Teacher Preparation > Supporting Practicing Teachers > Browse Professional Development Programs > North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership

A part of the SERC Teacher Professional Development Program Collection

Map of the regional distribution of NCOSP school districts institutes of higher education and supporting partner locations.
Geographic distribution of NCOSP partners. Image courtesy of NCOSP.
Page prepared for SERC by Jennifer L. B. Anderson, Ph.D.

North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP)

Program URL: http://www.ncosp.wwu.edu/
Program Type:
Regional University-School Partnership

Program Size:
Multiple Institutions and Schools
Grade Level: 3rd - 10th grades


George Nelson, Ph.D. - Principal Investigator (website)
SMATE Program at Western Washington University

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

Program Summary


The North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP) Program is a large, regional partnership between a university, four community colleges, 26 school districts, and other regional education agencies. The primary goals of the partnership are to "reform science education in grades 3-10 through teacher professional development, implementation of new curriculum materials, and development and support of learning communities in the schools." This program is funded by NSF and will affect 1140 practicing teachers and 72,000 students.

What was the impetus for the program?

The Science Education Group at Western Washington University is composed of two faculty from each science department (Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and Physics). Their teaching load is split between their disciplinary science and science education. In addition to teaching methods classes to pre-service teachers, these faculty observe and mentor practicing science teachers through a variety of professional developmet activities.

By the late 1990's, the Science Education Group wanted to do something to address science education on a regional level for a number of reasons. Starting in 2008, Washington State will require 10th grade students to pass a test in order to graduate from high school. School districts were concerned about their science curriculum and teacher preparedness. "Despite the commitment to research-based curriculum at the elementary level, implementation support has been minimal; professional development to enhance teacher knowledge of the content supporting the curriculum has been absent; and access to services and content experts in the rural and isolated districts has been limited." (From full NCOSP grant proposal.) In addition, there was a large turnover in teachers in the NCOSP districts because of the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers that represent the diversity of their students and/or teach many subjects in rural school settings.

After a national search to hire a new Head of Science Education, many regional meetings and discussions were held between faculty, teachers, and administrators to evaluate the needs of the local schools and determine the best action plan. The ideas of all the partners came together under the NCOSP program and a large grant from NSF was obtained to implement this program. NCOSP started in September 2003.

How is the program structured?

This partnership includes Western Washington University, four community colleges (Everett Community College, Northwest Indian College, Skagit Valley College, and Whatcom Community College ), 26 school districts, two educational service districts (Olympic ESD114 and Northwest ESD189), Washington State LASER, the Naval Undersea Museum, and Washington State MESA.

NCOSP is working toward its goals through three main efforts.

  1. To provide high-quality professional development and on-going support for teachers within the region through the NCOSP Summer Academies for Teacher Leaders and a series of mentoring relationships. Using a tiered strategy, faculty interact with a selected group of teachers from the region who are trained in the NCOSP programs and then go to the other teachers in the region to pass on this information through further professional development.
  2. To design a new year-long science curriculum for future elementary school teachers and other non-science majors. This curriculum will be taught by all five participating colleges and universities to promote more cohesiveness across the region and to offer further support for local teachers.
  3. To completely revise the science education methods courses for elementary and high school teachers. Again, this curriculum will be taught at all NCOSP colleges and universities so that teachers are familiar with each other's backgrounds and knowledge.

Who is involved?

NCOSP is managed and run through the Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education (SMATE) Program at Western Washington University. Approximately 10 faculty have joint appointments between SMATE and their respective disciplines (science, mathematics, technology, or education). 19 more faculty work with the program through the four community colleges. The faculty design and run the Summer Academy for Teacher Leaders along with the science Teachers on Special Assignments (TOSA).

Six teachers from the region are selected each year as science Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSA). These TOSAs spend a year at Western Washington University working alongside the NCOSP faculty to develop curriculum and professional development opportunities. They act as liaisons to the districts and assist in the Summer Academy for Teacher Leaders.

At each school involved in the program, there is a Teacher Leader who "will access services and resources at Western Washington University and receive direct support from higher education scientists and science TOSAs, thereby joining a professional learning community that extends beyond their own districts. These Teacher leaders will participate in content-based professional development and be equipped to provide similar experiences to their peers through learning communities within their buildings. 67 of the 147 Teacher Leaders will serve as District Leaders to provide leadership and coordination across the district." (From full NCOSP grant proposal (word download).) Teacher Leaders attend a two-week Summer Academy each summer for three consecutive years.

Teacher Leaders then return to their own school buildings to provide further support and professional development to all science teachers within each school. The NCOSP grant provides funds for the extensive amount of release time required for these teachers to build such strong learning communities.

In addition, school principals and other administrators are invited for one day during each Summer Academy to work and learn with the teachers. In this way, support for the program can be established through all levels of administration, encouraging communications, and ensuring support for these reform efforts.

Through all of these efforts, there are approximately 20 faculty involved at Western Washington University, along with 6 TOSAs, who reach almost 150 Teacher Leaders, who then work with 1140 science teachers throughout the region, affecting 72,000 third through tenth grade science students.

How is the program evaluated?

NCOSP has instituted an extensive research and evaluation plan to document and determine the results of the program. "Higher education science faculty, one post-doctoral research associate, and four graduate students will conduct research related to the reform goals of the partnership.... All partners - teachers, school districts, colleges, and universities - will collect data and apply research findings to institute necessary changes to achieve the project goals."

The program will be evaluated both internally and externally. "The external evaluation team will attend select project activities, conduct participant interviews, compare project goals to delivery, assess impact of project activities, analyze data summaries and documents prepared by the internal evaluators, and submit a written report to the project directors annually." The internal evalution team will "coordinate the overall project evaluation and collect, summarize, and analyze evaluation data."

In addition, "non-participating classrooms, districts, and higher education institutions will be identified and studied as a comparison.... Interviews and classroom observations will be conducted before the first interventions to provide a pre-assessment measure of the current state of teaching in the targeted classrooms and a backdrop for anticipated changes in practice."
(Quotes are from the full NCOSP grant proposal (word download).)

How is the program maintained and funded?

Major funding for NCOSP is provided through a five year (2003-2008) grant from the National Science Foundation Math and Science Partnership Grant #0315060. The full grant text is available from NCOSP online (word download).

Hints for starting a program like this:

Susan DeBari, Ph.D. (personal communication)

References and Notes: