As educators throughout the country hurry to implement massive changes in science education, represented in the Next Generation Science Standards, they face the challenge of new learning goals, limited resources to leverage, and a host of initiatives competing for time and attention within the K-12 system.
While a considerable amount of research has been dedicated to understanding how people learn STEM subjects and associated approaches for teaching them, University of Washington researcher Philip Bell says there is much work left to be done moving these approaches into widespread practice.
Part of the problem is the research base itself.
"Research knowledge tends to be too decontextualized and not centered around the real-world problems of educational practice," said Bell, the Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences at UW's College of Education and executive director of the UW Institute for Science & Math Education.
A new website created by Institute researchers aims to bridge that gap by offering STEM educators tools that leverage the best knowledge from both research and practice. The STEM Teaching Tools website will share new tools for practitioners on an ongoing basis to support implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.
"This highlights the new strategy we are exploring to work on scaled educational improvement through cultural exchange and collaboration of researchers and practitioners — to keep researchers and practitioners working together as educational efforts are implemented at scale," Bell said. "This is a very different approach than the traditional research-to-practice model."
STEM Teaching Tools, developed as part of the National Science Foundation-funded Research+Practice Collaboratory, features a new genre of professional learning tools called "practice briefs." The briefs are bite-size tools designed to help practitioners understand a specific problem of educational practice, reflect on it, and access resources and instructional tools that will enable them to teach more effectively.
"We have attempted to design the briefs to fit into the busy lives of teachers and be easily actionable," Bell said. "We will continue to refine them in order for the tools to be as useful as possible."
The first practice briefs to be posted on the website cover issues such as sequencing scientific practices to support students in unfolding investigations, using different instructional methods to effectively teach STEM subjects, and distinguishing between explanation and argumentation practices in the classroom. Additional pieces will regularly be added to stemteachingtools.org, including links to helpful instructional resources, case studies of effective STEM classroom practices, videos of exemplary classroom practice, and instructional materials such as assignments and discussion tools.
Bell noted that the tools on the website will be helpful for a range of educators. Some are written for classroom teachers and informal educators while others are crafted for district curriculum specialists and professional developers.
Philip Bell, Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications
Photo provided by the Institute for Systems Biology.