What is Pittsburgh Regional Center for Science Teachers (PRCST) and its role in the Pittsburgh Legacy?


The Pittsburgh Regional Center for Science Teachers (PRCST) is a non-profit organization directed by Jane Konrad that operates as an outreach program for the University of Pittsburgh, School of Education, Department of Instruction and Learning. For the past five years PRCST has developed and implemented an in-service professional development program "STS by Green Design," an Iowa Chautauqua Program. This was based on 13 years of conducting in-service programs integrating Science/Technology/Society through the University of Pittsburgh (U.Pitt), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), and cooperating non-profit organizations. Summer Institutes were originally hosted by CMU. In all of these programs, university faculty, practicing teachers/administrators, and area scientists (including museums and corporations) came together in educational reform efforts. Work with Dr.Indira Nair, Vice Provost for Education, CMU, brought the Green Design component into the program. Related work with the American Society for Materials helped expand the use of Life Cycle Analysis in the program. The Materials Science & Engineering Department, U.Pitt, hosted in-service days, bringing together teachers and scientists from U. Pitt and CMU.

The STS by Green Design professional development program brings together teams of teachers from a district to work together with their administrators across disciplines to provide current content and resources for students in relevant context, helping them to make connections among disciplines and with the world outside the classroom.

In 2000, Konrad made early efforts to form a collaboration that would focus on the exciting and richly relevant Commemoration of the Lewis & Clark Discovery Expedition. This historical event offers an easy and obvious platform for linking the natural and historical environments so that students can make the connections between the science/math content and their lives. The Senator John Heinz Regional History Center was an initial partner. As planning developed and more interest was expressed, this collaboration grew to include other resources. An active volunteer, a Corporate Fellow from PPG Industries, joined the group and has served as a vital information source and catalyst to the project development. Now retired, Charles B. Greenberg will continue to serve as a leader to gain corporate resources and as Product Manager, working with the Art Institute to develop the Web site and expand the scope of the project. The Michael Baker Corporation has joined this project as advisor/mentor to students in the Art Institute in development of the interactive Web sites.

Initial funding was provided by the PPG Industries Foundation. Additional support has been received from the Alcoa and Grable Foundations.


This project is based on the development of an educational program for participating schools/classes in an interactive study of Western Pennsylvania. A special focus is on the Lewis & Clark "Discovery Expedition" as an avenue for linking the natural, scientific, and historical environments during the commemorative re-enactment of the original expedition planned for the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial in 2003-2006. The local historical significance was Lewis's work in Eastern Pennsylvania preparing for the expedition and the beginning of the trip in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: building of the keelboat and the staging and launching of the expedition. The impact of this historical event provides a fertile avenue for interdisciplinary studies within a relevant context, with linkages to the broader historical and scientific community.

This project includes the assembly and dissemination of curricular materials based on the results of the educational program that involves research and activities conducted by classes of students. The program will link studies of geology, geography, Earth science, chemistry, astronomy, engineering, botany, and biology to the history and development of the region and the interface with the Lewis & Clark Expedition. These curricular materials and teacher guides will be basic to the dissemination of the program and to continuing research in the classrooms that links Pennsylvania history to the spread of our civilization westward and its impact on today's life.

The goals are: (1) to provide teachers an interdisciplinary strategy for meeting the new Pennsylvania Standards - with focus on standards for Science/Technology and Environment/Ecology, (2) to link curricular components with relevant historical events, and (3) to help students identify the pioneer analogy with the NASA Missions to the moon and Mars.

Activities include: (1) observation of the educational program in action and determining what works and what is needed, (2) collection-assembly of the classroom materials that have been produced, (3) documentation-collection of public exhibit and display materials available for long-term use, and (4) publication of curricular materials suitable for dissemination throughout Pennsylvania classrooms.


Research has shown that relevance is a key to student concept formation and application. This project will involve teachers and students in real-world connections to the natural and historical environments as they encounter past and current environmental issues/concerns ranging from past and present land use, use/abuse of natural resources, and political and economic stresses to current regulations and trends in environmental status and protection.

While the regional focus is on the Three Rivers of the Pittsburgh area and their watersheds, this project offers a model for use both statewide and nationally as other watersheds and historical events can be studied and connections between the natural and historical environments can be made. Other sites along the Lewis & Clark trail can make use of this model ( and even interact ) as the project includes an effort to track the re-enactment along the entire trail via a Web site and interactive program.

