Initiating Science for All in Santa Barbara with FOSS Third Edition

Diana Velez, FOSS Professional and Leadership Developer, Lawrence Hall of Science
September 02, 2014 | FOSS Partnerships

Cover to A Framework for K-12 Science Education

Santa Barbara teachers practice teamwork and problem-solving at the district's Foundational Science Training Institute 2013.

In Santa Barbara, California, BaySci is supporting the distict's effort to implement a vision and plan for an integrated and rigorous approach to science instruction. The goal of SBUSD's science initiative is to reverse the trend of the No Child Left Behind era when elementary science was not a priority. Most teachers were teaching science less than one hour a week or not at all. The curriculum was textbook based and there was no plan for replenishing materials. To address the problem, a leadership team headed by Associate Superintendent Robin Sawaske put together a plan for improving science instruction by providing professional development for teachers using their existing curriculum. But as teachers became more reflective in their practices, it soon became apparent that the materials they had were not adequately engaging students or providing the desired level of rigor.

In 2010, Holly Gil and Bridget Lewin were hired to help coordinate the district's science initiative. They began by providing workshops and hands-on materials for teachers to strengthen their science program. Holly took the district's list of ideas and turned it into a comprehensive strategic plan that could be presented to funders, supporters, and other stakeholders.

The BaySci/FOSS Connection

That spring 2010, Holly attended a BaySci presentation at NSTA and knew right away that the systematic approach outlined in the BaySci theory of action was exactly what Santa Barbara needed. The BaySci directors were encouraged by Santa Barbara's plan and saw the opportunity to expand the BaySci model beyond the Bay Area. Thanks to a grant from the Wharton Foundation, funding was provided to support the partnership with BaySci. But the first thing Santa Barbara had to change was their science curriculum. Enter Emilio Handall, who at the time was the principal of McKinley Elementary School (Emilio is now the Assistant Superintendent and is leading the district through systemic reform in science education.). Emilio had a vision and the support from his staff to make McKinley a science-centered school. He sent teachers to the Lawrence Hall of Science to find out about FOSS Third Edition. Bridget recalls that the teachers from McKinley were relieved to find that FOSS had what they had been striving to create all along—inquiry-based hands-on lessons that articulated K–5. She adds, "While observing FOSS taught in the classroom teachers said they saw something magical."

The plan for McKinley had taken hold, and teachers began to pilot FOSS Third Edition school-wide. With the support of FOSS staff and WestEd's K–12 Alliance, McKinley teachers were soon implementing FOSS at a high level.

Thanks to the passage of a parcel tax in 2012, SBUSD was able to begin purchasing FOSS Third Edition for the rest of the elementary schools in the district. According to Bridget, using FOSS gives teachers the "cognitive Velcro" they need to be able to identify and understand when and where to engage students in the NGSS practices. Teachers find that the notebooking component gives them a way to intersect with the common core ELA standards and the English Language Development (ELD) opportunities are authentic and robust throughout the modules. Bridget explains,

Teachers appreciate the high level of engagement and academic language FOSS provides. We see students engaged in science and writing more. Students who weren't doing well are now excelling. Students with special needs or disciplinary problems go right to it and are able to access it. It builds their self-confidence.

The science leadership team members agree that without FOSS it would have been much more difficult to realize their science initiative.

SBUSD is following the "Go slow, but go" approach to NGSS transition. Holly and Bridget decided to start FOSS implementation with the modules that aligned best with their recent foundational science content trainings. (Physical Science for grades 1, 3, and, 5; Earth Science for grades K–2, 4, and 6.) In 2013, teachers were given one module to implement to allow sufficient time to be trained, to try out the investigations, and collaborate with other teachers. In 2014, teachers will receive their second module in either Life Science (K–1, 3), Physical Science (2 and 4), or Earth Science for 5th. In 2015, all grades will receive their third module. Reflecting on the process, Holly and Bridget agree that it would not have been possible to roll out everything in one year.

District Reform

SBUSD teamed up with BaySci because of its district-wide approach. The leadership team needed to move beyond focusing on individual teachers and broaden the scope to implementing a more comprehensive plan for the district. Fortunately, the groundwork was laid for that to happen—a strategic plan and a leadership team. Holly emphasizes the importance of having a "vertical slice structure" to keep the leadership team cohesive. She explains, "There have been changes in superintendent, assistant superintendents, and principals, but enough people are invested and involved to keep the plan moving forward.

BaySci involvement has helped SBUSD look more closely at the structures that support high-quality instruction in general. Bridget explains, "We see the science initiative as one in the same with Common Core implementation. It would have been easy to forget about science but now everyone sees science as part of Common Core implementation; it's part of how we are changing how we teach. We are in a better position as a district to move forward with NGSS."