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Biology Teachers Speak Out

Maryland Business Roundtable for Education | June 2011

Education — and student competency — in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is critical to our nation’s future. In order for the United States to compete successfully on the international stage, we must invest our time, energy and resources to support teachers in the classroom and to inspire students to excel in STEM coursework and to pursue STEM careers.

James F. Pitts President, Electronic Systems Northrop Grumman Corporation and Chairman of the Board Maryland Business Roundtable for Education



4 BACKGROUND ON STEMnet Historical Perspective Program Overview

6 STEMnet TEACHER HUB — SPECIALISTS IN THE CLASSROOM Specialists in the Classroom — Biology What Biology Teachers Want

8 BIOLOGY TEACHER FOCUS GROUP AND ONLINE SURVEY FINDINGS 8 Presentation Content Findings 12 Presentation Format and Logistics Findings 13 Strategies Related to Science Specialists Findings 16 STEMnet Website Findings 20 Evaluation Findings

22 NEXT STEPS Development of Technology Infrastructure




EXECUTIVE SUMMARY STEM SPECIALISTS IN THE CLASSROOM — BIOLOGY Strong competency and innovation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are critical to Maryland’s — and the nation’s — economic future. In order to secure Maryland’s position as a global leader in STEM-based education, research, and economic development, Governor O’Malley called for the development of a STEM Plan for Maryland. The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) co-chaired, with the University System of Maryland, development of the Governor’s STEM Plan — Investing in STEM to Secure Maryland’s Future. MBRT is leading the creation of Maryland’s STEM Innovation Network — STEMnet — the plan’s seventh recommendation which is critical in accomplishing all of the plan’s recommendations. The first component of STEMnet will be a “Hub” for STEM teachers. A needs assessment was conducted with STEM teachers who identified resources, activities and programs that would be helpful to them in strengthening STEM teaching and learning. With corporate seed funding and a Race To The Top grant provided through the Maryland State Department of Education — and considerable in-kind corporate expertise — MBRT began development of the STEMnet Teacher Hub in 2010. The initial program — STEM Specialists in the Classroom — will be launched and tested in biology classrooms in four high schools in the fall of 2011.

This program will utilize a specially designed website that will enable biology teachers to call upon an impressive roster of Maryland’s STEM practitioners from federal agencies, industry, and higher education to visit their classrooms in order to share their knowledge of — and enthusiasm for — biology as they experience it in the world of work. The program will be expanded to include specialists in other STEM subjects in subsequent years. Recognizing that teacher input is critical, MBRT conducted a focus group and online survey to obtain detailed input from teachers on all aspects of the Specialists in the Classroom program, including: the content and format of classroom presentations; strategies for identifying, training, scheduling, and evaluating the specialists; and the design and development of the website and databases that will provide the technical infrastructure for all of STEMnet. What Teachers Want Content Content must be aligned with Maryland’s Core Learning Goals for Biology. Most helpful content area for a specialist to address: biological investigation genetics cells Most helpful skills/processes for a specialist to address: scientific methods in investigation scientific questions/approaches vital aspect of data analysis Presentation Format Primary focus should be on skill/process with secondary focus on biological concept. Presentations should be age-appropriate in content, language and expectations. Format should capitalize on the strengths and creativity of the specialists. Specialists — Capabilities and Training Highest ranked desirable capabilities included: rapport with and ability to engage teens being articulate and well prepared on-the-job experience with biology concepts


Pre-presentation training for specialists was strongly recommended to expose specialists to appropriate topics, teaching strategies, and presentation materials. Nearly all teachers surveyed (96%) are willing and able to spend between 15 and 30 minutes conferring with the specialist on specific lesson planning prior to presentation. Website The website must be easy to access, easy to use, searchable, well organized, easily downloaded, populated with relevant and useful content, interactive, well maintained, frequently updated, and free. The structure of the website should be multi-leveled with a dashboard that provides basic, but pertinent information on the specialist and his/her presentation. Links should be used to access more detailed information. Caution: Barriers to Internet use include district- and school-level blocks on all social media and most webbased email; time constraints on web usage; and lack of available computers and other technologies. Evaluation An evaluation system that provides a measurement of the quality of the presentation needs to be developed. In addition, a measure of the specialist’s experience with the program and the number of times the specialist’s presentation has been requested would help to establish if this presentation would be a good fit for a teacher’s class. Students, teachers, and specialists should participate in the evaluation of the overall experience with the Specialists in the Classroom program, as well as in the evaluation of the specific presentation made by the specialist. Next Steps During the summer of 2011, MBRT will: collaborate with biology educators and specialists on the alignment of content and development of training, presentation, and evaluation strategies identify, recruit, and train a cadre of interested and qualified volunteers launch the online STEMnet management system schedule classroom presentations in four high schools during fall 2011. 3

BACKGROUND ON STEMnet The United States’ competitive advantage in science and technology — the drivers of innovation — is under threat. Other nations are heavily investing in their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) infrastructure and are positioning themselves to challenge the U.S. leadership in these fields. To support a robust, productive, and innovative economy that will keep the U.S. competitive at home and abroad, it is essential not only to transform the way we work, but also the way we educate and prepare future generations of Americans. To address this challenge, business leaders across the nation have joined forces with educators, parents, and policy leaders to support and promote the teaching and learning of STEM for all of America’s children.

