September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Professional Development in 4-H: A Case for Reform

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Martin Smith, Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, Andrea Ambrose, and Steven Worker

There is a recognized need to improve the levels of scientific literacy among K-12 youth in the United States (Fleischman, Hopstock, Pelczar, & Shelley 2010; National Center for Education Statistics 2011). To accomplish this will require effective classroom-based science instruction and high quality science programs for youth in out-of-school time settings (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder 2009). Specifically, out-of-school time programs can help advance youth scientific literacy, ignite youths’ interest in science, and reinforce classroom learning by expanding curriculum offerings and complementing formal science instruction (Kahler and Valentine 2011; Mørch and du Bois-Reymond 2006).

Two of the factors that contribute to the low levels of youth scientific literacy in the U.S. are the use of didactic teaching strategies (Jorgenson & Vanosdall, 2002) and ineffective approaches to professional development of science educators (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998; Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, & Hewson, 2003). Didactic teaching strategies – lectures and presentations – emphasize the direct delivery of information and memorization of known facts (Jorgenson and Vanosdall 2002). These methods do not provide learners with an in-depth understanding of science content and do little to contribute to their abilities to use scientific thinking (Cole et al., 2002; Minner, Levy, & Century, 2010). Conversely, constructivist-based teaching strategies like inquiry are learner-centered, foster knowledge and skills development, and hold promise for improving youth scientific literacy (Beerer & Bodzin, 2004; Minner, Levy, & Century, 2010).

Most professional development opportunities in science involve a highly skilled professional demonstrating knowledge and skills to less experienced individuals who are in the role of being passive recipients of information. Described by Lambert et al. (2002) as the “traditional approach” to professional development, this strategy perpetuates the use of didactic teaching methods and is viewed broadly as being ineffective (e.g., Garet et al., 2001; Loucks-Horsley et al. 2003; Penuel et al. 2007). Furthermore, because science educators teach most commonly using methods by which they were taught (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998), to modify their practice “they must encounter multiple experiences with [effective pedagogical strategies] as learners” in order to use them effectively (Dantonio & Beisenherz, 2001, p. 14). Therefore, to become proficient at using effective pedagogical strategies to teach science, science educators require access to and participation in professional development opportunities that model constructivist-based, learner-centered methods (Loucks-Horsley et al., 2003; Smith & Schmitt-McQuitty, 2013).

The California 4-H Youth Development Program is part of a national community-based youth development organization. With a 100-year legacy of science programming, California 4-H offers a wide range of learning opportunities in out-of-school time settings through county-based offices throughout the state . Pedagogically, 4-H science programs and associated curriculum materials utilize experiential learning and inquiry (Worker & Smith, in press). To implement programs, the 4-H Youth Development Program relies heavily on volunteers – adults and teens – as non-formal educators who facilitate educational activities with youth (Boyd, 2004; Stedman & Rudd, 2006). However, as is true with most educators in other community-based programs that offer science programming, the majority of 4-H volunteers lack sufficient professional development to be successful (Chi, Freeman, & Lee, 2008; Smith & Schmitt-McQuitty, 2013). Thus, with youth learner outcomes associated with scientific literacy in mind, California 4-H is giving careful consideration to the design and implementation of professional development opportunities for 4-H volunteers (Smith & Schmitt-McQuitty, 2013).

Historically, professional development opportunities in 4-H have utilized mainly “traditional” methods: one-time, in-person workshops or seminars of short duration (Kaslon, Lodl, & Greve, 2005). However, such episodic strategies do not produce significant change in educators’ practice (Garet et al., 2001; Loucks-Horsley et al., 2003; Guskey & Yoon, 2009). In contrast, “reform-based” professional development strategies that take place over an extended period of time, utilize active learning strategies that provide educators direct experience using constructivist-based methods, occur within authentic contexts, and emphasize subject matter and pedagogical knowledge have been shown to be effective (Garet et al., 2001; Guskey, 2003; Guskey & Yoon, 2009; Loucks-Horsley et al., 2003; Penuel, Fishman, Yamaguchi, & Gallagher, 2007; Supovitz & Turner, 2000).

To this end, the California 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Leadership Team, academic and program staff that provide statewide leadership in science education, has advocated for wider use of “reform-based” professional development strategies for 4-H volunteers. Specifically, the SET Leadership Team has promoted methods such as action research and lesson study that utilize communities of practice (CoPs) (Smith & Schmitt-McQuitty, 2013). Communities of practice are organized networks of peers working toward shared learning goals that arise through authentic practice whereby participants co-construct knowledge through social interactions (Buysse et al., 2003; Lave & Wenger, 1991). A recent pilot study using lesson study with 4-H volunteers who implemented a science curriculum with 4-H youth in club settings revealed that the model has excellent potential for broader use (Smith, 2013). Further investigation of lesson study and other professional development models utilizing CoPs within the context of 4-H science programming has been recommended (Smith & Schmitt-McQuitty, 2013).

