In spring 2013, KSTF formed a committee to begin planning for Project ASCENT. As we learned more about improvement science and Networked Improvement Communities, we realized that we could make use of this field to help bridge the gap between research and practice. We chose to focus on the problem of too few students successfully completing advanced STEM courses in high school and begin to think about how we might apply improvement science principles to solving this problem.
Our first realization was that this issue plays out differently in different contexts including the characteristics of the students who are and are not successful, what counts as “advanced STEM courses” and even “successful completion.” In order to get a better understanding of these issues in various contexts, we began by collecting data from the schools and districts in which committee members worked. We spent a day looking at the data and trying to understand what was going on in those contexts, prior to participating in a three-day workshop on improvement science with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The results of our preliminary cause and effect analysis are shown in the fishbone diagram below:
Having developed a rough, working model of cause and effect, we then set out to answer the question “what changes would lead to improvement?” This led us to develop a working theory of action (that is probably wrong and definitely incomplete), which is represented below in a driver diagram:
The teams that join Project ASCENT will collect data from their own contexts and help us to flesh out and refine both the cause and effect (shown in the Fishbone Diagram) and the theory of action (shown in the Driver Diagram). Even though more teams and more data will help to improve the theory of action, the group will maintain the stance of “probably wrong and definitely incomplete” as a way to remain open to new ideas and understandings.
Our next step was to pick a particular part of the driver diagram to delve into and begin testing improvements. We chose to focus on improving instruction in advanced high school STEM courses, specifically by supporting students’ literacy skills. Learn more about what we’ve done so far in our Pilot Project.