MainePSP: a test bed for teaching practices aligned with A Framework for K-12 Science Education

Thank you to our friends at the University of Maine RiSE (Research in STEM Education) Center for this post to the SciTech Framework Blog. 



As readers of this blog already know, A Framework for K-12 Science Education describes an approach to science teaching that differs from traditional instruction. Traditional approaches focus primarily on students’ learning about science content. With a traditional approach students might also learn about scientific practices, but the tendency in many classrooms has been to treat scientific practices as a topic to learn in addition to the content.

The vision of the Framework promotes instruction where “students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in science and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of each field’s disciplinary core ideas (p. 2).” The Framework requires that students demonstrate understanding of core ideas through engagement in practices and crosscutting concepts.

Teacher and students at Troy Middle School measuring.

Teacher and students at Troy Middle School measuring. – From Bangor Daily News files.

The Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP) brings together rural Maine school districts, the University of Maine, the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, the Maine Department of Education, and several education- focused nonprofit organizations to build a sustainable infrastructure that strengthens rural science education. Supported by a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the key initiatives of the MainePSP include science teacher recruitment, retention and preparation, teaching and learning of physical science in the critical grade range of 6th-9th, and research informing future rural education initiatives. Some of the work now underway addresses aspects of the K-12 Framework.

Troy Howard student pouring water.  - From Bangor Daily News files

Troy Howard student pouring water. – From Bangor Daily News files.

One of the MainePSP project’s core innovations is the selection and collective implementation of research-based science curricular materials. The middle school partnership selected two different sets of materials: Issues and Earth Science from SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Project) for grade 6 and PBIS (Project-Based Inquiry Science) for force and motion, energy and chemistry, typically in grade 7 or 8. Grade 9 teachers selected EarthCOMM (Earth System Science in the Community) as the set of foundational materials. Each set of materials contains elements that are aligned with aspects of the Framework.

The common instructional resources in the MainePSP provide a basis for shared experiences and rich conversations among teachers and University of Maine STEM and education faculty as they discover together how to strengthen science teaching and learning. The most important conversations reflect the Framework’s increased priority on the learning of scientific practices and on the integration of those practices with science content learning. With the collaborating teachers, the MainePSP faculty is studying and working through some of the issues that allteachers will face as they implement Next Generation Science Standards, built upon the ideas expressed in the Framework.

Many findings are emerging from the MainePSP study. One important finding suggests that there are three commonly held conceptions of learning progress that are potentially at odds with framework instruction. They are that learning should be Definite, Rapid, and Extensive:

• Definite – students should learn something once correctly, and  then and move on. They should have a visible gain in proficiency or knowledge over a short time period.

• Rapid – Students should have rapidly expanding experience and a rapid progress through the curriculum.

• Extensive – should have exposure to a large volume of content.

On the surface, these three conceptions of progress are attractive. Of course we all would like definite, rapid, and extensive progress that results in a lot of learning! Framework-aligned learning, particularly the learning of science practices and the critical thinking that the practices require, develops slowly over many repetitions; its progress is sometimes difficult to perceive, and it is, of course, not voluminous.

The MainePSP’s work with teachers across many different schools also provides evidence that it is not just the teachers who will need to develop new ways to think about student progress as science instruction aligns with the Framework. The teachers work in contexts that are shaped by expectations from building administrators, parents, school districts, state standards, and state assessments. The MainePSP sees the adoption and enactment of Framework-style instruction as a community-driven endeavor that will take place over a period of years.

The MainePSP, with its engagement from curriculum coordinators and whole school districts, provides a unique opportunity to encounter and work through the challenges of moving toward Framework-aligned instruction across the whole system of supports for science education in Maine school districts. It is our hope that lessons learned from this Partnership will inform the adoption and enactment of instruction congruent with the new Framework and the forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards.