Preparing New Teachers to Teach Science:
The Role of the Science Teacher Educator
John A Craven III
Queens College/City University of New York
North Carolina State University
America is currently facing a shortage of teachers especially in the areas of math, science and technology. This shortage is particularly severe in urban centers such as New York City, where the number of new teachers needed within the next five to ten years is projected at more than twenty five thousand. The political, economic and logistical pressures this need places on large school systems come at a time when teacher education programs in the state are being forced to reduce the time spent in schools of education. Consequently, the trend in cities such as New York is for administrators to look for expedient operations capable of producing large numbers of teachers quickly. For example, the New York City Board of Education's Teaching Fellows program is currently enrolling hundreds of new people in 'boot camp' teacher preparation; a program that moves people off the street and into the classroom in eight weeks or less. This program and others like it (e.g., Teach for America), as well as the 'For Profit' training enterprises now appearing on the horizon, do little more than undermine public and private conceptions of the profession, teachers and those that teach teachers. This paper, therefore, seeks to challenge the prevailing attitudes toward teacher education. With a focus on science education, we attempt to articulate the expert knowledge and skills needed to prepare exemplary science teachers. We argue that before the public's mandate for scientific literacy for all Americans can be achieved, familiar views about the teaching and learning of science must often be challenged through processes requiring time, expertise, and support in professional programs purposely designed to develop exemplary science teachers. In doing so, we hope to define the role the science teacher educator as it pertains to meeting the current goals of science education.
What is the role of the science teacher educator? To put it simply, the science teacher educator must be a catalyst for change. The changes required are conceptual and cultural. The changes must empower individuals to transcend the typically over-learned ways of thinking (or non-thinking) about the role of science education, to transform mental models of the roles and goals of students and teachers in the learning environment, and to translate new understandings about inquiry and meaningful learning into actual habits of practice.
The change we speak of must be systemic -- occurring simultaneously across several levels including individual, small community, and broader community. These changes are absolutely necessary before the overarching goal of science education -- scientific literacy for all Americans (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990) -- is possible. For today, increasingly complex scientific and technological issues challenge our global society. The present quality of life is, and in the future will continue to be, affected by such issues both old and new. Yet the models of science education that widely persist in schools across the grade levels (including the college science classroom) are inadequate for developing the knowledge needed to tackle those problems. Those models largely fail to truly engage most students in the learning process; their consequences on student outcomes are disastrous. Students not engaged in the learning process leave with little more than shallow understandings, weak connections between big ideas, trivial knowledge, unchallenged naive conceptions of how the natural world operates, and an inability to apply knowledge in new settings. As a result, students do not develop the ability or propensity to become self-regulating learners or inquirers.
Science teacher educators, therefore, must facilitate the cognitive departure by their students (preservice and inservice teachers) from traditional models of teaching and learning of science -- models that are no longer valid in a society confronted with exponential advancements in information and technology. The science teacher educator must also help his/her students to carefully consider what they will value in the learning community they seek to establish as teachers. Equally important, the science teacher educator must help the pre-professional and professional teacher understand how a teacher's personal values affect the type of community their students establish in the classroom. For many prospective and practicing science teachers, radically new ways of viewing the teaching and learning of science must be adopted to meet the new demands in science education (e.g., Hurd, 1993; Yager, 1991). Unfortunately, this typically requires the rejection and abandonment of models of pedagogy that are all too familiar and all too easy to mimic.
The science teacher educator must understand that the process of challenging deeply held, personal mental models -- and, perhaps, their subsequent rejection -- is extremely difficult. Indeed, a great deal of anxiety can result in a classroom where personal ideas and values are questioned. Thus, it is imperative that the science teacher educator establish a learning environment conducive to the safe expression and exploration of ideas and thoughts by the individual and the group. In such an environment, learners must engage in inquiry, value thinking, and dedicate themselves to working together as they explore and test their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Finally, the science teacher educator must help his/her students realize that such values must extend beyond small communities of learners (e.g., classrooms). That is, the learning environment we speak of needs to be nested within a broader program -- one that also values inquiry and thinking, one that presents a coherent and consistent experience for the learners, and one that seeks to be self-improving through processes of reflection, feedback, and critical inquiry. Consequently, science teacher educators must help their students understand the role of teacher as leader and professional change agent within the broader school community.
