Using Inquiry to Improve Pedagogy through K-12/University Partnerships

Huziak-Clark, T., Van Hook, S. J., Nurnberger-Haag, J., & Ballone-Duran, L. (2007). Using inquiry to improve pedagogy through K-12/university partnerships. School Science & Mathematics, 107(8), 311-324.


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is currently a buzzword in the world of education, with inquiry skills being a considerable component of improving the pedagogy. Inquiry, a process of student investigation to develop knowledge, involves careful orchestration by the teacher and lesson structure in order to reach desired student outcomes. Huziak-Clark, Hook, Nurnberger-Haag, and Ballone-Duran (1999) suggested that in order to improve inquiry within the science classroom, collaboration amongst educators and scientists must occur. The purpose of the authors’ study was to “describe and report effectiveness of a collaborative program that brings together classroom teachers, university faculty, and science or mathematics graduate students to develop better content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and inquiry-based teaching practices among all partners” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 311). Thus, all parties involved wanted to work together to discover effective techniques to devise lesson plans that allow students to think critically and construct knowledge without direct instruction, which occurred over a three-year period of time. The program consisted of two parts: the professional development/creation aspect of the process and the implementation phase. Throughout these two sections of the program, researchers noted the effectiveness of the partnership and determined the degree to which it positively contributed to more effective inquiry-based lessons.

University and K-12 partnerships are important to the growth and development of inquiry-based practices in the K-12 classroom because of the knowledge and skills both parties can contribute to the process. All of the inquiry based professional development opportunities I have attended presented a wealth of information but left me with little guidance in regards to implementation, which is why I was intrigued to learn the way in which the authors structured their professional development. During a summer institute, teachers and fellows, participated in two phases of training: “the Workshop Phase and the Planning and Development Phase” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 313). So, embedded within the institute was the opportunity for participants to plan for implementation. While lesson planning, the participants used the popular 5E lesson plan (engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate). Not only did the teachers and fellows work together during the design phase of the inquiry lesson plan, but they also implemented the lessons together during the academic school year. I believe this type of teamwork capitalizes on the strengths of both individuals, where one is an expert in the teaching field and the other has a deep understanding of the content knowledge.

During the implementation phase of the study, the teachers and fellows co-taught and co-planned in order to effectively implement inquiry-based lesson plans. In order to determine the effectiveness of the lesson implementations both qualitative and quantitative research methods were utilized. The types of data were as follows: classroom observations (during implementation of inquiry lessons), individual participant interviews, journal prompt responses with both teachers and fellows (regarding implementation of lesson), and a Likert survey (with questions pertaining to creation, implementation, and reflection). The classroom observations were quite comprehensive and focused on the areas of lesson design, implementation, science/mathematics content, and classroom culture, where each area was rated on a scale of one (ineffective) to five (exemplary). In regards to the interviews, the teachers and fellows participated in structured interviews with program evaluators in order to provide information on overall impact of the program. The Likert survey addressed the effectiveness of the program goals from the teacher and fellow perspectives.

Although this was a small study, I feel the findings support further investigation into the collaboration of higher education and K-12 education in the creation and implementation of inquiry-based lesson plans. The inquiry lessons described in this study are quite impressive, for example, one pair developed a lesson plan to teach acids and bases in a chemistry unit and one observer described it in the following way:

The design of this lesson incorporated tasks, roles, and interactions consistent with investigative science. The design also encountered a collaborative approach to learning among students…The instructional strategies and activities used in this lesson reflected attention to students’ experience, prior knowledge, and learning styles (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 315).

As a science teacher, this description alone excites me and makes me believe these educators are onto something phenomenal! This description alone is not the only proof that these educators did exceptionally well, the teacher evaluation system (Horizons) found that “greater than 75% of the scores were rated as a High 3, 4, or 5” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 317).” Thus, indicating that overall the lessons were successful, well planned, and implemented effectively. Overall, I believe that these results provided proof that collaboration can create better inquiry-based lesson plans in science and math.

What most impressed me about this study is the sustainability of the learning that occurred for the educators involved. For example, the teacher’s confidence to design and incorporate inquiry-based lessons into the classroom improved, as well as, the teacher’s knowledge of content improved by approximately 60%. Also, built into this study was the opportunity to equip these science and math teachers with new tools that they can continue to utilize in their classrooms, for example, the 5 E lesson plan model, which many stated they would continue to use to lesson plan. Overall, the fellows stated that they saw tremendous growth in their teacher partners and believed that their ability to question improved. Not only did this study provide support to the statement that collaboration between fellows and teachers improves inquiry in K-12 science and math classrooms but it also provided information to support that positive changes occurred in pedagogy of the teachers.

