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Issues Emerging from the Fermilab ARISE Project

ARISE is an ambitious program designed to help teachers make a significant change in the way they teach high school science. It requires a team of teachers with expertise in different disciplines working together, perhaps for the first time, on a project to incorporate all the disciplines into a coherent science program. This may be diametrically opposed to what high school science teachers who are content specialists are used to doing. It also requires a serious review of instructional practices for teachers who may rely heavily on lectures and "cookbook" labs.

Two school teams implemented a physics-first approach; four implemented an integrated approach. The following issues have emerged from our work.

Implementing Standards-based Curriculum vs. Instruction

At first glance ARISE seems to be a curriculum project. However, instruction shapes curriculum, so school reform leaders need to look at both curriculum and instruction. It is much more challenging to change instruction than it is to change curriculum. Schools will have to make a significant commitment to make such a change. Needs include time and money for staff development, course development, possibly a release period and a common planning period at least during first-time implementation.

For the most part teachers began ARISE thinking of it as a curriculum project. They were not very knowledgeable about the full content of the National Science Standards and the implication for standards-based instruction. They overestimated their use of inquiry-based teaching and learning and need to continue to implement more contemporary teaching strategies.


In order to develop a coherent science program that incorporates the disciplines of biology, chemistry, earth/space science and physics, you need a team of three or four equally enthusiastic teachers committed over at least four years. At some point during the development, the science teachers will need to work with mathematics teachers too.

Of course, equal enthusiasm and commitment are not really possible. However, it can be a problem for the team when one or more less enthusiastic teachers are pulled in to fill out the team. While four years is not very long, five out of six teams have had personnel changes. In two cases a teacher was added to the team. In one case, one teacher was replaced with another. In another team teachers played musical chairs with teachers coming and going regularly from the school itself. The tri-school team lost one school when the science teacher left and the new teacher did not want to follow the curriculum. The other small schools added a teacher to help teach year 2. The only team without personnel changes had some personality problems among the team members which frustrated course development.

Administrative Support

Obviously, ARISE could not be implemented in a school setting without administrative support. The success individual ARISE teams have enjoyed has been impacted by the quality of the existing communication channels at the school. The stronger these are, the stronger the awareness and availability of support or troubleshooting. ARISE requires more than the normal course development because of the need for staff development, time and teamwork.

Three ARISE teams have a department chair on the team. The department chair of a fourth team is the project coordinator. These teams have had fewer implementation problems. Principal support is also important, although principals have not been involved directly.

We have also learned that when administrations change, the support that was there may be lost. This need not be the case, but if the new administrator has a different agenda, ARISE may be put on the sidelines, perhaps until it becomes clear how these courses may fit in a new plan.

Course Approval

Course approval is a school-dependent issue. Teachers need to be aware of the timeline so they have adequate time to complete enough planning to meet the course approval requirements. Usually, this does not involve a full curriculum.

It takes time to get course approval, and some teachers spent more time than they anticipated preparing these materials. This was an important time for administrator support. Where it was seriously lacking, approval was denied.

Course Announcement

In small schools, the new courses may be offered as the only science courses and introduced in sequence. Providing information for counselors and parents is important primarily to keep everyone informed and on board with the new program. Key issues include college credit, rigorousness of course, three-year commitment, transferring out of the course, prerequisites, etc.

In the two smallest schools, ARISE is the only course offered to freshmen. Another smaller school offers one section of ARISE as an option. They plan to continue with this group of students through the three years before adding additional sections. The teachers held a parent meeting to recruit students and ended up with twice as many students requesting ARISE as they could accommodate.

In large schools where the ARISE course is one of several offerings, teachers have to recruit students for the new course. Teachers need to prepare information for counselors and parents and make sure that the new course is well explained in the eighth grade meetings with counselors, parents and students. Counselor support is key. As gatekeepers they need a clear understanding of the course and some enthusiasm for encouraging the right students to enroll. Because ARISE is a three-year program, it may have more rigorous course prerequisites and an unusual three-year commitment. For example, it may not be a course for students who do not plan to graduate from the high school they enter as freshmen.

Two teams from the large schools where ARISE was one of several options spent much more time preparing the course announcement and materials for parents than expected. One team held an open meeting for parents and students where well over 100 people attended. This team also sent a representative to each of the junior high school eighth grade parent orientation meetings. They ended up with nine sections of ARISE their first year.

Big School/Small School

Some issues depend on the school size. For example, in a small school where there may be only one or two science teachers, the burden falls heavily on them. Development profits from the ideas of several people and implementation can be lonely if you are the only teacher trying out an ambitious program like ARISE.