The role, therefore, of the science teacher educator is to perturb comfortable, over-learned views about schools and schooling in hopes of promoting conceptual changes within individuals, across small communities of learners, and across the broader community of people contributing to a program of education. In this paper, we explore what the science teacher educator can do to actualize the change processes at each of these levels. We will begin with the processes associated with individual learners, move on to the processes of establishing an engaged learning community, and end with the processes associated with establishing a coherent, purposeful educational program aligned with the goal of Science for All.
Currently, there is a mandate that all students achieve scientific literacy (National Research Council, 1996). The qualities and characteristics of scientifically literate high school graduates (NSTA, 1990) are provided in Appendix A.
Scientifically literate ways of thinking and acting, however, require the development of higher order cognitive skills. Such skills enable one to identify ill-defined problems, to generate a variety of solutions to any particular problem, to act upon informed decisions, and to evaluate actions and their consequences (Hurd, 1993; Resnick, 1992). Resnick argues that successful schools not only cultivate these skills -- they cultivate the habit to use them. Such schools place value on activities such as questioning, thinking, communicating, and judging -- all within the boundaries of a safe learning environment.
Regrettably, too few students experience science education in classrooms and schools that cultivate the habits of mind necessary for scientific literacy (Perkins, 1992). In Smart Schools, David Perkins (1992) explains that schools largely ignore thinking skills because the system is steeped in a culture of trivia -- or, what Schwab (1965) had called "a rhetoric of conclusions." Others (e.g., Kagan, 1992; Weinstein, 1989; Book, Byers, & Freeman, 1983) argue that socialization processes perpetuate such cultures. For example, a number of studies (see Goodlad, 1990; Sarason, 1981; and Lortie, 1975) describe how views regarding the roles of the teacher and the learners are forged by years of observation and experience. As a result, many people construct implicit sets of beliefs about how schools and classrooms should operate -- operations that are often antithetical to a culture of thinking, inquiry, and scientific literacy. With teachers, such beliefs manifest themselves in inferior classroom practice.
Evidence continues to emerge suggesting that a teacher's views of the world, teaching and learning, as well as his/her beliefs about knowledge and intelligence have direct impact on the way they teach (e.g., Kennedy, 1998; Kagan, 1992; Hollen, Anderson, & Roth, 1991; Brickhouse, 1990; Prawat & Anderson, 1989). Currently, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting certain beliefs about learning, intelligence, and knowledge are more conducive to teaching in ways that promote meaningful learning (Craven, 1997; Kuhn, 1992, 1991; Dweck & Legget, 1988; Ryan, 1984). Students, therefore, should take the time to explore, articulate, and analyze their beliefs on such topics.
Thus, a fundamental role of science teacher educators is to get preservice and inservice to think about their own explicit and tacit thoughts about schools, science education, teaching, and learning. One way to accomplish this is to get students to articulate and discuss their understandings, beliefs and prior science experiences (Prawat & Floden, 1994; Hewson, Zeichner, Tabachnick, Blomker & Toolin, 1992; Wittrock, 1985; Novak, 1985). In this way, students learn to develop the habits of mind to probe, challenge, and regulate their own conceptions of science education. This, in essence, is what developing a reflective practitioner is all about (Showers & Joyce, 1996; Doyle, 1990; Schon, 1987)
The discussion above yields clear guidelines for the practice of professional development within our community. We suggest the following actions for the students in the teacher education program:
1. Exploring their personal beliefs and ideas about teaching, education, the nature of science, and the nature of knowledge. Students can do this, for example, by keeping journals of their thoughts prior to and following classroom discussions on these topics.
2. Writing a philosophy of education and/or researched-based rationale paper that articulates their professional views on the goals of science education along with roles of the student and teacher that best facilitate them. To promote critical thinking and skill in evidence-based argument, the papers are to be research-supported.
3. Expressing and defending their views on science teaching and learning as they interact with peers, teachers, supervisors, cooperating teachers, and the other partners engaged in the professional development program.
