Report from Science and Math Pilot - December 2011

Report from Science and Math Pilot - December 2011
Fri, 01/13/2012 - 16:01

Belize Literacy Project 5370 November
December 2011 Professional Development Workshop and Curriculum Piloting: Final Report and Recommendations.

Courtney Hughes, Science Curriculum and PD lead, Rotary 5370
Jeff Semenchuk, Math Curriculum and PD Lead, Rotary 5370

Executive Summary

From November 27 to December 3 2011 we visited Belize City schools as well as hosted a three-day workshop for Science and Math Curriculum Pilot teacher learning coaches and district curriculum officers. The intent of the workshop was to continue to support teacher and curriculum officers' capacity-building in planning for, facilitating learning in, and assessing student learning in the revised science and math curriculum. The workshop focused on identifying issues and challenges with the revised curriculum, specific to implementation in the classroom, teacher knowledge, skills and abilities in inquiry-based teaching, learning and assessment, resource needs and availability and support from Ministry of Education through to colleagues and principals. These issues were made explicit through a participatory and collaborative process teachers and curriculum officers undertook. Further, the workshop focused on solutions and strategies to achieve success in implementing the revised curriculum and building teacher and MoE staff capacity in Belize. Some solutions and strategies to achieve success included organizing and collaborating in monthly meetings in their respective schools and districts, staying positive and being supportive to each other and to their colleagues, and working together to co-develop and share teaching and learning resources. In addition to this, teachers and curriculum officers further honed their skills and abilities in identifying and understanding the big ideas in science and math curricula, as well as planning for, facilitating learning in, and assessing inquiry-based science and math. Activities were hands-on and collaborative, modeling the way for teachers and curriculum officers. Suggestions for curriculum revisions and finalization, as well as 2012-14 curriculum implementation, and teacher and curriculum officer professional development were also discussed with Mr. Nelson Longsworth. Science curriculum revisions and finalization will be co-lead with Courtney Hughes and Nelson Longsworth from January 2012-May 2012. Brenda Elder, from Alberta Education will also be solicited to assist Courtney and Nelson. Phased curriculum implementation is planned for 2012-13 in Infant 1, Infant 2, Standard 1 and Standard 3. Phase Two includes Standard 2, Standard 4, Standard 5 and Standard 6 for 2013-14. PD for curriculum officers and teachers is tentatively planned for February 2012, to further develop knowledge and skills in workshop facilitation and specific to science and math curriculum; additional PD is also suggested for all Belizean teachers in August 2012 similar to past literacy and CAPS PD (for example, with approximately 500 teachers and MoE staff). 

