Negotiating a university-school partnership
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Across the United States, university-school collaborations have been initiated to promote science teaching and learning in elementary schools. Many of these partnerships have focused on professional development for classroom teachers. Recent concerns over the state of science education in the United States have prompted the development of programs that partner universities and schools to increase science achievement among students in this nation. One such university-school collaboration known as Project FOCUS: Fostering Our Community’s Understanding of Science, was examined in this study. This program places university science majors in elementary schools to promote science learning for elementary students and their teachers. This qualitative study examined the ways in which stakeholders associated with Project FOCUS negotiated the experience. Stakeholders included classroom teachers and the university science majors placed in their classrooms, along with the developer of Project FOCUS and the school principals. All stakeholders were interviewed throughout the study to ascertain ways in which they negotiated the FOCUS experience. In addition to interviews with stakeholders, data sources included observations and copies of written work from the university students participating in FOCUS. Community of practice, situated learning theory, and discourse served as a foundation for the theoretical framework of this study and as a context by which to explore how stakeholders negotiated the university-school partnership. The methodological framework for the study was derived from discourse analysis that focused on how stakeholders spoke about their experiences as well as interpretation of the meaning behind the words they used, the larger social context of language, and how words were used in action. Gee’s (1999) discourse analysis guided the construction of stakeholder portraits and scenarios of the negotiation activities. Analysis revealed the commitments, communities of practice, and underlying “Discourses” that contributed to the negotiation of the experience. The findings from this study were that although FOCUS seemed to work in its existing context it did not require the classroom teachers to form a commitment to the program. Implications for university-school collaborations, science teaching, teacher education, future research, and methodology are explored.