4. Conducting action research projects that require them to articulate and test their ideas on teaching and learning. Practicum classrooms, student teaching classrooms, or informal science education centers serve as the setting for the research projects.
5. Engaging in scientific inquiry to develop implicit and explicit understandings on the nature of science as well as develop the cognitive skills essential for critical thinking.
6. Evaluating their own work, assess their own learning, understanding, and outcomes. The purpose of these assessments must unambiguously aim at improving competencies, informing instruction and practice, and promoting learning motivations and strategies that result in deep conceptual understandings.
7. Constructing long-term inquiry units for their own students that have context and are relevant. In doing so, students experience ways in which scientific ideas are introduced for conceptual understandings. Use of the Learning Cycle must be routine. The long-term inquiry units should also address the broader definition of science content including: a) unifying concepts, b) science as inquiry, c) science and technology, d) science in personal and social perspectives, and e) history and nature of science.
8. Joining professional societies within science education to understand and engage in current debates surrounding issues of concern within the community.
The student's reluctance to abandon his or her perspectives, even at times when they conflict with other developing ideas is one of the great challenges teacher educators face. Therefore, as a facilitator of the conceptual change process, the science teacher educator functions in a variety of specific roles. These roles require the educator to 1) know how students learn; 2) use expertise to structure an environment that promotes meaningful learning; 3) purposefully design tasks that lead to conceptual understanding, promote professional attitudes, and foster reflective practice; and 4) use assessments that inform instruction yet cultivate meaningful strategies for learning by students. The question now remains, "What does a 'facilitator' do?" We propose that facilitators probe, prod, model, and mentor. The teacher educator must continuously and simultaneously play and teach these roles as they challenge and improve the developing professional's understandings, beliefs, and skills. We describe the roles below (Table 1).
Table 1. Roles of the Science Teacher Educator
|1. Probe |
The student's understandings and skills about science education are continually probed by the science teacher educator (as well as the students themselves). Pre existing knowledge, beliefs, and prior experiences have on a powerful influence teacher's approach to teaching science. Teacher educators, therefore, must have students articulate, discuss, support, and defend their views about the goals and roles in the science classroom. The science teacher educator uses their expertise as they listen for "holes" and "gaps" in the students' conceptual frameworks regarding the teaching and learning of science. The teacher educator must also use exemplary habits and strategies of questioning for purposes of instruction, conceptual scaffolding, and evaluation.
The activities chosen for the methods course are designed to move the learner toward deeper understandings about the teaching and learning of science. The investigations must be rich enough to provide context for fruitful discussions of topics in science education including, in part, content and principles, curriculum design, the nature of science, teaching and learning, classroom management, questioning, naive and/or misconceptions, scientific literacy, and standards. Investigations both inside and outside the classroom as well as in the K-12 setting are designed to cause cognitive dissonance for students holding views and attitudes towards science education that impede scientific literacy.
The science teacher educator must continually model the habits and attitudes of a superior teacher. Such habits include the use of exemplary questioning strategies, appropriate use of Wait Time (I and II), active participation in professional organizations. Furthermore, the science teacher educator must model active inquiry through on-going research endeavors, self-reflection and self-evaluation, and flexibility in time and curriculum design. Additionally, the science teacher educator must structure a classroom environment that values high expectations, fosters student-to-student interactions, and promotes scientific literacy.
The science teacher educator must recognize that the process of conceptual change can often be difficult and deeply personal for the student. As a mentor, the science teacher educator moves the student to develop professionally by engaging one-on-one with students as expertise is shared and support is provided.
Good and Brophy (1994) remind us that the most important factor affecting opportunities to learn is the nature of the learning environment. While constructivism suggests that meaning is constructed by the learner (e.g., Driver, Ssoko, Leach, Mortimer, E., & Scott, 1994; Glaserfeld, 1989; Pope, 1982), it need not be construed that learning occurs in isolation. Indeed, it has been clearly argued that construction of meaning takes place in the social arena (Driver et al., 1994; Hewson, Zeichner, Tabachnick, Blomker, & Toolin, 1992; Vygostsky, 1962; West & Pines, 1985). Consequently, most of what people come to know and understand results from complex social dynamics. The influence and outcomes of these processes on individual views and knowledge are well documented (e.g., Erickson, 1991; Sarason, 1981; Bandura, 1977; Lortie, 1975; Kuhn, 1970).
