Providing Clinical Experience for Preservice Chemistry Teachers Through a Homeschool Association Collaboration

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Boesdorfer, S.B. (2019). Providing clinical experience for preservice chemistry teachers through a homeschool association collaboration. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(2)   Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/providing-clinical-experience-for-preservice-chemistry-teachers-through-a-homeschool-association-collaboration/

by Sarah B. Boesdorfer, Illinois State University

Abstract

The number of students homeschooled in the United States is steadily increasing, and parents of these students continue to look to community resources for their curriculum as they educate their children. As clinical experiences associated with two of their methods courses, preservice chemistry teachers teach a chemistry course twice a week to homeschooled students under the supervision of their methods instructor. The course is a collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and the local homeschool association (HSA), providing the homeschool students with high school chemistry instruction and experiences in the chemistry laboratory and providing preservice teachers with experiences teaching high school aged chemistry students. This article describes the design of this collaboration aligning it with the research literature of successful clinical experiences for the development of preservice teachers. In addition, initial evidence and feedback from teachers provides support for this collaboration as an effective alternative to traditional clinical experiences in typical high school settings for preservice science teachers. Challenges to carrying out this type of clinical experience are discussed along with tips for teacher educators looking for a different form of effective clinical experiences for their preservice teachers. While improvements continue to be made, the collaboration between the HSA and the methods courses has been successful for students, both homeschooled and preservice, and continues as a clinical experience at our university.

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References

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Boesdorfer, S.B. (2018).  Homeschooling collaboration as clinical experience: a comparison of inservice teachers’ reflections on their pre-service clinical experiences. Paper presented at ASTE International Conference 2018, Baltimore, MD. 

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Castle, S., Fox, R. K., & Souder, K. O. H. (2006). Do professional development schools (PDSs) make a difference? A comparative study of PDS and non-PDS teacher candidates. Journal of teacher education57(1), 65-80.

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Preparing Preservice Early Childhood Teachers to Teach Nature of Science: Writing Children’s Books

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Akerson, V.L., Elcan Kaynak, N., & Avsar Erumit, B. (2019) Preparing preservice early childhood teachers to teach nature of science: Writing children’s books. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/preparing-preservice-early-childhood-teachers-to-teach-nature-of-science-writing-childrens-books/

by Valarie L. Akerson, Indiana University; Naime Elcan Kaynak, Erciyes University; & Banu Avsar Erumit, Recep Tayyip Erdogan University

Abstract

Preparing preservice early childhood teachers to teach about Nature of Science (NOS) in their science lessons can provide challenges to the methods course instructor. Early childhood science methods course instructors generally agree that early childhood preservice teachers enjoy using children’s literature in their instruction. Preservice teachers can write and design children’s books that can help them to not only refine their own understandings of NOS aspects, but also to consider how to introduce these ideas to young children through their stories. These stories can support the teaching of NOS through hands-on activities in the classroom. The authors tracked a class of early childhood preservice teachers over the course of a semester to determine their ideas about NOS and their depictions of NOS in a storybook they designed for young children. The authors determined whether these NOS ideas were depicted accurately and in a way that could be conceptualized by young children. It was found that nearly all of the preservice teachers were able to portray the NOS aspects accurately through their stories, and that not only did the stories hold promise of introducing these NOS ideas in an engaging manner for early childhood students, but the preservice early childhood teachers also refined their own understandings of NOS through the assignment.

Introduction

An appropriate understanding of nature of science (NOS) is considered important for reform efforts in the USA, and is highlighted in the Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, 2013). Studies have shown that preservice and inservice early childhood teachers can develop strategies for emphasizing NOS that improve student understandings of NOS (e.g. Conley, Pintrich, Vekiri, & Harrison, 2009; Deng, Chen, Tsai, & Chai, 2011, Khishfe & Abd-El-Khalick, 2002). Teachers have called for support through different strategies they can use in their classrooms (Akerson , Pongsanon, Nargund, & Weiland, 2014). Akerson, et al (2011) has found that using children’s literature is one effective strategy for emphasizing NOS to elementary students. Additionally, preservice early childhood teachers are often more excited about children’s literature than science, and so using children’s books within science methods courses can help preservice early childhood teachers improve their experiences within science methods and see how their strengths and interests in literature can connect to science instruction (Akerson & Hanuscin, 2007).

It has been the first author’s experience in teaching early childhood science methods that early childhood teachers are excited about using children’s books to support their NOS and science teaching. However, these same preservice teachers have been frustrated that they were unable to find a children’s book that would introduce the NOS aspects they wish to teach at early grade levels. The instructor believed that a good way to support the preservice teachers in both their understandings of NOS, and their wishes to teach it to their early childhood students, that the teachers could be supported in developing their own children’s books to use with their students. In this case, a course assignment was designed to help preservice teachers conceptualize how to transfer their knowledge about NOS to early childhood students through a children’s book they designed.

Based on the NSTA (2000) position statement for what teachers should know about NOS and what they are responsible for teaching their own students, the course instructor emphasized the following NOS aspects in her class: (a) scientific knowledge is both reliable and tentative (we are confident in scientific knowledge, yet recognize claims can change with new evidence or reconceptualizing existing evidence), (b) no single scientific method exists, but there are various approaches to creating scientific knowledge, such as collecting evidence and testing claims, (c) creativity plays a role in the development of scientific knowledge through scientists interpolating data and giving meaning to data collected, (d) there is a relationship between theories and laws in that laws describe phenomena and theories are scientific knowledge that seek to explain laws, (e) there is a relationship between observations and inferences with inferences being interpretations made of observations, (f) although science strives for objectivity there is an element of subjectivity in the development of scientific knowledge, and (g) social and cultural context plays a role in development of scientific knowledge, as the culture at large influences what is considered appropriate scientific investigations and knowledge.

To ensure that the preservice teachers held sufficient NOS content knowledge we measured their conceptions of NOS using the VNOS-B (Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Schwartz, 2002), and also again midway through the semester, and again at the end, to determine sufficient content knowledge and to determine whether thinking about how to teach NOS to young children may influence their own ideas. The VNOS-B does not explicitly ask about the existence of a single scientific method, but does include the empirical NOS, meaning that scientific claims and development of scientific knowledge requires empirical evidence and data. The table below shows their changes in NOS conceptions over the semester.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Preservice Early Childhood Teachers’ NOS Conceptions Over Time

For the storybook project, the instructor asked preservice teachers to  introduce all NOS ideas except the distinction between theory and law, as that is not in the early childhood curriculum. Previous research has found that early childhood preservice teachers and their students can conceptualize these NOS ideas, (Akerson & Donnelly, 2010),  and therefore we believed that including them in a children’s book would be a good way to introduce these NOS  ideas to young children. The first author was the instructor of the course, and kept a teacher/researcher journal throughout the course. The other two authors aided in ensuring the instructor was teaching NOS using explicit reflective instruction by observing each class session, taking notes of student engagement and NOS instruction, as well as photographing students working, and in analyzing effectiveness of the development of the books and instruction using the data collected as a team.

The Course Design

The project was introduced at the beginning of the semester long methods course as something the preservice teachers would work toward completing as a final “exam.” Indeed, the project replaced the final exam period for this section, and instead the preservice teachers had a book-share where the preservice teachers shared their books with the rest of the class. The NOS elements that were targeted in this project and were to be included in the book are the tentative but reliable NOS, the creative NOS, the distinction between observation and inference, the empirical NOS, the sociocultural NOS, and the subjective NOS. These NOS ideas were included because they lend themselves to connections in the early childhood curriculum, and have been previously found to be accessible to young children (Akerson & Donnelly, 2010).

To prepare the preservice teachers to develop such a book, the instructor needed to make them aware of ideas about  (a) NOS, (b) elements of children’s books, and (c) the technology they could use to aid them in their design. As is common in the practice of the course instructor, NOS was a theme in the methods course, and NOS was included explicitly in each class session, and debriefed in the context of science content that was explored as examples of instructional methods for early childhood students. The instructor modeled how to explicitly debrief for NOS conceptions each week. For example, during an investigation that included an exploration of Oobleck and whether it is solid or liquid, the instructor modeled questions to ask students regarding NOS during the debriefing to ensure explicit connection to NOS. One such question connected “subjectivity” or the background knowledge that scientists bring to a problem. The instructor asked the preservice teachers to think about how scientific subjectivity could be highlighted through this exploration. The instructor asked “what could the scientists do when they found this substance that did not fit into either classification?” A discussion followed regarding that if scientists understand solids, and understand liquids, then they would realize that this substance has components of both. The discussion ensued that it would therefore it would be difficult to categorize into one or the other. The instructor led them to realize that it was scientists who create the categories of matter, through empirical evidence and creativity. The instructor therefore helped the preservice teachers come to the realization that scientists are also creative, that they could create a new category into which they could classify the Oobleck. The instructor used explicit reflective NOS instruction to help them make a connection beyond simply teaching the distinction between observation and inference through this activity, they could connect other NOS aspects, such as subjectivity and creativity. Such activities and NOS debriefings took place on a weekly basis during the science methods course. The discussion continued with preservice teachers reflecting on how to use similar activities with young children. The instructor shared that this activity could be used as an assessment and instructional sequence for not only young children’s understandings about characteristics of solids and liquids, but also for how scientists are creative scientifically, in terms of “creating” new categories for matter, and how scientists use evidence, observations and inferences, and how claims are tentative given they can, and do, create new categories based on evidence. Additionally, given students’ prior knowledge about characteristics of solids and liquids were used to determine characteristics and identity of the new substance, conversation surrounding the importance of background knowledge, and subjectivity of scientists can occur between the teacher and students.

Using Children’s Books

The science methods instructor spent time in the methods course using children’s literature to both launch and support science activities as an example for how to use such books to emphasize NOS with children. For example, the instructor read the Skull Alphabet Book (Pallotta, 2002). In this book the reader sees an illustration of a skull, reads clues, and tries to infer the animal the skull would be from. There is a different skull from A to Z. Using this book is an example of decontextualized NOS instruction (Bell, Mulvey, & Maeng, 2016; Clough, 2006), if the instructor makes explicit connections with the preservice students. The instructor led a discussion with the preservice teachers for how this book could be used to explicitly illustrate NOS elements to elementary students. For instance, the elementary students could be asked which NOS elements are illustrated in the book-to which they could respond “Observation and inference” (observing the skull and reading the clues, and inferring the animal), “creativity” (creating an idea of what the animal might be from the evidence), “subjectivity” (one would not infer an animal that one had never heard of before), “empirical NOS” (making inferences from data), “social and cultural NOS” (one would be more likely to infer an animal from the culture they are from), and “tentativeness” (one can infer an animal and be likely correct, but never be certain because it is a skull and without seeing the living animal it is not certain). While the instructor shared this book with the preservice teachers she explicitly pointed out these ideas about NOS that could be connected to the book for children. These kinds of discussions and book debriefs were held weekly over the course of the semester, connected to children’s books as well as science concepts.

Following the use of the children’s book in introducing science concepts, the preservice teachers could think about engaging elementary students in science activities and investigations and reflecting orally or in writing how what they were doing was similar to the work of scientists. For example, preservice teachers could distribute fossils to their elementary students, asking them to make observations and inferences about the whole organism and its likely habitat. The elementary students could be asked to infer and draw the remainder of the organism and its habitat. A debriefing discussion could take place where elementary students could discuss how their inferences came from observations of the empirical data—the fossil, how they used their background knowledge (subjectivity) to make their inferences, and how their ideas about what the fossil was from might change if they had more information. Additionally, elementary students could discuss how scientists create ideas from the evidence, as they did, and how these creations would be consistent with what they are familiar in their own social and cultural contexts.

