach inquiry-centered science effectively. Operating an efficient science materials support center is difficult. Teachers must assist materials support center staff by returning their kits on time. Involvement of principals and building staff is critical to the success of the program. 145

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Remember the first time you planted a seed and watched it sprout? Or explored how a magnet attracted a nail? If these questions bring back memories of joy and wonder, then you understand the idea behind inquiry-based science--an approach to science education that challenges children to ask questions, solve problems, and develop scientific skills as well as gain knowledge. Inquiry-based science is based on research and experience, both of which confirm that children learn science best when they engage in hands-on science activities rather than read from a textbook.

The recent National Science Education Standards prepared by the National Research Council call for a revolution in science education. They stress that the science taught must be based on active inquiry and that science should become a core activity in every grade, starting in kindergarten. This easy-to-read and practical book shows how to bring about the changes recommended in the standards. It provides guidelines for planning and implementing an inquiry-based science program in any school district.

The book is divided into three parts. "Building a Foundation for Change," presents a rationale for inquiry-based science and describes how teaching through inquiry supports the way children naturally learn. It concludes with basic guidelines for planning a program.

School administrators, teachers, and parents will be especially interested in the second part, "The Nuts and Bolts of Change." This section describes the five building blocks of an elementary science program:

  • Community and administrative support.
  • A developmentally appropriate curriculum.
  • Opportunities for professional development.
  • Materials support.
  • Appropriate assessment tools.

Together, these five elements provide a working model of how to implement hands-on science.

The third part, "Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice," presents profiles of the successful inquiry-based science programs in districts nationwide. These profiles show how the principles of hands-on science can be adapted to different school settings.

If you want to improve the way science is taught in the elementary schools in your community, Science for All Children is an indispensable resource.

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