Editorial: On the Importance of Practitioner Journals

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Hermann, R. S. & Miranda, R. J. (2016). Editorial: On the importance of practitioner journals. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 1(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/editorial-on-the-importance-of-practitioner-journals/

by Ronald S. Hermann, Towson University; & Rommel J. Miranda, Towson University

Innovations in Science Teacher Education is the practitioner journal of the Association for Science Teacher Education. Practitioner journals are often misunderstood, and at times, undervalued. Take our university for example. We are science educators in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences within the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics. Our college contains mathematicians, computer scientists, scientists, and science and mathematics educators. As such, we have a department chair who is a physicist and a dean who is a geologist. The science educators in the college have often needed to explain the work of science educators to our colleagues and administrators, especially as related to promotion and tenure discussions. In our college’s past, practitioner journals were misunderstood as a place for manuscripts that were not selected for publication in prestigious research journals like the Journal of Science Teacher Education. Practitioner articles were also perceived by some faculty in our college as being extremely easy to write because they were shorter in length compared to research manuscripts, and printed on glossy paper.

We are glad to say that our department and college now have a much better understanding of what a practitioner journal is and why it is important to our field. Science educators prepare the next generation of science teachers and there is great value in sharing our practice with other science educators. One of the hallmarks of teaching is discussing great ideas with peers to implement with your own students. Practitioner journals provide an outlet for sharing ideas about preparing science teachers within the peer-review process to help ensure the ideas are innovative, engaging, and of broad interest to science educators.

At an institution like ours, an institution that is not research intensive, but values teaching (65%), research (25%), and service (10%), teaching is the majority of our workload. As such, it makes sense that we teach well. We are practitioners. That is to say, we practice what we teach others to do. So, it is critically important that we have an outlet to share how we teach, design lessons and programs, implement professional development programs, and assess our progress as science educators. Practitioner journals provide a place to do so.

But what about research intensive universities? Even among science educators at universities with the highest research activity, the preparation of science teachers is arguably as important as developing and reporting on grant-funded research programs. Moreover, many grant-funded programs focus on preparing science teachers in innovative ways. The results of this type of work are not only applicable to research journals, but the details of the program are important to other practitioners. The Innovations journal is a place to report the details of the program: what was done, why it was done, how well it worked, and what lessons you learned along the way. Thus, Innovations serves as another way to disseminate information about grant-funded projects. Practitioner journals like Innovations serve a unique niche in helping other science educators reflect upon their work with preservice and inservice science teachers and incorporate innovative practices in their curriculum or professional development programming.

While there is no disputing the important role research plays in the work of science educators, the work science educators do in and out of the classroom to prepare preservice and inservice science teachers is equally important. Unfortunately, we have heard stories from our colleagues at other institutions where the work of preparing science teachers seems undervalued due to the view that publishing in practitioner journals is not something that “counts” for promotion and tenure decisions. Given the often central role of our positions in developing science teachers it seems that one would be derelict in their duties not to try to enhance their instruction by learning more about innovative teaching strategies or sharing their own innovative teaching strategies.

A search for the terms “practitioner journals” indicates a nonexistent literature base on just what a practitioner journal is or why they are important. However, such a search yields numerous examples of practitioner journals across many fields of study. Many fields have found it advantageous to foster collegial discussions of their practice and a way to provide ongoing professional development. Science educators are no different. Prior to Innovations, science educators had journals that served as outlets for sharing their practice in K-12 classrooms, and some content specific journals for sharing their work preparing science teachers in a narrow field. Innovations is a practitioner journal that welcomes innovative ideas for preparing preservice and inservice science teachers for any grade band or science content field. We hope all science educators find value in sharing their innovative ideas in this practitioner journal and that your work as a practitioner is valued by your institutional colleagues. After all, the teaching which we continue to practice is what drew many of us to academia in the first place.

Designing and Implementing an Elementary Science After School Field Experience

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Cartwright, T. J. (2016). Designing and implementing an elementary science after-school field experience. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 1(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-and-implementing-an-elementary-science-after-school-field-experience/

by Tina J. Cartwright, Marshall University


Field experiences provide an important opportunity for preservice teachers to observe and practice science instruction. Too often, insufficient time is allotted for elementary science instruction in the formal classroom. This paper outlines the opportunities and lessons learned from an after school field experience where preservice elementary teachers worked in two-person teams with a classroom mentor teacher at local elementary schools and community centers to deliver two science lessons per week during an elementary science methods course. Multiple evidences of success are presented at the student and also at the preservice teacher levels. And finally, the important lessons learned include the characteristics of the after-school site, the “instructional” setting, the availability and storage of materials, the co-teacher preservice teams, and the presence and training of the mentor teacher.

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Lesson for First Day of Methods Class: Supporting Preservice Teachers’ Understanding of Expertise Development

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Friedrichsen, P., Benus, M., Wulff, E., & Womack, A. J. (2016). Lesson for first day methods class: Supporting preservice teachers’ understanding of expertise development. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 1(1) Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/lesson-for-first-day-of-methods-class-supporting-preservice-teachers-understanding-of-expertise-development/

by Patricia Friedrichsen, University of Missouri; Benus, Matthew J., Indiana University Northwest; Wulff, Eric, University of Missouri; & Womack, A.J., University of Missouri


This lesson is designed for use on the first day of a middle or secondary-level science methods course. Beyond getting to know our new students, our goals are to address two challenges: 1) preservice teachers’ unrealistic expectations of being expert teachers upon graduation, and 2) science teacher retention. In this lesson preservice teachers are asked to share their expertise in an area of their personal lives (e.g., hobby or sport). Our students have shared their expertise in a wide range of areas from photography to cheerleading to fishing. As each student shares his or her expertise, students come to realize that developing expertise in any area takes a great deal of stamina, passion, tenacity, and mentoring. We draw upon insights learned by students during their expertise conversations and help students to understand how to align those insights to developing their own expertise in teaching. We share two different implementation versions of this lesson and how we continue to draw upon this first day discussion throughout the semester. Student interview data revealed that the lesson resulted in new insights about classmates and a better understanding of the lengthy process of developing teacher expertise.


The first day of each new semester is an exciting time. As teacher educators, we know the importance of getting to know our students and establishing norms for the semester. In January of 2016, the authors met for the first time at the Association of Science Teacher Educators (ASTE) conference. In discussing our upcoming classes, we talked about different discussion prompts we have used over the years to get to know our new students:

  • Share something about yourself that no one in the group knows about.
  • What are two truths and a lie about yourself? We will guess the lie.
  • If you could be funded to research something for a year, what would it be and why?
  • What is one thing that makes you unique in this group?
  • If you could have dinner with any two living or deceased scientists, who would you choose and why?

These questions were designed to help us get to know our students while eliciting responses that might be of interest to everyone in the class. Each student response provided insights and a chance for follow-up questions and comments; however, over time, we had each become dissatisfied with these types of questions and the surface level responses from students. The pre-service students at each of our institutions move through their respective teacher education programs as a cohort (ranging in number from 7-24), so they are already quite familiar with each other by the time they enroll in our methods courses.