Overview of the Workshop

A three-day workshop for the learning coaches and district curriculum officers piloting the science and math revised curricula, from the 16 committed pilot schools. The purpose of the workshop was to introduce electronic technology (e-tech) to the teachers and curriculum officers, identify issues teachers were having in piloting the revised curriculum as well as opportunities they could capitalize on to achieve success. The workshop also entailed hands-on activities to facilitate learning in inquiry-based science, as well as working with math manipulatives to continue to develop and hone their knowledge and skills. E-tech. Teachers and curriculum officers were provided with netbooks, of which a short PD session was given. The intent was to ensure teachers were functional on the netbooks, using Linux as well as to introduce them to the concept of Moodle. Many of the teachers had not used a netbook or other form of computer and so were unsure of their abilities. They were assigned a short "homework" assignment, where they must complete a questionnaire that seeks to understand to what level and how do teachers use e-tech in their teaching, to date. They are to email their completed assignment to Ray Cimolini (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) where information will be used to inform the next steps of e-tech PD. In addition to this, some issues that teachers identified with using e-tech were their low level of understanding, from very basic information such as creating a word document, typing and saving it, to more complex tasks such as using Moodle. They indicated they would like to see a PD session that goes through the different functional components of using e-tech, such as their netbooks, with specific examples and activities that walk students through the steps. Additionally, students suggested a guidebook of 'how-to' steps would also be helpful, so that they could share this with their colleagues and bring them up to a functional level of using e-tech. Teachers also suggested that an entire session, with hands-on activities and a printed guidebook, would be helpful for them to learn Moodle. Science Overview. Based on the workshop evaluation feedback from the August 2012 PD sessions introducing the revised science and math curriculum, this worksho fpcused on developing a sense of community between teachers' and curriculum officers' through identifying issues they were experiencing in piloting the revised curricula, as well as determining what solutions would work for them and developing the strategies to achieve success based on addressing the issues. This workshop also focused on addressing the specific challenges teachers were having with tackling concepts (learner outcomes) in the science curriculum. They expressed that they had difficulty in knowing the what level of detail they must delve into, in facilitating learning in some concepts, as well as how long they should take on one lesson or in a unit, and so on. The first half of the workshop was identifying the issues, solutions and strategies for success. The second half of the workshop was dedicated to developing an understanding of the Big Ideas in the Science Curriculum, as well as learning how to deconstruct the big ideas into concepts and causal explanations and then planning to teach for these big ideas by using the Inquiry Continuum and the 5E's in science as a guiding framework for planning and conducting investigations. The teachers found these activities very "enlightening" and were keen to return home to share their learning's with their colleagues. After the end of the final session, the teachers were assigned "homework". They were asked to use what we had learned of Big Ideas in Science to develop an articulated unit plan in Science for the next term (beginning January 2012), related to whichever strand they would be teaching. Teachers were also asked to select one concept from their unit plan and develop a lesson plan for it (again, using the inquiry continuum framework and 5E's to guide them). Teachers will submit these unit and lesson plans to their district curriculum officers as well as copy to Courtney Hughes so that they can receive constructive feedback on their planning. Further, Courtney will help support the development of a teacher's guide of unit and lesson plans so that these can be shared and used by other teachers in Belize, especially for upcoming full curriculum implementation. This teacher's guide, among other locally co-developed resources, are in-progress and a plan of action will be developed. Curriculum officers will meet January 13, 2012 to discuss their upcoming activities, roles and responsibilities. Math Overview. Math followed a similar format as Science, particularly for the first day and till noon of the second day. Activities that followed in the second half of the second day and into the third and final day specifically focused on the different divisions of the curriculum. Every activity that was explored referred to identifying and understanding the big ideas in the math curriculum (and specific to learner outcomes), and how teachers can plan, instruct for, and assess these ideas relative to student learning. Several of the activities explored used the manipulatives kit that was given to Mr. Nelson Longsworth (to be decided whom the kit is shared with, based on need in the school). Using the kit enabled teachers to explore, first-hand, the different types of activities they can do with their own students, and also demonstrated how these activities are linked to curricular outcomes. The primary purpose of these activities was to show the teachers how their students can move towards a higher level of thinking. Overall, the teachers appreciated these new activities, particularly learning how they can be used for a variety of grade levels with the revised curriculum. They also committed to sharing their learning's with their colleagues, as part of their role as learning coaches. Overall What We Heard. We solicited feedback from teachers in various ways. First, we used the framework of a KWL chart to identify what teachers new, to date, about the revised curricula (math and science) and what teachers wanted to know. We learned that teachers recognized and appreciated the student-centered and experiential nature of the revised curricula. We also learned teachers appreciated the cooperative learning possibilities embedded within learner outcomes, and that the outdoor, local, environmental context of the curricula was well-received. Teachers indicated that these elements enabled them to be creative in their planning and instruction, and that they noticed shifts in their students' attitudes (e.g. positive outlook related to their local environment, their role in their community, applying skills learned in math and science across other subjects, etc). Issues Identification. We also specifically focused on the issues that teachers and curriculum officers were having with the curriculum, from piloting the content in the curricula to infrastructure and other needs. This was a small group activity, participatory in nature, and enabled us to extract very rich information on how teachers were feeling, thinking and reacting to the curriculum piloting. We also asked teachers and curriculum officers to specifically describe whether or not these issues were internal, in terms of their own knowledge, skills, confidence and so on, or external, in terms of principal, MoE or community/parent support, infrastructure needs, etc. These details would be important so as to better identify the possible solutions needed to address the issues, and to develop specific strategies to tackle the issues and achieve success. We found that teachers and curriculum officers shared very similar issues.

