Welcome to the Matrix: Teacher Professional Development in a Complex Educational System

"The focus of our training was to make us more comfortable with our general knowledge of science. Part of this is realizing that we don't need to have all the answers. What we do need to know is where to go to find them." --2013 SSEATs attendee

Suzanne Wilson's review article "Professional Development for Science Teachers" (Science, 2013) identifies the top five characteristics of effective professional development (PD) programs as:

  1.  Duration
  2.  Active learning
  3.  Collective participation
  4.  Coherence
  5.  Content focus

Photo of educators participating in a professional development workshop

In the vast educational system teachers must navigate through a matrix of schools, districts, principals, superintendents, and ever-changing leadership direction. A successful teacher comes equipped with the resources and tools needed to provide their students with the best possible learning experiences. It is for this reason that is so important for a teacher to choose an effective PD program that both updates them on best practices and helps them manage time spent on a particular subject in a way that ensures student success. Knowing the obstacles teachers are faced with and realizing the importance of a teacher's time, the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) has created a professional development workshop that focuses on the most recent research, case studies, and best practices in the field of science education.

SSEC professional development programs reflect Wilson's top 5 characteristics of effectiveness.

Our Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATs) program provides teachers with rich experiences that focus on gaining science knowledge and exposure to leading experts in scientific research. Our goal is to expose teachers to Smithsonian scientists and other leaders in the scientific research community through PD experiences focused on relevant, real-world science topics, while ensuring that our PD aligns with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). We are encouraged that many of our programming practices rank within Wilson nominates an additional five practices for science teacher training, including content focused, inquiry-based experiences, use of curriculum materials, and duration of PD being more than a one-time offering that includes ongoing and systematic approaches to teacher learning.

Professional development: how much is effective?

In the diversity of PD opportunities discussed by Wilson we noted that other providers throughout the United States grapple with many of the same issues. The diversity of teacher PD offerings span across days, weeks, or years in duration, and measurements of success vary. Data from case studies and test beds of various projects stress the importance of continuous PD opportunities for teachers. Variety is good, and the more "real life," ongoing learning experiences teachers have to take back to students, the better.

"After coming home, I dissected the information we learned and went through all of the materials that were given to me. I was amazed how pertinent and valuable this week has been to my teaching career." --2012 SSEAT attendee

To be effective beyond a one-off science teacher PD experience we strive to link all the components needed to positively impact student learning. These include science curriculum, strategic planning, leadership reform, community building, and sustainable educational programs.

Science education reform for 21st century students.

As we embark on a new era of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, SSEC is creating new ways to distill information about the standards and get it into the hands of teachers. This is being done by working closely with teachers, parents, principals, district leaders, and community leaders to let us know what they need. We count on all these key players participating in reform efforts in order to provide students with quality experiences in science education. In our national education reform LASER model, which includes the LASER i3 project

where we bring together teams from school districts and partner with these key players to plan an individualized strategic approach to science education reform. The ongoing LASER i3 five year randomized control study will give us insight in to our approach to science education reform and student outcomes.

"Science education needs major ideas that build upon each other. We have to get away from just memorizing content." --2013 Strategic Planning Institute attendee

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