Historical Perspective In 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley charged a broadbased community of Maryland’s education, business, and policy leaders to produce a blueprint for action that would position Maryland as a global leader in the development of its workforce, its STEM-based research, and its economic development infrastructure. In response, the Governor’s STEM Task Force proposed a plan comprised of seven recommendations that address Maryland’s entire STEM system: student preparation for participation in a knowledge-based economy, the training and support of STEM teachers, the development of in-state STEM entrepreneurs, and the expansion of Maryland’s internationally recognized research and development capabilities. The plan was accepted and approved by the Governor in 2009. The last of the seven recommendations proposed an unprecedented mechanism for coordination, resource dissemination, and idea sharing among all of Maryland’s STEM stakeholders — P-12 teachers, students, parents, higher education faculty, business and community leaders, economic development officers, researchers, and policymakers. It called for the creation of a physical and virtual network — STEMnet — that would be available to all stakeholders for the purpose of developing and implementing a sustainable STEM education-workforce-research-economic development strategy for the state.


In early 2010, MBRT took the lead in planning and developing STEMnet. With generous funding and technical support from AT&T, Citi, Northrop Grumman, and IBM, the initial hub of STEMnet — known as STEMnet Teacher Hub — is now under construction. In partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), MBRT is working on the first stage of a “one-stop shop” that will offer teachers resources that are aligned with recently adopted and nationally recognized Common Core Standards, and that support teachers’ efforts to improve student achievement in STEM subjects. In August 2010, additional funding for the development of STEMnet was secured when the Maryland State Department of Education received one of the federal government’s coveted Race To The Top (RTTT) Grants. Funding for the initial stages of two STEMnet hubs — a Teacher Hub and a Student Hub — was included in Maryland’s proposal. MBRT was awarded RTTT funding to develop the Specialists in the Classroom program as the first component of the STEMnet Teacher Hub. This program will offer STEM teachers a well-organized and hassle-free means to access the state’s highly qualified scientific community, to engage them in the day-to-day learning activities in their classrooms, and to bring their enthusiasm for science and their real-world science experiences to students across the state. Over the four-year RTTT funding period, MBRT will design, develop, test, and implement several other STEMnet initiatives that will serve both teachers and students.

Program Overview: STEMnet Teacher Hub Believing that any STEM teacher-support activity must be built with direct input from STEM teachers themselves, MBRT began planning the Teacher Hub by inviting high school STEM teachers to offer guidance on what activities would best support their classroom instruction and equip their students with the strongest possible STEM skills. Beginning in March 2010, MBRT conducted two in-depth STEM teacher focus groups and an online survey to gather STEM teachers’ best ideas on resources, activities, and programs that would be most useful to them. Thirty STEM teachers from across the state participated in the focus groups, and another 265 teachers and administrators took part in the survey. Eleven potential initiatives that addressed a wide range of support activities for both students and teachers surfaced during the focus group discussions. They were prioritized by level of interest, and the top five were included in the online survey for further discussion and consideration. The intent was to “dig deeper” with a larger number of teachers for more ideas, comments, and insights related to these activities. Teachers’ comments and quantitative data reflecting their interest in the following five proposed support activities were collected and analyzed: STEM Specialists in the Classroom Digital Student Hub STEM Connections STEM Teacher Lifeline STEM Resource Clearinghouse

After a careful review of the survey ratings and teachers’ comments from the focus group meetings, MBRT staff ranked the five support activities. It recommended that the three top-ranked activities comprise the initial development phase of STEMnet Teacher Hub:

STEM Specialists in the Classroom, which will enable teachers to call upon an impressive roster of Maryland’s STEM practitioners from federal agencies, industry and higher education to visit their classroom and inspire and inform their students about real-world STEM work. STEM Resource Clearinghouse, which will give teachers online access to STEM curriculum materials, lesson plans, webinars, tutorials, classroom-ready experiments, professional development, and more. STEM Connections, which will permit teachers to link with STEM educators at all levels — elementary, middle, high school, college, and postgraduate — and with private sector STEM professionals, to share knowledge and resources. 5

STEMnet TEACHER HUB SPECIALISTS IN THE CLASSROOM MBRT is developing and implementing the STEM Specialists in the Classroom program as the initial

Specialists in the Classroom


component of the STEMnet Teacher Hub. It will be supported by a website that will offer a roster of STEM specialists from business, higher education, and government who are trained and available to visit Maryland’s STEM classrooms to: demonstrate the real-world relevance of topics that are required elements of Maryland’s STEM Core Learning Goals (CLG); inspire students to take more and higher levels of STEM courses; make specific connections between what students are doing in STEM classes and what they will be doing in the world of work and higher education; discuss the field they represent, including different jobs within the industry, levels of required education, expected compensation, and the industry’s short- and long-term needs for workers; and describe the importance of perseverance and hard work in STEM-related fields, the process of working as part of a team, and the importance of critical thinking, knowledge application, and communication skills to solve scientific problems collaboratively.

