Improving Programs

Part of the InTeGrate Washington State Colleges and Universities Program Model

As a result of this program, we now have a shared and growing commitment to collaborate in improving STEM teacher preparation throughout Washington State. We have a common vision and a plan for implementing that common vision. We've taken a systems approach to change that includes all stakeholders and recognizes the processes and feedbacks within the system.

Program Motivation

With adoption of the NGSS and Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM), Washington's science and math teachers now face rigorous standards calling for high-impact pedagogies that likely were not modeled in their own educational experiences. Teachers are now asked to draw upon deep content knowledge to elicit and understand students' ideas, and to develop pedagogical content knowledge that allows them to respond to and build from those naïve or emergent understandings. They are urged to engage young people in science, engineering, and mathematical practices in authentic and culturally relevant ways, and to build their understanding of the nature of each discipline along with specific disciplinary knowledge using cross-cutting concepts. Therefore, in addition to the demands on preservice teachers, never has more been demanded from those in higher education who prepare future STEM teachers.

STEM teacher preparation in Washington State faces several pressing challenges including: current teacher shortages in science and mathematics, strong demand for STEM majors and jobs, the need to align teacher preparation programs with new state math and science teacher competencies that reflect the NGSS and CCSSM, and the 2015 passage of House Bill 1813 which supports expansion of Computer Science classes across the state. In addition, there is need for greater coherence and collaboration across teacher preparation programs. Individual programs vary widely in size and type, and smaller programs often lack the capacity required to respond to national and state initiatives. They may also lack the personnel and resources to maintain active partnerships with stakeholders (e.g., other teacher education programs, state regulators, local school districts, NGOs, STEM professionals, etc.).

Our objective was to accelerate the adoption of research-based best practices, and improve undergraduate teacher preparation programs individually and collectively. Our work began to address these challenges by bringing together diverse stakeholders in STEM education for three workshops to develop a shared vision for teacher preparation.

Program-Level Goals and Evidence

Goal 1: Take stock of our current STEM teacher preparation program courses and curricula in light of drivers of change.

We identified several external drivers for change in the teacher preparation system in Washington State:

  • Statewide adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards and assessments
  • Revision of state teacher competencies and endorsements based on the NGSS
  • The changing STEM workforce, shifting towards a need for more computer science and programming skills
  • Changing demographics of Washington State, shifting towards more culturally diverse communities

In light of these drivers for change, our goal of "taking stock" had three primary activities associated with it: assessing the strengths and weakness of our own programs, conducting a gap analysis of our current courses against the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and sharing our current successful strategies and resources.

Assessing our programs

In preparation for our first workshop, we asked participants to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of their STEM teacher preparation program(s). In sharing these through an interactive poster session, we discovered common attributes of all of our programs despite geographic, demographic, and cultural differences.

NGSS gap analysis

STEM education faculty from each institution of higher education in the project completed an NGSS gap analysis of their current STEM teacher preparation programs and curricula using a survey developed by Gus Nollmeyer at Eastern Washington University (EWU). This activity allowed us to determine where and to what extent NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Cross-cutting Concepts (CCCs), and Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) were already integrated in current curricula, courses, and endorsements for future STEM teachers across the state of Washington.

Analysis of the results indicated that the majority of faculty at IHE's in Washington State felt their courses and curricula were strong in the NGSS DCIs and Science Practices, but weak in CCCs. These results of the survey (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 672kB May30 15) were shared at the May 2015 workshop. Additional discussion around the survey results indicated that most faculty felt their programs were weak in incorporating engineering, computer science, or sustainability concepts in any meaningful and explicit way.

Sharing successful strategies and resources

We were aware that many programs across the state had experienced success with some components of their program, and that we could learn more about what worked from people in other states. We therefore dedicated much of our second workshop to learning about these effective and innovative programs. These strategies are described in Improving Teaching and Learning.

Goal 2: Create a common vision for the Next Generation of STEM Teacher Preparation in Washington State.

Based on our assessment of gaps and weaknesses in our programs, known successful strategies, and drivers for change in teacher preparation, we aimed to create a shared vision for teacher preparation in Washington State through collaborative planning and discussions. Our approach followed a backward design model, where we first determined the desired outcome and then considered the activities (i.e. the changes to our programs) that would have to happen to support the achievement of the outcome.

Determining the outcome: Who is the STEM teacher of 2030?

Once we had all of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats out on the table, we switched gears to "blue-sky" thinking. How would we envision the ideal STEM teacher of 2030? What is the ideal elementary teacher of 2030? Middle-level science teacher? Secondary science teacher?

