Theme of the month

Theme of the Month

Join us each month as we focus on a topic of interest to STEM Teacher Leaders with a webinar panel, open
discussion, resources and blog post. 

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Theme of the Month Discussion: Science Across the Elementary Grades and Why It’s so Important

In this facilitated discussion starting March 11th, we will discuss the challenge and importance of getting appropriate attention to science in the elementary grades. We invite your participation!

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Hi everyone, my name is DJ Kast and I run STEM education programs for thousands of low-income elementary students in Los Angeles, I teach elementary STEM pedagogy courses, and my research as a doctoral student is also focused how to better prepare elementary school teachers how to teach science. I'd love to connect with others who are focused on elementary science focused both as an educator and as a researcher. My email is dkast@usc.edu. I'd love to hear from you! 

 

DJ

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 4:33 PM Permalink

Hi DJ ,

My name is Carolyn Colley and I am the science instructional facilitator at Sartori Elementary in Renton, WA (south of Seattle). I support in-classroom coaching, facilitate teacher learning for science teaching, and design curriculum. I have also taught pre-service elementary teachers in science methods courses in the past, but took a hiatus this year because I needed that time to write units. 

Related to today's chat, I think a lot about how best to support elementary teacher learning in science and all of the "ingredients" that need to be in-place and constantly attended to in order to help teachers facilitate consistent, meaningful science learning experiences for all elementary students. 

I share what I'm up to on Twitter (my account: @ThinkSci or our school account: @SartoriSTEM).  

~ Carolyn

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 9:51 PM Permalink
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In reply to by Carolyn Colley

Hello Carolyn,

Through my research, I found that the best way to support elementary teachers is to provide them with multiple resources that help them with the science that they would like to use in their classroom. For example, my team and I provided teachers with summer workshops, followed by a refresher meeting before the implementation of their lessons, followed by one-on-one morning meetings on the day of the lesson. We also provided mini-videos that help explain how to do something or why. Once the major challenges were overcome, the teachers basically owned the lessons and started improvising and finding their own voice in presenting the materials to their students. This takes a lot of a teacher's time at the beginning but it pays off eventually.

I also found integrating language arts, math, and social studies into science lessons an engaging experience for both teachers and students. Students in particular enjoy the experience especially if it involved group work and collaborative discussions that feature argumentation on the topic.

May

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 9:49 PM Permalink

Hello DJ,

Finally the reply button is working on this site! It was not working earlier this week when I sent you an email in response. I will connect with you later this semester to exchange ideas about working with elementary teachers in low-income schools.

Best wishes :)

May

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 9:53 PM Permalink
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Hi to you both, and to all attendees at yesterday's webinar,

We were so glad that you were on the call! 

I'm curious what you think about the roles principals play in supporting their teachers wrt science. What do you find are the most effective things principals do to communicate the importance of science, and to support their teachers and enable them to provide the best science instruction possible to their students? Our next Elementary Science Summit will have a special focus on principals, and we're looking for ideas from the elementary science community about what we can do to help principals see the value of science and elevate it in their schools. 

Thanks in advance for your reflections - -

Best,

Abigail 

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 11:25 AM Permalink

Abigail,

Thank you so much for moderating the amazing panel discussion. I have lots of questions running around in my mind as a result of participating. Specifically in relation to your question, I think the support of the elementary principals is critical to this discussion. Without their support , the change will be minimal as it might change in one teacher's classroom, but what about the other classrooms? I just finished watching one of the recommended videos on Foundations of Science Leadership for K-8 Administrators and my question is "what was the hook?" Those administrators were very engaged. What got those administrators to participate initially in this class? I think that the answer to that question is a foundational piece for the planning of the upcoming EDC Summit because if we can answer that question I think we might begin to make needed changes for children in our schools..

If you were a k-5 principal what might bring you to the science table?

Kathy

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 11:51 AM Permalink

Great question, Kathy!

I'm going to pose it to the researchers in the Multiplex group and see what they have found in their studies. Surely the principals who consent to have them bring their PD and teacher supports to the teachers in their schools are thinking differently about science than their reluctant peers, but what was the "hook," as you say, is key. 

