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A part of the SERC Teacher Professional Development Program Collection

Photo of Dr. Scott Linneman Department of Geology Department of Science Education SMATE program Western Washington University
(Page prepared for SERC by Jennifer L. B. Anderson, Ph.D.)

GK-12 Catalyst for Reform

Program URL: http://gk12.wwu.edu/
Program Type:
University-School Partnership

Program Size:
1 University, 4 School Districts
Grade Level: Grades 7 and 8


Scott Linneman, Ph.D. - Principal Investigator
Department of Geology and SMATE Program at Western Washington University

Program Summary


The GK-12 Catalysts for Reform program partners graduate students and advanced undergraduate students with local practicing teachers to serve as resources knowledgeable about both the content and applications of their discipline. This program explores "how to best use masters-level graduate students to achieve improved middle-school science teaching and learning through support of systemic reform." (From grant award abstract)

What was the impetus for the program?

The North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP) had recently been formed at Western Washington University and Dr. Linneman was already aware of NSF's GK-12 Program. It seemed straightforward to design a program supporting NCOSP that connected science graduate students with practicing teachers, taught future scientists about how public schools operate, and supported the needs of local teachers who were transitioning to a new curriculum. Because of immediate science reform needs at the middle school level, the Catalyst for Reform program chose to focus on local 7th and 8th grade science classrooms.

How is the program structured?

Western Washington University has partnered with four local schools districts: Bellingham, Lummi Tribal, Mount Vernon, and Nooksack Valley. These school districts were chosen to be near to the Western Washington University campus (less than 30 miles away) so that schools would have convenient access to university resources. These schools are all partners within the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP) and therefore are currently adopting new science curriculum through the extensive NCOSP program. In order to assist with the transition, the GK-12 fellows are partnered with leader teachers in these four school districts to act as resources throughout the academic year. Fellows spend 15 hours per week in the classroom with their partner teacher.

Fellows attend an intensive two-week summer workshop where they are immersed in inquiry instruction for 4-5 hours per day. They engage in team-building exercises, are challenged to develop a very deep understanding of topics they already feel they "know", and explore constructivist ideas. During the first week, they focus on learning. During the second week the participating teachers arrive, work with the fellows, and partnerships are created between teacher and fellow based on content, geography and personality.

Who is involved?

Over 3 years of the program, 8 science faculty and 27 science graduate students from Western Washington University are partnered with 25 middle school teachers from four nearby school districts.

The faculty supervise and facilitate the program, as well as advise the graduate students in their majors. These faculty are part of the SMATE group and their role is to be liasons between the Fellow-Teacher partnership and Western Washington University. The faculty are scientists and science education specialists who can help with teaching issues, but also help connect the teachers to resources at Western Washington University.

The graduate students at Western Washington University receive full tuition and a stipend for one year of their Masters graduate program in either Biology, Chemistry or Geology. The participating students are called "fellows" and they each spend 15 hours per week assisting their partner middle school teacher in the classroom. (The graduate fellows are not teaching majors, but get paid through this program rather than as a research or teaching assistant.) This allows the fellow to spend a lot of time with one teacher and make a larger difference over the course of the year than if the fellow visited numerous classrooms for much shorter periods of time. The fellow's stipend is paid by the participating school. In addition, the fellows meet for bi-weekly seminars about inquiry-based teaching throughout the school year.

The participating teachers work with the fellows during the summer workshop and throughout the year. The teachers are compensated for the one week of the summer workshop where they help to train the fellows.

How is the program evaluated?

The GK-12 Catalyst for Reform program is evaluated in a number of ways including gathering information about the fellows and teachers who participate in the program, assessing the professional development aspects of the program, and collecting on-going information about the activities of the teachers, fellows, participating schools and the faculty at Western Washington University. Both the fellows and teachers write about their experiences, answer surveys, participate in entry and exit interviews, and allow GK-12 program participants to visit their classrooms. In specific, evaluations are not focussed on the achievement of the students, but rather the changes in attitudes and understanding of teaching and learning over the course of the school year for the teachers and fellows.

How is the program maintained and funded?

Funding for this program is provided by the National Science Foundation through its Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program through Grant #0338354.

Hints for starting a program like this:

Scott Linneman, Ph.D. (personal communication)