Matthew shared a lesson he has used for the last three semesters. This lesson focuses on students’ prior experiences building expertise in some area of their personal lives (e.g., a hobby or sport). We discussed how we could draw generalities from their experiences as experts to address a persistent issue common to teaching methods courses—students’ desire for methods courses to teach them everything they need to know to immediately be a highly effective science teacher. As teacher educators, we also share a common overarching goal of trying to improve teacher retention. As we continue to craft our understanding of teaching effectiveness and supports for teacher retention, we are reminded that experts are thought of as effective at what they do and often have levels of stamina, passion, and tenacity that retain their interest in their expertise as they continue to push their skills to new levels. By drawing upon students’ experiences in developing expertise in their personal lives, we hope to show parallels to the process of developing teaching expertise.

In this initial lesson for the first day of methods class, we ask our students to share their expertise in an area outside of teaching. In looking across all the students’ stories, we identify some common themes about expertise development and then apply these themes to becoming an expert teacher. In the next two sections, we each share our slightly varied approaches to implementing this lesson.

Pat’s Implementation

On the first day of class, I briefly introduce myself and ask students to introduce themselves. Next, I ask students to think about an area of their lives in which they have developed expertise. I avoid using the word, “expert,” but rather focus on the term, “expertise” to avoid intimidating my students. I tell them they will have approximately 5-7 minutes to talk about their expertise. I state that our goal is to listen to each student’s story about developing expertise and be able to generalize how expertise develops. To provide an example and give students time to think about what they are going to share, I begin by sharing my own expertise.

I purposely avoid choosing teaching as an area of expertise but rather draw from one of my hobbies, knitting. I share that a 4-H leader taught me to knit when I was eight years old and that I struggled as I was learning to knit, finding it difficult to coordinate needles, yarn, and tension. For many years, I only knitted flat pieces, like potholders and scarves, and used inexpensive, synthetic yarn. I continued to work on my knitting throughout elementary school, gradually improving. In eighth grade, I entered an afghan at the county fair and was nearly disqualified. The judge declared that an 8th grader was not capable of knitting such a complicated pattern and that my mother must have made the afghan. Fortunately, a neighbor overheard the judge’s comments and intervened on my behalf, informing the judge that my mother did not know how to knit, verifying I had made the afghan. I won a coveted purple ribbon at the fair. I share that I enjoy knitting, and that I often challenge myself with difficult patterns to further develop my skills. When I choose a particularly challenging pattern, I am persistent and keep ripping out my work and starting over until I figure it out. I have literally worn out expensive yarn trying to learn a complicated pattern. If I cannot master a pattern on my own, I eventually seek help from an instructor at a local yarn shop. I also watch YouTube videos to learn new knitting techniques. I read knitting magazines and I love to try new types of yarn. Although my skills have advanced over the years, there are still specific skills, such as knitting lace, that I would like to learn. After I share my expertise, I encourage students to ask me questions.

This semester, I was fortunate to have a graduate student, Eric, as a teaching assistant. Eric shared his expertise in playing tennis with the class. Below is the re-created written summary of Eric’s story:

I have been playing tennis since I was six. My dad started taking me to the tennis courts every week, and as I began to learn the game, we would play almost every day. I quickly learned that so much of this physical sport relied on strategy and mental fortitude. Once the mechanics of the major shots: forehand, backhand, serve, and volley are learned, one can begin to develop a strategy that is suited to the player’s personal strengths. This strategy is ultimately determined by the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent, as mechanics are combined in a way that targets the opponent’s weaknesses. While this strategy provides a guiding plan that can be used during a match, the outcome is also determined by execution. This is mastered through long hours and incredible preparation. (Eric)

When Eric finishes talking, I ask probing questions to learn more about the process of learning to play tennis, such as “What skills do you still need to master to go to the next level of playing?” and “What role did your dad play in helping you develop your expertise?” I use these questions to model the type of questions that I want the students to begin to ask each other.

After Eric and I share our areas of expertise in quite different areas, knitting and tennis, I ask students to write notes about common themes across our stories. I ask them to continue to take notes as individual students share their expertise. I encourage them to ask questions to confirm or disconfirm their initial themes and explore potential new themes. At this point, I do not have students share their initial themes.

I ask the first student volunteer to talk about her expertise and indicate she will have approximately 5-7 minutes to talk. I continue to ask probing questions to help us understand how expertise develops, such as “How long did it take you to get to this level of expertise?  Who was instrumental in helping you?  What experiences have pushed you the most in developing your expertise?”  One student answered this latter question by saying that she had learned the most when she failed to win a major competition, forcing her to re-evaluate her skills. The students are quick to start asking each other similar questions as well as adding new ones, such as “Why do you like this so much?  What drives you to continue to improve?”  Sometimes the students get engrossed in unfamiliar topics, and want to know more specifics. For example, as a group, we were unfamiliar with one student’s area of expertise, riding a RipStik™. Once we have the general idea, e.g., it’s a type of skateboard, I gently guide them to focus their questions on gaining more information about developing expertise in general. This semester my students shared their expertise in the following areas: baking, crocheting, photography, organization, competitive cheerleading, fishing, rip sticking, softball, competitive dance, baking, and basketball. Every student was able to share their expertise in an area in which they were quite passionate.

Next, I ask each student to share one common theme from his/her list with the class. As each student shares a theme, I encourage the class to add any new themes to their individual lists. We continue to share themes until our individual lists are exhausted. As a group, we created the following class list of common themes related to developing expertise:

  • It takes a big time investment over many years to develop expertise.
  • Mentors are critically important to developing expertise.
  • Experts learn from their failures and mistakes, as well as feedback from other experts.
  • Developing expertise requires persistence.
  • Experts are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and know what they need to do to take their expertise to the next level.
  • Specialized vocabulary is part of developing expertise.
  • Experts are passionate about their chosen specialty and it’s a big part of their lives.
  • Experts surround themselves with passionate people who desire to develop expertise in the same area.
  • There is a large emotional investment in developing expertise.

Next, I share the Four Stages of Learning a New Skill (sometimes referred to as the Conscious Competence Ladder model) developed by Noel Burch in the 1970’s: Stage 1 Unconsciously Unskilled, Stage 2 Consciously Unskilled, Stage 3 Consciously Skilled, and Stage 4 Unconsciously Skilled (Adams, n.d.). In the first stage, individuals are unaware of the skills they lack. For example, expert teaching looks easy to preservice teachers because they are unaware of all the skills involved in planning and implementing an exemplary lesson. In Stage 2, individuals realize that don’t have a particular skill. The first time my preservice teachers lead a discussion in class, they often fail and realize that they don’t know how to lead a class discussion. In Stage 3, individuals know they have a particular skill but still have to think about that skill as they implement it. For example, towards the end of their student teaching, preservice teachers generally become more skilled at teaching a lesson; however, they may occasionally refer to their written lesson plan or pause at different times during the lesson to consider what they should do next. In this stage, when they use wait time during a class discussion, they are consciously counting three seconds in their head before they respond to a student. In the final stage, an individual uses a skill without having to think about it. For example, experienced teachers can lead a classroom discussion in which they elicit students’ ideas, challenge misconceptions and help their students develop more accurate scientific understandings, without consciously thinking about how to do this.

