Kathryn Schulz, director of the San Diego Science Project, with teachers at the ONR Lesson Study Workshop Sept. 14 and 15 at Qualcomm’s Thinkabit lab.
Kathryn Schulz, director of the San Diego Science Project, with teachers at the ONR Lesson Study Workshop Sept. 14 and 15 at Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab.

From the spectacular and colorful undersea world of bioluminescence to the acoustic ecology of dolphins and whales, San Diego-based science was the focus of an intensive two-day workshop linking five renowned scientists and 25 high school science teachers from throughout the county. Participants gathered for a focused Lesson Study workshop to create Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned lessons for local students, leveraging science from UC San Diego and SPAWAR Systems Pacific into local classrooms.

The workshops are part of a $500,000 grant, “Creating, Scaling and Sustaining NGSS-Aligned, ONR-Informed Research in High School Science”, awarded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), along with the San Diego Science Project (SDSP) in CREATE and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR). The grant currently serves the Escondido, San Diego, Sweetwater and Vista school districts.

Together, local researchers and science teachers collaborate to create impactful science lessons that connect students to real-life research findings in a meaningful way. At the end of three years, 78 middle and high school science teachers will have developed cutting-edge science lessons to bring back to their classrooms, impacting thousands of students across our region.

“San Diego is one of the country’s foremost STEM research communities with an abundance of world-renowned resources and talent. The ONR grant helps to channel cutting-edge research into K-12 classrooms through carefully honed science lessons co-developed with local researchers and taught by area science teachers,” said Susan Yonezawa, associate director of CREATE and network coordinator for the CREATE STEM Success Initiative.

“Thanks to efforts by Dr. Jim Rohr, an outreach scientist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation and Dr. Cheryl Peach, director of Scripps Educational Alliances at SIO, we’re thrilled to have dynamic ONR-funded science researchers working with our inaugural high school cohort to design exciting new science lessons for students,” she added.

The group of distinguished scientists includes Dr. Simone Baumann-Pickering, an assistant research biologist who heads the Behavioral Acoustic Ecology Group at SIO; John deGrassie, an atmospheric physicist from SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific); Dr. Jules Jaffe, SIO research oceanographer and head of the Jaffe Laboratory for Underwater Imaging; Dr. Michael Latz, a marine biologist at SIO whose laboratory studies bioluminescence; and Anna Leese de Escobar, founder and lead scientist of the Cryogenic Exploitation of Radio Frequency Laboratory, Advanced Systems and Applied Research Branch at SSC Pacific.

To convey the latest science research from the lab into the science classroom, ONR teachers and researchers used the Lesson Study Cycle model for developing their research lessons. Researchers met with teachers, who then developed lessons addressing a key issue from the researcher’s science.  Teachers then honed and practiced the lessons together, collectively.

“Lesson Study is a professional development practice that centers on teachers working collaboratively to plan, teach, observe and evaluate a lesson,” said Melanie Villanueva, a Chula Vista High School chemistry teacher during a brief presentation on the Lesson Study Cycle for the assembled workshop teachers and researchers. Villanueva was an early participant in the CREATE STEM Success Initiative’s lesson study efforts, tapping science from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“The more traditional professional development model is hierarchical, with top-down communication from trainer to teachers. The Lesson Study Cycle model is a collective, participant-driven effort with a reciprocal relationship between the researcher and teacher.  It’s a very rich method for creating dynamic learning experiences for both teachers and students.”

 Dr. Latz presents research on marine bioluminescence to San Diego Unified District science teachers.
Dr. Michael Latz  presents research on marine bioluminescence to San Diego Unified District science teachers.

On September 14, after introductions, work got underway as researchers and teachers huddled across Thinkabit’s lab space. Teachers listened intently as researchers shared their findings through presentations and hands-on demonstrations, then worked to identify and extract a concept from the researchers’ area of focus to create a new NGSS-aligned, high school science lesson.

Anna Leese de Escobar (right) helped North County science teachers form their lesson plan on energy transformation.
Anna Leese de Escobar (right) helped North County science teachers form their lesson plan on energy transformation.

As teachers grappled with defining their lesson concept and focus questions, researchers clarified content, answered questions with research-based information, and suggested online videos, demonstrations, and published papers to help enhance the evolving lesson content.

“The work to identify the lesson concept and determine if it will work in the classroom is the most difficult point in the lesson study process,” noted Yonezawa. “We’ve piloted this professional development lesson study model several times, and I can now say that those two to three hours spent hunkered down discussing data and hammering out a concept are the most intense.”

