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Merck: Professional Development in Merck Institute

For the training of teachers in the use of the first modules to be implemented, the Merck Institute and its partner districts followed a variety of strategies, including training at a nearby university, training sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, training by curriculum supervisors and training by the developers and publishers of the modules. Although teachers benefitted from all of these sessions, relatively little attention was paid to expanding teachers' science knowledge, practicing inquiry-centered instruction, or extending science instruction beyond the modules.

In addition, during the first two years of the Partnership, the Merck Institute supported the professional development of teachers in ways not directly related to the use of modules. It enabled teachers to participate in national forums; to hear experts and interact with teachers from other districts; to attend, in substantial numbers, the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association and to attend workshops at informal science centers. As a follow-up to the earlier National Elementary Science leadership Institutes, the Form district teams attended the Next Steps Conference also sponsored by the NSRC. In addition district teams visited TERC in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to familiarize themselves with new offerings in technology education.

Despite these efforts, the quality of professional development experiences was uneven, and little attention was being given to teachers' knowledge of science. As a result, the Merck Institute staff, in collaboration with the four districts, designed the Leader Teacher Institute (LTI) and delivered it's first 3-week sessions for 140 teachers and administrators in the summer of 1995. The same teachers attended 3-week sessions in 1996 and again in 1997. The purpose of the LTI was to increase teachers' content knowledge and their ability to design and implement inquiry-centered instruction. Beginning in 1996, additional workshops were offered to all K-8 teachers in the Partnership. These one-week Peer Teacher Workshops enhance teachers ability to use science modules, mathematics materials supporting technology, and pedagogy appropriate for their grade levels.

The Vision

The Leader Teacher Institute (LTI) is on a vision that all students will experience inquiry-centered science and mathematics instruction and have access to educational technology. The LTI is designed to share this vision with a cadre of Leader Teachers and administrators organized in school teams to provide them with the knowledge and skills to make this vision a reality in their classrooms, schools, and districts,

As a result of their participation in the Leader Teacher Institute, Leader Teachers:

    1. increase their knowledge of content
    2. design and implement inquiry-centered instruction
    3. integrate instructional technology into their lessons
    4. develop the "habits of mindî of science and mathematics learners
    5. utilize effective classroom management strategies that complement inquiry-centered instruction
    6. design and utilize osmund to inform instruction
    7. integrate science, mathematics, and technology curricula with other disciplines
    8. create gender equitable, culturally diverse classrooms
    9. develop and sustain their own professional development
    10. provide leadership in the school and in the community  

Three important decisions, made in the early planning stages of the Institute, shaped its design:

  • The science focus of the Merck Institute for Science Education was broadened to encompass science, mathematics and technology, based on the understanding that elementary science is intimately connected to the reasoning and problem solving skills espoused by the NCTM Standards and that both mathematics and science teaching are enhanced by similar kinds of educational technology;
  • a science and mathematics curriculum was designed for adult learners, rather than addressing grade-specific content issues; and
  • the curriculum was designed to model inquiry-centered instruction and explicitly teach the related instructional skills in order to raise teachers awareness of and ability to analyze and implement inquiry-centered instruction.

Design of the Leader Teacher Institute

The Leader Teacher Institute is a three-year program divided into three strands, each focused on a central science theme, related mathematics topics, supporting technology, and embedded instructional skills. Leader Teachers participate in one strand per summer during the three consecutive summer sessions.

The strand content is aligned with Project 2061's Benchmarks for Science Literacy, the National Science Education Standards, and the 1989 NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics to provide teachers with substantial content knowledge related to topics encountered in K-8 curriculum. Activities and investigations were selected to emphasize connections among the different science disciplines and among science, mathematics, and technology. The three themes, The Interdependence of Life, The Earth, and The Structure of Matter, were approached from multiple perspectives and at many levels to challenge K-8 teachers with diverse backgrounds.

The composition of the instructional team for each strand includes:

  • a science content specialist
  • a mathematics specialist,
  • an instructional skills specialist,
  • and three classroom teachers.

Each strand's instructional team collaborates to develop the curriculum, sampling a variety of topics and investigations before selecting those that best serve the instructional goals of the Institute. The teams design lessons to skillfully model inquiry-centered instruction, cooperative learning, embedded assessment, and materials management. Technology utilized in the strands includes TERC's Tabletop software, Vernier's Graphical Analysis software, and a variety of probes (temperature sensors, motion detectors, voltage sensors) that collect and process experimental data.

Guest presenters and special events enrich the Leader Teacher Institute:

  • a field trip to the Sterling Hill Mine in New Jersey to study phosphorescent minerals and collect samples;
  • a field trip to the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania to investigate its geologic structure and collect trilobite fossils; and
  • a field trip to Merck and Co. in West Point with a presentation on the drug discovery process.

Joined by principals and Merck volunteers at the close of the Leader Teacher Institute, the school teams diagnose the strengths and needs of their faculties and target important work in education reform for the upcoming school year. The groups continue their planning during the academic-year sessions.

Academic-year Activities

The Leader Teachers meet three times during the school year for 2-day workshops. In the first of these academic-year sessions, Leader Teachers continued their study of leadership issues. Participants examined three categories of ways in which they act as leaders of science, mathematics, and technology education reform: as advocates, coaches, and instructors. Within the three categories, Leader Teachers identified specific roles for themselves both as individuals and as school teams. The group increased their understanding of the vision of the partnership and the message of systemic reform through presentations from Institute staff and district administrators, reading and discussion of the National Science Education Standards, and the targeting of specific goals for their work in the 1996-97 academic year. Teams will review their progress toward these goals monthly and report back to the cadre in March.

The use of telecommunications as a leadership tool was another major focus of the first academic-year session. Participants engaged in an exploration of uses of e-mail and the Internet, highlighting practices which will increase and streamline their use of telecommunications to build a community of learners in their schools and districts. Future sessions during the academic year will continue to address the participants' use of telecommunications and highlight skills that build capacity for leadership of the partnership.

An important component of the Leader Teacher Institute is the allocation of four release days for the individually-selected professional development of each Leader Teacher.

Approximately half of the cadre has elected to use release days to participate in a project to design assessment tasks related to the science modules which they teach. This project is being facilitated by Dr. Edward Chittenden of the Educational Testing Service. Other Leader Teachers are participating in workshops and professional society meetings, the review and revision of curriculum, the selection of curriculum materials, the design and implementation of professional development opportunities for colleagues, and/or the planning and implementation of special events during the release days.

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