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Project FOCCUS: Supporting the new NVACS for Science with MSP

Published: September 15, 2014   |   Categories: Framework


Project Focusing On Crosscutting Concepts to Understand Science (FOCCUS) is a Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) grant project. In March 2014, the Nevada Department of Education announced the selection and funding awarded for Project FOCCUS through the federally funded Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) grants program. MSP grant funds are awarded through a highly competitive process to programs with aim of improving mathematics and science teacher content knowledge and classroom practice. Project FOCCUS will offer science teachers throughout Nevada the opportunity to participate in three phases of professional learning designed to increase their knowledge related to the Nevada Academic Content Standards for Science based on the Next Generation Science Standards. Project FOCCUS is a collaborative effort with a leadership team comprised of members from the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program; Clark County School District’s Instructional Design and Professional Learning Division; and the University of Nevada’s Las Vegas College of Education, College of Sciences, and Howard Hughes College of Engineering; along with strong support from Lincoln County School District and Storey County School District.

Phase I of Project FOCCUS

Project FOCCUS, Focusing on Crosscutting Concepts to Understand Science, used a design-based implementation research framework to develop a three-phased professional development cycle. Within the cycles, educators will focus on where crosscutting concepts (LINK 1 Framework) can be made explicit in classroom practice. Phase I, completed August 2014, consisted of three, intensive online learning modules in the 5-featured Dynamic Inquiry Enterprise instructional design model. The intent of the online component was to afford participating educators ample time and scaffolding to review, understand, and interpret the new Nevada Academic Content Standards for Science (LINK 2 based on the Next Generation Science Standards) and the vision behind the new science standards, A K–12 Framework for Science Education, Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (LINK 3 National Research Council). This was followed by a face-to-face Summer Science Institute where participating educators worked to develop, strength, and support conceptual ideas of major, thematic, scientific processes and phenomenon.

During the Summer Science Institute, participating educators took part in rich, contextualized learning experiences described as, “…practical, hands-on experiences that directly link back to classroom pedagogy and content,” developed in the Science Writing Heuristic instructional design model and facilitated by teacher leaders and UNLV faculty. UNLV professors served as experts, through a whiteboarding strategy (LINK 8 Article), to guide in developing the content knowledge needed to teach to the new science standards. One participating educator stated, “I need more “experts” to bounce lesson planning ideas off of,” indicating that it would be very beneficial to have access to experts throughout the year as planning continues.

Three teachers examine data collected during a photosynthesis lab activity. This data will be used as evidence to support scientific claims made by the group.


Phase II of Project FOCCUS

A central goal for Project FOCCUS will be the development and curation of curricula materials that will be hosted and shared on a Nevada Science Teacher Network site for all science teachers to use with students. These standards-based curricula materials will be vetted by UNLV content experts, peer reviewed for pedagogical strengths, and used to support student achievement with linked assessment items. As Project FOCCUS continues into the fall and spring, Phase II holds collaborative sessions for the participating science educators to further refine the explicit instruction of crosscutting concepts, develop assessments, and reflect upon implementation of the lessons generated during Phase I. In a similar format, UNLV professors and teacher leaders will scaffold a process of lesson refinement, using Achieve’s EQuIP Rubric (LINK 6 EQuIP Rubric), and item writing to target the new science standards, with final lesson implementation and reflection, using the Nevada Educator Performance Framework (LINK 7 NEPF), occurring in spring 2015.


Phase III of Project FOCCUS

Phase III will focus on specific elements of the engineering design cycle, as referenced in A Framework for K–12 Science Education (LINK 4 Framework), and the new Nevada Academic Content Standards for Science, which are based on Next Generation Science Standards (LINK 5 NGSS). The Project FOCCUS leadership team will host a Summer Engineering Institute in early June, which will provide science educators the opportunity to hear from engineers in the field, engineering professors, and business leaders. This will be followed by a day of making classroom engineering design cycle connections with respect to the lessons created in Phase I.

With continued MSP funding, the Project FOCCUS leadership team will seek to continue the three-phased professional development cycle for the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 school years, focusing on different science topics and crosscutting concepts of the new science standards. If you are interested in supporting Project FOCCUS, or you are a Nevada science educator interested in joining the project, please contact Kristoffer Carroll at