Early Elementary Science Partnership

What did we do?

The Field Museum and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) conducted a study in 2008 that demonstrated CPS students’ science comprehension to be among the lowest of any urban school district nationwide and that no systemic reform programs were in place to improve science achievement in Chicago’s elementary schools. In response, The Field Museum, Chicago Children’s Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Northwestern University and CPS partnered to deliver a multi-year (2009-2012) science education reform effort in seven high-needs elementary schools, targeting K-3 grades.

The Early Elementary Science Partnership (E2SP) was built on the premise that informal learning institutions and universities have much to contribute to reform efforts in large urban school districts. Museum and university partners directly linked their resources to district-supported science curricula and delivered a suite of supports including professional development, field trips, in-classroom instructional support, school-based collaboration, and school leadership development. E2SP represents a transformation in the way that teachers, schools, universities, and museums work together to improve teaching and learning.

What was our impact?

University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Math and Science Education provided formative and summative evaluation of the program. Evidence indicated that E2SP provided high quality learning opportunities that resulted in educators improving content knowledge and pedagogy and built the capacity of the schools to sustain collaborative learning communities dedicated to excellence in science education (download the evaluation summary).

1. Teachers demonstrated improved science content knowledge and confidence in their practice.

“[Prior to E2SP] I skipped teaching science almost every day, because I really just had no clue. I didn’t know where to start. Then last year, we had E2SP. I came to the E2SP meeting to see how they did the lesson…This year, I was more confident. I started to teach science the second week of school. I was ready.” – E2SP teacher

“I will try to include as much hands-on investigations as possible to give kids exposure in things that may not be natural in their environment. I will know I’m successful when they can describe their experiences using appropriate terminology and express a desire to know more!” – E2SP teacher

2. Teachers facilitated a greater variety of inquiry skills.

"Teachers reported the E2SP as being their initial introduction to inquiry or entering the program with minimal knowledge about inquiry. During interviews, teachers were able to effectively articulate the use of (1) beginner and intermediate process skills, (2) assessments to inform instruction, and (3) reflection in the classroom." - CEMSE

3. Teachers integrated museum resources with their science instruction.

“Perhaps the greatest impact of the E2SP, in the eyes of the teachers, is the provision of preparation and support for field trips…training and field trip preparation has contributed to successful, learning oriented field trips by supporting preparation of students and chaperones and maintaining a focus on the experiential learning opportunities at the various institutions.” - CEMSE

“We are able to prepare our students better to have actual learning take place on those field trips, rather than just a bunch of kids running around looking at whatever they find”. – E2SP teacher

4. Schools increased science-focused collaboration during the course of the E2SP.

Prior to enrolling in the program, the majority of schools did not have formal collaboration structures that supported science. The collaboration meetings have brought teachers and school leaders together to focus on science instruction. E2SP staff has been instrumental in organizing teachers for collaboration...  - CEMSE

5. Students are engaging in inquiry and learning what it means to do science.

Field trip observations in each of the years also demonstrate that students are “doing” science. In the student focus groups, students reported learning science content, engaging in inquiry, and gaining an understanding about the processes one engages in while doing science. - CEMSE

“The most important thing I learned was not to underestimate my student’s ability to participate in small group and whole group discussions. I was impressed on how well they were able to agree and disagree with each other and explain their reasoning. They were so shy in the beginning, but as they got more excited about the hands on investigations, their participation increased”. – E2SP teacher leader

“I learned that if I combine the inquiry cycle model and modify the FOSS lessons to better suit my students, my students love science.  They loved to be asked to think and develop reasons why they think that way.  They were challenged by my questions and they constantly wanted to discuss their findings.” – E2SP teacher leader

What did we learn about school partnerships?

1. In order for informal learning institutions to engage effectively in a district partnership, all partners need to develop a common knowledge base and level of respect that makes it possible to develop tools that build upon the strengths and address the weaknesses of the district;

2. The partnership needs to continually assess and improve practices;

3. Variance in school capacity requires customized support, including differentiated allocation of resources in response to schools’ development on an annual basis;

4. Professional learning communities benefit from targeted professional development in science, a focus on instructional improvement and school administrator commitment and support;

5. Working to achieve sustainable school change takes time, flexibility and resources.

What’s the future of E2SP?

The Field Museum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Northwestern University are working together to launch the next multi-year science education reform effort—a second cohort of a refined E2SP model. The proposed innovation aims to drive network-wide adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards. Our focus is on using the “right drivers” to move the culture of a network of schools towards prioritizing science education, recognizing the characters of high quality science curriculum and instruction, and building and supporting a community of educators who work together to improve early science education.


E2SP could not have happened without all of its dedicated school partners. We want to thank them for their hard work and endless commitment:

John Charles Haines Elementary School John A. Walsh Elementary School Pilsen Elementary Community Academy Marconi Elementary Community School Martin A. Ryerson Elementary School South Loop Elementary School Victor Herbert Elementary School

Questions? Email educators@fieldmuseum.org

The Early Elementary Science Partnership was generously supported by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, the Polk Bros. Foundation and Motorola Solutions Foundation.