Vernier Science Education - June 2024


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Professional Learning

What is *meaningful* PD, in your opinion?

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Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

We've all been there. Four hours of PowerPoint slides, charts, graphs, and that teacher's voice from Charlie Brown talking at us non-stop. We get some new articles, maybe even a new 3 ring binder, or sometimes a preloaded CD. We go back to our rooms - sometimes we intend to look at it later - most of the time we don't. Then school starts again and we don't even think of it again until we're looking for a place to put the new PD stuff the following year. Then there are those rare moments when something inspiring is presented to us. We slide the papers we brought with us to grade under our notebooks. We put our cell phones away - and we sit captivated for four hours - we write notes about how this could really be helpful in our classrooms. We can rarely use everything presented to us, but we immediately start adapting it to our needs, planning new lessons, and brainstorming new ideas. What is it that makes the difference for you in professional development? What topics do you find most helpful, relevant, interesting? Is there a particular format that you prefer over others? Workshop? Lecture? Something else? Think back over the professional development you've had over the past few years. Which ones blew your socks off, and why? Thanks for your comments! Kendra

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92326 Points

PD presenters who know their audiences and practice inquiry skills "keep me". I think the 5 Es have a place in PD presentations, too! Engage me, challenge me, help me to understand, let me practice it, and then check to make sure I 'got it'. My most recent PD workshop was an all day 'workout' with the Picture Perfect ladies. I wasn't bored for a single moment. They kept my attention all day, they modeled the 5 Es, and I left with great lessons that I could present to my students in the same engaging manner. The perfect PD experience!

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Carolyn, Thanks so much for mentioning the 5E model for presentations designed for teachers! I think it's something we overlook in teacher PD offerings far too often. I recall a specific PD on timing your lessons (no activity exceeding the number of minutes equal to the child's age plus 2 minutes, with a maximum of 20 minutes at any one activity for adults). However, we never moved during the day-long workshop or changed activities. It was all lecture. It would have been nice to have *experienced* a lesson or lecture designed with the same guidelines being presented. Can't wait to read more insights! Thanks again, Carolyn! Kendra

Al Byers Albert Byers 4498 Points

Kendra and Carolyn You two have us off to a great start with both a set of “relevant and practical’ questions and a sincere response about the ‘practice what you preach’ way to deliver the PD (hands-on inquiry as a method to engage and facilitate learning Carolyn). I strongly concur and think most would! While lecture and demonstration has its place both in teaching and PD, many also espouse the need to tightly couple PD to the curriculum. So if the curriculum includes kit-based hands-on inquiry activities, it makes sense for teachers to have the chance to practice and discuss those same inquiries with their colleagues before they use them with their students. The richness of this teacher learning in part occurs through the discourse with like-minded colleagues regarding the lesson or unit, in sharing things such as what are implementation nuances to watch out for, what formative assessments might precede the lesson, or what extensions might be used with those that are advanced, or what alternative assessments or augmentation might be made for those needing special accommodations, or ESL, etc. Additionally, during or after a unit (or series of lessons are implemented), I think teachers might value discussing how effective the unit is in light of their current classroom makeup(e.g., student engagement and learning)? What I’m suggesting is an extension of this conversation topic to also include the question: [b]How effective (or not) would you find the time to meet with like-minded colleagues teaching similar content on a regular basis, and focus on “lesson study” in light of student learning, where teachers could engage in professional dialog regarding instructional strategies, etc.?[/b] Many now coin this term Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I’d also be interested in learning: [b]How this is going for you in your local districts and schools? [/b] I think many in the research community are advocating this approach, and I’ve heard stories of it implemented with mixed results (some find it highly valuable and effective and others encounter speed bumps during implementation). For example, mandated as a “top down” initiative without the proper scaffolding, guidance, and teacher ownership, the PLC might encounter push back if seen as a burdensome (e.g., requiring challenges in excessive documentation, or scheduling conflicts for the local teams to meet). Finally, [b]Could online technologies possibly be used to extend and enhance those f2f PLC meetings (or not)?[/b] Just a few additional thoughts to ponder for this wonderful discussion.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92326 Points