The relevance of the "Discovery Expedition" re-enactment will spark interest of students as they observe the life styles of the explorers. The history of Native American settlements in this area, including the consequences of previous wars and combats, will undergird the stories of the encounters of Lewis and Clark in the new west.

As these pioneers moved into relatively unknown territory, so today we have pioneers exploring a new frontier - space. Specifically, the NASA Mission to Mars provides another way to encounter a relatively unknown area. The planning, tools and recruitment/training of today's "pioneers" (while using modern technology and knowledge) reflect the necessary attention to basics required by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Just as Lewis needed to have the keelboat built in Pittsburgh and develop appropriate armament and supplies for the trip west, NASA must work to develop rockets and habitats suitable for astronauts preparing for the Mission to Mars. (Construction of the International Space Station, ISS, is another relevant analogy.)

The space exploration analogy offers a rich interdisciplinary approach to student-based research and learning that is compatible with current curricula. Yet teachers need help in making these connections and understanding how this leads to achieving the standards. A recent survey by the Pennsylvania Department of Education - Office of Environment/Ecology demonstrated that many teachers are not addressing numerous strands required in the new standards. These standards are linked to upcoming assessments scheduled to be put in place beginning in 2002


As the Pennsylvania State Department of Education began development of academic standards and assessments, PRCST aligned its professional development programs with these efforts. Jane Konrad worked on the writing committee of the standards for Environment/Ecology and development of the new Biotechnology Framework.

PRCST serves as a provider for the Math & Science Collaborative of Western PA and Konrad served several times on the Steering Committee, working to align efforts. She also served on the Steering Committee of the Mid-Atlantic Eisenhower Consortium in Pennsylvania, Research for Better Schools (RBS), for many years. More recently she chaired a sub-committee for IMAGES, a new geometry professional development program for elementary teachers. The PRCST program was presented to the RBS Steering Committee. Furthermore, STS by Green Design is in place in the North Central region through one of the seven RBS Collaboratives. Working with RBS and NASA, the STS by Green Design instructional strategy is one of several strategies being used in a NASA Product Dissemination Project.

As Training Facilitator for the NASA Educator Resource Center located at the University of Pittsburgh, Konrad helps teachers utilize the wealth of resources available from NASA - providing workshops and bringing the NASA Science Educator into the STS by Green Design programs. Work with the Social Studies Department of Instruction & Learning expanded the scope of the program, helping to strengthen the contextual framework to the present C3 approach: Content - Context - Conation.


Programs conducted by PRCST align with the goals of professional development for teachers. In addition to the STS by Green Design Summer Institute, sustained programming addresses content updates, skills development, opportunities for integration across disciplines, and community contacts/resources. All programs provide for immersion in Inquiry in Science. Other program aspects may include curriculum adaptation, action research, using students' work to understand their thinking, teacher study groups, and the integration of technology.

The status of quality professional development is currently being addressed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Recommendations of a task force have been accepted by the Board of Directors and are in the process of development and implementation led by a standing Professional Development Committee.

The Task Force defines Professional Development Services as any materials, services, or programs designed to improve the quality of science teaching and learning. These would include: a coordinated effort with existing activities within NSTA (publications, conventions, Building a Presence), as well as with new activities such as leadership development for teachers, administrators, and others; content-based workshops developed around the National Science Education Standards ( NSES); on-site and/or distance delivery of content courses that model inquiry-based learning and other methods recommended by the NSES; mentoring and coaching of individual teachers or administrators; coordinated approaches to help administrators integrate science throughout the curriculum (literacy, mathematics, technology, etc.); and services which help develop appropriate assessments for recommended programs.

Recommendations of the National Science Education Standards state that all professional development programs and materials must:

o promote learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry

o ?integrate knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students and apply that knowledge to science teaching

o build understanding and ability for lifelong learning

o be coherent and integrate

In addition to these national standards of quality, the Committee believes that any professional development tools or programs developed [or endorsed] by NSTA should meet these additional criteria:

o Be Scalable: For any professional development activity to be cost-effective for NSTA, it must be "transportable," that is, have the potential to be scaled up to serve a number of teachers and/or school districts in a number of geographic areas. In addition, for real reform to occur, NSTA will need to reach many more teachers of science, thus the ability to scale up all offerings will be critical.

