red Supported Site Towson University (Secondary): Project Report 2007

The PhysTEC program at Towson is unique within the project in that it supports only elementary science education. Towson graduates about 200 elementary education majors a year (more than any other school in Maryland), and each teacher candidate takes a content course in physical science and earth-space science, and a field experience course in teaching science. Towson’s PhysTEC efforts have focused on reforming the field experience course to inculcate interns (student teachers) with inquiry-based teaching techniques, and provide them with opportunities for mentoring and self-reflection. The Towson PIs have also developed assessment instruments in an attempt to demonstrate the effectiveness of their course reforms on intern teaching methods and attitudes towards science.


Goals & Outcomes

Goal

The goal of Towson University’s Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project was to improve a field experience (early science teaching) course for elementary education majors. The improvements were focused on

  • making the different sections of the course more uniformly aligned with the course goals
  • increasing the amount and quality of inquiry in the undergraduate interns’ science lessons
  • helping the interns more fully understand and appreciate inquiry-based science instruction.

The project team, including various teachers-in-residence, engaged in a number of activities to improve the course:

  • the re-establishment of clear course goals
  • the coordination of the course and school partnerships by the project faculty, the development and testing of course activities
  • the development and dissemination of instructor resources
  • the design and use of instructor and mentor teacher workshops.

A key improvement for the field experience course involved our switching to a multiple-interns-per-class teaching structure.

Selected Outcomes

As a result of our project activities, when compared to baseline data:

  • The field experience interns spent more time teaching (and less time observing), and the interns more frequently taught modified science lessons (rather than teaching the official lessons as-is).
  • The interns’ science lessons focused more frequently on scientific investigations and the communication of ideas (rather than scientific demonstrations, lectures, and the verification of ideas).
  • The interns’ attitudes and beliefs about science and science teaching shifted in a more positive direction.
  • Lastly, the project team learned numerous lessons about large-scale course reform pertaining to effective course structure, different forms of inquiry lessons, realistic course goals, course coordination, and attitude and belief outcomes, and has made progress toward securing a full-time staff position to help maintain the project gains.

Teacher-in-Residence

Successes

  • The teachers-in-residence participated in a number of different activities that contributed to the overall success of our project. These activities included: providing ongoing support for full- and part-time field experience instructors; making official and unofficial class observations; collecting and analyzing survey data; attending and presenting at teacher preparation conferences; and serving as liaisons between the field experience sites and the Towson faculty. The first year’s TIR was especially instrumental in defining the direction of our project.
  • The project team maintains contact with former TIRs, and one of the project PIs continues to conduct teaching and professional development research with our Year 1 TIR.

Challenges

  • Due to the extraordinary amount of start-up activity during the project’s first year, Towson’s first teacher-in-residence was positioned to make the greatest contribution to the project. Subsequent teachers-in-residence had less of an impact on the project simply because the bulk of the project logistics and goals had already been established in Year 1.
  • Given Towson’s specific focus on inquiry-based instruction, it became a hiring challenge to identify and recruit TIRs with a good understanding of inquiry (or at least an open-mindedness towards inquiry).

Sustainability

  • The Towson PIs have learned that there is administrative support for the hiring of a full-time TIR-type position starting with the 2008-2009 academic year. The PIs will need to continue our ongoing discussions with the Dean and Provost to ensure that the money for this position actually comes through. If this money does not materialize, it is unlikely that the project successes will be sustained.

Lessons Learned

  • Given the high degree of vagueness with which instructors and researchers use the word “inquiry,” it is unlikely that a TIR’s initial understanding of inquiry will be fully commensurate with the PI’s understanding of inquiry. It should therefore be expected that TIRs will experience project-related professional development (both formal and informal) that will help redefine the TIR’s understanding of science teaching and inquiry.