We discuss the Conscious Competence Ladder model in relation to their own expertise development and then apply the stages to developing teacher expertise. I remind them they will not learn to become an expert teacher by the end of my course. It will take years of teaching experience and critical reflection to develop teaching expertise—one who is unconsciously skilled. They will need to seek out mentors and learn from their shortcomings in the classroom. I share with students that it generally takes 5-7 years to become an expert teacher (Berliner, 2004). I also share that approximately 18% of newly graduated science teachers quit after their first year (Ingersoll, 2012) with 40-50% of all teachers leaving the profession within the first five years (Ingersoll, 2003) before they have fully developed skills aligned to teaching expertise. To apply the lessons learned about developing expertise, I ask students to write a letter to their future selves. At this point, at the beginning of the methods course, most of my students are in Stage 1, unconsciously unskilled. The letter is intended to be read when they are struggling to develop their teaching skills (Stages 2 and 3) during student teaching and in their first teaching position. In the letter, I ask students to include at least three themes we identified related to expertise that they find personally motivating. Table 1 includes two sample letters written by students.

Table 1
Examples of Student Work from Pat’s class

Dear Self,

It’s been five years since your methods two class and first off I want to tell you that I am proud of you. These last couple of years have probably been the hardest that they are ever going to be, but think back to the subject of expertise that you discussed in methods. Expertise takes practice. Expertise takes failure; a lot of it. Don’t forget to ask for help from another teacher, preferably one that has expertise in teaching. Remember why you started teaching; remember how much you enjoy watching students learn something. Teaching is a big part of your life, it is going to take time to become an expert with an answer for almost anything. Keep trying to better yourself as a teacher.


Susan (2016)

1/21/16 Pep talk to self about being an expert teacher:

It is said to take 7 years to become an expert as a teacher, but 50% of teachers quit within the first 5 years of teaching. Having come this far with all the work that you put into becoming a teacher, you are capable of becoming an expert. You were able to become an expert at rip sticking and think of all the work that was put into that. Remember these key things about becoming an expert. Much like rip sticking, learn from your mistakes. As you continue to work and teach you will mess up but you can learn crucial lessons from your mistakes and grow from those mistakes. Think back to the two black eyes you got from rip sticking. You didn’t stop learning how to ride after that, you got up and worked even harder to prove to yourself you could do it. To become an expert you must not give up after your mess ups, you need to look past them and use it as inspiration. Another thing crucial to becoming an expert is surrounding yourself with teachers that are experts in their trade; learn from them, ask them questions and take their feedback and learn from it. Always remember that no one was born an expert, they had to observe and learn from the current experts in the field and you must do the same for teaching. As you continue to teach remember the basics that you have mastered and build on those. Just like in rip sticking, you couldn’t even balance on a board but once you got that down you were able to really master it. Lastly to become an expert teacher never stop looking for areas that you could improve in. A lifelong learner will always look for areas to improve and you should constantly be looking for areas you struggle in and seek to grow in those areas. Stick with it, remember these rules of an expert and you will be able to become an expert teacher.

Cary (2016)

This is my first semester implementing the expertise lesson. As the semester progresses, I continue to see new connections to our expertise discussion and make those explicit to my students. Glaser (1996) described the development of expert performance in general as a change in agency occurring in a progression of three phases.

In the initial phase, external support, others (typically, parents and coaches) structure the learning environment to help the individual acquire skills. In the past, preservice teachers have often questioned the extensive lesson plan template used in our teacher education program, contrasting it with the short lesson plan notes of their field placement teachers. I point out that experienced teachers are able to write shorter lesson plans with less scaffolding because they have developed expertise in lesson planning. I share with the preservice teachers that their teacher education courses provide the external support (e.g., lesson plan templates, reflection prompts, peer teaching) needed to help them develop teaching skills. Through course assignments and feedback, their instructors help them develop teaching skills.

The second phase of expertise development, transition, is “characterized by decreasing scaffolding of environmental supports and increasing of apprenticeship arrangements that offer guided practice and foster self-monitoring, the learning of self-regulatory skills, and the identification and discrimination of standards and criteria for high levels of performance” (Glaser, 1996, p. 305). We discuss the role that their field placements and teaching internship play in providing this transition phase. I encourage preservice teachers to observe in the classrooms of highly effective teachers to identify standards and criteria for high levels of teaching performance. Their student teaching supervisors and mentor teachers will help them set teaching goals and reflect on those goals. The preservice teachers will need to continuously assess their progress toward meeting their goals, by collecting evidence from their teaching and reflecting on that evidence.

In the third phase, self-regulation, the learner is in control of designing the learning environment, focusing on deliberate practice and seeking feedback from selected experts. I challenge my students, as part of their induction years, to set ambitious goals coupled with deliberate practice, feedback, and reflection. I encourage them to build a network of expert teachers in their building who can give them feedback on their practice. By being explicit about expertise development and drawing upon our pre-service teachers’ prior experiences with developing expertise, we can help our pre-service teachers be more metacognitive about their own professional development.

Matthew’s Implementation

On the first day of class, before students arrive, I (Matthew) place the table and chairs in a U-shape. I place my binder and pen on one side of the U to insure I have a spot that situates me as informally as possible. Typically, I have taught half of my incoming students before in a pre-methods course or they have talked with me in an advising role. As students gather, they typically are chatting and are comfortable in the familiar classroom and with each other. I welcome them to the course and tell them that we’ll spend most of the time in our first class session introducing ourselves in both familiar and novel ways. I’ll say something like:

Today we are going to introduce ourselves in a way that will help us to learn about each other in a context outside of a ‘schooling’ experience. We would like you to tell us the name you prefer to be called and what you are an expert at. I realize that some of you may not quite know what to say—so take a moment and think quietly about your expertise. If you need advice or guidance to confirm or support your expertise, text a good friend or family member. Sometimes they are better at spotting or acknowledging our own expertise! I too will share with you my expertise after everyone has the chance to discuss their expertise. I realize sharing your expertise is something you likely have never talked about in a classroom setting. Rest assured we will respect what expertise you claim and then we’ll have some questions and conversations with you about your expertise. Along the way we’ll learn lots about each other and our expertise. Let’s all spend a few minutes writing down your expertise in your notebooks and some of the highlights you want to share. [After a few minutes have gone by] Ok, who would like to start us off?

Typically, someone is quick to go first. I acknowledge the student, and his or her introduction and explanation begins. The introduction usually lasts less than three minutes. I take notes during that time, occasionally looking at the student talking and their classmates. I use this approach to help the class begin to understand that they are not there to talk to me but to each other. After the student finishes, I wait quietly, hoping/anticipating other students will ask questions. If questioning does not happen after about 30 seconds (yes, I really wait that long—it’s awkward for them and they notice it), I tell them “Jane” is expecting a few questions from you about her expertise. Initially the questions are fairly direct and require short answers; examples include “Did you ever go to ___?” and “How long have you been doing ___?” Depending on the type of expertise, I’ll have more or less to contribute.

