Introduction for Teachers
Click here for a PDF of this Introduction to the Meaningful Science Consortium for Teachers.
Introduction to the
Meaningful Science Through Inquiry
Instructional Development System
What is the Meaningful Science Approach?
The foundation of the meaningful science approach is that students learn when they see a purpose for what they are learning that goes beyond the educational system. In many cases, teachers dread the question, “When will I ever use this?” because they are teaching from a book written by authors who have never considered that question.
In the materials that you will use if your school decides to partner with the Meaningful Science Consortium, the authors started with that question and conducted rigorous field tests in diverse schools, including Chicago Public Schools to make sure that the teachers and students understood how they might use what they are learning in their lives. We call science that has value to people and society meaningful science. Of course, all science is meaningful. Our challenge as educators is to help students to understand what makes it meaningful.
In the courses that make up the Meaningful Science Through Inquiry sequence, the developers use a case-based approach that introduces students to a real world problem or challenge as the first step in the learning process. Then, when students learn science content and practices, they understand what they’re good for. Once they’ve learned the science, they apply what they’ve learned to develop their own solutions to the challenges. Here are a few examples (with the content in parentheses):
The courses that make up the Meaningful Science curriculum sequence all address the Illinois Learning Standards. However, they present them in a different context and a different sequence from traditional textbooks in order to benefit from a meaningful context.
In addition to a focus on making science meaningful for students, the approach also emphasizes the following:
Teachers and parents are often concerned that because the textbooks are not structured like traditional texts for college-bound students, that the students are getting a “dumbed down” curriculum. On the contrary, we use the additional motivation that comes from students’ sense of purpose to engage them in deeper content and process learning than they get from traditional texts. The meaningful science consortium is determined to prepare students both for college and for life.
What is the Meaningful Science Consortium’s three year sequence?
Our course sequence is designed to help students develop a substantial understanding of science over a three year period by building understanding systematically. The sequence begins with an interdisciplinary year of environmental and earth science, followed by a year of fundamental chemistry and physics, concluding with a capstone year of contemporary biology. The texts that will be used are:
EarthComm: Earth Science in the Community developed by the American Geological Institute.
10th grade Chemistry and Physics:
Active Physics developed by the American Association of Physics Teachers.
Active Chemistry developed by It’s About Time in collaboration with the American Association of Chemical Engineers.
11th grade Biology
BSCS Biology: A Human Approach developed by BSCS.
Why did you choose that sequence?
We weighed many considerations in selecting our content and sequence, including standards, research on learning trajectories, motivation, and the demands of modern society. We include a year of environmental and earth science both because they figure prominently in the Illinois Learning Standards and the Prairie State Achievement Exam and because we believe that an understanding of earth and environmental processes is essential for citizens in our modern society. We begin with inter-disciplinary earth and environmental science because it helps to motivate the subsequent study of disciplinary science. We then move to chemistry and physics to allow students to build depth in these two fundamental sciences. Finally, we teach biology third because students are able to apply what they have learned in the previous two years to reach a much deeper understanding of modern biology than they are when it is taught in the ninth grade.
We recognize that there are tradeoffs in any choice of a sequence, but we feel that the emphasis on life and geosciences in our sequence will better prepare students for the interdisciplinary challenges that they will face in their personal and academic lives. We feel that by starting with environmental and earth science, we get the benefit of an inter-disciplinary introduction to high school science and that by finishing with biology, we get the benefits of a “fundamental science first” approach in terms of preparing students for the challenges of modern biology.
What is the role of labs and technology in the Meaningful Science IDS?
Both labs and technology are integral to the courses in the Meaningful Science sequence, just as they are integral to modern science. It is important for students to have experience with inquiry activities in order for them to understand the nature of science. Modern inquiry is conducted both in the laboratory and using technology to collect and analyze data. In addition, computers offer the opportunity to present dynamic, interactive representations of phenomena that improve on both books and videos. However, our approach is only to use technology if it offers some important advantage over other approaches to the same content or activity.
What if my school does not have the facilities or technology infrastructure required by the IDS?
