Transforming science instruction through RESPeCT Reinvigorating Elementary Science through a Partnership with California Teachers

Teaching science can be transformative for students, yet elementary teachers in Pomona faced challenges in being able to do so.

Before RESPeCT, science was taught in K-6 classrooms only when teachers could find time in their already packed schedules - which was not very often.

In addition, implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) created a need to improve science instruction across elementary school grades. The new standards require that students engage, apply, and practice doing science, rather than just reading about it - a substantive shift from earlier standards. Many elementary level teachers do not feel well-prepared to teach science in the ways required for students to meet the standards.

In response to these needs, RESPeCT is being being implemented in Pomona and intended to, over time, impact all K-6 classrooms in the district. This is a three-year program in partnership with Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) includes foci on both deepening understanding of science content and teacher leadership development in order to spread teaching expertise.

"The Reinvigorating Elementary Science through Partnership with California Teachers (RESPeCT) project is a partnership-driven effort based on mutual trust and a shared vision among Pomona Unified School District (PUSD), California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (CPP) as Core Partners, and the non-profit Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) as a Supporting Partner...The RESPeCT project builds on and puts into practice a successful videocase-based, analysis-of-practice professional development approach, in combination with a leadership development component, for Kindergarten through sixth grade teachers in a high-needs district." (http://respect.mspnet.org/)

RESPeCT features best practices in professional development and is designed to help grade K-6 teachers:

  • Deepen their understanding of core science concepts aligned to NGSS;
  • Examine how students make sense of those concepts and commonly misunderstand them;
  • Integrate California State Standards for English Language Arts and mathematics into science lessons;
  • Analyze, reflect and enhance teaching and learning; and
  • Deepen their understanding and experience engaging their peers in professional learning and collaboration.

STeLLA strategies

A key component of RESPeCT is the implementation of STeLLA (Science Teachers Learning from Lesson Analysis) strategies. Participating teachers were particularly drawn to the Strategies for Effective Science Teaching: The Student Thinking and Science Content Storyline Lenses (see chart).

Implementation has had its challenges

  • Teachers, even with the best of intentions, have challenges finding time to engage in this work.
  • Initially, there was some confusion about the "why" of the work.
  • As a result, the number of teachers who have chosen to take on leadership through this initiative has been lower than intended.

Despite the challenges, RESPeCT is gaining traction!

Teachers who were early adopters of the RESPeCT approach have quickly evolved from being project participants to teacher leaders. These teacher leaders have facilitated professional learning for their colleagues. And a small group of these teachers have gone on to lead grade level study groups through the District model.

The STeLLA  conceptual framework is reinvigorating teaching science! The opportunity to observe a lesson, make a claim, provide evidence and reasoning to support your claim, and consider alternative explanations and teaching strategies have provided teachers insight to which strategies effectively help move students’ thinking forward.

Teachers observe a science lesson via video then discuss what they saw with colleagues. Non-judgmental feedback helps focus the conversation on effective teaching practice resulting in everyone improving their practice.

Teacher feedback

“The hands-on activities were a good way to encourage our participation. I started thinking about how little time is devoted to science presently and hope that as the years pass, our students will benefit from this grant and our work."

“All students were engaged in all lessons of sound. They loved the hands-on lessons with the different types of sound makers. Their vocabulary was enhanced and they kept their information/materials organized in using Science journals. They really enjoyed learning about science.”

“The importance of deepening our science lesson instead of flying or breezing through. We as teachers need to be prepared & understand the content before teaching them to our students. We need to elicit, probe, and challenge their thinking.”

Student outcomes

Research is being conducted by California State Polytechnic University, Pomona to identify the effectiveness of a STeLLA program delivered by trained school district and teacher leaders on both elementary teacher professional learning and student outcomes. Preliminary results are promising. An initial impact study revealed statistically significant improvements in student outcomes that are comparable to results in BSCS(Biological Sciences Curriculum Study) -led STeLLA programs.

Outcomes for Pomona's students are still in the research process, though outcomes in other locales have been impressive. In this randomized-controlled study in Colorado, there was a substantial difference in posttest scores between students whose teachers were in the STeLLA program and students whose teachers were in the traditional program. The difference in scores was equivalent to 23 percentile points, meaning the score of a student in the 50th percentile of the STeLLA group would put that student in the 73rd percentile of the traditional group. Test results also showed STeLLA students were able to answer questions involving more complex scientific reasoning than those in the traditional group.

We believe that outcomes in Pomona will be similar to those in Colorado.


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