As California continues its transition to Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Math, teachers are under pressure to learn and understand these new curriculum standards and implement engaging ways to help their students learn. Many California County Offices of Education and over 200 school districts have provided professional development to their science and math teachers under federally funded California Mathematics and Science Partnership (CaMSP) Program grants.
Since 2003, through CaMSP, more than 10,000 California science and mathematics teachers have committed to three-year professional development programs that focused on evidence-based science and mathematics teaching methods to improve teacher content knowledge and student academic achievement. CaMSP teacher participants were asked to demonstrate a sustained commitment of 84 hours of professional development each year for the three-year duration of the grant. Participants were provided with opportunities to try new student engagement strategies, observe and understand student learning in new ways, develop and practice new approaches to familiar lesson topics and provide and receive feedback in a collegial setting.
A recently published statewide evaluation report for the CaMSP program found that local partnerships with school districts and universities, coupled with high teacher engagement in evidence-based science and mathematics professional development as key to STEM learning and transition to NGSS & Common Core Math Policies.
As a researcher for Public Works, which conducted the evaluation of CaMSP across the state, I learned that STEM-focused professional development provided an important lens on the coming opportunities to support teachers, and, in turn, students to learn in new ways. Opportunities include:
● Combining locally customized professional development models based on research and recognized strategies to support teacher learning and classroom implementation with a longer-term horizon to improve and reflect on what is working.
● Providing opportunities for teachers to understand engineering and integrated STEM learning using discipline-specific approaches, university expertise and community partners. Teachers develop key instructional building blocks for NGSS and CCSS, including design and implementation of new activities, and real and practical understandings of engineering to develop student thinking.
● Allowing opportunities for collaboration and teacher leadership to develop and adjust professional development approaches over time to meet teacher needs. Examples include grade level teams, lesson study groups and individual coaching support.
● Embedding formative and summative evaluation support and technical assistance to provide another lens to measure, improve and fine tune implementation. Consistent measurement of teacher content knowledge for science and math provides an opportunity to examine progress and customize and refine each professional development model and implementation.
● Strong partnerships and a structure for implementation offer better chances for long-term success and retention of teachers.
Teachers across the U.S. are being asked to implement a wide range of new policies, often in districts and schools without professional development structures and personnel, the materials and the time set aside to support a broad-based shift. To keep the focus of new education policies in the classroom and on student learning, teachers must be engaged in understanding these goals and given time and structured support to implement. While this kind of support is not cookie-cutter and takes time to develop and fine-tune, we see that when teachers are engaged with both their colleagues, university professors from different disciplines and other partners in learning about mathematics, science and integrated STEM content in a sustained way, teachers develop the tools they need to make the shift in their own classrooms and become the leaders we will need in schools and districts to bring about change.