.|  Baltimore Ecosystem Study
Teacher knowledge, skills and practices for fostering environmental science literacy
  • Alan R. Berkowitz, BES Education Team Leader and Head of Education, Cary Institute
  • Bess Caplan, BES Education Program Leader, Cary Institute
  • Tobias Irish, BES Education Postdoctoral Associate, Cary Institute
  • Andy Anderson, Michigan State University
  • John Moore, Colorado State University
  • Allison Whitmer, Georgetown University
  • LaTisha Hammond, George Washington University
  • Cornelia Harris, Cary Institute
  • Molly Charnes, BES Teacher in Residence
  • Natalie Crabbs Mollett, BES Graduate Student Fellow
  • Molly Van Appledorn, BES Graduate Student Fellow
  • Tammy Newcomer, BES Graduate Student Fellow
  • Terry Grant, BES Teacher in Residence
  • Richard Foot, BES Teacher in Residence

 
Background
 
The Baltimore Ecosystem Study Education Team has been providing professional development (PD) opportunities, in school support and resources, and curriculum materials to middle and high school teachers since the project’s inception. Building on and supporting this work, we have a research program that addresses the following questions:
 
  1. What knowledge and skills do teachers draw upon in effective environmental science teaching?
  2. How can teachers come to understand and apply learning progressions – frameworks of student learning towards challenging but attainable goals (principle- and evidence based reasoning), along with tools for assessing student thinking and strategies for teaching – to foster environmental science literacy?
  3. How do the curriculum and teaching resources, in-school support and professional development activities we provide influence teachers’ understanding and implementation of learning progression-based teaching strategies, in light of other supporting and constraining factors?
  4. How do students respond as their teachers’ implement learning progression-based teaching strategies?

 
For the past 6 years, BES has conducted research as part of the Pathways to Environmental Science Literacy project (http://www.pathwaysproject.kbs.msu.edu) supported by a Math Science Partnership (MSP) grant from NSF (DUE 0832173). The project spans 4 LTER sites – KBS in Michigan, SGS in Colorado, and SBC in California (see Figure 1) - and has involved 22 K-12 schools/districts, over 350 science teachers and approximately 70,000 students of highly diverse backgrounds. For information about current BES education programs and resources, go to: http://www.beslter.org/frame5-stuff.html.
 

Figure 1. Some of the member individuals and institutions in the Pathways to Environmental Science Literacy Project. Principle investigators are shown in bold.
The Pathways Project focuses on three topical strands and several cross-cutting themes as shown in Table 1. For each strand and two of the themes – Carbon, Water, Biodiversity, Quantitative Reasoning and Citizenship – the project has developed learning progressions that include frameworks of increasingly sophisticated student performance descriptions capped off by upper anchors representing challenging learning goals; assessment tools for use in both research and teaching; teaching materials; and professional development programs targeting the knowledge, skills, attitudes and practices needed by teachers.
 

Table 1. Topical strands (columns) and cross-cutting themes (rows) for the Pathways Project.

 
Methods
 
The Pathways project Teacher Research Team has developed a conceptual framework to identify and organize the pools of knowledge and skills needed for fostering environmental science literacy (see Figure 2). A list of 8 key teaching practices, 5 of which are considered learning progression-based teaching strategies, was identified after several rounds of research and practice (see Table 2). Research into teachers’ understanding and practices is organized by the framework in Figure 2 and teaching strategies in Table 2, with multiple methods being brought to bear on each component. Research methods include:
 
  • Content Knowledge – teachers complete a subset of the same assessments their students complete at the end of each year of professional development (e.g., in spring); they also identify goals for student learning;
  • Learning/Content Knowledge – teachers analyze student answers on written assessments and describe the next question they would ask to clarify students’ thinking;
  • Learning Knowledge – teacher surveys and interviews assess their understanding and application of learning progressions in their teaching;

  • Figure 2. Conceptual framework showing the pools of knowledge and skills needed for effective environmental science ching and the important areas of overlap among them. The Pathway Project’s distinctive focus on learning progressions brings that emphasis to the learning knowledge and skills arena and associated areas of overlap. The “triple overlap” zone marked with the yellow call-out graphic represents the combination of content, learning and pedagogy – the “sweet spot” of knowledge and skills in supporting effective teaching.

