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Science and Inquiry Learning
in the Classroom (SILC)

The Science and Inquiry Learning in Classrooms (SILC) is a professional development partnership, which brings together the Montana Learning Center at Canyon Ferry Lake, the MSU - Bozeman Science/Math Resource Center, Departments of Education, Native American Studies, and Physics, and Thermal Biology Institute, the Bozeman Public Schools and Helena Public Schools and affiliated rural schools and districts. This three-year grant was funded beginning 2008 by US Department of Education Title II B money through the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

A professional development blended model of face-to-face workshops, online content and discussions and in-class coaching is offered to two cohorts of 30 kindergarten through grade eight teachers.  SILC leadership included Montana Learning Center staff, school administrators, and research-active STEM education and Native American Studies faculty.  Project goals are:

  • Improve student academic achievement in the areas of science inquiry, physical sciences and life sciences
  • Present inquiry-based learning as a method to both learn and teach science
  • Stimulate schools and university science, education and Native American Studies faculty to work together with the participating schools/districts in designing and implementing high-quality professional emphasizing Native American Culture
  • Support and align instructional practices in partner schools/districts with Montana's Continuous Improvement Process.
  • Implement a blended model for professional development including instructional coaching
  • Share information gained from a formal evaluation process

Results from formative and summative assessment processes indicate teacher and student gains in science content.  Teachers changed classroom environments by implementing inquiry learning and more science content along with related topics in Native American culture.

 

Instructional Coaching

instructional-coaching01
 

Two SILC funded instructional coaches, one residing in Helena and the other in Bozeman visited each teacher in his/her classroom a minimum of once each month in addition to many specially requested visits.  Coaches shared resources, modeled various pedagogical approaches, assisted teachers with SILC-related technology issues, team taught and observed/critiqued lessons.  Coaches received professional instruction by attending workshops offered by Dr. Jim Knight (Kansas State University) and Exploratorium Center for Learning and Teaching (San Francisco). 

 

A "Coaching Log" (see below), created by the evaluator of the SILC program, is used to document coach-teacher interactions. Instructional coaches complete the log each time they interact with a teacher, at least once a month. This interaction might include: coaches modeling inquiry-based instruction in the classroom, providing instructional resources, assisting with lesson planning, and analyzing student work. The analysis of the sequence of coach-teacher interactions made evident the changes in science teaching practices.  In fact, initially the interactions involved mainly teachers requesting resources.  Later on, when teachers had a better understanding of inquiry-based teaching, coaches started modeling inquiry lessons and assisted teachers in designing and planning unit lessons that incorporated inquiry-based science content presented in the SILC program. Coaching Logs informed the SILC team about teachers' transfer of SILC program components into their classrooms. ALL teachers of the SILC program adopted some or all aspects of the 5E's (BSCS, 2006) inquiry instruction within the two year timeframe of their enrollment in the SILC project.

Reference
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), 2006. Retrieved from http://www.bscs.org/pdf/bscs5efullreport2006.pdf. February 2011.

 

Inquiry Workshop

Teachers met face-to-face monthly in a 3 ½ hour evening workshop.  These Inquiry Academies were instructed by research-active STEM-education and Native American Studies faculty in collaboration with elementary/middle school based instructional coaches. The workshops were a combination of presentations, hands-on activities, focused discussions and teachers sharing experiences/resources involving science content, inquiry learning and Native American culture.  These experiences were extended and supplemented through on-line coursework and instructional coaching throughout the year.


Summer Orientation...

Summer Orientation was an important 2 ½ days for both the Helena and Bozeman SILC projects. It was a combination of goal setting for professional development for the year’s work, technology assistance, and instruction in both content and pedagogy. The Helena and Bozeman groups met separately for the first two years but then combined into one group for year 3.

Super Saturday...

