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Teachers are the key to student learning and ongoing teacher preparation and professional
development are essential components of a healthy education system. Fortunately
in California we now have rigorous grade by grade level standards in four subject
areas to aid in the professional development and preparation of teachers.
The California Subject Matter Projects is a teacher professional development network
which comprises nine discipline based projects with about 100 professional development
sites located on California State University and University of California Campuses.
Under AB1734 six of the projects, (Writing, Reading and Literature, Mathematics,
Science, History-Social Studies, and International Studies have been re-authorized
with an explicit mandate to align the work of the projects with the four academic
content standards. Three of the projects (Foreign Language, Arts, and Physical Education
- Health are supported by the University of California Office of the President.
All nine projects are administered through the UC Office of the President.
The web site for the CSMP's is http://www.ucop.edu/csmp/
Under AB1734 the CSMPs are to carry out work in the following six areas.
- Academic Content Knowledge
- Developing teacher leadership
- Contracted Services with low performing schools and districts
- Partnerships with schools.
- Professional Community and teacher networks
Taken together these six areas represent significant new challenges
and ways of doing business. A short review of the accomplishments of the Subject
Matter Projects, makes it clear that the nine CSMP's can have significant impact
on California teachers.
In 1995-96 over 67,000 California teachers from 500 districts across the state and
all 58 counties participated in CSMP activities. Teacher leaders in the CSMP's numbered
over 10,700 and had an average of 15 years teaching experience, distributed somewhat
proportionally between elementary, middle and high school grade levels. All subject
matter areas were represented with half of the leaders specializing in mathematics,
science or language arts. Teacher leaders organized and presented at intensive summer
institutes, academic year workshops and professional conferences.. They provided
support and follow-up to teachers at school sites and participated in advising school
site and district and state policy makers and assisting program directors for state
funded schools programs such as the middle school demonstration project and many
The CSMP's have built capacity for reaching teachers without increased funding.
Between the period from 1992 to 1995 the number of teacher contact hours increased
from just over 1 million to 1.6 million. The direct and indirect contributions
of CSU, UC and Private universities in California have contributed significantly
to capacity of the projects and well as to the quality of the experience in those
Teacher participants reported that the following benefits:
- Received concrete ideas for lessons
- Added to content knowledge
- Received help in developing curriculum
- Deepened understanding in topics and teaching
- Acquired strategies to reach underrepresented students
Two of several key distinguishing features of the California Subject Matter Projects
- An explicit commitment and systemic attention given to tapping
the source of practioner knowledge that is possessed by the State's best teachers.
- Belief in the centrality of the discipline and in the importance
of providing teachers with an opportunity to engage in, and learn from the practice
of the discipline.
Under AB1734 Mazoni 75% of the participants in the subject matter projects are to
be from low performing schools. Teachers in these schools are more likely to be
new to the profession and lack certification. At the middle school and level they
are more likely to not have majored in the subject areas they are teaching and to
hold multiple subject credentials. At the high school level they are more likely
to be teaching out of their subject matter specialization, and to have less than
a minor in the subject matter they teach. In the face of these challenges the Subject
Matter projects are forming partnerships with low performing schools and assuming
mutual accountability for raising student achievement in the schools where they are
The key to student achievement is quality teaching and the key to quality teaching
is professional development. Teacher professional development is the work that teachers
do to prepare themselves for improving their students' learning and understanding.
In the subject matter projects the use of faculty and professionals who "do
the discipline" provide teachers with an opportunity to experience learning
the skills and knowledge base of the discipline, at the same time they are developing
and reflecting on teaching methods, designing curriculum or constructing lessons.
One of the most effective approaches for engaging teachers in learning both content
and pedagogy is to share and discuss student work.
As standards become the organizing principle for professional development activities,
the design and implementation of institutes and workshops will have to change to
avoid superficial coverage of standards without deeper reflection on their implications
for teaching and learning. With the State Board of Education adopted standards in
English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and History-Social Sciences, the content
is defined at each grade level. This should have the positive effect of eliminating
the question of "what content?" and allow teachers to explore and develop
their own understanding of the prescribed content, how to best teach that content
and what expectations they have for their students.
Will putting content standards at the core of the design for professional development
in low performing schools meet the needs of teachers in these schools, especially
inexperienced and new teachers? It has been suggested that many classroom management
and student behavior problems are issues of weak curriculum and instruction in disguise.
Standards based professional development will allow teachers to align their curriculum
to ensure that students have an opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge called
for in the standards that infact student are learning in high performing schools.
It will provide teachers with the pedagogical tools, including but not limited to
instructional and assessment strategies that allow them to check to see if their
students have access to learning and show evidence for understanding. At the same
time standards based professional development will deepen teachers own understanding
of the discipline. I would note that for elementary school teachers a major issues
is balancing the time allocated to the various subject areas. (which under the current
testing structure should be read as finding time for science and history-social studies)
This suggests combined disciplinary or intedisciplinary elementary institutes that
address the balance and time allocation issues these teachers will face.