     
  • Learning/Pedagogical Knowledge – teachers indicate the next instructional move they would take given specific student responses;
  • Pedagogical Knowledge – teachers describe their use of the 8 key teaching practices in surveys and interviews; for a subset of teachers, these are complemented by classroom observations;
  • Pedagogy/Content Knowledge – teachers describe instructional practices in the face of anticipated or observed patterns of student thinking;
  • Learning/Pedagogy/Content Knowledge – in depth interviews, coupled with classroom observations, explore the blending of pools of knowledge and skill.

 

Table 2 The Pathways Project's list of effective teaching strategies for environmental science literacy. The first five are considered learning progression-base strategies.

 

 
The Pathways Project has engaged 336 teachers in professional development (PD) over the past 6 years nationwide, most of whom are subject to some of the research into teacher knowledge, skills and practices. The 63 teachers associated with BES participated primarily in teacher workshops, with 36, 14 and 3 teachers participating in 1, 2 or 3 years of summer workshops; 26, 18 and 5 teachers participating in school year workshops 1, 2 or 3 years (averaging 5.5 workshops / participating teacher); 13 Research Experiences for Teachers Fellows and 2 Teachers in Residence. Comparisons among teachers with different kinds and amounts of PD participation will provide insights into the influence of PD on teachers; likewise, teacher survey and interview questions ask about PD influences directly.
 
A Case Study of 4 teachers at each of the 4 sites in the Pathways Project is now being conducted. Data was collected in the 2012-2013 school year including: classroom observations; teacher, student and administrator interviews; teacher reflections, student surveys and student artifacts. These, along with the data collected from all participating teachers and their classrooms (student pre- and post-instruction content “tests,” teacher content and LPCK “tests,” teacher surveys and instructional unit feedback forms), are providing a rich and deep source of insights into the focus questions of the teacher research.
 
Preliminary Results
 
Data analysis now is taking place for results from teachers nationwide, including Baltimore teachers both in the large Pathways Project and the subset included in the Case Study. Early findings, presented within the dimensions shown in Figure 2, include:
 
  • Content Knowledge – Teachers have more sophisticated understandings of carbon, water and biodiversity than do most high school students, but many have what is identified as Level 3 thinking (school science narratives without clear application of principles or evidence in reasoning). When given open-ended prompts to identify learning goals for students, most teachers identify Level 3 goals, with only a few going beyond that to describe student attainment consistent with the Pathways Project’s Level 4 or with the Next Generation Science Standards for high school attainment.
  • Learning/Content Knowledge – Teachers report improvements in their ability to analyze student answers as a tangible and positive benefit of applying learning progressions in their teaching. Many teachers focus on seeing misconceptions or answer correctness/incorrectness in student work, while fewer identify student to build on constructively.
  • Learning Knowledge – Teachers showed considerable improvement in their understanding of learning progressions through participating in Pathways Project PD. Table 3 shows exemplary responses from three teachers. The first went from knowing nothing about them to a good basic definition; the second and third went from basic to much more sophisticated definitions.

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    Table 3. Responses of three Pathways Project teachers to the 2013 Teacher Survey prompts shown in the top row.

     
  • Learning/Pedagogical Knowledge – Teachers report that the learning progressions support them in tailoring their instruction to the different levels of student thinking in their classroom.
  • Pedagogical Knowledge – Teacher surveys indicate that certain practices are more common than others in teachers’ repertoires. In the Case Study, preliminary data is revealing interesting differences across sites and practices (Figure 4).
  • Pedagogy/Content Knowledge – One offshoot of the scholarship on teacher knowledge and practice is a contribution to the broad field’s vision of pedagogical content knowledge.
  • Learning/Pedagogy/Content Knowledge – Teachers across the project report that some of the pedagogical tools (for example, graphical “tools for reasoning” and formative assessment) support a blending of their knowledge of content, teaching and learning in practice.

 

Figure 4. Preliminary summary of the number of instances of learning progression-based teaching strategies being used in the classrooms of Pathways Project Case Study teachers. Four teachers were observed 4-5 times during their implementation of one of the project’s teaching units, that classroom videotaped, and an observation checklist used to record instances of each teaching strategy. While statistical significance cannot be ascertained from these data, general patterns of high versus low frequency of use (e.g., eliciting versus building on students’ ideas) is likely to be a robust outcome.