The course instructor also shared a variety of children’s books with the preservice teachers. These samples of children’s literature books varied from non-fiction to fiction, and were used to explicitly share components of children’s picture books. Features that were highlighted were (1) strong characters, (2) a story that teaches (in this case, the story would teach NOS), and (3) interesting and clear visual drawings or representations of the story.

Designing their own NOS Books

The preservice teachers were not required to use technologies such as Book Creator, or other book development applications to create their books. However, most preservice teachers took advantage of the technology to create their books, particularly for the illustrations.  One preservice teacher who was artistic decided to create her book through drawing and produced a hard copy of the book. The preservice teachers were provided with the following criterion sheet to use while designing their book to enable them to conceptualize what to include in the book (See Table 2):

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Scoring Rubric for the Create a “Book” Assignment

The books that were created by the preservice teachers were mostly very well done in terms of introducing NOS aspects to young children. There were a total of 22 preservice teachers in the class, all female. Ten preservice teachers connected their NOS books to popular characters from children’s media (e.g. SpongeBob Squarepants and the Case of the Missing Crabby Patty) or books (e.g. The Pigeon Does an Investigation). Ten preservice teachers created their own stories from scratch (e.g. Marcy Meets the Dinosaurs). Two did not consent to have their books used as examples, so they are not included. Therefore the preservice teachers were free to either modify an existing story, which aided in identifying illustrations as well as a storyline, or to create their own to illustrate NOS. Half of them did select to modify an existing story, which enabled them to embed NOS elements into a story that already existed, freeing them to consider how NOS may fit into a story already suitable for young children.

As a methods instructor, it is important to help the preservice teachers consider ways to transfer their understandings of NOS to young children through the text. It was a difficult point for some to think about, and to consider how to phrase sentences to accurately portray NOS, but in a way accessible to children. Using feedback loops this process became more streamlined, where preservice teachers provided feedback to one another. Of the twenty books submitted, all but three included all NOS aspects accurately depicted. Three books did not include subjective or sociocultural NOS. One book also did not include tentative NOS or the distinction between observation and inference. Of the aspects that were included, all but one preservice teacher included accurate representations.

Though not required, five preservice teachers included the distinction between theory and law in their children’s books. While it is clear that simply an accurate presentation of NOS ideas is not sufficient to teach NOS to young children, it is a starting point for the preservice teachers to have an accurate representation of the ideas to begin their teaching, which of course, would require explicit-reflective NOS instruction (Akerson, Abd-El-Khalick, & Lederman, 2000). Use of these children’s books would require that the preservice teachers make explicit reflective connections while sharing with young children.

Ensuring Quality

We reviewed the children’s stories created by the preservice teachers to determine whether the NOS concepts were included accurately. All authors conducted a content analysis on the accuracy of the NOS aspects that were incorporated in the stories. The authors also used the NOS children’s books to determine the preservice teachers’ NOS conceptions at the end of the semester. These sources of data were reviewed independently and then compared to ensure valid interpretation of NOS conceptions both within the books and conceptions held by the teachers themselves. The teacher/researcher log and field notes were used to further triangulate interpretations of the data.

How Well Do Children’s Books Include NOS?

It was clear that preservice teachers not only improved their NOS conceptions over the first eight weeks of the semester, but also during the last seven weeks when they were developing the books to use with their own future students, and to share with their classmates. Below we now share samples of how the preservice early childhood teachers included the various NOS aspects in their stories, by NOS aspect.

Tentative NOS

Eighteen students were readily able to incorporate the tentative NOS into their stories in a way that they could share this characteristic of NOS with their own students. All of the stories included a scientist or a character in the story revising an inference based on new evidence or the reinterpretation of existing evidence, and making a new claim. In all stories the story included this idea as part of science, and not that the scientists were “wrong” with their earlier inference.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of tentativeness in storybook.

In other stories there was a more direct description of the tentative NOS. For example, Sophia’s story (see above) was set within an alien culture, and began with the lead character saying “ Hi my name’s Meep and I come from the planet NOS. On planet NOS, we live by set of rules called Nature of Science.” She continues her story showing illustrations that Meep is visiting earth and tell people how they use aspects of NOS. The image above is presenting tentativeness of science. Though her idea is not technically “correct” in that NOS is not a set of rules to live by, nor do ideas “constantly change as we collect data,” it is still along the right track in helping younger children realize that science is not “set in stone” and scientific claims are subject to change.

Observation and Inference

Similarly, eighteen stories included an accurate representation of observation and inference. In most of these stories scientists made observations of data, and then made inferences of what they observed. For example, Emma wrote a story in which a scientist who was a mother was talking to her son Jack, about science. She introduces “observation and inferences” by immersing them in her story about Safari animals. The following illustration shows Jack’s learning of observation and inferences in the story:

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of observation and inference in storybook.

In this particular example, the author was able to make a connection where the reader would learn about observations and inferences as data were observed, and then could later connect to the tentative NOS as the claim changed with more evidence as further reading of the story showed the ideas changed and tentativeness was connected.

Empirical NOS

All twenty books included accurate depictions of the empirical NOS. In each case the main character, often a scientist, needed to collect data to solve a problem or make observations. Olivia wrote an original story about the lives of three chipmunks in a forest. In the story the chipmunks are keeping safe from hawks, and are doing a scientific exploration in the forest to determine how they are remaining unseen by the hawks. Their exploration leads them to understand camouflage.

Olivia uses following example to show science is empirical, as she also connects it to the tentative NOS. The chipmunks had their own personal “theory” for why the hawks were not able to see them, but changed their ideas as they collected new evidence through empirical data.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of scientific tentativeness in storybook.

While this story above is accurate in terms of NOS, it is also the case that the writing was at a level beyond what K-2 students could read on their own. This book would need to be a read-aloud by the teacher to the students, and would likely require much teacher input to help young learners accurately conceptualize the content. Therefore it would be necessary to aid preservice teachers to consider thinking about the reading level and vocabulary for independent reading, which appeared to be difficult for some preservice teachers.

Creativity and Imagination

Eighteen of the stories included accurate representations of creativity and imagination in the development of scientific knowledge. Ava introduces and immerses well the aspects of NOS in her storybook about Pinocchio. In the book, Pinocchio tries to figure out why his nose is growing using scientific inquiry, and through that inquiry the elements of NOS are illustrated.

Through her story she would be able to share with her early childhood students that scientists are creative in interpreting data as well as creating investigations, and in this case in her story, in creating a way to figure out that Pinocchio’s nose grows when he lies. It was clear through her story that those who use science are creative, and that aspects of NOS are part of scientific inquiries.

Though her use of text is beyond the independent reading level of most K-2 students, the story is accurate with regard to NOS concepts, and could be used as a read-aloud with explicit reflective instruction by a teacher. Following is her illustration that shows scientists are creative:

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of scientific creativity in storybook.

Subjective NOS

Eighteen stories included an accurate depiction of the subjective NOS, in which scientists’ own backgrounds influence their interpretations of data. In the stories it was usually the case that the scientific claim was shown to be made partially through the understandings of the scientist or the one doing the investigation. Mia used characters from a popular children’s story The Three Little Pigs, to teach NOS elements throughout the story. In her story the main character Mr. Wolf guides the three little pigs to act as scientists as they try to figure out whether their houses are sturdy enough to withstand the hurricane. Through these characters, Mia illustrates that scientists are subjective, and use their background knowledge in making scientific claims. As we can see from the excerpt from her story, she clearly illustrates the pigs’ subjectivities helps in making scientific claims.

Figure 5 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of the role of subjectivity in storybook.

Sociocultural NOS

Fifteen of the stories included accurate depictions of the influence of sociocultural mileu on scientific claims. In some of the books, such as Sophia’s story from the alien perspective, the clash of different cultures was used to illustrate the influence of sociocultural aspects on scientific claims.

In other books, such as the one by Isabella, there is a learning sequence where a character develops an understanding of the role of culture. In Isabella’s particular story a child named Mary meets a paleontologist (Dr. Jenkins) at a science museum. Mary has an adventure at the science museum, and learns that scientists (and other people) interpret data through the culture in which they live.

Mary learned from Dr. Jenkins that her own inference that a dinosaur’s long neck was like the dinosaur’s came from her social and cultural context. Mary learned that because if she were in a culture without knowledge of giraffes she would not have inferred that similarity.

Figure 6 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of sociocultural context in storybook.

Theory and Law

Again, though not required to include the distinction between theory and law in their stories given it is not in the early childhood curriculum, five preservice teachers did find ways to incorporate theory and law into their stories in accurate ways.

Emma included it in her story of the mother scientist teaching her son about science and NOS. She was one of the few preservice teacher authors who also incorporated the idea that theories never become laws. The others who included theory and law in their stories were clear that theories were explanations for patterns in data that determined laws. It was good to see that there were several who included theory and law—this was the most difficult aspect for the preservice teachers to gain good understandings of as well.

Figure 7 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of theory and law in a storybook.

Assessing the Children’s Books, and Implications

All preservice teachers shared their books with each other at the end of the semester in a book share. In addition, the preservice teachers uploaded electronic versions of their books to a course website that could then be accessed by the course instructor, and electronic copies shared with all students in the class. The course instructor used the criterion sheet shared earlier to review the books for the required elements prior to the book share. Each week after the assignment was introduced there was time to discuss questions or concerns regarding the development of the books. Some preservice teachers indicated a difficulty in conceptualizing an original story, which is when the idea came to take an existing story and revise as a NOS story.

An important component was the inclusion of engaging characters and an interesting story that would teach about NOS, not necessarily a story with original characters. However, some preservice teachers designed their own characters and storylines. In one case, the instructor required a preservice teacher to revise the book prior to sharing as the information was not complete. The books were well received by their peers, and the book sharing had an air of both professionalism, as the preservice teachers were considering how best to aid their own students in conceptualizing NOS, and also “fun,” as it was energizing and fun to see and listen to the stories that were created by the preservice teachers in the class.

The preservice teachers indicated that the assignment seemed valuable to them, as it was something they could take with them into their student teaching, and into their classrooms when they became teachers. They provided feedback to one another during the book sharing, suggesting some wording changes, as well as reinforcing the accuracy of portrayal of NOS ideas when it was needed. It was clear that developing the books helped the preservice teachers think about how to introduce NOS ideas to their elementary students. This focus on ways to portray NOS ideas to elementary students influenced the preservice teachers in refining their own NOS understandings as well as about how to transfer understandings to students. The preservice teachers held good understandings of NOS as evidence by their portrayal of NOS concepts to young children through the story they created. It seems clear to us that designing the children’s books to teach about NOS to their students helped the preservice teachers consider ways to teach NOS to their own students, while continuing to refine their own understandings about NOS. We recommend the use of literacy to  teach about NOS, which seems preservice teachers are very excited to include in their classrooms.

References

Achieve, (2013). Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://www.nextgenscience.org

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Akerson, V. L., Buck, G. A., Donnelly, L. A., Nargund, V., & Weiland, I.S. (2011). The importance of teaching and learning nature of science in the early childhood years. The Journal of Science Education and Technology, 20, 537-549.

Akerson, V. L., & Donnelly, L. A.  (2010). Teaching Nature of Science to K-2 Students: What understandings can they attain? International Journal of Science Education, 32. 97-124.

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Increasing Science Teacher Candidates’ Ability To Become Lifelong Learners Through A Professional Online Learning Community

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Veal, W., Malone, K., Wenner, J.A., Odell, M., & Hines, S.M. (2019). Increasing science teacher candidates’ ability to become lifelong learners through a professional online learning community. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/increasing-science-teacher-candidates-ability-to-become-lifelong-learners-through-a-professional-online-learning-community/

by William Veal, College of Charleston; Kathy Malone, The Ohio State University; Julianne A. Wenner, Boise State University; Michael Odell, University of Texas at Tyler; & S. Maxwell Hines, Winston Salem State University

Abstract

This article describes the use of an online professional learning community within the context of K-8 science education methods courses. The article describes the unique usage of the learning community with preservice teachers at different certification levels within the context of five distinct universities. While each approach is different there exists commonalities of usage. Specifically, the site is used to develop mastery of science content, exposure to pedagogical content knowledge, and classroom activities that focus on authentic science practices. Each case provides specific details of how the preservice teachers were immersed into a learning community that can serve them throughout their teaching career.