The Specialists in the Classroom program will be piloted in the field of biology with biology specialists drawn from Maryland’s extensive and world renowned research, medical, industry, and higher education communities. The goal is to have biology specialists in the classrooms of four high schools by the end of 2011. Work has begun to identify appropriate topics for presentation in biology classes and to design and develop the website and database that will provide the technical infrastructure for all of STEMnet. Over the summer MBRT will develop training modules and materials for the specialists, identify, recruit, and train a cadre of interested and qualified volunteers, engage science educators in the training of the specialists, and collaborate with the specialists and science educators on the development of evaluation tools for all aspects of the pilot program. What Biology Teachers Want On April 12, 2011, the MBRT convened a group of highly motivated biology teachers in order to gain their input on the key program design features for the pilot project of the STEMnet Teacher Hub. Twelve teachers — who teach various levels of biology and biotechnology (standard, honors, Advanced Placement, and Project Lead The Way) — participated in the focus group, representing 12 high schools (both high and low

poverty) in 7 school districts (urban, suburban, and rural). The group was also quite diverse in age, years of teaching experience, gender, and ethnicity. MBRT sought to draw from the teachers their best ideas on how to construct and implement a program that would be useful in their biology classrooms and that would appeal to biology teachers across the state. The teachers were asked to: identify appropriate topics for the specialist to present in the classroom; offer strategies related to the selection and training of the specialists; strategize on logistical issues such as timing and format; discuss appropriate assessment tools for program validation and improvement; and, discuss aspects of the technical design of the database and how the resulting tool would fit into the teacher’s daily life. Following the focus group, MBRT conducted an online survey to further investigate the core ideas and suggestions offered by the 12 teachers. Science Coordinators from 20 Maryland school districts assisted MBRT in securing input from a broad cadre of biology teachers across the state. Close to 120 biology teachers responded to the online survey.

Technology Infrastructure: MBRT is developing the technology platform for STEMnet, and the first application will support the Teacher Hub. Working with developers and designers from a number of technology providers, MBRT is building and user testing the STEMnet Teacher Hub. (see page 23)



What Biology Teachers Want



Aligning presentation content to Maryland’s Core Learning Goals (CLG) led the list of teachers’ recommendations. This wasn’t a surprise; the same recommendation topped the list of recommendations from the previous STEM focus groups. Teachers want presentations that reinforce what they are required to teach and that provide an “added value” to students trying to master the content. Consequently, this discussion focused on the two well-defined concentrations of the biology CLG — biology concepts and scientific skills and processes.

The Biology CLG require that students: (1) demonstrate the ability to use scientific skills and processes and major biological concepts to explain the uniqueness and interdependence of living organisms, their interactions with the environment, and the continuation of life on earth; and (2) demonstrate ways of thinking and acting inherent in the practice of science — the student will use the language and instruments of science to collect, organize, interpret, calculate, and communicate information. The focus group identified topics in both concentrations — biology concepts and scientific skills and processes — that are either of high interest to students or that are difficult for students to master. The teachers decided that these topics are the most appropriate candidates for

presentation content. The survey results support these findings while also indicating high teacher interest in presentations describing the processes that scientists use when “doing science.”

Biology Concepts High Interest Topics The teachers characterized high interest topics as those topics that are directly related to students’ lives, that involve “mysteries” waiting to be solved, that are ripe for collaboration, and that require students to actively ‘do’ something. One teacher offered the comment:

“Students like to take

action and think together.

The direct connect to their past and to their impending futures makes genetics the frontrunner as a high interest topic for students. It’s a real world application that relates directly to them — “it’s far more about them than cells.” Evolution, diversity, inherited diseases, genetic mutations, and, of course, forensics are relevant and relatable topics that are observable, known to them yet mysterious, problem based, and intriguing. News and TV shows such as House, CSI, and Greys Anatomy have hooked students not only on biology, forensics, and problem solving, but on the technologies used to

According to survey results, the three top-ranked content areas where industry specialists could be most helpful were: 1) biological investigation, 2) genetics, and 3) cells. 8

investigate and solve the scientific mysteries presented in these shows. Ecology is not a new topic for most high school students, but in high school it can be experienced on a higher, more scientific level than the ecology experience offered in middle school. Student enthusiasm for getting ‘down and dirty’ and for solving problems that directly affect their lives hasn’t waned since their middle school years. What is different is the increased capacity to develop, implement, and evaluate a deeper, more scientific inquiry into real-life, unsolved problems that are affecting the world around them.

Biology Concepts Challenging Topics Teachers would also like presenters to reinforce biology concepts that are of lesser interest to students and that are more challenging for students to master. With 100% teacher agreement, the concept of cells was identified as the most difficult concept for students to grasp. The high degree of abstraction (especially for visual learners), the lack of context, and the dependence on learning extensive vocabulary were listed as barriers to achieving even a basic understanding of cells. Teachers reported some progress in improving student understanding of, and interest in the concept of molecules, another topic that is challenging to teach and that lacks inherent student appeal. An infusion of inquiry-based learning and hands-on activities has raised students’ ability to make meaningful connections which led to deeper understanding of the structure and function of molecules and their relations to cell processes.

