The Boston Energy in Science Teaching (BEST) project is a Phase II MSP that explores the use of one of the organizing principles of science, Energy, as a vehicle to extend and research how teacher in-depth conceptual understanding translates into deeper student engagement, exposition and learning of science. This innovative focus on Energy will allow the Partnership to examine how fundamental organizing principles (e.g., energy, models, scale, systems, and constancy/change) can be used to better teach science at the elementary through the undergraduate level. The BEST Partnership is comprised of the University of Massachusetts-Boston (UMB), the Boston Public Schools (BPS), Northeastern University (NEU), and Roxbury Community College (RCC). The Educational Development Center (EDC) and UMB conduct the BEST educational research and the Program Evaluation Research Group at Lesley University provides the independent project evaluation. The BEST project researches whether and to what extent participation in concept-driven vs. discipline-driven professional development improves grade 3-8 science teachers and university faculty members conceptual understanding, the nature of their instruction, the outcomes of their students, and/or faculty members' interactions with teachers, as well as their thinking about their own research.
The BEST theory of action exemplifies the hypothesis that in order to understand how the world works, people require a deep understanding of the fundamental concepts of science, a broad base of scientific observations, and a multi-dimensional and coherent approach to learning. It recognizes, however, that current science curricula, course materials, and university science departments are predominantly organized into single scientific disciplines. Teachers and students, especially at the intermediate level (grades 3-8), are re-teaching and re-learning the same concepts within disciplinary silos. These conceptual disconnects and the segregated way of teaching fail to take advantage of the innate curiosity students bring to learning and the real-world connections that they experience daily. At the same time, huge advances in science and technology have recently resulted from a new emphasis on "interdisciplinary" or "cross-disciplinary" research. Therefore, the BEST Partnership effort hypothesizes that similar advances in science learning can be made for teachers and their students through a new emphasis on the foundational concepts that straddle all science disciplines. The Partnership extends and modifies two of its Phase I successful strategies, Contextualized Content Courses (CCC) and Collaborative Coaching and Learning in Science (CCLS), by using Energy, a theme that integrates the fundamental concepts that pervade science, to develop better teaching of science at elementary through undergraduate levels.
The BEST vision is one of a growing community of STEM higher education faculty that works side-by-side with K-12 teachers in science education reform; Boston teachers having a deep sense of the organizing principles of science and their connection to disciplinary curricula; and students from all backgrounds entering and remaining in the STEM pipeline supported by the Boston Science Partnership. The goals of this Partnership are to 1) better understand how increasing teacher knowledge increases student achievement and research why the BEST model is effective, 2) increase teacher understanding of science and therefore teacher efficiency and effectiveness at teaching existing curricula, 3) engage disciplinary higher education faculty in a deep discussion of cross-disciplinary research and science education in order to spark new research directions and center institutional changes in STEM education, and 4) increase student interest and achievement in science in the intermediate grades.
The BEST project will result in an innovative instructional approach integrating the theme of Energy, a science education masters degree, a growing community of strong science educators, a highly effective and innovative professional development model for both college faculty and teachers which will be disseminated to other university-school district partnerships, and significant research on teaching and learning.
Understanding how the world works and participating in civic debates requires a deep understanding of the fundamental concepts of science, a broad base of scientific observations, and a multi-dimensional approach to learning. Unfortunately, science curricula, course materials, university science departments, and college majors are predominantly organized into single scientific disciplines which create a deterrent to fully understanding the complex scientific and societal issues of the day. Teachers of science, whether at the K-12 or university levels, typically view their curricula from a disciplinary perspective, thus students learn the fundamental concepts of science constrained within a disciplinary context and often cannot transcend these boundaries to gain a deep appreciation of science. Interestingly, huge gains in science and technology have recently resulted from a new emphasis on "interdisciplinary" or "cross-disciplinary" research by funding agencies and innovative graduate programs. By focusing the Boston Energy in Science Teaching (BEST) project on the cross-cutting concept of energy, we hypothesized that implementing our successful strategies developed by the Boston Science Partnership (bostonscience.net) would increase the ability of students and faculty to make connections across disciplinary boundaries. During the implementation of the BEST project, energy became more prominent in science education as both a disciplinary core idea and as a cross-cutting concept through the development and publication of the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards. By working closely with our research (Educational Development Center; EDC) and evaluation (Program Evaluation and Research Group) teams, BEST developed strong models of professional development that placed it at the forefront of energy education nationally and internationally. Additionally, in order to measure impacts in the classroom, EDC developed a research tool to assess the quality of the connections teachers make among their current lesson plans, studentsâ€™ real-world experiences, and students' past or future classroom learning. The cornerstone of the BEST project is our graduate course entitled: Energy I—Integrating the Sciences Through Energy. This robust course has been taught 10 times with different teams of interdisciplinary faculty at two universities to over 150 science teachers and has become a regularly offered undergraduate course at Roxbury Community College (RCC). Energy I has changed the way that teachers think about science, allowing them to see more holistically how the scientific disciplines fit together in K-12 education and how science progresses vertically from Kindergarten through 12th grade. A second graduate course, Energy II-Using Energy in the Classroom, uses an innovative classroom videotaping and feedback protocol to focus teachers on the connections that can be made among their lesson plan, different grade bands, different disciplines, and everyday life contexts. A third initiative, the Energy Institute brought together teachers from all grades to map out the energy connections within the existing Boston Public Schools curricula so that all science teachers could better visualize how science curricula can be connected through energy. At the University level, energy was used as a common theme in seminars and workshops to initiate cross-departmental faculty discussions of research and teaching. Partially as a result of these interventions, several cross-departmental educational initiatives and proposals were generated suggesting the effectiveness of the energy concept at bringing together disciplinary faculty to focus on teaching and learning. Through a small supplement to the BEST project, two research summits were organized so that our learnings could be effectively disseminated. The Researcher Summit gathered some of the best energy educators from around the world to grapple with what all students should learn about energy and to share effective strategies to teach them. The submitted papers along with the results of the 3-day summit resulted in a book that was published recently by Springer: Chen, R.F., Eisenkraft, A., Fortus, D., Krajcik, J., Neumann, K., Nordine, J., and Scheff, A. (Eds), 2014. Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 education. Springer, New York, 379 pp. Additionally, the Teacher Summit gathered teachers from around the world to focus on how to teach students about energy through exemplary lesson plans. The resulting book is under contract with NSTA and will be completed by the end of 2014. Finally, the deep thinking about energy in society has allowed BEST to contribute to the US Department of Energyâ€™s Energy Literacy definition (http://energy.gov/eere/education/energy-literacy-essential-principles-and-fundamental -concepts-energy-education). The BEST project has changed the culture of science education at the partner institutions. The discussions and thinking of energy in science education is now deeply embedded in the thinking of science teachers in the Boston Public Schools and faculty at UMass Boston, Northeastern University, and RCC. The robust and effective models of professional development and new understandings of energy teaching and learning have been widely disseminated. Overall, as a result of the BEST project, students, K-12 teachers, university faculty, and educational researchers are all better at making connections horizontally across scientific disciplines and vertically across varying age students through the cross-cutting concept of energy.