Yager (1991) writes that in the best constructivist classrooms, student ideas and questions are encouraged, accepted, and used for curriculum planning. He also states that high value and emphasis are placed on open-ended questions, cooperative learning, reflection, and analyses in those classrooms. Constructivist classrooms are purposefully designed to promote the transformation and internalization of new information by the learner (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). Taylor, Dawson, & Fraser (1995) provide us with a detailed description of the constructivist learning environment. That description includes one wherein:
1. Students are given the opportunity to communicate their understandings with other students, to generate plausible explanations for phenomena, to test, evaluate and defend their explanations among their peers, and actively engage in the social construction of knowledge - all of which are reflections of the nature of science.
2. Students are provided frequent opportunity to identify their own learning goals, to share control of the learning environment, and to develop and employ assessment criteria within the learning environment.
3. The environment of the classroom is conducive to inquiry. That spirit of inquiry includes the freedom for students to question the operations of their class.
4. Students must have the opportunity to experience the tentativeness of scientific knowledge. That is, students must understand that scientific knowledge is theory-laden and socially and culturally constructed.
Chinn and Waggoner (1992), in reporting their findings of an examination of classroom discourse dynamics, state that meaningful learning and student reflection on personal knowledge occur when students share individual perspectives through discussions with one another. The learning environments described above resonate with those required for the development of critical thinking (e.g., Clarke & Biddle, 1993; Resnick, 1992; Swartz & Perkins, 1990).
The structure and nature of the learning environment do indeed have powerful influences on the learning outcomes of students. For example, Johnson & Johnson (1991) found that when students work individually, they often believe that their achievement is unrelated to and/or isolated from the achievement of the other students in the class. The researchers report that such beliefs have adverse effects upon the students' socialization and on healthy social as well as cognitive development. In contrast, they report that in classrooms where there is a high degree of student-to-student interaction (such as those that emphasize cooperative learning) several positive outcomes occur including increased 1) positive interdependence, 2) face-to-face promotive interaction (encouragement and support), 3) individual accountability, and 4) interpersonal and small group skills.
We do think it would be difficult to find a teacher who would say that they are against engaging students in critical thinking and establishing a learning community buzzing with intellectual activity and scholarly endeavours. One can only wonder, therefore, why the learning communities described by rhetoricians (e.g., Dewey, Schwab, Suchman, Shaver, and Yager) are absent from so many schools today. The answer, perhaps, is that most science teachers are more concerned about what students would not learn if denied direct instruction than what students would learn if given the freedom and latitude required for a student-centered, inquiry-oriented learning community. Unfortunately, it would not be difficult for a teacher to bolster those concerns by pointing to the constraints forced by state-mandated curricula and tests. Or, perhaps it is easier for teachers to imagine what students are not capable of doing or learning if left to their own devices than it is for them to imagine what it is students are capable of doing if given the role and responsibility for self-regulated learning, self-assessment, and collaborative inquiry. The science teacher educator, therefore, must help preservice and inservice teachers learn how to create learning environments that are intellectually fertile, conducive to inquiry, and centered around student-to-student interactions. For, as Marton (1988) reminds us, what is learned and how it is learned are two inseparable aspects of learning.
The findings of the studies discussed above provide clear guidelines for the science teacher educator's role in establishing an inquiry-based learning community within the teacher education program. That is, s/he must create and model:
1. A classroom environment that predisposes students to accommodate ambiguity and flexibility. Students typically experience high anxiety when confronted with the responsibility for articulating their own interests, defining ill-defined questions, and generating their own solutions to issues and problems. Students are, after all, very often unaccustomed to these roles. Therefore, students can engage in dialogue about these concerns and reach consensus on ways to deal with such anxieties. These discussions should link to discussions on constructivism and/or the nature of science. Student questions, thoughts, and interests are valued and expected. Student-generated solutions to issues and problems are viewed as tentative and subject to continuous testing.
