CHAPTER IV

Professional Mathematics and Science Resource Centers

Written by Betty Vega, Team Leader

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Figure 4.1

Chapter 4

Frequency of use of best educational practices by teachers from resource center schools during the course of the project

Figure 4.2

Chapter 4

Comparison of resource teachers and other AlACiMa teachers in frequency of use of best educational practices in spring 2008

Table 4.1

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Table 4.2

Chapter 4

Table 4.3

Chapter 4

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.2

Table 4.1

Table 4.2

Table 4.3


Introduction

The Professional Mathematics and Science Resource Centers (PMSRC, or CRPCM for its Spanish acronym) were established at public elementary (K-6), intermediate (7-9), and high schools (10-12) to serve as models of excellence in the effective use of innovative teaching methodologies and as learning communities.  These centers were the places where the Authentic Professional Development Program (APDP) activities for AlACiMa participant schools’ teachers were held after the first year of the project.  They also served as repositories of challenging curricular materials that included books, manipulatives, equipment, and up-to-date educational technology.  These materials and equipment were available on request to teachers from nearby schools.  In addition, learning communities’ professional development activities were held at these centers for principals and school support personnel from nearby schools.

Conceptual Base

The conceptual base for the PMSRCs, presented below, includes the following key elements: (1) Resource Centers’ Models, (2) Teachers’ Professional Development, (3)Capacity Building for Education Leaders, and (4) Transformational Leadership Development.

Resource Centers’ Models

Distinct models for resource centers have been described in the literature.  The model proposed by Cabero (1999) consists of technology centers and school libraries as resource centers for learning.  In this view, the purpose of a resource center is to make information and communication technology readily available to teachers and students.  On the other hand, the National Science Resources Center (NSRC) presents a model whose mission is to improve student learning of science in the United States and around the world by establishing effective programs based on the best teaching/educational practices.  

The AlACiMa Resource Centers’ model combined both elements.  Their purpose, as originally described in the AlACiMa proposal, was to make curricular materials and educational technology readily available to math and science teachers of the participating schools.  However, they were later on created not only for that purpose but to serve as models of excellence in the effective use of best teaching methodologies and of learning communities.  A total of twenty-eight centers were established throughout all the educational regions of Puerto Rico educational system to extend the mathematics and science education reform efforts beyond the immediate participants to schools across the main island and Vieques.  Since AlACiMa had no authority to change textbooks or the means to overcome the paucity of classroom equipment and materials at all the Island’s schools, establishing and organizing the resource centers allowed AlACiMa to make challenging, innovative materials available to all the mathematics and science teachers of Puerto Rico.

One of the main functions that the centers eventually performed was to host the professional development activities for in-service teachers from nearby schools in mathematics and science content since the main activity of AlACiMa was the Authentic Professional Development Program (APDP).  The purpose of this program was for mathematics and science teachers to increase their content knowledge and their use of best teaching/educational practices (See Chapter II for details about AlACiMa’s APDP).  Initially the APDP was offered at the four core Institutes of Higher Education (IHEs) of AlACiMa, namely, the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras, Cayey, Mayagüez, and Humacao campuses that were in charge of the schools in the four geographical zones in which AlACiMa had divided the Island (See Chapter I for more details).  Although it is small, due to the topography of theIsland it may take some participating teachers two hours to get to the IHE to participate in the APDP.  When 28 schools were selected and established as Professional Math and Science Resource Centers (PMSRCs), it was decided that they would be a better place to offer the APDP training activities because they were strategically located throughout the Island.  Therefore an added value of these centers was its accessibility to teachers from all Island public schools.  A primary purpose for establishing the PMSRCs was thus to change the professional development that teachers had been receiving from externally-prescribed and far from their workplace, to needs-driven and community-controlled by shifting it to the teachers’ workplace: the school. 

Furthermore, the PMSRCs deliberately modeled schools as learning communities (See Chapter III for the conceptualization of schools as learning communities) to confront the everyday realities and difficulties faced by the typical school in Puerto Rico to show the power of the community to seek and develop their own alternatives.  For example, in a school that is showing high student absenteeism, the traditional way to address the problem is for the principal to design a strategy and inform teachers the plan to follow.  Instead, in one PMSRC school the principal met with the teachers and other school personnel to analyze the problem.  Everybody was allowed to propose solutions and comment on each other’s ideas, and finally, together they decided what, as a group, they were going to do.  They implemented their strategy and later met to analyze if it had worked and, based on their assessment, made necessary adjustments.  Consequently, they saw the problem, not as a principal’s problem, but as a school community problem.

Teachers’ Professional Development

The Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) has stated that teacher professional development should focus on content matter and that its effectiveness must be assessed by how well it improves student learning.  The PMSRCs, as centers of professional development, thus needed to provide an environment that promoted teachers’ participation and deep understanding of conceptual knowledge and content-specific pedagogy.  The centers had to offer support to teachers participating in the AlACiMa APDP in order to ensure that they were learning and transferring this learning to their classrooms.  According to Carr, Herman and Harris (2005) people need to experiment and give and receive feedback and support in order to become learners.  Furthermore, to build a school setting in which everyone learns, the faculty must be encouraged to work in pairs or groups and to collaborate as an entity.

Nonetheless, experience indicates that teachers usually work alone in the classroom.  According to Fullan (1999), the solution to isolated teachers is team work and faculty collaboration.  In this type of setting, the faculty communicate openly and frequently about their teaching practices more concretely and precisely as they develop common goals.  Whether with teachers in the same schools or teachers from other schools, the PMSRCs promoted working collaboratively in order to create and sustain significant discussions about educational practices that lead to change and improvement in student learning.  Discussing work as groups at the centers pulled the teachers out of the solitary classrooms that have long characterized their profession and allowed them to share, as professionals, what each had learned in their practice.

One of the critical steps revealed by research in changing the teaching-learning process is for teachers to transfer what they learn in professional development activities to their own classroom practice (Moye, 1997).  According to Klentschy (2005) this implies that professional development must deal directly with the individual teacher’s practice.  Accordingly, the professional development offered at our PMSRCs provided a variety of activities that the participating teachers could use in their classroom to improve their students’ learning.  The PMSRCs complemented the APDP with a variety of source books from which teachers could adapt additional curricular activities to use with their students.  Each center was expected to become an exemplary learning community directed at encouraging best educational practices.