Introduction

What is the purpose of a science methods course? It would seem logical that a science methods course would increase the ability of the candidate to learn science content and pedagogy for that content. The actual methods for helping candidates learn to teach science are diverse and include different learning objectives, ‘student’ learning outcomes, and approaches within the classroom. A brief search of syllabi for elementary and middle grades science methods courses at the university level on the Internet yields vastly different approaches to teaching these courses and the reasons why. Science methods courses can be taught to “build fundamental knowledge of elementary science teaching and learning,” teach “strategies to bring scientific inquiry to the elementary classroom,” “increase confidence and enthusiasm for teaching elementary science,” “develop competence and confidence needed to teach science in elementary classrooms,” and “teach science skills and content.” Teacher candidates do not have the time nor training to be able to learn all of the content needed and experience the methods necessary for becoming an ‘experienced’ teacher in their first year of teaching. This article reviews how several university professors focus on a common approach to teaching a science methods course using an online learning community to guide teacher candidates to become lifelong science educators.

The Content of Learning and the Learning of Content

Methods courses are teacher preparation courses designed to prepare teacher candidates to teach a particular content area. There are typically elements of the course that boost content knowledge, but the crux of these courses is allowing teacher candidates to learn and/or practice pedagogical strategies to teach that content effectively. Methods instructors must be thoughtful about not only the activities they employ in their courses to support this knowledge and skill acquisition, but also about the materials and resources they use to support the activities in the course. Moreover, methods instructors must acknowledge they cannot possibly teach everything one needs to know to teach in their content area. Consequently, instructors must also set the foundation for teacher candidates to strategically utilize resources, many of which may be online, so they will be lifelong learners.

Table 1 provides a comparison of common goals of online syllabi from elementary and middle grades science methods courses. The search terms “elementary science methods syllabus” and “middle school science methods syllabus” were used in the Google search window. The first 40 results were downloaded and examined. Three main themes emerge from the syllabi: learning pedagogical skills to teach the science content, developing a set of habits of mind about science, and knowing the science content. In terms of the K-6 student impact, teacher candidates had to translate those skills to the students so that the students could essentially develop the same habits of mind and science content knowledge. Syllabi for courses that included the middle grades (5-8) demonstrated a change in the tenor of the language. When the middle grades course was combined with an elementary science methods course, the middle grades language, goals, and outcomes were very similar to that of the elementary methods course. At many universities, the middle grades science methods courses were combined with the secondary or high school science methods courses. The main differences between elementary and secondary science methods courses were the emphasis on depth of content knowledge and the lessening emphasis on developing habits of mind. Secondary science teachers are considered to have already developed significant content expertise and scientist’s habits of mind.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Sample Science Methods Goals and Outcomes on Syllabi

Science teachers need science content knowledge and the appropriate pedagogical knowledge to teach at their respective levels. Elementary school teachers usually focus on pedagogy and multiple content areas, especially at the younger grade levels where classes are self-contained. In terms of elementary teacher candidates, it is well documented that they often feel unprepared to teach science or have negative attitudes towards science due in many cases to their own personal experiences with science education (Tosun, 2000). At the middle grades level, most teacher candidates have more preparation in one or two science content areas and as a result typically have greater content knowledge depth than elementary teachers. At the secondary level, science teachers have certification to teach one, two, or multiple content areas and are considered to have significant content expertise. Typically, secondary teachers hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in the content they teach. This system of silos can be summarized with a question asked to each level of teacher, “What do you teach?” The elementary teacher might say “children,” the middle school teacher might say “adolescent kids” or “science”, and the secondary teacher would say “chemistry” or “biology.” Content knowledge is needed by all science teachers at all levels. College does not prepare teacher candidates to teach all the content, concepts, and facts that teachers will encounter while in the classroom. Teacher candidates need examples of convenient approaches to learning more science content and pedagogy that can become part of their lifelong learning as professional educators.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

In addition to knowing the content, science educators at all levels also need the pedagogical skills to teach the content, which is often referred to as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). As Bailie (2017) noted, “PCK has…become a ubiquitous word in the preparation of teachers” (p. 633). Science methods instructors have consistently devised activities and lessons to guide teacher candidates to develop the necessary skills for teaching science. For example, Akerson, Pongsanon, Park Rogers, Carter, and Galindo (2017) implemented a lesson study activity in their science methods course that resulted in the early development of PCK for teaching the nature of science. Hanuscin and Zangori (2016) asked teacher candidates to participate in an innovative field experience that led to the beginning development of PCK for teaching in ways consistent with the NGSS. Finally, Hawkins and Park Rogers (2016) added in video-based group reflections to lesson planning and enactment to support the development of teacher candidates’ PCK. And although Davis and Smithey (2009) state that teacher educators may only be able to support the development of ‘PCK readiness’ because teacher candidates do not have much teaching experience to draw upon, it is widely agreed that strong science PCK is a necessity for successful science teaching.

Abell, Appleton, and Hanuscin (2010) state that the “main aim of a science methods course is to produce graduates who…have a ‘starter pack’ of PCK for science teaching” (p. 81). They go on to suggest that teacher candidates in methods courses should not only learn about science content, curriculum, and the nature of science, but also how to elicit students’ understandings of science, use that data to make informed decisions, and have the knowledge and skills to design instruction that support student learning. These results draw upon the foundational characteristics of PCK that science teachers should have (Veal & MaKinster, 1999). However, as Magnusson, Krajacik, and Borko (1999) and Veal and MaKinster (1999) note, content knowledge is the foundation for PCK. This leads science teacher educators to ask, how does one support the simultaneous development of science content knowledge, pedagogy, and science PCK?

Professional Learning Community

Teacher candidates at all levels learn science content and pedagogy so that they are able to teach the concepts in the appropriate manner to K-12 students. While in college, teacher candidates have the opportunity to enroll and complete science and pedagogy courses, but what happens once they begin their professional career? How do teachers maintain relevancy and stay current with new content or pedagogical practices throughout their career? Lifelong learning of science content and pedagogical strategies should be an emphasis in all methods courses. This is often accomplished by establishing and/or participating in a professional learning community (PLC) or communities of practice. One outcome of a PLC is to increase teacher candidates’ self-efficacy in science by exposing them to inquiry in science during their methods course (Avery & Meyer, 2012) as well as help them to learn more science content. A properly formed PLC can connect and scaffold the teacher candidates’ transition from pre to inservice educator establishing them as lifelong learners (e.g., Akerson, Cullen & Hanson, 2009). Without a proper transition, the elementary teacher candidates with low self-efficacy can become in-service teachers who are less likely to seek out professional development that would support improved science teaching (Ramey-Gassert, et al, 1996). In addition, it has been found that if elementary teacher candidates are uncertain about science then they are less likely to use inquiry oriented pedagogy (Appleton & Kindt, 1999; Ramey-Gassert, & Shroyer, 1992) and the performance of their students can be affected (Bybee et al, 2006).

One method to break the continuous cycle of unprepared elementary (K-6) teachers to teach science is to connect them to a community of practitioners during their science methods class as well as throughout their career. One such community could begin in a science methods course and exist as an on-line platform that allows them easy access to content, new pedagogical techniques, and classroom activities that they can rely upon throughout their career. This community could become a source of guidance as they continue to grow as professional educators of science no matter what grade level they end up teaching. The learning community that the methods instructors establish in their science methods courses must involve the learning of pedagogical strategies and content. Dogan, Pringle, and Mesa (2016) conducted a review of empirical studies investigating PLCs and determined that PLCs increased the science teachers’ content knowledge, PCK, and collaboration about student learning. Educator preparation programs are increasingly using the Internet to deliver and supplement their science methods courses with science content projects, courses, articles, and professional networks/forums. For example, Eicki (2017) studied how Edmodo could be used to create an online learning community for learning to teach science. Part of this learning community involved the communication and exchange of lesson plans and opinions about lessons in an online platform.

Given the vast nature of the Internet, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge the quality, applicability, or ‘user-friendliness’ of Internet resources. To help instructors with this problem, there are multiple legitimate educational organizations that have sites for teachers, videos of instruction, and student- and teacher-based content. For example, in this article, we present multiple cases regarding the use of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Learning Center (LC) as a website in which teacher candidates can learn more about science content, find pedagogical tools that match the content, and begin to see the NSTA LC as a learning community. While this article is not an endorsement of the NSTA Learning Center, we are using the Learning Center as an example of how this site can support teacher candidates in developing the dispositions to become lifelong learners in the science education community.

Context

In science methods courses, instructors try to bring together pedagogy that is appropriate to the science content at the level in which the teacher candidates will teach. The problem with developing one course that fits all students is that science methods courses are often geared toward the developmental level of the future K-12 students. Research evidence suggests that if elementary teachers feel unprepared or negative towards science then they are less likely to teach science to their students (Ramey‐Gassert, Shroyer, & Staver, 1996). The disposition to teach science content using appropriate pedagogy is needed. At the elementary level – which can span pre-kindergarten to eighth grade in some states – most methods courses are focused on broader PCK because it is nearly impossible for the teacher candidates to know the science content across all four science disciplines. However, while elementary standards at each grade level require more integration of concepts and less depth of science-specific knowledge, to choose the appropriate pedagogy to teach content well, one must first know the content itself well. Unfortunately, most elementary teacher candidates only take 2-3 science courses as part of their general education requirements that do not prepare them to teach the breadth nor the depth of science concepts in the standards.

Many middle level certificates overlap grade spans with elementary and secondary, so there exists the potential to have a pedagogically strong teacher needing to teach depth in a science or multiple science areas. For example, in South Carolina elementary certification includes grades 2-6 and middle school includes grades 5-8. On the other extreme, a science discipline teacher may be called upon to teach other courses at the middle school. Middle schools across the country may require science teachers to be proficient in all areas of science (e.g., biology, physics, geology, Earth science, astronomy, and chemistry) since the state or national standards are more integrated or each grade level requires multiple science areas. For example, many states have a general middle grades certificate for science, but Oregon has middle level certificates in each of the science disciplines. How can a middle grades teacher be proficient in all disciplines of science? Just taking the introductory courses in each of the four major disciplines would equate to 32 hours of science (lecture and lab for all courses); and, of course, none of these courses would likely teach how to teach these content areas. In addition, even if they successfully completed these courses, odds are the courses do not cover the basic science content they will teach.

The NSTA Learning Center is an online resource that can be utilized for preservice and inservice teaching and learning by providing a professional learning community in which teachers learn from one another by sharing content knowledge, lesson plans, and strategies. The NSTA Learning Center is an online repository of articles, book chapters, webinars, and short courses aimed at improving the content and pedagogical knowledge of preservice and inservice teachers, connecting teachers through online chats, and delivering depth and breadth of science content for primary, middle, and secondary teachers. The science content, interactive learning modules, and articles are peer reviewed and vetted by content and pedagogical experts. The implementation of this type of content has been described as blended learning by Byers and Mendez (2016). Blended learning involves using online resources with “on-site efforts” to teach students. The case studies in this article show how blended learning, inquiry, project-based learning, and independent learning can be supported to provide science content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and PCK to teacher candidates. While elementary and middle school science methods courses cannot provide all the science content and pedagogical strategies they will teach and use, these science methods courses can provide an opportunity to demonstrate and model effective lifelong learning skills.

