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Learning Progressions in Environmental Science: The impact of a Professional Development on Teacher Practice

Abstract

"The Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) have set ambitious new goals for student learning. They also identified learning progressions as a promising tool for helping teachers facilitate the achievement of these goals. However, despite their promising nature, few studies have examined how teachers understand and use learning progressions in their teaching, and little is known about how professional development can support teachers in developing the knowledge and skills required for effective implementation of learning progression-based approaches (Corcoran, 2009).
This study was designed to address this issue through an examination of the impact of a multi-region, multi-year professional development (PD) effort designed to facilitate teachers' use of learning progressions to teach core strands of environmental science to secondary students. Curricular units, or teaching experiments (TEs), were developed for three strands of environmental science content including biodiversity, the carbon cycle, and the water cycle. The PD, in addition to building teacher content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, motivation, and self efficacy, was geared toward enabling and encouraging the teachers to both implement the learning progression-based TEs and to use the key teaching pedagogies emphasized in the unit. These key pedagogies include focusing on big ideas, responding to student thinking, connecting to real world issues and local contexts, and engaging students in evidence- and principle-based reasoning. To better understand the impact of this PD on teacher practices, we addressed the following research questions: 1) To what extent did teachers implement the TEs and use the key pedagogies? 2) What factors are correlated with the variation in implementation of the TEs and key pedagogies?"

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