Capacity Building for Education Leaders

The administration of the centers was in charge of a science and a math teacher who were named resource teachers.  The resource teachers were selected based on their leadership skills and interest in keeping up-to-date on content and pedagogical knowledge.  Nevertheless, they expressed their need to deepen their understanding of mathematics and science content so that they, in turn, could help their fellow teachers as required.  A special professional development program was then developed to meet the particular needs of the resource teachers.  To be effective, education directed at adults has to respond to their interests, needs, and experiences.  In andragogy, adult learning, the learner is envisioned as central to the teaching-learning process and, as such, the learner decides what, how, and when to learn (Caraballo, 2007).  Martínez (2005) argues that the end aim of adult education is the acquisition of knowledge, capabilities, and aptitudes to be applied at work; be it to carry out a particular task, for personal progress, or in response to a creative drive.  So the AlACiMa professional development planning process for resource teachers took into account their needs emphasizing mastery of science or mathematics content to enable them to respond to the academic and pedagogical needs of the teachers attending their centers.

In the planning of the professional development program for the resource teachers, special attention was given to the incorporation of technology in the mathematics and science teaching-learning process.  The use of technology in the classroom develops skills that students will need in the labor world and for their lifelong, self-directed learning supporting them in new endeavors, as it also contributes to the development of a more effective learning environment (De Jesús, 2007).  It also increases the teachers’ productivity allowing them greater opportunities to communicate with their peers and to produce educational materials for the classroom.

Transformational Leadership Development

The support personnel for each PMSRC included a science resource teacher, a mathematics resource teacher, the school principal, the school district superintendent, the district mathematics supervisor and another school member such as the librarian, counselor, or social worker.  The resource teachers were trained to administer the centers and to support their school district peers through practical pedagogical counseling and professional development.  They exercised leadership within the school, created support and service networks among the schools in the region, and acted as liaisons between the schools and the university, as well as between the schools and the educational region.  Among the many functions of the resource teachers were keeping the center open ten hours every week after school hours, collaborating with the zonal AlACiMa staff in the planning and coordination of the professional development activities in the center, communicating with participating teachers in the region, overseeing the loaning of materials and equipment, and managing the creation of low-cost classroom materials.  To carry out these functions they had to possess adequate leadership capabilities.

PMSRC personnel.  Developing or improving the resource teachers’ and principals’ leadership skills was thus essential in order for each PMSRC to fulfill its roles.  The professional development activities designed by the PMSRC team, composed of the leader and the liaisons, were offered by the leadership facilitators of the Learning Communities Team based on and modeling the leadership principles of Kouzes and Posner (2002) that are described and used extensively by Kaser, Mundry, Stiles and Loucks (2006).  These principles are 1) model the way, 2) inspire a shared vision, 3) challenge the process, 4) enable others to act and 5) encourage the heart.  Within these principles, the AlACiMa professional development activities for PMSRC personnel stressed that, as leaders, they must be consistent in their actions, earn the respect of their peers, and maintain credibility in the eyes of their colleagues.  AlACiMa sought to develop the sort of motivational school that transmits positive feedback in multiple forms and at diverse opportunities (Stoll, Fink, & Earl, 2004 p.132), thereby promoting an environment of respect and confidence for teachers, students, and the community at large.

An important aspect of working with peers is identifying their goals and aspirations. Helping resource teachers achieve their professional goals stimulates their interests in learning new things.  Working towards their goals together, sharing their successes and difficulties provided the common experiences needed to discover the resources within their own community.  From this perspective they could appreciate the opportunity to improve that their experiences as resource teachers afforded.  Through firsthand experience and guided reflection, they learned the value of recognizing and celebrating successes as a community.  Each PMSRCs development as a learning community that sustains its operation was promoted at special professional development activities, as well as by the meetings of the PMSRC liaisons that provided ample space for reflection, and through frequent communication among all members of each PMSRC.  To support the PMSRCs in their establishment as a learning community, the centers received visits of the team liaisons twice a month to meet with the resource teachers and the principal.  In these meetings they discussed the needs the schools had identified and together designed ways to meet them. 

Another key aspect related to the development of the resource teachers’ leadership skills is the formation of support groups.  These groups, developed by teachers for teachers, provided an informal forum to improve professional development, work with peers, and promote healthy discussion of improvements and changes in teaching practices.  Such support groups initially formed among the resource teachers from around the Island.  These in turn established a broad communication network using e-mail, telephone, and special meetings organized at other AlACiMa activities to meet and discuss among them.  The resource teachers communicated frequently to promote and supplement meetings between groups in geographic proximity and/or groups in the same grade levels.  When needed, resource teachers from one center would act as capacitators at other centers.  One example was the Technology Integration Project.  Since the level of expertise in using technology varied greatly among the resource teachers, the network allowed them to share learning experiences and to help each other learn.

School district educational leaders.  School district educational leaders need to create conditions in which students and school personnel learn (Stoll, Fink, & Earl, 2004).  In a school that learns, the superintendents form an executive leadership group that creates, supports, and develops a school system that learns.  Meanwhile the school principal, being the leader and the central support for teachers, has to promote change and improvement within the school.  This is why it was important that the activities offered to district personnel were directed at developing skills that lead to improved student learning.  We cannot overemphasize the fact that the school principal is the teachers’ leader, the real key to improve learning in the school (Senge, 2002).

According to Rodríguez (2002), the transformational leader’s authority is based on redistributing power.  He states that this sort of leadership emerges when leaders are more concerned with promoting the cooperation and energetic participation of all the organization’s members rather than getting them to carry out particular tasks.  This kind of leader involves the whole community in the search for alternatives to face their situation together, creates with the community a common vision and goals to pursue, values the contributions of each member, seeks to take consensus decisions, and gets everyone to work together and collaborate effectively to realize the common objective: A school that is better for everyone.  Integrating the school leaders into the function of the centers was essential, as their support was a critical element of the services offered.  A study realized at the University ofChicago (Bryck, Sebring, Rollow, & Easton, 1998) showed that few changes take place in a school unless the school principal is totally involved and promotes the democratic participation of the entire school community.  This underscores the importance of developing transformational leaders that redistribute their power to promote cooperation, participation, and growth.

