Science Educator Profile | Nancy Landes

Meet the BSCS science educators! Learn why our science educators chose the field of science in general for their careers, and science education in particular. What are they working on right now? Why is this work important, and what will we all gain from it?

Featured work: STeLLA (Science Teachers Learning through Lesson Analysis)

How long have you been with BSCS?

I have been with BSCS for 25 years. I joined BSCS in 1983, the year after BSCS moved from Louisville, Colorado (near Boulder) to Colorado Springs. I left BSCS in 1991 to pursue some other interests, but missed my work at BSCS, so I returned in 1995 and have been here ever since.

What is your area of emphasis?

I began my career at BSCS in curriculum development and then became more involved in the professional development of teachers in the late 1990’s. My area of emphasis is elementary science education.

How/when did you become interested in the field of science education?

I became interested in the natural world when I was in elementary school. I had an insect collection, raised caterpillars, collected birds’ nests, and was simply curious about “stuff” out-of-doors. My mother ordered a pair of seahorses for me and I became fascinated with them and the brine shrimp they ate, which was the subject of my 5th-grade science fair project. I grew up in Iowa, so raising seahorses was pretty exotic in my neck of the woods.

I became interested in science education when I began teaching elementary school in 1971 in St. Paul, Minnesota. I loved teaching science and math and tried my best to get my students involved in exploring the natural world and other aspects of science. After teaching in the classroom for six years, I decided to pursue a masters’ degree in environmental education which led to a PhD in elementary science education with an emphasis in environmental education and curriculum development.

What is your education background?

I have a B.S. in Elementary Education from Iowa State University. I earned my M.S. degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Ph.D. in elementary science education from Michigan State University before joining BSCS.

Why is science education important in our lives?

As a science educator, I have become fascinated with the nature of science and believe that all citizens of the planet should understand the nature of science – how science works – so that we all can explain more about the natural world and better understand how we come to know what we know. Some of the basic tenets of science, such as the central role of evidence and data, the search for patterns that can become known through careful study and intellectual reasoning, that the job of science is to explain and predict, that well-supported scientific theories stand the test of time, but that scientific knowledge can change when new evidence arises, are central to our understanding of issues related to our health, our environment, and our role in society.

Whenever we vote, visit our doctors, go shopping, buy a vehicle, make almost any decision in our daily lives, we apply what we value and what we know about the world. A scientifically-literate citizenry is more likely to take scientific evidence and data into account when making decisions that affect us individually and collectively. Whether the issue is stem cell research, climate change, off-shore oil drilling, population growth, childhood obesity, or our own health, what we understand about the nature of science influences our positions on many issues and affects our daily decisions, for good or ill.

What are you working on at BSCS right now, and with whom?

For the past three years, I have been working on a really interesting project – Science Teachers Learning from Lesson Analysis (STeLLA). STeLLA is a professional development program and research study for elementary/middle school teachers in grades 4-6 and their students. We are entering the fourth year of a five-year project and are currently gathering data from teachers about their science content knowledge, their views of science teaching and learning, and their science teaching practice. We are also gathering data about what those teachers’ students understand about important science concepts related to basic scientific principles in earth science, life science, and physical science after the students complete classroom units in two of the following areas of study:  Energy and Matter in Food Webs; Earth’s Changing Surface; Matter, Molecules, and the Water Cycle; or the Sun’s Effect on Climate and Seasons.

Click photos to view gallery    

STeLLA is based on a very sophisticated and elegant framework that uses two lenses – the Student Thinking Lens and the Science Content Storyline Lens – that help teachers put student thinking and learning in the forefront as they work with their students to help them learn science concepts. Another essential feature of the STeLLA professional development program is analysis of science teaching and learning through the use of videocases of science teaching. (See the BSCS website for more information.)

The STeLLA project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Our partners include science faculty from the University of Denver, The Colorado College (Colorado Springs), Cal Poly Pomona (Pomona, California), and the Poudre Learning Center (Greeley, Colorado). McREL of Aurora, Colorado, serves as our external evaluator.

Teachers and students participating in the STeLLA PD program and research study come from the following Colorado School Districts:
Jefferson County Public Schools, Denver Public Schools, Cherry Creek Schools, Aurora Public Schools, Douglas County Public Schools, Academy D-20, Colorado Springs D-11, Falcon D-49, Lewis Palmer D-38, Pueblo D-70, Widefield D-3, Ellicott D-22, Canon City, Weld County D-6 (Greeley), Weld County Re-4 (Windsor), and Poudre School District.

The BSCS staff working on STeLLA are Kathy Roth, PI; Joe Taylor, Co-PI; PD Leaders Jody Bintz, Connie Hvidsten, Elaine Howes, Rebecca Kruse, and Paul Numedahl; Chris Wilson, assessment coordinator; April Gardner, science educator; Karen Askinas and Lisa Carey, research coordinators; and Justine Newell, project coordinator. Jon Adams and Christina Kingcade have also assisted on the project as well as members of the BSCS Science Exchange and the Communications Department.

Our project team just concluded a very successful Summer Institute at The Colorado College with 71 teachers from the Pikes Peak Region of Colorado and the Greeley/Fort Collins area. (See the STeLLA photo gallery.) We will work with them and their students during the 2012-13 school year. (Last summer and through school-year 2011-12, 75 teachers and their students from the greater Denver area completed the STeLLA program and research study.) When the program concludes, almost 150 teachers and 4,500 students in grades 4-6 from 16 school districts across the state of Colorado will have learned important science concepts as a result of participating in the STeLLA program.

Who will this work benefit and how does this help bring our mission to life (for you)?

Most directly, the STeLLA program will benefit the Colorado teachers and students who participated in the STeLLA program plus their principals and school districts. However, the STeLLA program will benefit science educators, professional development providers, the National Science Foundation, and many more elementary/middle school teachers and their students across the country as BSCS shares the framework, curriculum materials, and professional development materials developed through the STeLLA project.

The STeLLA framework and its application have the potential to bring the BSCS mission to life in thousands of classrooms throughout the United States. The framework provides teachers with specific strategies to help them reveal, support, and challenge student thinking so that students can question their own thinking about science concepts as the teacher engages them in using and applying their understanding in a variety of ways, including communicating in scientific ways. In addition, the STeLLA framework provides teachers with tools and strategies they can use to ensure that their science teaching follows a coherent content storyline leading from a main learning goal and using appropriate activities and content representations that are linked to the main learning goal. In this way, students in STeLLA classrooms develop their understanding of science content through coherent, relevant lessons and experiences that engage the students in actively thinking about the science content and how facts and concepts relate to each other to create a coherent understanding of science ideas.

In addition, the STeLLA framework has the potential to impact the preparation of elementary teachers in the teaching of science and professional development programs in science education for in-service elementary teachers. The vehicle of lesson analysis through videocases is effective in face-to-face professional development as well as in online venues. BSCS will be developing ways to offer access to the STeLLA program to science educators, professional development providers, and school districts over the next few years.

The STeLLA work is funded by the National Science Foundation. Click here to learn more.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-0918277. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation..