Defining Target Population of Teachers (Scholars)
The target population of participating teachers (and by extension, their students) must be decided at the very beginning of the program planning. Among the questions to be considered are whether to have multiple or single school districts, what grade levels to include, whether to have teachers apply as individuals or as teams, what additional criteria should be used, and what incentives/rewards can be offered.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Multiple Districts
There are two advantages of including teachers from a number of districts:
The major disadvantage is that it is more difficult to provide the formal and informal support for Scholars and their administrators - and therefore more difficult to support systemic change.
It widens the range of teaching responsibilities, student populations, the ethnic and experiential background of the teachers, and the geographic diversity of school sites.
Teachers move within districts and between districts - you lose fewer teachers in a multi-year project if they can continue from their new schools.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Single District
The advantages of working with a single district, beyond those suggested above are:
The disadvantages of a single-district program are:
All or part of the program can be held at the school site, thereby providing teachers with a much richer understanding of their own school grounds and nearby areas than would be possible at a central location.
It is easier and more important to arrange for the active involvement of principals, department chairs, and curriculum coordinators (where they exist) in the training.
Teachers do not benefit from the diversity of practices in other systems.
Programs can sometimes be caught in the internal politics of a school district or in major changes in policy or administration that is beyond the control of the project staff or Scholars. Multi-district projects help participants to keep a perspective on these crises.
Deciding Which Grade Levels to Include
The original NSF/5C5E Project focused on teachers in grades 4-9 from the schools in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. However, because of school needs and the changing job assignments of our participants, teachers from grades K-12 from schools with almost every configuration of grade levels (including K-8, 4-5, and 9 only) participated in the program.
K-6 teachers are limited in the range of research projects that are developmentally appropriate for their students, but that should not necessarily exclude them from the program. Their skills and willingness to combine subject areas contributes significantly to the conversation.
Middle grade teachers were the original target audience because of the developmental abilities of the students and the presumed flexibility in their daily schedules. They are still an ideal population for this kind of program, although the program staff should realize that teaching schedules are not always as flexible in practice as they are in theory.
High School teachers often believe initially they cannot cope with the logistics of research. They can - and should not be excluded from the program - especially with the increasing emphasis on long-block scheduling. Indeed, the constraints make them an important target audience. Their strong background in science benefits everyone.
Community College and four-year college teachers would be wonderful participants in the program. They face serious logistical problems in their introductory courses, but if we are to break the cycle of preparing teachers who do not have undergraduate research experience, they must be included. Our funding has not yet allowed us to invite them to participate in this project, but the Partnership sponsors other projects that include both school and college faculty as participants.
Teams vs. Individual Participants
Many reports on systemic change recommend that teachers attend as members of teams. We decided to include both individual science teachers and teams led by a science teacher. We make the following recommendations.
We have included a detailed description of our recruiting procedures, which you can use to develop procedures for your site.
Include teachers coming alone - especially if they represent smaller schools that cannot produce a team or districts where the faculty is traditionally reluctant to participate. Such an individual often opens the door for others. "Tom had such a good time in his classroom this year that I wanted to see what it was all about."
Be sure all teams are led by a science teacher. Especially appropriate team members include those teaching on interdisciplinary teams, librarians, and principals. Elementary schools like to send cross-grade teams so that students have a continuous research experience (and teachers have support from their colleagues).
Beware of the danger that teams may become cliques or may reinforce each other's past practice. When teams carpool they have even more time to reinforce mis-information, "Hey, this research stuff is just hands-on activities with a few days in the library." Staff can avoid these dangers by organizing cross-school groupings of Scholars in various activities and by splitting large teams among the research communities.