Teachers + Occidental = Partnership in Science (TOPS) consists of science outreach programs planned and directed by teacher participants and Occidental College.
Currently in its 20th year, TOPS supports over 20 high-level lab-based activities for students in all levels of science courses. The program provides students and teachers access to standards-based hands-on laboratory experiences in biology, chemistry, physics, and middle school science. In 2011, the TOPS program served over 7000 students at schools in the greater Los Angeles region. Of these 7000 students over 40% were underrepresented minorities and nearly 50% were female.
TOPS has an established reputation for outstanding support for teachers such as our highly successful staff development workshops and ongoing support in the classroom during the academic year. Program assessment has demonstrated greater conceptual understanding and has changed school cultures by motivating school administrators to recognize the value of hands-on activities for all students. Feedback from program participants has indicated that TOPS increases science educators’ self-perception as professionals and scientists, improves the teaching of laboratory concepts, and supports science teachers’ efforts to improve instruction at their schools.
In 2011 TOPS debuted the TOPS Foundations Program in collaboration with 7th and 8th grade science teachers and administrators at Jerry D. Holland Middle School in Baldwin Park, California. Holland has been serving the community of Baldwin Park as a middle school/junior high since 1953 and it has ensured the success of its students through Academics, Community, and Teamwork. The school’s staff implements a challenging curriculum that addresses the developmental, academic, social and emotional needs of their diverse student population. In 2011–12 the Baldwin Park Unified School District served a student population that was comprised of 90% underrepresented minorities and nearly 88% of the total student population received
The core of TOPS Foundations is Lesson Study. Lesson Study is a process where teachers systematically examine their practice with the goal of becoming more effective. This process centers on teachers working collaboratively to plan, teach, observe, and critique a series of Research Lessons. To provide focus and direction to this work, the teachers select an overarching goal and related research question that they want to explore. The research question guides the development of the Research Lesson.
The Lesson Study process includes identifying areas where students are encountering challenges in learning standards-based content. Lesson Study is different from “lesson planning” because it focuses on what teachers want students to learn rather than on what teachers plan to teach. The challenging areas can be identified through results from assessment tools (e.g. California Standards Tests) or other means. To address areas of difficulty the teachers develop a learning experience and an assessment strategy to observe student learning during the activity. Lesson Study provides a framework for providing teachers with a valuable real-time research experience as well as an opportunity for them to think systematically about their craft, learn from experience, and become members of a learning community of practice.