FEd Summer 2001 Newsletter - The Hands-on Activity Science Program (HASP) in North Alabama

Summer 2001



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The Hands-on Activity Science Program (HASP) in North Alabama

R. Hugh Comfort

The Hands-on Activity Science Program (HASP) is a collaboration between the Institute for Science Education (ISE) of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and eight North Alabama school districts. This partnership involves more than 1300 K-6 teachers and their more than 33,000 students. HASP has focussed on the use of inquiry-based instruction, and the development of a central materials center for sharing curriculum resources among the many schools. A descriptive synopsis of the program is given on our website, http://www.dcs.edu/HASP.

Dr. R. Hugh Comfort, a UAH physics professor, is the Director of the Institute for Science Education, which coordinates the program at UAH. Dr. John C. Wright, a retired chemistry professor and former president of UAH, originated the program in 1990 and has guided its evolution through two stages of development, supported by NSF, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama Space Grant Consortium, Eisenhower funding, and local industry. Most recently, HASP was supported by an NSF Local Systemic Change (LSC) grant to implement inquiry-centered science instruction in elementary grades (K-6) in five school districts; this grant was completed during this past school year and is now supported by the partnership districts, with some Eisenhower funding.

The HASP LSC project goals and objectives were:

1. To convert K-6 science programs to activity-inquiry science programs by:

  • Implementing an activity-inquiry curriculum
  • Using appropriate inquiry-based teaching strategies
  • Guiding instruction with authentic assessment methods

2. To secure the support from all five districts for a "Materials Resources Center" that develops these capacities:

  • To provide kits of materials for all modules as needed in the classrooms
  • To facilitate professional development of teachers and principals
  • To assist in curriculum planning

Curriculum Implementation

The HASP districts adopted a curriculum based on four standards-based modules selected from STC, FOSS, or Insights at each grade. Science modules are refurbished and distributed by a materials center that is cooperatively financed by districts and operated by the university. One new module was introduced each year, and teachers participated in professional development addressing science concepts and processes, inquiry-centered teaching strategies, questioning skills, and cooperative learning prior to teaching the module. Inquiry-centered teaching involves students in doing science by formulating questions, designing and conducting experiments or observations, and analyzing the results, to determine the answers and to develop additional questions. The teacher's role is then one of facilitating this process rather than being a provider of knowledge.


Teachers teaching teachers has been a key attribute of the HASP professional development design. Each year all teachers have experienced a minimum of 20 hours of professional development, and professional development quality control has been the responsibility of the UAH co-project director. Approximately 75 percent of school-year professional development was led by a Teacher in Residence (TIR), and approximately 25 percent was led by a district Lead Teacher (LT). With grant support, three TIR?s were selected each year from teachers in the grant districts; they were released from teaching responsibilities for the year and worked under the supervision of the UAH co-project Director.

Coordinating a multi-district project such as this has taken special consideration. The HASP organizational structure has promoted shared decision making among the partners. Executive level issues that involve all districts are the purview of a Council of Chief Executives comprised of the school superintendents and the UAH Institute for Science Education (ISE) director. Budgets for instructional materials and professional development through the UAH ISE, and cooperative communication with the state school superintendent were examples of executive level issues. Operating level coordination has been facilitated through monthly meetings of a Design and Implementation Council of district co-project directors and UAH co-project director. Professional development, evaluation findings, and materials distribution have been common concerns of this council. The fact that the partnership has developed communication links among the grant districts and the university helps in the assimilation of new personnel into the project; and this has factored into maintaining stability.

The university has been the contact point for recruiting and guiding scientists for participation in the partnership. Scientists have helped plan and deliver professional development for teachers and principals. Preparation of scientists for this role was aided materially by the American Physical Society through their Teacher-Scientist Alliance program, at the time directed by Dr. Ramon Lopez. HASP was also selected to field test teacher science enhancement modules developed by Dr. Jerry Pine and colleagues at the California Institute of Technology under the Caltech Pre-college Science Initiative (CAPSI). In this program teams of teachers and scientists used the modules to lead classes to both provide science content enhancement for the teacher and model inquiry in the classroom, placing teachers in the roles of students in an inquiry-centered classroom.

Evaluation Findings

The Program and Evaluation Group (PERG) of Lesley College, the project evaluators, found in their midpoint evaluation that a high percentage of students was engaged in hands-on activities, worked in cooperative learning groups, and participated in dialogue with teachers to develop student ideas. The evaluation also provided evidence that teachers felt that they were provided support by colleagues and principals and that teacher and student interest in science was high.

In its final year evaluation, PERG identified four key HASP accomplishments:

  • "The five district/university collaboration", with each partner sharing its considerable local strengths with the others.
  • "Shared science curriculum; stable and effective materials resource center", with districts sharing "the costs of managing and maintaining a materials delivery system, which has served as a model for other start-up districts across the country."
  • "Professional development program," that "has had an enormous impact on partner districts? and teachers? expectations for the design and implementation of professional learning opportunities."
  • "Instructional changes; student achievement," with observations providing evidence that teachers' instructional practices were changing, and in districts that have tracked student test results over time, increased scores were noted among elementary-aged students.

PERG also pointed to two important lessons learned:

  1. "HASP's extraordinary concept development workshops-the scientist/teacher teams who facilitated them, their structure and design, and the emerging impact on teachers' beliefs and practices-hold enormous promise."
  2. "It is important to introduce teachers to effective ways to assess student knowledge and skills from the earliest sessions, and to engage teachers in looking at student work."

In addition to serving as a model to a number of other projects around the nation, HASP was one of eight exemplary programs of 'Inquiry-Centered Science in Practice' described in Science for All Children, prepared by the National Science Resources Center of the National Academy of Science and the Smithsonian Institution (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997).

Changes in Attitudes and Practices

The HASP partners have learned that reform has been facilitated by external stimuli. The presence of the university in the partnership has continued to be regarded as a strong plus by all districts. District co-directors have experienced professional growth through participation in the project and were especially cognizant of this benefit. The program (curriculum and teaching methodology) implemented in elementary grades is highly regarded in all districts and supported by parents and other shareholders.

Current Situation

HASP professional development has now entered a sustaining phase, supported entirely by the districts. The HASP district superintendents have agreed to support a full time staff person at UAH and Teacher-in-Residence to plan, develop, and deliver one day of science professional development per year for all teachers, with somewhat more time for lead teachers. Districts continue to provide co-directors in the planning of the professional development program which continues to support teachers at all stages of proficiency in inquiry-centered teaching. In addition, districts continue to support refurbishment of curriculum modules for use by their teachers.

After two years of planning and proposal submission, NSF has awarded funding for a new LSC project, "Middle Grades Hands-on Activity Program (MGHASP)" to implement inquiry-based science in grades 6-8 in seven of the partnership districts. This project serves 160 teachers and approximately 11,500 students. The boundary conditions and circumstances of the middle grades are very different from the elementary grades so many new approaches must be explored. But the potential pay-off for science in reaching students in these critical years and making science a positive rather than a negative learning experience makes it an essential next step. The experience of this and similar projects around the country has shown that all children are capable of learning science and enjoying it when facilitated effectively; one of our roles as scientists is to work with teachers appropriately to make that happen.

R. Hugh Comfort is Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute for Science Education at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He is the Project Investigator for the HASP program.