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About UA

Celebrating 20 years of  “learning science by doing science"

Since 2004, eight of New York City’s leading cultural institutions — including museums, zoos, and botanical gardens — have worked with the New York City Public Schools to support high-quality research-based science instruction in the city’s elementary and middle schools. Urban Advantage includes the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the New York Botanical Garden, the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Botanical Garden, the Staten Island Zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium, and the New York City Public Schools, with leadership funding from the New York City Council.

Urban Advantage’s Six Research-based Components

UA is designed to support the science goals of the public-school system and supports grades 3-8. It is founded on six key components designed to support schools, principals, teachers, students and families. Click on each of the six components below to learn more:

what we do

Teacher participants order classroom materials with an annual budget during their first years of participation.

why we do it

Students and Teachers practice phenomena-based science in materials-rich classrooms, enabling deeper exploration of concepts and practices.

Effect on students

Students learn in classrooms that are annually enriched with curriculum-supporting and extending science materials and equipment.

what we do

UA continuously reviews course effectiveness, and the program's impacts on student learning and teacher growth.

why we do it

Through our own internal research, and through partnerships with renowned universities, UA has looked at long-term impacts on student outcomes and teacher retention. Recently, we have begun measuring UA’s effect on teacher social networks.

Effect on students

Students are more likely to learn from seasoned teachers and to have improved test scores. UA Students are more likely to have veteran teachers with more years of experience teaching at their UA school, as UA participation helps schools retain science teachers. UA students are also more likely to take and pass the Living Environment Regents exam and to score higher on state tests.

what we do

Parent Coordinator workshops, family and student events at institutions, and partner attendance at school events.

why we do it

UA’s Family Engagement initiative creates events for families to explore, learn about, and make memories at partner institutions. UA holds annual PC workshops to help plan and execute school community trips and to help PCs gain valuable professional learning experience. Partners also attend school events to support learning and expand access to the whole school community.

Effect on students

Students participate in Scientific Exploration with their families. Students who learned in UA-participating schools have consistently been prompted to seek intergenerational knowledge, to ask curiosity questions, and to make connections, all practices that support solid science practice and family engagement.

what we do

UA creates and encourages opportunities for students and families to explore UA institutions. Teachers and parent coordinators have access for curriculum- and family engagement-supporting trips.

why we do it

Students and Teachers learn to see UA institutions and their staff as extensions of their classrooms. Access and comfort with the institutions support student growth and interest in the sciences, teacher retention, and public school partnership with the local institutions.

Effect on students

Students feel at Home in NYC’s Science-Rich Cultural Institutions. Students that spend any portion of elementary and/or middle school at a UA-participating school will have had experience on school group trips to our institutions and the opportunity to visit with their families for the duration of their education.

what we do

UA's PL focuses on science pedagogy and helps teachers transfer what they learn to their classrooms through immersive experiences with reflection, planning, and participation in communities of practice.

why we do it

Participants form a community of science teachers from across the city. The courses they take concentrate in areas of focus that expand the understanding of what teaching and learning science looks like in a comprehensive, research-informed way.

Effect on students

Students learn from teachers well versed in research-based pedagogical practices and methods. Teachers who complete UA’s PL courses lead classrooms that center student voice and interests, employ current local phenomena, and use reflective practice to ensure students are learning in the best environment possible.

what we do

UA’s Lead Teacher and Fellows Programs aid in the promotion of school-based expert teacher leaders.

why we do it

Participating in UA’s Fellows or Lead Teacher programs enables teachers to delve further into their practice, expertise, and deepen their experience. These teachers become models and leaders in their schools.

Effect on students

Students explore science comprehensively.UA Students are taught by teachers who learn from and work alongside those in the Fellows and Lead Teacher program. This offers teachers the unique opportunity to trust the methods being taught, as they have been tried and tested for efficacy. Students then learn in classrooms that are evidence-based, responsive, and informed.

Learn how UA supports the NYC Public School's science initiatives and the NY State Science standards by clicking here

How is UA supporting the NYC Department of Education’s science initiatives and the new NY State Science standards?

UA, the new New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

New York State’s new P-12 Science Learning Standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Urban Advantage’s view is that the NGSS offer science classrooms an urgently needed and transformative vision of science teaching and learning, in which students actively engage in a range of key science practices as they apply core science ideas to make sense of their world. The active classroom culture envisioned by the NGSS reflects UA’s founding belief that to learn science students must “do science.”