Early Childhood Teacher Candidates

Case 1

One university offers certification through an early childhood (K-3) Masters of Education (MEd) program. The science methods course is designed to support teacher candidates learning of 1) pedagogical content knowledge, 2) science content knowledge; and 3) connect them to a community of elementary teaching practitioners to support their life-long learning of the teaching of elementary science. The learning experiences provided them with an understanding of science teaching and learning from the perspective of both learner and teacher. Though this is not a science content course, the class does utilize model lessons that exemplify science standards elementary teachers are expected to teach as outlined in national science standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013).

In order to foster long-term and sustained improvement in standards-based science teaching and learning in elementary schools the teacher candidates are asked to demonstrate their understanding of these standards documents by engaging in lesson development during the semester that exemplifies not only the content standards but also exemplary science pedagogical methods grounded in scientific inquiry. The NSTA LC allows the teacher candidates to encounter the use of the 5E method within classroom activities via articles in Science & Children as well as Science Scope, two practitioner publications from NSTA. In addition, NSTA LC e-book chapters are regularly utilized throughout the course. The elementary teacher candidates are required to use the online site as a source of articles about teaching science, as well as basic educational research supporting practice. These NSTA LC resources are used by the teacher candidates to help them develop lesson plans that are based on activities that excite students as well as connect to science content standards.

One aspect of the NSTA LC that the teacher candidates find the most rewarding is the ability to find articles written by other elementary teachers in practitioner journals that have great ideas for their classrooms. For example, when designing lessons focused on the Engineering Design Process many teacher candidates base their lessons on articles and lesson plans found on the LC.  During focus group interviews after the course, one teacher candidate stated that she found the “…readings were relatable and things that we could see doing in our classrooms. So it was really interesting to like keep going in the article.”

The teacher candidates in this M.Ed. program must complete at least one SciPack, read 5 Science Objects, watch two Webinars, listen to two Podcasts, and participate in online discussions with science teachers outside of their class. Teacher candidates also post comments and read the forum to look at past interactions between educators. The Webinars allowed them to listen to educational researchers and scientists discuss new educational policies. Teacher candidates’ use of these resources within the NSTA LC were easily checked on the site as the Learning Center tracks the use of all the resources by students. Thus, the science teacher educator can see if they have used assigned resources such as the SciPacks. The best part of the LC in the teacher candidates’ view is that they were able to put all of the resources they use into a section of the center called “My Library” and those recourses became theirs for the rest of their career! During the post course focus group interviews, teacher candidates mentioned that one down side of the NSTA LC was the cost for a year subscription. But as one teacher candidate said, “Textbooks are sometimes even pricier but with these articles you could save them. Every article I read I saved because I liked the activities that they had.”

The teacher candidates were required to use the Science Objects and SciPacks to learn science content new to them or review content that they were uncomfortable teaching. One goal of the online communities is to illustrate to them that the SciPacks could not only support their content background but usually contain a list of the most common alternative conceptions held by students thus supporting their lesson planning. At the beginning of the class the teacher candidates had voiced concern about not knowing their students’ alternative conceptions due to their own limited science background so this practice alleviated this concern. As one teacher candidate stated, “The articles were very practical and could be used directly in our classroom.  Science is the subject I am most hesitant to teach but the readings made me see how I could teach it.” Several teacher candidates mentioned that they would buy the subscription in future years so they could continue as a member of this community of practice as in-service teachers.

Elementary Teacher Candidates

Case 2

At one Texas university, the NSTA LC has been adopted as the textbook for the Elementary Science Methods course and has been used for the past five years. Teacher candidates have access to the LC during their final methods block of courses prior to student teaching and during student teaching the following semester. Teacher candidates seeking the elementary teaching credential (EC-6) are required to complete four courses in science that must include one course in introductory Biology, Physical Science and Earth Science in addition to pedagogical courses. Typically, teacher candidates seeking elementary certification enroll in science courses for non-science majors. As these are general science courses, there are no guarantees that these courses prepare future elementary teachers in the science content they will be required to teach their future students in the EC-6 classroom.

One of the goals of the course is to prepare teacher candidates to use assessment data to plan and deliver targeted instruction. On the first day of class, teacher candidates complete the latest released version of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness 5th grade science assessment to develop familiarity with the state assessment and to assess their understanding of the elementary science content they are accountable to teach upon completion of their degree.   Preservice teacher results on the 5th Grade STAAR (state level assessment in Texas) released assessments tend to be disappointing in spite of earning passing grades in the university level science courses. The disconnect between scores on the 5th grade STAAR is in part due to lack of alignment of university science courses that elementary teacher candidates complete and the content they will teach. This creates a dilemma for the science methods instructor. Should class time be utilized and designed to prepare elementary teacher candidates in PCK to remediate content knowledge or stay focused on pedagogy? Future teachers need to be prepared in both content and pedagogy. One without the other is problematic.

To address this issue, the teacher candidates analyze the results of their personal STAAR score. Questions on the released test are categorized by science discipline, and as a PLC they work together to identify the state standard and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) each item addresses (Texas Education Agency, 2017). During this process, teacher candidates identify their areas of science content weakness and complete the appropriate NSTA Indexer in the LC for each content area in need of further development. The course instructor identifies and suggests NSTA Professional Development Indexer assessments that align to the content subsections of the STAAR assessment to help guide teacher candidates. Table 2 shows the science content TEKS and the appropriate corresponding Indexer Assessment.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Relationship between TEKS and NSTA Indexers

Typically, teacher candidates complete 3-4 of the NSTA Indexer assessments as a result of the STAAR analysis. The number of Indexer assignments has ranged from 1 to 6, which depends upon their background content knowledge. For the purpose of this course, the teacher candidates were required to complete both the pre and posttests. While the STAAR was used due to contextual location of the university, the NSTA Indexer can be used nationally. Once teacher candidates complete their Indexer assessments, the methods professor works with each candidate to select up to two NSTA SciPacks to remediate their content knowledge in the targeted areas. SciPacks are online modules that are completed outside of class. On average, the teacher candidates improve their content scores on the NSTA Indexer by 40% when they take the posttest compared to the initial indexer score. Elementary teacher candidates have shared anecdotally that the SciPacks are very challenging. Using the Indexer and SciPacks allows the instructor to focus on PCK in class and improve teacher candidate content knowledge without sacrificing class time that is dedicated for pedagogy. The analysis of personal assessment data from an online science teacher site provided the scaffolding for these teacher candidates to become lifelong learners.

Case 3

In 2012, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction sent three representatives to Washington, DC to consult on the development of the Next Generation Science Standards. As representatives for one of the lead states for standards adoption (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the representatives were also charged with curricular development for K-12 science classrooms in North Carolina and by extension, science teacher education and professional development.  NGSS considers science learning within a 3-dimensional framework: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Shortly thereafter in preparation for NGSS standards adoption, the elementary science methods course was reconceived, using the NSTA LC. The use of NSTA LC addressed a number of concerns.

The elementary undergraduate teacher candidates in the university’s programs are extremely diverse. They have attended all manner of public, private, parochial, and home schools. As a result, their level of science pedagogical understanding is not uniform. Before enrolling in the science methods course, all teacher candidates had to pass at least one college-level life science and one physical science course. Performing well in these courses provided no guarantee of attainment of the extensive science content needed to support K-6 science content knowledge.  These teacher candidates also take the NSTA Indexer, content pretest, as the first step in designing a self-study program that will fill the holes in each teacher candidates’ science content knowledge. Teacher candidates take the same Indexer posttest to determine how well they have developed their content knowledge through self-study over the semester.

The teacher candidates must contend with having to complete their studies in light of securing and sustaining employment, and using the NSTA LC allows them the course schedule flexibility to become a certified teacher. In other words, if they cannot work, they cannot complete their studies. For many, maintaining employment interferes with their studies. Using the NSTA LC allows the teacher candidates to continue to work on their classroom assignments in between their employment responsibilities. By being able to access their assignments using their e-textbook and having access to other preservice and inservice professionals, they can study, ask questions, and share their concerns without carrying heavy textbooks or waiting for office hours. The PLC emerged from the need to find a different pedagogical approach to science methods due to the personal nature of the candidates.

The University’s motto is, ‘Enter to learn, depart to serve.’ The responsibility to promote social justice and lifelong learning is palpable throughout the campus. The teacher candidates are required to buy access to their NSTA LC e-textbook for a year. This allows them to use this resource through their methods course and student teaching field experience in which they have time to strike up online discussions of national and regional social justice issues.

Course evaluations and online data about the teacher candidates’ usage of the NSTA LC indicated that teacher candidates who demonstrate the highest level of science efficacy, as measured by course grades and use of the online resources, were also the ones who have taken greatest advantage of participation in the online learning community. For example, several teacher candidates mentioned how they increased their excitement and comfort with searching for and learning about science content and science lessons. Those who have less science efficacy are reluctant to communicate and ask questions with practicing teachers in the online forums despite knowing its value. Data gathered through the NSTA LC administrator’s page, indicated that as science efficacy increased over the span of the science methods course, teacher candidates took advantage of the online science learning community. Since all teacher candidates were required to maintain an online ‘portfolio’ (Professional Development Indexer or Learning Plan), there was an increase in the amount of online artifacts (downloadable chapters, articles, lesson plans, podcasts, and videos) from the beginning of the year to the end.

The adoption of the NSTA LC supports teacher candidates to conceive science from a 3-dimensional, national perspective, rather than a 2-dimensional, state perspective. It allowed the diverse teacher candidates to personalize their learning of science content with the accessible 24/7 access to content, pedagogical strategies, and online discussions of various social justice issues. The improvement of lifelong learning through the use of an online professional development community requires continued study, but the outcomes are most promising.

Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Candidates

Case 4

In one university in Idaho, teacher candidates seeking an elementary (K-8) certification take one science methods course, typically at the junior or senior level, one or two semesters before they embark on their year-long field experience. Prior to taking this course, PSTs must have taken two natural science courses with labs (for a total of 8 credit hours); these prerequisites run the gamut from geosciences to astronomy and from biology to chemistry. On the first day of class, teacher candidates are asked to describe their feelings about teaching science at the elementary level. The responses are typically split evenly, with half providing some version of “scared” and half providing some version of “excited.” The case describes a journey into how the implementation of NSTA LC evolved over a year of teaching a science methods course.  The NSTA LC was first implemented into this elementary science methods course in the Spring of 2016 with three goals in mind: 1) to introduce teacher candidates to a supportive professional community; 2) to provide science content knowledge support when needed; and 3) to use practitioner articles to illustrate topics in the course.

As previously noted, the NSTA LC houses lesson plans, books and book chapters, and even opportunities for conferences and professional development. By introducing teacher candidates to the NSTA LC, the goal is to motivate them to find NSTA to be a useful resource and become a lifelong learner. These hopes seemed to bear out, as evidenced by the comments received from teacher candidates in course evaluations over five semesters that they appreciated the LC because they could keep documents in their library forever and refer back to them and the LC when teaching. One teacher candidate stated her appreciation of the resource by stating, “The NSTA LC had so many more resources and articles (written by a variety of authors) that we would not have read in a book,” while another teacher candidate said, “I like that I can keep this account and use the information in my own classroom.”

