Pennsylvania State University and several underserved public school districts in Pennsylvania, including three rural districts (Bald Eagle, Bellefonte and Penns Valley) and three urban districts (Harrisburg, Reading and York) have formed a partnership around Earth and Space Science (ESS). Several schools in Philadelphia City school district are also committed to participating in the partnership. The Middle Grades Earth and Space Science Education partnership involves faculty members from Geosciences, Astronomy and Education at three Penn State campuses, University Park, Brandywine and Harrisburg, and targets ESS in grades 4 through 9. Teacher professional development activities concentrate on building deep conceptual understanding of big ideas in ESS in four topic areas: energy production, climate change, plate tectonics, and solar system astronomy.
The goals of the partnership are to:
- contribute to the understanding of conceptual development in ESS through the middle grades,
- develop and support current teachers across Pennsylvania to engage students with the significant and complex questions of ESS fields,
- strengthen the science content preparation of pre-service teachers to deepen their understanding of ESS, and
- institutionalize improved communication and collaboration in teaching and learning among colleges and campuses of Penn State, in underserved urban and rural school districts, and across the partnership.
The partnership is employing four main strategies to accomplish these goals.
- First, professional development for in-service teachers includes a suite of week-long residential workshops that integrate content with pedagogic best practices in the four thematic target areas. During these workshops and in follow-up meetings throughout the year, teachers and STEM and education faculty work to developing learning progressions and performance standards aligned with them in the four areas.
- Second, initiatives for middle grades students involve teachers and guidance counselors in implementing the performance standards, curricula and pedagogy studied during the workshops, while collecting data to inform the learning progressions.
- Third, initiatives for pre-service teachers are focusing on curriculum development aligned with the learning progressions, capacity building for urban teaching, and authentic research experiences.
- Fourth, university faculty and graduate students are involved in professional development workshops and structured observations of middle school ESS classes in order to foster reciprocity of expertise, with ESS experts gaining pedagogical knowledge and ESS teachers receiving rich content-specific feedback.
The research is examining the question of how an understanding of big ideas in ESS can be characterized as learning progressions, and how these learning progressions can inform the development of curriculum, assessment and instruction in these grades. The evaluation is focusing on collaborative planning to articulate a theory of change, formative and summative evaluation.