STEP: Sustainable Trainer Engagement Program for Earth and Space Science

Program Element / Activity Title:
STEP: Sustainable Trainer Engagement Program for Earth and Space Science
E/PO Project Name:
Contact Information:
3600 Bay Area Blvd.
Houston, TX 77058
Program Element / Activity Website:
Program Element / Activity Partners within NASA:
JSC Astromaterials
Short Description:

STEP was a train-the-trainers professional development project for middle school science education specialists and lead teachers.   STEP increased the Earth and Space Science (ESS)  knowledge and pedagogy, and skills and confidence in providing professional development of middle school science specialists and lead teachers in the Houston region.  STEP provided 5 years of in-depth long-term professional development for educators already supporting other middle school teachers in Earth and space science, connecting them with Earth and space scientists from local institutions, and provided faded scaffolding support for participants as they conducted their own professional development for middle school science teachers.

Program Element / Activity Image / Visual:
STEP participants create a human graph that depicts the rate of motion of the Pacific Plate.
Program Element / Activity Status
Please list products / materials that will result / have resulted from this program element / activity:
Name: Golf Ball Phases
Status: Completed
Name: The Size of the Sun
Status: Completed
Name: Our Neighborhood in the Universe
Status: Completed
Please upload any program element / activity documents (reports, publications, or other) to share with the Public, Community, and SMD:
Audience Metrics
Who is the primary audience of your program element / activity?:
Who is the secondary audience of your program element / activity?:
National Priorities and Coordination Approaches as Articulated in CoSTEM:
  • Improve STEM Instruction
  • Better Serve Groups Historically Under-represented in STEM Fields
  • Contribute to the conversation about building new models for leveraging SMD assets and expertise and achieving the most significant impact of STEM education investments.
  • Build and use evidence-based approaches
What are the goals and objectives of your program element / activity?:
1. Increase the ESS knowledge and pedagogy, and skills and confidence in providing professional development of 60 middle school science specialists and lead teachers by
providing 15 days of intensive professional development over a period of 18 months each for two cohorts of participants;

2. Integrate local scientists into the project to provide content in the context of ongoing research, to mentor teams of participants, and to establish sustainable partnerships;

3. Provide faded scaffolding support for the participants who, in their roles as science specialists and lead teachers, will provide their own workshops and support for “their” teachers during and after the grant period; and

4. Determine elements of success, through ongoing and longitudinal evaluation, for replicating the effort in the future and informing other projects that may adopt the
What is the design of the evaluation process for your program element / activity?:
A longitudinal design is being used that follows changes in participants' knowledge, skills, confidence, and success in delivering professional development to other teachers throughout the life of the project. Scientist surveys and STEP records of use will also be analyzed using descriptives. Mediators of training effectiveness such as dose and elements of professional development (i.e. scaffolding) as well as participant involvement in resource activities are being tested for their ability to predict knowledge and skill changes using either logistic or linear regression as appropriate to the outcome variable tested.
What are the main impacts of your effort to date and how do they correlate to the project's goals and objectives:
Objective 1: Increase the ESS knowledge and pedagogy, and skills and confidence in providing professional development (PD) of middle school science specialists and lead teachers.
• The program conducted extended professional development for two cohorts of Houston-area educators from 2012 to 2016. Each cohort received a minimum of 15 days of professional development, and additional opportunities to attend or assist with workshops, as well as days spent planning workshops.
• STEP provided middle school Earth and space science content for each of the Texas middle school science standards.
• During STEP sessions, cohorts conducted classroom activities, received deeper content through presentations and discussions, and observed and discussed research-based best practices in facilitating learning for the classroom and for conducting professional development.
• External evaluation by the Research and Evaluation Institute (REI) of Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) measured an averaged 19% increase in participants’ content knowledge, and a self-reported averaged 20% increase in confidence in providing professional development for teachers.

Objective 2: Integrate local scientists into the project as mentors to the teachers.
• STEP connected participants with 10 Earth and space scientists in the Houston area, who conducted presentations and corresponded with participants.
• Mentors included astronomers, planetary scientists, meteorologists, space physicists, and geologists, from Rice University, the University of Houston, the National Weather Service, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and Johnson Space Center.
• STEP participants were not able to integrate the mentors into their planning as they developed and led their own professional development workshops, as these workshops tended to be much shorter and did not require the extensive knowledge of the mentors.
• External evaluation by REI surveyed the mentors. On average, mentor scientists agreed that the STEP program provides an informal, welcoming environment; mentor scientists reported interacting with at least one STEP participant one to five times a year.

Objective 3: Support teachers in implementing workshops for the teachers they are responsible for advising.
• STEP assisted participants in planning and conducting 70 reported workshops from 2013 to 2016.
• Support ranged from inviting participants to attend and lead specific activities, to assisting participants with planning workshops, and even attending workshops participants planned independently.
• Workshops were conducted for districts, for local teachers through the Harris County Department of Education, for state-wide teachers through the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching, and nationally through the National Science Teachers Association conferences.
• Evaluation survey results indicate the critical role played by LPI STEP team members modeling best practices while presenting workshops. For example, one STEP participant wrote, “We learned excellent strategies for engaging learners. Because we were exposed to the same leader and similar materials again and again, I gained a level of understanding and comfort with the material that is necessary to be able to effectively teach it to others. I also witnessed the development and evolution of different strategies as they were improved from one session to the next (e.g. the improvements using wait time properly, pacing workshop agendas most effectively, and even in the wording used in critical thinking assignments…”

Objective 4: Determine elements of success, through ongoing and longitudinal evaluation, for replicating the effort in the future and informing other projects that may adopt the model.
• STEP evaluators REI conducted a variety of assessments, including knowledge tests, surveys, and focus groups and interviews; they also collected data regarding the participants and mentors, their activities, STEP trainings, and those professional development efforts led by participants.
• Several elements were identified as being key to success: flexibility in supporting STEP participants and in expectations, focusing on those topics that teachers needed most, providing in-depth content and classroom-ready activities, and modeling effective strategies in the professional development.
• An unanticipated element of success was the need for flexibility in ongoing assistance and opportunities for participants to present to teachers. Due to institutional limitations, participants were not permitted to conduct full-day district workshops on specific ESS topics. Some conducted shorter workshops at the district level, and many presented or assisted in presenting sessions at other venues, such as conferences. Part of this assistance included stipends to cover STEP participants’ costs in attending and presenting at conferences, and providing the materials for activities at trainings.
• An expected element of success was ensuring that the topics covered directly connected to those Earth and space science standards that teachers and their students struggle with in the mandatory state testing, such as plate tectonics, lunar phases, seasons, astronomy, topography, weather and climate. Teachers are more likely to make the time to attend sessions on these topics, and administrators are more likely to request training on these topics.
• Another expected element of success was providing in-depth content through relevant activities to build student understanding. Activities needed to be ready for the classroom. The deep content included opportunities for participants and scientists to share ideas and information, and sufficient time to process, to build STEP participants’ confidence in their content knowledge.
• A final element was incorporating learning strategies within the professional development itself; those used by STEP included assessment strategies, tools to build vocabulary, and opportunities for modifications and implementation planning.
• These findings and results are being disseminated to the Education and Public Engagement Community, through conference presentations and through articles that will be submitted to be published in 2017.
Have your evaluation findings / impacts been published? If so, where?:
Select impacts have been produced at conferences, such as the 2015 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (
and the 2015 Division of Planetary Sciences Conference. A final report is in preparation now for submission.
Please upload program element / activity evaluation documents (logic models, tools, reports, publications, IRB documentation, or other documents) to share with the Public, the Community, and SMD: