Preparing Teachers to Design Tasks to Support, Engage, and Assess Science Learning in Rural Schools

This study focuses on working with teachers to develop assessment practices that focuses on the three NGSS dimensions of science ideas, practices and cross-cutting concepts, and adds two more dimensions; teachers will develop assessment tasks interesting to students, and promote the development of their science identities. To advance equitable opportunities for all students to learn science, this project will design and provide an online course to support rural teachers who teach science in grades 6-12. The course will focus on improving classroom science assessment practices and instruction to meet the unique needs of rural educators and their students.

Full Description: 

Nationally, a third of US students attend rural or remote schools, yet rural teachers receive fewer opportunities to work together and engage in professional learning than their suburban and urban counterparts. This, in turn, can reflect on the opportunities for rural students to learn the high quality, up-to-date science ideas, practices, and concepts that are required by state standards, especially those aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). To advance equitable opportunities for all students to learn science, the project team will design and provide an online course to support rural teachers who teach science in grades 6-12. The course will focus on improving classroom science assessment practices and instruction to meet the unique needs of rural educators and their students. Too often, science concepts are removed from the lives of rural students, although their homes, communities and natural environments are filled with ideas and experiences that can make science come alive. When teachers link assessment and instruction to students' everyday lives, students have enhanced interest in and identification with science. This, in turn, can lead more students to pursue science and applied science fields beyond high school, to broaden the STEM pipeline. In addition, students are better prepared to participate in science in their communities as empowered citizens. This study focuses on working with teachers to develop assessment practices that not only focus on the three NGSS dimensions of science ideas, practices and cross-cutting concepts, it also adds two more dimensions; teachers will develop assessment tasks interesting to students, and promote the development of their science identities. The researchers refer to this as 5D assessment.

Researchers at Colorado University Boulder and BSCS Science Learning will use design-based implementation research to collaboratively design an online course sequence that targets 5D assessment in science. The study will proceed in three phases: a rapid ethnographic study to assess the needs of teachers serving a variety of rural communities, a study of teachers' use of an online platform for their professional learning, and lastly an experimental study to research the effects of the online course on teacher and student outcomes. Researchers will recruit 10 teachers to take the on-line course for the professional development and collect data on participating teachers' implementation of the course ideas through classroom videotaping and surveys designed to capture their changing practices. In the third year of the project, researchers will conduct an impact study with 70 secondary science teachers taking the re-designed on-line course, and compare their outcomes with a "business-as-usual" condition. The impact of course will be measured by questionnaires that address their vision for teaching the NGSS and self-reported instructional practices; classroom observations; and, teacher-constructed student assessments. Student outcomes will be measured using science interest and identity surveys, and an examination of student work products that demonstrate students' ability to use the science and engineering practice of modeling, a practice likely to be encountered in all NGSS science classrooms. The project will identify conditions under which learning about 5D assessment task design can support instructional improvement, increase student interest in science and engineering, and enhance students' opportunities to learn. The researchers hypothesize that the online program will have a positive impact on teachers' vision, classroom practices, and their use of high-quality 5D tasks. They also hypothesize that teacher participation will result in significant increases in student interest in and identification with science, and that these effects will be mediated by teacher outcomes. Finally, the researchers hypothesize that effects will be equitable across demographic variables in rural communities.

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