Teacher Professional Learning: Transforming Teacher Practice

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I encourage STEM educators (and administrators) across the U.S. to read and understand Science Teachers’ Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts, a terrific report just released by the National Academies of Science (NAS), Engineering and Medicine.

The National Academy report illuminates practical recommendations and lays out the supportive environment and professional learning experiences teachers need and which are critical to the enactment and application of the three-dimensional teaching and learning espoused in A Framework for K–12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

With laser-like focus, this report hits the mark, targeting its conclusions and recommendations at the level where education change is most critical, and placing the emphasis on enhancing teacher practice through professional learning situated within the context of their schools and districts.

School leaders will greatly benefit from the 13 conclusions and 7 recommendations outlined in this report (more below). Another must read is NSTA’s statement on the NGSS which can help science teachers to secure much-needed funding for the professional learning activities called for in the NAS report.

Moving to a New Vision of Science Teaching and Learning—Content and Pedagogy are Critical

A seismic shift is occurring in how science should be taught, moving away from the recall, recognition, and regurgitation of science facts, and shifting toward actively engaging students in exploring and making sense of science phenomenon and engineering solutions in the world in which they live. The NAS report first and foremost recommends a focus on facilitating the principles espoused in A Framework for K–12 Science Education and the NGSS, which succinctly suggests: Deeper and more flexible student learning of the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) of science occurs through three-dimensional teaching and learning that engages students in authentic Science and Engineering Practices as they solve and investigate real world, locally relevant/interesting problems and science phenomenon, recognizing Crosscutting Concepts such as patterns, cause and effect, systems and system models, etc., which ultimately facilitate coherence and connections across concepts, solutions, and science disciplines.

As outlined in the NAS report, here are a few of the key areas where it is critically important that teachers receive support, and suggestions on how NSTA can help:

  • Teachers must understand specific science content areas they are charged to teach (especially at the elementary level)

    NSTA Connection: We have 25 self-directed teacher web modules, called SciPacks, focused on the disciplinary core ideas of science. They provide subject matter support for educators in science concepts such Force and Motion, Cell Structure and Function, and the Earth’s Changing Surface. Each module also contains a pedagogical-implications component that culls the science education research and provides a context for how to facilitate teaching the science phenomenon, identifying promising pedagogical strategies, known student preconceptions, and what is cognitively appropriate to teach by grade band. A 5E inquiry model embeds quizzes, simulations, animations, and hands-on activities that let teachers engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate their understanding of the DCIs through an optional final assessment. These SciPacks are also available as enhanced e-books, accessible via our NSTA e-reader application, making them available offline via tablets on iPad and Android operating systems.

  • Teachers must see examples and gain practice in modeling new instructional strategies

    NSTA Connection: NSTA hosts NGSS web seminars and virtual conferences on the NGSS and STEM, focusing on the science and engineering practices and district-based case studies on integrated STEM, with archives accessible after each live event. Lead by leading experts, administrators, and practitioners in the field, these are excellent resources to scaffold professional learning discourse and learning at local school and district levels. Examples and strategies applicable for specific content and grade bands are shared, and asynchronous discourse is also available online via the NSTA Learning Center–moderated NGSS and STEM community forums. NSTA also maintains a robust presence on all major social media platforms (e.g., twitter, Facebook, etc.), including our blogs and discussion forums, accessible via our social media dashboard.

Administrators charged with helping educators achieve the vision of the new science standards will want to check out NSTA’s Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS: A Professional Development Facilitator’s Guide. This book provides classroom case studies of instructional approaches for students challenged by traditional science teaching, and covers curricular decisions involving course mapping, designing essential questions and performance assessments, and using the NGSS to plan units of instruction.

NSTA also has enlisted 55 expert curators who are searching for and vetting lessons, activities, simulations, models, and other type of materials that might be used for instruction and meeting the new standards. For a list of curated NGSS resources, you may review over 200 resources at our NGSS@NSTA Hub. The Hub has become a central source for science educators to locate professional learning, materials and resources to work towards the vision of the NGSS and Framework.

NSTA also formally collaborates with more than 180 districts and universities across the country, helping them implement their strategic goals and course offerings in support of the NGSS and STEM, both at the in-service and pre-service levels. Our NSTA Learning Center platform may be configured to enhance local onsite efforts with private cohorts and administrator dashboards to help document teacher growth as users create and complete long-term professional growth plans catering to their unique needs and district and school strategic plans.

Watch for my next blog where I will discuss more of the NAS report and outline additional methods teachers and administrators can consider for professional growth.

If you’d like to learn more about the partnerships or products listed above, please feel free to contact me at abyers@nsta.org or 703-312-9294, or Flavio Mendez, Senior Director of the NSTA Learning Center at fmendez@nsta.org or 703-312-9250.

Al ByersAl Byers, Ph.D., is the Associate Executive Director, Services for the National Science Teachers Association

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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2016 National Conference

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2016 STEM Forum & Expo

2016 Area Conferences

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1 Response to Teacher Professional Learning: Transforming Teacher Practice

  1. Melissa Novak says:

    I teach in New Jersey where the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were officially adopted this past fall. Luckily, two years ago I was a member of the New Jersey State Department of Education’s Model Curriculum Writing Team and was provided training on how to dissect the standards and make small changes in my current practice to achieve significant results. This team was formed in anticipation of the adoption of the new standards. The training I received as part of the Model Curriculum Writing Team has allowed me to turnkey my knowledge of the NGSS to my colleagues and enhance science instruction school-wide. My experiences outside of the classroom as part of this team have certainly led me on the path to becoming a teacher leader as these experiences have had a positive effect on what I do in the classroom (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2007).
    My experiences so far with the NGSS have been overwhelmingly positive. These new standards are creating a culture of thinkers who use their science knowledge to tackle real-world problems. They are also asking students to think about their place in the world and how their decisions impact the ecosystem.
    Ackerman, R., & Mackenzie, S. (Eds.). (2007). Uncovering teacher leadership: Essays and voices from the field. (Laureate Custom Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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