 
  1. People Involved
    1. BES
      1. Alan R. Berkowitz, BES Education Team Leader, Cary Institute
      2. Bess Caplan, Cary Institute
      3. LaTisha Hammond, Georgetown Univ.
      4. Sarah Haines, Towson Univ.
      5. Natalie Crabbs Mollett, Towson Univ.
      6. Julia Dodd, Cary Institute
      7. Molly Van Appledorn, Univ. Maryland Baltimore County
      8. Molly Charnes, Academy of International Studies
      9. Tamara Newcomer, Univ. Maryland College Park
      10. Ali Whitmer, Georgetown Univ.
      11. Cornelia (Lia) Harris, Cary Institute
      12. Angelita Alvarado, Cary Institute
      13. Tobias Irish, Cary Institute
      14. Julie Baynard, Towson Univ.
    2. Pathways Project
      1. John Moore, Colorado State Univ. and SGS, MSP PI
      2. Andy Anderson, Michigan State Univ. and KBS, MSP co-PI
      3. Raymond Tschillard, Poudre Learning Center and SGS, MSP co-PI
      4. Shandy Hauk, WestEd
      5. Sylvia Parker, Univ. of Wyoming
      6. Julie Bianchini, Univ. California Santa Barbara
      7. Katy Nilsen, Univ. California Santa Barbara
      8. Staci Sharp, Univ. California Santa Barbara
      9. Nissa Yestness, Colorado State Univ.
      10. Jiwon Kim, Michigan State Univ.
      11. Hui Jin, Ohio State Univ.
      12. Sara Syswerda, Michigan State Univ.
      13. Scott Simon, Univ. California Santa Barbara
      14. Michele Johnson, Univ. California Santa Barbara
      15. Amanda Morrison, Colorado State Univ.
      16. Beth Covitt, Univ. Montana
      17. Jennifer Doherty, Michigan State Univ.
      18. Kristin Gunckel, Univ. Arizona
      19. Laurel Hartley, Univ. Colorado Denver
  2. Products
    1. Publications
      1. Caplan, Bess, Kristin L. Gunckel, Andrew Warnock, Aubrey, Cano. 2012. Investigating Water Pathways in Schoolyards. Green Teacher. 98:28-33.
      2. Harris, C., A. Berkowitz, J. Doherty, and L. Hartley. 2013. Exploring biodiversity's big ideas in your school yard. Science Scope, April/May, 2013, 20-27.
      3. Gunckel, K. L., Covitt, B. A., Salinas, I., & Anderson, C. W. 2012. A Learning Progression for Water in Socio-Ecological Systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(7), 843-868
      4. Jin, H., L. Zhan & C.W. Anderson. 2013. Developing a Fine-Grained Learning Progression Framework for Carbon-Transforming Processes. International Journal of Science Education. 35:1663-1697.
      5. Bianchini, J.A., N.R. Yestness, K.J. Nilsen, J. Kim, L.M. Hammond, S. Carpenter, T. Irish, S.D. Parker, and A.R. Berkowitz. 2014. Learning Progression-Based Teaching Strategies in Environmental Science: Teachers' Successes and Struggles in Implementation. National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Meeting. March 31, 2014. Pittsburgh, PA. Paper available at: http://www.pathwaysproject.kbs.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Bianchini-et-al.-2014.-Learning-Progression-Based-Teaching-Strategies-in-Environmental-Science.pdf
      6. Caplan, Bess and Molly Charnes. Engaging Students in Using Scientific Arguments to Answer Scientific Questions. Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education Conference; 2 February, 2013, Ocean City, MD
      7. Caplan, Bess and Alan R. Berkowitz. Baltimore Ecosystem Study III: Education, Engagement and Outreach. Poster Presentation to the National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Network All Scientist Meeting; September 2012, Estes Park, CO
      8. Berkowitz, Alan, J. Moore, A. Anderson, R. Tschillard and A. Whitmer. Culturally Relevant Ecology, Learning Progressions and Environmental Science Literacy. Lead Presenter. LTER All Scientists’ Meeting, Education Representatives Meeting. Estes Park, CO. September 9, 2013.
      9. Berkowitz, Alan and many others. Development and Implementation of Learning Progression-based Teaching Practices (LPTPs) for Environmental Science Literacy. Association of Science Teacher Education. Northeastern Regional Conference. Black Rock Forest, NY. October 26, 2012