List of TIRs across the project

2006-2007: Ann Craig, taught school for 20 years and worked as an Instructional Support Teacher/Academic Coach for 13 years in the Baltimore Public School System, Baltimore, MD

2006-2007: Corby Pine, taught school for 18 years at various schools in Maryland and Virginia

2005-2006: Elizabeth Renwick, taught school for 15 years at Sinclair Lane Elementary, Baltimore, MD

2004-2005: Lisa Tirocchi, taught school for 4 years at Johnnycake Elementary, Baltimore, MD

Finding and Hiring a TIR

  • The pool of candidates for our first-year TIR position was identified by emailing all of the teachers on Baltimore County Schools’ “Elementary Science Leaders” list. Interviews were then conducted to identify the TIR. The entire process was done in coordination with the superintendent, the science supervisor, and the elementary science coordinator.
  • After obtaining permission from the Chief Academic Officer of the Baltimore City Public Schools System, we advertised for our second-year TIR position using the BCPSS internal job listings. The BCPSS forwarded applications to the project PIs, and interviews were conducted to identify the TIR.
  • Our third-year TIR positions (which were part-time rather than full-time) were filled internally with two of our department’s part-time faculty, both of whom had previously been elementary teachers.

Typical TIR Activities

  • Preparing for and attending weekly project meetings: 60 hours
  • Informal observations of science education courses and host school sites: 50 hours
  • Designing assessments; collecting and analyzing assessment data: 150 hours
  • Planning and implementing instructor and mentor teacher workshops: 40 hours
  • Attending and presenting at national project meetings: 25 hours
  • Filling out payment paperwork for participating mentor teachers and schools: 8 hours
  • Course reform activities (e.g., updating the resource folder, communications with course instructors, informal meetings with PIs): 150 hours
  • Responding to TIR listserv prompts and participating in other PhysTEC listserv discussions: 40 hours
  • Planning and hosting site visits by project management: 10 hours
  • Reading and researching articles related to teacher professional development: 20 hours
  • Mentoring of replacement teacher and other work at TIR’s home elementary school
  • (Years 1 and 2 only): 300 hours

Course Reform

Teaching Science in the Elementary School

Successes

  • Our early teaching (field experience) course for elementary education majors was reformed through the re-establishment of clear course goals, the coordination of the course and school partnerships by the project faculty, the creation of guiding principles of inquiry, the teaching of certain course sections by the project faculty, inquiry-focused instructor and mentor teacher workshops, and the creation and distribution of an inquiry-focused teaching resources CD-rom for course instructors.
  • The teaching structure of the field experience course was successfully redesigned such that the ~13-20 interns in any given section of the course are spread across a small number of classrooms in a single school; ideally, between four and six interns are placed in each science classroom. During the allotted teaching time, the classroom is broken into four to six groups of elementary students, with each small group being led through an inquiry-based science activity by a single intern.
  • After the reforms were implemented, when compared to baseline data, the field experience interns spent more time teaching (and less time observing), the interns more frequently taught modified science lessons (rather than teaching the official school lessons as-is), and the interns’ science lessons focused more frequently on scientific investigations and the communication of ideas (rather than scientific demonstrations, lectures, and the verification of ideas). Additionally, the interns’ attitudes and beliefs about science and science teaching shifted in a more positive direction.

Challenges

  • Since Towson University offers as many as eight sections of the field experience each semester, the course has a fairly significant amount of instructor and mentor teacher turnover. Any reforms of our field experience course therefore involved strong coordination between multiple course sections, some of which were led by relatively inexperienced part-time instructors and/or mentor teachers.
  • The project obtained mixed results in its attempts to help the field experience instructors and mentor teachers develop a deep, shared understanding of standards-driven, inquiry-based science teaching; this was due to the fact that the project PIs had limited time for close interactions with mentor teachers and part-time faculty, and also due to the turnover associated with these positions.

 Sustainability/physics department buy-in

  • The course reforms will continue as long as funding and personnel are available for workshops and any follow-up coordination and communication.

