Preparing Next Generation Scientists Through Teacher and Extension Science Partnerships and Schoolyard Citizen Science Investigations in Elementary Schools

This project will bring together two groups of educators - elementary school teachers (formal) and cooperative extension science volunteers (informal) - to create a community-based professional development partnership that improves educators' self-efficacy, science content knowledge, and instructional practice. The model builds on the premise that both groups have expertise that can be shared and collaboratively developed.

Full Description: 

With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), great interest and demand has been placed on the design and development of high quality, NGSS-aligned professional development. The Standards' Three-Dimensional Learning Framework has also required more creative and non-conventional professional development models to support the changing landscape of science education and instruction. This project intends to address this critical need at the elementary school level through an innovative collaborative professional development model. The University of New Hampshire, in partnership with New Hampshire Schools, will bring together two groups of educators - elementary school teachers (formal) and cooperative extension science volunteers (informal) - to create a community-based professional development partnership that improves educators' self-efficacy, science content knowledge, and instructional practice. The model builds on the premise that both groups have expertise that can be shared and collaboratively developed. Together, with an interdisciplinary team of education experts, the teacher and extension science volunteers will learn how to design and implement appropriate, NGSS-aligned science lessons with elementary school students through locally relevant community-based, citizen science projects. This is a particularly novel approach. Though both groups are highly regarded for their contributions to elementary science education in their respective domains (i.e., formal and informal settings), few, if any, existing models examine the potential impact of partnering the groups together in a shared professional development experience.

This Early Stage Design and Development project will partner and engage approximately 50 elementary school teachers (grades 2nd-5th) and 30 extension science volunteers from urban and rural New Hampshire in the year-long professional development program. Over a three-year period, the target groups will participate in workshops and citizen science investigations related to biodiversity, soil science, stream ecology, plant phenology and/or wildlife habitats. Program content and activities will be aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and New Hampshire State Standards. A mixed methods approach will be employed to explore three aspects of the elementary school teacher?s efficacy over time. The research questions will seek to address: (1) What changes occur in elementary school teachers? self-efficacy teaching science and in their ability to integrate NGSS science practices through locally relevant citizen science projects? (2) What shifts occur in teacher content knowledge and how do the shifts in teacher content knowledge relate to the changes in teacher self-efficacy? (3) What is the process of collaboration between extension science volunteers and teachers? Data will be collected through surveys, interviews, and documents/artifacts. Formative and summative evaluations will be provided by an Advisory Board of experts with a broad range of relevant expertise. The outcomes of this project have the potential to impact professional development approaches across the country and will support the goal of increasing public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology by optimizing elementary teachers' implementation of locally-relevant citizen science in their classrooms. Similarly, by promoting a connection between the volunteers and local schools, this innovative model provides a new avenue for extension science volunteers to impact their communities.

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