FOSS Implementation and Professional Development in Stark County, Ohio

Sue Jagoda
September 05, 2007 | FOSS in Schools

Top image: Teachers at a recent FOSS forum hear how SMART boards can be used to project images, such as those found in Earth History or Weather and Water.

During the Earth History workshop at Grand Canyon in the summer of 2006, six of the participants represented schools in Stark County, Ohio. The group included Nancy BakerCazan, professional development specialist in science and technology at the Stark County Educational Service Center; Todd Alkire and Laura Heckathorn, teachers at North Canton Middle School; Terrie Baumgartner, teacher at Tuslaw Middle School; and B.J. Arnold and Joseph Chermansky, doctoral fellows in the GK–12 program at Kent State University.

I was excited to meet the Ohio group, since a few weeks after the Earth History workshop, I was packing up my California life and moving it to Avon Lake, Ohio, where I would continue my work as a member of the FOSS team. Stark County is located south of Cleveland and about 80 miles southeast of Avon Lake. It was good to know that there would be nearby FOSS folks to connect with in Ohio (the schools in Avon Lake also use FOSS). And after getting to know the Ohio group during our time at Grand Canyon, I knew these were people I wanted to know better. Over the past school year, here's what I've found out.

The SAMM Center

The FOSS implementation for middle school in Stark County began four years ago with assistance from the SAMM Program (Science And Math on the Move), based in Massillon, Ohio. The SAMM Program was instituted in 1996 as a collaborative between educational institutions in Stark County. Representatives from the partner organizations helped develop the original proposal, selected the original equipment, and continue to advise ongoing activities. The current program is administered by the science supervisor of the Stark County Educational Service Center (ESC) and supported by the local districts.

Group on trail

The Star County group enjoys a rest break at Cedar Ridge on the South Kaibab Trail.

The districts and community recognized the cost-effective nature of sharing expensive equipment, which no single district could afford alone, as well as cost sharing for housing the program and providing administrative services. Richard Dinko, former SAMM program administrator, states in an online brochure for the program,

"Science relies heavily on the use of scientific equipment. It is difficult for students to understand how data is collected and impossible for them to perfect observational techniques without hands-on experiences with scientific tools. By sharing the equipment, keeping it in excellent working condition, and training teachers on its proper use and application, the SAMM program cost-effectively improves science and math curriculum throughout Stark County."

The SAMM Center existed in various school locations (usually a corner in someone's storage room) until 2005. In 2005 they were granted a portion of a new professional development addition that was added on to the county career technical center. The Bill Mease Center for Science and Mathematics is now the home of the SAMM Center. They now had a permanent spot in which to store and refurbish materials, as well as conference space and classrooms for providing professional development. When the SAMM Center staff knew they were moving into a permanent building they decided to complete their vision for science reform in Stark County and begin the science kit training and support process.

Professional development for K–12 teachers had been the focus for many years in Stark County and focused on a lead teacher model. In 2005, with the completion of Ohio's new science standards, the SAMM Center staff decided it was time to focus their efforts on kit support for the middle school. The Center now houses, refurbishes, and provides ongoing professional development and support to all 18 school districts in Stark County. During their first year, 14 of the 18 districts purchased at least one of the five available FOSS middle school courses. With that, the SAMM Center became a very busy facility. As of 2006, some middle schools fully implement the FOSS middle school program at grades 6–8; others use a combination of middle school programs, but FOSS is the core component.

The SAMM Center helps provide 65,000 students with equitable access to the scientific tools necessary for effective science and math instruction. The SAMM Center is the only program of this nature in the nation; it was modeled on similar programs at Purdue University in Indiana and Juniata College, Pennsylvania. The SAMM Center provides scientific equipment, such as microcentrifuges, soil test kits, probes, HR microscopes, incubators, gas chromatographs, pH meters, water test kits, portable planetariums, and more. The Center staff also maintains and delivers live organisms, including those needed for the FOSS middle school life science courses.

Group on trail

Teachers discuss their successes and concerns with the FOSS Earth History Course in the small-group session at a FOSS Forum.

Training is provided to teachers who can then borrow the equipment. The equipment is reserved via an online registration system and delivered when needed by the equipment specialist via the SAMM van. A system has also been set up that allows for co-teaching with SAMM Center staff and follow-up support to the classroom teacher.

After three years of grant funding, the participating schools now support the SAMM program financially. The National Science Foundation has awarded several grants to the Stark County Educational Service Center to provide professional development through the SAMM Program. The grants have included a local systemic initiative grant (SATURN) for secondary science in 1999 and a Math/Science Partnership grant for secondary science and math in 2002. The SAMM collaborative includes 17 county school districts, the Stark County Educational Service Center, and other institutions, including:

  • Ashland University
  • Canton Crime Lab
  • Canton Joint Engineering Council(CJEC)
  • Kent State University—Main Campus and Stark Campus
  • Malone College
  • Mount Union College
  • Stark State College of Technology
  • Walsh University

Several groups provided initial funding for the initiative, including:

  • Stark County Schools
  • Stark Education Partnership
  • The Timken Foundation
  • Paul and Carol David Foundation
  • The Diebold Foundation
  • Martha Holden Jennings Foundation
  • The Hoover Foundation
  • Copco, Inc.
  • Spectronic Instruments, Inc.
  • Silk Foundation

FOSS Forum: A Model for Continuing Professional Development

Ongoing professional development is also organized, developed, and provided by staff at the SAMM Center. Nancy BakerCazan's responsibilities as a Science/Technology Specialist include providing FOSS training for teachers new to the program, as well as ongoing professional development and support for FOSS and other programs such as GLOBE and Star Lab.