With a concept in place, teams construct and shape a 50-minute science lesson. Along with the lesson study framework, teachers follow the NGSS “5E” template (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate) to create curriculum prompting students to act and think like scientists as they learn new science concepts. Next steps in the cycle are to present and observe the finished lesson in classrooms, debrief afterward to reflect and improve the lesson, and present a refined version to another class of students.  Researchers also are invited to visit the teachers’ classrooms during the lesson. Many are planning to bring their graduate students to gain some pedagogical tips from K-12 teachers.

“In addition to learning new, leading-edge science, K-12 students benefit from meeting the actual researcher whose work inspired the lesson,” said SDSP Director Kathryn Schulz. “Students have the opportunity to find out more from these world-renowned researchers and researchers have the opportunity to share their knowledge and passion for science.  It brings a whole new level of learning excitement to the classrooms.”

Teams gathered after two days of powerful collaboration to share their lesson plans with each other.

SUHSD teachers listen to underwater audio sounds and view frequency data while building their lesson. (Photo by Melanie Villanueva)
SUHSD teachers listen to underwater audio sounds and view frequency data while building their lesson. (Photo by Melanie Villanueva)

Inspired by Dr. Baumann-Pickering and her SIO colleagues Anne Simonis and Anna Meyer-Loebbecke, a team of Sweetwater district teachers will explore the phenomena of how sound travels in the ocean. Their students will learn how different sounds travel at different frequencies, and infer about dolphin feeding patterns by learning about underwater echolocation.

South Bay teachers explore laser transmission and light diffusion in the atmosphere by observing the properties of a flashlight beam shining through a container of sugar water. (Photo by Melanie Villanueva)
South Bay teachers explore laser transmission and light diffusion in the atmosphere by observing the properties of a flashlight beam shining through a container of sugar water, as demonstrated by John deGrassie (right). (Photo by Melanie Villanueva)

In Mr. deGrassie’s group, SUHSD teachers are developing a lesson on how radiation pressure can create movement. The lesson begins with the question, “How can a laser be used to save us from an asteroid?” By determining laser intensities, concentration, and length, and assessing how particular matter would affect laser transmission, students will select where to place a laser in outer space to deflect or reorient an earthbound asteroid.

Dr. Jaffe supports University City High School teachers with their lesson on interruption and adaptation of marine ecosystems.
Dr. Jules Jaffe supports University City High School teachers with their lesson on ecosystem disruption and adaptation of marine ecosystems.

Dr. Jaffe’s significant oceanic exploration and findings prompted science teachers from San Diego Unified School District’s University City High School to address the effects of human impact on ecosystems with a lesson on coral bleaching phenomena. From the data, students will create a sequential order of events showing the progression of healthy coral to sick coral.

Dr. Latz’s expertise includes the study of bioluminescent bays in the Caribbean. He also collaborates with artists as a portal for engaging the public through artistic expression of bioluminescence.
Dr. Michael Latz’s expertise includes the study of bioluminescent bays in the Caribbean. He also collaborates with artists as a portal for engaging the public through artistic expression of bioluminescence.

A second teaching team from SDUSD will create a lesson inspired by Dr. Latz’s research on the bioluminescence of dinoflagellates, common marine plankton that can be maintained in the laboratory. Students will study chemical reactions and pathways and learn how bioluminescence occurs. They will also observe how mechanical forces make the dinoflagellates light up, by manipulating small bags filled with dinoflagellates in a darkened room in order to observe how the chemistry is activated when the plankton are disturbed.

Rebecca McKinney, physics teacher at San Pasqual High School, works with her North County team to develop questions for their science lesson on energy transformation. McKinney writes about her ONR lesson study experience on her education blog, “NGSS Made Me Do It.”
Rebecca McKinney, physics teacher at San Pasqual High School, works with her North County team to develop questions for their science lesson on energy transformation. McKinney writes about her ONR lesson study experience on her education blog, “NGSS Made Me Do It.”

Anna Leese de Escobar’s research on superconductivity and the reception of radio waves sparked the Escondido Union High School District group to explore the transformation of energy from the electromagnetic spectrum into information. The lesson begins with the question, “Why can’t a leaf receive a text message?” Students will explore similarities and differences between a leaf and a cell phone, and then explore the electromagnetic spectrum, model the different types of energy transformations and discuss how energy waves are used in producing things that work.

The ONR grant’s teachers and researchers will reunite and share the lessons they co-created at a showcase November 3 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Visitors from teachers’ school sites and the broader education community, including K-12 administrators and students, are welcome to attend.

For more information about the showcase or the ONR grant, contact Susan Yonezawa (syonezawa@ucsd.edu), CREATE associate director and network coordinator for the CREATE STEM Success Initiative, and the grant’s principal investigator and/or Kathryn Schulz (kschulz@ucsd.edu), Director, San Diego Science Project.