Blasting Off with FOSS!

Joanna Totino, FOSS Elementary Specialist and director of the Bay Area Science Project
September 12, 2014 | FOSS Partnerships

People conducting research on marine organisms on a beach

Teachers conduct research on marine organisms at the UC Bodega Marine Reserve.

"Every step was the right thing I needed to lead me to feeling like a scientist...having access to real scientific tools and the location to be able to do those things, the guidance of scientist, and the support of my fellow teachers really pushed me to do new things...and be a's self-affirming."

—5th-grade teacher

"The [field research with teachers] injected new energy into me and provided me with a refreshing and different kind of excitement about science. Working with the teachers also made me realize better my own strengths, and that even [my own] small scientific questions that we are patiently working to answer are important."

—Graduate student

FOSS has deep roots in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the FOSS team at LHS has cultivated many FOSS champions and expert teachers in OUSD classrooms over the years. Collaborative Approach to Learning: Building Language And Science Teaching (CAL:BLAST), an innovative project that recently completed its third and final year, was able to use the expertise of OUSD teachers with FOSS as a base to expand their science content knowledge and field research experience.

CAL:BLAST, a professional development collaboration between OUSD, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and UC Berkeley, had two main goals. First, it was important to increase teachers' science content knowledge as well as their interest and confidence in science through a series of field research experiences that were guided by graduate student scientists. Second, it was essential to advance science content area language strategies and instruction designed to develop both academic language and content understanding for all students, with a particular focus on English learners (EL). The program worked with teachers to incorporate content and academic language strategies in the existing district-adopted FOSS curriculum.

The CAL:BLAST team comprised the Director of Bay Area Science Project, Coordinators from Berkeley Natural History Museums, Graduate Student Scientists from UC Berkeley, Bay Area Writing Project Teacher Consultant, District Science Coach, Evaluators from the Research Group at the Lawrence Hall of Science, and approximately 35 third–fifth grade teachers from fifteen Oakland schools. CAL:BLAST was funded by the California Department of Education, Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) Grant Program. UC Berkeley graduate students were directly partnered with OUSD teachers.

The FOSS curriculum was integrated throughout the CAL:BLAST project. During the course of the project, the UC Berkeley graduate students were familiarized with FOSS so they would be better prepared to support the teachers with the specific FOSS modules that the teachers were using in their classrooms.

Throughout the three years of the program, teachers received professional development in science content with a focus on California biodiversity. During each of the three one-week summer institutes, the teachers had a multiday field research experience at one of the University of California field stations. Each of these stations is the site of current research and offered the opportunity to focus a locally diverse ecosystem.

Teachers set out to explore habitats at the UC Bodega Marine Reserve.

Teachers set out to explore habitats at the UC Bodega Marine Reserve.

The field research experiences were the centerpiece of the summer institute. A graduate student scientist supported each group of eight teachers. Teachers were given an authentic research experience that was self-generated by asking questions. Teachers designed, and executed their research project and shared their results with the group.

By partnering UC Berkeley graduate students with Oakland teachers, a reciprocal learning environment was fostered that empowered both groups. The UC Berkeley graduate students taught the teachers science content and field research techniques. The teachers had the expertise with teaching skills and strategies, which they taught to the graduate students, who were able to implement these new skills in their teaching assistant positions at UC Berkeley. CAL:BLAST was structured to create a synergistic space whereby each group experienced being an "expert" and a "learner" and the outcome was a new learning, appreciation and team building. Being the "expert" created pride and empowerment and being the "learner" created humility and excitement of learning, and by experiencing both roles, an understanding was developed that experts in one situation can be learners and that learners in one context can be experts in another. This is an important lesson for anyone engaged in the teaching field.