When the project’s funding ended, AlACiMa had hoped to create autonomous centers that could continue to function through self-administration and strengthened alliances with the school districts (locally called educational regions) in which they were located.

Description of Interventions

Several interventions were carried out to establish and run the PMSRCs, as well as train key personnel, which are described below.

Criteria for Establishing the PMSRCs

The following describes the establishment of the PMSRCs as a key element in the process of achieving AlACiMa’s vision of improving mathematics and science learning of all students.  

The schools selected to become resource centers were chosen from the original 155 AlACiMa participant schools.  The selection criteria established for schools to become a PMSRC were

  • Broad participation of teachers and principals in the professional development activities offered by AlACiMa.
  • Demonstrated interest and disposition to become a center with the physical space to both, offer professional development and to house support materials and equipment.
  • Clear support from the school principal for becoming a resource center.
  • Good geographical location accessible to the nearby participating schools

Additional elements taken into consideration for the selection of a school as a PMSRC were availability of a separate and secure area in the school that could house AlACiMa equipment and materials, availability of competent teachers to perform the role of resource teachers, and the support of the school principal regarding operations in the afternoons or weekends.  

Center Selection and Setup Process

All the interested AlACiMa schools, the principals, and the superintendents were briefed about the benefits and responsibilities of becoming a PMSRC.  Interested schools filled an application form indicating their interest with the signatures of the principal and the two teachers interested in being resource teachers and also expressing their understanding of the responsibilities they will be accepting.  Each of the applicant schools was visited by members of the committee to examine the physical space reserved for the center and verify other information included in the application form (See a copy of an application form in Spanish in Appendix 4.1).

The personnel and participants of the PMSRCs were

  • Mathematics and science resource teachers. These were chosen from and by the teachers in their school.
  • PMSRC liaisons.  An educational professional was selected in each of the four AlACiMa zones to work with the corresponding centers. They played a critical role in the establishment and development of the PMSRC, having these primary functions:
    • Identify and take care of the needs of each PMSRC in their zone.
    • Collaborate in making the overall working plan for the resource centers.
    • Assist in coordinating the professional development activities.
    • Corroborate that the resource teachers were fulfilling their roles.
    • Visit each center frequently as part of the evaluation process.
  • Principals. They were the principals of the center schools and the AlACiMa participant schools from the surrounding district.
  • Mathematics and science teachers. The primary community served by the centers consisted of the mathematics and science teachers of the AlACiMa participating schools in the surrounding region of the same grade level (elementary, intermediate, high school) as the center.
  • Support personnel. Recognizing the need to address mathematics and science teachers as part of a school community, the centers offered activities and support for the counselors and social workers from the AlACiMa participating schools in the center’s region.
  • AlACiMa zone administrative personnel. All AlACiMa administrative personnel of the center’s zone were integrated into the function of the center.  Likewise, the Zonal Support Team was created specifically to support all teachers in each zone through the zone’s PMSRCs.

The activities related to the establishment of the PMSRCs included the following:

  1. Orientation for potential PMSRC schools, as described previously.  The duties of the resource teachers consisted of:
    1. Organizing and providing logistical support for professional development activities
    2. Establishing and maintaining lines of communication with exemplary teachers, university professors, industry personnel and other available human resources capable of delivering professional development activities.
    3. Establishing communications with lead teachers from surrounding schools to act as points of contact to encourage teachers to attend professional development activities at the center as well as to form a learning community.
    4. Offering technical support with respect to the use of curricular materials and equipment located in the center.
    5. Overseeing the loaning of curricular materials and equipment to teachers from surrounding schools.
  2. The PMSRC Authentic Academy: Center design and collaborative planning.  In this five-day retreat, the academy dedicated time to working with the theoretical and methodological bases of the resource centers.  A variety of formats were used and modeled; such as, assemblies, lectures, workshops, interviews, electronic forums, and consultations.  Each resource center personnel developed its working plans to open and run the centers.
  3. Selection, purchase and delivery of PMSRC materials and equipment.  One of the primary criteria for the selection of materials and equipment was the research-based evidence showing them to be effective for learning mathematics and science in the grades served by the respective resource centers.  The initial list of suggested materials and equipment was evaluated by the AlACiMa capacitators as well as by exemplary teachers.  After a thorough evaluation, including minor adjustments to meet budget limitations, the recommended materials and equipment were purchased and delivered to the centers.  They included math and science educational materials appropriate to the level of the school in which they were housed, in addition to equipment, manipulatives, and educational technology to facilitate teachers to employ active educational practices.  Resource teachers prepared an inventory of the items received.  This inventory was subsequently circulated among teachers participating in professional development at the center.  Participating teachers who wished to use some of the listed equipment or materials in their classrooms were encouraged to request them.  The resource teachers kept a daily register of materials and equipment loaned (See a copy in Spanish of the services registry in Appendix 4.2).
  4. Needs assessment.  Planning for professional development offerings began with an assessment of the needs of the participating teachers in the area of the center.  This included sessions for resource teachers on how to manage the center’s equipment, communicate, and offer the best possible service to the participating teachers.
  5. PMSRC inauguration.  Invitations to opening day were sent to AlACiMa participant schools and to non-participant schools in the center’s district. Invitations included information of how the center would operate.  The centers held their opening days early in 2006, adding further details about the services to be offered.  

Photographs and video footage of some of the PMSRCs’ activities can be found in Appendix 4.3.

