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Topic: "MSPnet Academy: Professional Learning Communities for Mathematics/Science Education Improvement: What Do We Know?"

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MSPnet Academy Discussion
February 16 - March 1, 2012

Barbara Miller, Center Director, Education Development Center, Learning and Teaching Division
Joan Pasley, Senior Research Associate,
Horizon Research, Inc.

This webinar will consider what we know about professional learning communities focused on improving STEM teaching and learning (STEM PLCs). The Math and Science Partnership Knowledge Management and Dissemination project has collected and synthesized recent MSP research as well as the insights of experienced practitioners utilizing STEM PLCs. This session will feature what has been learned about this area as well as give participants opportunity to reflect on their own experiences with designing and implementing STEM PLCs.

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Welcome to the discussion, "Professional Learning Communities for Mathematics/Science Education Improvement: What Do We Know?"

posted by: Joan Pasley on 2/16/2012 12:22 pm

We have found that for PLCs to be successful, they must have clarity about their purpose(s). Have you found this to be true? In your experience, what purposes have you found that STEM PLCs are best to address?

post moderated on 2/16/2012

Make effective learning experiences for students the purpose

posted by: Dave Weaver on 2/17/2012 10:29 am

We have found that the PLC work is particularly effective if the purpose of the sessions is for teachers work to enact a shared instructional vision that is based on clearly articulated set of effective learning experiences for students. In our work in the Seattle area, the PLC work was driven by the shared belief that students learn science when they articulate their initial ideas, are intellectually engaged with important science content, confront their ideas with evidence, formulate new ideas based on that evidence, and reflect upon how their ideas have evolved (Banilower,, 2008). Teachers collaborated to find increasingly more effective ways to use the adopted instructional materials to engage students in these effective learning experiences. The PLC model called Observing for Evidence of Learning also included a classroom observation component where teachers explicitly looked for evidence that students were genuinely engages in these effective learning experiences. More information about the project is available at gory=Reading, mathematics, and science teaching and learning.

Purpose is key

posted by: Barbara Miller on 2/17/2012 4:49 pm

What you're describing, Dave, really underscores the importance of a clear, shared purpose for a PLC. The specifics in your description get at how that purpose is enacted, which is always good to see. I'm curious about what others know/have experienced with regards to the centrality of purpose for a PLC.

Structuring PLCs for a Purpose

posted by: Joan Pasley on 2/22/2012 9:04 am

Dave's post also illustrates the importance of providing support to STEM PLCs to engage participants in activities consistent with the purpose. I would be interested in what processes, resources, and tools other projects have used to focus STEM PLCs on a specific purpose.

STEM PLCs and connection to CoPs

posted by: Betsy Stefany on 2/23/2012 9:28 am

Joan's request gives me the opportunity to add that STEM also needs to support "Communities of Practice". As I am the project manager for STEM Literacy, Community of Practice, listening to the webinar has been helpful to me as we work towards the goal of building a CoP in STEM. The participants frequently hear that a PLC is what they need on site between teachers, but from my view each domain and each year of PD seems to alter their local focus. Defining the PLC as developed for a specific focus allows the CoP to be considered as the expansion from the work of PLC's or as in our case, independent local projects.
To add perspective to Joan's question, after a year of encouraging STEM projects, all of the CoP participants see common challenges in balancing STEM progression with grade level restrictions and the need to adjust towards the math CC standards change. We are infusing activities that purposefully build in statistics and probability into the 6th grade level from the project started last fall and also supporting the ELA to science pathway.
The current project is stressing student evidence and developing a system to "capture" the process of adding the engagement with data collection as a function of uniting languages for communication of the activities. The ELA connection is leading into the science by strengthening reading for information..but also by encouraging all types of reading not just text in texts. This process also uses both online participation and active project work with digital tools. This allows the MSP participants to also be practicing the joining of the text, data and visual information systems.
Thanks for helping to structure the levels of the STEM progression with teachers as building PLC's may add a necessary supporting structure towards joining STEM projects and finding a teacher's comfort zone with online work.
Betsy Stefany


posted by: John Quinn on 2/23/2012 6:28 am

In support of Dave's findings, several school districts in Maryland have partnered with the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future (NCTAF) to create "trans-disciplinary", real world STEM investigations with teams of high school teachers. These specialized STEM PLCs - branded by NCTAF as Learning Studios - include volunteers from industry as part of the PLC and are yielding some great results.