Lessons learned

  • The multiple-interns-per-classroom model for early teaching experiences works well. This “small group” teaching structure is one of the primary reasons for the success of our reformed course; this structure should serve as a useful model for other institutions attempting similar course reforms.
  • Inquiry-based science lessons can vary widely in their intent and structure, and yet still adhere to the basic principles of inquiry. Certain inquiry lessons might consist entirely of open-ended, evidence-based discussions, while others might hold to the more typical predict-experiment-discuss-conclude lesson plan format.
  • Expecting the interns’ science lessons to be almost completely inquiry-based across all course sections is an unrealistic goal. Interns’ science lessons arise from a complicated interaction between many different factors: the expectations of the university instructors, interns, and mentor teachers; the degree to which the university instructors, mentor teachers, and interns possessed a shared understanding of inquiry; the ability of the interns to put their inquiry teaching goals into practice; the practical constraints of elementary classrooms and the early teaching course (e.g., the availability of science materials); and other contextual/environmental factors, such as a school’s general stance toward inquiry.
  • Coordination across content, methods, and field experience courses leads to the highest potential for educational success. Ideally, in their content courses, the preservice teachers learn science content and reasoning skills through inquiry, while at the same time reflecting on and explicitly discussing the structure and value of inquiry-based instruction in their methods/field experience courses. This methods and science content is then reinforced by the interns’ inquiry-focused teaching experiences in the field experience course.
  • Providing quality, in-depth feedback on interns’ lesson plans and lesson implementation, while time-consuming, is critical to the success of an early teaching course. Feedback that is overly general does now allow interns to reflect on the important details and nuances of lesson planning and instruction – with the result that the interns are not supported in making substantial improvements in these areas.
  • Interns’ teaching reflections need to be heavily guided and focused. In the absence of specific guidelines, interns will often focus solely on whether students had fun, paid attention, and learned the basic concepts in the lesson. In an inquiry-focused field experience course, the interns should be directed to reflect on inquiry-specific aspects of their instruction, including the evolution of students’ ideas, the effectiveness of teacher guidance and group discussion, and the degree to which the lesson is driven by evidence-based reasoning.
  • It is possible, given the proper course structure, support, and feedback, for interns to experience a radical change in attitude toward science and science teaching after only a single semester. In our project, a significant number of interns left our reformed course with a sense that (1) science teaching is fun, interesting, and worthwhile, (2) inquiry is an effective method of science instruction, and (3) they are able to teach science effectively.
  • Due to a lack of post-workshop communication between the project team and the course instructors, our improvement efforts still resulted in some communication and coordination problems. As a result, the 2-day instructor workshop will be further improved by splitting it into two separate workshops: a short workshop held before the beginning of the semester and a second, more in-depth “in session” workshop held during the first few weeks of the semester.

Teaching Science in the Elementary School-- Activity Summary

  • Teaching Science in the Elementary School is a field experience (early teaching/practicum) course taken by elementary education majors during Towson’s “math/science” semester. In the years leading up to our project, instructor and student complaints had been steadily increasing. Discussions with instructors and interns revealed that the different sections of the course (as many as eight per semester) were no longer uniform, and also that there was a general lack of communication about the goals, structure, and logistics of the course. The lack of uniformity was primarily due to the fact that the only resource provided to new course instructors was a sample syllabus, which proved lacking as a means of instructor support and guidance.
  • Early in the reform process, the project team created an updated list of course goals for the field experience course to guide our improvement efforts. The updated course goals required that the interns in each section of the course should: begin to understand and apply inquiry-focused theories of science teaching; become exposed to content and teaching standards; teach science as often as possible; receive in-depth feedback on their teaching; and engage in self-reflection and make steps toward improvement.
  • To further clarify the course and project goals, the project team created a list of four principles of inquiry-based instruction:
  • Students should figure out science concepts and underlying mechanisms on their own whenever possible.
  • Lessons must be driven by clear, common sense, contextualized, and non-obvious questions.
  • Lessons are to be minds-on as much as possible, which can be accomplished through discussions, mentally-engaging hands-on and cooperative activities, active reading, and other means.
  • Lessons focus on ideas and evidence-based reasoning rather than memorization of right answers and vocabulary words.
  • After trying a number of different teaching formats for the course, the project team has settled on a novel “multiple interns per classroom” teaching and planning format that is used in all course sections. In this format, the interns in any given section are spread across a small number of classrooms in a single school; ideally, between four and six interns are placed in each science classroom. During the allotted teaching time, the classroom is broken into four to six groups of elementary students, with each small group being led through an inquiry-based science activity by a single intern.
  • To support our course reforms, the project team created half-day workshops for new mentor teachers and two-day workshops for new instructors. These workshops are now offered every August and January, as needed. The goals of the workshops are to: help new instructors and new mentor teachers develop a better understanding of inquiry; clarify the roles and responsibilities of the university instructors and mentor teachers; clarify the format of the course; and hold open discussions about course goals, course logistics, feedback on the interns’ lesson plans and lessons, and other issues of concern. A variety of brief presentations and interactive methods- and science-related activities are implemented in the workshops to achieve the workshop goals.
  • A resource CD-rom (resource folder) for new course instructors was also created. The CD-rom is a comprehensive teaching and curriculum resource that includes a course overview, a list of web resources, science education readings, 25 methods activities (each of which is explicitly linked to the national standards and course goals), and a variety of other support documents: a core syllabus, sample observation schedules, sample lesson outlines, and observation forms.
  • Supporting materials and equipment were purchased for the course and tested in the classroom. The supporting materials and equipment - which included DVDs of children’s inquiry lessons, digital audiorecorders, and DVD videocameras - were used for self-reflection activities and activities where the interns practiced interpreting children’s ideas.

