Thursday, January 18, 2007

LASER? I hardly knows ‘er!

LASER stands for Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform, one of those public-private partnerships aimed at improving the sad state of science here in the Evergreen State. The genesis of it I don’t know, but my district started getting on board last year by sending teachers to trainings on the kits (from FOSS, IIRC) that would replace the kits we currently had. The kits would no longer be stored on-site, we were told; instead, the local ESD would bring them to us and restock them as needed. Sounded good.

The execution, though, has been bungled completely. Take my team of four 1st grade teachers. Two of us have had the training on the weather kit, two haven’t. You wouldn’t think that would be a big deal, but the two who know aren’t allowed to show us who don’t how to use the kit—you have to have attended the 18 hours (3 days!) of training before the ESD will send it to you. The result is that half of the 1st graders will get one science kit and half the other, which makes everything we’ve been told about a “cohesive curriculum” seem like so much crap.

Consider, too, that there are three kits we’re going to learn in 1st grade. I haven’t attended any of the trainings yet, and I’m not on the schedule to go to any this year. My principal told me that each of the three kits requires three days of training, so there’s 9 days. I asked my principal if that meant I was looking at 9 days of training NEXT YEAR out of 180 and he said no, they would be spaced out over the next three years. That turns our adoption of LASER into a 5-year process before we can teach the new kits, but we’ll still be responsible for the old kits, and that’s a giant bone of contention.

I know what we’re going to hear from the administration is, “Have the teachers who have been trained teach the kits to the classes of the teachers who haven’t been trained!” It’s a nice theory, but the reality of working around everyone’s prep times is insurmountable. If there are even 15 lessons associated with each kit that would be 45 days that we’d have to find, and as our schedule stands now that’s not possible in the confines of a 6.5 hour day.

The other thing that’s driving teachers in my district nuts is that the surrounding districts are doing it so much better than we are. They’re sending their entire grade-level teams to the training in one fell swoop instead of parceling it out a teacher a shot the way mine is. Our teachers go to these trainings and are told by the facilitator that he thinks our district is “screwing up royally,” and that’s the attitude they bring back. The result is that LASER is very nearly DOA before we’ve even gotten started, and that’s a damn shame.

So, if YOUR district is thinking of taking this on, here’s some thoughts from someone who’s there right now:

  1. Send the entire team to each training. If they have to attend to teach the kit, then you might as well get it out of the way.
  2. Even better, get yourself a good Science Coach who can attend the Train the Trainers workshop and then show all your teachers how to do the kits. Sub costs being how they are, it seems like that would actually save money in the long run.
  3. Know what you’re getting into with this, and figure some of these things out before you sign your district up:
    • Which grade levels will do which kits from their two-year band?
    • How will we get all of our teachers through the trainings?
    • If a grade level is assigned three kits, in what time span will I be able to get them all the training they need? Sit down and write out a schedule and try to stick to it—that peace of mind means a lot.
    • What can I do to get my teachers in on the ground floor so that they feel like they’re a part of the process, instead of having this be done to them?
    • What are you going to do if a teacher changes grades? Will they have to have the 9 days of training all over again, only for different kits?
    • How much is this going to cost? Do I have the money?

  4. Have the conversation with your teachers about why this is a good thing. Some of the stress going on in my district right now is because the administration didn’t do a traditional curriculum adoption for this science curriculum, the way we have in the past for the other academic subjects. There was born the mistrust, from which contempt quickly followed.

If you’re a Washington teacher, is your district involved? If so, how’s it going? The Governor is committed, asking for 6 million a year over the next two year in her budget request, so it looks like this is where we’re going to be for some time to come.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now this is the kind of insight I appreciate!


2:03 PM  
Blogger The Science Goddess said...

My advice? Stay the heck away from LASER.

It's not that it can't be a good source of support, but the implementation doesn't make sense and ongoing support is lacking.

We left our ESD this year, and while things haven't been a smooth ride, we finally have the ability to choose a curriculum that not only meets the standards, but makes sense for our students and teachers.

Good luck!

8:02 PM  
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5:18 AM  

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