NGSS transforms prior “inquiry-based” or “hands-on” approaches to learning by conceiving of a more inclusive set of 8 science practices which shape how scientists have always made sense of the world. This vision holds that these practices, which are consistently employed by professional scientists to generate new knowledge, should at all times be integrated with core science concepts (what we traditionally think of as “the content”). In contrast,
traditional science instruction often teaches science practices separately from content…often under the heading “the scientific method.”

The NGSS vision requires a shift away from seeing science as a body of memorized facts, instead understanding science as a way of thinking, talking, and acting, that students need to engage in to make sense of their world. Students engage in learning “three dimensionally,” meaning (1) actively using the science and engineering practices (SEPs) in the contexts that are (2) rich in core science ideas while (3) identifying those concepts that cut broadly across the science disciplines in meaningful ways.

The critical role of UA as a Professional Learning provider in NYC:

UA believes that, as a professional-learning focused science program, it is uniquely positioned to design and provide the professional learning that educators urgently need as they make the ambitious pivots and transformations required in their work. To prepare for this critical moment, UA staff have been receiving for several years now their own professional learning related to the NGSS and NGSS-inspired curricula, and UA has since been rethinking program goals and redesigning UA PL courses for teachers with these standards in mind.

The role of UA science-rich cultural institutions:

The new NGSS are often implemented by framing a science unit with an “anchoring phenomenon” to launch the unit and frame the learning goals. The goal of the unit becomes to explain the phenomenon. The pathway from the starting phenomenon to an explanation is sometimes referred to as a “storyline.” This “storyline” is a blueprint for a sequence of active knowledge building experiences by students that leads to the construction of the understandings needed to explain the phenomenon. We feel UA institutions are uniquely positioned to provide students with authentic experiences of natural and man-made phenomena. Our exhibits and resources are designed to immerse students in these authentic phenomena. A goal of UA’s work with teachers is to make these opportunities for engagement, and for framing learning sequences, apparent to our UA teachers.

The role of Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education (CR-SE):

The active knowledge building by students described above is simply not supported by traditional teaching methods referred to as “chalk and talk.” Active learning, organized around the 8 SEPs, is critical to achieve these goals. And discussion and dialog among students becomes essential as students actively make meaning and construct their new understandings. CR-SE can be understood as critical to the NGSS approach because a high-level of student engagement and personal commitment is critical. Teachers must foster safe spaces for students to take responsibility for learning and actively make meaning of direct experiences (in contrast to rote assimilation of information). Students must be given ample opportunities to make meaning during their science classes by informing learning with their day-to-day lived experiences, in and out of school. They need to feel safe and be eager to infuse their science learning with their lived experiences. UA has thus put CR-SE at the highest level of its priorities, beginning with staff development, and modeling CRSE strategies by including them in our teacher PL.

The role of a clear teaching framework: Ambitious Science Teaching:

Teaching and unit planning will look very different in an NGSS (New York State’s new P-12 Science Learning Standards) world. To provide a blueprint for what teaching looks like that attends to the NGSS, UA has been referencing the Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) framework. UA has piloted this framework with groups of UA teachers; feedback to date shows that having a coherent organizing framework is highly supportive of teachers learning as a community and shaping discourse within their community. To this end, UA will be integrating elements of AST into its PL courses for teachers.

Program Impact:

Urban Advantage serves 46% of New York City schools with eighth grade students. Program-wide assessments show that UA has had a tangible impact on the New York City Department of Education’s middle school science education program as measured by:

  • Learning experiences in UA classrooms have become more inquiry-based.
  • Science investigations are now designed around opportunities to conduct hands-on investigations.
  • UA teachers report more mastery of science content and an increased capacity to support students’ investigations.
  • Students have more confidence in their grasp of science content.
  • An unprecedented number of school groups and families have visited the eight cultural institutions.

Since 2008, researchers have studied the impact of Urban Advantage (UA) on students’ achievement in science. This research shows that:

  • UA positively affects students’ performance on the Grade 8 Intermediate Level Science (ILS) test. Students of color and students in traditionally lower-performing middle schools show the biggest gains.
  • Students who have a UA teacher are 4 percentage points more likely to score “proficient” on the exam compared to their non-UA peers. (Weinstein & Shiferaw, 2017).
  • UA teachers are approximately 3% more likely to stay at their school the following academic year, which is equivalent to approximately 45 teachers per year staying at their school rather than leaving (Weinstein & Shiferaw, 2017).
“UA kids do science … think like scientists … behave like scientists.”
– UA Teacher