Capacitating the Resource Teachers

AlACiMa adopted the view that professional development activities for teachers should model classroom practices shown to be effective and make this modeling transparent in order to enable the teachers to improve student learning in their classroom.  In order to promote this view of enabling teachers rather than prescribing how or what they should teach, the term capacitation was adopted.  As used in AlACiMa, participating teachers deepened their content understanding and developed their pedagogical skills as part of a shift from teaching centered to student learning centered attitude.  The resource teachers were expected to demonstrate a high level of corresponding content mastery relative to the grade levels taught in their centers, so that they could help their peers work through the transfer to the classroom phase.  They were also expected to develop and implement plans to integrate technology into their own teaching.  Beyond their work with AlACiMa, the resource teachers were expected to participate in mathematics and science conventions and apply any pertinent new knowledge to their classrooms.  In short, they were expected to be models of professional growth for their peers and learners for their students.  Resource teachers received a monthly stipend to cover for their work after school normal hours during the week and on Saturdays.

Since the resource teachers were occupied with administrative chores during the professional development activities offered at their centers, they were unable to completely benefit of the professional development being offered. After recognizing this difficulty, separate capacitations were organized by grade level for the resource teachers in response to their particular needs.  Based on the recommendation of several resource teachers, their capacitations were designed around the same concepts as those of the rest of the teachers, covering particular topics such as the science of composting, chemical and biological aspects of water, measurement, probability and statistics, and the concept of patterns.  In addition, resource teachers participated in other activities such as:

  • The Technology Integration Academy for student and teacher learning. Software programs including Graph Master, Graph Club, Inspiration, Kidinspiration, and Inspire Data were part of the materials purchased for the centers.  The Technology Integration Academy was offered to both the resource teachers and designated math or science teacher from the resource centers.  The academy lasted a week and included lectures, forums and concurrent workshops.  The participants worked with various alternatives readily available on the Internet that can be used in the classroom, such as those in the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives and Webquest.  The participants were expected to produce a plan to integrate technology into the classrooms of their respective schools (the form used to plan the integration of technology in the PMSRCs, in Spanish, can be found in Appendix 4.4).
  • Capacitations with liaisons: The PMSRCs’ liaisons visited the centers about twice a month to identify needs and observe progress.  The liaisons prepared and offered capacitations on the operation of the PMSRCs, as needed.

The resource teachers also had the opportunity to attend national conventions, as a group, according to their content area (National Science Teachers Association or National Council of Teachers of Mathematics).  They formed a support group among themselves that shared the mathematics and science content learned at these conventions and prepared related lessons to use with students in their own classrooms (See a copy of the Working Plan form, in Spanish, that they used to guide their planning in Appendix 4.5).

In addition, the resource teachers were able to participate in a series of leadership development activities in which they deepened their knowledge about evaluation and documentation, reflected on their experiences in charge of the PMSRCs and studied the advantages and disadvantages of various possible professional development formats that could be used at the centers.  They also had the opportunity to enhance their electronic communication skills, prepare work plans and generate proposals aimed at promoting self-sustenance.  They also examined the research data regarding the relationship between teacher professional development and student learning.

In summary, active participation and relevance were the key elements in designing professional development activities for the resource teachers.  The original resource center’s design plan addressed capacitating them in center operations and community outreach, but not in mathematics or science.  It was initially assumed that the resource teachers would be able to participate in the regular Saturday professional development activities offered to mathematics and science teachers. However once they began their administrative tasks, even partial participation was clearly difficult.  It was realized that, if the resource teachers were expected to help their peers learn during and after the activities, they needed to prepare well in advance.  An extra monthly meeting was thus designed to familiarize the resource teachers with the upcoming center’s science or mathematics content activity (each in his/her area) and to review the key underlying concepts.

These are some lessons that we learned with respect to capacitating the resource teachers.  More activities were needed to allow all of them from across the Island to have time for discovering their common concerns, finding individual talents, sharing solutions, and addressing difficulties in order to develop more effectively as leaders in their communities.  The resource teachers should have been encouraged and given the opportunity to capacitate others in taking leadership roles.  As is known to all teachers, trying to teach others something is one of the most effective ways to learning with understanding.  We also discovered that mathematics and science activities of any source or design have to work with the equipment and materials that are available to teachers at the moment so that they can use them immediately in their own classrooms.  Even though alternatives may be suggested for the materials or equipment actually used in the demonstration activity, few teachers are secure enough to attempt modifications on their own.

Capacitating PRDE personnel associated to the PMSRCs

Research shows that educational leaders are a critical component in developing and maintaining an environment that supports student learning (Moye, 1997). Recognizing the importance of district leaders in the successful operation of the PMSRC, superintendents as well as the mathematics supervisors were invited to participate in the design and operation of the centers in their district.  The direct inclusion of these PRDE’s personnel was not envisioned in the initial conception of the centers.  However, soon it was realized that it was necessary to establish a greater commitment to the PMSRC based on their knowledge of what was happening there and how the centers could help improve student learning of mathematics and to promote center sustainability.  From the PRDE’s perspective, district personnel are responsible for the professional development of their teachers, and so we needed them to be an integral part of the PMSRCs.  As expected from busy people, this took more than a polite invitation and required motivating and persuading the district personnel to help them realize that they could use the PMSRC at that moment and in the future to offer professional development activities.

School district personnel were thus  invited to participate in various activities to discuss common concerns, reflect, share ideas, and seek ways to work together to improve student learning.  During these discussions AlACiMa promoted the resource centers as a place for such open dialogues to continue, which included the district leaders as part of the operation of the PMSRCs.  This was essential to gain their support and influence day-to-day decisions that could affect the services offered by the centers.  

An AlACiMa objective thus became to capacitate these de facto leaders to use the centers in the improvement of teaching learning in their districts.  To lead off this capacitation, AlACiMa offered the opportunity to examine and discuss research regarding school conditions that produce improvement in student learning, as well as different strategies to develop such conditions.  In these activities, the participants from this sector also worked on topics such as how communication styles affect dialogue, early intervention strategies for dealing with conflict situations, extending the alliance between the resource centers and the school district, developing the group facilitation skills to lead learning communities, writing proposals for the PRDE, and developing district initiatives.

Various activities were thus done to empower the PMSRCs to assume the sustainability of their centers. These initiatives thus included assisting district personnel to draft proposals to obtain PRDE’s funds to take over professional development and other center services, a process that historically has not received this kind of support.  AlACiMa, with the direct participation of the PRDE’s personnel, offered workshops about the available funding and how to write an effective proposal. 

