Building Professional Capital in Elementary Science Teaching through a District-wide Networked Improvement Community Model

This project will focus on a networked improvement community (NIC) model of professional learning that shifts K-5 science instruction from traditional approaches to a three-dimensional design as outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. The project will feature a multi-level model involving university educators and researchers and school district practitioners in an effort to co-defined problems of practice valuable to both parties. A mixed methods research design will examine how the NIC model develops professional capital through changes in implementation over multiple iteration.

Full Description: 

This project will focus on a networked improvement community (NIC) model of professional learning that shifts K-5 science instruction from traditional approaches to a three-dimensional design as outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. The need to make this shift stems from the school district's decision to address inequities in science as some schools offer minimal to no science instruction during the elementary years. The NIC model will draw on expertise from school personnel and university partners to ensure that students will have access to and benefit from authentic model-based inquiry daily in the early grades. This model embraces the challenges of scale and sustainability by targeting the design and substance of professional learning and its organization within the district, balancing integration with existing system infrastructure, and shifting the system based on theory-driven practices. To prepare teachers for this major change, professional development will shift from: (1) training on the use of kit-based curricular materials to professional learning grounded in NGSS-inspired sets of practices and tools; (2) working as individual practitioners to teaching as collaborative investigations; (3) using centralized efforts to distributed knowledge-building and leadership; (4) learning science as decontextualized facts to deep engagement with real-world phenomena; and (5) teaching lessons as prescribed by curriculum to a focus on responsive teaching and building on students' funds of knowledge. The NIC model will provide a pathway for integrating and implementing these shifts via a multilevel, knowledge-building, problem-solving system. This system will go beyond a single focus on improving students' understanding of science content to incorporating teaching practices that advances knowledge about student's written and spoken scientific language and use of explanations and arguments. Through the NIC model all K-5 elementary students in the district will benefit from a rigorous and equitable approach to science learning.

This project will feature a multi-level model involving university educators and researchers and school district practitioners in an effort to co-defined problems of practice valuable to both parties. A mixed methods research design will examine how the NIC model develops professional capital through changes in implementation over multiple iterations. These changes will be captured through short and long-term instruments. Regarding the shorter term, practical measures sensitive to change and directly tied to small manageable, short-term goals will provide quick responses to everyday real-time questions. These measures will help assess specific improvement goals using language relevant and meaningful to researchers and practitioners. For longer term goals, in-depth case studies, interviews, observations, pre-posttests, surveys, and questionnaires will collect data on several variables critical to documenting improvements at the teacher and student levels. Both sets of data will generate knowledge about ambitious and equitable science teaching practices with a focus on students' cultural and linguistic resources and experiences. Through such pathways, knowledge will be generated on teachers' and students' growth as active builders and collaborators in the development of improved learning and experiences. The outcomes will identify critical facets that support advances and sustainability that illuminate variations within the district to better understand what works, for whom, and under what conditions. the research findings will also be used to inform decision making about teaching science at the elementary grades and to further refine equity-based practices, resources, and tools for building on students' funds of knowledge vital to supporting, sustaining, and scaling educational outcomes for all students in the district and beyond.

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