Physical Science for elementary education majors:

  • A teacher’s guide was developed for the course’s inquiry-based activity guide. The activity guide scaffolds the prospective teachers' experimenting, concept development, and group discussion as they engage in guided inquiry of scientific phenomena.
  • Meetings were held for new instructors before the start of each content unit.

Earth-Space Science for elementary education majors:

  • A teacher’s guide was developed for the course’s inquiry-based activity guide.
  • Meetings were held for new instructors before the start of each content unit.

Collaboration among the Physics Department, Education College, University Administrators, and Local Public School Systems

Successes

  • The project team was able to recruit teachers-in-residence and schools from Baltimore City and Baltimore County school systems. This enabled our project goals and activities to be responsive to each system’s needs and concerns.
  • The Deans and Chairs in Towson’s College of Education and College of Science and Mathematics were extremely supportive of our project efforts.

Challenges

  • Recruitment of a TIR from a school system is a time-, politics-, and paperwork-intensive process.
  • The successes of our early teaching courses are not being built upon in Towson’s student teaching year (the year that follows the science internship). According to surveys, many student teachers do not teach science frequently and also do not receive substantial science-specific mentoring from their university supervisors or mentor teachers. This points to a need for greater coordination between our science departments and our College of Education.

Sustainability/Physics Department Buy-In

  • The field experience coordinator(s) will continue to recruit placement schools and mentor teachers from both Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
  • It remains to be seen whether teachers and administrators will allow the field experience instructors and interns to make inquiry-oriented modifications to the official curriculum when teachers and administrators are faced with rigid content and lesson requirements driven by the Maryland State Assessment (MSA). The new MSA for science was piloted in Maryland this past spring, 2007.
  • There will continue to be close collaboration between our science and education Colleges through formal and informal meetings and through our joint efforts via the Center for Science and Mathematics Education.

Lessons Learned

  • Currently (i.e., pre-standardized testing), mentor teachers and principals are willing to let the field experience instructors/interns modify official lessons as long as the modified lessons address the state science content standards.

Activity Summary

  • To update administrators about the progress of our project, the project team met regularly with the chair of the Department of Elementary Education, our own department chair, the dean of our college, and other science education faculty in our college. During site visits, it was also arranged for members of the national project management team to meet with the chairs and dean.
  • A project PI made frequent school visits and phone calls to recruit and retain schools, to secure dedicated school spaces for the interns, and to sort out logistical problems. The teachers-in-residence also visited the school sites each semester.
  • The project team worked with faculy and administrators in the College of Education to help prepare the science portion of the NCATE reaccreditation of Towson’s Elementary Education program.

Early Teaching Experiences

Successes

  • Our early teaching (field experience) course for elementary education majors was reformed through the re-establishment of clear course goals, the coordination of the course and school partnerships by the project faculty, the creation of guiding principles of inquiry, the teaching of certain course sections by the project faculty, inquiry-focused instructor and mentor teacher workshops, and the creation and distribution of an inquiry-focused teaching resources CD-rom for course instructors.
  • The teaching structure of the field experience course was successfully redesigned such that the ~13-20 interns in any given section of the course are spread across a small number of classrooms in a single school; ideally, between four and six interns are placed in each science classroom. During the allotted teaching time, the classroom is broken into four to six groups of elementary students, with each small group being led through an inquiry-based science activity by a single intern.
  • After the reforms were implemented, when compared to baseline data, the field experience interns spent more time teaching (and less time observing), the interns more frequently taught modified science lessons (rather than teaching the official school lessons as-is), and the interns’ science lessons focused more frequently on scientific investigations and the communication of ideas (rather than scientific demonstrations, lectures, and the verification of ideas). Additionally, the interns’ attitudes and beliefs about science and science teaching shifted in a more positive direction.

