CoreModels Central Region Report  

Central Region Description

The Central Region includes seven counties: Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's. Although all of the counties have a mix of suburban and rural areas, four of them are considered to be primarily suburban while the other four still maintain their rural character. Due to a concentration of jobs in the Washington, D.C. - Baltimore corridor and the number of commuters to those jobs, all of the counties feel the influence of the city.

The region represents a range of racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. The two counties that border Washington D.C. have a high percentage of residents from minority groups and students receiving free and reduced lunches. As the distance from the city increases, the percentage of the population that is white and middle-class increases. However, certain areas of each county are populated by well-educated professionals who value higher education and who insist that the public schools deliver quality education.

Schools of the Central Region

  • Montgomery County
    • Montgomery Blair High School
      • Center Director - Susan Ragan - Math, Computer Science
      • 3 Participating Teachers - Biology, Environmental Science, Physics
    • Winston Churchill High School
      • Supporting Teacher - Biology
    • Northwest High School
      • Supporting Teacher - Physics
    • Quince Orchard High School
      • 2 Participating Teachers - Biology, Matter & Energy
    • Seneca Valley High School
      • 2 Participating Teachers - Biology, Physics
    • Watkins Mill High School
      • Participating Teacher - Biology, Environmental Science
    • Connelly School of the Holy Child
      • 3 Participating Teachers - Biology, Chemistry, Physics

  • Prince George's County
    • Crossland High School
      • Participating Teacher - Biology
    • Forestville High School
      • 2 Participating Teachers - Biology, Physics
    • Suitland High School
      • Participating Teacher - Biology

  • Howard County
    • Wilde Lake High School
      • 2 Supporting Teachers - Biology

  • Anne Arundel County
    • Arundel High School
      • Supporting Teacher - Physics

  • Charles County
    • Thomas Stone High School
      • Participating Teacher - Biology

  • St. Mary's County
    • Great Mills High School
      • 2 Participating Teachers - Biology, Physics

Summer Workshop

The 1998 Central Region Summer Workshop was held June 22 - July 2 at Watkins Mill High School. Twenty teachers representing the disciplines of biology and physics were introduced to the use of computer modeling in the science classroom through instructional activities which had been developed and field-tested by the MVHS center directors and supporting teachers. During the first week of the workshop through a series of lectures and hands-on labs, the teachers worked through the MVHS activity packets in the same way in which their students would during the school year. This gave the teachers an understanding of both the frustrations and the learning made possible in an environment in which students build models to represent real-world systems and use models to test hypotheses.

While the teachers were learning to use STELLA, the modeling software used in the MVHS activities, twenty high school students were receiving training in web page design and construction. The students put their new skills to work by building several pages for a virtual library for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. During the second week of the workshop, the teachers worked in pairs to present an MVHS activity to the students. This practice teaching allowed the teachers to see firsthand the kinds of errors commonly made by students as they work with the computer models. As a result, the teachers reported that their first activity with their own students in the fall went more smoothly.

Regional Workshops

In addition to the project-wide workshops held in October and April, two Saturday workshops for the Central Region occurred in December and February. The focus of the December workshop was hands-on practice with STELLA models, discussion of progress made thus far, and recommendations for the future. New activity packets were distributed for review and feedback, and plans for the summer 1999 workshop were made. Although most of the teachers were proceeding according to schedule with their classroom modeling implementation, many were having trouble leaving their schools to visit others. Their frustrations and recommendations were noted and taken back to the project leadership for discussion.

The topics for the second regional workshop were chosen in response to problems being encountered by various groups within the project. The biology teachers were ready to tackle the genetic disease model, but needed a refresher on the content of the model. They also needed guidance in building a model from scratch. Since two students at Great Mills High School wanted to simulate the spread of a disease as a science fair project, we spent the afternoon developing the ideas for a STELLA model of an epidemic. Physics teachers who had developed new models or had modified existing materials spent the morning sharing their work with the group. After lunch, their focus turned to the development of a generic set of questions that could be applied to questions requiring the interpretation of graphical output from their models.

Modeling Implementation

  • Center Director's School - The three participating teachers have each implemented 3 models so far with plans to do a fourth model in May. Depending on lab availability, they have used computers in a Technology Education lab, a Computer Science lab, or the Media Center. In each case, the students work in pairs on the modeling activities. The Center Director has met with the teachers before and after each lab to discuss student learning objectives and logistics issues, and she has served as a lab assistant during the actual lab activities. Two more teachers will be joining CoreModels this summer.

  • Supporting Teachers' Schools - The supporting teachers, who are in their second year with CoreModels, have implemented from 5 to 10 models this school year; and they have each recruited at least one teacher at their school to join CM this summer. Only one of the four supporting teachers has a participating teacher in his school at present. In that case, the ST has actively supported the PT as she has implemented 3 out of 4 models by now. In another school, the science department head, who feels he has not the time to be a formal PT, has adopted some of the models for his biology classes because he has seen them work successfully in the ST's classes. The ST and CD have actively supported this teacher in his efforts. The ST at a third school has recruited 3 of his teachers to join CoreModels next year, but he is offering them on-site training since the summer schedules of these teachers preclude their participation in our formal summer training.

  • Participating Teachers' Schools - The majority (15 out of 18) of the participating teachers are implementing models without the on-site support of a supporting teacher or a center director. Four of the fifteen are the only PT's at their schools, while the rest are in a biology/physics pair. A center director or ST have visited all but two of the PT's one or more times while they were implementing models. The vast majority (13 out of 15) have done from 3 to 8 models this year. The other two teachers have done no models because of personal problems which have made it difficult for them to focus on new initiatives in the classroom. One of the PT's has recruited four other science teachers in her department to become CoreModels teachers this summer. Another PT will be leaving the project to go on maternity leave.

Peer Support

Since the center director is released half-time from classroom duties, she has had the most flexibility in her schedule to visit participating teachers outside of her own school. She has made 15 site visits so far this year with three more planned in May. The four supporting teachers have made from 0 to 3 visits each outside of their schools. Five participating teachers have each made one visit to a supporting teacher outside of their school. The original goal of two site visits per month per teacher has been impossible to reach.

Although site visits have been difficult to schedule, peer support has occurred in other ways. Each of the four Saturday workshops gave teachers an opportunity to share classroom successes and frustrations. Hearing others' stories gave teachers ideas to take back to their own schools. Although we tried to follow up on workshop topics through email discussions, only a small minority of teachers contributed to the conversation and most discussions were of short duration. Email was most useful for scheduling and information purposes, but some teachers still read email only once a week.

Outreach opportunities have given some teachers addtional peer support. In Montgomery County, a PT, ST and the CD are jointly giving five 3-hour after school training sessions to 20 science teachers. Planning and delivering these sessions together leads to professional growth for all three CM teachers. Several CM teachers presented at the Maryland Association of Science Teachers Fall Conference, and three teachers presented at a bi-county techology workshop. In addition, several teachers have been involved in local, district or statewide workshops on technology use in the classroom as related to new statewide assessments. Teachers working together to present a workshop results in mutual support and benefit.

Strengths, Problems, Possibilities

The Central Region is fortunate to have a group of very dedicated teachers who are willing to learn new methods which they believe will be of benefit to their students. The challenge is to continue to provide them with experiences which will be enriching to them and their students. Some of the CM teachers are quite frustrated that they have been unable to convince others in their building to join CoreModels. Fortunately, many of the non-CM teachers are participating in other valuable summer workshops; but others are turning away out of a fear of computers and the unknown. If we hope to stimulate change in the science classroom, we must find a way to reach those who fear the unknown.

Although the teachers report that their students are improving their graph analysis and problem-solving skills as a result of these hands-on modeling activities, there is a lack of agreement on the best way to measure student learning. Getting the students to write an interpretation of a graph or an analysis of a model is a challenge. Developing scoring tools for those responses is also difficult. To convince the doubters that the CoreModels approach is worthwhile, the assessment problem must be addressed.

Peer support is another difficult issue. Although most teachers welcome assistance in the computer lab, they are not comfortable being observed in their classroom. They may associate observation with evaluation and painful memories of student teaching, rather than as a way to share teaching techniques. Another aspect of this problem is that successful teachers often have very different teaching styles. Consequently, each teacher must determine on his/her own how to integrate new methods into his/her classroom. For example, at the October workshop, two physics teachers from different regions of the state disagreed openly about approaches to teaching physics. At the second statewide workshop in April, those same teachers managed to put forth their own opinions without disparaging the value of the other approach. One of those teachers commented that the value of the Saturday workshops was having the opportunity to discuss content, teaching approaches, modeling and student learning problems with other teachers. Perhaps the key to support is removing it from the actual classroom meeting time and placing it outside of the school day. The CoreModels project needs to do a better job of explaining the purpose of peer support and of providing methods to achieve those benefits.

Computer access has not been a major issue, but it did impact start-up times for some. Most schools have a computer support person who is in charge of installing new software. With their other start-up responsibilities, some were slow in getting the computer labs ready for teachers to use. Teachers at one school avoid lab scheduling problems by using in-class computers. The trade-off for flexibility of use is a higher student-to-computer ratio (3 or 4 students on one computer). With help from the center director, donated computers from a government agency were installed in one teacher's classroom; but the usefulness of that setup will depend on the reliability of those machines. The teacher may prefer signing up to use a newer set of computers in a computer lab since she has neither the time nor expertise to service her own computer equipment. Students can be found to help her, but monitoring their work still requires extra time and effort.

The CoreModels project has received increased visibility this year thanks to the ambassadorship of several of the Central Region teachers. George Morse, a supporting teacher, has a deserved reputation in his county for superior teaching style, content mastery and pedagogical expertise. His enthusiastic support of CoreModels has influenced his county's science supervisor and Maryland State Department of Education science specialists. David Spitzer, a participating teacher, has earned the respect of physics teachers throughout the state for his innovative use of probes and computer and calculator-based labs. The ease with which he blends lab data and physics theory with dynamic models persuades other teachers that they can do the same. CoreModels workshops at a statewide science conference in October resulted in an invitation to present computer modeling to science and math instructors at one of the community colleges. Various supporting and participating teachers have held county inservice workshops and departmental training sessions, as well.

Home | Contact | Site Map | Search