Middle School Teachers Acquire Rich Online Experience to Improve Classroom Teaching

Hailing from Riverside and San Bernardino counties, twelve teachers participate in a three-day science workshop at UC Riverside

Photo shows middle school teachers in the Physics Reading Room.

Twelve middle school science teachers from Riverside and San Bernardino counties spent three days earlier this week at UC Riverside to participate in a national pilot program. Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Twelve middle school science teachers from Riverside and San Bernardino counties spent three days earlier this week in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Riverside to participate in a national pilot program requiring the use of a rich, web-based environment designed for teachers to reflect on their classroom practice.

Called the Next Generation Science Exemplar System for Professional Development (NGSX), the website engages K-12 teachers in the major ideas of the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and the student performance expectations found in the “Next Generation Science Standards” — new standards that are rich in content and practice. Specifically, through a coordinated pathway of learning, NGSX allows teachers to access activities, videos, text, and other resources that illustrate what the new science instruction looks like, the goal being the creation of a clear roadmap for the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Photo shows Maria Simani with four middle school teachers.

Maria Simani (standing), the executive director of the California Science Project, discusses physics concepts with four middle school teachers who participated in the three-day workshop at UC Riverside.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

“Out of 36 teachers that applied, we accepted 12 teachers who teach grades 6-8,” said UC Riverside’s Maria Simani, the executive director of the California Science Project and the organizer of the July 22-24 workshop.  “The project continues beyond the three days.  The teachers learn science concepts from the text and videos on the NGSX website, discuss with one another what they have learned, share with other teachers in their schools, and consider ways to apply the new knowledge in their own classrooms.  They also get to post on the website their reflections on the content. Having web-based study modules helps the teachers immensely because they can work around their busy schedules to access the online content.”

Developers of the NGSX website will use the feedback they get from all the teachers participating in the project to improve the website’s content.  Currently accessible by only teachers taking part in the project, the website will eventually be accessible by any teacher.  Five states with 48 teachers each are participating in the project.  In California, besides UCR, the following universities are taking part with 12 teachers each: UC San Diego, UCLA and UC Davis.

“The hope is that the teachers who get trained in the three-day workshop will become facilitators for other teachers,” Simani said.  “Many of the participating teachers — nearly all leaders in their schools or districts — will share what they have learned with other teachers at conferences and other meetings.”

Photo shows Shelly Munoz and Dena Pruden.

Workshop participants Shelly Munoz (left) teaches at Menifee Valley Middle School and Dena Pruden teaches at Vista Heights Middle School. Photo credit: I. Pittalwala.

Shelly Munoz, a teacher participating in the pilot workshop at UCR, plans to share the knowledge she gained in the three-day workshop with more than a 100 teachers in the Menifee Valley School District at an event on Aug. 6.

“This is a really neat forum,” said Munoz, who teaches seventh-grade life science at Menifee Valley Middle School. “I had an ‘aha!’ moment when we learned about air pressure and how, when you drink soda out of a straw, air pushes down on the surface of the liquid and that pushes the liquid up the straw.  I got a better and hands-on understanding of just how air pressure works, how air molecules go from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration to equal themselves out.  I can now go back and share this knowledge with the teachers I work with.”

Dena Pruden, an eighth-grade science teacher at Vista Heights Middle School in Moreno Valley, also plans to implement in her own classrooms the ideas and concepts she learned at the workshop.

“This is the first time I attended a concept workshop like this,” she said.  “My students like anything new and exciting that they can relate to and that has real-life applications.  With the new knowledge I plan to share with them, they will be more likely to stay engaged and pay attention to what we do in class.”

The NGSX website development is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.  To organize the pilot workshop at UCR, Simani received funding from the UC Office of the President.

The Next Generation Science Standards are not yet adopted in California schools, but they are the result of a report, released in 2011, by the National Academy of Science titled “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.” Together with the Next Generation Science Standards, the report provides a new vision for how students should be guided to learn science in the classroom.

The California State Board of Education is expected to make a decision about the adoption of the new Next Generation Science Standards by November 2013. Simani has served as a science expert advisor to the California Department of Education for the adoption process since 2011, and will continue playing a role in the implementation plan of the Next Generation Science Standards for the state when they will be adopted.

Archived under: Science/Technology, , , , , , ,

Top of Page