A grant of nearly $5 million to a Colorado Springs-based textbook organization will produce training for teachers in high-poverty rural areas of Tennessee and Kentucky to not only understand science content better, but also to help students more accurately interpret and grasp scientific principles.
BSCS Science Learning is the only Colorado recipient among those getting 41 new grants from the U.S. Department of Education to advance innovation and improve academic achievement for high-need students.
The 60-year-old nonprofit center will use the money from the education department’s Innovation and Research Program to expand on a development project that spans 15 years, said Chris Wilson, BSCS research and project director.
“We’ve been developing this approach, implementing it, learning what works, refining it, and in the past few years making it more accessible to more teachers in broader ranges,” Wilson said.
The organization conducted an initial study of its teacher-training program in schools along Colorado’s Front Range, which produced measurable results, said Jody Bintz, BSCS associate director for strategic partnerships and professional learning.
The program's strategies helped teachers “take on a student-thinking lens” and approach science teaching in a way that values student ideas and helps them make sense of science by bringing their own experiences to the table, Bintz said.
Student gains on assessments developed to match program material were “incredible,” she said.
“Those really strong results are in large part why the U.S. Department of Education agreed to fund this larger study in another location, in Tennessee and Kentucky, to see if we can scale it up and develop what it takes to sustain the program long term,” Bintz said.
BSCS will work with about 150 fourth- and fifth-grade teachers in those two states, primarily in schools classified as Title 1, meaning they have high percentages of students from low-income families, Wilson said.
To reach rural teachers, the study will deliver the teacher-training program online, which will involve video conferencing and collaborating.
Another strategy is to develop local leaders who can pass on the training, instead of BSCS staff delivering the program, Wilson said.
Because of today’s emphasis on reading, writing and math, the study of science can lag behind, particularly in elementary schools, Bintz said. But with the evolution of programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), it’s crucial that teachers advance their classroom practices, she said.
“This program leverages teachers' strengths, helps them think about what students are saying, and helps them uncover student thinking and connect those to really important science ideas and practices — the kinds of things a scientist would say and do every day,” she said.
“We help teachers get better at supporting their students in learning science in those authentic ways of analyzing and interpreting data and communicating important information.”
This marks the largest research grant BSCS has received in its 60-year history.
If the study succeeds after three years, the U.S. Department of Education will provide BSCS an additional $3 million, for a total of $8 million over five years, Wilson said.
“The program impacts both teachers and students,” he said. “We measure outcomes on teachers’ understanding of the content, their ability to think and plan and conduct lessons effectively, and how those effects trickle down to students.”