Characteristics of the STEM teacher of 2030

The common characteristic that everyone identified for teachers at all levels is confidence in their ability to learn and teach new things. Groups also identified characteristics that are more particular to levels of teaching:

  • The Elementary Teacher of 2030
    • Possesses lots of dispositions: curiosity, willingness to teach STEM, integrative and problem-based
    • Continues to learn throughout their career as content knowledge changes over time
    • Operates from a resource perspective rather than a deficit perspective
    • Knows that what they do helps kids produce an identity
    • Politically and culturally sensitive to be able to articulate perspectives to different audiences
    • Is a problem finder in addition to a problem solver
  • The Middle School Teacher of 2030
    • Is able to integrate content that is artificially broken out into disciplinary areas
    • Is skilled in problem-based learning and service learning, and looks at the community as a resource
    • Creates an environment of rich, sense-making discourse in the classroom
    • Reflects on their own learning
    • Is able to build ideas over the course of a unit rather than isolated concepts
    • Is comfortable with ambiguity while providing scaffolded inquiry: they engage in responsive teaching
    • Possesses the skills to collaborate with teacher teams
    • Is synthetic: able to pull people, tools, community, content together as needed
  • The High School Teacher of 2030
    • Possesses the ability and confidence to learn and teach new technology
    • Is ethical
    • Possesses deep content knowledge and higher-level skills within the STEM disciplines
    • Is an integrativist rather than a specialist
    • Is a lifelong learner who keeps up with changes and developments in content knowledge
    • Bases instructional decisions on student learning
    • Is an expert in pedagogical practices and formative assessment
    • Is willing and able to collaborate

The characteristics generally fell into three categories:

  • Cultural
    • Teachers are knowledgeable about how schools work and have a vision for future.
    • Teachers are knowledgeable about and able to work effectively with diverse students, colleagues, families, community organizations, industry/business, and community in general. Teachers believe all students can learn.
    • Teachers are active participants in Professional Learning Communities.
  • Pedagogical
    • Teachers have strong pedagogical content knowledge.
    • Teachers are able to facilitate learning across disciplines.
    • Teachers are able to create inclusive learning environments that foster collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
  • Disciplinary
    • Teachers understand and use the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards to guide instruction.
    • Teachers are knowledgeable about Engineering and Computer Science and how to integrate these subjects with other STEM subjects.
    • Teachers apply knowledge to real-life experiences, making science relevant to daily life and decision making.

Activities that need to be in place

Based on our vision for the outcome, we determined the characteristics that teacher preparation programs would have to have in order to produce the teachers we envisioned. These programs needed to:
  • Strengthen clinical practice in our programs (i.e., an apprenticeship model similar to medical school programs),
  • Strengthen induction both by extending support systems for our students as they enter the classroom and supporting mentor/master teachers,
  • Strengthen Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) components of our current programs, particularly by integrating pieces that are currently separated,
  • Exploring Education for Sustainability as a potential framework for shifting from science and math teacher preparation to STEM teacher preparation,
  • Integrate math and the Common Core State Standards more deeply with science,
  • Integrate computer science and engineering with science and math teacher preparation.
In addition, we identified three cross-cutting ideas that all Washington STEM teacher preparation programs need to address:
  • Organizational change,
  • Building effective collaborations, and
  • Recruiting and Supporting the success of Underserved Students in STEM majors and careers, including STEM teaching.

The common vision

As a result of this backward design process, we were able to develop a shared vision for STEM teacher preparation, reflecting our collective ideals and values combined with evidenced-based teaching, learning, and assessment practices.

A common vision for the Next Generation of STEM Teacher Preparation in Washington State

  • STEM teacher preparation programs have a strong induction component including placement with expert mentors, training for mentors and initiation into professional learning communities.
  • Disciplinary departments and teacher preparation programs employ strong diversity recruitment efforts. STEM teaching is promoted as an exciting and fulfilling career opportunity rather than a good back-up plan.
  • STEM teacher preparation programs have extensive clinical (field-based) components and are collaborative, working with exemplary in-service teachers and schools that practice in ways we want to reproduce.
  • Future teachers' experience with undergraduate STEM courses models student-centered learning experiences that they are expected to re-create with their students.
  • Teacher preparation programs are structured to foster continuous improvement via feedback and collaboration with inductees, schools, industry, government and other community stakeholders.
  • Courses, curricula, and pedagogy are evidence-based and tightly connected with clinical experiences (STEM, not science, math and engineering in different silos).

Goal 3: Develop action plans to implement the common vision across the state.

We established two sets of working groups. The first set was aligned according to the activities that needed to be in place (induction, clinical practice, etc.), and the second set consisted of institutional or regional teams that would be the functional units to implement changes within their own setting.

