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learn / 2014

Lab Equipment Access for LA Science Teachers

Lab Equipment Access for LA Science Teachers

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Learning Equipment Supply Service

We want to empower teachers to increase student engagement by lending teachers our equipment and helping them to use their own equipment.


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We want to empower teachers to increase student engagement by lending teachers our equipment and helping them to use their own equipment.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Fernando Valley
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Many science teachers have the interest, energy and ability to run more hands-on lab experiences with their students, but many just lack the necessary equipment and technical support.

In many cases, we have the equipment that these teachers need, and we can lend it to them for free. We also have the knowledge of how to use these equipment items properly, and even how to find suitable lesson plans for these equipment items.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We want to visit science teachers at fifteen or more different Title I schools in Los Angeles. We want to do three things for or with them during these visits:

  1. We will find out which science lessons they currently run without hands-on experiences due only to a lack of equipment and technical support.

  2. We will schedule the loan (delivery or pickup and return) of the necessary equipment items and technical support directly from our organization, if we have the equipment; if not, we will find feasible ways to obtain said equipment either by us for loan, or by the teacher to own.

  3. If the teacher has a storage space on campus that houses old science equipment that may be unknown or in states of disrepair, then we will identify and repair those items and show the teacher how to use them.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

All over the country, disadvantaged kids sit through (or choose not to sit through) science classes where the major activities are pencil-pushing and page-turning. Our project will change this for over 1,500 students this year in Los Angeles. Next year, those same science teachers will continue to borrow our equipment; they will no longer need as much technical support, so even without funding we could manage to maintain the difference.

This means that one year of funding can bring hands-on lab experiences on a regular basis to over 1,500 new students every year. Kids will grow up learning science by doing, instead of only via the more passive, bookish routes.

Some of these kids will choose to pursue careers in science due to interests sparked by those teachers (our collaborators). LA will see a new generation of adults who have more awareness of science and the scientific method. Future generations will grow up with parents who foster an interest in science. Some of those who decided on careers in science will bring jobs in science back to LA, finding that LA has become a hotbed of science knowledge and technical skills. The market for informal learning opportunities will grow here, for the following generations. Innovation and invention will grow, solving problems using new technologies here. The low-income workforce will be replaced gradually by a high-income, high-tech one, mostly because of the hands-on science experiences that kids have had at school. The tech sector will keep on giving back to those schools, and those teachers will be accoladed and honored. LA will end up being the best place to learn.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our project will benefit students at fifteen or more Title I LA public schools; thus, the specific LA population that will benefit from our work is the LA population of lowest economic means.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Without a budget, we have managed to work with five teachers at five different schools on a very limited basis over the past three years. Four of these five are confirmed collaborators (one of the five will move to a more well-equipped school where she may no longer require our services). This grant would empower us to increase our impact with our confirmed collaborators into greater significance for their students. The grant would also allow us increase the number of our collaborators by triple or more.

Each collaborator brings two things to our project: first, each brings their own influence and responsibility over the science education of over one hundred students annually; second, each brings their own expertise and energy in hands-on science education, which we can share with other collaborators.

This is an annotated list of three critical factors to our collaboration.

  1. The collaborator’s personal professional interest and commitment to working with us: hands-on science activities are not necessarily part of a teacher’s job obligations, and there is often extra time and effort involved up front; we can therefore only work with teachers who have a strong interest in engaging their students in this way.
  2. The collaborator’s particular needs: we’re looking for teachers whose classroom needs fit our skills, experience, and equipment inventory in order to maximize our contribution to each collaborator’s work.
  3. The collaborator’s accessibility: we’ve found that the teachers whom we can serve best are those at schools located near our staff, near bus lines that our staff uses, or near university campuses from which we can recruit volunteers.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher education institutions, and the workforce) (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Regarding the student education pipeline, the relationship between the hands-on science lab activities and student achievement in STEM subjects has been established in the research literature. We work to increase the frequency and quality of our collaborators’ hands-on science lab activities; the resultant gains in science achievement as well as in English and math proficiency are simply natural results of those hands-on experiences.

Berkham, Lee, and Smerdon, in “Gender and Science Learning Early in High School: Subject Matter and Laboratory Experiences” (Am Educ Res J, June 20, 1997 vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 297-331), used longitudinal study data and found that the frequency of hands-on lab opportunities in eighth grade and in high school tended to generate higher science achievement in students, especially in girls.

Amaral, Garrison, and Klentchy, in “Helping English Learners Increase Achievement Through Inquiry-Based Science Instruction” (BRJ: J. Nat’l Assoc. for Bilingual Educ., vol.26, no.2, 2002, pp.213-239), found via a four-year study that elementary school English language learners’ gains in both math and English increased with number of years of participation in the district’s hands-on science kit activities program (0 to 4 years). This was in southern California, so the factors such as demography are likely to have been similar to those factors at play in Los Angeles.