CPS is committed to providing the resources necessary for schools that choose to implement this IDS. We will be working closely with CPS to insure that the proper equipment is ordered and delivered on time, and to help schools with the installation and administration of both laboratory and computer facilities. We will be providing an inventory management service for all the schools in our IDS to help track and replenish laboratory materials and supplies.
This sounds like a lot of new things for me and my colleagues to learn. What support will we have?
It is important to recognize that while we are providing a curriculum to schools, our main role is to provide support for individual and organizational change. Our goal is to build the capacity to implement and maintain high-quality instruction in all of the schools that we work with. We will be supporting every science teacher in the schools that adopt our approach with professional development, coaching, and opportunities for professional networking.
What’s the difference between your approach to coaching and the coaching we currently have?
These coaches will be specialists in the specific course that you will be teaching, and they will only work with a small number of schools and teachers. Their primary job function will be to serve as coaches, so they will spending at least 80% of their time in schools working directly with teachers. Their role will be to help teachers with planning and teaching and will be available to help with issues ranging from the practical—how do I set up an experimental apparatus—to the conceptual—how do I help my students to understand a challenging concept. Coaches may teach model lessons, co-teach, observe, facilitate meetings with colleagues, depending on the needs of individual teachers and schools. They will be selected based on both their teaching skills and their ability to work effectively with other teachers. They will not be part of any teacher or school evaluations, so you will be able to work with them as trusted colleagues. They will work for the IDS as part of the team supporting your school.
What will the professional development be like?
We will be providing all teachers with 60 hours of formal professional development during their first year of participation. That will consist of approximately 5-days of workshops during the summer and 8-10 meetings during the school year that will be a mix of after school workshops and whole-day workshops. The approach to professional development is to focus on the specifics of a course as a way of providing teachers with the practical knowledge they need to be successful and then to use teachers’ experiences as a way to draw larger lessons for the future.
The professional development will focus on both content and teaching methods. The summer workshops will be dedicated to making sure teachers are familiar with and comfortable with the content of the course they will be teaching, the teaching approach, and the laboratory or technology activities in the course. The ongoing meetings during the year will extend and elaborate that training.
In the second year, teachers will receive an additional 30-hours of professional development, in which they will have a chance to reflect upon and learn from their previous experiences and deepen their understanding. We realize that for many teachers, the first year of teaching a new program is as much about survival as it is about teaching. We see the second year as the opportunity for teachers to get on top of things and really develop comfort and expertise with a new program.
The professional development will be led by experienced professional development specialists, who work closely with the original developers of the courses but bring a classroom perspective. They will be drawing on extensive previous experience with professional development gained in CPS and other urban districts.
The professional development and coaching are designed to work together. The coaches will help teachers translate what they’ve learned in professional development into classroom practice. They will also provide a line of communication back from the classroom to the professional development providers in order to make sure the professional development is responsive to the needs of teachers.
Teachers will be fully compensated for the time spent in professional development and will receive CEU’s and CPDU’s as appropriate. Graduate credit for participation in professional development may be possible but will require tuition.
What are “opportunities for professional networking”?
Too many teachers lead isolated professional lives. Unlike most professionals, they conduct their work individually. Professional networking activities provide teachers with the opportunity to join with colleagues within their building or across buildings for professional and social support. As part of our IDS, we will be providing opportunities for teachers within and across school sites to get together around shared interests and concerns. One form of professional networking might be shared planning among the teachers teaching a particular course within a school. Another form might be an online discussion among teachers who are focused on a specific issue, such as the challenges faced by English language learners. Coaches will play an important role in creating the opportunities for professional networking, but the communities that teachers form will be owned and managed by them.
What about my struggling students?
Struggling students will be an important focus of our efforts. We are committed to bringing opportunities to achieve in science to students who have not succeeded in the past. As we all know, there are many reasons that students struggle. Some have to do with personal challenges, others have to do with a self-perpetuating cycle of failure, and some have to do with a lack of commitment. We will be offering some strategies for dealing with specific reasons that students struggle, but we also expect to develop additional strategies through the new partnerships we will be forming with schools and teachers. Our two most important strategies address motivation and literacy.
Motivation. Our approach is designed to directly address motivation challenges by placing science in context and by providing students with a variety of experiences through which to learn science. Our courses were field tested and revised in order to develop real world contexts that students would find meaningful. We have substantial experience in CPS and elsewhere to show that these courses do engage a very broad range of students by appealing to their interests, rather than their concerns about advancement in school. Motivation is important for a wide range of struggling students because it provides students who face additional challenges with a reason to expend the effort to overcome their challenges.
Literacy. Difficulty learning from texts is one of the largest obstacles faced by under-prepared high school students. Students who enter high school reading below grade level rapidly fall farther and farther behind in all subjects because high school texts assume that students are able to learn through reading and express what they understand through writing. Realistically, large numbers of CPS students enter high school reading below grade level, and they will not have the opportunity to meet science standards if they are not able to learn from texts. We will be providing students and teachers with additional materials targeted specifically at literacy practices and will be offering professional development on literacy to teachers.
We will also be working closely with the English language learner and special needs specialists in our partner schools to develop strategies to support these populations as well. Finally, we will work with schools to develop staggered course schedules and credit recovery strategies to prevent students who fall a semester or more behind from being caught in an irreversible cycle of failure.
What are your literacy strategies?
Our literacy strategies are designed to simultaneously improve students’ reading and writing skills and improve their achievement in science. We will be using a set of literacy strategies that go by the name reading to learn. The reading to learn approach focuses on the development of students’ strategic reading skills to help them read more closely, more effectively, and to take more meaning from text. Our materials will incorporate three reading to learn strategies, annotation, double-entry reading logs, and summarization. When they apply these strategies, students actively rework texts to improve their understanding. Therefore, they will be integrated into the materials for all students because they are useful strategies for all readers, not just struggling readers.
These strategies have already been incorporated into the materials for the ninth grade environmental science units. As part of the work of the Consortium, these strategies will be incorporated into the materials the other courses in the sequence by teams of CPS science teachers and literacy specialists working with researchers at UIC.
Does it really make sense for science teachers to be teaching reading and writing?
We believe it does make sense for science teachers to be teaching their students literacy strategies for two reasons. First, for the many struggling readers in CPS, literacy is an obstacle to success in science that cannot be ignored. Second, science texts offer unique challenges to readers that science teachers are in the best position to help with. In our experience, we have found that teachers are aware of the problems their students experience in reading science texts but have been frustrated with their own inability to help their students who struggle with reading. We consider it our responsibility to prepare teachers with materials and professional development to help their students develop effective strategies for learning from science texts. We believe that when teachers engage their students in reading to learn strategies, they will improve the science learning of all of their students, not just their struggling readers.
Will you be giving me a script to teach from?
We do not believe that effective teaching can be scripted. We do provide teachers and students with texts that consist of a sequence of activities, but we consider this text to be a possible path, not a script. We believe that teachers, as professionals, should use their judgment about how to adapt a course for their specific classroom. The goal of our PD and coaching is to prepare teachers to exercise professional judgment about the materials we provide. Sometimes that will mean a teacher will follow a text very closely; at others it will mean the teacher will diverge substantially. Our goal is to help teachers to understand the goals, content, and approach of a course well enough to make well-reasoned instructional decisions, and to provide them with the curriculum materials and resources to implement their decisions successfully.
I think this approach is great and so does my principal, but the rest of the department is not interested in change.
The success of our approach will require the involvement and commitment of the entire science department. If the science department is not prepared to join together to work toward a common goal, then the school may not be ready for this type of high school transformation. It may be wiser to begin to lay the groundwork for such a transformation in a few years then to rush into it prematurely without sufficient support.
What if my school decides to use your approach, but I don’t agree with it?
We do not expect all teachers to agree with our approach. However, we do expect that all teachers will enter into this partnership with an open mind and a willingness to try the approach that their school has adopted. We are committed to helping all the teachers in the schools we work with be successful teachers, which may mean accepting differences of opinion. However, if a school chooses to adopt our approach, we will expect that all the teachers of grades 9-11 science will work collaboratively with us to meet the needs of their students.