I tend to ask questions about finances, resources, and concepts associated with the expertise. For example, Jane had expertise in roller skating. She competed at the state and national levels. I asked, “How much does a good pair of skates cost?” and “How many pairs do you own?”  This helped to foster quite a few follow-up conversations on what one does with so many different pairs!  During her introduction, Jane mentioned the type, quality, and design of the boot, plate, wheels, bearings, and toe stop. As Jane talked it became clear to the class that she thinks differently and talks differently about skating then the rest of us in the room. At one point I asked, “I haven’t been skating in quite some time, I was never good at it, and would be a danger to myself and others if placed in a rink!  Can you give us some pointers on how I can skate more skillfully?”  I ask these sorts of questions sincerely (as classmates are smiling and nodding at my lack of skill!) but to also help the class understand how experts can help a struggling novice to literally just stay on their feet and keep moving.

As introductions continue, some of the examples of expertise have more pedagogical underpinnings than others. For example, Paula described her expertise in hosting parties. My sense was that classmates didn’t entirely grasp how that could be an area of expertise. I asked everyone to jot down in their notebooks what are the two most important things Paula is going to say about hosting a great party. I told everyone that Paula would share her thoughts after all of us had a chance to write our predictions. Many students listed things like: have enough food, have lots to drink, have everything cooked, table set-up complete, and make sure the house is clean. Paula said her two most important things were knowing about her guests before they came and making sure once they arrive they felt comfortable and at home. Most classmates were surprised to hear her two most important tips for hosting a great party. As we unpacked her guidance, we began to understand that all experts first and foremost understand how to prepare for their activity so they can skillfully execute it. The activity leaves all of us appreciating each other in different ways.

As the semester progresses, we return to talk about constructs related to the process of expert thinking (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993) to anchor their thinking about how, as emerging professional educators, we can help others learn those similar thinking practices and processes. Throughout the course, we explore approaches to constructivism; questions, claims, and evidence; approaches to inquiry; introducing, developing, and mastering standards; lesson and unit planning; and reflections on their planning, teaching, and learning. Along the way we critique each other’s work, participate in workshops to refine lessons, and draw upon our collective expertise in the planning process.

In a class session, midway through the semester, one student decided to prepare an instructional unit about sound. As the conversation developed and confusion arose about sounds, I asked “Debbie,” our expert musician, how a trumpet makes a sound. Without hesitation, she said, “I vibrate my lips to make a trumpet sound—but I’m not going to show you now!”  Many in the room were surprised to learn that all sounds are caused by vibrations. In this instructional moment, I helped students process how to more expertly think about instructional planning as they hadn’t considered the possibility of leveraging the expertise of their classmates. Research identifies experts as flexible and often opportunistic in their planning process. Additionally, experts recognize patterns faster, engage in reflective practices, and can identify problems, work through existing ones, and find new problems to solve (Berliner, 2001; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Tsui, 2009).

During the semester I remind them that they are novice thinkers about teaching and learning; they need to ask questions of each other, their teacher in their field placement, and myself about how each of us go about effectively planning, teaching, critiquing, and reflecting. I also remind them that in their area of expertise they read, listen, and/or watch an array of resources to enhance and refine their expertise. I also make them comfortable with the notion that it’s okay not to know something, but it is not okay to stay that way because they have a professional responsibility to learn and grow. I continue to make connections to expert ways of knowing and say things like; “How might an expert teacher approach this?  What could we do to refine our approach to this lesson?” and “What do we understand to be the ‘big idea’ in this instructional plan?”  These sorts of questions help preservice teachers looks for patterns, be reflective, and identify pitfalls with their instructional approach.

Preservice Teachers’ Reactions

Pat’s preservice teachers were interviewed by the fourth author about their experiences in the methods course and were asked to share their reactions to the expertise class discussion. In analyzing the interview transcripts, two common themes emerged: (1) the expertise discussion helped students gain new insights about their classmates, and (2) students were able to draw parallels between their expertise and developing expertise in teaching. In the following paragraphs we elaborate on these two themes, using pseudonyms for the students.

In regard to the first theme, the students had been in the same cohort for several years and knew each other fairly well. The expertise sharing discussion prompted them to share something from their personal lives that they had not previously shared in everyday conversation. One student’s response reflects this theme:

We are a pretty small group, I think there is like ten of us in that class, so we know each other pretty well by now because we have been in so much together but I think it was interesting, a lot of the things that were presented I didn’t know, we are still getting to know each other after all of this time. (Hope)

McKenzie echoed this sentiment, “Yeah, we already knew each other from last year, but this was like learning something completely new that we have never talked about with the others before.”  The interviews took place 1-2 weeks after the expertise discussion, and students were still referring to the discussion and acting upon that information. One student shared, “A lot of us still talk about that, and say ‘You did this!’ Like I did baking and people are like ‘You should bring cookies’ and actually in one of my classes, I’m making cookies” (Oona). In addition, students talked about the passion needed to become an expert. They saw passion as essential to the pursuit and eventual mastery of a skill. The expertise discussion gave students insight into their classmates’ personalities and individual passions. “It was good to get to know each other and then you see everybody’s different passions and how that has had an impact on them” (Oona). Overall, the students agreed that the expertise discussion gave them new insights about members of their cohort.

The second theme related to students’ new understanding of developing teaching expertise as they drew parallels to developing expertise in other areas of their lives. Drawing upon their personal experiences and that of their classmates, students shared that they clearly understood the degree of time, energy, persistence, and passion needed to become an expert, and that these same requirements applied to becoming an expert teacher. “Everyone goes through the same process [to become an expert]” (Ben). One student focused on the aspect of passion. “Hearing why I like photography, made me think why I want to teach . . . what I’m passionate about” (Julie). Another student focused on the amount of time needed to become an expert. “It’s not just this little tiny flip, one day I’m an expert teacher, but it’s a process” (Jamie). The students felt empowered through the realization that developing expertise is a long process. “I thought it was nice to be able to compare something that I do feel really good about to something that I am still terrified of” (Meera). Overall, the students were empowered and hopeful. “It was relating it to something you are an expert in, and relating it to something that you hope to be an expert in” (Tamara). Students realized that they will not be experts when they graduate, but that expertise is achievable over time. “That was really neat to see, to take everybody’s different area of expertise and then apply it to one common goal, which we all want to reach as expert teachers” (Ben).


In our overall approaches to the initial lesson and subsequent experiences, we make our students consciously aware of how much certainty and clarity of vision they have or do not have in their instructional planning, delivery, and reflection. Along the way, we help our students to professionally notice like expert teachers notice. David Baume (2004) refers to this as “Reflective Competence,” where the teacher looks to the outside (insights from resources and other experts, ideas from their own students, and revisiting their own written self-reflections) to ask themselves how they can use their refined practice to enable learners to have awareness of expertise-like patterns of thinking and action. This process of helping our preservice students recall their experiences within levels of expertise helps our preservice students begin to understand what it takes to help others learn and grow.

We have our students reflect on the skillfulness of their self-identified expertise and also remind them they do not yet possess expertise in the teaching of science. In many ways, it is a relief for our students to hear this message. It allows our students to reflect on their own area of expertise during the moments they exercised stamina and tenacity to become skillful. We then encourage our students to be mindful of those same moments and apply those insights early and often as they begin their careers as science teachers.