The primary result of this process was the development of a proposal submitted to the NSF-IUSE program. The proposed project will build upon the work already done, and institutional teams of STEM faculty and administrators will work with K-12 educators and other stakeholders in their regions to develop unique action plans for aligning and improving STEM teacher preparation courses and curricula at their institutions. Through a set of structured institutional discussions, plus facilitated online discussions with other IHE teams across the state, participants will develop a set of locally relevant solutions to critical STEM teacher preparation needs. Teams will also identify local, regional, state, and other resources available to address these needs and create initial goals, strategies, and actions for improving STEM teacher preparation at their institutions.

Summary of NextGen WA proposed project:

The Next Generation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Teacher Preparation in Washington State (NextGen-WA) is an ambitious, multi-institutional collaboration to transform teacher preparation statewide. The three primary goals of NextGen-WA are: (1) to improve the majority of STEM teacher preparation programs in the state (impacting greater than 90% of Washington's future STEM teacher graduates), (2) increase recruitment of qualified and diverse STEM students into teaching, and (3) create an adaptive, research-based model for improving STEM teacher preparation through collaboration. While fully achieving these goals is likely to take 5-10 years, anticipated outcomes for NextGen-WA efforts during the next four years include: (a) alignment and reaccreditation of Washington's science teacher preparation programs to support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), (b) creation of new secondary teaching endorsements in Computer Science and Engineering as well as an Elementary Science endorsement, (c) stronger ties between science and math teacher preparation programs within and across institutions, (d) improved understanding of what it means to prepare science and math teachers to be STEM teachers, (e) better articulated pathways and incentives for diverse STEM students to become elementary and secondary teachers, and (f) an initial, tested model for improving STEM teacher preparation statewide through collaboration.

To achieve these goals, the proposed project will: (a) continue the work of creating a common vision for STEM teacher preparation in Washington State begun during three state-wide, InTeGrate-funded workshops held in 2015, (b) share, develop, adapt, implement, and evaluate resources and models to achieve this vision, and (c) build a model of continuous, collaborative program improvement. The critical components of teacher preparation this project will address include: improving pre-service teachers' clinical practice and new teachers' induction experiences, improving the disciplinary and STEM pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of preservice teachers, and integrating Computer Science, Engineering, and Sustainability into teacher preparation. Cross-institutional Working Groups dedicated to improving each component will research, create, and produce a set of materials and professional development workshops for Regional Teams of faculty and administrators from Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), P-12 educators, and representatives from STEM businesses, NGO's, and government agencies. These Regional Teams will in turn adapt, implement, and sustain teacher preparation program innovations tailored to their institutions and regions. Three capacity-building components: Organizational Change, Increasing the Diversity of the STEM teaching workforce, and Collaboration Building, will underlie the efforts of every Working Group and Regional Team.

Unexpected Outcomes

Outcome 1: Building leadership capacity

While a goal of the program was explicitly to bring together stakeholders from many different institutions and other organizations, we had to start with people we already knew at those organizations. Word spread about what we were doing, and we invited more people and invited them to invite others. Out of this group emerged new leaders, some unknown to us at the beginning of the project, and others who had been known but hadn't been involved in a leadership position prior. Hosting multiple workshops and continuing to engage in proposal-writing beyond the workshops allowed time for these new leaders to take on more responsibility.

Everyone met new people at every workshop as new participants became engaged. The submitted NSF-IUSE proposal had to be expanded to a collaborative research proposal to accommodate new leaders at all of the involved institutions.

Outcome 2: Aligning parallel efforts

Over the course of our project, we learned about two parallel efforts in teacher preparation in Computer Science and Education for Sustainability. While our specific goals differ somewhat, our overarching goals are the same: improve teacher preparation programs to better prepare future teachers for the classroom of today and tomorrow. We expanded our work to include these two groups, aligning our vision to support collective impact.

Establishing endorsements in Computer Science and Engineering are two of the ongoing project goals, along with developing strategies for implementing the Environmental Sustainability endorsement at more institutions.

Long-term Impact and Next Steps

Our long term goal is to improve science learning and Earth literacy for K-12 students in Washington State. Recognizing that well-prepared science and mathematics teachers are a key component in achieving this goal, our InTeGrate project focused on improving STEM teacher preparation programs across Washington State through collaboration and information sharing among diverse institutions. Evidence of the long-term impact of this work is

  • The progress toward development and adoption of a shared vision for STEM teacher preparation throughout Washington State. We now have a shared and growing commitment to collaborate in improving STEM teacher preparation throughout Washington.
  • Commitment from IHE's throughout the state to participate in the NSF-IUSE funded NextGen WA program that will support the creation and implementation of individual action plans across the state that will focused on improving all aspects of STEM teacher preparation.
  • Improved, regular communications and collaborations about STEM teacher preparation among IHE's in Washington State.