We have tried new programs in the past, but they all seem to fade after a while. Why will this be different?
We are aware that reform efforts seem to come and go with the seasons. We believe that there are several things that make this initiative different. The first is the scope of the reform. By transforming instruction in three departments, English, math, and science, this effort will represent real organizational reform. While it makes the initiative more intimidating for a school to join, once the initiative is launched in a school, the entire organization will take on a culture of improvement that will reinforce the reform efforts at the classroom and department level. By bringing in external partners with expertise in reform and a commitment to collaborative work, schools will have the opportunity to overcome the inertia that tends to weaken reform efforts over time. By inviting schools to opt in and to select their approaches to English, math, and science, the Board is allowing schools a level of control over their destiny that will increase buy-in over reform efforts of the past.
Above and beyond those structures, our specific approach includes a leadership development program specifically targeted at science that we believe will provide the long-term support for reform that has been lacking in past initiatives.
What leadership development program will you be offering?
We will be offering a program to help schools develop a site-based leadership team for implementing and supporting science education reform. This program will be based on the National Academy for Curriculum Leadership (NACL) developed by BSCS. The NACL is what its name implies—a mechanism for developing leadership in the implementation of curriculum in all science disciplines. Each school in the MSC will establish an NACL leadership team that meets regularly to support teachers as they implement the new curriculum program.
The school-based leadership team is composed of the following people:
The leadership team will participate together in professional development through academies held both in the summer and spring. The first-year program of the NACL includes understanding the change process, building teams and leadership practices, dealing with resistance, science as inquiry, data-driven dialogue, and analyzing instructional materials. In subsequent years, the leadership team implements a design framework for professional development, including strategies for examining student work, study groups, and lesson study.
Throughout the school year, the science leadership team will meet on a regular basis (at least monthly) to engage in planning and problem-solving around the issues that arise in the course of the year.
The NACL helps a school build a professional learning community among all of its teachers and administrators. The team helps build collegiality, mediate conflicts, and establish a vision among all those involved in the science reform effort. It is a proven strategy that adds value to the curriculum implementation process and focuses on student achievement and teacher growth. In recent years, leadership teams from the following urban districts have completed a BSCS NACL program: San Diego City Schools, Cincinnati Public Schools, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Boston Public Schools.
How does your leadership development relate to the leadership development being provided by AIR?
The leadership development that AIR will be providing is aimed at developing school-wide leadership. Our leadership development will be aimed at developing capacity and responsibility for supporting reform in science. This program will help prepare leadership teams to anticipate and respond to the challenges of science education. One way to think of the relationship between the two leadership development activities is that the AIR program will be horizontal, across the whole school, and the NACL will be vertical, focusing on science. The leadership development workshops will be designed to be consistent in approach, however, and their schedules will be coordinated.
We have another science program going in our school. Will we be able to continue it?
When schools adopt an IDS, they are making a commitment to it as their 9-11th grade science program. When schools already have other active programs, they will need to be evaluated for their compatibility with the IDS. In cases where existing programs will result in conflicting or competing priorities, schools will have to discontinue these programs when they choose to join the high school transformation program.
What is your motivation to do this, and how are you being compensated?
Individually and organizationally, the members of the Meaningful Science Consortium are committed to the improvement of science education across the U.S. The consortium members from Northwestern and UIC initiated this proposal, in part, because of our commitment to our local community. The Northwestern and UIC consortium members have been working on science education in CPS for more than a decade, and we view this as an opportunity to draw on prior work to increase the impact of our work. The other members of the consortium are committed to science education reform, especially in urban settings, as part of their institutional mission. To the extent that the scope of the consortium’s interests extends beyond Chicago, we see this initiative as an opportunity to bring lessons learned elsewhere to Chicago and to learn new lessons that we and others will be able to apply in other places. We believe that Chicago has launched an historic initiative. The scale of this reform is beyond any that we have seen elsewhere. The recognition that reform requires a long-term systemic approach involving a vertically-integrated curriculum, professional development, coaching, assessment, and professional networking represents an important move beyond the quick-fix, band-aid reform efforts of the past. The willingness to commit the resources necessary to implement this initiative shows a deep commitment to being a leader in urban school reform. We are pleased to be a partner in this effort, and we look forward to working with schools that recognize the opportunity this presents.