2. A learning environment that values collaboration over competition and cooperation over opposition. In such environments, student-to-student interactions frequently occur. Joint research projects, team teaching, collaborative writing exercises, group presentations and whole-class decision-making are ways in which students can interact with each other.
3. Authority structures within the classroom consistent with student-centered approaches toward learning. In these classrooms, the class negotiates criteria for assessment, classroom ethics, and paths of inquiry collectively. Teacher-determined criteria and grades are de-emphasized. Peer observation and evaluation as well as self-assessments are useful approaches toward changing the typical authority structure of the classroom.
4. Attitudes of collegiality that are palpable within the classroom. This is fostered by active participation with professional societies, student organizations, and whole-class endeavours.
5. A classroom environment reflecting the importance placed on student roles, responsibilities, and learning. Student work, therefore, is displayed and highly visible throughout the classroom.
6. A classroom learning environment extending beyond the classroom walls. There is evidence within student work that content and concepts of the curriculum have direct links to, and context within, the outside world.
In our experience, preservice and inservice teachers can and do express their ideas, test their developing theories and apply their understandings of practice in such environments. When students and teachers can do these things, efforts to improve and advance science education are strengthened, classrooms and teachers will be transformed, and we may begin achieving the education reform and goals we all seek.
Without doubt, there remains much controversy regarding the constitution of an ideal teacher preparation program. Indeed, theoretical and philosophical differences have created a wide variety of both orientations and curricula within science education programs (Anderson & Mitchener, 1994). Outside social and political forces vying to influence program design and content only add to the confusion. Anderson and Mitchener ultimately conclude that the foundation of a viable program in science education is grounded on consistent perspectives and clearly articulated goals. Recently, a national study, The Salish I Research Project, examined the science teacher preparation programs of nine major institutions. The collaborative, longitudinal, three-year study sought and evaluated links between features of each preparation program, the abilities and skills of their graduates, and the classroom outcomes of their graduates as new teachers. The final report (Salish, 1997), in part, reveals the following:
1. Faculty outside the school of education (in particular, faculty within the sciences) typically reported that they did not perceive a role in the preparation of new teachers.
2. The philosophies of education articulated by faculty members (e.g., foundations and educational psychology) involved in the teacher preparation program were not consistent. Some reported that they did not have any particular philosophy of education. Others stated that they would not wish to present any particular philosophy to their students.
3. The variety and means of instruction and evaluation in many courses outside of science education were seldom consistent with those endorsed by the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996).
4. New teachers often saw little or no connection between what is advocated and what is practiced in their content and teacher education courses.
5. Faculty in science, mathematics, and teacher education viewed teacher preparation programs as lacking in coherence.
The implications of the Salish I Research Project and reports from other bodies of research and commissions (see American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Bell & Buccino, 1997; Goodlad, 1990; National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, 1996; National Research Council, 1997; National Science Foundation, 1996) are undeniably clear. The klaxons are sounding and they are sending clear messages throughout the science education and teacher preparation communities. Science teacher educators must tune to the national issues and debates, prepare to take actions for change, and accept leadership responsibilities in establishing exemplary programs using the lessons learned.
Therefore, for programmatic changes, the role of the science teacher educator is to consider and act upon (not in any particular order) the following features:
4. Pedagogy and Assessment
5. Research Experiences
6. Cognitive Considerations
7. Theory and Practice
There are increasing pressures today from many corners to improve the preparation of teachers by increasing the number of courses in liberal arts and sciences while simultaneously reducing the amount of time spent in the schools of education. Yet this is antithetical to all that the science education community has come to acknowledge from a comprehensive research base regarding the professional development of teachers (see Loucks-Horsley, 1997; Yager, 1996; Lederman, Gess-Newsome, & Latz, 1994; Goodlad, 1990; Krajcik & Penick, 1989; Penick & Yager, 1988; Lortie, 1975), learning and conceptual change (e.g., Driver & Oldham, 1986: Strike & Posner, 1985: Osborne & Wittrock, 1983), and developing reflective, professional practice (e.g., Schon, 1983, 1987). Aligning the program along a consistent, internally consistent, goal-oriented approach to education is absolutely crucial for science teacher education. In doing, we optimally leverage the time students have to transition through the conceptual change process.
