Demonstration of Innovative Middle Grades Course Modules and a Study of their Impact on Student Learning Outcomes in High-Needs Settings

1. State the focus of the session and its relevance to the ASTE membership

A Tuskegee University led multi-institution, multidisciplinary Math and Science Partnership (MSP) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) is implementing contemporary evidenced-based interventions to improve Science education in the middle grades in ten school districts of the socio-economically and educationally disadvantaged Alabama Black Belt region. The cornerstone of the partnership is the development, classroom delivery and evaluation of unconventional, but innovative NanoBio science-based course modules to teach middle grades science concepts in the ten partner school districts of the Black Belt region. To-date, thirty-five such modules have been developed and tested by the Tuskegee Partnership, some of which have been refereed and published by the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX) – a testimony to their high quality and alignment to standards. Partnerships are critical in the development of our modules, which include collaborative efforts by STEM and education faculty, and in-service and pre-service teachers. The partnership offers an extensive teacher training component to prepare approximately 90 in-service middle grades science teachers in the use of the course modules in the classroom. Approximately 8,000 students from high needs schools across the partnership are benefiting from these newly created instructional resources, many of whom come from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM. Various measures reveal increases of upto 29% in student test scores as a result of these instructional resources.

Our comprehensive workshop session focuses on the demonstration of 4 course modules that have been developed by the Tuskegee partnership. Workshop participants will wear their “student hats”, and will experience hands-on, several middle grades science concepts covered by these four modules. In addition, presentations by the partnership’s educational research and evaluation teams whose focus is to investigate the impact of these modules on the science teaching process, will describe student learning outcomes and changes in teacher instructional practices.

Our proposed session is relevant to the ASTE membership and its mission which is to promote excellence in science teacher education through scholarship and innovation to prepare and provide professional development for teachers of science at all grade levels. The exclusive teaching resources developed by the Tuskegee partnership are exciting, innovative and cutting edge efforts by adopting “beyond the commonplace approaches” to address science teaching and learning challenges in the most challenging region of the country, the Black Belt of Alabama, which is also referred to as the “Third World of America”.

2. Describe the sequence and duration of activities. What are the main ideas and what are the events that would occur? What do you expect the attendees to learn?

A complete description of the two comprehensive workshops that we propose to offer at the 2016 ASTE meeting is given below. Abstracts for each presentation convey the main ideas that will be discussed. Attendees will learn (1) Innovative approaches to teaching middle grades science concepts that students typically find challenging to understand; and, (2) Impacts of these innovations on science learning outcomes and attitudes through research and evaluative components of the partnership.

Workshop 1 (2.5 hours)
1. Title: The Periodic Table Goes Live! (50 Minutes)
Grade Level: 8
Presenters: Dr. Alicia Curry and Dr. Michael Curry – Tuskegee University
Abstract: Research typically identifies the attrition point for interest in pursuing science as a career starts in the middle school classrooms. This suggests that the middle school years are very impressionable and, depending on the how science concepts are displayed, students will either love it or hate it. Thus, the intent of this module is to provide middle school science classrooms with exiting supplemental, hands-on science activities that can be used to enhance science instruction. In this session, participants will identify (1) Characteristics of selected elements from the periodic table; (2) Elements from the periodic table that are found in common household products; and (3) Characteristics of selected elements from the periodic table by completing a research project.

2. Title: Barn Owl Pellet Dissection for Middle School Students Via 5-E Inquiry Model (50 Minutes)
Grade Level: 7
Presenters: Mrs. Ruth Liddell, Dr. Dorothy Payne, and Mrs. Shirley Scarbrough – Alabama State University
Abstract: This module describes characteristics common to living things including growth and development, reproductions, cellular organization, use of energy exchange of gases and response to the environment, and predicting how an organism’s behavior impacts the environment. Module activities relate major tissues and organs of skeletal, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems to their functions. Biotic and abiotic factors in the environment are described. As part of the module demonstration, participants will dissect Barn Owl pellets. They will compare various types of data collected from the pellets. They will also make predictions; perform mathematical calculations; construct a graph; classify bones into types; separate bones by prey type; and draw conclusions about the owl’s environment based on the dissection findings. The “5-E Inquiry” framework will serve as the underlying teaching model.

3. Title: Research Findings of a Qualitative Study to Investigate the Impacts of the NanoBio Science Partnership Course Modules on Science Instruction (20 Minutes)
Presenters: Dr. Melody Russell – Auburn University and Dr. Jenice Goldston – The University of Alabama
Abstract: This qualitative research study examines teacher perspectives on implementation of innovative course modules developed by the Tuskegee partnership which are designed to enhance science interest, attitude and achievement for 6th-8th grade students. The research questions driving our investigation are as follows: a) How does professional development impact in-service science teachers’ perspectives on the implementation of new course modules?; and, b) In what ways does teacher professional development impact teachers’ self-efficacy and motivation to implement new course modules?

