Project CATS Science Classroom Observations

PEP Classroom Observations: Observer Guidelines
Purpose of the Classroom Observations
The PEP Classroom Observations help project evaluators investigate the nature of mathematics
and science teaching in classrooms of participating teachers. In particular, the snapshots address
three important questions:
1) What patterns exist in the instructional strategies and interactions observed in
mathematics or science classrooms of teachers participating in the PEP?
2) To what extent do these patterns reflect the characteristics emphasized by the PEP and
3) How do the patterns change over time as the project conducts its activities?
By collecting periodic observations of a variety of mathematics and science classrooms, the
project will accumulate a broad set of “snapshots” of teaching by its participating teachers.
Evaluators will look for trends and patterns in the observation data, and conclusions will address
implementation in the project as a whole. The observations will not be used as evaluations of
specific teachers.
The Classroom Observation Protocol
The observation protocol describes what took place in the lesson during the time observed,
just as a snapshot from a camera is a record of how something looked at that particular time. The
process is designed to be quick and fairly simple:
• A one-page (front and back) form is used to record information from the observation.
Narrative information is collected during the class period, but not submitted with the form.
• The process emphasizes description. The visitor is only recording a summary of what
he/she observed during the time in the classroom.
• The observation protocol focuses on particular inquiry-oriented characteristics of the
lesson of interest to the PEP and AMSP. Omission of other areas does not diminish their
importance, but was done to streamline the process.
Conducting the Classroom Observations
Observers should discuss the observation process with the teachers. Emphasize that the
observations are not a teacher evaluation. Observation data will be compiled from across the
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project, and neither the school nor the individual teachers will be identified in the project
evaluation reports produced. Also emphasize that the project wants information on what is
happening day-to-day in mathematics and science classes. We want to get a sense of typical
instruction, not a dog-and-pony show.
1) As an observer, you want to be as unobtrusive as possible. If you arrive after the class has
begun, try to slip in quietly to avoid interrupting the flow of the lesson. Find a seat in a place
convenient to observe what is going on, but not where you would be a distraction for the
students. The teacher may ask you to introduce yourself to the class. If so, just give your
name and say that you are here to see what they do in their math (or science) classes. Don’t
give details about the PEP or other statements that might make students think that this is not
an ordinary day in class.
2) There may be a temptation for a teacher to alter what he/she normally would be doing with
the class. Some might say, “Come back tomorrow, we’re doing something much more
interesting then” or “I wish you had been here yesterday, we did a really neat activity.” Such
actions reflect a concern that the visit constitutes an individual evaluation. Reassure the
teacher that the PEP and AMSP want information on all sorts of lessons, not just the most
“exciting” ones.
3) Once the lesson starts, do not take notes or record items on the snapshot form (in fact, having
the form visible can be intimidating to some teachers). Simply watch and listen to what
transpires in the lesson, taking notes that give evidence of the various indicators on the
instrument. If students are engaged in group work, it’s okay to move around the room to
observe their interactions. Don’t interrupt what they are doing, though, and don’t be drawn in
to participating in the activity (politely decline if asked). If you are participating, you can’t
focus your complete attention on the elements of the lesson.
4) While the ideal would be to observe the entire lesson, sometimes this will not be practical.
You should plan to spend at least fifteen minutes in the observation.
5) After you finish the observation time, immediately go someplace quiet to complete the
observation protocol form. If you wish to attach narrative comments (for use in coaching or
other purposes), please use a paper clip to attach them to the form; do not staple.
Contact Person for Questions
If you have questions or concerns regarding the classroom observation process, contact:
Barbara Shoemaker
phone: (859) 257-0556
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