We recommend this lesson because it causes preservice teachers to share and reflect on how they have developed expertise in their personal lives in relation to how they must ultimately develop new expertise as science teachers. It is our hope our preservice teachers will remember these discussions and activities when feeling consciously unskilled and/or when they consider leaving the teaching profession. While the long-term effect of this expertise lesson to promote retention is unknown at the present time, this lesson does address the issue of helping a novice teacher of science understand that having teaching expertise requires persistent attention to and awareness of developing one’s skills through intentional reflection on their existing and emerging expertise.

Supplemental Files


Adams, L. (n.d.). Learning a new skill is easier said than done. Gordon Training International. Retrieved from http://www.gordontraining.com/free-workplace-articles/learning-a-new-skill-is-easier-said-than-done/

Baume, D. (2004) in Chapman, A. (2016). Conscious competence learning model matrix- unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from http://www.businessballs.com/consciouscompetencelearningmodel.htm

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1993). Surpassing ourselves: An inquiry into the nature and implications of expertise. Illinois: Open Court.

Berliner, D. C. (2001). Learning about and learning from expert teachers. International Journal of Educational Research, 35, 463-482.

Berliner, D. C. (2004). Describing the behavior and documenting the accomplishments of expert teachers. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 24, 200-212.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (1999). How experts differ from novices. In Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.). How People Learn:  Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (pp. 19-38). Washington DC: National Academy Press.

Glaser, R. (1996). Changing the agency for learning: Acquiring expert performance. In A. Ericsson (Ed.) The road to excellence: The acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, sports, and games (pp. 303-311). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ingersoll, R. (2003). Is there really a teacher shortage? Seattle, WA: Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington. Retrieved from https://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/PDFs/Shortage-RI-09-2003.pdf

Ingersoll, R. M. (2012). Beginning teacher induction: What the data tell us. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(8), 47–51.

Tsui A. B. M. (2009). Distinctive qualities of expert teachers. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15, 421-439.

Bridging the ‘Next Generation Gap’ – Teacher Educators Enacting the NGSS

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Hanuscin, D., Arnone, K., & Bautista, N. (2016). Bridging the ‘next generation gap’ – teacher educators enacting the NGSS. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 1(1) Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/bridging-the-next-generation-gap-teacher-educators-enacting-the-ngss/

by Deborah Hanuscin, University of Missouri; Kathryn A. Arnone, University of Missouri; & Nazan Bautista, Miami University


Given the shifts required of K-12 education under Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013), it is inevitable that change is also required in universities that prepare teachers. While there are currently recommendations for NGSS related professional development for classroom teachers, the literature is less specific when it comes to prospective teachers and their unique needs; however, one consistent call is for the provision of images of the NGSS in action. Prospective teachers’ own K-12 science experiences inform their developing pedagogical knowledge. Given this, understanding what NGSS-aligned instruction might look like in action will be particularly challenging for today’s prospective teachers, whose K-12 science education experiences preceded the NGSS, and who often fail to understand the complexity that underlies teaching (Chval, 2004). A related challenge is that teacher educators’ own classroom teaching experiences preceded this reform as well, and as such they lack experience supporting K-12 students in achieving the performance expectations of the NGSS. Teacher educators can identify existing examples of the NGSS in action using such tools as video cases or create new examples from their own practice. Windshitl et al. (2014) suggest teacher educators take substantive steps to engage in reform by enacting a unit of instruction consistent with the NGSS for K-12 students, perhaps in collaboration with a local teacher. The authors of this paper are all teacher educators who have been acting on the above recommendations to plan and enact instruction that aligns with the NGSS, both with elementary teachers and students. In this manuscript, we highlight examples of NGSS-aligned instructional materials we have created, share insights from enactment of these materials, and articulate the resulting ‘wisdom of practice’ generated throughout this process.


The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and the foundational Framework for K- 12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) are the products of decades of research on how students learn science. Both of these key documents present a vision for science teaching and learning that represents a dramatic departure from what occurs in most science classrooms today (Banilower et al., 2013). While historically content knowledge has served as an indication of rigor, the NGSS is unique in that it calls for a blend of disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts in order to help students master performance expectations (Pruitt, 2014).

As the United States engages in this landmark reform effort, it is no surprise that attention has turned toward teacher education:

…teachers are the linchpin in any effort to change K-12 science education. And it stands to reason that in order to support implementation of the new standards and the curricula designed to achieve them, the initial preparation and professional development of teachers of science will need to change (NRC, 2012; p. 255).

Given the shifts required of K-12 under NGSS, it is inevitable that change is also required in universities that prepare teachers. This may require incremental revisions to elements of teacher education programs, replacement of existing components, or complete revisions in the curriculum and the structures and strategies used to prepare teachers (Bybee, 2014). Since the release of the NGSS, implications for the practice of teacher educators has been a topic of consideration (Windshitl, Schwarz, & Passmore, 2014). While there are currently recommendations for NGSS related professional development for in-service teachers (e.g., Reiser, 2013), the literature is less specific when it comes to prospective teachers and their unique needs; however, one consistent call is for sharing images of the NGSS in action.


Of particular challenge is that while the NGSS performance expectations (PEs) describe the kinds of things science education experiences should enable students to understand and do, they provide little guidance as to how a teacher might design and enact those experiences for students (Windshitl et al., 2014). As such, there has been a call for rich images of classroom enactment of the NGSS (Reiser, 2013), which have the power to act as models in teacher professional development. This can be especially critical for prospective teachers, whose own K-12 science experiences (which preceded the NGSS) inform their developing pedagogical knowledge. Given that prospective teachers often fail to understand the complexity that underlies teaching (Chval, 2004) how they learn from these models will be important. A related challenge, however, is that teacher educators’ own classroom teaching experiences preceded this reform as well, and as such they must develop their own understanding of how to implement the NGSS—both with K-12 students and their prospective teachers.

Windshitl et al. (2014) suggest teacher educators take substantive steps to engage in reforms by enacting a unit of instruction consistent with the NGSS for K-12 students, perhaps in collaboration with a local teacher. They suggest this may be especially important at the elementary level (Windshitl et al., 2014), where there are multiple challenges with field experiences (Abell, 2006). Among these challenges are a lack of emphasis on science and a high percentage of elementary teachers who are inadequately prepared and thus do not feel confident teaching science.  Prospective elementary teachers may not have opportunities in their field placements to observe science instruction at all, let alone instruction aligned with the NGSS.

Context of Our Work

As teacher educators we have been acting on the above recommendations to plan and enact instruction that aligns with the NGSS with in-service elementary teachers and elementary students, as well as prospective teachers. Hallway conversations at the annual meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) enabled us to identify our similar pursuits, and to offer feedback and support to one another. Author 1 (Debi) and Author 3 (Nazan) were both mid-career faculty, and Author 2 (Annie) was a doctoral student—nonetheless, we all shared the challenge of understanding the enactment of the NGSS in elementary classrooms, but no longer being classroom teachers working ‘in the trenches’, so to speak. We approached this challenge in three very different ways, which we highlight through a series of vignettes. These are not intended to provide a representative nor exhaustive characterization of how teacher educators might undertake this work, but to provide a rich illustration of our own efforts that can inform and inspire others to take similar steps and share those practices within the science teacher education community.