The key themes that Science Teachers and curriculum officers identified are: 

  • Resource needs: from electronic technology to books for teachers on instructional strategies and inquiry based activities to manipulatives/tools/equipment for use in their classroom. I asked the teachers to be VERY SPECIFIC on what these issues were and my report will reflect this specificity. I gathered ALL sticky notes, worksheets and chart paper tracking this and have made my own notes on their discussions
  • Support: from principals, MoE and their own peers, and even support from parents and the community. This was a broad theme that resonated with the entire group.

  • Time Management: from how to plan a unit in this new curriculum to accepting that a lesson plan can extend past one 40minute session to understanding that children take time to learn conceptually
  • Infrastucture: needs addressed the lack of or no internet or computers in the school (even for teachers use), the lack of access to online resources that can help guide them in activities for students, to the need for projectors, cameras (to take photos of students doing work or videos they can post on youtube) and even photocopiers to make handouts, etc for students.

  • Conceptual challenges with the curriculum: accepting the change that the science curriculum (math appears to be a bit easier for folks) poses and learning how to teach for Big Ideas (which we will address in tomorrow's activity). Math Teachers identified that issues were:
  • Resources - Teachers are facing problems with the lack of resources. One of the reasons teachers talked about was the resources supplied by their Admin. These may include basic supplies like markers, paper, photocopying, overhead projectors, manipulatives and geometry sets. (In some schools the teachers have to provide their own money to pay for the photocopying ink). Other items include technology and the implementation and use of that technology. Also the teacher had concerns with student work books that will go with the curriculum. Students do have these books but they do not correlate with the new curriculum. There where also discussion about texts/student workbooks should be the same across the country. We had discussions looking at the big picture, how can the people of Belize work with some of these problems on there own instead of looking or waiting for help from others.

  • Curriculum Issues - Many math teachers have been in favor of the new curriculum. But it is going to take some work, which they understand. They believe that they will become better math teachers with this new curriculum. They will need to work on finding solutions/activities for the concepts they will have to teach. They realize this will make them find new and excited ideas but worry about finding their resources to teach the concepts. The use of Moodle was very exciting for them in the area of sharing. There where concerns that some will get their ideas only from the previous curriculum.
  • Staff Development - The math leaders discussed how they can be able to work with their staff members. This included support from their principals to be allowed time to work with their staff members. Meetings with the math teachers on curriculum and the implementation of the ideas that go with the concepts outlined in the curriculum. Release time for training was also discussed. Concerns about staff development for principals was also discuss. Teachers still had concerns on how administration works with the staff and how they can assist with the implementation of the math curriculum.

  • Technology - The teachers are well aware of the impact of technology when it comes to the implementation of the math curriculum. But some problems have became evident during my discussions with the teachers. Some of the problems teachers are experiencing include the use of technology in schools where some schools experience thinks such as the internet/computers blocked by administration. This ranged from the use of tech. tools (access to them) and access to the internet to the access to there notebooks. (Teachers had concerns about this, even on the notebook contract it states that the admin. would be in control of this technology. This was brought up with Jamor and Nelson. When it came to the use of Moodle, the teachers believed it could be a very useful tool in sharing their work. But many are not familiar with the technology. This familiarity may range from basic knowledge of the computer (turning it on) to the understanding on how to maneuver around the operating system. Teachers expressed the need for in-services on Moodle. 

Solutions and Strategies to Achieve Success. 