Lessons Learned

The continuous and extensive communication with the PMSRC personnel, team and other AlACiMa staff by e-mail, telephone, fax, and through our website was very helpful and essential for the proper implementation of the activities at the centers. Thanks to this continuous feedback we can make some recommendations to other projects that are planning to create a resource center.  These are some of the lessons learned with respect to the establishment and operation of the PMCRCs, the professional development of the resource teachers and the relation with PRDE personnel associated to them.

Establishment and Operation of the PMSRCs

  • The location of the centers was an important concern based on teachers’ comments that the availability of a close to home place to go for professional development was seen as very positive.  Having to travel for no more than 45 minutes to get to and from the PD activity made possible the participation of many teachers.
  • The selection of capacitators with a respectful and receptive attitude toward teachers gave them a “safe environment” to express their needs, what they did not understand, and ask openly what they really expected to obtain from the PD program.  Actually considering their suggestions and making the needed modifications to meet their needs was seen as very positive by the teachers.
  • Having faculty members going to the schools to offer the APDP there helped to familiarize them with the realities of the teachers they are working with. They became more aware of their needs, they understood the environment where the teacher taught every day and were more receptive to help the teachers.
  • The PMSRC school selection and the resource teachers’ selection processes should be more thorough in terms of ensuring that the commitments are really clear to all the school personnel interested in becoming a PMSRC and resource teachers.  It should be verified that the designated resource teachers are actually the best teachers rather than the teachers who are available and willing at the time.
  • More time should be allotted for the preparation of the PMSRCs’ personnel and facilities to help them operate more effectively.  The PMSRC schools need more time to establish themselves as learning communities in order to be more effective as model schools for others in the district.
  • We now recognize that it was important to have discussed our expectations in detail with principals and resource teacher candidates from schools applying to become resource centers.  All parties should have thoroughly understood these expectations about school and individual commitments to serve the district school community needs and how we would evaluate their performance.

Resource Teachers’ Professional Development

  • It is essential to have continuous feedback from teachers to cater to their needs.  Every single activity with the teachers was evaluated, and the evaluations were read and discussed among the capacitators, assistant capacitators, and resource teachers.  Reading and analyzing the evaluations helped by making necessary corrections rapidly and planning with time to cater to the expressed need of the participating teachers.
  • During the reflection process with the resource teachers about their professional development needs to fulfill their daily or weekly tasks, we discovered that computer and communication technology, such as using Windows Office, was a major issue.  Some of them were unfamiliar with Windows messenger and e-mail applications that were the quickest communication modes within the project.  Not only did they need these applications to manage the resource center’s communications, but also to address the needs and interests of their peers. More activities were needed to allow all of them from across the Island to have time for discovering their common concerns, finding individual talents, sharing solutions, and addressing difficulties in order to develop more effectively as leaders in their communities. 
  • The resource teachers should have been encouraged and given the opportunity to capacitate others in taking leadership roles.  As is known to all teachers, trying to teach others something is one of the most effective ways to learning with understanding.  We also discovered that mathematics and science activities of any source or design have to work with the equipment and materials that are available to teachers at the moment so that they can use them immediately in their own classrooms.  Even though alternatives may be suggested for the materials or equipment actually used in the demonstration activity, few teachers are secure enough to attempt modifications on their own.
  • To promote better self-determination, the resource teachers should be trained from the beginning on sources of funding within the PRDE and other sources to sustain the center and on proposal writing.  More training is also needed in how to form working alliances with community businesses, local industry, and other potential collaborators.

Relations with PRDE Personnel Associated with the PMSRCs

  • Regular dialogues with the school principals served by each PMSRC should be pursued so that center operations are included in the schools’ comprehensive plans.  Through such dialogues, the schools could have greater input in the selection of materials and equipment available for loan and the PMSRC could better serve the district teachers’ needs. 
  • A key element emphasized in this intervention was participation of the school district in order to acquaint them with the PMSRCs and the services being offered. It should be noted that few among this key personnel showed up the first time and few consistently attended successive resource center activities. The reasons for this behavior were multiple, including last minute meetings scheduled by the PRDE.
  • It would have been better to pay much closer attention to the superintendents and supervisors’ commitment to support and work with the resource centers. In hindsight, periodic meetings with school district personnel to discuss upcoming activities and to adapt plans to respond better to district needs might have led them to taking a more active role.
  • Better communication strategies must be devised between the superintendent’s office and the school personnel at the resource centers.  This should promote greater awareness and appreciation for the PMSRCs as professional development centers within the school district.  If possible, it would be excellent to be able to count with a PRDE’s contact that will attend all resource centers’ activities at the central level and make regular reports to the PRDE. 

Results Regarding Resource Center Interventions

AlACiMa aimed to create strategically located resource centers to provide teachers with material and human resources that could enhance teacher professional development and make challenging curricular materials and technology available to promote increased math and science student learning.  The previously described interventions were carried out for that purpose and produced outcomes that are described below.

Establishment and Operation of the PMSRCs

The original purpose for the establishment of these resource centers was to make curricular materials and educational technology readily available to math and science teachers of the participating schools.    

Making curricular materials and educational technology available.  Since AlACiMa had no authority to change the Puerto Rico public school system’s curriculum and textbooks, establishing and organizing the resource centers allowed AlACiMa to make challenging, innovative materials available to mathematics and science teachers.  Although these services were mainly for teachers from AlACiMa schools, they were also available for other math and science teachers from schools in the public education system.

Table 4.1 presents data about the services provided by 25 of these resource centers to math and science teachers, excluding the visits of teachers for attending PD capacitations (trainings).  Also presented are the numbers of math and science teachers in participating AlACiMa schools.  As can be seen, the total number of teachers who visited the resource centers to receive services (total=1595) is slightly higher than the number of science/math teachers in AlACiMa schools (1515).  When the different school levels are examined, it can be seen that this result is due to the number of services provided to intermediate level teachers since the number of teachers from this level who received services (595) is more than double the number of science/math teachers in AlACiMa schools at that school level (252), and this is the case for both math and science teachers.  This result indicates that the intermediate level centers provided services to many math and science teachers from the intermediate level who were not from AlACiMa schools.  That is probably not the case for elementary and high school teachers since the total number of teachers from those school levels who visited the centers to receive services (677 & 323, respectively) is lower than the total number of science/math teachers in AlACiMa schools at the corresponding levels (924 & 339, respectively).  The numbers, however, suggest that most science and math teachers from AlACiMa schools, and at the intermediate level many that teach in other schools of the system, were receiving services from the resource centers in spring 2008, in the last year of the AlACiMa interventions’ stage.

