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CAPSI's Phasing-In Strategy

Perhaps because CAPSI's two main scientist-leaders are experimental scientists--Drs. Jerry Pine and Jim Bower of Caltech--the CAPSI partnership began in 1986 in a small way, building knowledge from experience. School and Caltech leaders also researched what had worked before in the school districts by Mesa, Arizona; Highline, Washington; and Schaumburg, Illinois. General principals seen in operation there were taken into account. Master teacher Jennifer Yure had signed on to the Pasadena school district to run a science "discovery room" but was not a science expert. With help from Susan Sprague and her staff at Mesa, CAPSI's pilot school program was launched in 1986 using the Mesa curriculum modules and the Mesa resource teacher model. The teachers in the first Pasadena school to go hands-on in science--the pilot school--had participated in a hands-on workshop led by a Mesa resource teacher, and the great majority enthusiastically chose to try kit-based inquiry science teaching.

During initial staff development with the new kits, a model evolved in which a scientist participated as a partner with teachers in exploring a new kit. The session was led by a teacher expert, and the scientist was a colleague in inquiry and not a leader or a source of factual knowledge. This model of scientist participation is now a hallmark of the Pasadena program, with well over 100 scientists involved for 1 to 4 days per year in "kit training." All the Center districts have also adopted this model.

The initial modest financial backing needed to launch the pilot school program, including the visit to Mesa and the purchasing kits, was supplied by Murph Goldberger, the President of Caltech at that time. By 1989, the pilot school had demonstrated its success, and the district leadership opted to expand the program and to apply for a large National Science Foundation grant to make the program district-wide. In the year before that grant was successfully funded, they backed expansion to five more schools with district funds, building on the expertise of the pilot school staff. Jennifer Yure became the district coordinator. The initial NSF grant was for approximately $500,000 which, over time, was supplemented to a total of about $1-million. School district contributions for professional development and materials support matched that amount.

CAPSI encountered a diversity of conditions and challenges among the schools undergoing fundamental change in their elementary science education programs. Staff began to realize that there was no single, sharply defined model for change, only a general strategy.

Now that CAPSI has gone on to work with school districts in California in addition to Pasadena, through its Center Project, further experiences have confirmed that how the CAPSI/Pasadena strategy for phasing in inquiry-based modules works best varies from district to district and even from school to school. Staff has concluded that the CAPSI strategy can serve only as a guide. And yet, certain principles are emerging from the early years of The Center Project. For example,

  • A school does not need to have completed its own implementation to start serving as a seed for reform in other schools. All that is required is for the original school to have created a certain critical mass of lead teachers so that they can go on to help the other schools.
  • It seems important for the original pilot-school coordinator to take on that role for the additional schools and, ultimately, to become district coordinator. At the same time, the more routine tasks associated with kit maintenance will then need to be performed by new personnel (such as clerks and kit packers).

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