A common theme across the literature regarding teachers’ engagement in reforms is that of collaboration, and its importance to challenging teachers’ beliefs, assumptions, and values as they work together toward common goals (Anderson & Helms, 2001). Working in collaborative teams can enhance teacher sense-making about reforms (Putnam & Borko, 2000); foster critical discussions about the goals of reform as teachers implement new curricula (Lynch, 1997); and create opportunities to ‘dig beneath the surface’ of reforms to explore substantive issues of practice (Reiser, 2013). Our own collaboration, both on this manuscript and in our respective contexts, reflects this intent. In the sections that follow, we highlight examples of NGSS-aligned instructional materials we have created, share insights from enactment of these materials, and articulate the resulting ‘wisdom of practice’ generated throughout this process.

Adapting ‘Old Favorites’ to Align with the NGSS: Debi’s Story

As a former elementary teacher, I have a number of ‘old favorites’ among science lessons that I have implemented with elementary learners and that I use as model lessons in my methods course. While these are useful for illustrating a variety of pedagogical strategies and topics related to teaching elementary science, they preceded the NGSS and were based on the previous National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996), which had been released during my teaching career. Just as many elementary teachers may wonder what changes the NGSS will require of them, as a teacher educator, I wondered what changes the NGSS would require of me—first and foremost, I believed that in order to teach prospective teachers to utilize the NGSS effectively, I would have to develop my own skills for doing so. Like many classroom teachers, I wondered would I have to get rid of my ‘old favorites’ in order to do so?

Working with two of my doctoral student interns (Lee, Cite, & Hanuscin, 2014), I set about adapting the well-known ‘mystery powders’ activity originally developed as part of the Elementary Science Study (1975) curriculum materials. I had previously used this activity with elementary students to teach about properties of matter and develop skills for observation. Over the years I had updated the activity to include the use of technology (observing the powders with digital scopes) and to reflect a growing popularity and student interest in forensic science (the white powder was found at a crime scene). Yet, I knew there would be ways that the activity would fall short of the kinds of science teaching envisioned by the NGSS—particularly in terms of scientific practices, as the lesson focused heavily on process skills.

Our first step was to review the activity for opportunities to engage students in the Science and Engineering Practices. We read through each of the descriptions in Appendix F of the NGSS and discussed where we saw similarities and differences to what students would be doing in the existing lesson. In order to adapt the activity to better align with the NGSS, we realized we would need to focus on argumentation. That is—not just developing skills for observation, but helping students use observations as evidence to support claims. By implementing the lesson with our methods students and then supporting them in implementing it with elementary students, we were able to better understand the difficulties that both groups would face in engaging in this practice, as well as identify specific scaffolds we could use to address those.

Specifically, we developed a better understanding of difficulties that prospective teachers may have in crafting scientific arguments – using claims, evidence, and reasoning – about the identity of mystery powders in the lesson. These included making claims that go beyond the evidence, not providing enough supporting evidence, and focusing on evidence that supports their claims while ignoring evidence that does not (Lee, et al., 2014). This challenged us to construct our own example arguments that we could use as models to support students’ learning. We developed sample strong and weak arguments, from which prospective teachers were able to generate examples of the criteria by which we should evaluate scientific arguments, both their own and those of elementary students (See Appendix A for examples).

Another ‘old favorite’ of mine is a lesson about the water cycle that I developed based on the “Go to the Head of the Cloud” activity from Project Learning Tree (American Forest Foundation, 1993). This simulation allows students to role play a drop of water traveling through the water cycle in a game of chance. I combined this activity with a read-aloud of The Water’s Journey (Schmid, 1990) and both a narrative and expository writing task. This remains a favorite of elementary students, teachers, and prospective teachers with whom I have used it. Whereas my adaptation of Mystery Powders enabled me to better understand the science practices, I realized that I was still falling short of the kind of ‘three dimensional learning’ that the NGSS supports—where Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science & Engineering Practices, and Cross-cutting Concepts come together. Within this particular lesson, I saw an opportunity to accomplish this by focusing on the water cycle as a model of a system—emphasizing core ideas in Earth Science (ESS2), helping students develop and use models (SEP2) and connecting to the bigger concept of systems and system models (CCC4). In my adaptation of the lesson for my elementary science methods course, my prospective teachers not only developed their models as they role-played drops of water in the simulation, but evaluated models of the water cycle they found on the internet and in other resources in light of their experiences. This shifted the overall lesson from more of an isolated learning experience to being one that students could connect to a variety of things they learned in science—both other models and other systems—and also made them, as future teachers, more critical consumers of instructional resources.

In adapting this lesson, I found it useful to rely on the expertise of another science educator and colleague, Laura Zangori, who specifically studies elementary students’ ideas about models and modeling (Zangori, Forbes, & Schwartz, 2015). Conversations with Laura helped me identify ways in which modeling was underemphasized, as well as missed opportunities within my lesson to engage students in building models, using models to construct explanations, and evaluating models. For example, when working with Laura to critically examine the lesson, she pointed out that my lesson involved students in developing their own models of the water cycle as well as evaluating other models, but that they weren’t using models to explain phenomena. Based on this, I developed a list of questions for students to answer using their model, such as:

  • Why does the Earth not run out of rain?
  • Was the amount of water on Earth the same, greater than, or less than when the dinosaurs roamed?

In this case, understanding the NGSS was helpful for identifying broader areas and connections to modeling, but collaborating with a more knowledgeable other supported identification of specific ways that students could engage in modeling and model-based reasoning during the lesson.

From these two experiences adapting my ‘old favorites’ I have learned that existing science activities do not have to be discarded with new reforms, but can be leveraged in more powerful ways by using the NGSS. In both cases, I believed the modified lessons to be of higher quality and to promote a deeper level of understanding. Likewise, I have been able to reassure anxious teachers who are implementing the NGSS that they do not have to throw out their ‘old favorites’, and also to assure prospective teachers that if they can’t find an activity that aligns with a specific NGSS performance expectation by Googling it, it doesn’t mean there are no activities for them to use—only that there is a need to adapt activities that already exist to meet the NGSS. Knowing how to do this can be challenging, but by working with others you can overcome these challenges.

Co-Planning as a Transition from Teacher to Teacher Educator: Kathryn’s Story

Up until 2012, I was an elementary classroom teacher and over the years had participated in multiple professional development (PD) opportunities to improve my science teaching abilities. Some of the PD experiences were useful in providing new strategies and lesson ideas, but even as I began my graduate study full-time I knew I had much more to learn. This became especially true in that I made the transition to graduate student at the same time that states were beginning the transition to the NGSS. The field was undergoing change just as I was undergoing a change in my professional role. In order to be successful in this role, I needed to develop expertise related to using the NGSS in elementary science teaching, but was no longer teaching elementary students!

The collegial connections I made as a classroom teacher (in the same district where my university was located) provided a unique opportunity for me to participate in the design and implementation of science lessons in the elementary classroom and to develop my understanding of NGSS-aligned instruction. Working with former colleagues helped facilitate my transition from a classroom teacher to a teacher educator as I was able to collaborate with my former mentor to develop lessons that aligned with the NGSS. We selected the first grade standard 1-PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer and Performance Expectation (PE) 1-PS4-1: Plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate. While my colleague felt somewhat comfortable with planning and carrying out investigations, she felt less comfortable with wave properties (PS4.A). Thus, our collaboration challenged me to shift to the role of mentor.

We were both familiar with the 5E learning cycle (Bybee, 1997), and realized that we could still use this lesson design framework in planning our lesson on sound. This was reassuring, as one concern we had about shifting to the NGSS was that it would require us to throw out our existing tools and resources. Our first step was to pull together activities on sound to see what we could use in our lesson. Important at this stage was making sure the content of the lesson was accurate and the objectives and goals were aligned with NGSS. There were times when we had a great activity that we thought would work and so put it into the lesson, only to realize it didn’t fit into the overall objective and it needed to be removed. For example, we had an activity that focused on what sounds “looked like” and thought it might fit into our lesson. However, we realized the lesson might actually portray a misconception to students that sounds have a physical appearance. We decided that we needed an activity that would help students understand that sounds could be measured but that the sound itself did not have a physical appearance. We discussed this struggle at length as we were both used to focusing on observable phenomena at the elementary level. We finally determined the best way to accomplish this was to use a computer model, or in our case, an iPad application that measured sound. This occurred multiple times throughout the planning process as we weeded through a variety of activities together and engaged in conversation about how they each contributed to (or detracted from) the overall goal of the lesson. I found myself drawing on the work I had done as a graduate research assistant, analyzing the coherence of the conceptual storyline of science lessons (see Hanuscin, Lipsitz, Cisterna, Arnone, van Garderen, & de Araujo, 2016). My colleague and I met in person twice and sent versions of our lesson back and forth via email multiple times before we were satisfied with our plan. See Arnone and Morris (2014) for the complete lesson, which engages students in connecting sounds they hear to concepts of pitch and volume, and how those properties are represented by waves.

As we co-taught the lesson, I supported my colleague’s instruction by asking questions that encouraged student thinking about what they were experiencing and how those questions could lead them to new investigations. For example, I posed questions to support students in interpreting what they saw on an iPad app they were using to represent recorded sounds as waves. Below is an example of an interaction I had:

Student: Look at these squiggly lines.

Me: Why do you think some of these squiggly lines look longer than the others?

Student: I don’t know.

Me: What happens to the squiggly line when you change the sound you make? Why do you think some of them look longer than the others?

Student: Is it because the sound was bigger?

Me: Bigger than what?

Student: Bigger than the other sounds I heard.

Me: What do you mean by bigger?

Student: Well, I think the sound might have been louder, not bigger, but I’m not sure.

Me: What can we do to find out?

Student: I think I might need to try out a few more sounds to see.

I encouraged the student to continue collecting sound recordings to determine what the longer “squiggly lines” represented, to critically consider the data s/he collected, and to document everything in a science notebook. In this way, I was able to provide support for students in analyzing the data for patterns, and checking the data to see whether it supported or refuted their initial ideas. I also was able to provide support for my mentor as she built her confidence in her knowledge of and teaching about sound waves.

After the lesson, we reflected on the lesson and discussed what went well and what did not, things we noticed her students were doing or not doing, areas where she felt she could have improved, and areas where I thought she did very well. As we looked through all of the student artifacts from the lesson, my colleague noted that her students had developed questions about what they were observing, and were able to generate ideas about how to investigate those questions. Not only that, her students also were beginning to develop explanations using the evidence they gathered. This provided her with a concrete illustration of what these Science and Engineering Practices ‘look like’ in a first grade classroom. .

Our co-planning, co-teaching, and co-reflecting experiences provided my mentor with an experience that challenged her thinking and teaching practice regarding instructional planning, student questioning, and lesson implementation as it related to the NGSS. For example, my mentor commented on how challenging it was for her to get students to get to the point where they were able to ask their own questions that led to investigations. She noted that I posed questions that encouraged students to consider possible investigations that could lead them to an answer as opposed to a question that required a direct answer. She commented on how watching my questioning provided her with a model to see how changing the way she questioned students could help guide them towards asking their own questions that could lead to investigations—she observed my interactions and replicated my line of questioning with other students during the lesson.

This experience helped illustrate to me the need for elementary teachers to have support and guidance as they implement the NGSS. I now understand that both teachers and teacher educators need more models of and practice in creating and implementing instruction that aligns with the vision of the NGSS. During our reflections my mentor commented on how critical it was for her to have a colleague for support during this lesson’s development as well as during the implementation, as it was on a topic she had only recently learned. Planning and teaching the lesson together reduced her apprehension, as I was in a supportive, rather than evaluative role. Areas of my own weakness were brought to light when my mentor asked questions about how or why I did something and I wasn’t sure how to explain it. I was forced to make my practice explicit in a way that was challenging but necessary for my mentor to understand my actions. As a developing teacher educator who left the classroom just as the new standards were being released, I realized how much more I had to learn about how to implement the NGSS myself, and how to support teachers in that process.

In sum, it was a beneficial experience for me to take on the role of the mentor while my former mentor took on the role of the learner. Prospective teacher educators like me can benefit from opportunities to work with teachers to develop and enact NGSS-aligned instruction. With both teachers and teacher educators working in tandem, the vision of the NGSS may become clearer in elementary classrooms.

Crowd-sourcing Integrated STEM Lessons: Nazan’s Story

I have been working with prospective early childhood teachers over the last 13 years and during this time I have often witnessed that the area prospective teachers have the most difficulty is seeing the relevance of science content to their own lives. Their schooling background is filled with experiences in which they learned STEM disciplines as disparate subject areas which, consequently, prevented them from seeing the interconnectedness of these disciplines and how they work together in solving or addressing real life situations. This is one of the main issues I target in my science methods courses for early childhood majors and I believe the NGSS provides a valuable framework to accomplish my goal.

I develop instructional activities using an integrated approach to teaching STEM concepts as outlined in the NGSS. Educators defined integrated STEM teaching as an instructional approach in which science and mathematics disciplines are taught through the infusion of scientific inquiry practices, technology, engineering design process, mathematical analysis, and 21st century skills (Johnson, 2013). This approach has been especially popular in the area of engineering education (i.e., Stohlman, Moore, & Roehrig, 2012). Because the NGSS explicitly includes practices and core disciplinary ideas from engineering alongside those for science, raising the expectation that science teachers will teach science and engineering in an integrated fashion.

Advocates of integrated STEM approaches believe that teaching through integration can enhance student motivation for learning and improve student interest, achievement, and persistence (Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber, 2014). In so doing, it addresses calls for greater workplace and college readiness as well as increasing the number of students who consider a career in a STEM-related field. However, in order to accomplish this important mission, prospective teachers themselves must engage in such learning experiences or the instructional activities that model ways to teach STEM disciplines in an integrated fashion.

