COE-P.K. Yonge researchers head $5 million effort to transform middle-school science education
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - University of Florida education researchers will lead a $5 million effort, funded by the National Science Foundation, to transform how science is taught in Florida's middle schools, with high-need schools in 20 mostly rural school districts serving as the testing grounds.
(Media-Newswire.com) - GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida education researchers will lead a $5 million effort, funded by the National Science Foundation, to transform how science is taught in Florida’s middle schools, with high-need schools in 20 mostly rural school districts serving as the testing grounds.
The researchers are chasing an ambitious goal — to close the gap in science learning between U.S. students and their peers in higher performing nations. Scores from a 2010 Program for International Student Assessment report showed the U.S. ranked 17th out of 34 industrialized countries in science scores among 15-year-old students.
“We want to shift middle school science teaching to a goals-driven approach with learning experiences that excite and engage all students. This will increase their chances of success as students transition from middle school to more advanced high school science courses,” said Lynda Hayes, an affiliate faculty member at UF’s College of Education and director of P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the college’s K-12 laboratory school.
“To catch up with our peers in other nations, we need to increase the size and diversity of our pipelines in science and math after high school graduation,” added Hayes. “We must ensure that disadvantaged students in small, rural and high-poverty schools are afforded equal opportunity to succeed in a cutting-edge science curriculum before they reach high school.”
Hayes is principal investigator of the five-year NSF project. Her UF co-investigators are science education professor Rose Pringle and Mary Jo Koroly, professor and director of biochemistry and molecular biology. Suzette Pelton, STEM coordinator of the Levy County School District, a project core partner, is also a co-principal investigator. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Recruiting and retaining more highly qualified middle and high school science teachers is a critical workforce need. The NSF project’s reform strategy calls for boosting student achievement by improving science content knowledge and professional development among practicing middle-school teachers.
The researchers are banking on an award-winning, on-the-job graduate degree program developed at UF called Teacher Leadership and School Improvement, with a focus on science education, to train “Science Teacher Leaders” in new, research-proven practices in science instruction. The TLSI program won the Association of Teacher Education’s coveted 2011 Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award.
TLSI blends 36 credit-hours of online and face-to-face instruction by UF professors. The program is free for participating teachers with the NSF grant covering their tuition, valued at $21,000 each. Another novel aspect of the coursework is its “inquiry-based” approach, in which the teacher-students collaboratively assess their own teaching practices and share new knowledge with each other.
UF’s College of Education will enroll one teacher from each partnering school district in the degree program, which upon graduation will qualify them as district Science Teacher Leaders.
“In exchange for free tuition, the Science Teacher Leaders must remain at their high-needs schools for five years, including their two-year coursework,” Hayes said. “This will help our most challenging middle schools support and retain some of their best science teachers.”
Armed with new science knowledge and a research-proven curriculum, the highly-trained Science Teacher Leaders will form and lead “professional learning communities” of their peers—each leader training 10 teachers at their own schools and neighboring middle schools to continuously study science teaching practices and student learning. Their students, in sixth through eighth grade, will be taught the same inquiry-based science practices and critical-thinking methods that the teacher leaders learned in their own coursework.
“Our Science Teacher Leadership Institute will allow 40 middle school science teachers in 20 school districts to earn their master’s degree in science education in two years and coach 400 middle school science teachers in their home districts,” said co-investigator Pringle, the UF science education professor. “The Science Teacher Leaders will work as change agents to lead district-wide transformation in middle school science teaching and learning. Nearly 60,000 middle school students will be impacted, primarily in high-poverty rural and urban areas.”
Participating school districts will come from the Northeast Florida Educational Consortium — a support organization for 15 districts spanning from the Gulf coast to the Atlantic coast in north and central Florida. Five other counties also have committed: Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Union and Suwannee.
P.K. Yonge science teacher Mayra Cordero, pictured, will host a demonstration class for Science Teacher Leader trainees.
Under Hayes’ guidance, UF’s P.K. Yonge laboratory school began testing the experimental curriculum last year and is working with Joseph Krajcik, a leading authority on science curriculum development from Michigan State University, to align the curriculum with Florida’s rigorous new science standards. P.K. Yonge’s middle school science program will host demonstration classrooms to help train the Science Teacher Leaders.
Researchers will compare the impact of the new teaching approaches with conventional practices and disseminate their findings nationwide to drive science education reform in middle schools around the state and nation.
Other UF units contributing to course design, training, implementation and project evaluation include the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Center for Precollegiate Education and Training, the Division of Continuing Education and the CAPES ( Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services ) program, headed by professor David Miller in the College of Education.
SOURCE: Lynda Hayes, university school professor at UF’s College of Education and director of P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School ( UF’s K-12 laboratory school ), email@example.com; 352-392-1554, ext. 223
SOURCE: Rose Pringle, associate professor, science education, UF’s College of Education; firstname.lastname@example.org; 352-273-4190
WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education; email@example.com; 352-273-4137
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