The Exploratorium Digital Teaching Box Project: A Professional Development Tool

Abstract

The emerging Next Generation Science Standards will challenge teachers to approach their practice in a new way – engaging students in core concepts but also the processes of science and embracing crosscutting themes. To prepare teachers for this transition the Exploratorium Teacher Institute assisted by NIH- supported research scientists will offer innovative professional development to 455 biology teachers of grades 6-12 that will enable them to create Digital Teaching Boxes – topic-specific tablet-based digital activity collections – customized for their classrooms. Scientists will work directly with teachers in constructing the teaching boxes providing images from their labs and information about their research thus linking classroom biology to ongoing biomedical research. At the same time the scientists will learn how to translate their research for the new standards-based classroom. Using Apple’s iBooks Author the teachers will be able to assemble their own collection of microscope images and time-lapse videos science activities interviews of scientists text hands-on classroom activities and other resources to teach a complete science unit. The Exploratorium will offer teachers its exceptional collection of high-quality images (from its SEPA-funded Microscope Imaging Station) science activities teaching tips and other material from more than 25 years of work with teachers. In addition the Exploratorium and the research scientists will collaborate with teachers to create new digital assets (microscope images activities interviews classroom activities) that teachers decide will best help them address the new standards. In the final year of the project the Teacher Institute will offer free webinars about the project-ne version designed for teachers and one for professional developers. They will publicize the webinars nationally through teacher organizations and social media. All digital assets and sample toolboxes created by teachers will be available to educators free on a project website. Six to eight case studies of collaborations between teachers and scientists will highlight how to best work together to address the standards and what produces the most effective digital teaching boxes for use by teachers in the classroom. Teachers will be recruited from the large pool of Teacher Institute alumni in Northern California and at least 60 percent will be teachers of underserved students. Classroom experience in life science informed by the new science standards is most likely to inspire and prepare underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students to pursue biomedical careers but teachers need support to make this transition.