I believe that the “program provides an example of an effective model for mutual beneficial collaboration between a university and K-12 schools” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 322). The results of the study showed positive results, however, the question remains: How can we implement such a program on a larger scale?  Also, such a program would require on-going professional development, which means that partnerships between schools and universities would have to remain strong for an extended period of time. How costly would such a program be for K-12 schools and universities? What are the other ways to address improving inquiry-based learning in the science and math classrooms? Is our K-12 education system prepared to make such an extensive commitment to its higher education counterparts and are universities prepared to help such a program exist? These are all questions that must be addressed when beginning to discuss such movements towards improving inquiry-based educational practices in K-12 classrooms.




Huziak-Clark, T., Van Hook, S. J., Nurnberger-Haag, J., & Ballone-Duran, L. (2007). Using inquiry to improve pedagogy through K-12/university partnerships. School Science & Mathematics, 107(8), 311-324.


To Track or Not to Track

To track or not to track, that is the question. All administrators grapple with this question because there are pros and cons to ability tracking students. Personally, I have experienced student placement based on ability tracking as well as placement based on a more heterogeneous approach but I have yet to decide which approach I prefer. Pivovarova’s 2014 article opened my eyes to the pros and cons of particular classroom designs and allowed me to begin formulating a better understanding of best practices for placing students in classroom.

During my first four years of teaching, I was asked to be involved in the student placement process for the middle school students. Our process for placing students was not a fine science but instead based on teacher observations such as, student behavior, gender, and grades. With these traits in mind, we attempted to evenly distribute the students into each homeroom with the intention of creating heterogeneous classrooms. This type of distribution seemed to be effective but I always had to wonder how the lower achieving and behavioral issue students were affecting my higher achieving students. I felt a sense of guilt every time I had to stop the class to handle a behavior or begin my lesson with foundational pieces that my higher achieving students already understood. Although I saw some negative aspects to this classroom design, I also was able to witness outstanding cooperative learning moments where higher achieving students would help instruct lower achieving students. I believe this was not only beneficial to the lower achieving students but it was also incredibly advantageous for the higher achieving students. With that being said, Pivovarova (2014) stated that both low and high students benefit from these exchanges and there is a “positive effect of diversity of abilities in the classroom supports the idea that students learn from each other not only from their teacher, and class interaction play an important role in learning and transmission of knowledge” (p. 24).

During my fifth year as a teacher, I was introduced to the concept of student achievement tracking. The middle school students were placed according to achievement on Arizona’s high-stakes test, AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards). All high-performing sixth through eighth graders were all placed in the same class, all middle achieving students were placed in another class, and all low-achieving students were placed in a class. The first thing I noticed upon walking into the classroom was the morale of the students; the high-achieving students were upbeat and motivated; the middle-achieving students lacked motivation and were complacent; and the low-achieving students had poor morale and continuously referred to their class as the “dumb class”. Pivovarova (2014) came to a similar conclusion; she stated “while grouping by ability seems to be beneficial for high-achieving students, there is no evidence to support the tracking model for all students” (p. 27). Although it was extraordinary to watch the higher-level students excel and work on more advanced assignments, I knew my lower students were academically stagnant.

By utilizing achievement tracking are we perpetuating the intellectual perceptions that the students already have? I believe so, because it was a daily struggle to get our middle and low achieving students to believe that they can achieve at high ability levels. Unfortunately, I watched as my middle-achieving students, who were capable of meeting our standards and excelling, simply gave up because they were not labeled as “high-level” students. Placing students in these levels, I believe will select an educational path that students will be confined to for the remainder of their academic careers. Is this fair? Is this the message we want to send to our kids?

I still do not have a definitive answer to the question: should we track our students? There are valid pros and cons to both sides of the argument and as a school administrator; I am left to make this challenging decision for my students. After reviewing Pivovarova’s 2014 article, I believe that it would be in my students’ best interest to remain in heterogeneous classes due to the moral obligation I have to do what is best for all students, not just a select few. All students deserve to have access to an excellent education.




Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College. Tempe: Arizona State University


Reinvigorating our System of Science Education


Thorp, L. & Townsend C. (2001). Agricultural education in an elementary school: an ethnographic study of a school garden. 28th Annual National Education Research Conference. 347-360.

