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Caltech Precollege Science Initiative (CAPSI)

Key Features

CAPSI/Pasadena is a close collaboration between a poor, non-white, urban school district and a major research institution. The school district is Pasadena Unified, and the institution is the California Institute of Technology, represented by the Caltech Precollege Science Initiative (CAPSI). Formed and led by several key people in the school district and two Caltech scientists, the partnership has engaged in a range of interrelated activities, beginning at the elementary-school level, to promote systemic reform of science education to a hands-on, inquiry-centered approach.

Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, CAPSI/Pasadena collaborative has developed and fully implemented the systemic reform of the science education program in all of the public elementary schools of Pasadena. This was accomplished by using modular, inquiry-based curriculum materials, by supporting teachers with materials and extensive, ongoing professional development activities, and by involving scientists in a wide variety of roles.

The CAPSI/Pasadena experience has also served as an informal model for a number of school districts around the country seeking systemic reform, and the partnership is now engaged in a formal, NSF-funded program to guide and support systemic reform in 12 other urban school districts in California.

The collaboration has also supported research in pedagogy and assessment, has embarked on a program to develop materials to deepen teachers' understanding of science, and has begun to develop hands-on, inquiry-centered materials for the middle- and high-school levels.

Becoming Involved

  • For scientists who are in communities considering systemic reform of science education and who may wish to help ensure the success of that reform, the CAPSI example could be carefully studied as a guide, particularly for the many ways in which it has involved scientists and a school district--Pasadena--that needs to deal every day with low levels of state financial aid and high class sizes.
  • For scientists with a deep commitment to reforming science education, CAPSI illustrates how two scientist-leaders with sustained effort over many years and close collaboration with the leadership of a school district can have a deep and broad impact on K-12 science education.
  • For scientists who live in California, this example identifies 12 school districts now exploring systemic reform where scientists (or other technical professionals) can make a significant contribution.


Goals. The primary goal of the CAPSI/Pasadena collaborative is to provide materials and methods for improving science education that can be applied across the nation. In furthering this goal, the collaborative supports a number of coordinated reform efforts that focus on encouraging inquiry and discovery in the learning process, on promoting the active participation of underrepresented student populations, on fostering cooperation between scientists and educators, and on encouraging teachers to participate fully in the process of science education reform.

Scope. Systemic reform has been achieved in the 22 elementary schools of the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD). Aspects of the CAPSI/ Pasadena effort have served as models for a number of school districts in other parts of the country. The entire reform program is now acting as a formal model for achieving reform in 12 other school districts in California, and CAPSI collaborates closely with these districts. Also, another collaboration has resulted in the creation of four inservice teacher education modules and two preservice modules. All of these modules focus on science content. Finally, a close collaboration between Pasadena teachers and Caltech scientists is developing hands-on, inquiry-centered instructional materials at the middle-and high-school levels.

The Pasadena Program as Both Experience and Model. The Pasadena Elementary Science Program was CAPSI/Pasadena's first program. It was originally dubbed Project SEED (Science for Early Educational Development). It can be viewed not only as a successful example of systemic reform but also as a model for reform elsewhere.

Lead teachers and resource teachers are critical to progress from the very beginning. In CAPSI/Pasadena, lead teachers are drawn from the ranks of master teachers. They are those with talent and experience teaching inquiry science who receive additional training and then facilitate the training of other teachers. Resource teachers are specially selected--drawn in part from the ranks of master teachers--and they serve as full-time mentors, visiting classroom teachers as often as once a week and offering them various types of support.

Phasing-in Strategy. After developing the Pasadena Elementary Science Program, CAPSI has gone on to use it as a model for systemic reform that starts with the conversion of a single class in each grade of a single pilot school to hands-on, inquiry-oriented science. From there, all classes in the school are converted, then the whole process begins at other pilot schools and so on until all of the elementary schools in the district have changed their program.


Leadership Roles. In the CAPSI/Pasadena model, a leadership team plays important roles not only in supporting reform in the pilot school but in laying the basis for successful district-wide expansion. The leadership team consists of a leading school-district administrator, the principal of the pilot school, a lead collaborative scientist, a pilot-school coordinator, and a master teacher, who is very experienced in hands-on, inquiry-centered science teaching who can serve as a resource teacher to train the pilot school coordinators. Another member of the team could be a liaison to a supporting district with a model reform program.


Roles of Scientists in CAPSI/Pasadena. Scientists have played a number of important roles in the CAPSI/Pasadena program.


CAPSI's Instructional Materials CAPSI/Pasadena has taken great care in its selection of materials to be used in the classroom.


Teacher Training. The CAPSI model for training teachers has developed over time in the pilot schools of Pasadena.


Science Materials Support Center. A science materials support center is essential for the survival of a kit-based program because it frees teachers of all responsibility for maintaining kits and greatly reduces the cost of the program by ensuring efficient kit use and cost-effective maintenance and refurbishment. CAPSI has found that the size and very nature of the center changes as the number of schools involved changes, from one pilot school to the whole district.


The Center Project-- Dissemination of the CAPSI/Pasadena Model. To disseminate the CAPSI/Pasadena model, the NSF has funded the Pasadena Center for Innovative Elementary Science Education (The Center Project). This center is helping to achieve systemic reform in 12 urban schools districts in California by using the CAPSI/Pasadena experience as a model and by using personnel from CAPSI/Pasadena to guide and support the development of local leadership teams and the implementation of a reform program within pilot schools in each district.


Other Initiatives. CAPSI/Pasadena has started a number of other programs that team teachers and scientists to study pedagogy and assessment, to develop teacher-education modules intended to help teachers deepen their understanding of science and science process, and to develop hands-on, inquiry-centered instructional materials for the middle- and high-school levels.


Organizational Information and Contacts. Basic organizational and contact information about the CAPSI/Pasadena collaborative can be obtained here.


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