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Michael D. Eisner College of Education

California Science Project

What are Professional Learning Communities (PLC)?

Professional learning communities. PLCs in which teachers work collaboratively, focus on student learning, and hold each other accountable for results can lead to sustained improvement in instruction (Loucks-Horsley, 1996; 1998; Dufour 2004a, 2004b).  The CSCS summer institutes will result in PLCs organized by subject domain.  The PLCs will continue their conversations throughout the year with a combination of in person and online events.  Monthly workshops have proven to be an important component of CSUN’s PD programs for science teachers, but scheduling and commuting limited attendance.  We believe that we can achieve greater participation in our monthly workshops while reducing commuting and energy consumption by providing workshops in an interactive, online format using online teaching tools such as Elluminate, Skype and UStream.  Our experience teaching hybridized courses has led to pedagogical techniques that engage participants in collaborative dialog online (Herr & Rivas, 2010). 

Teachers will learn online tools during the summer workshop so they will be ready for meeting online during the school year. Teachers will already be familiar with preparing lessons in the shared web environment.  The teachers will maintain an online log (blog) of their teaching to share with their PLC and then have online discussions every other week to reflect on experiences and plan further CSCS instruction.  Project staff will participate in discussions which will be recorded and posted to the secure website for other PLC member to access.  Teachers will be expected to share their best practices/lessons with one another by editing the CSCS wiki.  This will provide a growing knowledge base of CSCS instruction that can be used by other teachers. 
We believe that CSCS PLCs will be greatly enhanced by direct in-person interaction as well.  Thus, in addition to the summer institutes and the online meetings throughout the academic year, teachers will attend quarterly conferences to share their experiences with CSCS and ideas for how to best engage students with science inquiry and the nature of science.

Extensions of CSCS PLCs. Many studies have shown that teachers are prone to leave low achieving schools for more economically and educationally advantaged schools where they feel more supported by the community, their administration and colleagues (Loeb, 2005). High teacher-turnover exacerbates the achievement gap as students in low achieving schools do not get the same quality of instruction as their peers at educationally advantaged schools which are staffed by experienced science teachers.  To address this concern, CPEC sponsored the California Science Project Teacher Retention Initiative (CSP-TRI, 2006).  CSUN received a CSP-TRI grant and is working in two high-need middle schools to develop PLCs among science teachers.  Although PLCs may lead to more stable staffing at high-need schools, a teacher-experience gap will persist between high-need and educationally advantaged schools.  To address this concern, we plan to introduce Extended Professional Learning Communities (ELPCs) in which members of our TRI PLCs and CSCS PLCs interact with their colleagues from other PLCs through institutes, seminars, and online workshops. Teachers in ELPCs will collaborate with colleagues from their own school as well as those from other schools who teach the same content.   Research suggests that online communities may serve as a source of continuous PD for teachers because the technology now exists to deliver authentic, personalized opportunities for learning (Duncan-Howell, 2010).