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Findings

Conclusions that have emerged as result of the five years MSTe activity:

  • The knowledge base of the teacher is critical - and access to resources is needed to research their questions. The strong support of all stakeholders, especially the principal and superintendent is critical (give permission to take risks in teaching and assessment; provide resources-especially released time.)
  • Mentoring other teachers is important for the cascading of change.
  • Prioritizing and coordinating reform efforts are important for school-wide results. There is just so much "reform" that a school can handle at one time. This project is successful because it coordinates with the NYS Standards and the new state assessments.
  • Teachers are quite receptive to integrating design and technology into classroom activities in mathematics and science, but MST integration is occurring in subjects beyond mathematics, science, and technology.
  • To change instructional practices, there is a need for: access to staff developers during the school day within the classroom; a shift toward academic year study groups and peer collaboration; close administrative ties.
  • Curriculum driven by standardized tests constrains the implementation of learner-center, project-based programs such as MSTe.
  • Team-led staff development requires explicit attention to the dynamic that exists among team members.

We have found that it is important to design staff development programs that are appropriate for teachers not only in their role as classroom practitioners, but also in their role as adult learners and change agents. We have found that participants initially relied on the example lessons that were used during the Project workshops (e.g., bubbleology, electricity) but have been able to go beyond them over time. Learner driven, inquiry- and design-based activities are well suited to deepening conceptual understandings that go beyond the specific demands of elementary school curriculum. Structuring group reflection time, framing team planning opportunities, and promoting conversations about content and pedagogy have contributed to teachers' growth.

We have learned from Project school administrators that they perceive the following challenges to MSTe implementation: providing for long term continuation of the Project; the new State assessments; lack of time in the school day for project-based learning; overcoming resistance to change; using MSTe to enhance learning in math, science, technology, language arts, and social studies; administrative support; finding and supporting risk takers; staff training; time for sharing and planning; sustaining support for inquiry-based learning; recruitment of teachers who are willing to commit the necessary time.

What interests the administrators includes: how MSTe brings about change in instructional strategies and attitudes; real learning which incorporates all disciplines; the power of discovery; how MSTe brings a new perspective to the classroom; the cohesive and authentic approach to learning; the dynamic MSTe learning process; the wonder of learning and the incredible questions which arise when curiosity is encouraged; the excitement for learning displayed by children; children's questioning, problem solving and staying on task; inquiry-based problem solving; children taking control of their own learning; connections of topics in the curriculum; meets the needs of future assessments; and the emphasis on instruction for thinking.

Although teachers find great value in project-based experiences, many have expressed concerns that NYS assessment-driven instruction will not allow ample time for the open-ended, inquiry-driven experiences MSTe promotes. State tests constrain the implementation of MST programs. MST will be politically successful to the extent that it supports district scores on statewide assessments.

Since educational reform (e.g., MSTe implementation) has a political dimension, it relies in part on the proactive advocacy of teachers and administrators at the grassroots level. The adult learning component of staff development should also contribute to teachers abilities to articulate the value and mission of an integrated MSTe instructional approach.