Hi Al and Everyone reading this thread,
Talk about timing being everything, Al...I just read and reviewed an article in the January Science and Children journal on this very thing - new PLC models. I read intently as the author explained how 8 different school districts in Houston were able to form a PLC for like-minded science teachers! Being part of a virtual PLC through the NSTA Learning Center (NLC) would certainly be of interest to me. The NLC already has so many components vital to a PLC embedded in its structure, i.e., the ongoing PD opportunities, a way to determine one's science content and pedagogical weaknesses (the PD Indexer), and ways to track one's professional development via the 'My PD Plan and Portfolio' tools. The article is called, Collegiality and Better Science Teaching by Brenda Weiser in case anyone wants to read it.
I am not currently part of a PLC through my work, and I think there are other like-minded science teachers around the world that might be interested in forming special PLCs for the purpose of strengthening science practices, increasing content and pedagogical knowledge, and collaborating on an ongoing basis about ways to improve science teaching and learning. What's the next step?

Al Byers Albert Byers 4498 Points

Carolyn Thank you for sharing the article! Next steps?...that is where the rubber meets the road. District administrators, school principals, and science department chairs are a few of the folks that hold the keys to help ensure a locally-based PLC gets off the ground successfully, and works as suggested by the research and other models espoused in the article you referenced. I'll let others chime in with next steps from their vantage points at the district and school level as they discover this valuable topic. Al

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Thanks to Carolyn and Al for their insightful responses! They have me thinking in what might prove to be a very helpful avenue. In addition to teacher PLCs, what about the importance of PLCs for those who provide teacher professional development? I've been asked to share specific teaching methods with teachers over the years, but am now in a position where I will be designing and delivering teacher PD for continuing education credits. Not only do I want to deliver engaging PD that teachers enjoy and can use, I want to be sure the topics I cover are meaningful and timely. How do other teacher-trainers keep refreshed and informed? I couldn't agree more with the idea of teachers needing a community of like-minded teachers (PLCs) and can't help but wonder if there's a community for trainers as well? Thanks everyone! Kendra

Jessica Peterson Jessica Peterson 2440 Points

I think that the most meaningful PD experiences are ones that the educator chooses for themselves. With this in mind I know that sometimes we have to go to certain PDs. But educators want to walk away feeling that they actually got something out of it that they can use and take back to their classrooms immediately. Hands-on activities work best and the ability to set up/plan for instruction in their own classrooms. Good luck!

Richard Varner Richard Varner 955 Points

I agree with the comments in this discussion thread. I have been on both sides of the attendee and presenter scenarios. Having been an administrator in Florida prior to joining the NASA AESP project, I must say that one aspect of the job that I looked forward to was the development of the teacher's personal professional development plan (PDP). I realized in this process that identifying the significant disaggregated data as it relates to student performance is a very critical part of professional development. It is; however, not the only part that warrants attention. I would ask my teachers, "What do we [u]need[/u] to do and what do we [u]want[/u] to do?" We were a team. In place to develop a plan for the needs of the teacher that best complements the projected needs of his/her students. If we could look at the scores of the students en route to the class for the next year, even better. The [u]"want"[/u] to portion of the plan is extremely significant. When the needs and wants overlap there is PD magic. If this is not the case, the teacher's zest for learning new things should also be addressed and not ignored. Isn't this enthusiasm for learning what every educational program intends for its students in the design process? Why is this a secondary consideration in the learning programs we design for our teachers? When I design professional development programs, I try to attend to the considerations discussed in this thread for best practices in PD. What I would like to know from my participants is how does my small piece of your professional development fits into your larger plan? This dialogue may not best fit into the time restrictions of a workshop or program, but ther are a number of tools that permit the professional development to become more personally developed and applicable. When I present a NASA Lunar Sample Certification program, I include an assortment of resources that complement the teachers' ability to include the NASA content or activities. I also offer a number of follow-up connections, as this forum community does, for teachers to engage me or other NASA personnel with discussions more individualized to their bigger plan or their classroom needs. While that offer is always sincerely extended, it is vastly underutlilized. This low engagement is a common topic amongst the educational organizations who manage teacher discussion forums. Most default to the shortage of time available for teachers or the unfamiliarity with the forums or technology. These time and tech perspectives are appropriate if the forum discussions are not accepted as a part of the professional development culture. I also participate on one of the FaceBook pages for the NSTA affiliate in Connecticut. (Nice job on the regional! btw) A few of the teachers on FB continue discussions with me there as a continuation of discussions we started in our programs, others are more social. So it works both ways in that group. Do any of these teachers consider our discussions as continuing professional develoment? I couldn't say. NSTA does a great service to teachers who participate in this forum by recognizing our level of participation. It may, potentially, be considered as professional development activities by administrators. I like to think of educational forums as a continuously developing publication with many contributors. So we're "published" in a small corner of the NSTA world and contributing to larger community of NSTA learners.

