Talk Science Impact


The Talk Science professional development program was designed to promote teachers' capacity to facilitate productive science discussions to guide students' learning. In the second and third years of the project (2010-2011 and 2011-2012 respectively), the development and research teams worked separately but in parallel to design the Talk Science web-based multimedia resources and to conduct research with the participating teachers. Our work with Grade 4 teachers in 2010-2011 allowed us to refine the web-based resources for teachers' professional learning and informed the design of the professional development pathway for the following year, test the initial research design and instruments, and guided subsequent data collection and analysis for research with Grade 5 teachers in 2011-2012. The Grade 5 teachers were participating in the Talk Science pathway and implementing the Inquiry Project curriculum for the first time.

The findings to date suggest that the blended model of the Talk Science program involving web-based independent learning, face-to-face learning with grade-level colleagues, and classroom trials holds promise for teachers' professional development. In the Talk Science model, teachers engage in independent study of web-based multimedia resources like scientist cases and classroom cases. The resources are readily accessible anywhere, anytime, and can be used flexibly to meet varying needs of teachers in different schools. Further, teachers meet with grade-level colleagues in school-based study groups to discuss the resources, and to reflect and plan for their classroom discussions. Face-to-face study group meetings offer teachers a means to share their successes and challenges in leading productive science discussions. Finally, teachers are encouraged to also transfer their learning into actual practice through classroom trials. Teachers' professional learning is situated closely within the science curriculum they teach, thus making their learning relevant to their classroom practice. Moreover, web-based resources like In Your Classroom planning sheets and study group guides focus teachers' attention explicitly toward applying new strategies and understandings in their teaching.

Our research shows that the blended model underlying the Talk Science program allows teachers to participate actively and learn at their own pace through independent study of readily available web-based resources. The model allows teachers to also develop their knowledge, understandings, and practice through collaboration with colleagues, and supports transfer of professional learning into classroom practice. The findings indicate that in shifting the culture of classroom talk toward more productive science discourse and student reasoning, the model enables teachers to not only begin incorporating new instructional strategies, but to also begin developing their knowledge of core scientific ideas, and to begin conceptualizing classroom discussions in more dialogic terms.

In our research, the teachers' engagement with their learning was evidenced in the study group meetings, where they discussed the web-based resources, debriefed classroom trials and experiences, and generated ideas for classroom teaching. As teachers participated in the program and taught the Inquiry Project curriculum aligned with it, they developed more accurate understandings of the core science concepts and ideas regarding matter.

Furthermore, there were shifts in teachers' perspectives on classroom discussions, and their capacities at leading discussions to promote students' science learning. After the program, teachers displayed greater willingness to conduct science discussions regularly, and began to conceptualize discussions in terms of a more dialogic, make-meaning model, where they started recognizing discussions as opportunities for students to not only externalize their own thinking but to also develop understandings together and to continue learning. This shift, although small, marks a departure from their initial share-out model of discussions, where teachers conceptualize discussions primarily as opportunities for students to report out and listen to individual ideas at the introduction and conclusion of science lessons. Along with shifts in teachers' perspectives, participation in the Talk Science program helped teachers incorporate various discourse strategies for orchestrating productive science discussions. Teachers increased their use of academically productive talk strategies, and began to draw on various talk moves to encourage students to explicate their ideas and deepen their reasoning.

The insights gained from the Talk Science research suggest that changes in all three aspects of teachers' professional learning — knowledge of the science, underlying perspectives on classroom discourse, and instructional practice — are critical for teachers' sustained development. Therefore, professional development programs may need to consider carefully how to provide explicit guidance in these three areas:

  • (i) promoting teachers' knowledge of core scientific concepts and principles;
  • (ii) promoting a model of dialogic discussions and students' co-construction; and
  • (iii) promoting actual practice at leading productive science discussions.