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Technology-enhanced teacher professional development model.

Abstract

The Partnership to Access Educational Resources (PAER) project was designed to build on existing resources, networks, capabilities and relationships in order to promote use of NASA and other relevant resources for science teachers. One of PAER's goals was to make teacher professional development relevant, accessible, and useful. PAER has assisted future and current teachers to infuse science, mathematics and technology into their teaching and prepare them to use technology to access NASA resources. PAER is a practical, functional demonstration program for NASA, the University of North Florida, and participating schools and school districts.

Introduction

Educators often lament the lack of meaningful support for teachers, while school districts struggle to locate and support effective professional development programs to nourish teachers and raise student achievement. This article discusses the development of an immersion teacher professional development model enhanced by technology. The model emerged from a series of experiences, but coalesced in Project PAER, a teacher professional development initiative rooted in studies of inquiry, learning theory, professional development, and technology.

Teachers Can Do It All and Integrate Technology

Teachers need good, relevant resources in order to teach specific content areas. In addition to traditional materials, many new information vehicles may be used in the classroom. These vehicles include videos, laser disks, compact disks, digital videodisks and the Internet. The Internet contains copious useable resources. During Project PAER, many web sites were identified, reviewed, evaluated and used in order to provide teachers with accessible resources that support teaching according to state and national standards. Several science related web pages were summarized and can be found at http://www.unf.edu/coehs/trda/elproject.html. Expectations of teachers in today's schools are high and teachers need viable partners and resources to do all that is expected of them.

Integrating Technology Resources in the Classroom

A cultural shift is occurring from use of print resources to increasing use of electronic resources. Undoubtedly, individuals are greatly advantaged if they gain knowledge about finding valid information using technology at an early age. In many ways computers possess an advantage over traditional materials as tools for learning. The student and teacher are able to access more information, faster, from the computer. The Internet provides greater access to a larger bank of knowledge for teachers and it may enhance the quality and quantity of information that teachers provide for their students. Technology can help some people to participate more easily in education, to learn more effectively, and to enjoy learning more (Palmieri, 1997). The teacher as the primary source of knowledge no longer suffices in a world where knowledge doubles every seven years and 10,000 scientific articles are published every year (Forman, 1987). The Internet is highly valuable as a resource tool for education. Forman (1987) also indicates that technology adds the ability for students to choose how, when, and where they participate in the learning experience and brings together a vast wealth of previously unavailable learning resources.

PAER Project Background

With funding from Florida's Technological Research and Development Authority (TRDA) and NASA, the University of North Florida (UNF) in conjunction with two partner school systems (Duval and Clay County) and supporting business partnerships from Intel and Media One cable services, created graduate courses and a support system for teacher professional development. The mechanism used for this development was the Partnership to Access Educational Resources (PAER): Teachers Virtual Gateway to NASA. A goal of the PAER initiative was to use advanced technology, such as desktop video conferencing, to provide K-12 teachers in northeast Florida a "virtual" or technology-assisted link to NASA and other relevant resources including materials, personnel, and expertise. PAER built upon existing networks and relationships to infuse meaningful science, mathematics, and technology into the K-12 educational system. Adding communication technologies and copious NASA resources, PAER expanded current capabilities to make professional development relevant, accessible, and useful to teachers in local schools and to future teachers at the University of North Florida. Thus, PAER became a partnership project for NASA, UNF, and the participating school districts. Demographically, the major PAER participants were 44 teachers with a mean age of 41 years from middle and high schools with an average of 6.8 years teaching experience. The participant gender distribution was 30% male and 70% female.

A major consideration for PAER was to build on existing networks. Hardware and software items were purchased to enhance current communication interfaces common to most school systems. The intention of the program was to provide a means to a K-16 educational system by linking secondary and postsecondary education. Middle grade teachers were the primary target population; however, several elementary and high schoolteachers joined the project. In addition, post-secondary instructors were used as facilitators and speakers. Another goal was to infuse meaningful science, mathematics and technology into the classroom by using a variety of methods, such electronic mail, electronic presentation software and Web sites, writing exercises, field trips, and practical experiences. PAER integrated communications technologies and NASA resources by linking the teachers to NASA and NASA-related Web pages, as well as education personnel at NASA.

PAER Components in a Standards Context

In an educational era defined by national and state standards, teachers, students and other supporting personnel are asked to provide better instruction and learning implementing a wide variety of learning theories and practices. Teachers are asked to deliver standards-based instruction in a process-oriented manner that allows the student to comprehend and transform concepts into realistic applications. In Florida, the primary standards are the Sunshine State Standards (SSS), appearing in a series of documents, The Florida Curriculum Frameworks and SSS (State of Florida, 1996). The SSS contain the Subject Area (content area); Strand (the category of knowledge); Standard (expectations of learner achievement); and Benchmark (learner expectations). The SSS have been created to delineate expected achievement by all students. Further information at: http://www.firn.edu/doe/curric/prek12/frame2.htm.