The SAMM Program provided a financial incentive by supplying half of the cost of the kits for the first year to schools that chose to adopt the FOSS middle school program. The schools received the incentive if they committed to the professional development program requirements. These requirements included 3 days of summer professional development provided by SAMM for each course taught. Teachers had to participate in the professional development in order to receive the FOSS materials. After the implementation year the professional development requirement was cut back to two full days of training that are now provided during the school day (teacher release days) early in the school year. The SAMM Center also provides winter and spring follow-up sessions. These follow-up sessions are called FOSS Forums and focus on one of the FOSS strands. The FOSS Forum that happened this past February focused on the FOSS Earth History and Weather and Water courses. Teachers also had an opportunity to learn about SMART Boards™ and how they could be used with these courses. For example, the Google Earth™ website was projected with the SMART Board as a way to show students up-to-date images of our planet.

According to Nancy, the FOSS forum grew out of the need for further professional development after the initial course trainings. Initially, teachers from all grade levels would come together for trainings with content breakout sessions. With the end of the initial grants to support the trainings and decrease of the professional development budgets in the county, sessions were cut to three days annually rather than five. The decision was made to focus on grade-level FOSS Forums.

Teachers would begin the course they were introduced to during the summer trainings and then return for the forum a few months into the school year to discuss issues that had come up. Nancy has found that this approach has built collegiality between the teachers, both within a school and within the county. Many teachers lacked confidence with FOSS courses as many had moved to new schools and may not have had training on the courses for their new grade levels. Through the FOSS Forums, they were able to share peer to peer what they had learned from their teaching experience, including student work, their successes and problems. Nancy found that the teachers who followed the courses as written had more successful experiences than those who hadn't. They were able to see the relevance of the course progression and could share their successes with those who were not adhering to the course sequence and guidelines.

The FOSS Forums focus on various topics presented by peers and through small-group information sharing. Topics have included classroom management strategies, assessment ideas, bridging strategies for rough spots in implementation and for more complete coverage of Ohio standards, and how to implement new technology into the curriculum.

An issue that came up in the implementation of the FOSS program was the movement of teachers in and out of a school or school system. These teachers had a more difficult time being convinced that the FOSS program was making a positive impact on student learning since they weren't around long enough to observe the outcomes. The FOSS Forums provided an opportunity for these teachers to interact with other teachers who were achieving success with FOSS in the classroom. The experience challenged them to continue to use the FOSS program and implement the suggestions offered during the Forum.

SAMM Center Vehicle

The SAMM Center recently acquired a new vehicle for transporting kits, tools and other supplies around Stark County.

Observations, Reflections, and Objectives

During a recent conversation with Nancy BakerCazan, we chatted about the following observations and reflections.

  • Because of the FOSS forums, teachers stick with the program. Even naysayers will admit the students love it.
  • The SAMM Center staff still gets pressure from others who don't understand the process. They question where the indicators are that need to be covered and how the program fits into their needs to cover the standards.
  • It takes about three years for teachers to get to be comfortable with FOSS and other inquiry-based science before they begin seeing connections between their local environment and other subjects of study.
  • Students move from school district to school district fairly regularly, but with the standardized use of FOSS in county schools, students don't have to start over each time they move to a new school.

Nancy would like to do some research into other aspects of science implementation and professional development in Stark County. The SATURN grant and the Math/Science Partnership provided an opportunity to work with Nancy Love's data analysis2 and TERC. The team used the data-analysis tool with teacher coaches across the county. Each August, teachers come together to analyze their testing data. Nancy noted that they can't correlate the improvements in science test scores mentioned earlier in this article with FOSS, but there is a steady increase in math and science across the board. She has considered several possibilities for the increase:

  • There might be an effect from teachers working together in collegial teaching.
  • Attitude change in teachers and students may be reflected in the scores.
  • Previously there was competition between teachers and schools regarding their science programs, so they didn't share what was working in their classrooms. With the inception of the FOSS Forums, teachers now talk to each other across the board and share their successes. So, could some of the test score increases be because of FOSS? Is the FOSS curriculum stimulating the sharing?

A variety of other thoughts and possibilities came up during our discussion, including:

  • The use of field methods and on-line geospatial databases to enhance the FOSS program.
  • Can attitude be correlated to the amount of professional development? Nancy proposes that the more professional development hours over 80 hours the better the attitude of students towards science. Fewer than 80 hours seems to have no effect on student attitude.
  • How do we address teacher turnover and the orientation and training of new teachers?
  • Does the implementation of the Math/ Science Partnership and GK-12 cause connections with the universities that can influence the training of new teachers?

One approach they have tried is to have the SAMM center provide three days of intensive professional development, two days back to back and one later in the school year. The new teachers are paired with master teachers, allowing the master teachers to pass on their experience with pitfalls and successes. This approach honors the master teachers' expertise and provides valuable connections for the fledgling teachers.


It's been a year since the Earth History workshop and my first interactions with the crew from Stark County. I have probably just grazed the surface of what's going on in the county regarding FOSS and its implementation in the county's middle schools. The energy and dedication of professionals like Nancy, BJ, Laura, Todd, Terrie, and others is impressive. With the beginning of the new school year, we hope to continue our collaboration and be able to use this expertise to help the implementation of FOSS for middle school in other school districts.

For more information, contact:


  1. "Powerful Math & Science Partnerships are Increasing Student Achievement in Stark County," Stark Educational Partnership, Inc., in Looking at the Issues, June 9, 2006, p. 1.
  2. Using Data/Getting Results: A Practical Guide for School Improvement in Mathematics and Science with CD-ROM, by Nancy Love. Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Norwood, MA, 2001. ISBN 1929024339.