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The Center Project -- Dissemination of the CAPSI/Pasadena Model

In the fall of 1994, CAPSI and the Pasadena Unified School District were chosen to be the first National Science Foundation-sponsored Center to Promote District-wide Science Education Reform. As a result, the Pasadena Center for Innovative Elementary Science Education--the Center Project--was formed with a 6-year, $6-million grant to promote systemic reform in 12 other urban school districts in California. The Center provides about $180,000 to each district over three years to support its pilot-school coordinators and professional development activities at the pilot school. In addition, $300,000 per year is spent to provide support and leadership to all the pilot schools from Pasadena staff and teachers. Center administration is a small fraction of the budget.

In all of the Center school districts, systemic reform is now being attempted based on CAPSI/Pasadena experiences and with guidance and support from the CAPSI staff.

Overall Implementation Plan. The general plan for the Center Project has been to start the reform program in a single pilot school in each of three districts the first year, in three more the second, and so on. As of the summer of 1997, pilot schools had been started in nine districts. The last three are ready to start their pilot schools in school year 1997-98.

Following the CAPSI model, first a single pilot school is identified in a school district, reform is put into place there, then, when the time is right, other schools are brought on board.

Leadership Team. Following the CAPSI model, the school districts in the Center Project have created leadership teams {Details: Leadership Roles}. These teams include a "center liaison" person who links the local reform effort to the Center Project in Pasadena and to a resource teacher supplied by the Pasadena Unified School District.

Instructional Materials. The school districts involved in the Center Project are following their own strategies for exploration, testing, and adoption of instructional materials, although all are required to make their exploratory selections from CAPSI's list of 14 kit-based modules {Detail: Instructional Materials}.

Teacher Training. Although practices vary from district to district, the CAPSI model is being followed, more or less. In the first year, one volunteer teacher at each grade level is trained on two modules and goes on to teach them. In the second year, these pioneer teachers learn and teach another two modules while helping to train other teachers on the first two. In the third year, the pioneers-- lead teachers--complete the training of the teachers in their grade levels on the second set of modules.

Resource Teachers. A "Master Resource Teacher" (MRT) from Pasadena works with each pilot-school coordinator as well as with the school's leadership team. The MRT visits weekly or biweekly during the first two years, helping the pilot-school coordinator to become his or her shcool's resource teacher, arranging for initial kit training, and guiding the pilot school to the capacity for self-contained professional development.

Role of the Center in Pasadena. The Center sees itself in a guiding and supporting, not prescribing role.

Roles of Scientists. In all the districts, one or two scientist-leaders are required on the leadership team. Area scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals are expected to contribute to reform in the districts by participating in the professional development of the teachers (initially and also in subsequent advanced workshops) and to model how scientists think and do their work. Scientists also are expected to be advocates and recruiters within their own professional communities and validators to the broader community that what the children learn through inquiry-based science really is science. Also, given the rapid turnover of leadership in many school districts--on average, school superintendents last only three years in one job---scientists who have become really involved can act as a source of continuity in their local science education reform effort. The 12 districts involved in the Center Project have shown a keen interest in getting scientists involved.

Current Status. The Center has recruited 12 districts in California that have more than 5,000 elementary students and more than 50% underrepresented minorities. They extend over about 500 miles, from El Centro to Stockton. The total number of K-6 students is 200,000.

  • Three districts have had two years of experience in implementing kit-based modules in their pilot schools. They are:
    • Desert Sands (in the Indio-Palm Springs area)
    • El Centro (near the Mexican border city of Mexicali)
    • Lennox (in Los Angeles County)
  • All three of these school districts, together with their science partners, are now seeking funding to expand the program district-wide. Their science partners have tended to be individuals affiliated with institutions that have also become involved in helpful ways.
  • Three districts have had one year of experience in implementing kit-based modules in their pilot schools. They are
    • Bakersfield
    • Tulare (between Bakersfield and Fresno)
    • Hacienda La Puente (eastern Los Angeles region)
  • The last six districts are following a four-year sequence, beginning with an initial year during which the pilot school coordinator and scientist-partner gain experience with the inquiry curriculum. The three districts that have just concluded the initial year are now preparing to train pioneer teachers. They are
    • Stockton (south of San Francisco)
    • Lynwood (south-central Los Angeles)
    • Baldwin Park (eastern Los Angeles region)

    The three districts which will begin their initial year in the fall of 1997 are

    • South Bay Union (San Diego area)
    • Inglewood (south-central Los Angeles)
    • Whittier (eastern Los Angeles region)

Spreading the Reform Beyond the Initial Pilot School. When a district is in the process of implementing reform beyond the initial pilot school, the following occurs under the CAPSI/Pasadena model:

  • The instructional materials to be used are the same as those selected by the pilot school.
  • A science materials support center is put into operation, sometimes as an expansion of the one in operation for the pilot school. Each district addresses kit supply and refurbishment in its own way.
  • The initial professional development program for teachers makes use of experienced teachers from the pilot school as lead teachers. Resource teachers are also developed and used.
  • Volunteer scientists are recruited in a variety of ways, often by the lead collaborating scientist. The volunteers receive about two hours of training. The sessions are always led either by a pilot-school coordinator or a lead teacher and a scientist. This reflects once again the importance that CAPSI places on the collaboration between educators and scientists in all reform activities at all levels.

When the NSF-funded grant ends, CAPSI/Pasadena will no longer be able to supply personnel to help with such essential activities as teacher training, but CAPSI leaders still expect to be available to provide advice and guidance. In addition, the school districts themselves will be networked so that they can begin to share experiences and support one another.

Facts about the Center--Sites and Contacts. The 12 districts involved in the Center Project are similar in many ways to the Pasadena Unified School District.

  • Their elementary school populations vary in size from 9,000 to 30,000 students (Pasadena has 12,000. )
  • Their student population percentages of minorities traditionally underrepresented in the sciences exceed 50%. (In Pasadena, 85% of the elementary school-age children are African-Americans and recent Latino immigrants.)
  • Many children in all of these districts, including Pasadena, come from low-income families and qualify for the reduced-price lunch program.

The CAPSI website provides hyperlinks to the websites of some of the districts.


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