Practicum Academy to Improve Science Education (PRACTISE)


Argumentation is one of the most complex science practices both for students to learn and for teachers to learn to teach, yet it is a high-leverage practice that cuts across all content areas and builds students’ critical thinking skills. The PRACTISE project developed and researched an effective model of professional learning to support the development of teachers’ pedagogical skills to teach scientific argumentation. The model includes a summer teacher institute focused on facilitating scientific argumentation, as well as several follow-up sessions during the academic year that utilize small-group video reflection of teachers’ practice, structured planning time, just-in-time pedagogical input, and coaching. A detailed PRACTISE implementation handbook was written and developed for dissemination by a Lawrence Hall of Science team of professional learning specialists to share useful approaches with the field. The team was led by Emily Weiss and Craig Strang, and research was conducted by Hilda Borko and Jonathan Osborne at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. For more information on the project and to access The Leaders Handbook for the Practicum Academy to Improve Science Education (PRACTISE): A professional learning program to support scientific argumentation in grades 3–5, visit: contact Emily Weiss at


PRACTISE: Practicum Academy To Improve Science Education

A collaborative project of the Lawrence Hall of Science & the Stanford Graduate School of Education 

August 2012 – July 2017

Funded by the National Science Foundation* (grant #1223021) 
*Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


The PRACTISE project, conducted through a collaboration between the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley and the Stanford Graduate School of Education, studied the effectiveness of three different professional learning models forelementary school science teachers designed to improve their ability to support scientific argumentation in the classroom. This research study compared the practice of grade 3-5 teachers in an urban school district before, during, and after participating in one of the three professional learning models.

Thirty-five teachers in the first two models (Cohorts 1 and 2) participated in a five-day Summer Institute focused on facilitating scientific argumentation. Eighteen of these teachers (Cohort 1) followed the Institute with a two-week practicum in a summer school setting that provided opportunities for team teaching, video reflection, collaborative planning time, just-in-time pedagogical input, and coaching. The other 17 teachers (Cohort 2) rejoined Cohort 1 for eight follow-up sessions over the following two year period during the academic year. Each of the follow-up sessions provided Cohorts 1 and 2 teachers with structured planning time, additional experiences focused on argumentation pedagogy, and small group video reflection. Twenty teachers (Cohort 3) participated in a revised version of the Institute + Practicum + Follow-up Session model, but only received one year of follow-up sessions. The Cohort 3 model also differed from the Cohort 1 model in that teachers received more introduction to strategies for engaging students in argumentation during the Summer Institute than teachers in Cohort 1 had experienced.

To examine the efficacy of the three programs, videos of the teachers’ science lessons were collected in each of the four years of the project. Cohorts 1 and 2 teachers were videotaped the year prior to participating in the professional learning (PL) program, at the end of each year of the PL program, and one year after the conclusion of the PL program. Cohort 3 teachers were videotaped the year prior to participation and at the end of the year of PL. The videos were then rated for teacher and student discourses practices. Quantitative analyses of the ratings indicated that professional learning consisting of the one-week summer institute and 4 days of follow up, with or without the practicum, was effective at significantly improving teacher and student discourse practices for all cohorts. Further, Cohorts 1 and 2 teachers continued to improve after the second year of PL, and these improvements were maintained in the year after the PL program concluded. Contrary to our hypotheses, neither the practicum nor the revised version of the PL program had an additional effect. The project thus provides support for the effectiveness of the professional learning programs developed for the project but not the practicum. 

