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ESEP: Training of Teachers and Lead Teachers

Many elementary school teachers have little background in science, and scant exposure to scientific habits of mind. Helping teachers develop new ways of teaching and thinking, as well as knowledge and skills in key science content areas, is a major challenge in producing systemic reform.

Two-tier Approach. ESEP/Atlanta is training its 1,700 teachers in a two-tier approach in which an upper tier of lead or "SKIL" teachers is largely responsible for the training and subsequent support of the remaining teachers.

The Upper Tier. As the modules are about to be introduced into each grade, 10-15 teachers from that grade are selected competitively to become lead teachers (the first 24 teachers were selected in 1996 from 65 applications). The successful applicants are trained at a summer Science Knowledge Inquiry Leadership (SKIL) Institute operated by ESEP for 13 days. There, they learn about hands-on, inquiry-centered, constructivist teaching and learning; spend about 30% of their time working with the modules for their grade level, and spend about eight hours on questions of assessment. Their training experience is designed to model the training they will subsequently give to other classroom teachers. At the end of this training, they are called SKIL teachers.

Regular Teachers. The training of regular classroom teachers on each of the three modules begins with a two-day workshop for 20-25 teachers, taught by an ESEP staff member and one or two SKIL teachers. The succession of workshops not only provides intensive training to the regular teachers but also provides additional training for the SKIL teachers, as, with each succeeding workshop, the role of the ESEP staff diminishes and that of the SKIL teachers increases.

Soon after the workshop, the regular teachers begin teaching a module in their classrooms. Five weeks into the module, the teachers either attend another half-day session for debriefing (to talk about what has worked and not worked and to learn more about inquiry approaches) or they are visited in their classrooms by an ESEP staff person or SKIL teacher.

Long-term Professional Development. It is well recognized that the education or "professional development" of teachers never ends. In terms of the inquiry-based, hands-on approach to science education, teachers first become competent in the mechanical use of a module. But much more is required to become a creative participant in the entire learning process with a deep understanding of both the science content and scientific habits of mind that children should be acquiring.

ESEP/Atlanta is only beginning to address the long-term professional development of teachers. The major effort at present is to expand the APS capacity for high-quality professional development in science by training a cadre of lead teachers through the SKIL Institutes and by creating a new Teacher-in-Residence program. In addition, it is thought that the professional development provided during the school year to classroom teachers as well as workshops for administrators increase the likelihood of lasting reform.

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