When will educators take a moment to realize that science education has shifted from a foundation of wonder to a system of teacher accountability, test scores, and rigorous scientific curriculum? What would happen to science education if we began placing as much emphasis on wonder as we do on accountability, scores, and science standards?  Laurie Thorp and Christine Townsend (2001) take a naturalistic approach to improving science curriculum by studying the “impact of an agricultural education garden-based curriculum on the students and teachers of a Midwestern elementary school” (p. 348). The purpose of their study was to gain a” phenomenological understanding of the impact of an agricultural education-based curriculum on the students and teachers” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 348) and address the problem of “declining standardized achievement scores” within this community (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 348). Through a case study, the researchers wanted to accentuate the positive effects of a garden-based curriculum but constantly felt “pressure to demonstrate improvement of academic performance in the design of their research and curriculum” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 349). Although the gardening movement comes with a large number of benefits for teachers and students, a majority of the studies analyzed by the researchers were “unable to report any significant difference in academic achievement as a result of the gardening program utilized” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 350). Even with the limitations previously reported by other researchers, Thorp and Townsend continued with their case study and discovered a wide variety of benefits.

Thorp and Townsend (2001) explore our “relationship to the land and what it might offer agricultural educators struggling to engage children in the learning process” (p. 347), by introducing the topic, past research, and the purpose of the study; then discussing the theoretical framework and methodologies; and concluding the article with a case study comprised of rich participant descriptions, a conclusion, and further recommendations. The framework for the research project is built from the past research all the way through to recommendations for action, which provides a rich discussion about implementation of a school garden. Exploration of the agricultural integration in a struggling school is done through a consistent lens of “human development coupled with environmental awareness or connection with nature” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 349). Throughout the article the researchers develop a theory of how human relationships with nature are a combination of both endogenous and exogenous forces and is supported by qualitative data that is collected throughout the case study.

The methodology utilized by the researchers is “axiomatic to naturalistic inquiry” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 350) and is process oriented, meaning, “the research design becomes nimble, adaptable and exquisitely finessed to the local context of the study” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 350). Thorp and Townsend  (2001) use a variety of qualitative methods: interviews and dialogues, participation observations, documents, photographic images, naturalistic data analysis, content analysis; allowing the researchers to analyze a full description of the participant’s experiences. Although a large variety of qualitative data is collected, quantitative student data, such as test scores, would have helped give a full view of the effects of the program implementation. In order to justify credibility of the methodologies, the authors referred to the following criteria: catalytic validity, triangulation, reflexivity, and understanding, which they discuss judges “the quality or validity of phenomenological inquiry by standards appropriate to the paradigm” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 352). Along the same lines as the data collection methodology, a similar method for analysis was utilized, which allowed for all parties to be involved in the data analysis process and progress to occur throughout the case study. Naturalist data analysis was utilized in order to analyze the data throughout the case study, allowing for self-correction and validation.

An outstanding description of the case study is presented in a first-person narrative that offers a vivid description of the participant’s experiences throughout the study. By using this method of introducing the case study, I was able to relate to the underperforming school and truly see the benefits that the participants encountered. I felt as if the presentation of the study was incredibly powerful, moving, and motivating to an educator who works in a similar environment. A description of the benefits was thoughtfully analyzed, which included an improvement in school culture and pride, improvement in creativity, cross-curricular projects, community connections, and an enthusiasm that test scores could not create. All of these improvements made me think: Are we taking the fun and excitement out of education by focusing on test scores and teacher accountability? Should underperforming schools continue to focus on test scores or begin to focus on the renovation of their school culture?

This analysis of school gardening brought about a wide array of questions about how underperforming schools are approached and how we attempt to improve science curriculum by increasing the rigor. Maybe it is time for our schools to address some of these concerns by “[discovering] how agricultural educators might reconnect students to school via a garden” (Thorp et al., 2001, p. 348) or how other educators can integrate real world experiences into their classrooms in order to encourage student engagement and participation.

This article has increased my knowledge of the integration of school gardens and has motivated me to continue researching the many advantages that such a project could have for my students at the Academy of Math and Science. Some recommendations for research that the authors suggest surrounding this area of study are to utilize emergent design in further research, don’t rush the process, and reflect during all aspects of the research. As far as practice is concerned, the researchers also provided guidance to those who wish to take action, such as, including a volunteer to assist in implementation, involve parents and families in the process, include a Extension Service Master Gardener, and do not allow curriculum to hold you back from implementation.

Overall, the researchers present a wide variety of information and proof is provided that there are many benefits to implementing a gardening program in an underperforming school but there are limitations. An engaging science activity such as this improves school culture and student engagement but does not show correlation with improvement of test scores, which, unfortunately might limit the number of schools interested in engaging in this type of program. I believe that if we can peak a student’s interest then we might begin to see improvements in other areas, such as test scores, which is why I am interested in investigating the long-term effects of a garden program on overall student test scores. This article has sparked my interest and I am going to continue to explore the idea of integrating a school garden into the curriculum at the Academy of Math and Science.




Thorp, L. & Townsend C. (2001). Agricultural education in an elementary school: an ethnographic study of a school garden. 28th Annual National Education Research Conference. 347-360.


Leadership and Innovation

Arizona’s education system is failing our students, with “85% of high-growth, high-wage jobs in Arizona [requiring] some form of higher education and work experience” (Expect More Arizona, 2014) yet “53% of Arizona’s graduates do not qualify to enroll in our state’s public universities (Expect More Arizona, 2014). It is clear that drastic changes need to be made to Arizona’s education system but where do we start? The key to excellent schools is exceptional leadership at every level: administration, teachers, and students. Yesterday, I asked a colleague, who is a leader at a local Title I school district, about the successes and struggles at the schools in his district. As we discussed the nineteen schools, the conversation continuously circled back to a dialogue on strong leadership at all levels. If the success of students depends on leadership, what qualities do academic leaders have to possess?

Due to my passion for Title I Arizona schools, I am going to focus my discussion on the leadership of schools that contain a large population of low-income and minority students. First and foremost we need our educators to re-evaluate how they perceive our students, according to Tara Yosso in her 2008 article, “educators most often assume that schools work and that students, parents, and communities need to change to conform to this already effective and equitable system” (p. 75). Unfortunately, this is not the case and many of our schools are underperforming and lack the leadership required to offer an excellent education to all students. We need to have an approach to education that is culturally relevant and views our students as culturally wealthy learners. In order for a change to be made all educational leaders must possess the following qualities: ability to understand different cultures and the capital they bring to the table, competence to help others achieve success by recognizing individual strengths, capacity to give all people a voice, faculty to help create constructive moments of uncertainty, and ability to create an environment that is positive and culturally relevant to allow all to achieve access, excellence, and success. If these leadership skills begin at the district level, I believe there will be a trickle down effect into school and classroom leadership. Each of the qualities is relevant in the support and growth of a diverse staff and student body.

Outstanding leaders are able to put aside a deficit approach to thinking and begin looking at the cultural capital, which is the “accumulation of cultural knowledge, skills and abilities possessed and inherited by privileged groups in society (Yosso, 2008, p. 76), that all of our students and staff possess. According to Yosso (2008), we need to begin empowering people of color to recognize their cultural capital and use it as a resource to assist in higher achievement. Administrators, teachers, and students of color come with a significant amount of “cultural wealth through at least 6 forms of capital such as aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial, and resistant capital” (Yosso, 2008, p. 77). It is in the best interest of all leaders, whether it is an administrator, teacher, or student, to recognize the extraordinary advantage that cultural wealth can offer to the school and assist individuals in the process of recognizing theses traits. A great leader strengthens the community they are working with by empowering all parties to utilize all traits that they possess. It is time for our leaders to “restructure US social institutions around those knowledges, skills, abilities, and networks” (Yosso, 2008, p. 82) that all individuals possess.

Strong leaders not only empower individuals they work with to explore and utilize their cultural capital, they also make a conscious effort to give a voice to all members of the community. Encouraging individuals to have a voice, leads to innovation, thought provoking conversations, and progress in the school system. If all parts of the community of practice feel as if they are heard, they will continue to discuss important topics and help push towards positive change.

Along with valuing cultural capital and giving all individuals a voice, leaders must also be able to manage uncertainty, especially if they wish to see growth, progress , and innovation within the educational system. Uncertainly is defined as “an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past” (Jordan & McDaniel, n.d., p. 3). Managing uncertainty is important to problem solving and community building, which makes for a stronger community of practice. Leaders must “generate productive uncertainty when they [encourage others to] problematize disciplinary content and actions” (Jordan et al., n.d., p. 5) in order to assist in the learning and growth process within a community of practice. If there is a high level of confidence in regards to problem solving, a greater number of individuals in the community will attempt to address issues and take positive action steps towards solutions.

If our education system saw an improvement in leadership at the district, school, and classroom levels, we would see a higher level of academic excellence, access, and impact. If we are to improve our education system we must start with the leaders and ensure that they possess the skills required to help all community members reach their maximum potential and continuously strive towards excellence. When leaders are equipped with the skills necessary to empower participants of their community of practice, we will begin to see higher levels of student engagement, encouragement of all individuals to use their cultural knowledge, and more culturally relevant material in the classrooms.