Challenges

  • Since Towson University offers as many as eight sections of the field experience each semester, the course has a fairly significant amount of instructor and mentor teacher turnover. Any reforms of our field experience course therefore involved strong coordination between multiple course sections, some of which were led by relatively inexperienced part-time instructors and/or mentor teachers.
  • The project obtained mixed results in its attempts to help the field experience instructors and mentor teachers develop a deep, shared understanding of standards-driven, inquiry-based science teaching; this was due to the fact that the project PIs had limited time for close interactions with mentor teachers and part-time faculty, and also due to the turnover associated with these positions,

Sustainability/Physics Department Buy-In

  • The course reforms will continue as long as funding and personnel are available for workshops and any follow-up coordination and communication.

Lessons Learned

  • The multiple-interns-per-classroom model for early teaching experiences works well. This “small group” teaching structure is one of the primary reasons for the success of our reformed course; this structure should serve as a useful model for other institutions attempting similar course reforms.
  • Inquiry-based science lessons can vary widely in their intent and structure, and yet still adhere to the basic principles of inquiry. Certain inquiry lessons might consist entirely of open-ended, evidence-based discussions, while others might hold to the more typical predict-experiment-discuss-conclude lesson plan format.
  • Expecting the interns’ science lessons to be almost completely inquiry-based across all course sections is an unrealistic goal. Interns’ science lessons arise from a complicated interaction between many different factors: the expectations of the university instructors, interns, and mentor teachers; the degree to which the university instructors, mentor teachers, and interns possessed a shared understanding of inquiry; the ability of the interns to put their inquiry teaching goals into practice; the practical constraints of elementary classrooms and the early teaching course (e.g., the availability of science materials); and other contextual/environmental factors, such as a school’s general stance toward inquiry.
  • Coordination across content, methods, and field experience courses leads to the highest potential for educational success. Ideally, in their content courses, the preservice teachers learn science content and reasoning skills through inquiry, while at the same time reflecting on and explicitly discussing the structure and value of inquiry-based instruction in their methods/field experience courses. This methods and science content is then reinforced by the interns’ inquiry-focused teaching experiences in the field experience course.
  • Providing quality, in-depth feedback on interns’ lesson plans and lesson implementation, while time-consuming, is critical to the success of an early teaching course. Feedback that is overly general does now allow interns to reflect on the important details and nuances of lesson planning and instruction – with the result that the interns are not supported in making substantial improvements in these areas.
  • Interns’ teaching reflections need to be heavily guided and focused. In the absence of specific guidelines, interns will often focus solely on whether students had fun, paid attention, and learned the basic concepts in the lesson. In an inquiry-focused field experience course, the interns should be directed to reflect on inquiry-specific aspects of their instruction, including the evolution of students’ ideas, the effectiveness of teacher guidance and group discussion, and the degree to which the lesson is driven by evidence-based reasoning.
  • It is possible, given the proper course structure, support, and feedback, for interns to experience a radical change in attitude toward science and science teaching after only a single semester. In our project, a significant number of interns left our reformed course with a sense that (1) science teaching is fun, interesting, and worthwhile, (2) inquiry is an effective method of science instruction, and (3) they are able to teach science effectively.
  • Due to a lack of post-workshop communication between the project team and the course instructors, our improvement efforts still resulted in some communication and coordination problems. As a result, the 2-day instructor workshop will be further improved by splitting it into two separate workshops: a short workshop held before the beginning of the semester and a second, more in-depth “in session” workshop held during the first few weeks of the semester.

Publications & Talks

Publications

Sandifer, C., Lising, L., & Renwick, E. (2007). Towson’s PhysTEC course improvement project, Years 1 and 2: Results and lessons learned. 2007 Conference Proceedings of the Association for Science Teacher Education.

Lising, L., Sandifer, C., Tirocchi, L.,Craig, A., & Lottero-Perdue, P. (2007). Methods activities and other resources for fostering science inquiry teaching in elementary (K-8) methods courses and science-focused field experiences. . Instructor guide and resource materials for the Teaching Science in the Elementary School course at Towson University.

Lising, L., and Tirocchi, L. (2007), A “teacher-in-residence” experience as professional development in elementary science inquiry. 2007 Conference Proceedings of the Association for Science Teacher Education.