In addition, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or FCAT is used to provide a measure of how the student, teacher and entire school are operating. The FCAT questions and performance tasks are written to measure specific SSS Benchmarks in the areas of reading for grades 4, 8 and 10 and mathematics for grades 5, 8 and 10. Science assessment was added in 2003. FCAT is a test designed to measure benchmarks in the SSS and it includes questions called "performance tasks," requiring thinking about an answer to a question and writing the answer. FCAT questions and performance tasks incorporate thinking and problem-solving skills that match the complexity of the standards being assessed. The overall objective is to encourage students to use creative thinking skills to generate new ideas, make the best decision, recognize and solve problems through reasoning, interpret symbolic data, and develop efficient techniques for lifelong learning.

Courses and Electronic Projects

Major activities of the PAER project were the development and offering of a Science, Technology and Society graduate course and a follow-up Science Inquiry graduate course through UNF. The courses were taught by a team consisting of a UNF science education faculty member, a Master science teacher with the Jacksonville National Science Foundation-funded Urban Systemic Initiative, and a UNF technology specialist. Although electronic journals were also used for student assessment, the main deliverable for this course was a small group Electronic Project (EProject) involving learners in researching, reviewing, evaluating, and incorporating electronic media useful for lesson planning into a presentation for the class on a laptop computer system. PAER EProjects can be found on-line at: http://www.unf.edu/coebs/trda/.

In the first course, teachers began planning for the electronic projects by identifying a benchmark from the Florida Sunshine State Standards (SSS) in science. The EProject was less structured than most deliverables, since one of the strengths of electronic media is tailoring instruction to important student characteristics. Therefore, EProjects were to be functional, applicable and relevant to each group's goals as teachers. Electronic Projects cover topics in the earth-space sciences, such as the sun and asteroids, and can be found on-line at: http://www.unf.edu/coehs/trda/elprojeet.html.

Once teachers found Web pages to support their learning objectives, they realized the potential of the Web for accessing information. However, they still needed to overcome some basic technical roadblocks, such as leaning to use PowerPoint features, in order to create a useable format for their projects. Technological support was integrated into the course in the form of group and individual tutoring, such as class coaching sessions and email correspondence. Group members supported one another and practiced their newfound skills. Remarkably, in less than 16 weeks, most of the teachers were able to create a group EProject that was not only informative, but also attention getting. Most teachers did not own computers at the beginning of the class nor did they have Internet access and email accounts. One of the initial steps in the first class was to demonstrate how to create a free email account through one of the major search engines. Frustration was high during the first several weeks, but became less as time progressed and the teachers experienced some technological success. In addition, to further bolster their skills, several teachers received Web-design instruction using Microsoft Front Page software at the Astronaut Memorial Foundation at the Kennedy Space Center.

Virtual and Real Field Trips

One of the advantages of this grant was the ability to partner and use NASA and affiliated resources for teacher professional development. Teachers were able to take advantage of in-depth visits to the Kennedy Space Center, the Challenger learning Center in Jacksonville and a model high school science classroom. Thus, contexts for learning in PAER were varied and authentic.

Formative Data Collection

Teachers following each class completed a questionnaire. The form was comprised of three items: What is your perception of the Quality, Pace, and Quantity of material presented? A Likert format allowed the student to respond from 1--Strongly Disagree to 5--Strongly Agree. Average responses for all sessions were 4 or above, with highest ratings associated with hands-on activities and field trips.

Summary Perception Data

In addition, a final perception assessment was collected from each student at the end of the course. A similar Likert scale formatted questionnaire was used, although the questions reflected major goals and objectives of the course. Participants perceived the individual course sessions and the overall course as a very positive experience, with average ratings at 4 or above for all aspects of the course, including topics, assessments, instructors, sense of community, freedom to ask questions, interest level, and resources.

Qualitative Data

The following testimonials are provided from students either in writing via electronic email or on the final course evaluation sheet.

* "This type of instructional approach reinforces the student and teacher for their lifetime learning process."

* "This course taught us, as teachers, to use the Internet as a resource for research, planning and implementation."

* "The course opened new avenues to access information and methods to use it in the classroom for my students."

* "This course provided the opportunity to reflect on science lessons in order to incorporate them into the America's Choice Standards (used in the school district) and improve my assessments."

PAER Participant Achievement

Participant progression through the PAER courses was measured using a variety of assessment techniques, among which are journals, field critiques, and a culminating electronic project focused on earth/space sciences. Rubrics (assessing areas such as connection of work to curriculum standards, relevance to student learning, organization, and quality of presentations using technology) were developed jointly by the staff and shared with participants Course grades in the first course varied from 72-98%, with 21 teachers at 90% or above, indicating substantial learning of content and process knowledge and skills. The second PAER course was a one credit hour summer experience on using PAER resources to design inquiry-based lessons. All sixteen participants were successful in designing an inquiry-oriented lesson according to guidelines. Feedback was solicited on course topics, project, instructors, and resources. The mean for all the categories was 4.9/5.0.