Hopefully we'll hear some useful lessons and I'll report back!

Best,

Abigail

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 2:04 PM Permalink

Hi Kathy & Abigail,

I'm hopeful that something will come out of the research.  As a district level science & engineering leader, I am finding that science is starting to bubble up as a loss in elementary schools; first from several teachers, and now on a few principal's radar.  They are noticing that students feel like school is not interesting as they are asked to focus on learning skills and strategies of reading, writing, and mathematics.  I'd be interested to learn how principals and districts that do have vibrant science and engineering learning are making the time for it and managing the range of learners in the classroom.  Katherine McNeill (Boston College) ran a principal's professional learning series a few years ago and the principals who attended did make science more of a priority for their schools.

As to Professional Learning, often the time constraints of a district dictate the face-to-face learning time for elementary teachers, who are also in demand with other subjects.  In larger districts, there can be a very large audience of teachers for a session.  I'd be interested in learning if the size of the group in a professional learning setting makes a difference.  

It may be that there is no one size fits all solution, but needs to be tailored to the needs of each school - culture and community.  

Jennifer

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 1:26 PM Permalink

Hi Kathy- 

Not sure if this will help, as I’m just a teacher, but I know that my principal was very supportive. She’s the one who gave us the thumbs up to pursue our quest for knowledge around STEM learning and teaching 4 years ago.  She allowed us to form a STEM committee in our school. Any teacher interested became a member. We did a book study, lots of research on the internet and even visited a school in the state that has successfully integrated STEM within the entire elementary school. I also wrote a grant that funded our first visit to a STEM conference. But our principal  found a way to fund us the next two years. We’ve been able to take new teachers with us every year. Even the most leery teachers have come back, every year, ready to move forward with STEM integration. I can say that she is 100% on board with this and has gone to bat for us many times at the district level. But our road blocks have come from places above her. We are held very tightly to our districts curriculum. So until that changes then we can’t move forward, even with a principal who is completely on board. So maybe the problem lays even higher up then the principal. 
 

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 10:12 PM Permalink

Hi! Kathy: I couldn't agree more with you. If Principals not in favor of and really find ways to support quality of elementary science instruction, it just isn't going to happen. And that causes enthusiastic teachers a great deal of frustration. I've seen principal leadership range from a-z. In all our projects, we wrote into the grant the importance of on-going principal workshops which really helped. One principal participated in the entire two-week teacher professional development. But, it's still a big challenge!!! Hopefully, maybe this will change because the need for a STEM ready workforce has never been greater.

 

Thanks, Nancy

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 11:34 PM Permalink

Hi! Abigail:

Many moons ago, (late 1980's) Donna Oliver and Ken Mechling from Clarion University - PA (were funded by NSF) and created the PALS Network (Principals as Leaders in Science). With their grant, they created wonderful materials, designed a 3-day model workshop for principals, and established PALS centers around the US. One key feature that jumped out at me was their requirement that: A principal was required to bring two teacher leaders with him/her so that this would insure follow up when they returned to their school site.  

Another time, our State Elementary Science Program Manager and I submitted a proposal to present at the annual meeting of the National Association of Elementary school Principals (NAESP) . We were the only session on science at a conference that had 10,000 principals in attendance. 

 

These might be helpful ideas.PS: I stull may have some of the Oliver-Mechling materials

Best regards, Nancy. 

 

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 11:25 PM Permalink
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We should return to the PALS materials, Nancy! I'm sure there is relevant and very useful material there. I'd love to see whatever you are able to share. I'm sure others would, as well.

For those who were asking, this is a link to the paper,  "Science Specialists or Classroom Teachers: Who Should Teach Elementary Science?" The paper reports on the NSF-funded study we did comparing the quality, cost, and quantity of science when taught by science specialists and classroom teachers: 

https://go.edc.org/WhoShouldTeachElemScience

And this is a link to Robert Tai's paper, "Planning Early for Careers in Science," where he discusses his research and findings regarding the likelihood of middle school children to go on to further learning and careers in STEM:

https://go.edc.org/PlanningEarly 

 

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 3:22 PM Permalink
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