Launching BASE: Building Awareness for Science Education

Dr. Carol O’Donnell welcoming NC educators to the SmithsonianDr. Carol O’Donnell welcoming NC educators to the Smithsonian Image: Sarah Wells/Smithsonian Science Education Center 

July 25th marked the first day of the Smithsonian Science Education Center's Leadership development event BASE (Building Awareness for Science Education). With the support of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund the Smithsonian Science Education Center hosted several school districts from North Carolina at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to talk about the ever shifting landscape of STEM education and the benefits of the LASER model’s adaptive nature. LASER promotes five pillars: research-based curriculum materials, tiered professional development, materials support, community support, and aligned assessments. Director, Dr. Carol O’Donnell, spoke at the first day of the event to introduce the districts to the concepts of LASER and the proven benefits. Showing results from LASER’s 5 year study, O’Donnell demonstrated how students who were in schools in three states participating in LASER whose teachers received professional development and used the Science and Technology Concepts (STC) curriculum outperformed their peers in schools who hadn’t. These achievements were not only in science, but reading and math as well. O’Donnell also shared personal reflections from teachers who said that teaching this curriculum made them feel more confident teaching inquiry. 

Dr. Carol O’Donnell explaining LASER’s approach to STEM educationDr. Carol O’Donnell explaining LASER’s approach to STEM education Image: Sarah Wells/Smithsonian Science Education Center 

I spoke with Dr. O’Donnell after the first day about what she hoped the district teams would take away from the events this week. Dr. O’Donnell expressed to me that she hoped educators would use this week as a chance to reflect on where they stand in the changing STEM landscape, and how they will innovate in it. Popular teaching trends for science education will come and go, but O’Donnell says that what sets the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s LASER model apart is its “systematic approach to change”. The LASER model’s ability to be adaptive is absolutely necessary in today’s STEM landscape. O’Donnell explained how the model doesn’t try to implement an intervention and leave, but instead it supports each district  through the whole implementation process. The decisions about specific curriculum, materials support, professional development, assessments, or who from the community will support them, can differ from school to school depending on their shared goals and visions, but the infrastructure will be the same. 

Dr. Carol O’Donnell explaining data from LASER’s 5-year studyDr. Carol O’Donnell explaining data from LASER’s 5-year study Image: Sarah Wells/Smithsonian Science Education Center 

These district teams are by no means the first to implement the LASER model, and Dr. O’Donnell spoke to me about the ways the model has adapted over the years. One implementation challenge that O’Donnell mentioned was the high rate of teacher turnover in many districts. The development of condensed kit trainings has allowed new teachers to catch up to their colleagues in schools where LASER has already begun to be implemented. In addition, state standards in science are changing across the country, so many districts need to select new curriculum materials. LASER leadership events are also changing. O’Donnell mentioned that in the past, teams stayed for an entire week to develop their strategic plans, but now, teams work in Washington, DC for three days to "Build Awareness for Science Education," but then will return in the fall to finish developing their 5-year strategic plans. On the change, Dr. O’Donnell said that this new two-part introduction will help in creating a “professional learning community” that will be useful throughout the 5-year implementation. 

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About the Author

Sarah Wells
Digital Media Intern

Sarah Wells is a rising senior at Clark University and hails from Montpelier, Vermont. She is majoring in English with a double minor in physics and computer science.