FSU researchers collaborate on NSF-funded science education project
A new project created by Florida State University faculty members and alumni is researching how to support science educators in delivering engaging STEM lessons and keeping up-to-date with science education reforms.
The goal of the project, “Learning through Collaborative Design — Professional Development,” or LCD-PD, is to position students to actively engage with challenging questions about the natural world and participate in hands-on activities that culminate with sensemaking discussions, leading to a deeper understanding of scientific concepts. By shifting the focus of science teaching from telling students the correct answers to the process of generating and evaluating ideas, students also develop transferable skills, such as critical thinking.
The project is funded by the National Science Foundation, and findings from the first phase were published last month in the science communication journal Scientia.
Ellen Granger, Office of STEM Teaching Activities director and co-director of the FSU-Teach program, and Todd Bevis, OSTA director of professional development programs, are part of the project’s five-collaborator group, which also includes FSU College of Education faculty Jennifer Schellinger, Sherry A. Southerland and Miray Tekkumru-Kisa, and FSU alumnus and current assistant professor of science education at Georgia State University Patrick J. Enderle.
“Science, like many disciplines, has specific ways of working through problems and questions. The project focuses on engaging students in learning science by thinking like scientists and figuring things out for themselves with some teacher guidance. We know this results in deeper, longer-lasting learning than when students are just told how things work,” Granger said. “Instructing in this way is both challenging and new to many educators; professional development is required in learning to enact these teaching practices in their classrooms.”
Their project investigates the potential of collaborative design as a feature of teacher professional development workshops to equip science teachers with skills and tools needed to facilitate productive conversations in science classrooms. Researchers hope to understand if and how teachers’ engagement in collaborative design of science lessons shapes their learning and enactment of those lessons by building on established principles of active learning used to engage teachers during professional development.
“We are supporting our teacher participants’ learning by having them first participate in exemplar science lessons and then reflect on the pedagogy that underpins those lessons,” Bevis said. “So, they first experience research-based best practices and then focus on teaching strategies and skills that enable them to effectively engage their own students in rich, knowledge-building discussions.”
The first phase of the project involved the design, implementation, and refinement of professional development in two school districts in the southeastern U.S. across two academic years, 2018-19 and 2019-20. Collaborative design sessions aimed at helping teachers ensure lessons move beyond traditional lecture to classroom activities that effectively engage students with productive talk and scientific sensemaking were developed to help teachers refine their practice. These design sessions were then incorporated into a workshop structured around what is currently known about effective design principles for teacher professional development.
“Findings from the first phase indicate the beliefs a teacher holds about learning influence their teaching practices. This means that while a teacher must introduce rigorous tasks early in the lesson, the teacher’s beliefs about how students learn science must be aligned with the tasks to achieve most effective student learning,” Granger said. “This is what we’re investigating: What is it in professional development activities that helps teachers shift their beliefs about how students learn so we see changes in their classroom practice? Does collaborative design of lessons better facilitate this shift or not?”
In the next phase of the project, a field study will compare the professional development model created in the first phase with two other treatments. Researchers hope the professional development activities researched in this project may be offered to other teachers so the teaching strategies they advocate can be adopted by teachers across the U.S. at all levels of science teaching, further developing their skills to provide high-quality science instruction.
“Thus far, we have focused on honing the design of the professional development models that teachers experience. We are eager to step into the next phase where we are able to compare the various models of professional development in terms of how these models support teacher learning and what it means for student achievement in their classrooms,” Bevis said.