Table 4.1

The professional development program of the resource teachers emphasized the use of educational technology for teaching math and science.  Table 4.1 also indicates that a large proportion of the teachers’ visits to the centers was to borrow educational technology equipment since around half borrowed it (793/1595: 49.7%).   This proportion was higher for the secondary level, high school and intermediate level teachers (56.3% & 51.8%, respectively) than for elementary teachers (45.2%).

Models of excellence in the effective use of best educational practices.  The purpose of the resource centers, as previously stated, was enhanced to enable them to serve as models of excellence in the effective use of best teaching methodologies. To examine this we used results from the AlACiMa K-12 Teacher Questionnaire that was administered three times in the spring semester during the course of the project: 2005 (prior and after format), 2007 and 2008 to AlACiMa teachers who participated in the math and science APDP. This questionnaire includes items regarding the use of instructional practices, assessment practices and also attitudes toward the learning process.

When the classroom practices of in-service teachers from resource center schools were compared with those from AlACiMa schools that were not resource centers,both groups of teachers did not differ in the frequency of use of best educational practices (data not shown).  However, in a similar way, they did show a rather consistent, although small, gradual increase in the item total means during the course of the project: from 2004, (corresponding to a ‘prior’ measure taken in 2005, before the AlACiMa interventions started), 2005, 2007 and 2008 (See Figure 4.1). This was the case for frequency of use of teaching practices (Response format was: Never: 1; Seldom: 2; Occasionally: 3; Regularly: 4.), such as, connection of science and math to other fields, using and making models to represent concepts or objects, and work related to real world problems.  A similar incremental tendency was observed for student assessment practices which include practices, like, answering open-ended conceptual questions, using rubrics to assess own learning, designing graphic organizers and describing reasoning.  A consistent gradual increase was also observed for positive attitudes toward elements that facilitate the learning process (Response format: Strongly disagree: 1; Disagree: 2; Agree: 3; Strongly agree: 4), for example, having materials for investigative instruction, having a shared vision of effective instruction, and being well informed about professional education standards.

Figure 4.1 Frequency of use of best educational practices by teachers from resource center schools during the course of the project

Models of excellence in communities of learning.  The resource centers were also expected to deliberately model schools as learning communities to confront the difficulties faced by the typical school in Puerto Rico.  A school learning community requires that people in all roles within a school understand that everyone must actively support student learning and collaborate with each other to attain it.  In meetings carried out at the end of the project’s intervention stage, personnel associated with the resource centers (i.e., resource teachers, principals and school superintendents) were asked to participate in an exercise in which they wrote about the gains they had derived from their participation in AlACiMa, specifically gains in knowledge, skills, attitudes and relationships.  This data gives us a glimpse of how the resource center schools were able to create and to function as school communities of learning.

Creation of learning communities.  Many of the resource teachers explicitly mentioned gains related to the communities of learning they created in their schools in expressions like the following (translated from Spanish):

Valuing the contributions of everyone, forming a learning community… Understanding what is group work in communities of learning…Gaining knowledge about learning communities…Developing skills on working in learning communities…Obtaining knowledge about communities of learning, taking ownership of this knowledge and transferring it to my colleagues at school…Realizing that we need all members of a school community to attain our objectives regarding student learning…

Some of the school principals, superintendents and supervisors who attended another end-of- intervention stage meeting also explicitly addressed the creation of communities of learning in their respective work environments:

[The main gain was] in my community of learning, sharing knowledge with my teachers, colleagues and principals…Putting in practice in my learning community some learned techniques and dynamics, the obtained results have been better in my school faculty…Working more frequently as a team, as a learning community.

Better relations and collaboration.  Some other resource teachers implied in the gains’ exercise writings that they functioned as school communities of learning in expressions that refer to enhanced social relationships and collaboration:

Strengthening the relationships with my colleagues since we became aware that we all have a common goal and there are no differences among us…Better interpersonal relationships, it helped me to know the diversity among people but that it is not an obstacle to focus on and work toward a common goal…Improved relations with my principal…Better interactions with my peers and my principals…Learning skills to manage conflicts in my school community…Work in collaborative groups, and in this way relate with my colleagues… I have learned to better socialize with my peers.

The school principals, superintendents and math supervisors also implied, in their expressions regarding what they had gained, that they worked in communities of learning when they talked about better relations and communication in their work settings:

Better relationships, unity and commitment…Gaining skills on conflict resolution… Solving conflicts between colleagues to promote good relationships…Gaining the trust of my teachers and other school personnel…Enhanced communication among the school personnel…Better knowledge of my teachers in other facets different from the classroom.

Sharing and support.  Resource teachers also implied working in communities of learning when they referred to sharing and supporting each other both within and between school settings, in expressions such as:

Our concerns regarding the teaching-learning process are shared; we discuss and search for solutions…Sharing knowledge, listening to my colleagues…Learning to listen carefully, to give others the opportunity to express themselves, in the way that we want others to let us express ourselves… Accepting others’ ideas, communicating more effectively with peers…Realizing that there are different ways of viewing the learning process…Sharing ideas with colleagues has played a significant role in my school performance and my reflection about my work…Learn to hear my colleagues and respect their viewpoints…Be more receptive to other opinions and viewpoints… Become more tolerant with myself and others…Exchanging ideas and knowledge with my peers and other AlACiMa participants…Establishing support networks among teachers from different schools that attend the center’s activities.