The California 4-H Youth Development Program endeavors to help advance the levels of scientific literacy among K-12 youth in the state. To accomplish this, the 4-H Program is seeking to improve the professional development of 4-H volunteer educators in order to increase their capacity to utilize effective science pedagogy in their work with youth audiences. Specifically, California 4-H strives to utilize “reform-based” professional development strategies as a means to provide science-learning opportunities for their volunteers that model best practices, provide direct experience, and occur in authentic settings.

For more information about 4-H and to access 4-H SET curriculum materials, please click here.

Steven Worker, Martin Smith, Andrea Ambrose, Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty are with the California State 4-H Office at the University of California’s Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources. Steven, Martin, and Lynn are members of CSTA.


Bell, P., Lewenstein, B., Shouse, A., & Feder, M. (eds.). (2009). Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Boyd, B. L. (2004). Extension agents as administrators of volunteers: Competencies needed for the future. Journal of Extension, 42(2).

Buysse, V., Sparkman, K., Wesley, P. W. (2003). Communities of practice in educational research: Connecting what we know with what we do. Exceptional Children, 69(3), 263–77.

Chi, B.S., Freeman, J., & Lee S. (2008). Science in afterschool market research study. A study commission by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley.

Cole, D.J., Mahaffey, G., Ramey, L., et al. (2002). Preparing quality science educators: A successful tripartite partnership. Paper presented at Ann Meeting of Association of Teacher Educators, Feb 2, 2002. Denver, CO. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED461658.

Dantonio, M., & Beisenherz, P. C. (2001). Learning to Question, Questioning to Learn. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Fleischman, H.L., Hopstock, P.J., Pelczar, M.P., and Shelley, B.E. (2010). Highlights from PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context (NCES 2011-004). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Garet, M. S, Porter, A. C., Desimone L, et al. (2001). What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 915-945.

Guskey, T. R. (2003). Professional development that works: What makes professional development effective? Phi Delta Kappan, 84(10), 748–50.

Guskey, T. R., & Yoon, K. S. (2009). What works in professional development? Phi Delta Kappan 90(7), 495–500.

Jorgenson, O., & Vanosdall, R. (2002). The death of science? What we risk in our rush toward standardized testing and the three R’s. Phi Delta Kappan 83(8), 601-605.

Kahler, J., & Valentine, N. (2011). Stemming the gap. Education Digest 76(6), 54-55.

Kaslon, L., Lodl, K., & Greve, V. (2005). Online leader training for 4-H volunteers: A case study of action research. Journal of Extension, 43(2).

Lambert, L., Walker, D., Zimmerman, D. P., et al. (2002). The Constructivist Leader (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Loucks-Horsley, S., Hewson, P., Love, N., & Stiles K. (1998). Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Loucks-Horsley, S., Love, N., Stiles, K., Mundry, S., & Hewson, P. (2003). Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Minner, D. D, Levy, A. J, & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry-based science instruction – What is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(4), 474-496.

Mørch, S., & du Bois-Reymond, M. (2006). Young Europeans in a changing world. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 113, 23-35.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009. NCES 2011-451. Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.Washington, D.C. Retrieved from:

Penuel, W. R., Fishman, B. J., Yamaguchi, R., & Gallagher, L. P. (2007). What makes professional development effective? Strategies that foster curriculum implementation. American Educational Research Journal, 44(4), 921-958.

Smith, M. H. (2013). Investigating Lesson Study as a Professional Development Model for 4-H Volunteers. California Agriculture, 67(1), 54-61.

Smith, M. H., & Schmitt-McQuitty, L. (2013). More effective professional development can help 4-H volunteers address need for youth scientific literacy. California Agriculture, 67(1), 47-53.

Stedman, N. L. P., & Rudd, R. (2006). Leadership styles and volunteer administration competence: Perceptions of 4-H county faculty in the United States. Journal of Extension, 44(1).

Supovitz, J. A., Turner, H. M. (2000). The effects of professional development on science teaching practices and classroom culture. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(9), 963-980.

Worker, S. M., & Smith, M. H. (In press). Promising practices for science education in out-of-school time: Lessons learned from California 4-H in curriculum and professional development. Afterschool Matters.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.