PDP Description

 PDP Experience     PDP Approach     Selection Process      History      

The PDP experience in Detail

The PDP program encompasses a suite of workshops organized into two intensives, a practical teaching experience, and reflection on what was learned. The program begins in March each year, and participants complete their teaching experience sometime between May and November. Participants often return to lead teaching teams or take on other leadership roles in our community.  These returners receive leadership and project management training as they adopt advanced roles. PDP training is centered on three core themes that are founded in research – Inquiry, Equity & Inclusion, and Assessment. The overall program experience includes:

  • Inquiry Institute: This 4-day series of workshops provides background in research that supports effective teaching, with an emphasis on inquiry. A major component of the Inquiry Institute is experiencing inquiry as a learner. Participants engage in one of two activities -- "Light & Shadow" or "Analog To Digital" -- and then compare and contrast the experience with other learning and teaching experiences.  Participants also discuss equity and inclusion issues in STEM, and begin the earliest phase of designing their own inquiry activity by identifying the most important learning outcomes they would like to achieve in the unit they are planning. All PDP participants attend the Inquiry Institute at a single location.
  • Design Institute: At this 2-day series of workshops, participants apply research-based teaching methods by working in teams to design inquiry activities with a focus on creating equitable learning environments. Participants learn about assessment, instructional design, and creating effective science/engineering learning experiences. The goal of the Design Institute is for teams to make substantial progress in designing their inquiry activity, and establish teamwork processes that will carry them through the remainder of the program. Participants attend the Design Institute at their closest chapter site., and establish teamwork processes that will carry them through the remainder of the program. Participants attend the Design Institute at their closest chapter site.
  • Independent Design & Preparing to Teach: After leaving the Design Institute, teams work independently to finish designing their activity. The team leader uses leadership skills learned earlier to help the team make progress, maintain motivation, and communicate with PDP instructors. Teams meet in person or remotely and over time create a lesson plan that outlines the details and rationales of their activity design. When teams are close to teaching, they meet with an ISEE instructor in a final workshop that transitions them from design to preparing for on-the-fly teaching “moves.” By the end of teams have created a teaching plan to use when they teach.
  • Teaching Experience: All PDP participants teach the activity that they have designed, co-teaching with their teammates. This is an essential part of the PDP experience, and is often transformative as PDP participants see and feel what it is like for learners to engage in inquiry. Many PDP activities end up taking a period of about 6-8 hours, broken up over a two-day period. Each inquiry activity culminates in an assessment task in which a PDP teaching team assesses whether students accomplished the desired learning goals.
  • Reflection and documentation: After teaching, a PDP teaching team debriefs their experience. This is a very important part of the overall experience that takes advantage of the rare opportunity to of working on a team to design and teach. ISEE provides a format that facilitates the process of debrief and reflection, encouraging participants to consider ways in which they could improve. Participants each complete an individual post-teaching report.

PDP Approach

The PDP models many effective teaching strategies through a well-designed inquiry activity, and requires that participants spend a great deal of time carefully and collaboratively designing their own inquiry activity. This experience will likely be the most time that participants will ever spend on designing a single activity, because it is meant to be a transformative design and teaching experience that participants draw on for many years. The program includes discussions on educational research and theory, more on why and how the strategies work, so that PDP participants are equipped to select and adapt teaching strategies in new contexts. The PDP does not provide a recipe, or a simple list of strategies, but rather builds a foundation for participants to innovate from. It focuses on things that are hard to teach, like deep conceptual understanding and cognitive practices or reasoning skills. Finally, the PDP focuses on the small things that a single instructor can do, for example through the design of a learning activity or a brief interaction with a student, to make learning more equitable.

PDP Application and Selection Process

Participation in PDP requires an application and acceptance into the program. The selection criteria for the PDP include a constellation of factors, including (but not in order of priority):

▪   Interest in developing teaching and professional skills, in particular an indication of an openness to the PDP approach (above), and an openness to reconsider assumptions and/or past experiences with teaching and learning

▪   Interest in teaching at the college level or above

▪   Interest in ISEE’s Themes

▪   Schedule availability and disciplinary match with an appropriate teaching venue

▪   Availability of applicant to make a commitment to the full PDP experience

▪   Potential of applicant to become a member of the ISEE community in the longer term, ideally returning to the PDP in leadership roles in the future

▪   Affiliation with UCSC or a Regional ISEE Chapter

▪   Funding

▪   Accommodation of qualified applicants who we could not accept in prior years due to space or funding limitations


The Professional Development Program (PDP) was developed by the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO) Education & Human Resources program in 2001. The CfAO was funded through the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center (STC) program, and the PDP was a cornerstone of the Center’s innovative programs and thriving community. The PDP was originally open only to the CfAO’s graduate student and postdoc community, but demand grew and the PDP expanded to serve new disciplines and institutions. The PDP is now open to scientists and engineers at all levels (including faculty members and other professionals), although the primary audience is still graduate students. In 2008, UC Santa Cruz recognized the success and high demand for the PDP and committed institutional resources to sustain the program beyond the original STC funding. The Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators was formed, and the PDP continues to serve the UC Santa Cruz community, as well as many national and international partners.