The school principals, superintendents and math supervisors who participated in the previously mentioned meeting also talked about gaining support and sharing with other personnel within the school system:

Sharing with other principals, superintendents and teachers from other districts… Knowing people that can share my concerns and offer ideas about improving learning…Sharing about different working alternatives and about what teachers can do…Listening to other people, developing empathy…Improving in tolerance for others’ opinions…Understanding and valuing the situation of other colleagues…

Results presented above suggest that the centers not only served as resources of curricular materials and educational technology, but also played a role in promoting best educational practices and communities of learning.

Capacitation of the Resource Teachers

Each resource center was operated by a pair of math and science teachers, who were responsible for their functioning.  A special professional development program was created to meet their particular needs.  This program mainly focused on capacitations in math and science content using best educational practices and trainings on leadership and skills related to the operation of the resource centers.

Math and science content matter.  The previously mentioned exercise about gains derived from participation in AlACiMa also offers a glimpse about the resource teachers’ gains regarding content knowledge.  When asked to identify their major gains, several of them expressed:

Improve my content knowledge.  Develop depth of knowledge of concepts…Better understanding concepts taught at the elementary level…Enhanced knowledge about the topics covered in the workshops given by the capacitators…Learning concepts with understanding… Be able to better classify concepts…

Related to content knowledge, some of them highlighted the importance of, not only comprehending concepts, but also making connections between different fields and with real life:

Enriching my scientific and mathematical knowledge with concepts and skills pertinent to the challenges that our society faces…Being able to make connections between concepts…Make connections with everyday life…Integrating science and math with other subject matters…Content areas should be integrated, since we do not do things within specific subject matters in real life…

Best educational practices.  The special professional development program on math and science content matter created for these teachers, although it attended their specific needs, also followed AlACiMa’s pattern of modeling best educational practices and making this modeling transparent to facilitate teachers to use them in their classrooms.  Figure 4.2 shows how, in 2008, the resource teachers compared with other teachers from AlACiMa schools in the frequency of use of best educational practices, specifically, teaching practices, assessment practices and attitudes toward the learning process.  As can be seen, both groups did not differ in their teaching practices since both show a very similar frequent use of these practices (Response format was: Never: 1; Seldom: 2; Occasionally: 3; Regularly: 4).However, the resource teachers showed a slightly higher level of use of best assessment practices and a bit more positive attitude toward the learning process. 

Figure 4.2 Comparison of resource teachers and other AlACiMa teachers in frequency of use of best educational practices in spring 2008

Regarding assessment practices, when the individual assessment items of the questionnaire were examined, we observed that the resource teachers showed higher levels of use in 11 out of 14 items (See these items in Table 4.2). Practices for which resource teachers showed highest frequency use were giving students the opportunity to assess their own performance, answering open-ended questions and using rubrics.

Table 4.2

Similarly, an inspection of the items that evaluate attitudes toward elements that facilitate the learning process shows that the resource teachers showed a more favorable attitude than their counterparts from other AlACiMa schools in most of them (4 out of 6).  Table 4.3 presents this comparison.

Table 4.3

Many resource teachers also expressed that they had gained knowledge and skills related to their teaching practices in the previously mentioned gains’ exercise. Some of them specifically mentioned teaching to attain enhanced student learning, specially learning with understanding:

Learning ways to better promote math learning… Having a positive attitude toward teaching for attaining learning with understanding… Teach for learning with understanding, not only achieving that students know the material but that they can transfer it to other situations… 

Resource teachers also wrote about gaining knowledge and skills for educational planning in expressions like:

Using curricular maps for planning courses, I liked it and will continue using them… Plan classes according to the learners needs, employing a variety of teaching and assessment techniques…Strengthen my ability to set objectives and align them with content standards…Be able to plan strategies to meet student sub-cultural needs… The skills I learned have helped me to plan and teach a concept in different ways because learners are diverse …Gaining experience in planning teaching-learning activities…Designing curricular activities for all educational areas, math, science, social studies and others…

Many teachers also spoke about strengthening their knowledge of educational practices and using innovative and varied strategies:

Enhanced learning about teaching processes…Knowledge about how to better present my classes…Better forms of providing knowledge to my students…The ability to transfer all the acquired knowledge to my peers and students…Modify my educational strategies to be able to better teach my students…Augment my skills, acquiring knowledge about different ways of teaching the same content… Understanding concepts more clearly and teaching them more confidently…Make the teaching-learning process a different experience…

The professional development program for resource teachers emphasized the use of educational technology.  Many teachers referred to it when listing gains achieved:

My professional development has been very good, especially in technology…Developing skills in technological tools…Developing technological knowledge…Lots of technological knowledge…Work in groups with technology…Learning to use lots of technological equipment and manipulatives…Using sensors, the graphic calculator and techniques for biotechnology…Be able to use the computer and not being afraid of it…

Leadership and administrative skills.  Resource teachers were also trained to perform their responsibilities in the centers, including hosting the APDP capacitations for in-service math and science teachers in their schools.  In the gains exercise they also talked about gaining in leadership knowledge and skills through their participation in AlACiMa:

Acquiring and developing leadership skills…Exerting leadership in my district and my school…Face challenges, be a leader in a change process…

Resource teachers also alluded to acquiring valuable administrative or organizational skills:

Knowledge about how to better use my time…Gaining skills for assessing needs…  Getting organizational skills to use in running the center…Developing report writing skills….Improving my oral and written communication skills…Being able to deal with public…

They also specifically referred to acquiring skills related to planning and carrying out different kinds of activities:

Skills for coordinating educational activities…Planning and coordinating activities… Organizing different kinds of activities…Increase my knowledge about planning and carrying out trainings…Organizational skills for carrying out meetings, activities, identifying resources…Planning, coordinating and organizing activities, like parent trainings…Preparing training sessions, it was challenging, I learned and learned, what is well learned is never forgotten…

Resource teachers also mentioned experiencing some behavioral changes as a result of participating in AlACiMa:

Better knowledge of my weaknesses as teacher and as a person…Fortify my commitment, responsibility and positivism…Developing an open mind to accept and learn from others’ recommendations…Changing the way that I face difficult situations…

They particularly emphasized developing positive attitudes, especially toward promoting school change:

I have learned that no matter what obstacles you face, you should always be positive to be able to overcome them…Be able to accept new challenges…Confront the challenge of new things…A positive attitude toward continued learning…A positive attitude toward change and new things…A positive attitude about the struggles faced in teaching…Better disposition toward change…Be more positive and take more risks in teaching…See our work as teachers more positively and think that there is a better future for education…Having a disposition to change and accept critique, see farther on, broaden my view of education.