We were fortunate to have a team composed of one teacher from each of three schools who share an instructional leader. Their development work profited from the teamwork, however, when they separated to teach the class, they were alone. One who seemed to have minimal school administrative support was particularly frustrated during the first year. With a new teacher on her team, the second year may be easier.

Big school issues include staffing, professional concern of other teachers, scheduling, etc.

One of the large school teams talked about implementing ARISE as the standard course sequence for the majority of students at their magnet school. However, this required a change from biology first to physics first. A problem has arisen regarding staffing. What do you do when you do not need the biology teachers for two years?

One of the counselors in a large school expected other teachers might complain that the "best" students were being siphoned from IPS because of an ARISE requirement for at least concurrent registration in Algebra I. No complaints surfaced. However, the ARISE teachers did have difficulties getting the ecology teachers to share classroom activities. The ecology teachers had to be convinced that ARISE students would be more interested in taking the ecology course if they had some introduction to it as freshmen. In the end they agreed to share.

In one of the large schools, figuring out how to share labs among ARISE and regular classes and preserve a common ARISE plan period took considerable negotiations. Everything almost fell apart when a teacher quit the week before school began. The ARISE team leader spent an entire day rebuilding the science schedule.

Course Materials and Lab/Computer Equipment

Course materials are a school-dependent issue. Although courses may not use textbooks as the primary source of information, all courses will undoubtedly have a text.

To date we are not aware of a textbook series for the physics-chemistry-biology sequence. When the teachers use regular texts such as Conceptual Physics, Chemistry in the Environment and Biology, there is a tendency to miss the integration. There are some new series that support an integrated approach. Perhaps the best is a British series, The Living World, The Material World and The Physical World. One team tried a different series and rejected it part way through the first year.

A good science course needs a good lab with computers to collect and analyze data and Internet access particularly for longer-term projects. Schools in Illinois must have a technology plan. This plan may need some revision in light of ARISE course requirements. ARISE may also drive lab upgrades.

One of the ARISE schools built a new lab for the course as part of overall building renovations and additions. The additional money provided for ARISE helped purchase the classroom supplies. Another school put in new computers in a science lab that was used by ARISE teachers. The new school had a real problem because in year 2 they were teaching chemistry without a chemistry lab.

Physics First vs. Integrated

Both reversing the sequence and integrating across the sciences are part of ARISE, but with the physics-first approach the former may take precedence. Without a text series, integration must be carefully planned. The physics-first teams struggled with the coherent courses. In one school, a new school, science integrated with mathematics and a physics-first sequence was the predetermined curriculum. It began during the first year of the ARISE program, one year ahead of the other schools. However, integration across the sciences was a new concept as was an inquiry-based teaching/learning model. The other physics-first team also had difficulty integrating across the sciences. They tried to integrate skill development as well as content, but, for example, the chemistry teacher did not feel the students were as skilled as she had expected and had to reteach.

Integrated teams have several special considerations, for example, keeping the integrity of the disciplines, making sure the courses build on prior knowledge and what to do about student transfers in and/or out of the course sequence. One non-issue is college credit. As long as the courses are lab science, colleges are happy to accept ARISE for college credit.

In the two smallest schools, ARISE was the curriculum for freshmen. One school decided to implement only one section of ARISE even though twice as many students wanted to take the course. That program will teach each year only once until they see the benefits of the course. This was a unique approach. Two of the larger schools had sections of ARISE alongside regular course offerings. Schools began with three and nine year 1 ARISE sections. Counselors in one of these schools worked to enroll students who would make the three-year commitment because they felt they really could not transfer. At the other school transfers were not viewed as a problem. It is too early to understand any problems related to the integrity of the discipline and building on prior knowledge and how they might be resolved.

After ARISE Is Underway, What If . . . ?

What if parents are unhappy with the course? Parents who were enthusiastic in the beginning were not toward the end of the year. Their complaints were focused on the teachers rather than on the program. So it is important to have strong teachers who can work toward standards-led teaching involved in making an ARISE-like change in curriculum and instruction.

What if the district makes some curricular and school-based decisions that impact staffing? Impacts on staffing are key issues particularly when switching to a physics-first curriculum. One problem that needs to be resolved is multiple preps. Introducing a new three-year sequence may cause some teachers to have more preps than they used to. Schools have to plan in order to avoid this situation if it will impact other teachers negatively. More importantly when implementing a physics-first curriculum, schools have to figure out what to do with biology teachers who would have normally taught freshmen classes and now must wait to teach those same students as juniors.