PAER Impact on Instructional Team

The team members met before and after every session to discuss goals, objectives, strategies, modifications in approach, insights into the learners' progress, and impacts on their own learning and development. Project goals were deemed to be attainable, and the team learned that the self-confidence of the teachers, especially in the area of technology, needed to be acknowledged and nurtured. Further, the team was able to alter instruction based on group and individual needs, thereby providing the teachers with models of teacher-learner interaction. The team learned that commitment, patience, and time investment are essential components of team teaching. The fact that the team members had varied expertise and perceptions led to the development and blending of strategies that would not have been possible had the courses been taught by any one team member. The team became increasingly invested in the progress of the participants and in the potential of the emerging model of professional development. They came to realize that much time and effort are required to develop true inquiry lessons. The program would not have been nearly as successful, cognitively or affectively, without the team of three instructors with their respective unique talents and expertise in group facilitation, technology, and K-12 teaching.

Two Years Later ...

Project staff continued to communicate with and work with more than one-fourth of the PAER participants. Three members continued to infuse inquiry into the NSF/Urban Systemic Initiative (USI), working closely with one of the course instructors who have conducted in-service on coaching for the USI team. A Jacksonville USI professional development model was influenced by PAER. Two other participants engaged in program innovations at the local community college. Two participants became involved in another professional development project, which supports NASA in the area of structural biology. Several participants have mentored future science teachers. The staff remains committed to the PAER model and continues using aspects the PAER group projects in courses and in-service activities.

The Power of the PAER Approach

Immersion in science and technology was a strong initial step in the implementation of this professional development initiative for science teachers. Rarely does the average instructor have the opportunity to see, touch, and hear the type of experiences that PAER was able to offer through NASA's assistance, including resources, a field trip, and interaction with NASA educators. In addition, participants received stipends to cover tuition, an added incentive to busy professionals who have full-time jobs teaching and planning for teaching. Additional professional expertise in the form of speakers, scientists, university faculty and other consultants broadened the learning context for the teachers. A reliable, committed support system enabled students to work independently, alone and in groups, in a practically anywhere, anytime environment. Participants became apprentices, engaged in contextualized problem solving with reinforcement, characteristics associated with effective learning for adaptability (Hennessy, 1993). Through electronic messaging, students could communicate with instructors, colleagues and other professional services. A final contributor to the power of this approach is the hands-on technology that encouraged self-direction by learners. Self-regulation in learners is a powerful component of effective learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Schunk and Zimmerman, 1998; Zimmerman, Bonner, and Kovach, 1996; Winne, 1995)

Challenges and Further Work

The PAER program model is characterized by immersion of learners in relevant contexts enhanced by technology, and facilitated by a diverse instructional team. Although highly successful in its ongoing support for teachers, original videoconferencing goals of PAER were met in only limited fashion. School system and university infrastructure lacked anticipated connectivity at the PAER sites and the status of one of the business partners changed during the project. Prior to engaging in such a multidimensional initiative, partners need to commit to details of support within specified timelines. Further work includes additional training and application of Web design software; connection and actual use of the video conferencing work stations with guidance and ownership by some previous PAER participants; encouragement of institutional ownership for sustainability; continued technological support for the teachers; and further research on the professional development model. The building of long-term relationships requires time, patience, and evidence that the support system will remain viable and those teachers will be treated as the professionals that they are.

References

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn--brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Forman, D. C. (1987). The use of multimedia technology for training in business and industry. Multimedia Monitor, 13, 22-27.

Hennessy, S. (1993). Situated cognition and cognitive apprenticeship: Implications for classroom learning. Studies in Science Education, 22, 1-41.

Palmieri, P. (1997). Technology in education. Do we need it?, ARIS Bulletin, 8(2), 1-5.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1998). Self-regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

State of Florida (1996). The Florida curriculum framework--Sunshine state standards and instructional practices. Tallhassee: State of Florida, Department of State.

Winne, P. H. (1995). Inherent details in self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 30, 173-187.

Zimmerman, B. J., Bonner, S., & Kovach, R. (1996). Developing self-regulated learners: Beyond achievement to self-efficacy. The City University of New York: APA, Washington, DC.

Marianne B. Barnes, University of North Florida Jace Hargis, University of North Florida

Dr. Barnes is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, with a specialization in Science Education. Her teaching-research agenda includes the teaching and learning of science and teacher professional development. Dr. Hargis is the Director of Faculty Enhancement. His teaching-research agenda includes university faculty support, technology integration, science education and project-based learning.
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Author:Hargis, Jace
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
Words:2910
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