Super Saturday was a full day of workshops, lectures and laboratory tours given by Montana State University-Bozeman scientists on the MSU campus.  Teachers participated in activities and learned information they could use in their classrooms as well as gained insight into the state of current research

 

Online Course Experiences

Online CoursesTeachers were engaged in responding to challenging questions on-line through the Desire to Learn (D2L) technology through MSU-Bozeman.   The bi-weekly modules were created by a higher education science faculty member.  The questions involved science, pedagogical and Native American culture content related to Academy content but also promoted monitored on-line dialogue between teachers as well as the instructor reactions.  In addition,   teachers worked on their own though selected on-line NSTA SciPack modules on a prescribed schedule.  The time investment by each teacher was 2 – 4 hours/week.  PowerPoint presentation slides and other resources used at the Academies was also posted on the SILC D2L website.

Teachers' online work is organized in modules created by the online SILC program instructors (one for Life Science and another for Physics). Teachers' science content knowledge and the 5E's inquiry teaching model (BSCS, 2006) are the focus of two online activities and associated structured online discussion in which teachers post responses to the prompt of online activities, and questions and answers to peers' posts. Teachers' posts receive feedback on a daily basis from the online course instructor and peers. Each module lasts two weeks, and a summary that expands the themes emerged in the online discussion is posted by the instructor at the end of a module period. Teachers complete a "Self-Pace Guide" (see below) to evaluate their bi-weekly online participation. This form guides teachers' online activity as it specifies the expectations for the number and quality of posts that most teachers complete. Also, the Self-pace Guide helps the instructor to keep all students accountable, yet does address issues of the posts quality. The assessment of teachers' work is a combination of the self-reported evaluations, and teachers' quality and frequency of posts.
The required National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) SciPack self-paced lessons were included as a second aspect of the online course.  Each SciPack unit has an end-of-unit test that may be taken multiple times until a minimum proficiency is reached.  The online instructor has access to information indicating the teacher has successfully completed that unit.

The SILC online instructor created modules and the SciPack units composed 50% of the 3 graduate credits semester course grade.  The rest of the grade was based on attendance and level of participation at the Academies in addition to constructive collaboration with instructional coaches.  Course grades were mostly A’s and B’s, a performance level usually required for participation in a master’s degree program.  Involvement in SILC encouraged many participants to enroll in the MSU-Bozeman Master of Science in Science Education (MSSE) program.

Reference
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), 2006. Retrieved from
http://www.bscs.org/pdf/bscs5efullreport2006.pdf. February 2011.

 

SILC Inquiry Videos

These videos show the implementation of inquiry in a variety of instructional settings and across different age groups.

Ice Balloon
Ice Balloon

Ice Balloon Inquiry...

Philipsburg Elementary Students Explore the Wonders of Ice Balloons.

Mary Larsen
(Instructional Coach in Kendra Kurduch’s classroom)
5/6th grade
Phillipsburg Elementary School
Phillipsburg, Montana

Lesson: Inquiry With Ice Balloons

Students participate in an inquiry-based lesson that investigates properties of an unknown object (an ice balloon). This activity comes from the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco. Specific details for teaching this lesson can be found in the Ice Balloon Activity PDF.


MSP

Air Inquiry...

Air InquiryHelena Elementary Students Investigate Ways to Move a Book with Only a Plastic Bag and a Straw.

Mary Larsen
(Instructional Coach in Robin Bushman’s Classroom)
1st Grade
Broadwater Elementary School
Helena, Montana

Lesson:  States of matter
Students are working on the states of matter and the physical properties associated with that. They are investigating the question, "does a gas take up space?"   The approach is a challenge inquiry motivated by the question: Can we lift a book using just a plastic bag and straw but without using our hands? Students are organized in small groups.  Mrs. Larsen circulates between groups prompting, questioning, encouraging.  Finally, she brings closure through a whole class participatory discussion.


Air Inquiry

Bernoulli's Principle...