Based on identifying and articulating the specifics about the issues, we then moved into identifying the solutions and possible strategies that would address the issues and lead teachers and curriculum officers to success. Again, this was a participatory activity in small groups, where teachers and curriculum officers related the solutions they came up with to the specific details in the issues they had. We then had teachers and curriculum officers articulate how they would achieve success, by developing specific strategies related to the solutions that address specific issues. We found that Science Teachers and Curriculum Officers would: 

  • Schedule monthly meetings with MoE and school staff: they articulated that this is what "support would look like from principals, MoE staff, their colleagues, etc. They wanted to have a place where they could share their ideas, learn about new strategies, tools, etc, and lean on each other for support. They even articulated when they would like the meetings and for how long. Curriculum officers will work with teachers and principals to ensure these meetings occur.
  • Need PD specific for curriculum officers: this was interesting; officers want PD specific to the science and math curriculum, learning how to help support their teachers when we move to full country curriculum implementation. They even articulated they would like to see this the last week of July, so that they could then sit in with their teachers the first week of August, so that they could be there to help support our facilitators and learnt o be leaders in this area. Excellent capacity building in a sustainable, contextually-relevant way. This was a strong theme that even the teachers supported.

  • Work together to co-develop teacher and student resources: It was suggested that the group use the existing lessons plans that are exemplary, as well as other resources that the teachers themselves have developed, to create a teacher guide. The group came up with the strategy to work together, to share their ideas and lesson plans, activities and so on, so that THEY could develop a guidebook for other teachers to use. One that would be specific to a Belizean context. The group also suggested that by using Moodle (where possible) and through other forms of communication they could share their best ideas on resources they have used. Thus, they could co-develop a listing of what works (and what doesn't and why).
  • Be the role model: the group appeared to commonly understand that they get bogged down by externalities (e.g. lack of support from peers, principals, etc; lack of understanding of topics; too little time, etc) and that this an negatively effect their role as a learning coach to other curriculum pilot teachers. They all agreed, curriculum officers included, that they would stay strong and positive and be the role model for the revised curriculum so that their colleagues would look to them for support and know they can get it. While e-tech did not specifically come up as a strategy for science, some teacher did explain that they would take the time to practice using their netbooks and try to learn Moodle. This also come out in the discussions around PD needs for the future. Math Solutions and Strategies include:

  • Technology: Working step by step through the program, where they are actually doing Moodle with another teacher or a in-service instructor. They believe Moodle is a excellent tool but will not work if they don't get further in servicing so they can help others. What they got out of the session wasn't enough for most of the teachers. It was discussed how computer literate teachers can get involved in helping the leader and other teachers with Moodle also. It was stated that schools with technology should assist schools without. Sharing knowledge is very important and understood as a area that needs to be worked on.
  • Resources: they discussed alternative that they could use for manipulatives and the use of mini whiteboards that introduced to them on Saturday and how that can cut down on photocopying expenses plus take children to a higher level of learning plus a new way of assessment.

  • Sharing: We discussed how we can draw from others' ideas and best practices through sharing and what this can do for teaching and learning in math. 

Daily Exit Ticket.

We also had teachers and curriculum officers complete an 'exit ticket' after each day; this ticket was a reflective piece of information where workshop participants were asked to described one good thing from the workshop that they learned and what they would take back with them to share with their colleagues. We found that teachers and curriculum officers will: 

  • Practice using their netbooks to become proficient with them, as well as learn how to use Moodle
  • Share their learning's of Moodle with their peers and encourage their peers to become familiar with it

  • Look for ways to effectively integrate e-tech into their planning, instruction and assessment as a tool to augment/support their lessons and learning
  • That we all share the same challenges in piloting the revised curriculum (both math and science)

  • That children are learning to work cooperatively, or are building their existing collaborative working skills
  • That sharing information (e.g. lessons, activity ideas, assessment tools, best practices, etc) is a great way to make teaching and learning more meaningful and effective

  • Take a positive approach to continuing with the piloting of the math and science curriculum; we will stay energized and focused
  • Work with others (teachers, curriculum officers and other MoE staff and the Rotarians/volunteers) to develop locally relevant and exemplary resources for Belizean teachers and students

  • Plan to host more regular staff development sessions related to piloting the revised curriculum (math and science) as well as continue to do so when the curriculum is fully implemented next year
  • Host a staff development sessions similar to this one (identifying issues, solutions and strategies); it was constructive and we felt a sense of community after

  • Continue to (and if not, ensure we do) implement outdoor, experiential learning when and where possible, so that we can make concepts and skills more meaningful to students

Overall Recommendations.