Learning studios

posted by: Ben Hutchinson on 2/23/2012 9:28 am

Can you tell me where more information on the development of these Lesrning Studios can be found?
Ben hutchinson

Learning Studios

posted by: John Quinn on 2/24/2012 6:31 am

Hi Ben

The term "learning studios" comes from the world of architecture and was used by NCTAF to describe their STEM focused PLC. My first involvement with them came as a result of their pursuit of a NASA grant that created the first Learning Studios in Howard County Maryland. Sorry I can't give you more details. Best people to contact at NCTAF to get more information: Tom Carroll or Jeff Dilks.

Systemic and Sustainable

posted by: George C. Viebranz, Sr. on 2/23/2012 9:57 am

In our recent NSF program we measured differences between what was intended (in the curriculum); what was enacted (teachers' classroom instruction, as reported by teachers); and what was achieved (students learned or demonstrated as understood).

This is standards viewed through another perspective - that of standardizing expectations and practices, then supporting the articulation and implementation.
What did we find? Teachers' science knowledge for teaching is the greatest factor contributing to student understanding. Systemic approaches to improving curriculum and teacher quality had group effects on overall achievement.

Should be on the cover of "DUH Magazine". It seems like we've always known this, but practicing it and supporting it through professional learning is the common thread - get away from "this year's initiative" and focus on improving those things that improve results - student understanding. The biggest challenge in our MSPs is transitional leadership. Never seem to get enough traction with an initiative to see if it works before someone new comes along and changes the direction.

District Influence for Effective PLCs

posted by: Dianne DeMille on 2/25/2012 3:23 pm

I finally had a chance to watch the webinar today. It was very informative and leads to many further questions. A question was posed regarding how district policies and protocols either promoted or inhibited effective PLCs. In our MSP work, we experienced both. In Phase I of our project, we were involved with four different districts with very different policies and protocols. In working with full mathematics departments in middle schools and high schools, these policies and protocols were different between schools within the same district. The guidance of the principal had the greatest effect on how PLCs functioned. With Phase I, the schools were all site-based driven. In Phase II we continue to work with one of the districts that became district-driven in recent years. When teachers had a sense that exploring and learning together and directing their own work was valued by the district and/or principal, they were much more receptive to engaging in implementing the work of their PLCs in their practice. In both Phase I & Phase II, principal support and guidance was what made the difference. Whether they were actually involved in the PLC or not, they could be influential. Some would stop by a meeting, ask individuals about their thinking and the work in their PLC, and supporting them in implementing the work of the PLC. Teachers seem to feel validated with these small comments and inquiries that led to greater implementation and better communications within their PLCs. However, those who did not receive this form of validation were not necessarily ready to implement and contribute to the success of the PLC work.

effective PLCs

posted by: Carolyn Nichol on 2/26/2012 9:05 am

Do you have any publications or presentations about your effective implementation of PLCs and outcome measures?

What is your PLC's Refrigerator Door? _refrigeratordoor.pdf

posted by: Jacquelyn Flowers on 2/27/2012 10:40 am

A professional learning community is an ethos that infuses every single aspect of a school's operation. When a school becomes a professional learning community, everything in the school looks different than it did before.
~Andy Hargreaves (2004)

"The fact that the captain of the ship can clearly see the port is of no use if the crew continues to paddle in a different direction."

~Author unknown

The best organizations are places where everyone has permission, or better yet, the responsibility to gather and act on quantitative and qualitative data, and to help everyone else learn what they know.
--Pfeffer & Sutton (2006)

The most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is building the capacity of school personnel to function as a professional learning community.

The path to change in the classroom lies within and through professional learning communities.

~Milbrey McLaughlin (1995)

An analysis of research conducted over a thirty-five year period demonstrates that schools that are highly effective produce results that almost entirely overcome the effects of student backgrounds.

~Robert Marzano (2003)

To truly reform American education we must abandon the long-standing assumption that the central activity of education is teaching and reorient all policy making and activities around a new benchmark: student learning.

~Edward Fiske (1992)

Collaborative cultures, which by definition have close relationships, are indeed powerful but unless focused on the right things may end up being powerfully wrong.
~Michael Fullan

Capacity building . . .is not just workshops and professional development for all. It is the daily habit of working together, and you can't learn this from a workshop or course. You need to learn it by doing it and having mechanisms for getting better at it on purpose.
--Michael Fullan (2005)

There is no such thing as the perfect lesson, the perfect day in school, or the perfect teacher.
For teachers and students alike, the goal is not perfection but persistence in the pursuit of understanding important things.