How it Affects us. Expect More Arizona. Retrieved 06, 2014, from

Jordan, M. E. & McDaniel, R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. New York: University of Otago Press

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1(8), 69­91.

Barriers to Introducing System Dynamics in K-12 STEM Curriculum

Skaza H., Crippen, K. J., & Carroll, K. R. (2013). Teachers’ barriers to introducing system dynamics in K-12 STEM curriculum. System Dynamics Review, 29(3), 157-169.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is required in order to prepare students for fast-paced 21st century careers but best STEM teaching practices have yet to be fully developed. One technique currently being studied is system dynamic modeling that “provides a valuable means for helping students think about complex problems” (Skaza, Crippen, & Carroll, 2013, p. 158). System dynamics offers a means of thinking and modeling that allows students to begin making connections between variables. If system dynamics modeling gives students greater access to STEM curriculum, I believe we need to discover the barriers of program implementation and actively begin breaking them down.

Skaza, Crippen, and Carroll analyzed current barriers to introducing system dynamics into K-12 STEM curriculum in their 2013 article. The authors analyze three research questions by means of a mixed-method approach. The questions are as follows;

  1. How are teachers currently using system dynamics simulations and stock and flow models that were already a part of their adopted curriculum?
  2. For teachers who are not using the simulations, what barriers persist to their classroom implementation?
  3. What is the level of teachers’ understanding of the system dynamics stock and flow modeling language and how might that be influencing the classroom use of system dynamics tools? (p. 158)

The organization of the article is clear, allowing the reader to easily progress through the study of ‘system dynamics.’ Structurally, the article begins with an introduction, which includes the main research questions addressed in the remaining sections. After the introduction there is a review of related literature, allowing the reader to get a better view of previous findings by other scholars. The literature review contains relevant topics that allow for a broader examination of the research topic.  Next, the authors thoroughly cover the context for the investigation, methods used, results, discussions section, and final remarks and future research. As a whole, the organization of the article is all-inclusive and is very coherent.

Skaza et al. (2013) addressed a concept that has previously been studied by other educational researchers. According to the authors, a “larger base of empirical research is needed” (p. 159) in regards to system dynamics in order to begin fully utilizing them in most K-12 classrooms. Overall, the study found that only 2.8% of the educators completed the curriculum, which is equivalent to two participants. After this discovery, the researchers analyzed the major barriers such as lack of access to the technology, low teacher efficacy, and not enough professional development support. Outcomes for the study will allow for future research to address the major barriers discussed.

Within the article, Skaza et al. (2013) analyze systems thinking and system dynamics modeling as means for giving improved access to STEM curriculum, particularly to minority students. Systems thinking and system dynamics modeling “is consistent with recent calls for educational reform that focuses on active learning strategies, teaching for transfer to new problems, as well as intending for creativity and innovation as key outcomes” (Skaza et al., 2013, p. 157). Thus, this study is relevant to the overall consensus of the United States’ push towards effective STEM education.

In regards to theoretical frameworks, “the theoretical framework for this revision includes system and system models as crosscutting concepts and as a component of Scientific and Engineering Practice” (Skaza et al., 2013, p. 157).  As a whole the authors stay true to the framework making the article cohesive and appropriate.

Within the methods section, the authors discuss the mixed-method approach to data collection that is used in the quest to answer the three research questions. The “research method involved a single-group, mixed-method (quantitative-qualitative) design consisting of two phases: a survey followed by a focus group” (Skaza et al., 2013, p. 160). Participants for this study were selected from 40 high schools and consisted of 160 teachers, while the focus group was made up of four participants. In summary, the survey consisted of 17 questions containing both qualitative and quantitative measures. Also, the focus group contributed valuable support for the survey findings, which could be made stronger by increasing the number of focus group participants.

The researchers analyzed the surveys by looking at both qualitative and quantitative data, while using the focus group information to add depth to the survey findings. If another researcher wanted to replicate the analysis piece of this research, there is adequate information to do so. The analysis section fully describes the steps taken by the researcher and allows for replication due to the specifics of how data was analyzed in both the surveys and focus group. Overall, the researchers determined the number of participants who actually implemented the system dynamics concept into their classroom and if teachers failed to implement, the researchers worked to uncover the barriers to implementation.

