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Centers for science teaching and learning help school districts implement next generation science standards (NGSS)

As a company committed to discovering and delivering innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases, Bristol Myers Squibb recognizes how important science literacy is in today’s increasingly complex society. Whether you work in a laboratory, a community hospital or a high-tech manufacturing facility, or you simply want to make informed choices about your family’s health care, a basic understanding of science is essential.

Our commitment to scientific excellence extends well beyond the walls of our laboratories. We support – and our employees participate in – many initiatives to enhance science education and promote student interest in science careers.

We focus on hands-on, inquiry-based learning that enables students of all ages to effectively integrate and apply what they learn, become independent and critical thinkers, and more deeply explore their interests. This is accomplished in two ways. First, we help educators discover new ways to bring science to life and inspire K-12 learners. Second, we help educators provide meaningful opportunities for students from elementary school to college apply their learning about topics such as biology, chemistry, genetics, robotics, engineering, alternative energy and environmental science.

The Bristol Myers Squibb Centers for Science Teaching and Learning at Rider and Montclair State Universities in New Jersey and at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut are our signature investments in science and technology education.

These centers, which work with public school districts and private schools in their respective geographies, are changing how in-service and pre-service K-12 educators learn to teach science and mathematics. In addition to emphasizing the use of the scientific method as a tool for inquiry and exploration, the centers help teachers develop deep content knowledge, understand how scientific concepts at various grade levels fit into a larger context for students as they progress from elementary school to high school, and employ instructional technology to improve learning outcomes.

“To function in our rapidly changing world it is essential that high school graduates leave prepared to enter the workforce or pursue post-secondary education competent in fundamental scientific content as well as scientific reasoning and habits of mind,” says Kathleen M. Browne, Ph.D., assistant provost and former director of the SELECT program at Rider University.

An area of special emphasis for the centers for the 2013-14 academic year is helping teachers and administrators prepare for the anticipated adoption and implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards, designed by educators from 26 states in a process led by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association and Achieve LLC, will help students in grades K-12 better prepare to pursue advanced studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The Bristol Myers Squibb Centers for Science Teaching and Learning in New Jersey have been working with the New Jersey Department of Education to help educators and administrators in the state’s 600-plus school districts prepare for the anticipated adoption of the new standards.

At Rider University, the SELECT program has been working with teams of K-12 administrators and teachers from 13 school districts to help them identify – and successfully close – gaps between their existing science curricula and the new standards.

“The Next Generation Science Standards are designed to help students more effectively build knowledge of disciplinary core ideas, cross-cutting concepts, and science and engineering practices coherently through the grades,” says Cathlene Leary-Elderkin, new director of the Rider SELECT program.

Rider’s professional development approach in this NGSS project is designed to provide teachers and administrators with an opportunity to learn more about the new standards and experience NGSS-aligned, exemplar lessons. Teachers then analyze their existing lessons with a “NGSS lens,” identify gaps found, and strategize on what support they will need to revise their lessons to align with the new standards.

The outcome of this year-long planning process is a district-generated Action Plan that details the short- and long-term strategies needed to successfully implement the Next Generation Science Standards. Using the results of the gaps analysis as a guide, Rider SELECT will then deliver customized professional development programming that will support districts through the NGSS implementation period.

“Providing K-12 administrators and teachers with meaningful professional development to help them prepare for these new standards is essential,” Leary-Elderkin says. “The teams of administrators and teachers participating in this NGSS program have expressed that they feel ‘more prepared’ and are now in ‘a better position’ to move forward with planning for implementation of the NGSS as a result for their experience at Rider.”

Jacalyn Willis, Ph.D., director of the PRISM program at Montclair State University, has been working with the New Jersey Department of Education to create and pilot a teacher professional development model for NGSS that will also build the capacity of the centers to reach more districts across the state. New Jersey is one of 10 pilot states, and the Rider and Montclair centers will collaborate to implement the new online materials that guide teachers through science lessons that help students learn how to learn, and how to articulate their understandings and questions.

The NGSS and the aligned teacher professional development will improve how teachers teach in a variety of subjects by using research-based methods that engage students, improve their thinking skills, and help them become aware of how to be effective learners. Administrators of New Jersey school districts partnered with the centers recognize the value of building their teachers’ pedagogy skills, and have already requested that they be invited to send teams of teachers for the program.

Another recent grant to Montclair State University supported the development of a forthcoming curriculum to help New Jersey teachers meet New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Standard 9.1 for 21st Century Life and Career Skills. The new curriculum modules blend K-12 science content with activities that support development of workplace skills such as effective teamwork, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and ethical behavior.

Similar work is under way at the Bristol Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, where director Lucie Howell is working with the university’s School of Education and educators from the Hamden, Meriden, New Haven, North Haven and Wallingford public school districts on an innovative program called ORTIS, or On-line Resource Through Integrated STEM.

Using a grant from the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program at the Connecticut Office of Higher Education, the partners created – and will deploy and evaluate – online science curriculum units that integrate common engineering education strands and technical literacy, in line with Connecticut’s science standards, NGSS and the National Research Council’s K-12 Science Framework. Each unit uses a project-based learning activity that follows an engineering design process that is consistent across all units and is designed to encourage students to apply the science knowledge, understanding and skills they have developed through the unit along with their previously accumulated knowledge of math, science, literacy, social studies and technology.

Five units were developed in July 2013: one each for high school biology, chemistry and biochemistry and one each for middle school biological sciences and physical sciences. Six teachers, each from a different school district, were paired with a member of Quinnipiac University’s science faculty to develop the units. The units will be available to teachers at the five participating school districts through an online wiki resource developed by a computer science student at the university.

By working in teams with teachers from other school districts who may have different ideas, operating constraints or experiences than themselves, participants developed a greater appreciation for how scientists, engineers or technologists collaborate. Howell says an important outcome of the ORTIS project has been the recognition among participants that teaching needs to be a “team sport.”

The teachers’ work on ORTIS mimics the experience of an engineering team and encourages them to apply the same engineering design process used in ORTIS to the project-based learning activities they develop for use in their own science classrooms, she says.

“As a result, the teachers and faculty see and experience first-hand the complexities and frustrations of team work, but also learn the terrific benefits that come from a team approach once you push through the difficulties and conflicts,” Howell says. “As one participant said to me at the end of their week long summer institute, ‘I can’t imagine how I will go back to writing curriculum units on my own now after this’.”