Eric C. Sandberg Eric Sandberg 8690 Points

In our district, the term professional development is not reserved for traditional training. Our model, which continues to evolve, is composed of several components: 1) Traditional whole-district teacher in-service days 2) Instructional coaches who support teachers in Literacy, Mathematics, and Science Instruction 3) Just-in-time training for teachers in content areas 4) Some online resources, most notably the NSTA Learning Center 5) School building based professional learning communities Each of these components vary in terms of their development and implementation, but I believe that they are all powerful. Much like the proverbial "balanced breakfast" from the cereal commercials, utilizing these components together provides a synergistic effect. Together these components build a strong foundation of content knowledge and pedagogy that truly impacts student learning. They're GRRREAT!

Eric C. Sandberg Eric Sandberg 8690 Points

I should also mention a pilot program that we have utilized this year referred to as "FLEX" days. Professional development topics were offered at multiple times and formats in the summer and school year. When teachers completed the requirements of a particular training, they could "flex" the PD schedule and be released from that day of "seat time." For example, one of our initial PD days for teachers of Science in August was focused on the development of Science content. If a teacher completed a SciPack by a particular date and successfully passed the final assessment, the teacher did not attend the corresponding day of PD. This model has been both popular and effective. Teachers get the content knowledge they need in flexible format they appreciate. It's a win-win.

Daniel Carroll Dan Carroll 18610 Points

You forgot to mention the power point often refers to "data"or "research" that has absolutely no basis for any claims of validity...

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

I'm wondering if those who regularly offer teacher PD have noticed any specific trends in the types of PD teachers are most interested in. I know this can vary widely from teacher to teacher, but could there be a way to identify the greatest areas of interest. Classroom management? Content knowledge? And to Dan Carroll: It's been my observation that presentations that include research often fail to help teachers translate that research into classroom practices. Has this been your experience also, or have you noticed something different? Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and insights, please keep them coming. Kendra

Nancy Bort Nancy Bort 7025 Points

The most valuable PD has been that which involved me learning by doing usually from a colleague and NOT some consultant. I have become very disenchanted with the PD in my district due to the fact that they use high paid consultants to "teach" us not only what we already know, but in addition, often do so in a condescending manner. Science type PD MUST involve the participants actually doing the lesson and not watching a power point or video or listening to a lecture. Most of the PD's I have attended at NSTA or Virginia Association of Science Teachers have been of this nature. Or, at least, those were the types of workshops I opted to attend. I have also been involved in a great deal of PD as a mentor for new teachers. The way this was handled was demeaning and offensive. Not only did I not learn anything, but I also ws insulted by the demeanor of the "instructor:" another highly paid consultant. I myself do a fair amount of teacher training for science concepts. My participants tell me that they really learned a lot in my class because I allowed them to explore and construct theri own learning of the concepts. I find it very ironic that I am often "taught" in PD sessions in a manner that we would never tolerate teaching our students. And, this is by those "experts" who are supposedly teaching me best teaching practices--go figure. Sorry to be so vehement but this does touch a nerve and I have been subjected to a LOT of PD in the past many years.

Nancy Bort Nancy Bort 7025 Points

I just read a reference to data and research--another pet peeve of mine.... I can take nearly any research data and use it to support just the opposite!! Especially when it involves humans. Use some common sense, not data. Two great examples of "break-through" research....A hugely extensive research project (over 600,000 participants if I remember correctly) found that teens who felt loved and accepted by their parents and teachers did better in school. Duh--we needed research for this? Another study found that students do better in well-lit classrooms. How these projects get funded is beyond me.

