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UW students and professors help implement new science and engineering standards

Partnership for Science & Engineering Practices

Partnership for Science & Engineering Practices -

Santosh Devasia, interim associate dean of research and graduate studies in the college of engineering, discusses levers and pulleys with a workshop participant. The skills workshop was for teachers who volunteered to be part of a pilot program for a new science curriculum in the Renton and Seattle school districts. 

Photo by Courtesy photo

In partnership with the UW Colleges of Engineering and Education and the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), the state-funded Partnership for Science & Engineering Practices project is aiming to help Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and the Renton School District (RSD) adapt their existing science curriculum to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for grades 3-8.

A team of UW engineering and education professors, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students attended a skills workshop earlier this summer for elementary and middle school SPS and RSD teachers, who will be among the first in Washington state to pilot the teaching of new national and science and engineering standards in their classrooms.

“It came about when ISB, the RSD, the UW College of Engineering, and me representing SPS, came together in October of last year to see how we could team together to coordinate our resources,” said Dan Gallagher, SPS science program manager and principal investigator leading the project. “In Seattle, we’re starting with a group of 40 elementary school teachers who volunteered to participate in this project and in the RSD, it’s middle school science teachers who have agreed to participate.”

To assist in implementing the new standards, the project received a $1 million Washington State Math Science Partnership grant from the Department of Education. The project will run over the course of three years and will eventually expand to grades K-2 once collaborators learn and apply the model they will develop.

Throughout the pilot program, teachers will explore core NGSS practices consisting of Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Constructing Explanations, and Designing Solutions to Problems. The project will focus on a different science domain for each of the three years, and the past “science inquiry” approach has been reconstructed to focus on core scientific and engineering practices. Unlike past standards, the emphasis on argumentation and scientific explanation are new components.

“We learned that you don’t learn a list of facts on one hand and then a different day, learn general skills,” Gallagher said. “You have to learn the two together. What we are doing is trying to make sense of a few pieces of the new standards, look at the instructional material we already have in hand, and then enhancing these to meet the new standards.”

Philip Bell, UW professor of science and math education, and UW associate director of the Institute for Science and Math Education, Andy Shouse, are core partners who provide expertise in the NGSS and support networks of teachers within the two school districts.

James Riley, professor of mechanical engineering, was one of many UW participants to facilitate group discussions with teachers during the summer workshop. He met with a smaller group of fifth grade teachers who specialize in land and water.

“I was impressed with what they were doing,” Riley said. “I can see where they can take previous teachings and modify them to fit the new standards.”

Riley said the UW instructors had two roles: Providing context into how science subjects are applied in current engineering jobs and research. The other, introducing the scientific and engineering process where arguments need to be evidence based.

Julia Ward, a fifth grade teacher from Whittier Elementary, said she was grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with UW professors.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to work with a group of other professionals to create lessons and units that meet the new standards,” Ward said. “I think at this point we are just trying to fit little pieces into the work we already do. I see how fast the world of science and engineering is changing and we will have to do a pretty awesome job as educators to keep up.”

Reach reporter Karina Mazhukhina at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @karina9m

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