NSF awards Clark University $200K for innovative 'Next-Gen' science teaching exemplar

"You can't teach what you can't even imagine,” says Clark University Professor of Education Sarah Michaels, who is helping to develop a much-needed and innovative teacher learning resource for K-12 science education called the Next Generation Science Exemplar.

The Next Generation Science Exemplar is an innovative, web-based platform designed to help teachers better understand and incorporate the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in conjunction with the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education. The project recently received a grant of $200,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Michaels is principal investigator of the NSF grant, working closely with Jean Moon, Founder and Principal of the Tidemark Institute and Visiting Scholar at the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise at Clark, and Professor Brian Reiser, of the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Together, they authored a commentary published in Education Week titled, “Science Standards Require a Teacher-Learning Rethink.” Click here to read the piece. Michaels and her colleagues are designing, scripting, piloting and evaluating a web-based system of learning for practicing teachers as well as for preservice courses. Based upon years of research, this image-rich professional development system presents a unique contribution to the multi-faceted work so necessary to convey a new vision for teaching and learning science.

The new standards and goals for realigning practices across the country represent a challenging departure from long-standing practice in K-12 science education. The standards – NGSS, Common Core, and NRC Frameworks – set the bar very high, Michaels notes. States, districts and schools across the country are eager for materials that can help with implementation. The Next Generation Science Exemplar will help school leaders and teachers better understand what alignment with these standards looks like in real-world practice, through the use of existing classroom videos, selected by the researchers, which demonstrate best practices and effective argumentation in the K-12 science content.

"This platform illustrates in tangible ways how Clark researchers, in collaboration with others, provide vision for translating research into useable knowledge. This work holds promise for reforming teacher practice in substantial ways.” ~ Nancy Budwig, Associate Provost and Dean of Research

“Kids do love science and the teachers know that,” says Michaels. “The sense that you cannot get in the abstract—from only reading the framework or the standards—is a vision of what implementation actually looks like, feels like and entails in a real classroom with 25 or more linguistically and culturally diverse students. The NGSX web-based prototype will help you see it, hear it and imagine yourself doing it. You have to see the complexity.”

Nancy Budwig, Clark University Associate Provost and Dean of Research, says the Next-Gen Exemplar System “represents a major breakthrough in helping teachers and other school leaders translate theory into practice. This platform illustrates in tangible ways how Clark researchers, in collaboration with others, provide vision for translating research into useable knowledge. This work holds promise for reforming teacher practice in substantial ways.”

The evolution of the Next Generation Science Exemplar has been remarkably swift. With support from the Mosakowski Institute, Michaels, Moon and Reiser convened more than 20 colleagues from across the country for a two-day design meeting, held at Clark in June. By early fall the NSF grant was awarded and in October a subset of that group made a presentation to state science leaders attending a national meeting at NSF headquarters in Washington D.C.  Later, Michaels and others presented the exemplar project to representatives from 45 states and the District of Columbia at the “Building Capacity for State Science Education” (BCSSE) conference in Indianapolis that drew more than 400 participants.

Laura Faulkner (’10/MPA ’11), Next Generation Science Exemplar project coordinator says that,   when reaching out to various states, several education leaders exhibited enthusiasm. “The teachers want to be actively involved in the design of the prototype that will influence science teaching in years to come.”

During the first half of 2013, several states will be piloting a “beta” version of the Next Generation Science Exemplar pilot study group pathway as well as developing a research question specific to each state on professional learning and practice. States will collect data in response to their question during the pilot phase.

“Clark University is a leader in this kind of innovative vision of professional learning, where people are being inducted into new and complex practices, but in a way that is scalable and   accessible,” Michaels says. She adds that her team draws on Clark’s legacy as “a thought leader on the notion of networked improvement communities – that university research partnerships with K through 12 educators must be robust and collaborative.”

The Hiatt Center at Clark University focuses on research related to K – 12 education with a special focus on the challenges of educating children in an urban setting.

Professor Michaels also is Education Department Chair and Senior Research Scholar at the Hiatt Center for Urban Education at Clark University. She is involved in a variety of research projects that focus on academically productive talk in math, science, and English Language Arts, from pre-kindergarten through high school. She is co-author of the award-winning book, Ready, Set, Science! Putting Research to Work in the K-8 Science Classroom,” as well as a co-author of the CD-ROM suite of tools, Accountable Talk: Classroom Conversation that Works,” which is used in large urban districts throughout the country.

Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a small, liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark’s pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark’s faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to contemporary challenges in the areas of psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University’s motto: Challenge convention. Change our world. www.clarku.edu