For many years, professional development workshops for teachers were a quick fix package intended to correct, in a few hours or a full day, every problem or difficulty a teacher might have in teaching science according to Guskey & Huberman, 1995 and Kyle, 1995 (as cited in Dass & Yager, 2009). According to Yager (2012), professional development providers rarely check the results from their workshops. Yager (2012) reports that some PD providers have attendees complete training evaluations before the program begins. Training, for many years, consisted of experts brought in for in-service education who would share their expertise, and then hopefully, teachers would be able to make some sense of all that was thrown at them and use it in their classrooms (Dass & Yager, 2009). In 2009, Dass & Yager observed that teachers generally never hear from the expert again. Yager (2012) stated that many professional development efforts, "mimic traditional college science teaching where teachers (scientists) talk about what they know and expect all attendees to understand and to find such descriptions useful." These are obviously the types of professional development that teachers do NOT want or need. So, exactly what should an educator look for when choosing professional development workshops?
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has offered a position statement on professional development in science education. The statement outlines guidelines for the principles behind professional development, the design of professional development, and the implementation of professional development. Student learning needs and educator needs for teaching subject matter should be the basis of professional development programs according to Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, and Hewson 2003; Elmore 2002; and Darling-Hammond & Sykes 1999 (as cited in NSTA position statement, 2006). Loucks-Horsley et al. (2003) have also stated that professional development programs should be ongoing instead of a onetime event and should have teacher involvement in observation, analysis, and giving feedback for their teaching strategies (as cited in NSTA position statement, 2006). According to Kennedy (1999), it is important that teachers understand how students learn. When teachers understand how students learn a certain subject matter, they can teach that subject matter and have more successful results than if they are focusing on their method (Kennedy, 1999). Kennedy (1999) asserts that content is much more important in professional development than the format of the lesson. Those who push for reform of professional development say that when teachers develop knowledge and insight into content in their own way, they will gain much more than when they must teach in a prescribed way that allows no use of their creativity (Kennedy, 1999).
According to studies by Berman and McLaughlin (1978), programs with a local focus where teachers were able to customize what they needed and had extended time to implement the ideas learned were the ones that made the biggest difference in student achievement (as cited in Dass & Yager, 2009). The Iowa Chautauqua Program (ICP) has become the model program for excellence in professional development for K-12 science teachers (Dass & Yager, 2009). The program has demonstrated effective results in learning of science content and improvement of teaching methods (Dass & Yager, 2009). The NSTA position statement (2006) includes standards of the ICP for professional development implementation. These standards state that the professional development program schedule should fit the teachers' needs and include meeting times during school, after school, and over the summer (NSTA, 2006). The programs should be examined and altered as needed to meet changing needs of both teachers and students (NSTA, 2006). The most important feature of the ICP for professional development is that each program should have components in place for follow-up after the program to observe what has been profitable from the training and what needs to be changed or improved in order to make it profitable for the teachers and students (Dass & Yager, 2009).
I surveyed the first grade teachers, at my elementary school, to determine their needs for professional development in science. I asked in which area they needed more ideas for hands-on and inquiry based activities. I also asked about scheduling of the professional development workshop since we have teachers with small children, and our schedules are so full with school related activities. The majority of the teachers answering the survey wanted activities for light and sound. The majority of the teachers also preferred to meet in two sessions for thirty minutes each. Since we are going to do two sessions, I will concentrate on light in the first and sound in the second. The Georgia Standards (2012) for first grade in science for light and sound are as follows:
S1P1. Students will investigate light and sound.
a. Recognize sources of light.
b. Explain how shadows are made.
c. Investigate how vibrations produce sound.
d. Differentiate between various sounds in terms of (pitch) high or low and (volume) loud or soft.
e. Identify emergency sounds and sounds that help us stay safe.
I will use the experiment on page A-79 in our text for one of the light experiments. There is a section in our text at school for students to explore what light will and will not pass through. This experiment will show them in a way that is easy to understand. We will also do a quick demonstration of making shadows using the overhead projector. Most of the experiments for sound in our text are for second through fourth grade, but I believe I can modify them for use in first grade. I am looking forward to helping my colleagues (and myself) with ideas to make science more interesting and less stressful to teach!