Educational institutions are notorious for their ability to systematize. Consequently, the institution that often calls on K-12 schools to change (such as those preparing teachers) is itself frequently calcified. Yet to remain effective and responsive, mechanisms for program feedback and improvement must exist and they must be based on empirical methods. Therefore, a critical role exists for science teacher educators in the assessment and evaluation of the science education component and, importantly, of the institution's teacher preparation program as a whole. Science teacher educators must be first among their teacher educator colleagues to seek evidence that may either support or reject their choices in program design. Unfortunately, far too many teacher preparation programs operate ill-informed of their effectiveness and without the empirical evidence needed to make informed judgements for change (see Anderson & Mitchener, 1994; Lanier & Little, 1986). For example, in the initial phases of the Salish I Research Project, it was found that many of institutions lacked basic information regarding the recent graduates of the program including where they were teaching (Salish, 1997). In response, we urge science teacher educators to consider the leverage they can ply in demanding and ensuring that programmatic decisions are evidence-based.
Evidence collected informs the stakeholders on the outcomes of the program. We recommend that mechanisms for collecting evidence be systematic and routine. Of course, the data must be evaluated on an ongoing basis the results of which are used during discussions on program improvement and/or redesign. Suggestions for the type of evidence collected include:
1. Trends in employment of the graduates of the program including location, subjects, type of schools;
2. Feedback (specific and/or general) from school administrations and district officials regarding the skills and understandings of recent graduates from the program;
3. Feedback from all the partners involved in the preparation program;
4. Feedback from recent graduates including self-perceptions;
5. School-based performance indicators from new teachers and their students; and
6. Performances on portfolio evaluations, videotapes, and/or other measures required for state certification.
This paper sought to define and establish the role of the science teacher educator. Heeding a recommendation of Thomas Sergiovanni (1992), we wished to do more than illustrate what works, but rather to articulate the responsibilities and actions that meet the standards of good practice. Many critics today advocate the reduction of preparation programs to as short as a few weeks while others call for the elimination of preparatory programs altogether. Thus, it is particularly appropriate to explicitly describe the role and value of the science teacher educator across a program -- particularly in such hostile times.
Well-prepared science teachers require specialized science teacher preparation programs wherein teacher thinking, reflection, and beliefs lie at the core of discourse (Hewson, Zeichner, Tabachnick, Blomker, & Toolinet al, 1992; Shymansky, 1992; Penick & Yager, 1988). All the roles of the science teacher educator, therefore, target these areas. They target them at the individual level, the learning community level, and the broader, programmatic level. The resulting changes we expect include teachers with improved attitudes, habits of mind, and understandings for teaching toward scientific literacy.
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QUALITIES OF A
SCIENTIFICIALLY & TECHNOLOGICALLY
NSTA Task Force Report
* uses concepts of science and of technology and ethical values in solving everyday problems and making responsible decisions in everyday life, including work and leisure
* engages in responsible personal and civic actions after weighing the possible consequences of alternative options
* defends decisions and actions using rational arguments based on evidence
* engages in science and technology for the excitement and the explanations they provide
* displays curiosity about and appreciation of the natural and human-made world
* applies skepticism, careful methods, logical reasoning, and creativity in investigating the observable universe
* values scientific research and technological problem solving
* locates, collects, analyzes, and evaluates sources of scientific and technological information and uses these sources in solving problems, making decisions, and taking actions
* distinguishes between scientific/technological evidence and personal opinion and between reliable and unreliable information
* remains open to new evidence and the tentativeness of scientific/technological knowledge
* recognizes that science and technology are human endeavors
* weighs the benefits and burdens of scientific and technological development
* recognizes the strengths and limitations of science and technology for advancing human welfare
* analyzes interactions among science, technology, and society
* connects science and technology to other human endeavors, e.g., history, mathematics, the arts, and the humanities
* considers the political, economic, moral, and ethical aspects of science and technology as they relate to personal and global issues
* offers explanations of natural phenomena which may be tested for their validity.
About the authors...
John A. Craven III is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at Queens College/City University of New York, in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education.John Penick is the chair of North Carolina State University's Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education.
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