Sandifer, C., Lising, L., & Tirocchi, L. (2006). Our PhysTEC project: Collaborating with a classroom teacher to improve an elementary science practicum. 2006 Conference Proceedings of the Association for Science Teacher Education.

Talks and Workshops

Sandifer, C. (2007, March). Early teaching experiences. Workshop presented at the annual Preparation of Physics and Physical Science Teachers conference, Boulder, Colorado.

Sandifer, C., Craig, A., & Pine, C. (2007, March). Improving a science practicum course for elementary education majors. Poster presented at the annual Preparation of Physics and Physical Science Teachers conference, Boulder, Colorado.

Sandifer, C., Lising, L., & Renwick, E. (2007, January). Towson’s PhysTEC course improvement project, years 1 and 2: Results and lessons learned. Poster presented at the annual Association for Science Teacher Education conference, Clearwater, Florida.

Sandifer, C., Lising, L., & Renwick, B. (2006, March). Improving and assessing an elementary science field experience: Lessons learned. Invited workshop presented at the annual Preparation of Physics and Physical Science Teachers conference, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Sandifer, C., Lising, L., & Tirocchi, L. (2006, January). Our PhysTEC project: Collaborating with a classroom teacher to improve an elementary science practicum. Poster presented at the annual Association for Science Teacher Education conference, Portland, Oregon.

Lising, L. (2005, August). Goals and assessment in the PhysTEC project: Drawing from research and systematic self-assessment to promote inquiry-oriented teacher education. Poster presented at the annual Physics Education Research Conference, Salt Lake City, UT.

Lising, L., & Tirocchi, L. (2005, March). PhysTEC at Towson University: Assessment development and results. Poster presented at the annual Physics Teacher Education Coalition conference in Muncie, Indiana.


Faculty Involved

Cody Sandifer (PPI co-lead), Associate Professor of Science Education in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences (2004-2008)

Laura Lising (PPI co-lead), Assistant Professor of Science Education in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences (2004-2008)


Assessment

Successes

  • Towson’s PhysTEC team adopted a multi-pronged approach to project assessment. Observations of the interns’ science lessons gave us the most relevant data concerning our project successes, since these observations allowed us to look at the interns’ actual classroom practice – thereby allowing us to gauge the degree to which we have been successful at fostering inquiry-based instruction at the field experience school sites. The observational data was complemented by survey data that allowed us to obtain both multiple-choice and open-ended written responses concerning the interns’ attitudes, beliefs, course activities, and suggestions for improvement.
  • To conduct the teaching observations, the project team created an observation instrument based on the National Science Education Standards. This instrument can be found in Appendix H.

Challenges

  • As is generally true, survey data can be difficult to interpret. To fully understand all of the interns’ survey responses, we would have needed to conduct interviews. However, our main goal was measured through the observation data, which had the potential for fewer ambiguities.
  • The observation protocol that we developed and used as our primary assessment has the potential to provide rich data for others interested in assessing inquiry instruction. It is difficult to use, however, since the observer must have a fairly sophisticated understanding of inquiry to measure the often subtle nuances of inquiry teaching. Making the protocol more “user-proof” would lose that sensitivity.
  • During our first three years of using our observation instrument, we encountered some difficulties with coding consistency. The first year the two observers (one PI and the TIR) were able to code with a high rate of inter-rater-reliability. In the second year, the new TIR, after training with the PI, coded at a high rate of reliability the first semester; however, the TIR’s second semester codes were quite disparate and had to be revised after a retraining session with the PI. This also occurred with the two new TIRs in the first semester of the third year. Some of this was due to a misinterpretation of the instrument itself rather than a less-than sophisticated understanding of inquiry. These discussions helped us to embed more scaffolding and clarification into the instrument so that novice users can more easily use it.

Sustainability/Physics Department Buy-In

  • The course reforms will continue as long as funding and personnel are available for the course instructor and mentor teacher workshops and any follow-up coordination and communication.

Lessons Learned

  • There was often a mismatch between the interns’ stated orientations toward science teaching (in surveys) and what was observed in classroom practice. Often, interns with stated orientations that appeared to be aligned with inquiry would implement extremely traditional science lessons. This survey/observation mismatch underlined for the project team the importance of relying on teaching observations rather than surveys to obtain valid course impact data.