Student performance on the science knowledge test improved from pretest to posttest. There was not a significant difference in science attainment related to teachers’ participation in the versions of the PL program with and without the practicum. An analysis of the relationship between teacher and student discourse practices and student achievement, as measured by the difference between pretest and posttest scores, suggests that improving the quality of student discourse practices may have a greater effect on student attainment than improving the quality of teacher discourse practices.Teachers from all three cohorts showed improved Attitudes toward Argumentation and Confidence in Classroom Practices on surveys after participating in PRACTISE. Gains were largest after the Summer Institute, and scores remained high over time. There were no notable differences by cohort. Teacher feedback on all program components was overwhelmingly positive, describing the experience as “more effective” or “much more effective” than other professional learning experiences in which they had participated. We also conducted in-depth case studies of four teachers. Analyses indicated that these teachers used more interactive classroom structures after participating in the PL than before. They dedicated more time to interactive talk formats, such as whole group discussion, small group discussion, and pair work. Their classrooms also shifted from more teacher-centered with a substantial presence of I-R-E (Initiate-Response-Evaluate) interaction patterns to more student-centered , with students engaging in discussions that privileged their ideas.

The teachers’ talk moves also increased in level of cognitive demand. For example, prior to participating in the PL, teachers used a high proportion of moves that were at the level of stating facts and making observations. After a year in the PL they implemented a higher proportion of moves that privileged making claims, giving evidence/reasoning, and comparing/critiquing claims; that is, the types of moves that support student reasoning and arguing with evidence.

Access Professional Learning Resources

How can I access and use PRACTISE professional learning resources?

The PRACTISE team developed an implementation handbook for professional learning specialists. The Leaders Handbook for the Practicum Academy to Improve Science Education (PRACTISE): A professional learning program to support scientific argumentation in grades 3-5 provides detailed information on how to conduct a series of research-based professional learning sessions focused on helping elementary classroom teachers to facilitate science argumentation with their students. Each session is 2-3 hours long and focuses on the following topics:

• An Introduction to Argumentation

• How People learn
• Argumentation in the Classroom
• Argumentation in Next Generation Science Standards

• Strategies for Establishing a Culture of Talk

• Discourse and Learning

• Argumentation for English Learners

• Discourse Challenges
• Making Thinking Visible with Modeling
• Evidence and Explanations in Science
• Bringing Argumentation to a Close
• Using the Argumentation Continuum
 and applying Argumentation Strategies
• Argumentation – the Writing Connection
• Deciding when to Argue

The Leaders Handbook also provides sample agendas for a Summer Institute, information to support leading a summer school teaching practicum, and protocols for facilitating video reflection groups. Download a more detailed introduction and overview of the Leaders Handbook. Additionally, the entire Leaders Handbook is available for download by request to Emily Weiss at

Who Ran
This Project?

Principal Investigator Craig Strang (Associate Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science) and Co-Project Director Emily Weiss (School Program Director and Science & Literacy Education Specialist at the Lawrence Hall of Science) oversaw the professional development portion of the project. Principal Investigator Jonathan Osborne (Professor of Education, Stanford University) and Co-Principal Investigator Hilda Borko (Professor of Education, Stanford University) oversaw the research efforts of the project. Bernadette Chi, former member of the Research Group at Lawrence Hall of Science, oversaw evaluation efforts for the project.

What Participants Have Said:

Reflection is very important and PRACTISE gave me a lot of opportunity for that. Thank you! 

My expectations of what my students can do have increased. 

I feel much more confident in incorporating academic discussion in my class around science.

It has helped me incorporate critical thinking and academic discussion across curiculum as part of our classroom culture, which has been transformative

The biggest impact that this has had on my teaching practice and pedagogy is to engage me in wanting to create opportunities for academic discussion and argumentation in my classroom. Additionally, the resources and tools have helped to give me the means to make it easier to do so.

I learned tangible ways to have conversations with students about content so that they are able to construct meaning around key concepts.

My thinking has changed because (earlier), I did not understand the different methodologies for productive student talk. I didn’t have a clear picture in my head about how to address students’ misconceptions during student talk. Now I see that it’s good to have counterclaims for argumentation and for kids to be able to point to stronger evidence.

Paradigm shift!! (The Summer Institute) has completely changed my thinking for all academic areas. I’ll never go back!!