Workshop 2 (2.5 hours)
1. Title: The Super Gene Brothers: DNA vs. RNA (50 minutes)
Grade Level: 7th grade
Presenters: Dr. Chastity Bradford and Dr. Alicia Curry – Tuskegee University
Abstract: “The Super Gene Brothers: DNA vs RNA” module is designed to meet a Life Science Content standard: Identify differences between deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). Students use candy to design DNA and RNA models. This module uses every nuance of the Super Mario Brothers video game. It takes the characters, theme song lyrics and tunes, and goals of the video game and transforms the traditional classroom into an interactive educational module that targets the technology natives and various learning styles. Students will help Mario and Luigi rescue the Princess by completing the DNA bridge while STEM educators will rescue and improve our approach to STEM education.

2. Title: ABCs of Nano– A Big Picture of Nanoscience, Nanotechnology, and Nano-Engineering (50 minutes)
Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8
Presenters: Dr. Dawen Li and Dr. Shoieb Shaik – The University of Alabama
Abstract: This module provides middle school students with a basic understanding of the Nano. With the help of 3D visualization, important concepts and phenomena such as, how small is “small”, why nano is a magic number, the dramatic increase in surface area to volume ratio at nanoscale, will be demonstrated. The fundamental impact from the unique size effect at the nanoscale will be illustrated and explained. Through hands-on activities and 3D visualizations, participants will gain basic understanding of Nano and perceive the power of Nano in terms of size effect!

3. Title: Evaluation of the NanoBio Science Course Modules (20 minutes)
Presenters: Dr. David Shannon, Dr. Joni Lakin and Dr. Melody Russell – Auburn University
Abstract: As part of the NanoBio partnership’s development of modules, a team of researchers and evaluators has been documenting the effects of modules on students’ knowledge about science concepts, including nanotechnology, and their attitudes towards science (Cooper et al., 2013; Lakin & Shannon, 2013; Lakin & Wallace, 2015). In this portion of the workshop, we will briefly overview key findings from the program evaluation activities in terms of changes in student attitudes and knowledge, teachers’ use of inquiry in the classroom while using modules, and teachers’ perceptions of and feedback on the modules. During this part of the workshop, we will provide attendees copies of evaluation materials that they will be able to use in their classrooms, including pre/post “module-content assessments”, for use with NanoBio lesson plans as well as science attitude surveys that may provide useful information about students.

3. Explain who within the ASTE membership would be most interested in your presentation (e.g. methods instructors, educational researchers, curriculum developers, etc.)

The focus of this session is to engage participants in four innovative inquiry-based course modules that have recently been developed to teach science topics at the middle grades in the disadvantaged Alabama Black Belt. As such, this session would be most useful to all individuals who are associated with the teaching of science at the middle grades in high-needs settings who are curious about implementing unconventional, but promising pedagogical strategies in the classroom. People who are interested in learning outcomes from an educational research perspective will also find this session useful. Individuals who can advocate change in K-12 mathematics and science instruction will find this session of interest. In sum, this workshop would be of best use to middle grades science teachers; faculty who specialize in science, engineering and education; educational researchers; program evaluators; pre-service teachers; curriculum specialists; principals and superintendents.

4. Describe the expertize of the workshop presenters so the attendees will be guaranteed a worthwhile experience; that is, who is going to conduct the workshop and what is their background in this area?

The presenters for the proposed workshop consist of individuals from the Tuskegee partnership who have been working collaboratively in the development and delivery all course modules, including a diverse disciplinary group of STEM faculty (Biology and Chemistry), education faculty (Elementary and Science Education), Master School Teachers and several undergraduate students majoring in STEM and Science education. In addition, the educational researchers and evaluators who are investigating the impact of the course modules and other aspects of the partnership on student learning outcomes will present findings.
All workshop presenters are highly experiences faculty dedicated to improving K-12 science education. Presenters will be available for follow-up questions and discussions during the school year.

5. Provide a budget for the workshop indicating the amount (if any) each participant will be charged. What is the number of people the workshop is intended to serve? If there is a cost for attendance, please specify how this money will be used. Indicate the material and technological needs for this workshop. What are the texts, handouts, videos, etc., required in order to implement this session?

The workshop is free of cost. Each workshop can serve a maximum of 30 participants. Presenters will provide all the materials necessary to conduct the workshop.