Bernoulli's PrincipleBozeman Sixth Graders Explore Bernoulli's Principle

Levi VanZee
6th grade science
Heritage Christian School
Bozeman, MT

Lesson: Forces and motion (continuation of previous lesson)
Students are introduced to a flight sub-unit. Students are given 5 different air movement explorations to develop a firsthand experience with Bernoulli’s Principle prior to the direct instruction of the principle. The five stations are:

Station #1: Two inflated balloons on a string. Students hold the balloons up and next to each other. They blow air between the balloons and observe that the balloons move toward each other rather than away from each other.
Station #2: Two empty pop cans placed on a flat surface. Students blow air between the cans and observe that the cans move toward each other rather than away from each other.
Station #3: The ping-pong ball in the funnel. The students try to blow the ping pong ball out of the funnel and of course, the ball cannot be dislodged from the funnel.
Station #4: The narrow strip of paper held below the bottom lip that the student blows on. Students think the paper will blow straight down; instead, the paper blows out and ripples.
Station #5: A piece of paper is folded lengthwise to form a “tent.”  Students blow air into it with a straw and the sides collapse.

Discussion follows where students begin to realize that the same thing happened at each station.

*The teacher's next lesson should then explicitly introduce Bernoulli’s Principle after documenting the students’ experiences at the individual stations.


Bernoulli's Principle

Rocks and Minerals...

Rocks and MineralsBozeman Second and Third Graders Investigate Rocks and Minerals

Jerry Brunt
2/3 Grade Combo
LaMotte Elementary School
Bozeman, MT

Lesson: Rocks and minerals (introduction)
Students explore, in pairs, the differences in the specimens provided by Mr. Brunt. They were provided with magnifying lenses, 8 specimens, a glass of water, and a sheet of paper to write down which specimens they thought were rocks and which they thought were minerals. Halfway through the lesson Mr. Brunt gives the students more information. He discovers that some of the students thought that some of the specimens were rocks and that some were minerals. The students were able to reorganize the rocks and minerals into "rocks" and "not rocks" categories based upon this new information.


Rocks and Minerals

Solar System...

Solar SystemHelena Elementary Students Investigate Solar System Models and Distance

Tami Jendro
3rd Grade
Jim Darcy Elementary School
Helena, Montana

Lesson:  Models
Students are investigating the question, why do scientists use "models?" First, they are engaged in understanding the concept of a model.  An adult has an apple.  How could they represent an apple relative to the size of a small doll, using clay to model the apple? They then apply the concept of models, using strips of adding machine paper to model the distances of the planets and Pluto from the sun.  Students work in groups in the classroom on the “apple” segment, and then gradually move into the roomier hallway with the paper strips model.  Ms. Jendro leads a summative discussion following explorations.


Solar System

Solids, Liquids & Gases...

Liquids, Solids and GasesBozeman Kindergarten Students Explore Solids, Liquids, and Gases

Kristy Michael
Kindergarten
Emily Dickinson Elementary School
Bozeman, MT

Lesson:  Water and other liquids, solids and gasses (continuation of previous class)

The materials at five different stations are set up where students explore.

Station #1: quartz crystals, calcite, citrine, and table salt
Station #2:  raw sugar and kosher salt
Station #3: baking soda, ground pepper, corn starch, and flour
Station #4: construction toy pieces where students constructed models of crystals. An adult helper at the table connected the toy pieces using pictures of snow flakes, making 6 sided crystal shapes.
Station #5:  Mrs. Michael provides baggies filled with polyacrylomide crystals. She elicits observations and predictions for what would happen after water was added to the bag. Later that same day, students continued the scientific inquiry process and changed the variable of cold water. Students brainstormed other variables and, based upon the list they developed and with teacher guidance (intervention), they were provided with hot water, food coloring, and tap water.

Students spent 20 minutes at each station, 10 minutes sense making as a class back at the carpet area, and 20 more minutes of exploration at the different stations. For the first round, adult helpers provided assistance writing down student observations at all but the kosher salt and raw sugar station.


Solar System

MSP

 

SILC Participation

Participants in the Science and Inquiry Learning in the Classroom (SILC) project include two-cohorts of 30 kindergarten through grade eight teachers from the Montana cities of Bozeman and Helena plus eleven surrounding rural schools. The first cohort participated from 2008-2010 and the second group from 2009–2011. Teachers were able to earn 3 graduate credits for each of the 4 semesters, received a $1000 stipend each year, and received personal support from SILC instructional coaches.

