SPIRAL: Supporting Professional Inquiry and Re-Aligning Learning through a Structured e-Portfolio System

This project would investigate a new model of professional development for teams of science teachers in grades K-8 who would create electronic portfolios documenting how they taught specific concepts about energy. In addition, teachers would also select evidence of student understanding of the concepts and add those materials to their portfolios. The study focuses on teaching and learning energy core ideas and science practices that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Full Description: 

Professional development for science teachers is often restricted to content required for a single grade level or grade band. Consequently, teachers seldom have the opportunity to discuss evidence of how learning occurs as students pass from grade to grade. This project would investigate a new model of professional development for teams of science teachers in grades K-8 who would create electronic portfolios documenting how they taught specific concepts about energy. In addition, teachers would also select evidence of student understanding of the concepts and add those materials to their portfolios. The study focuses on teaching and learning energy core ideas and science practices that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The core ideas are designed to spiral over grade levels, with each core idea being revisited with more complexity as students advance from grades K to 8. The electronic portfolio will include images of artifacts such as student work samples and videos that reflect students' evolving thinking and discourse about energy topics. As teachers organize, share, and discuss this progression of evidence in professional learning communities guided by the researchers, the goal is to have a vertical electronic display of artifacts that illustrates how learning can occur. The vertically aligned evidence will help other teachers in the school district to gain an increasingly complex understanding of student learning trajectories across grade levels to improve teaching and learning in science classrooms across the district. The project is innovative because its goal is to move beyond the grade-level collaborations typical of professional development practice and literature, toward multi-grade teams of teachers who engage in complex reflection about spiraling core ideas and scientific practices developed by students over time.

The research questions are: 1.) How does participation in a vertical professional learning community (PLC) influence teachers' knowledge and instruction for teaching disciplinary core ideas through engagement in science practices? 2.) In what ways does professional learning about science teaching and learning differ in a vertical PLC, compared to grade-level PLCs? And 3.) How does the use of an electronic portfolio and feedback system influence teachers' learning from a vertical PLC? The study will first work with K-8 teacher leaders in the Little River Unified School District in California where an electronic portfolio system is already in place due to a prior NSF grant. In the first year, the researchers will add new features to the electronic portfolio system to expand its capabilities. Each teacher would provide a 5-day portfolio of lessons in the fall semester of the first year as a baseline measure of instructional practices. The project will focus on NGSS competencies in developing models and constructing explanations for energy concepts. The researchers will measure progress through teacher interviews, surveys, and lesson plans. Teachers will also collect additional artifacts reflecting student-drawn conceptual models and written or oral causal explanations of anchoring phenomena throughout the assigned units. By the end of the study, teachers will collect new 5-day portfolios, to sum up what they have learned and how they are approaching teaching the energy concepts and science practices. Participating teacher leaders will work with the UCLA research team to design and facilitate a series of professional development modules for all science teachers across grades K-8. These modules will use the evidence in the vertical portfolios to illustrate teaching and learning trajectories across K-8 physical science energy concepts and science.

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