A partnership between the GSE and the PSU Center for Science Education (CSE) offers a creative way to help reinforce math and science knowledge and skills for elementary teachers. It’s called the Connect2Math/Connect2Science Partnership. Dr. Nicole Rigelman from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction is working with Dr. Bill Becker, director of the CSE, and Carol Biskupic-Knight, program director, under a grant from the Oregon Department of Education to create a professional development program focused on inquiry-based instruction in math and science in order to improve students’ math and science understanding and achievement.
In October 2010, the Oregon Board of Education adopted new Common Core State Standards that significantly increased requirements for math with the intention of better preparing students’ knowledge for the 21st century. This creates a significant challenge for those Oregon schools whose students’ math test scores are already weak, particularly as students progress through the grades. The new Connect2Math/Connect2Science Partnership was created in anticipation of this growing concern. In order to meet the new rigor, teachers will need to deepen their own content knowledge and support it with effective instructional and assessment strategies. “That’s the way to make the biggest difference,” says Dr. Rigelman, who teaches math methods classes in the Graduate Teacher Education Program (GTEP).
The new math and science program is modeled after a previously successful all-science professional development program offered by the CSE called Connect2Science. Carol Biskupic-Knight has been an instructor and leader in the program for the last four years.
The program offers classes throughout the Metro area, but also promotes some unique strategies. PSU math and science faculty are paired with school district master teachers (Teachers on Special Assignment, TOSAs) who develop and offer the courses at a minimal cost to districts. The PSU faculty bring deep content knowledge, while district specialists bring pedagogical expertise to the course, creating a powerful learning experience for teachers. “We’ve really tried to pay attention to what’s working in professional development,” says Dr. Rigelman.
Dr. Rigelman says that teachers really want to know how to bring together math and science for two good reasons: students are better able to understand the relevance of math and science when the two are combined, and teachers, who are always under time constraints, like to integrate curriculum to provide more information into their limited classroom time. Students claim they like the combination, because they have a richer, more hands-on experience.
Professional learning communities
A key component of the professional development design in the Connect2Math/Connect2Science program is development of a school-based professional learning community that supports teachers with their implementation of inquiry-oriented instruction and assessment during the school year. There are 10 schools, each with two lead teachers and three collaborating teachers working together to examine student thinking, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. “We hope to continue to support them and give them the tools to pass on to colleagues,” says Dr. Rigelman.
Four school districts are participating in the program: Parkrose, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Portland.