Active learning institute

Active Learning Institute, a collaboration with Haris, Twain and Weatley Middle Schools

Please note, the Active Learning Institute has expired as of June 2008.  Information about its successor can be found at our HHMI 2008 Program’s website under the Science Curriculum Writing Institute program.

To help local teachers bring exciting, current and interdisciplinary science to their classes, our 2004 grant brought Trinity University science faculty together with faculty in our Education Department to offer science-focused professional development opportunities to public school teachers. The Active Learning Institute (ALI) worked with teachers on strategies for the development of active learning experiences for their students.

The Active Learning Institute, or ALI, was a partnership between Trinity faculty and classroom teachers to develop a series of well-tuned, workable minds-on learning experiences to be incorporated into San Antonio classrooms.

The ALI brought together teachers from Harris, Twain and Wheatley Middle Schools to participate in four three-day institutes that better prepare them in teaching 6th - 8th grade physical and life science. Three Trinity professors were present for each day of the workshop: a scientist appropriate to the subject material, an education professor specializing in middle school science, and our HHMI Program Director. The goal of the ALI was to provide teachers with a deeper understanding of scientific processes as well as to come away with a series of thoughtfully developed lesson plans and experiments they could implement with their own students.

During the academic year, we ran 3-day workshops with the teachers, quarterly, for a total of 12 meeting days during the academic year. In the San Antonio Independent School District, the middle school curriculum is divided into 4 quarters. The first quarter focuses on chemistry and physics, the second on earth science, the third on organismal and cellular/molecular biology, and the fourth on ecology and population biology. We ran the ALI workshops before the start of a new quarter, anticipating the material that it would cover. The workshops were keyed to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), a state-wide set of learning objectives for Texas public schools. For more in depth information on the 3-day workshops please select the following link: ALI 3-day workshops.

To create responsive curriculum, teachers must draw on their knowledge of the content and of their students in making decisions about what and how to teach. In Texas, the state standards for student learning as well as local districts' scope and sequences provide starting points for development. What the state and most districts have not done is to organize standards into units of study that draw upon best practices about teaching and learning. For example, standards are not organized around thematic concepts or essential questions that provide the depth necessary for students to construct meaningful understandings. Standards also do not differentiate between curricula that is worth being familiar with, important to know, and necessary for enduring understanding. As a result, teachers often revert to being activity-driven in their planning or to "covering" the curriculum at the expense of deepening children's content knowledge.

To address this potential problem, we designed a week-long summer curriculum writing workshop based on Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design (2005) for ALI participants. During the workshop we engaged ALI teachers in substantive discussions regarding curriculum, instruction, and assessment. At the end of the week, each grade level team developed a unit, aligned with standards, to be taught during the first grading period of the following academic year. Moreover, we revisit the Understanding by Design principles throughout or continued work with the ALI teachers so that they now create a UbD unit for each grading period.

To view the UbD units developed by the teams in each grade level during the ALIs please select the following link: Grade level units.

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