Picture a group of science teachers huddled together, arranging themselves as human bowling balls, billiard balls and other moving objects, and moving in slow motion to demonstrate the science of energy transfer.
Or imagine constructing the strongest brick possible using only bamboo skewers, an aluminum pan and a polyurethane foam. These along with other creative science and engineering learning activities were part of the five-day inaugural Power Summer Institute held for South Bay teachers in June.
The summer institute is part of a $1.8 million grant awarded by the California Mathematics and Science Partnership (CaMSP) to the National School District. Partners include Chula Vista Elementary School District (K-6), Sweetwater Union High School District (7-8), UC San Diego (UCSD), San Diego Science Project (SDSP) in UCSD’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence (CREATE), and San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE). The grant also involves UC San Diego faculty members from Physics and the Jacobs School of Engineering.
Entitled “Power: Solving Problems through Engineering in the Physical Sciences,” the new grant will help educators develop cohesive, integrated physical sciences and engineering instructional units via California’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), for transitional kindergarten (TK) through 8th grade teachers.
“We are committed to meet the grant-articulated goal of increasing student learning of NGSS-based physical sciences and engineering in our schools,” said Eldon Andersen, Power project director and teacher coach. “The Power grant is a testament to the ‘power’ of collaborative work to support a set of clear goals that benefit science and engineering education for more than 3,000 students in the South Bay.”
“We want to move teachers past having students read about science or watch a video; past ‘recipe’ science where the procedure is prescribed and the result is known,” said Joan Commons, Power grant professional development team member and coach. “This grant promotes science inquiry, problem and project based learning, and service learning with opportunities for engineering in TK-8 grades to prepare students for high school, college, career, and citizenship. Teachers will create curriculum to share within and across school districts.”
The grant provides 81 South Bay school district teachers with 63 hours of intensive professional development learning and onsite classroom coaching for three years. Teachers attend annual week-long summer institutes like the one in June, participate in academic year follow-up sessions and receive an annual stipend.
“The Power grant collaboration among districts, UCSD, San Diego Science Project and the San Diego County Office of Education will produce a rich, dynamic experience for teachers at different grade levels,” Commons added. “The interrelated approach to authentic science and engineering practices will benefit students as they move from grade to grade, starting as early as kindergarten. This is an outstanding professional development opportunity for South Bay teachers to learn to implement NGSS-aligned instruction in their classrooms and become teacher leaders in science and engineering.”
UCSD’s Dr. Adam Burgasser, associate professor of Physics at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, and Dr. Olivia Graeve, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Jacobs School of Engineering, developed and taught sessions for this year’s summer institute.
Prof. Burgasser led hands on, whole group activities for the first four days of the institute. In addition to the energy transfer exercise, teachers had an NGSS-inspired look at the property of matter in a dazzling optical science demonstration featuring colorless, odorless gases that changed color as electricity passed through a tube. They worked with objects such as clocks, scales and rubber bands to demonstrate energy force and graphed their results on large, teacher-created posters.
“The curriculum for the grant focuses on NGSS-based physical science and engineering science pedagogy and content,” said Kathryn Schulz, San Diego Science Project director. “Through experiential, hands-on learning, teachers identify science concepts for their particular grade level. They become very familiar with the 5E lesson design model aligned to the NGSS, as they work through these kinds of interactive science lessons.”
On days four and five, the institute pivoted from a focus on interactions of matter to exploring materials engineering. Prof. Graeve asked teachers to use only their existing science materials knowledge to solve two engineering learning projects. With no engineering background or project information supplied, teachers engaged in an open-ended inquiry lesson, and experienced the engineering design cycle.
The first project was to design and construct a brick using bamboo skewers and Polyurethane, a liquid polymer used to make plastic.
Teachers worked in groups to plan, design, build, and revise different parts of each problem-based learning project. By working and learning together, teachers had time to think through what lessons like these might look like in their classrooms.
“Institute teachers were excited, engaged, at times frustrated, and definitely challenged,” said Dominga Sanchez, engineering outreach coordinator for the CSSI. “For many, this was the first time they experienced extensive hands-on learning. They were excited to try new things and consider how to integrate science and engineering teaching and learning into their classrooms.”
The grant supports six visits to teachers’ classrooms throughout the year by members of the Power coaching team. Power coaches observe and oversee NGSS-alignment of physical science and engineering lessons and provide one-on-one mentoring.
A two-day follow-up session in September focused on planning a learning opportunity using the 5Es, with an engineering problem as an extension to the lesson, and unit development. The next series of follow-up sessions is January 6-7, 2016, and will center on physical science content and unit development.
To learn more about the NGSS-aligned science professional development offered by CREATE and the San Diego Science Project, contact Susan Yonezawa, PI for the Power grant, CREATE associate director and CSSI network coordinator, Kathryn Schulz, director, San Diego Science Project, or Dominga Sanchez, CSSI engineering outreach coordinator.