Because of studies such as these, and also by some common sense, it’s obvious that giving teachers access to science lab equipment for their students to use is very likely to improve achievement in science, English and math for many or most of those teachers’ students.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We have discussed evaluation with Actionable Research + Evaluation. Together, we will conduct three types of surveys: a teacher survey, a student survey, and an economic survey. The surveys would inform several metrics including quantity of saved teacher time, quantity and quality of change in student interest in science and in science careers, and quantity of saved school budget dollars.

The surveys would be designed to collect formative data that could inform the our team with ways in which to improve our model, and soft summative data that could inform funders of the perceived effect of the our intervention on teachers’ work.

The survey with teachers will help us to assess the degree to which our intervention is successful in equipping teachers to more quickly and effectively teach science. We’ll ask teachers to 1) assess our technical support and/or, 2) assess the perceived effect of having immediate access to the our lab equipment. The survey would be conducted shortly after a lending period and would include questions related, but not limited, to: i. For which lessons would they not have had equipment, had they not had access to our equipment?
ii. How important was equipment for those lessons, specifically?
iii. How could we improve our teacher support offerings? iv. How much time and energy did we save these teachers by offering them consulting services / support regarding their own equipment and ways in which to incorporate the equipment into their curriculum?
vi. How much more likely are these teachers to use our equipment than equipment that they would have initially purchased, merely because of the guidance we offered in selecting the equipment and incorporating the equipment into the curriculum?

The survey with students will help us to assess the students’ perceptions of the science instruction that we supported. These surveys would be administered after multiple instances of our support, and would be designed to assess students’ retrospective and current interest, knowledge, and skills in science generally, and material covered during our work specifically. The survey would be conducted shortly after our intervention period.

The economic assessment would estimate the funds saved from the schools’ operating budgets by receiving lent equipment and support, rather than purchasing the equipment in advance and without our support. We would include administrative, training, and shipping costs.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Our first lesson was in teachers’ needs. We began working in this field in 2012, and we have found that most teachers don’t need equipment loans alone. Instead, they need technical support, meaning they need someone to show them how to use the equipment and they need someone to repair and maintain that equipment. Many teachers have plenty of lab equipment from previous administrations, but are simply unaware of their wealth: the equipment is often old, neglected, unrecognized, or in disrepair. By hours spent, we have found that half of our time has been spent in helping teachers to identify, inventory and repair items in their existing lab equipment collections.

Our second lesson was in specialization. We started with a vague idea of lending lab equipment, and we were open to branching out to anything to do with science labs. Since then, we have found that others are better-equipped and better able to run professional development workshops for science teachers. Free technical workshops abound, and some of them even offer teachers stipends or take them on cool field trips; we connected one of our participating teachers last year to a summer data-collection trip to the Arctic Ocean. When we connect with teachers now, we know that our best niche service is just lab equipment loans and support. We don’t try to set up tutoring programs, PD workshops, afterschool sessions, low-cost lab equipment sales, or any other helpful activities. Those examples are all very valuable to our goal of increasing student engagement in science, according to the research literature, and we make efforts to connect people who offer them with teachers who need them whenever we can, but those are all things that we cannot specialize in ourselves. We are really set up for these two little things that we do really well: lab equipment lending and support.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Our operation is already running on a very small scale. We serve just five teachers at five schools, one or more times per year. We have a team that works together, and we have had success recruiting volunteers for our mission too. Funding would allow us to scale up into significance.

We also have partners that will help us to scale up quickly. Here are three valuable partnerships in particular.

  1. Our five current participating teachers have their own science teacher networks, such as the Los Angeles Area Physics Teacher Google group, where we can find more teachers who may be interested in working with us.
  2. We already have an evaluator, Actionable Research + Evaluation, who is familiar with our mission and is ready to design some of our evaluations to be formative in order to help us to improve our model even as we roll it out.
  3. Our board includes a Los Angeles teachers’ union representative who can help us to find interested teachers and who may also be able to help us to navigate the school district’s red tape in case we need to cross some of that.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One major challenge will be finding the teachers at times when they are available and ready to work with us. Our main strategy has been to visit teachers during their preparatory period or during lunch; we’ve found that many teachers are remarkably busy with students after school and some are needed at home immediately after school. Glen, the project founder, is the most knowledgeable person we’ve got on science lab equipment and its care / use / repair. Therefore, another strategy that we may need to employ would be to hire and to train an advanced undergraduate work-study student through our fiscal sponsor’s relationship with local universities. We would have to bring that student rapidly up to speed on science lab activities, with the goal of sending that person to meet with new teacher collaborators independently yet productively.

Our second major challenge will be keeping the initial excitement and momentum in our team’s culture. Heavy LA traffic and other delaying factors will accumulate to reduce the high morale that is necessary for our mission. Many of our teacher collaborators will be struggling under the low morale of their own school cultures. Our strategy will be to seek out teachers who run classrooms where high expectations and high morale are endemic, and to start by seeking out schools run by principals who behave with an emphasis on maintaining a deliberately positive school culture year-round. We will find such schools and such teachers mostly by word of mouth, from other teachers, starting with our five existing teacher-collaborators.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)