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Elementary Science Education Partners (ESEP)/Atlanta

Key Features

The Elementary Science Education Partners (ESEP) program is a joint project of the Atlanta, Georgia, Public Schools (APS) and a consortium of seven Atlanta-area colleges and universities. Its goal is to effect systemic reform of science education, K-5, throughout the entire school system in five years.

Novel features of the program include the following:

The concept of participatory reform, in which teachers are actively engaged in the design and implementation of all aspects of the effort.

  • A K-5 science curriculum that employs three kit-based modules per year, with the kits maintained and refurbished at a materials support center operated by the Atlanta Public Schools,
  • Professional development of the system's K-5 teachers, which is provided by ESEP staff and augmented by a cohort of intensively trained lead teachers.
  • Support of many of the teachers in the classroom by "science-partners," science-literate college undergraduates who are trained for this role through courses at their respective colleges and universities.
  • Mentoring of these partners by volunteer faculty scientists
  • Involvement of a cultural anthropologist, who helps plan and implement the training of both teachers and science partners, and fosters "participatory reform".
  • The true partnership aspect of the program, with the program initiative having been taken by the principal investigator (PI), a distinguished professor of cell biology at the Emory University Medical School, and his co-PI's, a member of the administration of the Morehouse School of Medicine, a faculty member of the College of Education of Georgia State University, and the superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools.

Funding for the project includes a $5.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation, an Innovation Eisenhower grant from the Georgia Department of Education, and the Atlanta Public Schools. The seven collaborating institutions in ESEP are Emory University, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Georgia State University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, and Spelman College.

Becoming Involved

    • Science faculty members at colleges and universities can learn about mobilizing and leading a large and effective force--science-literate undergraduates-- to support elementary-school science teachers in the classroom.
    • Science faculty members can learn of a novel role they can play in support of elementary science education reform: mentoring the undergraduates who are supporting elementary-school science teachers in the classroom.
    • Scientists who want to know what systemic reform of elementary science education means will find it here, with ample illustrations of the complexity and challenges of such reform in terms of both the problems and the solutions, one of which is implementing the concept of "participatory change."
    • Scientists who are prepared to make a deep commitment to reforming science education in their own localities can learn what one scientist has accomplished working with other key community leaders, including heads of local colleges and universities.
    • Scientists involved with systemic reform or thinking of becoming involved can learn about the role a cultural anthropologist can play in the complex process of educational change.


    Goal. Systemic conversion of elementary science education in the Atlanta Public Schools to an inquiry-centered, constructivist approach through the use of kit-based modules and the provision of appropriate professional development--and some classroom support--for teachers.

    Scope. The science education program is designed for all classrooms in the APS's 70 K-5 elementary schools. Approximately 1,700 teachers and 35,000 pupils are involved. Introduction of three kit-based instructional modules into every classroom is to be completed by the year 2000.

    Instructional Materials and Program. The instruction has a hands-on, inquiry-centered approach, based on introducing three kit-based modules per grade level, in one or two grade levels at a time, with the highest grades going first.

    The modules are from three National Science Foundation -supported, national curriculum projects: Full Option Science System, the Science and Technology for Children Program, and Insights.


    Training of Teachers and Lead Teachers. ESEP staff and a team of science lead teachers known as Science, Knowledge, Inquiry, Leadership (SKIL) teachers provide professional development inservices for APS classroom teachers. A new group of SKIL teachers is trained each year through participation in 80-hour summer SKIL Institutes and 10 school-year training days.


    Science Partners. Many teachers are supported 3-4 hours per week by "science- partners," who are science-literate undergraduates (usually science or pre-med majors) drawn from the six ESEP institutions with undergraduates. The science partners are trained at their institutions in the inquiry approach to learning science and also meet once a week throughout each semester in "reflection sessions" with science-faculty mentors and outstanding APS elementary school teachers. A cultural anthropologist works with the undergraduates during these sessions, as well.


    Roles of Scientists. The principal investigator (PI) of the ESEP project is a cell biologist/biophysicist and professor at Emory University School of Medicine. His three co-PIs are an administrator from the Morehouse School of Medicine, a science educator from Georgia State University, and the APS Superintendent. A cultural anthropologist helps in the training of teachers and science partners. Other faculty scientists serve as “scientist-mentors” for the undergraduate science partners and APS teachers.


    Participatory Reform. Because attempts at systemic reform work best when key stakeholders become vested in the change process, special efforts are being made under the guidance of a cultural anthropologist to ensure that teachers and administrators are active participants in the reform process. In addition, all of the participants are helped to become sensitive to the great diversity of the APS student population as well as of the science partners, mentors, and APS personnel.


    Materials Support Center. APS operates a central facility for procuring, refurbishing and distributing science kits to teachers. Kits delivered in ready-to-teach condition within a few days after teachers receive training, and remain in the classroom for approximately 10 weeks.

    Assessment. The ESEP program includes a commitment to assess the success of the program with APS teachers, students, and ESEP science partners. In addition to National Science Foundation-mandated surveys and questionnaires, evaluation methods include observations in classrooms and professional development workshops, questionnaires for teachers and administrators, and workshop evaluation feedback forms. Data are also collected from teacher ratings of science partners, science partner ratings of teachers, and science partner reflection sessions.

    Special assessment projects focus on classroom observations of lead teachers, recorded interviews with teachers and administrators, and tests of fifth-grade student attitudes towards science.

    Chronology. The scope, number of players, and many novel features of the ESEP program make a chronology of highlights instructive.


    Organizational Information and Contacts. A detailed description is provided here of the ESEP consortium and its leadership, staff, funding, and contacts.


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