Improving Competency in Elementary Science Teaching and Learning (ICESTL) was an exploratory teaching strand project designed to provide elementary teachers, grades 3-5, with a pedagogical framework and related resources for distinguishing quality science teaching. The study focused on developing and testing a framework, the Scientific Practices Optimized for Teachers (SPOT), to determine its capacity to serve as a potent formative and collaborative tool with which teachers can reflect on their science teaching practices and recognize student behaviors that are indicators of engagement and science learning. SPOT addresses a critical need for elementary teachers to be able to understand, envision, and act on an integrated model of practice that addresses key dimensions of high quality science teaching that is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. The project was embedded within the Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability (TISS), an already-established, immersive teacher professional development program for upper elementary teachers run by the California Academy of Sciences. The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) led the development of SPOT, the coding of teacher videos, and in-depth interviews of focus group subset of the project teacher participants. SRI International provided the formal evaluation of the ICESTL project on an annual basis.

The specific goals of ICESTL were to:
1.    Develop, test, and refine a comprehensive planning and reflection tool (SPOT) for elementary school teachers that centers on both teacher and student practices in the classroom.
2.    Test and document the contributions this tool can make to a community of learners by creating a common language and set of referents.
3.    Test and document the contributions this tool can make to positive changes in teachers' practice.
4.    Create a plausible model for integrating SPOT into a system of teacher professional development, highlighting key implementation elements that will facilitate replication and scalability at a future date.
5.    Create a video database of project teachers conducting science lessons in their classrooms to capture their teaching practices and student responses.
6.    Develop a video coding and scoring system to identify SPOT practices occurring in the classrooms of project focus group teachers.
7.    Create a set of edited videos that serve as exemplars of high-quality science teaching and active student engagement with science, and make these videos available to a broad audience.
8.    Conduct in-depth interviews with focus group teachers to determine the implications of SPOT on their teaching and student learning.
9.    Share findings within a broader community of researchers and practitioners.

During the two years of the grant, 90 teachers participated in the TISS professional development program and were exposed to SPOT and the ICESTL project. The development of the SPOT tool and the video library has created information resources that are being shared freely with interested parties. The video clips are posted on the California Academy of Sciences’ website ( and the SCALE website ( Extensive project evaluation by SRI and in-depth interviews of focus group teachers by SCALE have yielded a rich set of data that help inform not only the results of this project but can also be shared with the educational evaluation community.

Significant teacher professional development and a new tool (SPOT) were implemented during the course of the project, which resulted in elementary teachers feeling more comfor...