According to survey results, the three top-ranked content areas where industry specialists could be most helpful were: 1) biological investigation, 2) genetics, and 3) cells. Teachers summarized the problems with some biology concepts:

“There are so many definitions, so much abstraction, and so little context. It takes a long time to get a critical mass for basic understanding.

“The abstract and higher level

concepts are those the students would benefit most from hearing from a specialist.

“I’ve found it very difficult to

engage students in the molecules and evolution topics because they are so abstract. Professional help on these topics for real world applications, labs, and evidence would be awesome.


What Biology Teachers Want



Scientific Skills and Processes High Interest Topics It is widely accepted that “Science is not only a body of knowledge that represents current understanding of natural systems; it is also the practices whereby that body of knowledge has been established and is being continually extended, refined, and revised. Both elements — knowledge and practices — are essential.” 1 All of the biology teachers recognized the extraordinary opportunity of having science specialists explain the practices they use to do cutting-edge scientific research. More than 85% of the teachers who participated in the survey felt that a presentation by a specialist on the methods they use in scientific research would have the greatest positive impact on students. One teacher commented that:

“Students need to ‘see’ how research happens in the real world outside of the classroom walls.

Some teachers acknowledged their lack of hands-on research experience and were strongly interested in having scientists explain their research processes — the features at the core of their problem-solving and inquiry approaches. One teacher also noted the added impact of a scientist speaking about his/her work — “We’re just the teachers; students pay more attention to outside speakers because they bring the added credibility of being in the field doing real-world research on current problems.”



A recent effort to capture the work of scientists framed their activities as work done in three areas: a stage where the primary activity is investigation; a stage where the essence of work is the construction of hypotheses, models or prototype designs; and a third stage where the dominant practices are analysis, argument, and critique. The scientific skills and process topics that teachers identified as important for their students to understand spanned all three areas of the scientist’s work experience. They are highlighted below. Investigation Stage Have scientists demonstrate how they:

attack a problem — observe phenomena plan experiments determine what needs to be measured collect data build instruments engage in fieldwork. Hypothesis Stage Have scientists discuss how they:

develop theories, designs, and models constantly tweak their designs and models, and why consider alternative explanations collect, analyze, and interpret data use trial and error progressively develop and refine their thinking over time. Communication Stage Have scientists talk about:

the required abilities to read and write about, discuss, and defend their scientific ideas

National Research Council; Draft Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards, 2010. p 1-7.

how the dominant practice of science is not ‘hands-on’ manipulation of the material world but rather a ‘minds-on’ engagement with ideas, evidence, and argument (the time of making connections and reaching understanding) how all scientists must explain, verbally and in writing, their theories, designs, and conclusions how they must be prepared to present and defend their work to their fellow scientists. A characteristic of today’s STEM workplace is the collaboration of scientists across different fields of science — biology, engineering, and mathematics, as just one example. Teachers are anxious to expose students to a cross-disciplinary team of scientists who would share their experiences in working together to solve a complex scientific problem — how they communicated, struggled, failed, argued, used technology, and came to a final resolution.

Scientific Skills and Processes Challenging Topics The science community has recognized “that mathematics is essential to the practice of science and engineering, and that mathematical symbolism and techniques are vital to the process of representing and analyzing evidence, constructing models and simulations, and expressing causal relationships, and a frequent component of scientific text.” 2 Teachers identified specific skills and processes that present ongoing challenges for students. The biology teachers noted that students often miss the important role and use of mathematics in the scientific 2

process and exhibit a poor understanding of the use of basic mathematical tools used in representing and interpreting data. Uncertainty in the appropriate use of graphs to represent data and the inability to track, analyze, and interpret data trends were problem areas identified by the teachers. Communication, both oral and written, is a roadblock that prohibits a significant number of students from describing the processes and results of their scientific investigation. They are unable to make themselves understood; their lab reports and verbal explanations fall short on the what, the how, and the why of their scientific efforts. One teacher voiced her frustration with her students’ lack of speaking and writing skills:

“What’s the point of research if you can’t communicate it?” There was unanimity among the teachers for the need of increased emphasis on cross-curricular (English – Mathematics – Science) connections in the teaching and learning of STEM subjects. According to survey results, the most helpful skills/ processes for specialists to address are: 1) scientific methods in investigation, 2) scientific questions/ approaches, and 3) vital aspect of data analysis. In addition, the majority of teachers indicated that the primary focus of the specialists’ presentations should be centered on a biology skill/process, with secondary focus on a specific biology concept.

National Research Council; Draft Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards, 2010.