As far as the findings are concerned, they are based on a thorough understanding of the data. By this I mean that the researchers analyzed the survey information, gained knowledge, and then used the focus group to either confirm or deny these findings. Also, there were multiple questions within each category on the survey helping gain more accurate information. For example, the survey asked teachers to provide proof of understanding the concepts by means of essay answers. So, if a teacher said that unavailable technology was their barrier yet they were unable to describe a science concept, the researchers could conclude that teacher efficacy is also an issue. The researchers discovered that the major barriers to using system modeling in the classroom is technology, yet the focus group and survey essay answers told a different story of potential teacher efficacy problems. Thus, I believe that the barriers are accurately captured, which can in turn lead to potential new research or action.

As an educator, I have experienced the push towards technology use in the classrooms. I believe that this thrust is necessary and important towards the growth of our students and the necessity to bring students into the 21st century. Our goal is to help students use technology to problem solve and work towards higher understandings but what happens when teachers don’t fully understand how to integrate technology into the classroom? Many educators that I have encountered feel uneasy about technology, thus do not make an effort to use it to enhance the learning environment. With this being said, our first move towards incorporating system dynamics modeling into the classroom, in order to enhance STEM understandings, is ensuring that all of our educators and future educators are technologically competent.




Skaza H., Crippen, K. J., & Carroll, K. R. (2013). Teachers’ barriers to introducing system dynamics in K-12 STEM curriculum. System Dynamics Review, 29(3), 157-169.

Communities of Practice


As we learn and grow we ask ourselves the age-old question: Who am I? As I begin reflecting on this question I realize that I am multifaceted and belong to a wide array of social learning systems. When I am at work I am an educator, when I am at Arizona State University I am a scholar, and the list continues. According to Wenger (2000), “since the beginning of history, human beings have formed communities that share cultural practices reflecting their collective learning” (p. 229). I myself can identify with multiple communities of practice, which have given me the feeling of belonging, identity, and intellectual growth. Wegner (2000) describes communities as the basic building block of social learning, if this is the case: How can we use this already embedded human characteristic to help improve our educational practices?

How can we utilize our students’ community identities to help improve the access, excellence, and impact of their education? As educators, we need to view our students as individuals who are members of multiple communities that they seek out for academic and emotional support. Within the article titled, Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College­Going (2009), the authors state that “low-income students of color respond to their needs for educational advancement when conditions to support their college-going identities are severely limited in the school context” (p.534). It is our responsibility as educators to recognize the needs of our students and help connect them with the support resources they need. The question remains: Where are the students receiving the support if they are unable to acquire it within the four walls of the school? Within the same article, Liou , Antrop­González, and Cooper, explore the multiple communities that many of the students belong to and the types of support they receive. A considerable number of students stated that a majority of their support from their families, churches, sports teams, friendships, and community-based organizations. What is stopping our schools from tapping into all of these student support resources?

Schools across the country must identify the key-players in the support of our students and work cohesively to allow for increased student success. Our students would greatly benefit from an intertwined approach to education, where we partner with multiple communities and work together to form a unified educational powerhouse. My belief is that this can happen at the school level by determining key stakeholders in the education of the students, which would lead to a plan to engage all individuals in the academic process. These partnerships can offer the students a wide variety of benefits such as, tutoring, college application support, culturally relevant curriculum, mentoring, academic assistance, and hands-on opportunities to implement information learned in the classroom. As educators, we can bring the communities to our students and give them a higher level of academic access. I unreservedly believe that if schools take the time to determine the key-players in the education of their students, reach out to these stakeholders, and engage them in discussions of partnership, our students would have a higher level of support and a much better chance of receiving an excellent education. There is a wealth of support for our students within the community but it takes effort from the schools to build the appropriate connections.

Not only can we tap into the communities as a means of support, we can also utilize the community-based knowledge that is familiar to our students, in order to assist them in grasping the concepts. Liou et al. (2009) eloquently discuss the “benefits of classroom practice by centering teachers’ pedagogical emphasis on the local, community-based knowledge of working class Mexican students” (p. 536). Teachers who use the local knowledge help students gain better access to the instruction, allowing for students to better relate to the objectives. A similar thought is discussed in the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (2008), where a “culturally based approach to science education” (p. 487) is addressed. The authors redefine science education for Native American students, which guide me to believe that we can adjust our teaching practices to meet the needs of our diverse student population by means of integrating community-based knowledge into our instructional strategies.

How can we create a solid school community? What steps must we take in order to create a strong tight-knit school community? Wegner (2000) outlines the components required in order to build a strong community of practice, which includes: leadership, connectivity, membership, learning projects, and artifacts (p. 231-232). Membership, where a “community’s members must have critical mass so there is interest, but it should not become so wide that the focus of the community is diffuse and participation does not grab people’s identities,” (p. 232) is particularly relevant to a school community. In order for us to build an effective school, we must take our students into consideration when developing the curriculum. If the students feel as if the curriculum is community-based and culturally relevant, they will be more inclined to identify with the community as a whole.

