Using FOSS in the Science Preparation of Preservice Teachers for the Elementary Classroom

Dr. Stephen Marvel, Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, and Dr. Alison Rutter, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
September 20, 2005 | FOSS in Schools

Top image: Teachers explore the variables affecting the number of passengers (pennies) that a lifeboat can carry before sinking. this is an activity from the FOSS Variables module.

On October 1–2, 2004, elementary education science methods faculty and science content faculty from Pennsylvania met at Lock Haven University's Sieg Conference Center to explore ways to integrate exemplary elementary science materials into their college classes. This meeting was a first step in forming a collaboration that leaders hope will lead to improvements to the way that elementary education majors are exposed to science. The Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania (LHUP) Science and Mathematics Resource and Technology (SMaRT) Center and Delta Education sponsored the workshop.

The meeting was one of the components of the Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation in Pennsylvania (CETP-PA) project. CETP-PA represents a statewide initiative to join the science, mathematics, and education faculty of 12 campuses with teams of public school teachers, community college faculty, university students, and representatives of business and industry. The National Science Foundation provided funding for CETP-PA.

The goals of CETP-PA are to facilitate systemic change in Pennsylvania by:

  • redesigning teacher preparation and mentoring;
  • developing new professional development opportunities for teachers; and
  • increasing the variety of precollege and outreach programs available to encourage students and mid-career change aspirants to go into the field of teaching science or mathematics.

The grant is designed to change college curricula to meet new state and national standards for mathematics and science educators, to partner education faculty with scientists and mathematicians, to enhance student teaching supervision, and to establish permanent science and mathematics centers on 12 campuses to coordinate and implement the project.

The meeting at the Sieg Conference Center began on Saturday morning when Dr. Keith Miller, LHUP President, and Dr. Roger Johnson, Dean of College of Arts and Science, Lock Haven University, met with everyone over breakfast. Then Jane Degory, the FOSS representative for Pennsylvania, and Dr. Steve Marvel, Professor of Biology at LHUP, explained the purpose of the workshop and discussed work that the LHUP SMaRT Center was doing with FOSS and local school districts. Dr. Miller seemed very interested in hearing about the projects and offered his support to the group and the CETP-PA project.

Dr. Kathleen Blouch, Assistant Professor at Penn State University, and Mr. Dick Close presented the rest of the day's activities. Both are long-time FOSS trainers who have used FOSS modules in their teaching at Lebanon Valley College. Kathy provided the participants with a notebook of materials for the day's activities and started the workshop by providing an overview of the FOSS philosophy of science teaching.

She explained how FOSS was developed at Lawrence Hall of Science and how the FOSS units are developmentally appropriate, pedagogically sound, and are supported by current cognitive research. They also are designed to meet the state and national science standards. Kathy also discussed the 5-E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) model of teaching, stressing the FOSS program closely follows this model.

The backbone of this workshop, however, was the implementation of two of the FOSS modules designed for grades 5 and 6—Variables and Models and Designs. These two units were chosen because they stress important scientific process skills that are used throughout the FOSS program. Dick led the group through the Variables Module, modeling the Lifeboats investigations.

The group performed the activities as though they were students. This hands-on learning helped participants understand the nuances of both conducting the activity and the issues that students may have while doing it themselves. The group was engrossed in the exercise. Through active participation in the investigation, the group was able to go beyond the basic lesson and discussed alternative approaches to the task that might be relevant to elementary education majors. Dick did not treat this activity as an isolated science lesson; instead, he integrated it with a social studies perspective by using a video clip from the film Titanic to make real-world connections to the activity. By using the video, he heightened our interest and awareness of the importance of this scientific exploration.

Kathy Blouch modeled the Black Boxes investigation from the Models and Designs Module. The group was thoroughly engaged in this activity and seemed excited at the prospects it invited. Through this exercise, the group also learned about themselves as learners, as they worked cooperatively with each other—another important aspect of FOSS. Kathy walked the participants through the major aspects of the investigation, explaining how the individual investigations fit together to develop students as scientific thinkers. The participants commented that the investigation enhanced mathematical reasoning by using data and analysis skills (part of the NCTM standards). Furthering the cross-discipline connections, the group learned firsthand that students would have additional opportunities to work on their reading and writing skills by maintaining science notebooks and doing research using the FOSS Science Stories.

Kathy also introduced the assessment design integrated into the FOSS program, an aspect that is becoming increasingly important in Pennsylvania. She pointed out that the FOSS program offers multiple levels of assessment and encourages diagnostic pre-assessment and formative assessments through keeping the notebooks and referring to specific investigation sheets. The program also offers summative evaluations in which students assess their own learning and teachers evaluate the effectiveness of the investigation as a means of student learning. These assessments are related to the state and national standards.

Finally, the group reviewed its progress as learners of FOSS and its implementation as an inquiry science program suitable for their students. They discussed ways in which FOSS can enrich teaching science methods to preservice students and help them learn and understand the process of inquiry science. The group also discussed the implications for using a program like FOSS as a means of helping schools meet standards and improve test scores, as well as improve an interest in science both in teachers and their students.

The session ended by briefly talking about goals for using FOSS and continuing the experience and learning begun at this workshop. There seemed to be general agreement that the participants should continue to meet and learn together. A listserv was discussed as a means for keeping the discussion flowing, as was making plans for another workshop next spring or fall. Both of these would be helpful in sustaining interest as the participants head back to the classroom.

For more information, contact:

  • Dr. Stephen Marvel
    Department of Biological Sciences
    Ulmer Hall
    Lockhaven, PA 17745
  • Dr. Alison Rutter
    Assistant Professor, East Stroudsburg University
    Department of Early Childhood & Elementary Education
    200 Prospect Street
    East Stroudsburg, PA 18301