The resource teachers also mentioned the gains in relationships, within the K-16 educational system, that they were able to establish due to their participation in AlACiMa.  Some of them referred to gains related to diverse professional relationships in general:

Gain lots of friends; get to know closely many different people…A diversity of professionals that were focused on a common goal…Get to know different people with the common purpose of learning…New friendships with diverse facilitators of learning…Establish relationships with other professionals to share ideas.

However, other resource teachers especially highlighted the relations they established with the math and science professional development capacitators, most of whom were IHE faculty, and with other AlACiMa personnel:

Establish support networks with capacitators, assistant capacitators and all the AlACiMa staff…Develop friendship relationship with the capacitators and other AlACiMa personnel…Get to know science and math professors that I can use as resources in the future…Get to know university professors, relate and learn from them; at the end it became a relationship between peers…The reflective meeting after the capacitations helped us to become part of the capacitators’ group.

This last quote refers to a post-capacitation meeting that took place in the resource centers when they were carried out in the center schools.  During the last two years of the project intervention stage, the resource teachers led these meeting in which capacitators, assistant capacitators and other AlACiMa personnel visiting the centers met.  In this meeting the reaction forms filled by the in-service teachers who attended the capacitations that day were reviewed and a discussion based on them took place.  This discussion, following uniform guidelines designed by AlACiMa, was focused on the strengths, as well as elements that could be improved, of the just finished capacitation.  This was a formative evaluation activity meant to continually improve the professional development capacitation process.

Results presented above indicate that resource teachers benefited from the special professional development program designed to enable them to perform their duties, as well as from the roles they performed regarding the in-service teachers’ science and math professional development program.

Capacitation of PRDE Personnel Associated with the PMSRCs

Educational leaders are a critical component in developing and maintaining an environment that supports reforms aimed at improving student learning. Consequently, principals, superintendents and math supervisors were invited to participate in a special capacitation program in AlACiMa to enhance the successful operation of the PMSRCs.  In the previously mentioned gains’ exercise, these educational leaders reported about the benefits they derived from their participation in this program.  Some specifically mentioned improving their leadership skills:

Gaining knowledge about effective and positive leadership…Improving my leadership skills…Being consistent in what one says and does as a leader, that is, being more trustworthy…

They also talked about behavioral changes they have experienced, and reflective processes they have found valuable:

Enhanced control of my impulses…Better conflict management skills…Showing more respect for others…Improve my introspection about any situation…Reflecting about curricular development…Value the introspection process…Gain skills to promote enhanced reflection, inference and metacognition…

Similar to the resource teachers, these educational leaders also mentioned developing positive attitudes, especially toward change processes:

More positive attitudes…A more positive and persevering attitude…Showing more tenacity, firmness, and persistence…Be consistent in words and deeds to attain true change...An attitude of commitment and challenge toward change… Transformational attitudes toward the learning process…

The educational leaders, as these results suggest, also benefited from the capacitations that were designed for them in order to support the resource centers.

Sustainability of Resource Centers

Even after AlACiMa funding for the resource centers ceased, some of them continued to offer professional development and other services.  Most of them maintained communication with AlACiMa personnel due, at least in part, to the confidence and trust developed by working as a team over several years.  A year after the AlACiMa intervention stage ended in the summer of 2008, the centers’ resource teachers were contacted by AlACiMa personnel to get information about the operational status of the centers.

The information collected indicated that out of the 28 centers, 20 (71.4%) were still located in the same place at the school, with its curricular materials and technological equipment in place, and all of them were providing service to teachers from their own school (See specific details in Appendix 4.6).  Additionally, 12 out of these 20 centers (60%) also provided services to other educators, specifically, in-service teachers from other AlACiMa schools, from schools in their public system districts, and from private schools, also to math supervisors, to pre-service teachers and faculty from nearby IHEs, and to K-12 students, specially those taking research courses or participating in scientific fairs.  Regarding future projections for these centers, all mentioned they planned to continue providing the same kind of services that were provided before, mainly the provision of materials and equipment, but three of them also specifically mentioned offering capacitation to specific groups of math and science teachers.  One of them additionally mentioned that the school staff was planning to establish a pre-service teachers’ practicum center at the school.

The eight remaining center schools (28.6%) reported that the curricular materials and technological equipment of the centers was placed in math and science classrooms or labs, or in other places in the school, like the library or a reproduction center, therefore these materials and equipment were been used by teachers from these schools.  However, six of these schools (75%) informed that they also provided services to teachers from other AlACiMa schools, from other schools in the district, to district supervisors, or to students.  Only two schools informed that they no longer provided these services.

The autonomous sustainability of most of these centers has enabled AlACiMa personnel, a year after the end of its originally planned intervention phase, to reinitiate support to some of the resource centers for various purposes.  Unused NSF funds were allocated to provide limited follow-up support to 10 intermediate or high school centers with the main purpose of empowering its resource teachers to provide science and math capacitation to in-service teachers from their districts. Additionally, federal funds administered by the PRDE were obtained to strengthen two of the original resource centers and to create fifteen new ones, mainly from the elementary school level.  These actions enhance the sustainability and expansion of the centers.

Summarizing, in this chapter we have presented the conceptual basis that framed the PMSRC creation and functioning, its main intervention strategies and some lessons learned regarding this work.  Finally, we described some positive results derived from the resource center interventions.  These findings evidenced that the centers have been able to provide material and human resources to strengthen math and science K-12 education in Puerto Rican schools.  The sustainability and expansion of these centers is an enduring contribution to the public educational system.

Acknowledgments

We want to express our thanks to the following persons that were very important for the success of the PMSRC: the PMSRC team liaisons, Lydia Sáez, Domingo Rodríguez, Carmen M. Estronza, María I. Batista and the assistants, Nivlem Cappa and Nastashia Rivera

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