Middle school science classroom practices in Crow and Northern Cheyenne schools
Woolbaugh, Walter Harold
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This study first identifies the teaching and learning practices that have shown to be effective in producing achievement gains with K-12 Native American students. In order to identify effective practices, policy guidelines and research studies focusing on achievement gains among Native American students were reviewed. This information was then mapped to the National Science Education Standards and aligned with a widely used mathematics and science observation instrument. The instrument was used by the author to gather data from 13 teachers by observing 68 lessons in 11 middle schools on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations in Southeast Montana. Interviewing and surveying the observed teachers generated further data. To complete the study, administrators and community members, including tribal elders, were interviewed. The literature reveals that Native American students achieve more when student centered teaching methods are used. These methods include the use of visual teaching aids, cooperative learning, and practical applications all interwoven in culturally relevant lessons. The literature supports building community support, including involvement from tribal elders. Data gathered by the researcher revealed that the teachers on and near the two reservations have more teaching experience, more science credits, and attain higher ratings for observed lessons than a national sample of teachers. A factor analysis indicated that Crow and Northern Cheyenne region teachers scored especially high in student / teacher relationships, classroom management, and content knowledge. Even though 43 percent of class time was spent in hands-on paired activities, teachers scored lower on indicators pertaining to creating classroom environments that engaged students in rigorous, meaningful learning experiences. Teachers reported on not feeling prepared to include cultural applications and meanings during instruction. Teachers attaining lower scores during classroom observations tended to cite low student motivation as their major barrier, while teachers receiving higher ratings cited external factors like the size of their classroom. The teachers described colleagues and professional development opportunities as particularly beneficial. Recommendations for further studies include additional research on effective classroom practices that produce achievement gains with Native American students, and stronger professional development focused on specific advanced teaching skills, including methods of embedding culture and community in the science curriculum.