Facilitating Teachers' and Young Children's Science Learning Through Iterative Cycles of Teacher Professional Development

This professional development project engages a sample of kindergarten and 1st-grade teachers in a series of workshops, during which teachers will work individually and together to design and test new lesson plans that enhance teachers' abilities to help young children think and act like a scientist. Moreover, teachers work individually and together to construct lessons that connect science content to young learners' cultural backgrounds, interests and prior knowledge.

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Professional development is crucial to supporting early childhood teachers' ability to design and implement lessons that promote young children's science literacy as envisioned by the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Yet few studies have examined the impact of professional development on early childhood teachers' science knowledge and skills and in turn, how changes in teachers' knowledge and skills relate to student learning. Set within the context of a diverse district in the New York City Public Schools, this professional development project engages a sample of kindergarten and 1st-grade teachers in a series of Saturday workshops. During the workshops teachers work individually and together to design and test new lesson plans that enhance teachers' abilities to help young children think and act like a scientist. Moreover, teachers work individually and together to construct lessons that connect science content to young learners' cultural backgrounds, interests and prior knowledge. This project is important intellectually because it adds to the knowledge base of how to engage young children in scientific inquiry. In practical terms, the project offers teachers a set of field-tested outcomes and products demonstrating how to effectively embed science-learning experiences into early childhood curriculum, instruction and assessment.

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. This project uses an iterative process where teachers work on their own and collaboratively in Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Over the course of 2 years, these PLCs: (1) collaboratively design, field test and refine science-integrated lessons before implementing them in their classrooms; (2) participate in face-to-face and virtual meetings with other participating teachers and research project staff; and (3) receive mentoring and support to further reinforce their learning for NGSS teaching. Pre- and post-project measures will assess the professional development program's impact on 10 kindergarten and 10 first-grade teachers who serve a diverse array of 200 students in one of the nation's largest public school systems. Specifically, the project will examine: (a) teachers' lesson plans; (b) implementation of their lessons in the classroom; (c) samples of student work; and (d) students' learning behaviors. Qualitative and quantitative measures will be used to determine the project's anticipated outcomes which include: the characteristics of effective professional development for early childhood teachers; improved NGSS- based knowledge, skills and dispositions of kindergarten and first-grade teachers; and improved student science learning. In this way the project has the potential to catalyze new approaches to STEM learning, teaching and assessment at the early childhood level.