Given the wild variations in content knowledge encountered in the teacher candidates in the course, the implementation of the NSTA LC resources were used to immediately support teacher candidates in their science understandings for the course, and also demonstrate how one could use the LC to learn/review content for future teaching. Throughout the semester, the teacher candidates were required to complete three Science Objects that related to elementary science centers (Kittleson, Dresden, & Wenner, 2013) they taught during the semester. Unlike the case studies discussed above, candidates in this class were not required to complete the entire NSTA PD Indexer for the course, but rather strongly encouraged to complete this and ‘brush up’ on content prior to their science PRAXIS tests. Indeed, some candidates did recognize the usefulness of the LC in terms of boosting content knowledge that then enabled them to better structure their science centers, and by citing how it could support “individual learning” for the PRAXIS tests and in their careers. Beyond qualitative responses on course evaluations, downloaded statistics from each class cohort on the NSTA LC paint a promising picture: The majority of candidates downloaded at least ten Science Objects and SciPacks throughout their semester in the course. While downloading these resources does not necessarily mean that candidates completed/intend to complete them, anecdotally, teacher candidates shared that they often download the Science Objects and SciPacks as a preventative measure of sorts, thinking about what they may need to learn/review once they have their own classrooms. It is certainly encouraging that PSTs acknowledge they may have gaps in their content knowledge and see that the NSTA LC may be a way to help fill those future gaps.

The use of practitioner articles found in the NSTA LC brings the realities of science activity implementation into the classroom. The articles connect theory and practice and illustrate what elementary science can look like. On average, 30 NSTA practitioner journal articles (from Science and Children and Science Scope) are assigned for teacher candidates to read throughout the semester. These readings cover topics such as integrating the NGSS and Common Core State Standards (CCSS, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) , argumentation, science for all students, assessment, and engineering at the elementary level. Many teacher candidates commented on the usefulness of these articles, stating, “The articles that we read were beneficial and related to the discussions we had in the classroom,” and “I will refer back to all the articles when I am teaching.” And while the majority of articles downloaded by teacher candidates were the assigned readings, nearly all of them downloaded additional articles related to other assignments in the course (lesson plans, student misconceptions, etc.), indicating that teacher candidates found the articles to be useful resources. The ensuing discussions about content from the articles helped to establish an atmosphere of professional exchange of ideas to teaching science concepts that they intend to use well into their careers as lifelong learners.

Case 5

This elementary and middle level science methods course is taught at a university in the southeast. The course focuses on the PCK necessary to teach science, which includes science content knowledge and instructional strategies. Since the focus is on teacher candidates who will become certified to teach from grade 2 to 8, the focus is on general science pedagogy with content-specific examples so that activities and demonstrations can show the depth of concepts at different grade levels within the spiral curriculum. For example, two weeks are spent discussing misconceptions related to seasons and moon phases. The content is appropriate in that the activities relate the content at the fourth and eighth grade levels due to the science standards in the state. While discussing how to introduce and conduct activities, teachers need to know depth of knowledge so that they can address potential and real misconceptions. The teacher candidates must learn the content of why there are seasons and why there are different phases of the moon not just the facts of seasons and the names of phases of the moon.

The course emphasizes learning appropriate science content knowledge for specific lesson plans so that inappropriate activities and misconceptions are not taught. While the course grade and objectives cannot require the students to know all science content knowledge in the grade 2-8 standards, it is a learning outcome that the teacher candidates can research the content needed for that lesson plan. Reading book chapters and articles and communicating with classroom teachers in an online platform helped teacher candidates understand how to teach specific topics better as evidenced by their graded and implemented lesson plans over the course of the semester. The NSTA LC was chosen for its ease of use and type of activities that could be used by teacher candidates so that they could learn content, develop pedagogical skills, and participate in a community of teachers who share ideas.

The teacher candidates in the combined elementary and middle grades science methods course subscribe to the NSTA LC for six months. During this time period they download any content they feel they can and will use in the future. These downloaded resources are theirs for a lifetime. The NSTA LC is integrated into a project for integrating science content and pedagogy. The project requires the teacher candidates to take a pre-test exam, gather online resources from the site’s resources, complete mini-courses about the science topic, and complete a posttest after six weeks. While not part of the course grade, participating and engaging in the online professional discussions and posts is encouraged so that the teacher candidates learn to become part of an extended PLC. Besides the use of the NSTA LC as a project assignment, the website is used during normal instruction to show other possible activities, lesson plans, and explanations of concepts. The project and use of the NSTA LC is more of a self-guided endeavor because when they become classroom teachers they will have to learn more science content on their own and this is one effective method for doing it. Online learning of science content within a community of science teachers is how current teachers develop and grow the depth of their topic-specific PCK. This project and use of the NSTA LC allows teacher candidates to learn this process in a controlled environment in which the content is controlled and other professionals can assist in the learning to implement science content.

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, this article showcased multiple ways to use the online NSTA Learning Center as part of pK-8 science methods courses. The LC has been used as a method to learn topic-specific PCK in multiple contexts as well as an interactive tool for teacher candidates to investigate general pedagogy. In all of the cases there is anecdotal evidence concerning the effectiveness of using the LC either as an addition to one’s course or in lieu of the course textbook. However, as can be seen in a number of the cases the LC is not just a tool one can use in the science methods course but can become part of the teacher candidates’ journey as professional educators to become lifelong learners as they develop PCK. The authors feel that these benefits far outweigh the cost of the use of the LC and put the teacher candidates on the road to becoming highly efficient teachers of science. As one teacher candidate stated:

I found the resources provided for us….like we got NSTA. Most of those articles were pretty applicable. They had ideas you could use in your own classroom. It is so beneficial. It was pricey but it was worth it as we used it every week. The site had very valuable information that I would use in the future.

Part of establishing a community of lifelong learners is to develop the context in which teacher candidates can learn from multiple resources, participate in active dialogue about teaching and learning science, and develop appropriate lesson plans and activities using diverse sources of science content and pedagogy. The introduction and discussion of forming a community of lifelong learners necessitates the need for research to determine the benefits of using online, interactive, and collaborative sites in developing science teacher candidates. The idea and implementation of a single textbook and downloaded articles are gone. The new generation of teacher candidates need more dynamic and interactive methods for developing science content and pedagogy. Online sites for promoting lifelong learning of content, pedagogy, and PCK will become the standard in the near future.

References

Akerson, V. L., Cullen, T. A., & Hanson, D. L. (2009). Fostering a community of practice through a professional development program to improve elementary teachers’ views of nature of science and teaching practice. Journal of research in Science Teaching46, 1090-1113.

Appleton, K., & Kindt, I. (1999). Why teach primary science? Influences on beginning teachers’ practices. International Journal of Science Education21, 155-168.

Avery, L. M., & Meyer, D. Z. (2012). Teaching Science as Science Is Practiced: Opportunities and Limits for Enhancing Preservice Elementary Teachers’ Self‐Efficacy for Science and Science Teaching. School Science and Mathematics112, 395-409.

Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Powell, J. C., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins and effectiveness. Colorado Springs, Co: BSCS5, 88-98.

Byers, A., & Mendez, F. (2016). Blended professional learning for science educators: The NSTA Learning Center. Teacher learning in the digital age: Online professional development in STEM education, 167

Dogan, S., Pringle, R., & Mesa, J. (2016). The impacts of professional learning communities on science teachers’ knowledge, practice and student learning: A review. Professional Development in Education, 42, 569-588.

Ekici, D. I. (2017). The Effects of Online Communities of Practice on Pre-Service Teachers’ Critical Thinking Dispositions. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics Science and Technology Education13, 3801-3827.

Kittleson, J., Dresden, J., & Wenner, J.A. (2013).  Describing the Supported Collaborative Teaching Model: A designed setting to enhance teacher education. School-University Partnerships, 6(2), 20-31.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Authors: Washington D.C.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Ramey-Gassert, L., & Shroyer, M. G. (1992). Enhancing science teaching self-efficacy in preservice elementary teachers. Journal of Elementary Science Education4, 26-34.

Ramey‐Gassert, L., Shroyer, M. G., & Staver, J. R. (1996). A qualitative study of factors influencing science teaching self‐efficacy of elementary level teachers. Science Education80, 283-315.

Veal, W.R., & MaKinster, J.G. (1999). Pedagogical content knowledge taxonomies. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 3(4). Retrieved from http://ejse.southwestern.edu/article/view/7615/5382

Vick, M.E. (2018). Designing a third space science methods course. Innovations in Science Teacher Education 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-a-third-space-science-methods-course/

A Toolkit to Support Preservice Teacher Dialogue for Planning NGSS Three-Dimensional Lessons

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Sinapuelas, M.L.S., Lardy, C., Korb, M.A., & DiStefano, R. (2018). Toolkit to support preservice teacher dialogue for planning NGSS three-dimensional lessons. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/a-toolkit-to-support-preservice-teacher-dialogue-for-planning-ngss-three-dimensional-lessons/

by Michelle L.S. Sinapuelas, California State University, East Bay; Corinne Lardy, California State University, Sacramento; Michele A. Korb, California State University, East Bay; & Rachelle DiStefano, California State University, East Bay

Abstract

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) on which they are based, require a shift in preservice science teacher preparation. NGSS aligned instruction calls to engage learners in the use of authentic science and engineering practices (SEPs) and crosscutting concepts (CCCs) to develop understanding of disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) within the context of a scientific phenomenon (Bybee, 2014; NRC, 2015). To ensure beginning teachers are prepared for this shift, university programs are changing teacher preparation to meet this new vision. This happens primarily in science methods courses where specific supports must be in place to prepare preservice teachers and facilitate course reforms (Bybee, 2014; Krajcik, McNeill, & Reiser, 2008). This paper describes the Next Generation Alliance for Science Educators Toolkit (Next Gen ASET) that was designed to support shifting instructional needs within science methods courses to align with the vision of the NGSS. While not meant to replace existing methods course curriculum, this toolkit promotes dialogue explicit to the vision of the NGSS. Two teaching scenarios demonstrate how the Next Gen ASET Toolkit has been implemented in science methods courses, illustrating its flexibility of and how they accommodate the inclusion of various lesson planning and instructional styles.

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) on which they are based, require a shift in preservice science teacher (PST) preparation. NGSS aligned instruction calls to engage K-12 students and new teachers in the use of authentic science and engineering practices (SEPs) and crosscutting concepts (CCCs) to develop understanding of disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) within the context of a scientific phenomenon (Bybee, 2014; NRC, 2015). Therefore, it must be modeled for PSTs how to weave together these three dimensions in the classroom, as they will be expected to align instruction with these goals as they begin their teaching careers.

At the university level the instructional shifts required to align teacher preparation to meet the vision of the Framework and NGSS are most likely to happen within teacher credentialing programs by revising or replacing some of the components of the science teaching methods courses (Bybee, 2014). Yet to accomplish this, science education faculty leading these efforts require tools or supports that assist PSTs to explicitly unpack standards and illuminate their underlying components (Krajcik, McNeill, & Reiser, 2008). Tools that have undergone systematic analysis and field-testing in real education contexts are required for facilitating such understanding (Bryk, Gomez, Grunow, & LeMahieu, 2015; Lewis, 2015). The Next Generation Alliance for Science Educators Toolkit (Next Gen ASET) presented in this paper was designed to provide such scaffolds to prompt discussion and lesson planning that align with the goals of the NGSS. The toolkit and examples of its integration into science methods courses are featured here.

The Next Generation Alliance for Science Educators Toolkit (Next Gen ASET)

Science educators, scientists, and curriculum specialists worked collaboratively over the course of three academic years to develop the Next Gen ASET Toolkit and integrated these tools into science methods courses across six universities. The Improvement Science (IS) framework (Berwick, 2008; Bryk et al., 2015; Lewis, 2015) informed the design of this study in developing and revising the toolkit in methods courses over this 3-year period. This approach allowed for an iterative design process that involved feedback from both the practitioner and end-users as well as for revisions of the tools as they were implemented as part of instruction.