Core Planning Team

Robin Arnold, Keith Meyer

Robin Arnold, Curriculum and Grants Director, Bozeman School District #7
Keith Meyer, Assistant Superintendent,
Helena School District #1

Key Administrative/Instructional Personnel and Core Planning Team

Dr. Glenn Allinger, Principal Investigator
 
 

Evaluation

Coaching Log

A "Coaching Log" (see below), created by the evaluator of the SILC program, is used to document coach-teacher interactions. Instructional coaches complete the log each time they interact with a teacher, at least once a month. This interaction might include: coaches modeling inquiry-based instruction in the classroom, providing instructional resources, assisting with lesson planning, and analyzing student work. The analysis of the sequence of coach-teacher interactions made evident the changes in science teaching practices.  In fact, initially the interactions involved mainly teachers requesting resources.  Later on, when teachers had a better understanding of inquiry-based teaching, coaches started modeling inquiry lessons and assisted teachers in designing and planning unit lessons that incorporated inquiry-based science content presented in the SILC program. Coaching Logs informed the SILC team about teachers' transfer of SILC program components into their classrooms. ALL teachers of the SILC program adopted some or all aspects of the 5E's (BSCS, 2006) inquiry instruction within the two year timeframe of their enrollment in the SILC project.

Sample Coaches Log

SILC

Academy Evaluation Survey

After each face-to-face monthly academy, teachers complete an "Academy Evaluation Survey" (see below) designed by the SILC evaluator. It is based on a list of objectives distributed at the start of the Academy.  These surveys serve as a formative assessment of the program. Surveys are analyzed by the evaluator of the program on a monthly basis after both Helena and Bozeman academies. Analysis of the surveys is reported in a monthly "SILC Newsletter" that each SILC team member receives prior to the SILC monthly planning meeting (see December 2010 issue below).  The newsletter includes a quantitative descriptive statistical analysis and a qualitative analysis of teachers' comments. The SILC team addresses trends and issues resulting from the analysis of the academy surveys during the planning meetings and the face-to-face academies. From face-to-face academy surveys we learned that teachers welcome time allocated to sharing classroom-teaching experiences among peers, hands-on activities adaptable to a wide range of grade levels, science content that is directly related to teaching requirement as indicated in state and national science teaching standards, science connections to Native American culture and other curricular areas, and teaching strategies that facilitate inquiry-based learning.

Academy Monthly Evaluation Survey
Sample SILC Newsletter

SILC

Online Instruction

Teachers' online work is organized in modules created by the online SILC program instructors (one for Life Science and another for Physics). Teachers' science content knowledge and the 5E's inquiry teaching model (BSCS, 2006) are the focus of two online activities and associated structured online discussion in which teachers post responses to the prompt of online activities, and questions and answers to peers' posts. Teachers' posts receive feedback on a daily basis from the online course instructor and peers. Each module lasts two weeks, and a summary that expands the themes emerged in the online discussion is posted by the instructor at the end of a module period. Teachers complete a "Self-Pace Guide" (see below) to evaluate their bi-weekly online participation. This form guides teachers' online activity as it specifies the expectations for the number and quality of posts that most teachers complete. Also, the Self-pace Guide helps the instructor to keep all students accountable, yet does address issues of the posts quality. The assessment of teachers' work is a combination of the self-reported evaluations, and teachers' quality and frequency of posts.

The required National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) SciPack self-paced lessons were included as a second aspect of the online course.  Each SciPack unit has an end-of-unit test that may be taken multiple times until a minimum proficiency is reached.  The online instructor has access to information indicating the teacher has successfully completed that unit.

The SILC online instructor created modules and the SciPack units composed 50% of the 3 graduate credits semester course grade.  The rest of the grade was based on attendance and level of participation at the Academies in addition to constructive collaboration with instructional coaches.  Course grades were mostly A’s and B’s, a performance level usually required for participation in a master’s degree program.  Involvement in SILC encouraged many participants to enroll in the MSU-Bozeman Master of Science in Science Education (MSSE) program.

Self Pace Guide

SILC

Reference
 Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), 2006. Retrieved from
http://www.bscs.org/pdf/bscs5efullreport2006.pdf. February 2011.

SILC