It is time for our education system to stop believing that a school is an island; we need to begin making greater strides in integrating communities into our academic quest for excellence. We cannot do it alone; we do not have the resources, staff, or knowledge to meet the needs of our students. We must do our homework and reach out to all interested parties. No one entity can educate a child; we must work together as a community.



Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

 Liou, D., Antrop­González, R. & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College­Going Information Networks.Educational Studies, (45), 534­555.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225­246.

K-12 STEM Education

Hanover Research- District Administrative Practices. (October 2011). K-12 STEM Education Overview. Washington, DC

What does STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Math) education look like in the K-12 setting? Far too often schools place “math and science” in their name but lack the understanding of what it truly means to be a STEM based institution. I must admit I have used science and math projects in my classroom and believed I was fulfilling the STEM mission. With a little research under my belt I am beginning to realize that there is a far more specific formula to STEM education.

Hanover Research’s (2011) article titled K-12 STEM Education Overview provided a broad synopsis of the multiple aspects of K-12 STEM education in the United States. This article is a great place to start and gives an overview of STEM curriculum at the K-12 level. The purpose of the article is to bring attention to the “poor performance of American students in the vital fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” which has led to the STEM reform movement (Hanover Research, 2011, p. 5). With an obvious necessity for STEM awareness and education at the K-12 level, Hanover Research (2011) begins by exploring the numerous definitions of STEM education, with the overarching idea that STEM education is the movement toward creating a work-force that is proficient and literate in science, technology, engineering, and math by cultivating a deeper understanding of each subject. Once a definition is established, Hanover Research goes into greater depth of the structure of STEM curriculum. The research gives a broad overview of best practices in STEM program communications, structure, implementation, professional development, and sustainability.

The methods used to collect and analyze data in this article are quite vague and the data provides a general idea of the components of STEM education and the structure that has worked at successful schools in the United States. Hanover Research collects data about STEM programs by reviewing scholarly articles, collecting data from national and state organizations, analyzing past surveys of STEM-focused schools, and utilizing sources who studied and collected data on Model STEM school programs across the country. With this being said, the methods of data collection consist of an examination of previously conducted studies by a wide rage of scholars on the topic of STEM education.

Through their research, Hanover Research (2011) discovered that STEM education is a necessity in the United States education system in order to assist in the improvement of math and science test scores, where only approximately one-third of students are performing at a proficient level. This article also gives an outline, which has been effective at performing STEM schools across the country, for what is required in order to create a STEM school that “cultivate(s) soft skills for scientific inquiry and problem-solving skills,” while creating a “STEM-literate citizenry” (Hanover Research, 2011, p. 2). If there goals are to be achieved, the article determined that schools must establish the following items: STEM goals, STEM subjects and skills, communication of the importance of STEM education with the community, implementation of the program (program structure, instructional techniques, curriculum, student motivation, high-quality STEM teachers), program sustainability, and professional development. Overall, there is a format that schools must follow in order to create a sustainable and effective STEM school.

The author organized the work in a coherent way, allowing the reader to easily navigate through the topics covered. First, the author gives a brief overview of the subject being covered, which includes: an executive summary, STEM definitions, summary of best practices, and an overview of professional development opportunities and the model programs that are analyzed at the end of the article. Second, the author dives into the meat of the article by discussing all of the topics summarized at the beginning of the article in a more in-depth manner. Lastly, the author discusses how model schools utilize the components of STEM school infrastructure discussed throughout. In summary, the organization of the article is logical and progresses naturally from smaller topics of describing what a STEM program needs, into a larger all-inclusive topic of model STEM programs. The one piece that I believe is lacking is a section that describes the research methods that are utilized to collect the data summarized in the article.

This research paper serves to provide an overview of K-12 STEM education. The arguments for STEM education and STEM structures are supported by strong resources, however, the depth of the article is lacking, leaving a lot to be desired. Although there are multiple reputable sources utilized, but unfortunately few in-depth discussions about STEM education, making it more of a starting point for research instead of a resource that can be used to instill change. In reality, this article can be used to begin creating an outline for what a functioning STEM program looks like. More specifically, an overview of research completed on STEM practices in the schools discussed would be helpful. For example, specific research concluding that specific aspects of STEM educational practices are useful and have data to provide proof of results. Also, a discussion of best practices to analyze the effectiveness of a STEM program would assist me in future research. A powerful conclusion to this article could be an overall cumulative report of what an ideal STEM model would look with strong statistical data provided as support.

