Date: Jan/Feb 2006
About: Science for Life Project
Improving Science Education in Quincy, IL
Improving Science Education in Quincy, Illinois
With the support of consultants Dr. Linda Brazdil and Mary Ann Brearton, our committee of 40 teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade worked to develop and strengthen our ability to make sound educational decisions for the future of our science program. As part of the three years that we worked to improve the quality of science education in Quincy, Illinois, School District 172, we provided summer in-service professional development that enhanced the district’s opportunities for professional growth. A primary effort of the committee was to sharpen the knowledge and skills essential for the evaluation and review of our curriculum. To accomplish this goal, we learned how to use Project 2061’s research-based tools, starting with Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy.
The committee was first divided into smaller team units. Each team consisted of five or six teachers, in a variety of grade levels, who would read each chapter in Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy to prepare for discussing the instructional implications as well as the research-based student misconceptions. We then took a look at our existing curriculum and aligned the units that were currently being used with the learning goals that are recommended in Benchmarks. One result of this analysis was our realization that we were teaching an abstract unit on weather too early in the primary grades. We also used the growth-of-understanding maps in Atlas of Science Literacy, which helped us to discover that in several cases we were re-teaching topics. As a consequence, we were not able to advance student understanding and thus move ahead in the curriculum as far as we could have. This increased understanding of learning goals was constructive.
Illinois teachers work in a team to evaluate their science curriculum during summer professional development. All of our learning was used to create a database that helped us to keep track of our benchmarks, assessment frameworks, learning standards, instructional implications, and student misconceptions, as well as any additional helpful hints and suggestions for each unit. With this well-thought-out information, we were now ready to look for opportunities to strengthen and refine our science curriculum K–8. All of our work also helped us to discover one or two topics that were being missed completely and a few other topics that were over-taught. The full committee was also able to recommend ways to streamline the curriculum.
Once our suggested revised curriculum received approval, we began to examine science materials with a new emphasis placed on obtaining materials that would support the inquiry approach to teaching science. Once again, we used our Project 2061 documents to help us evaluate the materials we wanted to pilot. We were continually referring back to all of our resources.
We have been piloting our units with much success and have been receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from both the school administration and the public, who are praising what they believe to be a very methodical evaluation process. All of this work for science education only became possible because the Quincy Foundation for Quality Education and the Quincy Public Schools jointly funded it by raising money from grants, donations, and the public.
Reporting last January, the local newspaper, the Quincy Herald-Whig, wrote, “The Quincy School Board’s Curriculum Committee heard an update on a curriculum alignment process that is starting to show improvement in the district’s science scores” (read the full article). This work has been energizing, and as I told the Herald, “I can’t wait to see the growth we may make once we begin to implement it completely.”
Ms. Sandberg is a 3rd grade teacher at Washington School in Quincy, Illinois, and the science teacher leader for the district.