Based on our findings from the workshop, we suggest the following recommendations. One general recommendation based on evaluating the progress of implementing the curriculum and ensuring teachers are using an inquiry and problem-based approach to teaching science and math, the logging forms can be used by both teachers reflecting on their lessons, as well we by curriculum officers visiting their classrooms and observing the effectiveness of the lesson. However, caution is urged that this is NOT a policing activity on teachers; rather, the intent would be for curriculum officers to assess the lesson that the teacher is facilitating and making positive and constructive suggestions so as to improve lesson planning, facilitation of learning and assessment. 2011-12 Curriculum Revision Process. Based on the need to ensure the Math and Science Curricula are finalized for full, phased implementation in September 2012, the process must not only be participatory and inclusive of teachers and curriculum officers efforts (e.g. their feedback), but also must be expedited in a timely manner. As such, the following process is suggested, working with Mr. Nelson Longsworth (MoE) and his curriculum team from December 2011-May 2012. 

  •  Joni Valencia and Nelson Longsworth to collect any possible curriculum documents (hard copy or e-copies) with revisions on print (or electronic where possible) curriculum documents from teachers and curriculum officers; collection will take place between January and March 2011
  • Collection of all logging forms on lesson plans from teachers (throughout year)
  • Coding of suggested revisions based on similar themes will occur in tandem with collection of curriculum
  • Team of 2 individuals (e.g. Courtney Hughes and Brenda Elder) to make final changes to one document (in track changes for tracking purposes); one week for final changes and reviews by each person in approximately early May 2012.
  • Completion of revisions by May 30, 2011
  • Printed copies distributed too all schools in Phase One before September 2012. Based on a review already begun, Courtney Hughes has identified some issues in the science curriculum that could be addressed in a timely manner. These include:
  • Ensuring action words are used in the learner outcomes (rather than passive)
  • Focus on the positive in overview of strands (e.g. do not focus on the 'problems' caused by people to the local ecosystem)
  • Be gender neutral in descriptions (e.g. use human-created versus man-made)
  • Ensure logical sequencing in learner outcomes, such as moving from general to specific concepts (some changes can be easily made)
  • Remove redundancies/repetition in topics (e.g. Infant 1 and Standard 2 Your Body and You are too similar)
  • Include locally and/or globally examples for ALL learner outcomes (only some have them and this was identified as being helpful for teachers)
  • Include a reference to a teacher's guide in the document (e.g. in the introductory section or for each strand) (in-progress)

2012-15 Curriculum Implementation Plan. 

Curriculum will be phased in across Belize primary schools, based on discussions with Mr. Nelson Longsworth and the MoE's plan. Phase One includes Infant 1, Infant 2, Standard 1 and Standard 3 in September 2012 through to June 2013. Phase Two includes Standard 2, Standard 4, Standard 5 and Standard 6 in September 2013 through to June 2014. PSE's and BJAT's must be modified and MoE has indicated they are working on this issue.

July 2013 Curriculum Officer Professional Development.

Curriculum officers have requested that they receive PD on the science and math curriculum in order to better support their teachers in implementation. They suggested they would like PD topics to focus on: 

  • Role and responsibilities of the management team in curriculum implementation
  • Inquiry and problem-based teaching strategies in Science and Math, respectively

  • Integration of concepts and skills, including e-tech, from multiple subjects (e.g. connections between teaching science and teaching math, social studies, language arts, physical education, etc).
  • Use of e-tech and Moodle so as to better assist teachers

  • Examples of activities in math and science, so they can demonstrate these to their teachers
  • Examples of how to use different approaches to developing unit and lesson plans, as well as assessment methods and tools

  • Step-by-step guide with activity-based examples of how to use e-tech in the classroom, including how to use Moodle as a teacher to share resources Curriculum officers have requested specific PD so that they can better support their teachers. The curriculum officers also indicated that they would like to help facilitate the PD sessions for teachers in August, 2012 so they can continue to build their facilitation abilities as well as be known as the leaders in their districts. This is a highly suggested activity, in order to build capacity in a sustainable and constructive way. PD for curriculum officers, in order to build their capacity, is suggested for February 24-25 2012.