Hanover Research (2011) utilized secondary data analysis in order to explore the different components of STEM education. The research group referred to research conducted by reputable sources, such as government agencies, national agencies, state agencies, and universities. There is a wide array of qualitative (surveys and interviews) and quantitative methodologies referenced throughout the work.

I feel the broadness of this article has created more questions than it has answers. I want to begin analyzing studies that have been completed on “successful” STEM schools across the county. I want to discover the best methods for determining the success of a STEM school, which I can later use to determine the efficacy of my own STEM program. I want to strengthen my understanding of each of the pieces of STEM programs and determine if there are other parts that must be included in the infrastructure of an effective STEM school structure. Overall, I have many ideas that I would like to continue to research, develop an understanding of, and collect data on to support my findings.




 Hanover Research- District Administrative Practices. (October 2011). K-12 STEM Education Overview. Washington, DC

Self-Reflection and Cultural Relevance

At what point will educators be mandated to assess their own personal biases before they assess the academic abilities of their students? Tyrone C. Howard’s 2003 article, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, truly resonates with me, as an assistant principal in a K-8 Title I elementary school. Throughout my years in the K-12 education system I have encountered the issue of educational inequity for my minority students and have often questioned what the school system can do to do create more culturally aware educators. In a diverse society we need to ensure that all of our students have access to education, which requires educators to be aware of the needs of their specific student population. I wholeheartedly believe that in order to create a school environment that meets the needs of our heterogeneous student population we must create “culturally relevant teaching practices” (Howard, 2013, p. 198). In order to make such an elaborate change we must ask our educators to go through a process of “critical reflection that challenges them to see how their positionality influences their students in either positive or negative ways” (Howard, 2013, p.198). This idea of self-reflection is required before we can begin to address an educator’s feelings about race, culture, and social class, which shape the ways they instruct their students.

As I have experienced in the past, teachers are capable of subconsciously projecting their negative concepts of culture and race onto their students on a daily basis, which can negatively impact a student’s level of academic achievement. Unfortunately, I have witnessed teachers who project personal biases onto their students leading to an awful crushing of young academic spirits. Stephen Jay Gould (1981) speaks to the idea that humans have battled with racism throughout history, in his book The Measure of Man. According to Gould, “racial prejudice may be as old as recorded human history” (p. 31). With this being said, educators need to be aware of their own possible prejudices and determine the best ways to adjust their ways of thinking as to not project any negative thoughts onto the students. As previously stated, the first step is self-reflection in order to first determine which prejudices each person possesses, allowing the educator to move towards lessening or even possibly eliminating such biases.

Although there is a clear necessity for teacher self- reflection, I continue to ask myself if teacher training programs can appropriately address the issue of honest, in-depth teacher self-reflection. Such reflection will require educators to come to terms with their own cultural identity and personal biases.Are we ready to have these difficult conversations? In order to see the change in teacher mentality, teachers will need to ask themselves challenging questions, discuss honest answers openly, and address any concerns discovered during this internal journey (Howard, 2003, p. 198). The question still remains, how will we integrate this critical self-reflection into our current teacher preparation programs and daily lives? Also, how do we determine if teachers are reflecting in an honest fashion that allows them to create teaching practices that are more culturally relevant? These are questions that we will have to address within our educational system immediately in order to ensure that our students are receiving an excellent and culturally relevant education.

In the United States we have a very diverse population, which affects our ability to give all students access an excellent education. We must devise ways to allow all students to access culturally relevant curriculum. In order for us to determine if a teacher is being effective in their classroom we need a way to appropriately assess a teacher’s efficacy. Leading to the question: How can we accurately assess a teacher’s value in our K-12 education system? According to Pauler and Amrein-Beardsley’s 2013 article, we must have random assignment of students in each classroom in order to analyze assessment scores by means of value-added analyses and interpretations. “Value added models (VAMs) are used to measure changes in student achievement on large-scaled standardized test scores from year to year” (Paufler and Amrein-Beardsley, 2013, p. 1). This measurement system depends on random assignment of students, which is not the case in the United States, so biases are inevitable in such a test score analysis technique. With this being said, do we need a better way to determine the quality of teachers or are we able to counteract the biases that exist?


Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher

                      reflection, 42(3), 195­202.

Paufler, N. A. & Amrein­Beardsley, A. (2013). The random assignment of students into

                   elementary classrooms: Implications for value­added analyses and interpretations.                                 

                   American Education Research Journal, 51(2), 328­362.