Professional Development Paradigm  

A vital component of the MVHS CoreModels project was the role of the teacher in developing activities and evaluating their effectiveness in the classroom. (See Teachers Take Charge of Their Learning - a report on self directed professional development.) Extending the initial success of MVHS in developing a collaborative learning environment, the CoreModels program further supported teachers in the integration of technology through the use of peer mentors. In harmony with many of the standards for professional development found in the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and synthesized by NISE (National Institute for Science Education [NISE], 1996), teachers in the MVHS CoreModels program worked within a collegial, collaborative environment to reflect on teaching practices, facilitate change in science education, integrate theory and practice in school settings and produce knowledge about learning and teaching. "The same constructivist approach recommended as a basis for classroom practice also applies to teachers. They construct their knowledge through interaction with peers, applying ideas, reflecting on the results and implementing modifications." (Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Soloway, 1994)

A typical CoreModels activity began as an idea which one or more teachers wished to develop. This activity was either developed by this small group of teachers and then shared with a larger group, or was presented to the larger group for help in development. Either way, early in its development, the activity was submitted to a peer review process which examined not only the content but the method of delivery and the appropriateness of the application. During these review sessions, teachers had an opportunity to reflect on their own ideas about the content and methods of teaching. Since the activities focused on computer modeling of natural phenomena or real-world applications, a discussion of required student skills usually followed. For example, an activity examining the relationship between reaction time and stopping distance of a tailgating car raised several questions about student abilities to read and use graphs. The discussions and classroom experiences with these skills led to the development of preliminary activities which would prepare students to handle the more complicated tailgating activity. After initial development sessions, the activity was used in several classrooms. Teachers were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the activity and to collect representative student response papers. These assessments were used in follow-up sessions to modify the activity.

Teachers not only worked together in the development of activities but also in their presentation within classrooms. CoreModels mentoring involved having teachers visit the classroom of a teacher with more experience in the use of computer modeling. The visiting teachers had the opportunity to follow up their classroom observation with discussions with the mentor teacher. Experienced teachers were also invited to visit classrooms of teachers new to using modeling activities. Mentor teachers could teach the class or offer assistance as needed. In both cases, the mentor/mentee pair gained new insights into the classroom activity and effective teaching practices within a classroom. The peer mentoring approach proved to be more effective in encouraging teachers to use computational activities in the classroom than the workshop approach of the original grant.

The development of activities within this environment was stimulating to veteran teachers as well as first year teachers. Experienced teachers had an opportunity to share their ideas as well as to examine content from a new perspective. First year teachers were more apt to incorporate technology lessons since they were assured that an experienced teacher would be nearby. Questions raised by the models and the extension of curricular concepts to real-world situations challenged everyone to apply their knowledge and to seek help outside the secondary school community.

Finally, teachers in the MVHS CoreModels project were participants in a research project. While many science teachers had participated in research within their content specialties, they were now challenged to examine educational practices as a researcher. The teachers reflected on the methods and means used to teach a concept and were encouraged to modify their approach when justified by their assessment. As part of a larger group of teacher-researchers, the teacher had peers to confer and collaborate with when considering changes to a lesson. Teachers became active participants in the search for classroom practices that would help their students achieve.

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