Project InTERSECT: A Partnership between UNF, DCPS, and the STEM2 Hub

Big news for STEM2 Hub – Supporting Effective Educator Development Grant, US Department of Education: COEHS Awarded 4.4 Million to Prepare Teachers in PK-2 Classrooms to Integrate Computational Thinking.

Diane Yendol-Hoppey, Meghan Parkinson, Stacy Boote, and Kathleen Schofield

Vision

The notion of an early childhood STEM+C classroom brings to mind a vision of young students in small groups, engaged in playful standards-driven exploration with a variety of manipulative materials, robots, building blocks and other tech toys. 

The young learners, informally stationed around the room, are carefully investigating the process needed for building a new home for a story character. Some are building content knowledge through direct teacher instruction on measurement standards. Others are engaged in creating a vehicle that can move their building materials to the imaginative construction site. Others are testing their structures by collecting and analyzing data. Some are exploring books in the literacy area on the subject related to the work the vehicle performs, while others are writing a sequel to the original story using the new home they have created. As they apply an increasingly varied range of student-led learning, they develop self-regulation, persistence, and collaboration through lively discussion with classmates. 

Now consider the teacher working to support student learning in this learning environment. What skills, knowledge, and dispositions does this teacher need to scaffold student learning, redirect misconceptions in math and science, and lay the foundation for critical computational thinking skills that young children will need to successfully move from early childhood learning into the challenging content needed to innovate and solve the problems they will face as adults? From a glance, the presence of the STEM+C learning tools gives an indicator that the learning will match the goals articulated for these young students to collaboratively explore, learn, and build their knowledge. 

But there is a problem. Most teachers in classrooms today are not equipped to teach in this learning environment. Deficits in teacher content knowledge (CK) in math and science persist, and few teachers have adequate exposure to computational thinking. The effect of these deficits is too often reflected in student achievement, especially in the most challenged and underserved communities. 

Envision this class with a teacher who is a leader in STEM+C education, accomplished in both CK and pedagogy, ready to facilitate in this rich learning environment. This is the vision to be brought to life through Project InTERSECT.

Description:

The College of Education and Human Services (COEHS) at the University of North Florida (UNF) will expand existing partnerships with Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) and Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub to provide teachers with (1) Evidence-Based Professional Development (PD) activities that address the needs of DCPS students; and (2) Evidence-Based professional enhancement activities, including activities leading to an advanced credential.

Project InTERSECT is an entirely online set of professional learning and enhancement experiences for pre-kindergarten through second grade (PK-2) teachers and teacher candidates. Designed to transform educator readiness and capacity to engage in STEM+C instruction, the project will strengthen content (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK; Shulman, 1986) in mathematics, science, and computer science, which are often areas of weakness for primary teachers (Nadelson et al., 2013). Using inquiry as a teacher learning tool, the project will support early childhood educators in building intersecting CK, finding the pedagogical intersections of STEM+C instruction, and using problem- and project-based learning (PBL) to integrate STEM+C instruction within their classrooms. Project InTERSECT recognizes that strong instructional practices emerge at the intersection of content, pedagogy and implementation.

The project is built on evidence-based approaches for improving students’ mathematics and science achievement – including studies that meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) standards with (Moderate Evidence) and without reservations (Strong Evidence) – which highlight the efficacy of inquiry (Heller, Daehler, Wong, Shinohara, & Miratrix, 2012) and learning trajectories for young learners (Sarama, Clements, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2012). Through this confluence of deep CK and inquiry with developmentally appropriate practices (DAP), the project is designed to enhance young learners’ achievement in STEM, computer science, and computational thinking (CPP1-Promoting STEM Education, with a Focus on Computer Science), while concurrently fostering self-regulation skills in PK-2 students (CPP2-Preparing Students to Be Informed, Thoughtful, and Productive Individuals).

Across three cohorts, the project will serve 180 teachers and teacher candidates – with direct and immediate impacts on the instruction of over 3,000 PK-2 students – across a pool of 74 high-need DCPS elementary schools, including six Charters, two DCPS-UNF Professional Development Schools, and the UNF preschool, with prioritized implementation in 17 schools in Qualified Opportunity Zones (CPP3-Spurring Investment in QOZs; see Appendix G). The project employs a cluster-level Quasi-Experimental Design with business-as-usual comparison group (n=270) to assess the effectiveness of project activities in improving student and teacher outcomes. The study is designed to meet WWC Standards with Reservations.

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