I start developing integrated STEM activities around a big idea or a question, which ultimately determines the science disciplines (e.g., biology, physics), mathematics concepts, type of technology, and engineering activities that I will teach. The example I prepared for early childhood classrooms focused on short-term and long-term weather changes. Making sense of short-term and long-term weather requires more than observation of daily and day-to-day weather based on the principles of NGSS. In this unit, young learners construct their understanding of order of numbers (less than, greater than, and equal to), learn to use thermometers and associate numbers with hot, cold, and warm temperature values (e.g., 35 oF cold, 90 oF hot), construct weather instruments and test the appropriate locations for the weather instruments through experimental design, and use weather instruments to gather temperature, precipitation, and sky coverage information throughout the day to observe daily weather changes and throughout the semester to observe the weather patterns for different seasons (long-term weather changes) at their location (see Figure 1). My aim here was to provide an authentic context for the young learner to make sense of the numbers (Common Core State, Standards: MP.2, MP.4, K.CC.A, K.MD.A.1, K.MD.A2, and K.MD.B.3) and an Earth and space science (DCI: ESS2.D; K-ESS-2) concept, while also developing an understanding of the role of technology and engineers (CCC: 1, 2; SEP 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and ETSI.A).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Integration of STEM concepts to teach short-term and long-term weather.

Figure 1

The success of any instruction or activity in helping students meet the learning outcomes depends on the meaningful implementation of the planned instruction. Therefore, in order for practicing teachers to accept and implement this unit, we decided to check the feasibility of this integrated unit by employing a “crowd-sourcing” approach. Crowd-sourcing is a process by which one solicits contributions of ideas from a large group of people. In the development of the Kindergarten level “Short-Term and Long-Term Weather” unit, I used crowd-sourcing as a way to gather feedback and ideas from a large group of practicing early childhood teachers in an online environment. I used Google docs to make the entire unit available to the teachers and emailed the link for the unit to 20 of the local area early childhood teachers and encouraged them to invite other practicing teachers to edit, modify, and comment on the document, as well as implement the lessons included in the unit (see Appendix B for unit materials).

The crowd-sourcing approach had several benefits for both teachers and me as a teacher educator. First, it allowed teachers to have a voice in the developed instruction, which made it more likely for them to adapt and implement the unit in their classrooms. Second, the unit was not static and continued to evolve as more teachers edited and modified the document. Third, I could share the evolving document with prospective teachers in my methods courses to provide practicing teachers’ insights and practices. The last one is especially important given that most early childhood education majors do not consider science as one of the content areas they are expected to teach, nor are they likely to observe cooperating teachers develop a science lesson.

Crowd-sourcing helped me to ensure that the integrated STEM classroom activities I developed were indeed applicable to real classroom settings and developmentally appropriate for the target student groups. However, I have several recommendations for those who are interested in using this approach to develop new instructional activities. First, they should be aware of the time it requires to mobilize teachers to participate in the editing, modifying, and commenting on the activities. It will take additional time if the teacher feedback from the implementation of activities in real classrooms are required. Second, they should also be very clear with the directions they provide to the teachers. Do they want teachers to provide comments in comment boxes or in-text?  Will teachers edit the document and if so how should they do it so that the teacher educator can effectively monitor how the document has evolved (e.g., teacher educator can request teachers do not modify another teacher’s edits; instead they can provide a comment on the same section using a comment box). Finally, they should monitor changes on the document consistently (e.g., daily) to be able to reflect on the changes and modifications and prepare the best and final draft of the shared document.

Conclusions & Implications

Our work contributes to bridging the gap between teacher educators’ own K-12 teaching experiences and the kind of science teaching and learning envisioned by the NGSS by providing concrete illustrations of ways in which teacher educators can act on recommendations in the literature in their respective contexts. While the NGSS performance expectations describe what students should understand and be able to do, they provide little guidance as to how a teacher might design and enact instruction to achieve that. Our efforts add to building a portfolio of ambitious practices (Windschitl et al., 2014) and much-needed images of the NGSS in action (Reiser, 2013).

The advent of the NGSS presents teacher educators with a unique challenge to revisit their K-12 teacher selves to understand how to implement the NGSS with K-12 students. However, a conundrum is that given the newness of the NGSS, we lack prior experience utilizing the NGSS as K-12 teachers. Considering the lack of accumulated knowledge bases for how best to implement the NGSS, we build from our own understanding and interpretation of the NGSS while developing new experiences for teachers and K-12 students. We revisit the research-based strategies and lessons that have already been shown effective and modify, alter, and revise them based on our own developing understanding of the new reforms. In that sense, as teacher educators, we must be open to constant evolution in our professional body of knowledge, skills and attitudes, and must be able to adapt rapidly to changes in our field.

Important to each of our efforts was the willingness to interrogate our own practice- to position ourselves as novices rather than experts. Teaching in ways that align with the vision of the NGSS requires a strong commitment to standards-based, reform-minded teaching and its assumptions about knowledge, learning, and teaching (Wang & Odell, 2002). The goals of reform can be difficult for novice teachers to comprehend, and without this understanding they may implement instruction that differs from the intent of reforms (Lynch, 1997). In order to support prospective teachers, teacher educators must not only understand the content and structure of the NGSS, but also how to adjust their teaching practice to meet these standards (Reiser, 2013; Windschitl, et al., 2014).

As we developed our expertise, we found it helped to work with others. Given the lack of professional development opportunities for teacher educators – except for the opportunities provided in annual meetings of professional organizations, such as ASTE, creating a space where educators shared and revisited their beliefs, understandings, and experiences allowed us to have access to diverse ideas and opinions. The body of literature regarding teachers’ engagement in reforms includes frequent references to collaboration and its importance to challenging teachers’ beliefs, assumptions, and values as they work together toward common goals (Anderson & Helms, 2001). Working in collaborative teams can enhance teacher sense-making about reforms (Putnam & Borko, 2000); foster critical discussions about the goals of reform as teachers implement new curricula (Lynch, 1997); and create opportunities to ‘dig beneath the surface’ of reforms to explore substantive issues of practice (Reiser, 2013). In doing so we better understood our own difficulties, and that of our collaborators, in enacting NGSS-aligned instruction. Through implementation of lessons we developed, and discovering our own obstacles to teaching in line with the NGSS, we continue to deepen our knowledge of how to best support learners (and, in our case, teachers) in addressing difficulties they encounter in reaching the level of learning envisioned in the NGSS.

Windschitl and colleagues recommend that “science teacher educators must engage with the NGSS in substantive ways that go well beyond familiarizing themselves” (2014, p.3). As our science curriculum and teaching practices go through reforms, we first have to reflect, revise, and reframe our previous understandings (Wenger, 1998). For example, vignettes 1 and 2 both challenge the belief that teaching in line with the NGSS means abandoning current pedagogies and activities. This belief may serve as a barrier to teachers transitioning to the NGSS. Vignette 1 highlights the importance of questioning assumptions about the extent to which our instruction fully aligns with the vision of the NGSS—for example, that if we are addressing models, we are doing so in a robust manner consistent with modeling practices. Vignette 3 emphasizes the need to act on our values—in this case, collaboration, as well as the expertise that resides among practitioners.

Collaborating with other educators, K-12 teachers, and prospective teachers can help develop a portfolio of activities aligned with the NGSS, but that is merely a first step. Teacher educators must also investigate the effectiveness and feasibility of these activities in K-12 classrooms, and be able to model teaching NGSS-aligned activities in professional development for practicing teachers and methods courses for prospective teachers. In addition, they must provide opportunities for prospective teachers to plan and enact the activities developed.

Supplemental Files



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