What Biology Teachers Want



The teachers were fully supportive of a variety of presentation formats; they want to capitalize on the strengths, creativity, and available time of the specialists. They offered ideas on formats for involving specialists but are open to all options while acknowledging that “time is always tough:” stand-alone, single classroom presentation by one specialist or a team of specialists; visits that entail lab work and/or the use of technology and equipment that will be brought in by the specialist; multiple classroom visits by a specialist or a team who present their current research and return regularly over the year to update the students on how their research has evolved over time: what’s been learned, what changed, what worked and what didn’t, how the research approach has been altered, what data has been collected and how has it been used, and what are the latest conclusions;


Several logistical considerations related to the presentations were raised by the teachers and need to be considered in the development and delivery of the program. Teachers’ time is tight so the entire process of identifying, selecting, and securing a specialist must be streamlined and easy. The best time to have a specialist visit a classroom is when his/her topic is related to the topic being taught by the teacher. The worst times for a specialist’s visit are during the month of May and time immediately before and during Maryland’s High School Assessment in Biology. Due to time constraints, most teachers will have limited time available to work with the specialists. The primary responsibility of presentation preparation must rest with the specialist.

mentoring for science fair projects with the specialist fielding questions and encouraging students over a semester or school year; in-class presentation followed by a visit to the specialist’s workplace; and after-school and at night presentations that would include teachers, parents, and grandparents.

Teachers’ time is tight so the entire process of identifying, selecting, and securing a specialist must be streamlined and easy.


A majority of the focus group teachers have had specialists visit their classrooms, while a lower percentage (less than 30%) of the survey participants reported having had that experience. Those that did reported a variety of ‘random opportunities’ that resulted in a visit from a specialist — a personal or family connection with a scientist, interaction with a former student, a cold call to a university department head or a division of a state or federal agency, an indirect link to a Chamber of Commerce member, a discussion with a school system’s business education partnership coordinator, or a chance encounter at a conference and at a science fair. Organizations that responded to biology teachers’ requests for presentations included the Maryland State Crime Lab, the MdBioLab, the University of Maryland, the National Lab Network, the National Institutes of Health, the Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Beltsville, and the Cooperative Oxford Lab, a joint venture of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The experiences with specialists were very positive with just one difficulty that seemed to occur on a regular basis — the tendency of the presenter to drift into high-level vocabulary that frequently deterred

student learning and dampened student interest and enthusiasm. The online survey indicated that teachers felt that the most important characteristics that specialists should possess are: the ability to establish good rapport with the students the skill to engage them in the learning of biology. One teacher captured this idea in her comment:

“Rapport is really key. They must be able to make the content fun, and realize that they are talking to a young audience with little biology background in their specialties.

From this sampling of teachers, MBRT confirmed that there is an interest on the part of teachers in having specialists visit classrooms; that arranging these visits is now a hit-or-miss process, and that specialists visiting classrooms need training in what is appropriate content and technical language for high school students.

Specialists visiting classrooms need training in what is appropriate content and technical language for high school students.


What Biology Teachers Want



Characteristics of the Ideal Specialist

Training for the Specialists

Due to their previous experiences with scientists visiting their classrooms, the teachers were able to draw a comprehensive sketch of the ideal specialist and characterized that person as one who:

The teachers strongly recommended pre-presentation training for the specialists that would be planned in concert with biology teachers. They want the specialists fully prepared to enter the biology classroom and to effectively engage high school students. The single most important training need identified by the teachers is educating specialists on student-appropriate content, language, and expectations to insure that students can fully engage in the specialist’s presentation.

On a personal level: is enthusiastic, personable, engaging is excited about being in the classroom “looks” like the students (preferably young!) connects to the students relates to the students in terms of background and experiences.

They also felt that specialists should be aware of the realities of the typical classroom, including student behavior and the availability (or lack) of technology in the classroom. One teacher commented that the training should:

On a professional level: is able to explain steps and thought processes is able to present content at the students’ level is able to answer students’ questions is interested in helping students experience and appreciate science is aware of special student population challenges is trained to be in the classroom.

“Prepare specialists for what

students do in classrooms today versus what the specialists were used to during their own high school experience.

The teachers agreed that the specialists would greatly benefit from working with a biology teacher in developing their presentation. However, the reality of time limits on both teachers and specialists was recognized, and the teachers suggested alternate ways

The single most important training need identified by the teachers is educating specialists on student-appropriate content, language, and expectations to insure that students can fully engage in the specialist’s presentation. 14

to expose specialists to appropriate topics, teaching strategies, and presentation materials. They suggested that specialists should have access to: existing resources such as an online tutorial on teaching a training manual that contained tested lesson plans, suggested materials, perceived and actual outcomes, etc. a lesson template developed by science specialists veteran presenters, including those associated with other similar programs, such as the MdBioLab regional training sessions offered in partnership with county science specialists or science teachers video clips of “best practices” by teachers, successful presentations by specialists, as well as examples of lessons gone bad. Most of this support could be offered online which would permit access to the resources at any time. Interaction Between the Teacher and the Specialist While 60% of the surveyed teachers felt that 30 minutes of interaction time was appropriate before a presentation, over 30% thought an hour would be reasonable. Nearly all (96%) of the teachers said they would be willing and able to spend this amount of time, although a few indicated that it would be difficult. Teacher comments overall reflect the ability and willingness of the overwhelming majority of teachers to spend planning time with specialists scheduled to visit their classrooms.