At this point I would like to shift my focus to professional development in science.
The nature of Science requires investigation and experimentation activities in science
teaching. Having content rich, specific grade by grade standards allows for the
proper use of inquiry based instruction. During the hearings on the science standards
there were many who complained that the academic content standards did not promote
inquiry based teaching and learning. Some would go so far as to say that since inquiry
was the essential content of science, teaching inquiry as a way of knowing was most
important and further did not necessarily require factual science content.
These disagreements stem from disparate views on the nature of science. Glenn Seaborg
wrote in A Letter to a Young Scientist, recently published under the Great Explorations
in Math and Science series by the Lawrence Hall of Science;
"Dear Dianne, I understand that you think you may be interested
in a career in science. Perhaps it will be helpful if I share with you some of my
thoughts on the value and rewards of such a career. I remember well the influence
and considerations that let me to turn in this direction as a very young man."
Glenn goes on to recount his introduction to science through his
high school teacher and how it takes many people with different talents and abilities
all working together to do important tasks in science that will bring benefits in
medicine, agriculture, industry etc. He then states
"Science is an organized body of knowledge and a method of
proceeding to an extension of this knowledge by hypothesis and experiment."
For Glenn Seaborg the focus is on the organized body of knowledge.
It forms the basis and I would add the beauty and power of the discipline of Science.
The role of scientific inquiry is to extend this knowledge. So what should we teach
students? In the next sentence Glenn goes on to say,
"By learning fundamental principles, by mastering the elements
of the scientific method, by acquainting yourself with the experimental techniques
available to the modern scientist you can proceed with near certainty to significant
scientific advances and to achievement which may exceed that of many mental giants
of generation ago."
The answer for Glenn Seaborg was principles of science, and the
elements of scientific methods and experimental techniques in modern science.
During the hearings on the standards many cautioned that there is already too much
emphasis in current science teaching and learning on memorization. Glenn Seaborg
took exception to the view in his May 6th opening remarks to the Science Committee
of the Academic Standards commission.
"I noted that a number of respondents have expressed opposition
to memorization of facts (which they refer to factoids) and concepts. They prefer
only emphasis on "Big Ideas". I must say that I cannot agree with this
view of memorization which has been the life blood of my entire career. During my
high school chemistry and physics courses, I read and re-read my textbook assignments
until I had memorized them. This led to my understanding and ability to work problems.
As a working scientist, memorization of experimental data led to discoveries - memorization
of the chemical properties of the heaviest elements led me to propose the actinide
concept for which I received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Rather than discourage,
I would encourage memorization for science students."
Experienced teachers have found the balance and professional development should
provide opportunities for teachers to share their knowledge on effective practices
including the role of memorization.
The Academic Science Content Standards are not perfect but go a long way toward
expressing the core content for modern science and technology. The Science Academic
Content Standards focus on the key concept principles and theories in science. Professional
development should focus on giving teachers the opportunity to learn to teach these
concept, principles and theories so that students are able to use them for understanding
the natural world. This will both inform teaching and deepen teachers' understanding
of the content. I would like to illustrate how a focus on the fundamental concept,
principles and theories can provide a proper emphasis for professional development
Private Universe, a video documentation of student misconceptions opened
by asking Harvard graduates "Why are there seasons?" The documentary goes
on to show a high school teacher attempting to teach the correct view of seasons
and phases of the moon. The instruction seems to focus on relating several factors,
the tilt of the Earth's axis with respect to the plane of its orbit around the sun
and the position of the Earth in its orbit at various times of the year. However
as the accompanying diagram illustrates there is a more fundamental reason that is
not taught or even suggested in this video that explains both the seasons and the
variations in temperature between the poles and the equator. The diagram would illustrate
that sun light falling on a plane at 45 degrees has a full 30% less energy (fewer
photons) than sun light falling perpendicular to the same plane.
This is the primary cause of temperature change with lattitude.
Students should be taught this principle as part of the instruction in standards
such as California Science Content standards e.g. Sixth grade - (4a & b) Many
phenomena on the Earth's Surface are affected by the transfer of energy through radiation
and convection. Or High School Earth Science (4a and b) Energy enters the Earth
system primarily as solar radiation and eventually escapes as heat
So what is the implications for professional development in relation to the California
Science Content Standards? One implication is that teachers and content experts
(often practicing scientists or many times experienced secondary teachers) should
explore together the fundamental concepts, principles and theories needed for understanding
each of the California Science Content Standards. They should identify the prerequisite
knowledge needed for understanding and develop ways to assess if students' knowledge
on a continual basis. They should develop teaching strategies and methods based
on these concepts, principles and theories, that are accessible to all students,
and they should explore ways to weave in the investigation and experimentation standards.
This type of professional development work will result in more efficient and effective
teaching and to greater student acheivement.
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