Richard Varner Richard Varner 955 Points

I, too, agree with nancy and Kendra, that PD sessions that allow teachers to take part in the learning by doing are more memorable. In many cases, districts or educational organizations require a level of reportable research. I believe the participants can read this for themselves from an executive summery as opposed to taking the valuable and scarce PD time to go over the reports, unless this is what you signed up for as the focus of the discussion. NASA Education tends to fall in between. Their programs typically include content research with classroom activities integrated as a part of the program. Teachers, particularly in the younger grades, should not feel ill at ease in asking questions regarding content that is more abstract than they are used to using or getting an explanation that helps them to translate what is being presented for the younger students. The idea in all effective PD should be to help you make it all work for the children. Most of the programs that NASA AESP Specialists present are heavily activity based with more resources than we can possibly cover within the period of time allotted. We've made efforts to extend our programs to video and webinar formats to serve for follow-up and ongoing professional development. Increasing participation in the remote version of programming is very challenging and not as engaging if the participants are uncomfortable in this medium.

Lisa Malcom Lisa Malcom 575 Points

I just posted the following in another forum: I think this is where many teachers have "missed the mark." Science should be hands-on and relevant for our students. Textbook learning is not fun or memorable. We have to get our students interested in Science. Some of my most memorable experiences are the hands-on activities from high school and college. Why would it be any different for my students? I think the same rules apply for professional development. The days of sitting through power points and lectures should be in the past. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Our school systems do not want us to instruct our students through lectures. The delivery method in a professional development class should not be lecture, either. The most meaningful professional development should be a combination of hands-on activities, small group discussion and large group discussion. Lisa Malcom

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25645 Points

I think most teachers are looking for ideas and activities that they can immediately apply to the classroom, as is the opportunity to discuss ideas with other passionate educators. I often find, however, that professional development revolves around the perceived needs of the district and that sometimes districts do not convey clearly the need for the development or clearly link it to classroom instruction. Currently my district is experimenting with giving teachers choice and it has been quite successfu. We have staff from all grade levels and content areas as well as administration who are delivering instruction in either 90 minute or 3 hour blocks (topics include safety, technology, and curriculum). The opportunity to choose our session (or possibly present) has resulted in a positive change in many people's outlook regarding PD.

Dov Kruger Dov Kruger 185 Points

I'm originally a programmer, so I may be slightly biased. But I think one of the best things you can do for yourself as a science teacher is to emulate what real scientists do, and get much more high-tech in processing and analyzing data. The two big packages are Matlab and Mathematica, but they charge a fortune. Octave is free, and pretty high-quality. I encourage you to take some classes in graphing and data analysis, because no matter what kind of science you teach, your class can be improved by improving your ability to understand the data. It's also a wonderful tie-in to mathematics. If Edward Tufte is visiting your area ( sign up for his lecture. It's $320 but worth every penny (and it includes all 4 of his amazing books). I teach my teachers how to graph data well, following some of Tufte's principles, and teach them the math behind smoothing data, curve fitting. The best thing about this is that for any given teacher, I can't predict what they will use this stuff for, but once they see what's possible, they are blown away. Take a look at a web site I wrote (not maintaining it any more, that's my successor). But the graphics is all in matlab. It plots currents, salinity, temperature of the water in the New York area. Just go to: and click on the map. Press play to see the forecast as a sequence of frames, sort of a movie.

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

Dov, I can't agree with you more on your comments about teaching science as scientists might do it, including the data analysis. As a former researcher who later moved into info tech, I see a tremendous need for us to learn to emulate the processes and approaches scientists use in the real world. As teachers, we usually stick to the academic approach we know for teaching the concepts. Personally, I would love to see more PD offered in a hybrid manner. I think it would be helpful if our students could learn how to prepare more effectively by doing the "pre-reading," and then participating in the classroom exercise. I think a lot of us, as well as our students, expect that we just show up, and someone is going to tell us best practices. It doesn't work that way in the real world either. I also have to say that I think we need to move away from district-based PD to a great extent, if we are to overcome some of the challenges facing us today. Most tend to support the insular culture we have developed, and which may prevent us from looking at things in a whole new light. Let's start using more technology to connect with our colleagues from around the world, and share not only local best practices, but global perspective. Meaningful PD should not just enlighten our current issues, but enlighten our paths in anticipation of the future.