The Next Gen ASET Toolkit is designed to support science methods course instruction to shift towards NGSS-alignment. This includes consideration of how to effectively integrate the three dimensions outlined in the Framework (NRC, 2012) while still considering other effective instructional practices in science education that are commonly addressed in methods courses. The toolkit consists of a one-page overarching graphic organizer (3D Map) and a set of eight tools with guiding criteria to support understanding of the individual SEPs (SEP Tools). A digital version of the toolkit was created to further support its use in methods courses (https://www.nextgenaset.org). The website provides access to the most current versions of the 3D Map and SEP Tools as well as descriptions and supports specific to the use of each. The tools are not meant to be used in isolation, but with peers to promote discourse for understanding the goals and aligning instruction for the NGSS. When used as part of a science methods course with direction from the instructor, these tools can support PSTs to align instruction to the NGSS vision. The following sections further describe the 3D Map and SEP Tools, followed by examples of how these have been used in methods courses.

3-Dimensional Mapping Tool (3D Map)

The 3D Map (Figure 1) was developed as a one-page graphic organizer to help ground discussions of curriculum and instruction in the dimensions of the NGSS, while linking these to larger topics generally discussed as part of instructional planning in a science methods course. The inclusion of topics outside the three dimensions of NGSS as part of the 3D Map extended beyond simply identifying the standards being used in a lesson, and to make connections of how these can be effectively aligned with instructional practices in the science classroom. The 3D Map was not intended to replace the use of more traditional lesson planning templates or other supports, but instead complement and provide a structure for making explicit the ways in which a lesson or unit integrates the components of NGSS. The 3D Map allows enough flexibility in its use to accommodate consideration of existing teaching strategies typically included in a methods course.

The structure of the 3D Map

The 3D Map is arranged with four rows of boxes, each labeled with an instructional component to be considered with room for notes or description of how each of these elements is addressed in a given lesson or unit. The top two rows of boxes on the 3D Map link to larger topics generally discussed as part of lesson planning in a science methods course and arose from consideration of how this tool would integrate with the other course topics. The bottom two rows of boxes include each of the three dimensions of NGSS and spaces for describing how these three dimensions are connected within a lesson or unit. The individual boxes are connected with arrows to indicate relationships between elements with respect to lesson or unit planning.

The top row of boxes includes elements to help orient PSTs and identify the context, goals, and boundaries of a lesson or unit. From left to right this top row has boxes for “Grounding Phenomenon/Essential Question,” “Conceptual Goals,” and “Performance Expectations.” The placement of the “Grounding Phenomenon” box in the upper left corner of the map was intentional, to prompt users to explicitly consider phenomena at the beginning of the planning process, and to promote anchoring lessons to a natural phenomenon while examining existing science instructional segments or planning for new ones. Given that a phenomenon serves as the driver of the science lessons (NRC, 2012), teacher preparation programs need to include a focus on developing teachers’ abilities to engage their students in explanations of natural phenomena (Kloser, 2014; NRC, 2015; Windschitl et al., 2012). The separate box for “Conceptual Goals” was included to allow users to translate this visual phenomenon they planned to explore into a scientific context. The third box, “Performance Expectation(s)” was included to prompt consideration of these larger learning goals as defined by the NGSS.

The second row of boxes prompts the identification of “Learning Objectives” and “Assessments.” The inclusion of a box labeled “Learning Objectives” separate from the “Performance Expectation(s)” (PEs) box was purposeful.  The intent was to signal PSTs to consider the relationships and differences between this larger benchmark for proficiency in science (i.e., PEs) and the smaller lesson-level learning goals in an instructional segment (Krajcik et al., 2014). Current literature indicates that PEs as written in the standards are not meant to be used as lesson-level learning goals (Bybee, 2013; Krajcik et al., 2014); “many lessons will be required for students to develop skills to reach proficiency for a particular NGSS performance expectation” (Houseal, 2015, p. 58). The separate box “Learning Objectives” was therefore included to prompt PSTs to write more specific learning goals based on, but more narrow in scope than, the PEs. The “Assessment” box was included to align with the structure of backward design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2001), an important component of many methods courses, and utilized within the course the 3D Map was originally developed. Consideration of assessment was intended to support PSTs to develop understanding of how to effectively assess learning goals for a lesson or unit, a key component of planning effective instruction (Davis, Petish, & Smithey, 2006). While the assessment box has an arrow connecting with the box for learning objectives, it does not make a connection with the larger PEs since the goal was to include assessments specific for the lesson or unit level, not these larger goals defined by the NGSS.

The bottom two rows of this graphic organizer consist of boxes for PSTs to list specific components of each NGSS dimension present in the lesson or unit, and then to describe how connections among the dimensions were made explicit (NRC, 2012). This design mirrors the integration of the three dimensions provided in the Framework and the NGSS and is consistent with literature providing the rationale for explicating connections among the dimensions for both content and learning objectives (Houseal, 2015; Krajcik et al., 2014). The structure includes color-coding to match the representation of SEPs in blue, DCIs in orange and CCCs in green. The colors of the boxes for the three dimensions of the NGSS and associated connecting arrows were chosen to align with the colors used by Achieve in the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013) to provide a visual connection back to the standards. The visuals and discrete boxes in the 3D Map promote a constructivist approach to co-creating a group understanding of the shifts in pedagogy and curricular structure necessary to implement the integrated and complex components of the NGSS.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Three-dimensional mapping tool.

Science and Engineering Practice Tools (SEP Tools)

The SEP Tools (see Figure 2 for example) were developed for use in conjunction with the 3D Map to help PSTs identify specific components of a SEP to hone objectives in a given lesson or unit. At first glance the eight SEPs outlined in the NGSS appear straightforward to many PSTs. However, the description of each SEP in the Framework (NRC, 2012) presents a much more complex vision. The goal of the SEP Tools is to make this complexity more explicit. A brief description is provided at the top of each SEP tool as defined in the Framework (NRC, 2012).  Below this description, the tool lists separate subcomponents that classroom students should experience in structured opportunities across the 6-8 grade band in order to completely engage in that SEP. These components are arranged on the left side of a matrix with columns to the right where PSTs may indicate which of these components from a given SEP are present in a lesson. There is also space on the tool to describe evidence of each component, including the actions a teacher takes to facilitate these components as well as how the students are engaging in each.

This matrix for completion by the PSTs detailing the SEP subcomponents is formatted to fit on 1-2 pages depending on the number of subcomponents. The criteria included on the last page of each SEP Tool is meant to be a reference for each component, defining for PSTs what students should do to have a structured opportunity to develop an understanding of each component by the end of the 6-8 grade band, as described in the Framework (NRC, 2012).

Figure 2 (Click on the following link to view). Science and engineering tool example.

Implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit in Science Methods Courses

In this section, we describe examples of how the tools have been implemented within science methods courses at two different public universities. Each of these courses enrolls PSTs who are completing requirements to teach science at the secondary level (grades 6-12). The two scenarios demonstrate the flexibility of the tools as each instructor implemented them in different ways but with the same overarching goal of promoting PSTs’ discussion and understanding of three-dimensional lessons. (Note: some of the 3D Map samples differ in their labels from one another as they were used at different stages in the three-year process of designing the 3D Map).

Example 1: Starting with the 3D Map

This first example describes how the Next Gen ASET Toolkit was incorporated into a yearlong science methods course. The instructor had previously explored ways to incorporate the three dimensions of the NGSS into her course but reported that her students lacked the support to make connections across the dimensions, particularly within the context of a phenomenon. The course maintained its existing pedagogical strategies such as the 5E learning cycle, backward design, and science literacy approach (Bybee et al., 2006; Lee, Quinn, & Valdes, 2013; Wiggins & McTighe, 2001), but then focused the NGSS themed discussions via the toolkit. In this case, the instructor began with the 3D Map to frame the larger picture of the NGSS, and then introduced the SEP Tools later to explore the complexities of the practices within a three-dimensional context.

During the first few weeks of the course, the PSTs were introduced to the following overarching phenomenon: consider the yearly weather and temperature differences between two cities residing on the same latitude approximately 150 miles apart. One city is inland, the other on an ocean coast. The instructor then modeled lessons which could be used in a middle or high school classroom to explore this phenomenon.  Throughout this process, the instructor referred to a large, laminated version of the 3D Map. As the PSTs learned about the 3-dimensions of the NGSS (PEs, SEPs, DCIs, and CCCs), and related concepts of phenomena and essential questions, the instructor noted how these are integrated using the 3D Map. As new phenomena were introduced (such as ocean acidification), PSTs were challenged to add their own ideas of how model lessons incorporated components of the NGSS by gradually adding colored sticky notes into the related sections of the 3D Map on the wall (See Figure 3). This allowed PSTs to engage in making their own connections between sample activities and lessons modeled in the methods class to the boxes on the 3D Map. Throughout the course, PSTs continued to add other sticky notes to the 3D Map to illustrate the multiple layers and interconnectedness characteristic of a larger instructional segment aligned with the goals of the NGSS.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Course example 1 classroom 3D map.

Using the 3D Map in this way was also beneficial in that it allowed the instructor to understand where her PSTs struggled with NGSS. For example, regarding the phenomenon of the two cities described above, the PSTs identified the following performance expectation as relevant: MS-ESS2-6. Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates. However, when pressed to modify their own statement of a phenomenon related to this instructional segment, the PSTs overwhelmingly responded with “properties of water.”  The instructor noted in her reflections with the research team how this demonstrated PSTs’ focus on content with little connection to the larger phenomenon intended. In addition, she cited that the PSTs struggled to indicate how the lessons engaged in specific components of a SEP including data collection, identifying patterns, creating flow charts as descriptions of energy flow, and identifying connections between climate and location of cities. Therefore, she found they required prompting in a more specific manner; this is where the SEP Tool for Analyzing and Interpreting Data became useful for focusing specific student actions aligned with unit objectives and therefore relevant assessments.

A unit plan was used as a culminating assessment for the PSTs to demonstrate their ability to utilize the tools. Teams used the 3D Map to plan an interdisciplinary unit related to climate change topics where specific data collection activities were highlighted with emphasis on the SEPs: Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Constructing Explanations.  For instance, one group designed a unit to investigate the phenomenon of coral bleaching (See Figure 4). As PSTs planned, they utilized the 3D Map to guide the structure of their unit: identifying a particular phenomenon, choosing relevant conceptual goals related to that phenomenon (e.g., ocean acidification, pH changes, carbon cycles, impact of acidification on shelf-forming animals), associated and bundled Performance Expectations; related SEPs that would support the concepts and phenomenon (e.g. collecting and analyzing data from live and archived online estuary stations); chose DCIs that integrated life and physical sciences (LS2.B: Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems; PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life; LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience) and applied appropriate, transcending connections found in at least one CCC (i.e. Cause and Effect) – all of which translated into various formative and summative assessment opportunities aligned to unit objectives.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Course example 1 coral bleaching student map.

Example 2: Starting with the SEP Tools

This second example describes how the Next Gen ASET Toolkit was incorporated into a 1-semester (16 weeks) science methods course. While the course had previously emphasized curricular methods that were hands-on and followed the inquiry approach to teaching science, inclusion of NGSS beyond simply stating the architecture, which provided a surface level introduction, had not yet happened. The course instructor decided to use the SEP Tools in class during the first few weeks to facilitate reflection and discussion, and then introduce the 3D Map later in the semester.

During the second week of class, PSTs engaged in a traditional lesson around scientific inquiry, working to construct a model of what might be happening inside an opaque box. During this lesson, the PSTs worked in small groups to investigate what was inside a given set of black plastic boxes. After completing the activity, the PSTs were given the SEP Tool for Constructing Explanations. They selected which of the subcategories this activity engaged them in and used this tool to guide discussion in small groups and then as a larger class. After using this SEP Tool, during the following class meeting PSTs were given a brief overview of the NGSS architecture and vision for connecting three dimensions in learning. Focus was given to the SEPs when first introducing the NGSS. It was also discussed how some of these traditional lessons around inquiry do not truly integrate elements of each dimension and how these might be modified to allow for exploration of a DCI using these SEPs.