Follow-up Activities Involving Specialists When asked how they might utilize specialists who met their expectations, over 80% of the surveyed teachers said that they would very likely or most likely request a return visit by the specialist to talk on a different topic. Referring to other potential follow-up activities, the teachers were very likely or most likely to support: an in-person or online ongoing relationship with the specialist (68%) a visit from a different specialist (63%) a 10-minute online video presentation on a variety of topics (54%) webinars on a variety of topics (40%). Involvement of Specialists in Program Design The teachers encouraged MBRT to directly involve the specialists in the design, development, and evaluation of the program. They suggested that MBRT: hold a specialist focus group to gather their input and ideas for the project establish a network for the specialists to promote interaction between experienced and non-experienced specialists use specialists to train other specialists provide a mentor for new volunteer specialists discuss format options with each specialist and allow them to select the one most appropriate for his/her teaching style engage them in the development of evaluation tools.


What Biology Teachers Want


STEMnet Website There was unanimous support for the STEMnet platform to be presented as a website that would catalog appropriate biology presentations that are aligned with the biology concepts and skills/processes outlined in Maryland’s Core Learning Goals (CLG) for Biology. The teachers felt that the topics available in the website should be approved by the state and/or county science specialists and district administrators to ensure their alignment with the biology curriculum and their suitability for the high school classroom.

STEMnet Website Characteristics According to the teachers, the STEMnet website must be easy to access, easy to use, and searchable if it is to be a “go to” place for teachers. The teachers described the ideal website as a controlled clearinghouse that is well organized (by topic or content standard), easily downloaded, populated with relevant and useful content, interactive, well maintained, frequently updated, and free. They used adjectives such as intuitive, simple, concise, easy to navigate, logical, and visually appealing to describe the characteristics of the website.

STEMnet Website Content Teachers emphasized that the website should be focused on their essential need, which is finding specialists and inviting them to participate in their classroom. They want this basic function met easily and quickly, without hunting through a complicated set of unnecessary features. They should be able to quickly identify the topic and the appropriate specialist and view a snapshot of the specialist’s background: title, employer, area of expertise, years working as a scientist, educational background, expectations for the classroom visit, and previous experience presenting to or working with teens. This “dashboard” also should provide contact information for the specialist along specialist’s availability, any travel restrictions, a brief description of the presentation, short video clips of what specialists did in previously visited classrooms, and any technology/material requirements for the presentation. More in-depth details should be easily accessed by links rather than posting them on the initial page. This could include more information related to the specialist — full CV, personal website, research papers, specifics about the specialist’s place of employment including possible student internship information, and a personal statement on how and why he/she decided to become a scientist. Other links could provide information


and resources related to the presentation itself — full video of the presentation, presentation Power Point, downloadable worksheets, materials or data relevant to the presentation, pre- and post-visit instructional materials/data and lesson plans, and a content-related bibliography for both teacher and students. In their responses on the usefulness of the site, the teachers responded with recommendations for a variety of activities that could be incorporated either now, or in the future. The recommendations fall into two categories of actions: sharing resources and promoting communications. Sharing resources:

Biology documents, reports, and research Catalog of available surplus or on-loan equipment Downloadable lesson plans, worksheets, and activities Catalog of video presentations made by the specialists Links to other biology-related websites Promoting communications:

Discussions with specialists on biology topics, research, and applications A forum for sharing information, ideas and strategies to promote effective instruction Threaded discussions on biology topics of interest Blogs, posts, and discussions for, and by biology teachers from across the state

“For now, we want a quick place to get the right people. We’re interested in the people, not digging into a website.


What Biology Teachers Want



STEMnet Website Logistics MBRT used its online survey to construct a profile of the technology habits and preferences of the participating teachers in order to inform the design and development of a website that will work for them and that will function in their environment. The goal is to create a website that will be easy for them to access and use, that will meet their needs, and that they will value in the long term as a reliable and useful website to be accessed frequently. The survey was designed to capture the technology mindset of the teacher/user, to define their technology comfort level, to find out what computer tools they use, and to determine the websites they like and why they like them. This information will be used by the web designers to develop and test the site. A summary of results follows: The two top teacher choices for a browser were Internet Explorer and Firefox. Email was the overwhelming survey choice (80%) to communicate with the specialists and the program administrators. However, the teachers in the focus group warned that web-based email is often blocked.

There was some interest in communicating via a threaded discussion within the site, but very low enthusiasm for communicating by phone or texting.