Assessments and Results

  • The project team adopted a multi-pronged approach to project assessment. In almost every case, the team combined multiple choice and free-response surveys with both informal and formal observations. The observations provided us the most relevant data in that they allowed us to examine actual practice and assess our final goal of inquiry teaching practice by the interns, while the survey data allowed us to obtain information from a larger number of respondents and get accurate statistics on quantitative measures.
  • The PhysTEC team had not attempted to make any substantial changes to the field experience course in Fall 2004, and so the Fall 2004 results reflect the state of the course before any PhysTEC-related course improvements were instituted (i.e., the Fall 2004 data represents baseline data).
  • Pre- and post-surveys were administered to the field experience interns every semester. The pre-survey was a multiple-choice instrument that elicited information about the interns’ orientation and attitudes towards science, science teaching, and inquiry. The post-survey repeated the pre-survey questions, and also included additional multiple choice questions about course experiences (e.g., how often the interns taught during the semester) and some free-response questions about teaching principles and strategies and suggestions for improving the course.
  • The surveys revealed that, as a result of our project activities, when compared to baseline data, the field experience interns spent more time teaching (and less time observing), the interns more frequently taught modified science lessons (rather than teaching the official lessons as-is), and the interns’ attitudes and beliefs about science and science teaching shifted in a more positive direction.
  • To assess the inquiry teaching of the interns, the project team developed an observation protocol based on the National Science Education Standards to document whether the field experience interns’ science lessons had an inquiry focus. More specifically, the protocal was used in conjunction with class observation notes to code various aspects of the interns’ teaching (e.g., focusing on right answers rather than reasoning) as to whether each aspect emphasized traditional teaching, inquiry teaching, or a mixture of both. Intent and success were coded separately to allow for the fact that the interns were novices. The observation protocol was used to evaluate approximately two lessons per course section each semester.
  • The biggest success of the project lay in the shift of the field experience interns’ science lessons toward inquiry. Our observation data revealed that, compared to the Fall 2004 semester, the subsequent semesters’ teaching focused much more frequently on the investigation and analysis of science content, public communication of science ideas, scientific discussion and debate, the use of evidence, and the selection and modification of science activities.

Demographics

PhysTEC Graduates

  Grade Band Baseline Project
Year 1 Year 2
2000- 2001
Year 3
2001- 2002
Year 1
2002- 2003
Year 2
2003- 2004
Year 3
2004- 2005
Year 4
2005- 2006
Year 5
2006- 2007
1999- 2000
Middle School 7-8     107 148 208 208 200 210

Future Teachers

  Baseline Project
Year 1
2001- 2002
Year 2
2002- 2003
Year 3
2003- 2004
Year 1
2004- 2005
Year 2
2005- 2006
Year 3
2006- 2007
Year 4
2007- 2008
PhysTEC Future Teachers        523 489  485   

Commentary on future teachers data:

  • The elementary science field experience interns are preservice teachers. Since the vast majority of Physical Science I students hope to be admitted to the preservice teaching program, these students are also included as impacted future teachers.

Enrollment

Course Designation Course Type Baseline Project
Year 1
2001- 2002
Year 2
2002- 2003
Year 3
2003- 2004
Year 1
2004- 2005
Year 2
2005- 2006
Year 3
2006- 2007
Year 4
2007- 2008
Physical Science I Conceptual physics 292 319 262 316 293 318  
Earth and Space Science Conceptual physics 147 186 208 211 198 156  
Teaching Science in Elementary School Early teaching/field experience 107 144 205 207 196 167  

Commentary on enrollment data:

  • Variations in enrollment data are largely due to the number of course sections as offered per semester.
  • Student counts were obtained from final grade data sheets, and as such do not include students who withdrew from the course.
  • Students take the Earth-Space Science course and Teaching Science in Elementary School course as a cohort; therefore, the students in these two courses are typically the same students and as such only count one time as future teachers.

Townson University: Appendice

Appendices with further information on Towson’s Field Experience Course for future elementary teachers (pdf).

Appendix A: Project Context and Background

Appendix B: Details of Towson’s Field Experience (Early Teaching) Course

Appendix C: Towson’s Principles of Inquiry

Appendix D: Instructor and Mentor Teacher Workshops

Appendix E: Resources for Field Experience Course Instructors

Appendix F: Survey Data and Related Discussion

Appendix G: Teaching Observation Data and Related Discussion

Appendix H: Observation Protocol Based on the National Science Education Standards