Toward a Practice‐Based Theory for How Professional Learning Communities Engage in the Improvement of Tools and Practices for Scientific Modeling

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To organize for the improvement of science instruction teachers need opportunities to collaboratively learn from practice, in practice, and to engage in the revision of classroom tools. In this paper, we examine how a professional learning community (PLC), comprised of middle school teachers and researchers, worked on the improvement of Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) practices and developed instructional practices and tools supporting model‐based inquiry. This paper focuses on the first year of a 5‐year research–practice partnership in which teachers and researchers routinely coplanned, cotaught, and codebriefed science lessons via improvement cycles. We conducted an analysis of teacher‐designed tools, reflective talk, and classroom observations. All teachers engaged in increasingly sophisticated forms of AST practices over the year and began to use a similar tool to scaffold scientific modeling with students. Yet, there were two distinct variations that evolved with grade‐level teams. One team developed a practice and tool supporting students’ final form articulation of ideas with models and the other team developed a practice and tools supporting the revision of models over a unit of instruction. We argue that both grade‐level teams engaged in productive learning and that PLC benefited from having different perspectives on relatively similar practices for scaffolding students’ scientific modeling. On the basis of the findings, we propose three key components to a practice‐based theory for how PLCs negotiate tools as a part of the improvement of teaching practices: anchoring improvement in a particular tool and practice, supporting variation in teacher learning and making teachers’ pedagogical reasoning explicit.