Science Opinion

Redefining Science Teaching and Learning

By Urban Education Contributor — June 07, 2018 4 min read
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This post is by Sarah Delaney (@SFUSD_Science), Science Supervisor at the San Francisco Unified School District (@SFUnified).

Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on Monday’s post: How San Francisco is Transforming Science Education.

To interrupt the persistent inequities in student learning in our district and to prepare our students for a world that demands higher levels of problem-solving, deeper knowledge, and a broader range of skills and competencies, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has made a commitment to invest in the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). To help us plan our multi-year strategy that combines developing and adapting new curriculum materials with an integrated professional development plan and to align these elements with evidence-based best practices, we partnered with researchers from the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET) at Stanford University (see more details in Monday’s blog post.)

The NGSS, Common Core State Standards, and our District’s Strategic Plan and vision are calling for significant changes in the structure of classroom learning, placing the student at the center of the learning and redefining the role of the teacher. To enact these shifts, science classrooms need to be places where students are able to make meaning by asking questions, gathering evidence, and using it to support their claims. One strategy for meeting these learning goals for all students is the design and implementation of a core curriculum. We selected the 5E Instructional model as the architecture of our curriculum because the research on this instructional model demonstrates positive learning impacts for students and the teaching and learning expectations of this model align with the teacher and student roles defined by SFUSD’s Dimensions of Teaching and Learning.

Informed by our work with CSET, we developed a three-year model for supporting the district-wide implementation of the new NGSS-aligned science core curriculum and the 5E Instructional model. Next, we gathered data on how teachers were doing with implementing these changes in their classrooms: Monday’s post outlined CSET’s research on the enactment of the 5E instructional approach in 13 test sights. Findings indicated that our teachers needed further professional development support in helping students enact the 5 Es (engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation) and facilitating academic discussions. These findings informed our professional development focus.

Use Of Research Findings In Practice

Based on CSET’s research, we designed our professional development to provide teachers with an understanding of the curriculum structure and the tools and abilities to facilitate student academic discussions. We structured the professional development to achieve the following two outcomes:

  • Outcome 1: Identify the type of student discussion and the associated goals based on the 5E phase. Drawing from the TERC Science Talk Primer, we worked with Teacher Leaders to map the four types of student discussions (elicitation, consolidation, data, explanation) onto the 5E instructional model and our curriculum. This process identified explicit and specific educational goals for student talk throughout the 5E instructional sequence and the associated teacher moves to support student conversations. We also created a set of sample teacher questions that could be used in any curriculum unit that are aligned to the different phases of the 5E instructional model.
  • Outcome 2: Plan student discussions and rehearse with colleagues. Because both students and teachers are accustomed to the IRE (initiate, respond, evaluate) model for class discussions, as indicated by CSET’s research, teachers benefit from being able to practice the skill of asking questions that elicit student thinking and encourage student-to-student interaction. At our professional development days, we used a Rehearsal Protocol that provided teachers with an opportunity to practice responding to students in the moment and moving them toward their identified instructional goal for that discussion type. Teacher Leaders were given additional professional development on student discussions and the Rehearsal Protocol so that they were able to facilitate the protocol with their colleagues at the professional development day.

As a result of our first year of professional development, all teachers are now able to identify the type of student discussion and associated goals based on the 5E phase, plan for the identified discussion including follow-up questions, and utilize a Rehearsal Protocol to hone their questions and facilitation abilities.

Future Work

We anticipate using teacher expertise around facilitating student discussions to improve the curriculum, specifically in the questions provided to initiate discussions. As we continue our work with Teacher Leaders, we will be asking them to capture further videos of classroom discussions that can be used to spur reflective discussions about teacher moves and student understanding with their colleagues. The work of shifting teaching and learning is difficult and is asking for students and teachers to redefine their roles. We are excited to have already seen evidence of student-centered classrooms that are engaging centers of learning that will prepare all of our students for opportunities in both San Francisco and the wider world.

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.