Facilitation packages for curriculum officers are also highly suggested. Topics included for curriculum officers in the facilitation package can include: 

  • How to facilitate a workshop on lesson planning and assessment (e.g. placemat activity)
  • Instructional Strategies in Science and Math (this was provided to all participants in the August 2011 PD session as well as additional materials in December 2012 PD

Modeling activities manipulatives and experiential learning in Science and Math

Being resourceful and planning for resourcefulness (to address issues of 'lack' of resources, materials, etc) In addition to this, curriculum officers have said they will meet in January 2012 to develop their strategic plan on when and how they will coordinate other monthly meetings with their schools/teachers piloting the curriculum, in order to offer support to the teachers and continue leading in capacity building. Additionally, opportunities exist to engage curriculum officers in organizing e-meetings between Nelson Longsworth and teachers via WebEx. Nelson to coordinate the e-meetings via WebEx.

August 2013 Teacher Professional Development.

PD for teachers should continue to focus on developing the skills and abilities of all teachers in Belize that will be expected to implement the revised, finalized curriculum in September 2012. These PD sessions should be held country-wide, where Rotarian volunteers work with the MoE, including district curriculum officers, to develop capacity as learning coaches as well as provide new strategies, processes, tools and techniques for teachers to facilitate learning in the math and science curriculum. These sessions should be held in each district, and could model the previously successful PD sessions for teachers based on developing knowledge, skills and abilities as learning coaches in literacy and CAPS (but in this case, for science and math curriulum). Ten volunteer facilitators would ikely be required in Belize for both math and science workshop facilitation. These ten volunteers should be partnered with the respective curriculum officers in whichever district they may be working, so as to co-lead the PD sessions. Workshops should be four full days and incorporate topics such as:

  • Identifying the Big Ideas in Science and Math
  • Inquiry-based planning, teaching, learning and assessment using the Inquiry Continuum and 5E's learner cycle model

  • Hands-on activities using a variety of materials and resources to plan and teach
  • Assessment in math and science

  • Step-by-step guide with activity-based examples of how to use e-tech in the classroom, including how to use Moodle as a teacher to share resources

As well, these workshops should be co-facilitated where possible with Science and Math leads (identified below) so as to build their own capacity as Belizean Science and Math experts. These leads will ensure they support capacity building of other Belizean teachers in science and math, as they have demonstrated exceptional knowledge, skills and passion for leadership in these areas. These leads will work alongside curriculum officers to ensure science and math curriculum implementation is supported, as well as identify, record and report on challenges and opportunities that teachers face, so as to address challenges proactively and build capacity in Belize. Identified Belizean Science and Math Learning Coaches that will be leads in their respective disciplines for all of Belizean teachers include:

Science

  • Recia Wade, Biscayne Government, Belize (no email available)
  • Howard Melendrez, Sacred Heart School, Stann Creek (Email: howard-melendrez@yahoo.com)

  • TBA on a lead from Corozal or Orange Walk District (she is amazing but I forget her name and have asked Lisa Carillo-Curriculum Officer to confirm)

Math

  • (Math leads to be identified by Jeff Semenchuk)

In addition to this, based on working with the teachers and MoE staff, the teachers from the December PD sessions identified the need to work with their local science (and other) experts, to have visiting scientists, for example, come to their classroom for their students or for their own teacher PD. This is an opportunity that can and should be explored, particularly with the University of Belize; curriculum officers should work together to help identify areas of possible support and liaise with teachers to ensure this happens. This opportunity can be modeled after the Edmonton Science Outreach Network (ESON) of which Courtney Hughes has a good working knowledge. This would be another opportunity to build capacity in Belize in a contextually-relevant and sustainable way.