Given a list of 10 websites, the teachers were asked how frequently they visited each. The top five ranked websites that were visited at least some of the time by all teachers included, in order: 1 Google 2 YouTube 3 Facebook 4 CNN 5 Gmail

When asked to list their own favorite websites, the teachers produced a long list of sites that characterized their usage as either a general Internet user or as an educator seeking specific information to enhance his/ her classroom instruction. Teacher comments as listed below indicated that they liked websites that provided: a search function, such as

Google — easy to obtain accurate information; many applications creating and collaborating, gets me the results I normally am seeking; as simple as it gets; visually pleasing and organized; Wikipedia — ease of use; quick way to research a topic: informative and can be used to find additional sources or a topic; a communication function, such as

Facebook — user friendly, a way to communicate with people I don’t see regularly; linked to National Lab Network; and

news, such as

CNN — well organized; shows value of science in many areas; easy way to catch up on the news stories that interest me; Google News — easy quick clips about the news; New York Times — well organized and provides the most important information, but also easily navigable to find more obscure information; interesting content and layout. The teachers in their role as educators produced a list of at least 45 unique science-related websites that they find useful. Most sites offered resources and information related to the biology curriculum. The following sites were listed most often and teacher comments are included: NOVA — packed with science information and easy to navigate; I like some of their activities, but I feel their website could be easier to access; Genetic Learning Center Utah — excellent interactive activities; has many simple, easy-to-use exercises for high school age level; not blocked by school system; and Maryland State Department of Education websites — connected to biology concepts; has publicly released HSA questions posted by content area; has the Maryland Toolkit; MSDE Bio has interactive sites for my students.

Red flags were raised during the focus group discussions about county- and school-level problems for teachers trying to use the Internet either for their own research and communications or in their classrooms. County and school web servers block many external sites, all social media, and most web-based email. This limitation may cause issues with teacher access to STEMnet and should be carefully tested. Also, teacher time constraints will limit how often they are able to re-visit the STEMnet website. The availability of technology to support classroom activities such as webinars is not consistent across the state, with some schools in some districts having very limited access to computers and other technologies that specialists might require for their presentations.

“The website needs to have

a variety of resources to be helpful. Lessons from other teachers, links, discussions with the experts — things like that would be most helpful.


What Biology Teachers Want



Due to time limitations, the focus group discussions on evaluation were somewhat narrow in that they focused on evaluating the delivery and impact of the specialist’s presentation, while bypassing a broader evaluation discussion involving overall program development and delivery. Formative and summative evaluations on similar short-term outreach projects need to be researched, and tools need to be developed to monitor and assess development, delivery, and impact of the overall program. The teachers recognized the importance of evaluating both short- and long-term outcomes of this program, but also acknowledged the difficulties in making any link between short-term interventions and longterm results. Improvements in HSA (High School Assessment) scores or county assessments, increases in college admission rates and declared STEM majors, and long-term interest in science are outcomes extremely difficult to correlate with short-duration outreach programs. Yet, the very premise of a program such as Specialists in the Classroom is that such a short-term intervention can and does have beneficial results on long-term outcomes.

Evaluating the Specialist’s Presentation While teachers recognized the sensitivity in evaluating the specialist’s presentation — they don’t want to publicly alienate a volunteer, they did express the need for a quality measure of the presentation. They suggested that a star-rating system be developed and implemented and made available to teachers interested in requesting the specialist. In addition, they called for another rating measure, a “quantity” measure, which would be based on the specialist’s experience with the program. This measure would classify each specialist as either new to the program, having some experience, or being a seasoned veteran of the program. The dual measures of quality and quantity, along with the number of times the presentation has been requested, would help a teacher decide if this presentation would be a good fit for his/her classroom.

The teachers suggested a variety of feedback mechanisms that might be employed: Teacher and specialist debrief after the presentation Teacher completes an online survey that might include a comment section and ratings of specific components:

content delivery

For the teachers, an online survey tool was the overwhelmingly preferred mechanism for submitting their evaluation. The second and third choices for a means to submit feedback were via the website or email.

student engagement student interest level of student questions level of student learning and understanding overall impact of presentation. Students complete a survey that includes questions like:

Was it interesting? Did you understand it? Did you learn anything? Do you want to know more? What was the most interesting part of the presentation? Would you like to hear the specialist again?

Students, teachers, and specialists should participate in the evaluation of the overall experience with the Specialists in the Classroom program, as well as in the evaluation of the specific presentation made by the specialist.


Would you like to have another presentation on a different topic? Specialists do a self-assessment:

The teachers suggested that the specialists create their own self-rating.



Next Steps During the summer of 2011, a select group of biology teachers and industry specialists

Fifty interested and qualified

will work with MBRT to collaborate on the alignment of content; development of

volunteers will be identified, recruited

training, presentation, and evaluation strategies; and to test the online STEMnet

and trained.

management system.

The online STEMnet management system will be fine-tuned and launched. Four high schools will be identified to participate in the program and presentations in biology classrooms will be scheduled in the fall of 2011. In year two of the project, STEM Specialists in the Classroom (Biology) will be expanded to 12 high schools in 6 school districts. STEM Specialists in the Classroom (Algebra) will be planned and implemented in a fashion similar to the process used for Biology.

Technology Infrastructure MBRT is developing the technology platform for STEMnet, and the first application will support the Teacher Hub. Working with developers and designers from a number of technology providers, MBRT is building and user testing the STEMnet Teacher Hub. The platform will be launched the fall of 2011 to support the initial program of the Teacher Hub Specialists in the Classroom. To meet the needs of educators and STEM specialists, the STEMnet platform will provide the following: a hosted web-application, serving as the single online destination for all program participants custom pages and dashboards for various audiences (educators, STEM industry specialists/ volunteers, administrators) profile information on STEM specialists, companies and career fields information on educator needs and requests aligned to curriculum a match-making engine, to connect willing educators and STEM specialists databases on all users’ training, events, resources, and outcome surveys communication channels to inform participants and grow the community reporting, survey and evaluation capabilities.