In the following weeks the instructor went into more depth with these PSTs about the other dimensions of the NGSS as well as overarching instructional goals. During the eighth week of class PSTs were shown the 3D Map. At this point in the course they were familiar with the NGSS and its dimensions. They had also spent time learning about how to write learning objectives and instructional strategies in science aligned with inquiry methods.

At this point, the instructor spent two hours in class engaging the PSTs in a model lesson on genetics. The PSTs participated as the students would in the lesson. Groups of PSTs were given various family histories based on genetic counseling interviews. The PSTs were provided some instruction on how to construct a pedigree and then tasked to use the information provided about their given family and construct a pedigree to determine what information they would tell this family if they were a genetic counselor working with them. Within the context of the pedigree sample lesson, the SEP tool for Analyzing and Interpreting Data (see Figure 5 for example) was used to help guide discussion of what is considered data in science and how scientists work with data. The instructor first prompted the PSTs to read the subcomponents listed and indicate which of these they felt the lesson included, supported with evidence of these components in the lesson. The instructor pointed out multiple times that although each SEP had multiple subcomponents, the goal of a given lesson was not to include all of these but instead to practice and assess one or two of them.

Figure 5 (click on image to enlarge). Course example 2 student SEP tool.

After this discussion of the SEP, a laminated version of the 3D Map was revealed to the class. The instructor reviewed how each box on the map related to the NGSS or larger ideas around lesson planning in science. The PSTs were then given sticky notes (each group a different color) and told to use these to put their group’s ideas for each box onto the map. The instructor had put notes for the NGSS standards and PE to focus students’ time on discussion of how these were connected in the lesson as well as related ideas on the map.  At the end of this class period the laminated 3D Map was full of sticky notes indicating each group’s contribution by color (Figure 6).

Figure 6 (Click on image to enlarge). Course example 2 classroom 3D map.

The following class period, approximately 90 minutes were spent discussing the different groups’ responses on the 3D Map. Much of the discussion centered on the phenomenon, conceptual goals, and how the three dimensions of the NGSS were linked in the lessons (bottom row of boxes). The use of the 3D Map guided the PSTs to think about how different elements of the NGSS and lesson planning needed to be considered when planning instruction. While no “best response” was given by the end of the discussion, PSTs expressed consideration of how multiple ideas presented from the sticky notes might help connect dimensions as well as increased confidence in understanding the vision of designing lessons to explore content around a given phenomenon.

Following this discussion using sticky notes, the 3D Map was placed on the wall in the classroom and referred to as the class continued to explore exemplar lessons and dimensions of the NGSS. As in the first scenario, PSTs in this course completed a culminating assessment of a lesson sequence that included completion of a 3D Map. The PSTs in this course completed this assignment individually, with some time in class given to share ideas and critique phenomenon identified for their lessons.

In a written reflection at the end of the course, when asked about the experience of implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit, the second instructor reported:

“Before ASET, my approach to the NGSS was almost exclusively through my students engaging in the SEPs – basically, for me, equating having students engaged in learning through the SEPs was equivalent to engaging them in learning science through inquiry. […]  Having done the ASET ‘prompted’ explicit work introducing my students to the DCIs and CCCs, and continuing with the SEPs.  The use of the 3D map as an integral component of my culminating assignment has 1) Supported my own understanding of what 3D planning can really look like in actual classroom practice and thus 2) given me the confidence that using the ASET tools with my students will truly support their understanding of the NGSS and their implementation of authentic and engaging science lessons for their future students.”

This quote suggests that integrating the Next Gen ASET Toolkit into this course not only supported PSTs’ understanding of the NGSS, but supported the faculty instructor in making his own teaching strategies related to NGSS more explicit.

Discussion

While the two examples described start with the use of different tools, they each demonstrate the flexibility of these tools for their use with a variety of model lessons. The promotion of discourse was inherent in the purposeful design of the 3D Map and the SEP Tools. Without the visual scaffold and the ability to make notes on a large laminated 3D Map, or on large handouts in the methods classroom, the complex conversations around planning for the NGSS would be lost in a disconnected set of activities and course assignments.

In the first scenario, the larger vision of NGSS represented by the 3D Map was presented first and then followed with exploring the complexities of the practices through use of the SEP Tools. For instance, activities related to the ocean as a heat reservoir (activities and lessons including models of ocean currents, wind patterns, weather patterns, thermal expansion of water, etc.) initially were perceived by PSTs as isolated activities to illustrate a limited number of concepts. However, conversations guided by the 3D Map framed the phenomenon of temperature differences between a coastal and an inland city at the same latitude; PSTs began to understand the connections instruction should make to connect a series of lessons to support this phenomenon.

In the second scenario, focus was given to the complexity of the SEPs first and then expanded to the 3D Map, including the larger picture of how to align science instruction with the NGSS. In this case, the SEP Tools helped to demonstrate how the practices can be used in different ways depending on the lesson. For example, in the pedigree activity, at first many PSTs did not think of qualitative data as data that students would use for analysis. However, through their discussion, framed by the SEP Tool for Analyzing and Interpreting Data, PSTs were able to focus on the various ways that they engaged with data in this way.

The visual 3D Map and the SEP Tools allowed for discussion of the various ways to make these connections clearer, made assessment possibilities more salient, and reinforced the relationships between doing science (SEPs) and understanding the concepts (DCIs) through specific lenses that link the domains of science (CCCs) serving as ways to assess overarching connections related to a given phenomenon. As is demonstrated in the examples, the role of the instructor was essential to guide this discussion for PSTs. As the instructor highlighted essential elements and relationships on the tools, PSTs were supported to make connections between course activities and the vision of the NGSS. Previous attempts to make broad and unstructured connections between model lessons and the NGSS dimensions were not as successful for either instructor. The first instructor lacked the support to make these explicit connections and the second instructor had only made surface level connections to the architecture with no depth to the vision for instruction aligned to the NGSS.  Integration of these courses with the Next Gen ASET Tookit made elements, which had been implicit, much more explicit to PSTs. They provided the structure and support needed to prompt meaningful discussions with appropriate scaffolds.

The Next Gen ASET Toolkit is not meant to be separated into stand-alone tools but are meant to be used as part of a larger course that together with exemplar lessons and dialogue, support understanding of the complexity of planning for the NGSS, guided by the course instructor.  These tools should not simply be handed to an instructor without support since they may not know how to effectively integrate these tools to support discussion or themselves may be unprepared/untrained in how to align instruction to the NGSS.  The current website provides some support for implementing these tools. These limitations show the importance of using the Next Gen ASET Toolkit while also participating in discussion with other methods course instructors and other individuals who understand how to effectively align instruction to the NGSS.

Next Steps

This paper reports on the first three years of our five-year study as the Next Gen ASET Toolkit was developed and implemented.  The toolkit is currently being implemented in science methods courses across five of the original six university campuses.  The faculty member at the sixth campus, due to commitments on other projects, is not currently able to teach the methods course at the university.  Each of these courses includes a culminating activity for PSTs to generate a lesson sequence or unit plan, using the 3D Map to help guide the development. In each course, the SEP Tools and 3D Map are utilized to help promote and support discussion around the NGSS. Instructors from each campus meet via videoconference monthly and discuss the progress of instruction via use of the tools by sharing data collected on student artifacts and course activities. The project team is currently expanding this network to include more campuses to engage in research using these tools. This expansion includes exploring the use of these tools with inservice teachers as well as with university supervisors to support the reflective dialogue happening as they observe PSTs’ field-experiences.

The instructors currently implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit report that these tools assist their PSTs in developing lessons that integrate the three-dimensionality and complexity of the NGSS. During monthly videoconferences these instructors share results from their courses and suggestions for how to improve instruction. These instructors are also involved with considering any further improvements to the tools based on results from their use in the courses.  The toolkit shows promise to be an example of the tools that have been called for to assist PSTs in explicitly unpacking these standards and illuminate their underlying components (Krajcik, McNeill, & Reiser, 2008).

Conclusion

The university courses currently implementing the Next Gen ASET Toolkit are shifting instruction within methods courses to align their teacher preparation program to meet the vision of the Framework and the NGSS (NRC, 2012). Integration of these tools into a methods course alongside exemplar lessons allows for the instructor to make explicit connections to the NGSS. The 3D Map allows for a visual scaffold and dialogue of how the lesson or lesson sequence integrates dimensions of the NGSS. The 3D Map also allows PSTs to visualize the variety of components necessary to consider in creating effective lessons aligned to the NGSS. The SEP tools provide explicit ways for the instructor to convey the complexities of each of these practices as well as guiding PSTs to consider how they will best include these in their own lessons. While this toolkit is not meant to be used in isolation, when used to promote discussion and reflection alongside model lessons it has shown promise to allow instructors to shift their instruction to support students understanding of the NGSS.

Acknowledgements

We thank the National Science Foundation who supported the research reported in this paper through a Discovery Research K12 grant, Award No. DRL-1418440.  Thank you to our faculty partners who implemented this toolkit in their courses and support the research efforts:  Jennifer Claesgens, Larry Horvath, Hui-Ju Huang, Resa Kelly, Jenna Porter, Donna Ross, David Tupper, Meredith Vaughn, Lin Xiang.  Thank you also to the many preservice teachers who provided feedback on the tools as they were implemented in their instruction.

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Kloser, M. (2014). Identifying a core set of science teaching practices: A delphi expert panel approach. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51, 1185-1217.

Krajcik, J., Codere, S., Dahsah, C., Bayer, R., & Mun, K. (2014). Planning instruction to meet the intent of the Next Generation Science Standards. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 25, 157-175.

Krajcik, J., McNeill, K. L., & Reiser, B. J. (2008). Learning goals driven design model: Developing curriculum materials that align with national standards and incorporate project based pedagogy. Science Education, 92, 1-32.

Lee, O., Quinn, H., & Valdez, G. (2013). Science and language for english language learners in relation to next generation science standards and with implications for common core state standards for english language arts and mathematics.  Educational Researcher, 42, 223-233.

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Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., Braaten, M., & Stroupe, D. (2012). Proposing a core set of instructional practices and tools for teachers of science.  Science Education, 96, 878-903.

 

An Integrated Project-Based Methods Course: Access Points and Challenges for Preservice Science and Mathematics Teachers

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Rhodes, S., & Kier, M.W. (2018). An integrated project-based methods course: Access points and challenges for preservice science and mathematics teachers. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/an-integrated-project-based-methods-course-access-points-and-challenges-for-preservice-science-and-mathematics-teachers/

by Sam Rhodes, William and Mary; & Meredith W. Kier, William and Mary

Abstract

Two instructors in a secondary preservice teacher preparation program address the need to better prepare future teachers for the increasing role project-based learning has taken on in K-12 education. We describe an integrated instructional planning course where a mathematics educator and a science educator collaborated to teach preservice teachers how to design integrated project-based lessons. We found that the preservice teachers valued the integrated approach but had difficulty translating their learning to practice in traditional, clinical-based field placements. We report on recommendations for future course iterations.

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References

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Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange Revisited: Using Literacy Strategies to Support and Enhance Teacher Candidates’ Understanding of NOS

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Allaire, F.S. (2018). Cobern and Loving’s card exchange revisited: Using literacy strategies to support and enhance teacher candidates’ understanding of NOS. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/cobern-and-lovings-card-exchange-revisited-using-literacy-strategies-to-support-and-enhance-teacher-candidates-understanding-of-nos/

by Franklin S. Allaire, University of Houston-Downtown

Abstract

The nature of science (NOS) has long been an essential part of science methods courses for elementary and secondary teachers. Consensus has grown among science educators and organizations that developing teacher candidate’s NOS knowledge should be one of the main objectives of science teaching and learning. Cobern and Loving’s (1998) Card Exchange is a method of introducing science teacher candidates to the NOS. Both elementary and secondary teacher candidates have enjoyed the activity and found it useful in addressing NOS - a topic they tend to avoid. However, the word usage and dense phrasing of NOS statements were an issue that caused the Card Exchange to less effective than intended. This article describes the integration of constructivist cross-curricular literacy strategies in the form of a NOS statement review based on Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange statements. The use of literacy strategies transforms the Card Exchange into a more genuine, meaningful, student-centered activity to stimulate NOS discussions with teacher candidates.