We are being compensated by the Board of Education for the salary and resources that we put toward this effort. With the exception of It’s About Time, the partners in the consortium are non-profit, education and research institutions. It’s About Time will not derive any profits from the services they provide as members of the consortium . Their services will be compensated at cost.
What commitments will you make to me and my school?
Our biggest commitment is to work together toward instructional improvement. Under the contract we will enter with CPS, we will commit to providing specific services to the schools with which we work. This includes professional development, coaching, assessments, and networking opportunities. More important than those contractual commitments, though, are the social commitments that we will make when we partner with schools. We will commit to working together with open communication to understand the goals, challenges, resources, and constraints of each individual school, and to draw on the external resources that we have available to help our schools to be successful. We recognize that there are no quick fixes to the challenges of urban education. As neighbors and science educators, we are committed to a long-term collaboration with Chicago Public Schools.
What commitments will you expect from me and my school?
We will be looking for certain indicators of readiness for reform in schools that would like to work with us. These will include a safe and supportive environment for students, a collegial professional environment for teachers, a well-maintained facility, and a commitment to instructional improvement.
For schools that meet those criteria for readiness, we will expect an openness to the new ideas and approaches that we are offering. We will expect the administration of each school to provide active encouragement and support for reform. That will mean providing teachers with the resources and time that they need to become effective teachers. The most important commitment we will expect from teachers is to work collaboratively with us, with other teachers, and their administration in order to understand and implement change.
Who are the members of the Meaningful Science Consortium?
The Meaningful Science Consortium includes the authors and development teams for all the programs used in the three-year sequence. The organizations in the partnership have between 10 and 48 years of experience supporting the implementation of science education reform.
Northwestern University is the lead partner in the consortium. Members of the team at Northwestern have been working with CPS teachers for more than five years offering coaching and PD for the 9th grade Investigations in Environmental Science course. They have also engaged in long-term coaching partnerships with Clemente and Fenger High Schools around instructional improvement. Before that they partnered with CPS in the Center for Learning Technologies in Urban Schools (LeTUS) and Chicago Urban Systemic Program (CUSP). Northwestern will be responsible for overall coordination of the consortium, for professional development for ninth grade environmental and earth science, and for coordination of coaching. The director of the Meaningful Science Consortium is Daniel Edelson. He is joined by Louis Gomez, James Spillane, and Louis Gomez.
The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) has been a leader in science education reform since 1958. Since. Since 2001, they have offered professional development for site-based leadership teams through the National Academy for Curriculum Leadership to more than 34 school districts, including San Diego, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Boston. BSCS will be responsible for the leadership development activities and professional development for 11th grade biology. Nancy Landes, Janet Carlson Powell, Rodger Bybee, and Jody Bintz from BSCS will be participating in the consortium.
University of Illinois-Chicago has been engaged in research on support for literacy development in middle and high school science for more than 5 years. They are currently supporting the implementation of reading-to-learn strategies in the Investigations in Environmental Science curriculum at Clemente H.S. UIC, under the direction of Kimberly Gomez, will be responsible for the support for literacy development.
It’s About Time is the leading publisher of NSF-funded curriculum materials. It’s About Time has supported large-scale science curriculum reform in many urban districts through coaching and PD. These include LA, NYC, Seattle, Denver, Boston, and Cincinnati. They are currently partnering with LA in support of district-wide (450 teachers, 45,000 students) implementation of It’s About Time’s Integrated Coordinated Science curriculum at the ninth grade. It’s About Time, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts-Boston will be responsible for professional development for 10th grade physics and chemistry. From It’Tom Laster, Cheryl Deese, Ann Benbow (AGI), and Arthur Eisenkraft (UMass-Boston) will be participating in the consortium.