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College of Education


Side-by-Side Science Teaching in Killian Elementary - September 2018

Submitted by Stephen Thomson, Ph.D., USC Professional Development School Liaison, Stacey Franklin, Killian Elementary Principal, and Nancy Diggs, Killian Elementary Clinical Adjunct.

A small group of elementary students discussed how condensation formed on a bottle of sports drink.

“It must have rained on the bottle,” declared one 3rd grader.

Another responded, “It can’t be rain. It didn’t rain before we found the water on the bottle.”

A third chimed in, “I think it’s like sweat. The water came out of the bottle when it got hot.”

As the group of Killian Elementary School students discussed their ideas about the mystery water a University of South Carolina teacher candidate asked probing questions to clarify student thinking and make all ideas public. Similar small group interactions led by USC teacher candidates were occurring around the classroom. As the small group conversations occurred, the classroom teacher and a university professor observed, engaged in coaching, and made notes for a whole group discussion between teacher candidates, the classroom teacher, and the university professor that would follow.

This portrays typical interactions that occur during USC elementary science methods course work held at Killian Elementary School. The methods course is a key component of our collaborative professional development efforts centered on creating systems that support four science-teaching practices:

  • Planning for engagement with important science ideas,
  • Eliciting students’ ideas,
  • Supporting on-going changes in student thinking, and
  • Pressing students for evidence-based solutions.

To support enactment of the these practices University faculty (Stephen L. Thompson, Ph.D.) and the Killian Elementary School Clinical Adjunct (Mrs. Diggs) meet regularly with grade level team teachers to collaboratively plan science curricula. The groups explore and discuss professional literature/resources, observe and critique lesson enactments, co-teach, and engage in content building experiences. This work has resulted in the development of multiple science instructional units. Examples include investigations of food decomposition and microbe growth (food chains) within 3rd grade classrooms, studying shadows (astronomy) in 4th grade classrooms, and examining how water impacts seed germination and plant growth (natural impacts on environments) within 5th grade classrooms. Many of these units utilize local resources to support science instruction. Examples include opportunities for 3rd graders to conduct water quality monitoring with Park Rangers from the National Park Service as well as collaborating with Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District Agents who assists with instruction related to watershed education at Killian.

During collaborative planning Stephen negotiates opportunities for teacher candidates in the course to experience aspects of ambitious science teaching practices with elementary students. This allows teacher candidates to assume various roles and practice strategies they learn in the course with elementary children in classroom settings. The practice serves as an important form of “rehearsal”/scaffold for the teacher candidates. In addition to benefitting USC teacher candidates, the methods course enactments provide support for science instruction at Killian by modeling how to engage elementary students with important science ideas. Teachers develop new knowledge and strategies they are able to share with other Killian Elementary School teachers.

The outcomes have been positive. For example, multiple Killian teachers, interns, and administrators have taken part in recent Professional Development Schools (PDS) and National Association of Professional Development (NAPDS) conferences. Killian teachers were involved in data collection and crafting of an article that is under review with the Journal of Science Teacher Education. The article centers on the influence the course work is having on induction period teachers.

Other positive outcomes of this work include enhanced student academic achievement in science. For example, Killian Elementary School student performance on the science portion of the PASS exam reveals overall scores are trending upwards over the past few years. Additionally, in the 2017-2018 Killian Elementary School students performed at a level that exceeded expectations and goals established by the school administration for the science portion of the PASS exam.

The science group at Killian Elementary School is highly enthusiastic about this collaboration. While we still have room to grow, we recognize the important role collaboration has played in our success and seek to expand our networks of professional practice. We welcome inquiries and encourage folks to contact us to schedule a visit and/or learn more about our work.