o Be Flexible and Comprehensive: Again to reach as many teachers and schools/districts as possible, all PD activities need to be relevant to a variety of different teachers and school districts, and comprehensive enough to meet a variety of needs, locales, expertise, etc. However, the materials and services must also be flexible in sizing and methods of offering to ensure that NSTA can meet the differing place and time constraints of teachers, which too often limit teacher participation in time- and place-bound summer or convention workshops.

o Include Assessment: All NSTA PD activities should include assessments embedded in all courses, institutes, publications, and other activities. These assessment tools should be designed to evaluate participant learning as well as to inform materials developers to ensure that the activities are continually evaluated and improved.

o Include Follow-up Mentoring: Whether the follow-up is one-on-one meetings or electronic "chat rooms" designed to encourage discussion and problem solving, the Task Force believes that follow-up mentoring is critical for ensuring a successful and meaningful professional development experience. All materials and programs developed or endorsed by NSTA should include such a component.



The Glenn Report, "Before It's Too Late", prepared by the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century [2000 http://www.ed.gov/americacounts/glenn/report.pdf], recommends a focus on professional development. "We are of one mind in our belief that the way to interest children in mathematics and science is through teachers who are not only enthusiastic about their subjects, but who are also steeped in their disciplines and who have the professional training - as teachers - to teach those subjects well. Nor is this teacher training simply a matter of preparation; it depends just as much - or even more - on sustained high-quality professional development….If professionals do not maintain and expand their knowledge and skills, they will atrophy".

Preliminary findings from Academic excellence for All Urban Students sites support NSF's evolving belief that certain "drivers" are central to successful and lasting systemic reform. "These results are a testament to the power of professional development," said Harold Pratt, NSTA President. "We believe strongly that quality teaching is the single most important factor in improving student performance, and at the same time, enables all students to reach national goals of literacy in science, mathematics, and technology."

Much emphasis has been on the plight of the urban educational system. But a recent report from the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, "Miles To Go: The Well-Being of Pennsylvania's Rural Children," found that the state's nearly 500,000 rural children are dealing with challenges as difficult as those of students in urban areas: 18% live in poverty, 24% of families have single-parent heads, 1in 12 rural children is born to a mother under 20, and 1 in 6 is born to a mother who has less than a high school education. [http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues277.shtml].

As stated in the new national effort "No Child Left Behind" [2001 http://www.ed.gov/inits/nclb/titlepage.html], we must serve all students so that the achievement gap does not grow wider still.

New academic standards are emerging at both the national and state levels in an effort to enhance the achievement levels of American students. This educational reform effort is seen in the multiple disciplines of K-12 education. Led by development of national standards in mathematics in 1995, the national standards in science education followed. Academic standards at state levels are swiftly being developed and adopted. Pennsylvania has adopted academic standards in the area of Mathematics, Reading/ Communication, Science/Technology and Environment/Ecology. Standards in other areas are in the process of development. Assessment programs for each of these areas are either in use or being constructed. Other states are under similar pressure to implement some form of academic standards and student achievement measurement.

The National Research Council recently released a report on assessments. Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment is an in-depth report that addresses how current classroom and large-scale assessments should be influenced by the contemporary theories of how students think and learn. Access online at www.nap.edu

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has a program in place for professional development for teachers, and a professional development program is supported by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).



The University of Pittsburgh School of Education committed early to the issues of pre-K-12 educational reform. Teachers applying for certification or for advanced degrees are required to first attain an undergraduate degree in their discipline of choice. Upon acceptance into the Department of Instruction and Learning, teachers are placed in practicums or internships in cooperating school districts. Here they work with mentor teachers and apply the information and training received in the graduate program. Supervisors maintain contact with the mentor teachers and the students as their education progresses. The elementary and secondary faculty work together to provide a consistent and coherent program.

A Professional Development Network is in place that brings together school districts - administrators and mentor teachers, university faculty, and education students.

A new initiative is coordination of faculty across disciplines in elements of their curricula, to emphasize coherence in the educational program. Alignment of lesson planning, portfolio submissions and the incorporation of technology are already in place. Plans for faculty teaching elementary methods to coordinate components of their curricular content are being developed, including a focus on the Lewis & Clark Commemoration.

The "Teachers Teaching Technology - T3" program of the University brings together university faculty and practicing teachers for training in the utilization of technology and cooperation in curricular planning. Interested teacher/faculty participants will be included in the Lewis & Clark Project.

Faculty in the School of Information Science and Telecommunications at U. Pitt provide training and support in teacher utilization of GIS software in the Geoinformatics Program, led by Dr. Hassan Karimi.


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