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

I have a new website I am absolutely in love with. It’s I am so tired of sitting through PD that is about reading, reading, reading, and oh wait … reading. I want something I can explore, get my teeth into and meet the needs of my technology driven students. Teacher Learning Community provides this for me. I will say right up front, this is not a free community, there is an annual subscription amount, but there are opportunities to join for less. I found these folks initially by responding to an offer to be able to purchase an “Interactive Whiteboard” kit that included some print resources on how to use an interactive whiteboard more efficiently. I purchased the first book, then a couple of others and was asked if I wanted to join for a year for a ridiculously low price. I had the opportunity to view some of the “sample” offerings of other webinars and resources that were available as a part of the membership. I was sold. There were so many webinars available on the technology subjects I wanted to learn more about, as well as some of the revolutionary ideas we have seen appearing in several of the threads here in the Learning Center; “Using Mobile Devices”, “ Techie Tools”, “Must Have iPad Apps”, “Creating Screencast Tutorials”, “Project Based Learning”, “The Flipped Class and Master Learning: A Snapshot of Methods and Tools”. Like the NSTA web seminars, these are both live and then archived so you can watch them on your own time. I am still new to the site, and discovered that attached to my profile is the ability to print a certificate of completion and how much time was awarded for attending the seminar. While not as efficient as the PD Plan and Portfolio in the Learning Center, I could print the certificates from Simplek12, scan it and upload it to include in my portfolio. I'm still new at this, but will definitely be spending a bunch of time getting my "technogeek PD fix."

Apartment Patino Mario Patino 1295 Points

This is a great question! I was nice to read the different perspectives shared in the forum. Personally, the best PD that I have engaged in is the type that has an immediate impact in the classroom. As professionals, ongoing learning has to take place so that we meet the needs of our students. PD is only as effective as the implementation of what is learned.

When I worked in biotech, the standard was to implement new strategies/methods/content knowledge immediately. We were held accountable by peers, managers, and stakeholders for putting theory into action. In education, this standard/or expectation seems to stall or get lost in all the PD binders that fill my classroom. In my short career, I have logged in over 5000 hrs. of PD yet I was never held accountable for implementing 1 minute of it. The limited PD discussions we do have do not materialize into school wide change. Change does happen in isolated pockets by those crazy enough to go against the status quo common in education circles.

Has education always been this way?

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Hi Mario, Thanks for sharing such great insight. As a mid-career changer myself, I'm always amazed by the similar opinions of those who had other careers prior to teaching. Education does seem like a foreign world sometimes. I think you brought up two very interesting points about professional development: the limited ongoing impact and the lack of accountability for implementation. I've wondered how effective it is to have single day professional development activities. These days seem two come in two flavors: Inspiring and Deflating. The Inspiring flavor gets teachers excited. They nod their heads and smile a lot during the session and might even take notes on how they can make this new concept work in their own classroom. Teachers leave feeling refreshed, proud to be educators, and plan to use this new cool thing immediately. Then there's no follow up by administrators or the PD facilitator. The school year begins, papers pile up, meetings take longer than scheduled...and the excitement is replaced by everything else. As you noted, there's no follow-through, no accountability. I don't have to say much about the Deflating flavor of PD because we all know what it looks like. It usually involves a PowerPoint presentation by someone who wasn't taught how [i]not[/i] to create a presentation. They use too much text, colors that make your eyes hurt, and never stop talking long enough to inhale for the entire 8 hour session. Teachers are often told what they're doing wrong in multiple ways - usually with brightly colored pie charts - by someone who hasn't stepped foot in a classroom in 20 years, if ever. What concerns me about the Inspiring flavor is that there isn't more of it. And when it does occur there's no accountability or ongoing support. How do we change that? What would that model look like in the average school full of real teachers, real students, and real parents? What concerns me about the Deflating flavor is that it is still going on. How do we prevent presenters like this from entering our schools? More food for thought... Kendra

Apartment Patino Mario Patino 1295 Points

Kendra you bring up good points. I just had some thoughts cross my mind as I reflect on what you said. I guess like any profession, we have some presenters who are great at what they do and others who need more training.

Most school organized PD doesn't address the core problem associated with executing the PD. From my own experience, the biggest challenge in implementing PD is grounded in philosophy. Most teachers will not change their practices unless there is an innate need to do so. Even those that are 'mandated' to change don't really change, they just do enough to get through the end of the day.

I think the best PD involves parents and students. The responsibility of educating the child lies on students, parents, teachers, and community. How cool would for parents or students to be part of your pull out groups during a PD session? How fun would it be if they participated by writing their ideas on the white chart paper and using sticky notes?

Educating our stakeholders in what 'effective practice' is promotes honest conversations about learning between parent-student, parent-teacher, and student-teacher. FHow powerful would it be if parents/and students were able to discuss how PD is implemented in the classroom?

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