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TSAI: 5-day Lead-Scientist Institute

Program of Institutes. The Lead-Scientist Institutes usually have about 50 participants from all over the country. In a combination of hands-on workshops, discussions in small groups, presentations by nationally known experts, simulation's of the change process, a careful inspection of the reform program in the nearby Montgomery County Public Schools(MCPS), including its materials support center, and case studies of other school districts, the three to five person scientist-educator teams discuss the following:

  • The goals that they have for science education and the relationship of these goals to the national consensus that has developed and is reflected in the National Science Education Standards of the National Research Council and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • The nature of hands-on, inquiry-based education. With national experts, the participants explore cognitive development of children and constructivist approaches. Participants visit schools in the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and observe children who are involved in active, inquiry-based science content and process learning.
  • What constitutes exemplary curriculum materials. The participants learn about the criteria such materials must meet, observe such materials being used in classrooms, and directly experience these materials in hands-on workshops. Some of these workshops are led by the science educators who have developed the materials.
  • How thousands of kits of hands-on materials can be used and maintained with maximum efficiency and the budget aspects of this enterprise. Participants visit the MCPS materials support center to see how it works and to ask questions.
  • What must be done to provide a professional development program for teachers to learn a hands-on inquiry-based way of teaching (standards for this are given in Chapter 4 National Science Education Standards). During the Institute, national experts discuss the challenges of providing professional development for elementary school teachers, and MCPS' experiences are analyzed.
  • How one can measure or "assess" what children are learning in hands-on inquiry-based classrooms, and what this means for standardized testing. Participants receive presentations from national experts on various aspects of the "assessment challenge," perhaps the most difficult of all the challenges that must be overcome to achieve sustainable improvement in science education programs.
  • How dramatic change can actually occur in a given school district. Considered as a system, school districts are surprisingly complex. Causing change to occur in such a system, particularly sustainable change, can be very difficult. Participants play the "Change Game," a simulation that exposes many of the complexities of this process and highlights the challenges to lead scientists when they become involved. (For more information about the "Change Game," contact Susan Mundry at The Network--1-800-877-5400.)
  • The roles scientists can play in the reform process. Participants and experts explore several roles and emphasize three:
    • supporting teachers in learning to teach with hands-on kits of materials organized into teaching modules
    • partnering lead teachers (who teach other teachers) to deepen their understanding of relevant science content and scientific habits of mind
    • being advocates for change in these districts and validators of what the children are learning as science

Participants have an opportunity to interact with national leaders in several of these areas and to receive a Sourcebook of selected articles on relevant topics as well as copies of several key books on science education reform.

Responsibilities of Lead Scientists. When they return to their home areas, the Lead-Scientist teams are expected first to work closely with school district leaders to plan how scientists can most usefully support the district's reform. Together with the school district, the teams then arrange for a one-day workshop for area scientists, recruit scientists to participate, and assist American Physical Society personnel in conducting the workshop. Finally, they work with school district leaders to put participating scientists to work in helping to improve science education in that district.

Cost. The APS covers all costs of attendance at the Lead-Scientist Institutes, including travel, lodging, breakfasts, lunches, and an evening banquet for all participants.

Recruiting Lead Scientist Institute Teams. To recruit scientists for the Lead-Scientist Institutes, TSAI usually starts by identifying school districts (or consortia) that have sent leadership teams either to the www National Elementary Science Education Institutes of the National Science Resources Center or TSAI's own annual Regional Leadership Institutes. Sometimes districts are identified by local scientists who have learned independently of TSAI programs.

In each of the identified districts, TSAI then locates from two to four scientists, engineers, or other technical professionals who are willing to make a leadership commitment. Sources of these potential leaders include various professional societies and their educational outreach activities, technology companies, institutions that are supporting local systemic reform, and key individual scientist recommendations. In anticipation of the role the lead scientists will be expected to play, TSAI also recruits educators who are playing key roles in their local districts' reform efforts.

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