McTighe and Tomlinson :
Here's a question: When was the last time you looked-I mean really looked-at what's on the door of your kitchen refrigerator? My guess is that most refrigerator doors probably look a lot alike, busy and covered with papers, pictures and notes. Although you might characterize it as clutter, in fact, you can tell a lot about what is important to someone simply by seeing what is on his or her refrigerator door.
For a moment, extend the metaphor of the refrigerator door to "our" school. Obviously, we are not talking about what's on the door of the refrigerator in the teachers' lounge, but about using the metaphor to examine what is important in "our" school. For example, does a look at the refrigerator door reveal that "our" school values teaching or learning? Working in isolation or on collaborative teams? What really matters in "our" school?

Best Practices/Tom W. Many, Ed.D.

LEARNING COMMUNITIES: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.
~NEW Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning

Educators are committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve.

PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.
~DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many (2006)

post updated by the author 2/27/2012

Effective PLCs

posted by: Dianne DeMille on 2/28/2012 8:51 pm

Hi Carolyn,
We have presented at past MSP-LNCs and at NCSM Annual Conferences about what we have done in our project. We are in the process of analyzing social network data and how the PLCs are affecting student results. This is a work in progress, but looks promising. Most of what I said in my response was anecdotal from observations, reflections, and self-reporting. I was a participant for the NCTAF panel mentioned in the Webinar with the practitioner perspectives. The KMD website has summaries related to panel discussions of some of these topics. One of the tools we have used is a continuum of the work done during PLCs as a survey all teachers did individually and in their groups. AnneMarie Conley (Co-PI) has written some articles and presentations related to motivation, social network data, and PLCs from the work in our project. Here is a list of presentations we have done in sharing our work:

National Science Foundation MSP-LNC Annual Conferences
2011 Scaling Up Successful Strategies From a Previous Targeted NSF-MSP
2012 Use of Multiple Strategies and Processes: Preparing Teachers and Faculty to Teach Effectively
2009 The Impact on Mathematics Teaching Environments Through Establishing, Developing, Maintaining & Sustaining Professional Learning Communities
2008 The Impact on Mathematics Teaching Environments through Establishing, Developing, and Maintaining Professional Learning Communities: A Study Based on Teachers Assisting Students to Excel in Learning Mathematics

National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) Annual Conferences
2009 Mathematics Teacher Leaders, PRIMED to Lead: Lessons Learned from Teachers Assisting Students to Excel in Learning Mathematics (TASEL-M)
2008 Development of Mathematics Teacher Leaders: Lessons Learned from Teachers Assisting Students to Excel in Learning Mathematics (TASEL-M)
2007 Effective Professional Development for Mathematics Leaders: Lessons Learned from Teachers Assisting Students to Excel in Learning Mathematics

Validation and expectations for PLCs

posted by: Barbara Miller on 2/27/2012 12:49 pm

Dianne called out what they are seeing in their MSP work about the impact of principal support and guidance for PLCS, in terms of PLC work being validated and teachers being "more receptive to engaging in implementing the work of their PLCs in their practice". The impact of this kind of validation is what we've heard other practitioners speak about, too, in the sense of principals (or district leaders) affirming the existence of PLCs and the efforts of those participating in them. Beyond vaildation (and suggested by the excerpt from Dianne's post), are explicit expectations that there is a translation from the PLC into teachers' practice. This may or may not have been explicit in what Dianne recounted, but I think it points to the intention behind a PLC -- that it is more than teachers engaging with one another in discussion or activity, but that it results in changing one's practice (whether that is bringing something into one's practice or pulling something out of one's practice for closer reflection and next steps or....). For PLCs that espouse the purpose of impacting student learning (there's that 'purpose' thing again...), it is essential that the "work" of the PLC lead to "work" in one's own practice in some way.

Validation and Expectations for PLCs

posted by: Dianne DeMille on 2/28/2012 9:09 pm

Barbara mentions the "explicit expectations" that the work from PLC interaction will translate into the classroom. This is what I think is so important for PLCs to sustain their value in a school setting. If teachers feel the validation from their administrators and peers and that they can see the value with their students, then they are more willing to keep the momentum going. This is so valuable when new teachers come into the group. With the positive energy gained from the team's work as a PLC, new members have said they find the atmosphere inviting and comfortable to support them in their work.