Transforming Scientific Practices to Promote Students Interest and Motivation in the Life Sciences: A Teacher Leadership Development Intervention

This project will investigate the influence of a professional development intervention on the teaching and learning of content in the life sciences in the context of place, language, and culture. The research will enable teachers to develop lessons that will allow students to design solutions to problems of economic, cultural, and ecological importance to the state.

Full Description

This project will investigate the influence of a professional development intervention on the teaching and learning of content in the life sciences in the context of place, language, and culture. The research will enable teachers to develop lessons that will allow students to design solutions to problems of economic, cultural, and ecological importance to the state. It will build on the emergence of teacher leaders whose knowledge will extend beyond content in the life sciences to include strategies for helping students develop meaningful science identities, understand the cultural values of economic sustainability, and buy into the principles of environmental stewardship.

A mixed methods approach will be used to capture data from teachers and students through classroom observation protocols, interviews, focus groups, and student surveys. The end products will include a refined teacher leadership professional development model. The model will serve as a framework for developing teacher leaders while promoting learning for underrepresented students situated within the larger state context. Dissemination of the model will occur through an open source online platform, formal and informal presentations at national and international meetings and conferences, and publications in capacity-building STEM media outlets.

Theoretical Framework
The project is grounded in sociocultural learning theories that view learning as a “process of human change and transformation [that] always entails participation in relationships and community and transformation both of the person and of the social world” (p. 239, Packer & Goicoechea, 2000).  Cultural mental model theory (Bang et al, 2007), tribal critical race theory (Brayboy, 2005; Yosso, 2005), Sewell’s (1992) theory of structure and agency and Kana‘iaupuni’s (2004) strengths-based educational approach view teaching and learning through a sociocultural lens that highlights the interplay of power and knowledge.  Sewell’s view of social structures as having dual characteristics of schema (mental models) and resources (physical entities) is applied when participants learn about the structures and resources in their students’ places and cultures, e.g., Hawaiian language newspaper articles, moʻolelo (stories), ʻōlelo noʻeau (proverbs) (Coleman, Chinn, Morrison, & Kaupp, 2019; McCarty & Lee, 2014, Yosso, 2005; Sewell, 1992).  Critical pedagogy empowers teachers to write STEM curricula that reflects diverse knowledge and perspectives while addressing content stanards.

Methodology, Methods, and Findings
PI, project team members, and participating educators are action researchers studying their practices, assessing their knowledge, evaluating and sharing outcomes.  The team applies the strategies of community mapping, curricular mapping and place-based pedagogy to write model curricula that address STEA2M learning outcomes and NāHopena A‘o (HIDOE, 2015) Hawai’i-focused General Learner Outcomes that embody core Hawaiian cultural values of sustainability and environmental stewardship. 

Developing a transferable model of a diverse professional learning community and community partners is an explicit goal of PD.  In Figure 3, Teachers in Tafuna, American Samoa created a coral reef mural with their Coral Reef Advisory Group partner after seeing curricular murals from Hawaiʻi. Findings like this across multiple sites in Hawaiʻi and American Samoa suggest that PD that models the intersection of place-based STEA2M content, cultural values and practices enables teachers to create curricula that address relevant content standards, science and engineering practices, and socioemotional outcomes of increased senses of belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha, total-well-being and place.

Surveys show that across grades and schools place-based lessons increased students’ interest in STEM and increased Nā Hopena Aʻo senses of belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha, total well-being and Hawaiʻi.  When analyzed by ethnicity (an optional response) students self-identifying as Hawaiian reported higher ratings of interest in STEM and Nā Hopena Aʻo outcomes than non-Hawaiian students.  Teachers’ course evaluations reveal that they valued learning STEA2M content and greatly valued the professional and peer networks established through active learning with peers and community partners at their sites.  Most reported multiples of 2-3 times more human and physical resources from the beginning to end of the course. 

Samoan teachers in particular recognized their peers as resources, a novel PD practice underscoring the importance of participants hosting classes at their sites and schools.  An indicator of teacher agency is participants’ stated desire to continue their research and theory building in PhD and EdD programs. These findings support Sewell’s (1992) theory of structure and agency and Yosso’s (2005) theory of community-based resources that support strength-based educational approaches (Kana‘iaupuni, 2004).  Another indicator of success is institutional approval in May 2020 of a Graduate Certificate in Sustainability and Resilience Education (GCert SRE) that incorporates classes developed with NSF support. 

These outcomes suggest the broader impact of a PD model that develops teacher expertise and leadership sensitive to culturally diverse and underrepresented students in informing capacity-building STEM programs that prepare teachers with skills, knowledge, and values relevant to engaging growing numbers of culturally diverse, underrepresented students in STEM learning.

In American Samoa five teachers developed a community mapping and mangrove restoration project to clean up and protect their Pago Pago Bay coastline and two teachers in Leone and an archeologist collaborated on archeology curriculum based on the Tataga Matau adze quarry at the top of Leone Falls, the coastal facets and precontact western contact stories of trade between Leone and Cook Islands.  Leone was also the site for their geology curriculum connecting the Sept. 29, 2009 8.1 and 8.0 magnitude earthquakes and tsunami that killed 11 villagers to subduction of the Pacific Plate into the Tonga Trench. The teachers’ Google Earth map shows both archeological sites and the power of the tsunami that swept to the base of Leone Falls.

In Hawaiʻi, in the face of COVID-19 school closures, online learning, and waves of delta and omicron from March 2020 to the present, four intermediate teachers launched Hoʻopulapula Hawaiian STEM Academy, a food sustainability garden, māla, in their school in a Hawaiian Homestead. Teachers integrated Hawaiian cultural values and practices in the math, science, social studies, and language arts lessons centered on the māla.  Now a showcase for agroforestry, aquaponics, and sustainable farming practics it illustrates the interlocking roles of teacher agency, curricular leadership and a place-based, culturally sustaining view of education. Teachers report their own and their students’ engagement in learning increased and their students’ academic performance improved.  The place-based PD model shows these outcomes across Hawaiʻi’s urban and rural communities, across grade levels and content areas, transferred to American Samoa, and in 2022 is being incorporated into a new NSF project, “GEOPATHS Connected to Earth: Cross-Cultural Knowledge Exchange for Advancing Earth Science Learning” connecting Native Hawaiians and tribal  communities in Wisconsin.

Project Materials