Controlling for Quality: The Supports Science Teachers Deserve

One thing I remember decades after my last public school science class is the importance of controls and variables. Without the control in an experiment, we can’t reliably understand the outcomes represented by other variables. One of the most important controls we can offer science students today is a well-supported educator. When teachers have quality materials and aligned professional learning opportunities, they are better prepared to face all the variables that engaging children can present.

I’m excited to share the third post in my series of Q&A with science education experts, featuring leaders from Rivet Education, an organization that supports high quality, curriculum-aligned professional learning across the country. Check out their insights into the tools and services that can best support science teachers now.

Many people–students and adults–feel left out of the science world or like it’s “not for them”. How can we change this narrative?

Rivet: As Steven Covey says, “Put first things first.” By nature, educators will focus on tasks that are aligned to goals and have been prioritized by their leaders. Unfortunately, the hyper focus on math and ELA instruction has resulted in students across the country not receiving regular, meaningful science instruction. One way to change this is for school system leaders to set a strong vision for science instruction alongside a vision for math, ELA, and social studies, and provide their teachers with the resources they need to put that vision into practice.

The business community can also help to reinforce the need for regular, meaningful science instruction in schools, by working with their local school systems to provide students with opportunities to explore high-demand, high-wage, science-based careers that are driving the economy in their local communities. We have seen this model work well in Louisiana through the Louisiana JumpStart program. 

What is the biggest opportunity for advancing high-quality K-12 science education across the country, and what is the biggest challenge?

Rivet: One of the biggest opportunities advancing K-12 science education is the increase in high-quality science curriculum in the marketplace that are aligned to the NGSS and 3 Dimensions. However, one of the challenges is that while the market has grown, it is not as robust as the high-quality instructional materials offerings in ELA and math. Further complicating this issue is that often when a new science curriculum is adopted, it is not supported with a high-quality professional learning plan that will enable teachers to skillfully use the materials. Teachers need support when undergoing such a significant shift such as the implementation of a new curriculum.

How can quality science PL drive better experiences in the classroom for teachers and students? 

Rivet: Rivet Education believes that when educators receive high-quality resources and support, students get the educational opportunities they want and deserve. High-quality science professional learning deepens educators’ understanding of what to teach (content) and how to teach it (content pedagogy) within the context of the instructional materials teachers are using in their classrooms. Teachers who are adequately prepared can confidently deliver high-quality, standards-aligned instruction so that students have access to meaningful, grade-level work every day.  

What do districts and schools need most when it comes to supporting quality professional learning for science education?

Rivet: One of the main resources school and school system leaders need to provide teachers with professional learning aligned to their high-quality science curriculum is an outside expert. There are specific times when leveraging in-house professional learning is ineffective, two of them being the adoption and launch of a new curriculum. The reason for this is that these materials require a deep level of expertise that is often not found within the school or district, because the materials are new to everyone. However, according to our recent research of the professional learning marketplace, leaders fear bringing in outside expertise because they are concerned that the services will not be customized or relevant to the unique needs of teachers and students within their school or school system. And due to a lack of financial resources and time, they are fearful that bringing in an outside expert will be wasteful all around. 

Rivet created the Professional Learning Partner Guide (PLPG) to help ease these frustrations. The PLPG conducts unbiased evaluations of organizations to determine whether they have the skill and expertise necessary to support educators with curriculum-based professional learning. This helps leaders quickly identify external partners who are qualified and can serve as extensions of their internal team. Our recent research also shows that nationally, teachers want dynamic, collaborative, and ongoing professional learning for them to feel confident in using their instructional materials well. The PLPG can support their efforts to find a partner that can meet their unique needs and support a smooth implementation of the materials. 

Thanks to the experts at Rivet Education for sharing ways we can advocate for quality, aligned teacher support in the world of science instruction and beyond. Stay tuned for more on the science front soon!

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.