STEMnet Teacher Hub

Board of Directors

Founded in 1992, the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) is a nonprofit coalition of leading employers that have made a long-term commitment to improve education and student achievement in Maryland.

Preparing today’s students for college and tomorrow’s jobs is a complex task and a tremendous responsibility that requires the greatest resources we can muster. Teachers cannot do it alone. Students and teachers must have access to — and benefit from — the best information and the brightest minds. These resources exist — in the workplace, in higher education, in government agencies, and in the community. Finding and deploying them is the challenge that STEMnet will meet.

James F. Pitts, Chairman Northrop Grumman Corporation

With funding from a federal Race To The Top grant through the Maryland State Department of Education, along with generous corporate funding and in-kind support from Northrop Grumman, AT&T, IBM and others, MBRT developed the online platform for STEMnet and is building the first two Hubs — a Teacher Hub and a Student Hub — which will be piloted in the fall of 2011.

Stephanie Hill Lockheed Martin Corporation

With a prestigious Board of corporate executives, more than 3,000 business volunteers, and partnerships in every school district, MBRT works to achieve meaningful, measurable and systemic improvement in schools and student learning. We believe the keys to this improvement are high standards, quality teaching, rigorous assessments and strong accountability. Working at both the policy and grassroots levels, MBRT brings the voice of employers to decision makers, students, educators, parents and others who influence students, to help shape Maryland’s future workforce and strengthen Maryland’s economy.

STEM MBRT believes that widespread competency and strong innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math will ensure Maryland’s — and the nation’s ability to compete internationally, prosper economically and provide opportunity for its young people.

STEM Innovation Network — STEMnet The Governor’s STEM Task Force developed seven major recommendations to strengthen STEM teaching, learning, research and workforce/economic development. Recommendation 7 — creation of a STEM Innovation Network — is critical in accomplishing all of the Task Force recommendations. MBRT is leading the charge and has committed, leveraged, and solicited resources — human, technical and financial — to create Maryland’s STEM Innovation Network. STEMnet will:

Provide universal access to STEM information, resources, and opportunities in Maryland Establish a virtual environment in which “communities of practice” will emerge to promote new and innovative programs and share critical information

The STEMnet Teacher Hub and Student Hub will:

Provide teacher and student access to Maryland’s rich inventory of STEM resources Deliver programs, services and support to teachers and students Facilitate communication and collaboration among partners, teachers and students Translate new knowledge into meaningful results and accelerated solutions Establish a vibrant human network to support Maryland’s world class teachers and students Turn on and turn up our pipeline of STEM workers.

Karen I. Campbell Verizon James Connaughton Constellation Energy Group Randall M. Griffin Corporate Office Properties Trust Kevin M. Hall KPMG LLP

Freeman Hrabowski, UMBC John C. Inglis National Security Agency William E. Kirwan University System of Maryland Sandra Kurtinitis Community College of Baltimore County Ellen Lord AAI Corporation Kevin J. Manning Stevenson University

Special Thanks to: Focus Group Participants: 12 Biology and Biotech teachers representing: Baltimore City Baltimore County Charles County Frederick County Harford County Howard County Kent County Talbot County Survey Participants: 119 Biology, Biotech, and Biomedical teachers representing 20 of 24 Maryland school districts. Maryland State Department of Education for their guidance and support, particularly: Donna Clem, STEM Coordinator Mary Thurlow, Science Coordinator Judy Jenkins, Curriculum Supervisor

Robert S. Marshall Earth Networks, Inc.

Miriam Tillman, Focus Group Facilitator

Ronald R. Peterson Johns Hopkins Health System

Joan Donohue, Consultant, Donohue & Associates

Walter D. Pinkard, Jr. Cassidy Turley

Doug Cole, Designer, Cole Design

Henry A. Rosenberg, Jr. Rosemore, Inc. James B. Sellinger IBM Corporation Janet Smith CitiFinancial David M. Velazquez Pepco Holdings, Inc. Alan Wilson McCormick & Company, Inc. June E. Streckfus Executive Director

Robert W. Madden, Photographer Kathleen M. Seay, MBRT Project Director/Editor Max Franz, Rich Dennison, and Clare Piet – Daily Record photographers Northrop Grumman – for printing this report

The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions are tax deductible.

Lead to extraordinary results in student preparation for 21st century jobs.



Maryland Business Roundtable for Education 5520 Research Park Drive, Suite 150 Baltimore, Maryland 21228 Tel 410-788-0333 Fax 410-788-0233

To learn about STEMnet, visit


The contents of this publication were developed under a grant from the U. S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U. S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. STEMnet is a service mark of Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

STEM Specialists - Biology Report  


STEM Specialists - Biology Report