Research Summary

Understanding teacher instructional change: the case of integrating NGSS and stewardship in professional development

Changing teacher practice through a long-term professional development opportunity

Environmental Education Research

Globally, educational systems are focusing on incorporating the practice of science into standards, which presents an opportunity for EE. Science education (SE) reform works to promote problem-solving, critical thinking, and reasoning skills, which current curricula does not do. Some states have started implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which emphasizes practice-inclusive curriculum that allows students to solve real-world problems through hands on learning opportunities. However, research has shown that teachers find it difficult to make changes to their curriculum. In order to successfully integrate the new curriculum into the classroom, teachers must comprehend the material and be willing to implement new materials. The purpose of this study was to understand how an in-service professional development institute, that focused on integrating EE and NGSS SE practices into the classroom and completing a classroom stewardship project, could result in teacher change and targeted instructional practices. Specifically, the researchers sought to answer two questions:

How would an intensive 4-month professional development program on NGSS SE and stewardship activities influence teacher’s pedagogy in the classroom, and to what extent?
What aspects of the professional development program influenced teachers to implement NGSS SE and stewardship activities into their classroom?

The study was conducted in Los Angeles, California through the California Environmental Education Foundation (CEEF), which created a professional development institute for local urban school educators. Participants were trained on ways to integrate stewardship activities with NGSS SE through a hands-on, participatory learning experience using activities from Project WET, Project Learning Tree, and Project Aquatic WILD. Overall, 28 educators who met specific criteria were selected to participate in CEEF institute. Educators varied in subject taught, grade level, years of experience, and age. Participants were expected to attend three full days of professional development, held over a four-and-a-half-month period, and conduct/complete a stewardship project in their classroom by the end of the institute. All educators who participated were provided a stipend for attending the institute and completing the stewardship project.

The researchers collected data from two groups for this study. Group 1 consisted of all 28 educators who participated in the institute. Group 2 consisted of 10 educators (four high school educators, two middle school educators, and four elementary educators) who were selected based off a first-come, first-serve basis and received an additional stipend for their time. All participants were asked to complete a pre-survey on Day 1, and a post-survey with a written reflection on Day 3 of the institute. The survey consisted of two scales, the Science Instructional Practices + Stewardship scale and the Belief Alignment scale. In addition, Group 2 participants were asked to participate in two 15-minute interviews over the phone, which were conducted between Day 1 & 2 and Day 2 & 3. The interviews focused on any reported changes in instruction during the institute and any features of the institute that may have led to those changes. Lastly, teachers were asked if they saw a benefit to integrating stewardship with NGSS SE Practices. The researchers analyzed the surveys using statistics and the interviews for common themes.

Overall, the researchers found that educators reported substantive changes in their practices after the institute. Additionally, the researchers found five prominent processes which shaped educator change in integrating NGSS SE and stewardship into their classroom. These processes were: 1) educator’s belief in one-self; 2) learning opportunities provided by the institute; 3) expectation for completion of the stewardship project; 4) student excitement about the project; and 5) ability to successfully reach standards through the stewardship project.

The pre-survey showed that majority of the educators' beliefs aligned with those of CEEF, but they were not confident in their abilities to integrate those beliefs into the classroom. Following the completion of the institute, educator’s beliefs continued to align with those of CEEF, but the researchers found they were more comfortable and confident in their abilities to integrate new material and align their curriculum with their beliefs. The educators also felt that the learning opportunities provided during the institute were instrumental in shaping their changes, specifically the hands-on strategies, tools, and activities made transitioning new material into the classroom easier. The educators felt that the expectations to complete the stewardship project, partnered with the supportive feedback from the institute, led to greater motivation to complete the project. Educators also noted that their changes were heavily influenced by the excitement and engagement the students voiced about the stewardship project. The educators felt that the institute allowed them to understand how they could cohesively integrate standards with the stewardship project, which allowed them to feel more confident in bringing the new curriculum into the classroom.

The researchers identified limitations to this study. The participants of this study were paid volunteers, which could have influenced their beliefs. The researchers recommend future studies have participants with beliefs that do not align with those of the CEEF, in order to further understand what professional development programs need to integrate in order understand the process of change among all educators, not just those who already believe in the materials. Additionally, the small study size and focus on NGSS limits the generalization of the results. Another study undertaken with a larger group of participants may produce different results.

The researchers recommend that professional development opportunities provide clear instruction to participants on ways to successfully integrate EE and NGSS SE practices into curriculum. The researchers believe that in order to have the greatest impact on participants, professional development opportunities must provide knowledge, strategies, and tools for their participants to integrate new curriculum into their classroom. Additionally, the researchers believe that including a stewardship project for participants to complete in their classroom during professional development opportunities will motivate participants to complete the project and integrate the new curriculum. Further, providing participants with long-term professional development opportunities, with additional incentives, will create greater interest among teachers to participate as well as provide more in-depth programming. Lastly, providing participants with a support system during professional development opportunities will increase their motivation to integrate new materials.

The Bottom Line

The purpose of this study was to understand how an in-service professional development institute in Los Angeles, California, which focused on integrating EE and NGSS practices into the classroom, could result in changes to instructional practices. The researchers held a three-day professional development institute, with 28 educators. All participants completed a pre- and post-survey and a small group of participants also participated in interviews. The researchers found that the institute was successful in aligning teachers’ practice with their beliefs and that five processes that influenced change in the classroom. The researchers recommend that professional development opportunities provide participants with support, new strategies, and tools to easily integrate new curriculum into their classroom.