College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct - Dec 2014 > Faculty Member Leads Development of Webinars that Improve Science Education

Faculty Member Leads Development of Webinars that Improve Science Education

Carla Zembal-Saul, head of the College of Education’s Curriculum and Instruction Department, led the development of a free webinar series that aims to help educate elementary teachers utilize a new set of K-12 science standards.
Faculty Member Leads Development of Webinars that Improve Science Education

Carla Zembal-Saul

Carla Zembal-Saul
Carla Zembal-Saul
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— Carla Zembal-Saul, head of the College of Education’s Curriculum and Instruction Department, led the development of a free webinar series that aims to help educate elementary teachers about how to help their students learn the content and practices of science through firsthand investigation.

The webinar series, provided by National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA), is based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a new set of K–12 standards that integrates core ideas in science with scientific and engineering practices.

Zembal-Saul said she was eager to focus specifically on teaching and learning science at the elementary level because of the ambitious nature of the new vision for school science and the shortage of resources for elementary science teaching.

“I jumped at the chance to focus on working with K-5 teachers given that elementary teachers are typically prepared as generalists and can be uncomfortable with teaching science,” Zembal-Saul said. “Even experienced teachers are being challenged by the NGSS to engage students in negotiating claims from evidence and participating in scientific argumentation—practices that involve substantial and productive classroom discourse.”

The series features monthly 90-minute, interactive webinars that help elementary teachers deepen their understanding of teaching particular science content and scientific practices for their grade level. Webinar activities provide teachers with resources to support their teaching and create a community among participants.

“I enlisted the help of local elementary teacher collaborators to capture video-based examples of science teaching from their classrooms to highlight as part of the webinars. In that way, we have been able to make the core ideas and scientific practices come alive for participants,” Zembal-Saul said.

To date, 13 states have adopted the NGSS, and other states are reframing their state science standards in response to the NGSS.

“Regardless of whether or not states adopt NGSS, the vision put forth for science learning will shape the future of science education in the United States,” said Zembal-Saul.

The foundation of NGSS is the precursor document, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas,” which provides a strong evidence base for the standards.

“The NGSS are powerful in that they move science teaching away from lectures and verification labs and toward approaches that are consistent with the ways in which we know meaningful learning happens—through the tight integration of core ideas, crosscutting concepts and scientific practices.”

Zembal-Saul has been a member of NSTA since she was a middle-school science teacher in the 1990s. In addition to developing the NGSS webinar, she said she contributes to the organization through presentations at their annual national conferences and publications in their practitioner journals.

“The organization and its vast resources for science teaching have been essential to my ongoing professional learning and that of my teacher colleagues,” Zembal-Saul said.

Zembal-Saul recruited Mary Starr of the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network and Kathy Renfrew of the Vermont Agency of Education to assist with co-planning and co-presenting the webinars.

“It is a privilege to collaborate with such talented colleagues who are equally passionate about supporting teachers in creating meaningful science learning opportunities for children,” Zembal-Saul said.

The series, which began in September, will run until February 2015, and all seminars will be accessible via an online archive.

By (December 2014)