      10. Moore, John, A.R. Berkowitz, A. Anderson, A. Whitmer, S. Parker, R. Tschillard, L. Hartley, J. Doherty, H. Jin, K. Gunckel and S. Hauk. Learning Progression-based Teaching Strategies (LPTSs) for Environmental Science: Alignment of instructional goals with student outcomes. Co-Presenter. With Learning Network Conference: Math Science Partnership (MSP) program principal investigators’ meeting. Washington, DC. February 12, 2013.
      11. Berkowitz, Alan and Cornelia Harris. Responsive Professional Development: Using data and information about the knowledge, skills and practices of students and teachers to guide our workshops, materials and in-school support. Marcellus Shale Education Conference. Ithaca, NY. March 18, 2013.
      12. Berkowitz, Alan R. What is the role of environmental education in the sustainability of the Baltimore urban ecosystem? Invited Seminar, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. April 26, 2013.
      13. Berkowitz, Alan and many others. Learning Progression-Based Teaching Strategies in Environmental Science: Teachers’ Understanding and Classroom Applications. Association of Science Teacher Education. Northeastern Regional Conference. Black Rock Forest, NY. October 18, 2013.
      14. Hauk, W., N. Yestness, K. Roach and A.R. Berkowitz. 2014. Multiple perspectives on teacher implementation of learning progression teaching strategies in environmental science. Poster presentation. American Educational Research Association. April 4, 2014. Philadelphia, PA. Abstract available at: http://convention2.allacademic.com/one/aera/aera14/index.php?cmd=Online+Program+View+Paper&selected_paper_id=682811&PHPSESSID=1oq04r40pcnhq6qmo4u9ifegd5
      15. Berkowitz, A.R. 2014. Learning progressions for environmental science teaching. Webinar presentation. LTER Education Committee. December 3, 2014.
      16. xvi. Berkowitz, A.R., J. Bianchini, N.R. Yestness, K.L. Nilsen, J. Kim, L.M. Hammond, S. Parker, and T. Irish. 2013. Learning Progression-based Teaching Strategies in Environmental Science: Teachers’ Understanding and Classroom Application. Oral presentation. Association for Science Teacher Education Northeast Chapter Annual Meeting. Black Rock Forest, NY. October 17, 2013.
      17. Berkowitz, A.R., J. Bianchini, N.R. Yestness, K.L. Nilsen, J. Kim, L.M. Hammond, S. Parker, and T. Irish. 2013. Learning Progression-based Teaching Strategies in Environmental Science: Teachers’ Understanding and Classroom Application. Seminar presentation. Rutgers Graduate Study Visit. Cary Institute, Millbrook, NY. October 19, 2013.
      18. Berkowitz, A.R., B. Caplan, M. Van Appledorn, N. Mollett, M. Charnes, E. Keeling, S. Haines, A. Alvarado-Santos, C. Harris and T. Newcomer. 2013. What supports and constrains effective environmental science teaching in and about the Baltimore ecosystem? Poster presentation. Baltimore Ecosystem Study Annual Meeting. Baltimore, MD. October 22, 2013.
      19. Berkowitz, A.R., B. Caplan and J. Dodd. 2013. Teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge about socio-ecological systems and resilience. Oral presentation. Baltimore Ecosystem Study Annual Meeting. Baltimore, MD. October 22, 2013.
      20. Bianchini, J.A., N.R. Yestness, K.J. Nilsen, J. Kim, L.M. Hammond, S. Carpenter, T. Irish, S.D. Parker and A.R. Berkowitz. 2014. Learning Progression-Based Teaching Strategies in Environmental Science: Teachers' Successes and Struggles in Implementation. Contributed paper. National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Meeting. Pittsburgh, PA. March 31, 2014.
      21. Hauk, W., N. Yestness, K. Roach and A.R. Berkowitz. 2014. Multiple perspectives on teacher implementation of learning progression teaching strategies in environmental science. Poster presentation. American Educational Research Association. Philadelphia, PA. April 4, 2014.