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Promoting “Science for All” Through Teacher Candidate Collaboration and Community Engagement

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Kahn, S., Hartman, S.L., Oswald, K., & Samblanet, M. (2018). Promoting “science for all” through teacher candidate collaboration and community engagement. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/promoting-science-for-all-through-teacher-candidate-collaboration-and-community-engagement/

by Sami Kahn, Ohio University; Sara L. Hartman, Ohio University; Karen Oswald, Ohio University; & Marek Samblanet, Ohio University

Abstract

The Next Generation Science Standards present a bold vision for meaningful, quality science experiences for all students. Yet students with disabilities continue to underperform on standardized assessments while persons with disabilities remain underrepresented in science fields. Paramount among the factors contributing to this disparity is that science teachers are underprepared to teach students with disabilities while special education teachers are similarly ill-prepared to teach science. This situation creates a pedagogical and moral dilemma of placing teachers in classrooms without ample preparation, thereby guaranteeing attitudinal and practical barriers. To address this challenge, the authors of this manuscript developed a novel project in which, through voluntary participation, members of Ohio University’s National Science Teachers Association student chapter co-planned and co-taught inclusive science lessons with members of the university’s Student Council for Exceptional Children at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery, a local hands-on discovery museum. This manuscript describes the motivation for, methods, and findings from the project, as well as recommendations for other programs wishing to implement a similar model.

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards present a bold vision for equitable and excellent science opportunities through a call for “All Standards, All Students” (Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] Lead States, 2013, Appendix D). Following in the footsteps of the earlier “Science for All” efforts, the NGSS articulate a range of supports for marginalized groups in science, including students with disabilities. For those of us who have worked on issues of science equity and accessibility throughout our careers, it seems implausible that profound educational disparities and attitudinal barriers persist in the 21st Century. Yet despite decades of work on inclusive science research and practice, persons with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in science careers while students with disabilities underperform on science assessments (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011; National Science Foundation [NSF], 2013). Paramount among the factors contributing to this disparity is that science teachers are underprepared to teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, while special education teachers are similarly ill-prepared to teach science ( Irving, Nti, & Johnson, 2007; Kahn & Lewis, 2014). An obvious solution is to have science and special educators co-teach in the classroom, yet research suggests that without preparation and experience in such models, teachers face tremendous obstacles including lack of co-planning time, challenges with establishing roles and responsibilities, and simply lack of familiarity with discipline-specific accommodations (Moin, Magiera, & Zigmond, 2009). This situation creates a pedagogical and, as we believe, a moral dilemma of placing teachers in classrooms without ample preparation, a set-up for attitudinal and practical barriers.

We were therefore interested in developing flexible opportunities for science teacher candidates to interact and co-teach with special education candidates in an effort to provide meaningful experiences for all of our students, contribute to the research base in inclusive science teacher education, and support our greater community. To that end, we developed an Inclusive Science Day during which members of our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter co-planned and co-taught inclusive science lessons with student members of our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery (OVMoD), a local hands-on discovery museum. In doing so, our candidates learned about inclusive science practices, experienced co-planning, budgeting, and delivering science activities for a diverse audience, gained appreciation for the benefits of informal science community partnerships, and learned about themselves as future teachers of all students. This manuscript describes the motivation for, methods, and findings from our project, as well as recommendations for other programs wishing to implement a similar model.

Theoretical and School Context

Teacher Preparation and Science for Students with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, later reauthorized as the IDEIA (2004), guarantees a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. For the more than 6 million students in American schools identified as having disabilities, this means that they are guaranteed opportunities for learning commensurate with their abilities across subjects, including science. While most science teachers at all levels will teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, most receive little formal education in inclusive science practices. In their nationwide survey of 1088 science teachers, Kahn and Lewis (2014) found that, while 99% of the participants had taught students with disabilities during their careers, nearly one-third had not received any training on the subject and of those who had “on the job training” was cited as the most prominent context for learning. Similarly, special education teachers receive little training in science education (Patton, Palloway, & Cronin, 1990), leaving them to frequently be marginalized in inclusive science settings, with science teachers taking the lead. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that students with disabilities underperform on standardized science assessments and are underrepresented in science fields. Without the benefit of teachers who have been adequately prepared to develop accessible lessons using inclusive pedagogical approaches, students with disabilities will continue to be underserved in the sciences.

Although science and special education are often characterized as representing different philosophical stances (McGinnis & Kahn, 2014), contemporary frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2015) can mediate these differences by capitalizing on the abilities and acknowledging the challenges of all students, thereby creating a cohesive approach to ensuring access for the greatest number of learners. We hypothesized that allowing candidates to co-plan and co-teach UDL activities would provide them with the unique opportunity to discover each other’s strengths, assess their own weaknesses, and become exposed to different perspectives. As in most teacher education programs, however, these opportunities were scant for our candidates due to the structural requirements of their different programs of study and teaching placements. It seemed that a less formal opportunity was needed to explore possible benefits and challenges of collaborative inclusive programming. We decided to turn to the OVMoD for assistance.

Informal Science Learning

Informal science learning spaces, such as museums, zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens, provide unique opportunities for contextualized science learning for their visitors (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009). By providing materials and exhibits that are not otherwise readily accessible, allowing for open, unstructured discovery, and welcoming learners of all ages and backgrounds, these spaces offer incomparable resources to their surrounding communities (Fenichel & Schweingruber, 2010). Informal science learning spaces also provide powerful contexts for learning, not only for visitors but also for teacher candidates (Duran, Ballone-Duran, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2009). By providing candidates with teaching opportunities in such spaces, candidates learn to “think on their feet” as they are met by learners about whom they have no prior information, and must therefore anticipate challenges and respond quickly. They are also exposed to visitors representing a variety of ages, backgrounds, and abilities, thus necessitating a true “science for all” attitude and approach (McGinnis, Hestness, Riedinger, Katz, Marbach-Ad, & Dai A., 2012). Finally, bringing teacher candidates to informal science learning spaces allows them to learn about and serve their community, and of course, allows the community to become better acquainted with the programs and services available through the university, thereby promoting symbiotic learning opportunities (Bevan et al., 2010).

Our Programs

The Patton College of Education at Ohio University serves approximately 1600 undergraduate and 900 graduate students and uses a clinical model for teacher preparation, thus ensuring extensive in-school opportunities for students beginning in their sophomore year and benefitting from close relationships with partner schools (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010). Within our Department of Teacher Education, undergraduate and masters students can select from a wide swath of science teaching majors leading to certification in middle and secondary science areas. In addition, we have a thriving early childhood program that includes courses in both preschool and elementary science methods. Likewise, our nationally-recognized special education program leads to multiple graduate and undergraduate licensures. Undergraduate licensures include programming for intervention specialists seeking degrees to work with students with mild-to-moderate or moderate-to-intensive educational needs.

As vigorous and comprehensive as our programs are, teacher candidates from science education and special education interact infrequently during school hours due to their divergent course and placement requirements. Fortunately, our college supports (both philosophically and financially) our professional organization student chapters which afford opportunities for flexible collaboration. Our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter welcomes all students with an interest in science teaching and learning. This chapter experienced a renaissance recently with regular meetings, numerous fundraising activities, learning opportunities including attendance at a regional NSTA conference, and a concerted commitment to service learning in our community. This chapter currently has approximately 25 members representing both undergraduate and graduate programs, although most are undergraduate secondary (middle and high school) science education majors. Our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) boasts a large, consistent membership of approximately 35 to 40 teacher candidates who meet regularly, assist with functions held by the local developmental disabilities programs, and provide fundraising support for members of the community with disabilities as well as schools in need of resources for serving students with disabilities. This organization enjoys the leadership of a long-term and beloved advisor who has developed the group through many years of mentoring and modeling. In addition to our college of education, our university’s center for community engagement provides small grants for service learning projects. We were fortunate to receive funding for our Inclusive Science Day project to cover the cost of training materials used with our teacher candidates, consumables for science activities, and refreshments. In addition, this grant provided funds for two of our students to attend a regional NSTA conference early in the year at which they interviewed various leaders in the science education community as well as publishers and science education suppliers about their inclusive science materials. This experience was eye-opening for our students, who presented their findings at subsequent group meetings, as it set the stage for our Inclusive Science Day planning.

The Intervention: Inclusive Science Day

In order to determine the potential for an Inclusive Science Day at an informal learning space, the OU-NSTA advisor raised the idea with a colleague from the College of Education, who is also on the board of the OVMoD to discuss possibilities. The colleague indicated that the museum had made concerted efforts to reach out to visitors with all abilities through use of universally-designed displays and a “sensory-friendly” day; she was completely open to the idea of having teacher candidates plan and teach at the museum but would need to discuss the idea with the museum’s executive director and other board members.  The OU-NSTA advisor then met with the SCEC advisor, who was equally enthusiastic about the prospect of collaboration. Both the OU-NSTA and SCEC advisors then presented the idea to their respective executive board members who were highly receptive. Concurrently, the OU-NSTA advisor participated in an 8-week course on service learning offered by the university’s center for community engagement in order to better understand the dynamics of collaborative endeavors with community entities and to consider in depth both the potential learning opportunities for the teacher candidates and the service opportunities for the museum. While it might have been possible for this project to come to fruition without that training, the advisor felt that it undoubtedly prepared her for the potential benefits and challenges. Once all parties embraced Inclusive Science Day, the two advisors began to plan the training and research.

Planning and Orientation

One of the most daunting tasks was simply identifying a day/time that students could meet for an orientation and training. As this was a voluntary endeavor, we knew that we would need to ensure that our meetings were highly efficient, focused, and would inspire our teacher candidates to collaborate on their own time to ensure availability and convenience. Once we had an announced orientation time, the two advisors met to plan the training. We determined that the 2 1/2-hour evening training would include the following agenda:

  • Welcome, Refreshments, and Survey Invitation
  • Why Inclusive Science Day? and “Can You Name This Scientist?”
  • Collaborative Hands-on Simulation Activity (“Helicopters”) and Debriefing UDL
  • Lesson Planning and Budgeting Activities
  • Next Steps!

As we had decided to conduct research on teacher candidates’ experiences and attitudes regarding inclusive science practice, we applied for and received IRB approval for a pre and post survey that was distributed anonymously online at the orientation (pre) and after the Inclusive Science Day (post). Students were recruited for the Inclusive Science Day and associated research via e-invitations sent to organization membership lists in advance of the orientation. Because of our desire to avoid exerting pressure on students to participate in either the research or project, we did not require students to RSVP. We were very pleased to see that 18 students attended the training (ten special education and eight science education, including one elementary science methods student). When the students arrived at the orientation, they created nametags, had the opportunity to complete the survey online, and enjoyed pizza. We then distributed students among five tables so that at least one special education candidate was at each table. After introductions, we engaged in a brief brainstorming challenge to identify why inclusive science education might be important.  Candidates actively identified reasons including:

“There aren’t enough scientists with disabilities in the field.”

“Science is part of every child’s life and body.”

“You can teach science through different in different ways (e.g., visual, tactile, kinesthetic, etc…).”

“Knowing about science is important for everyone!”

“We need to know how to teach all students.”

We added three others to the list that students did not mention:

  • Science benefits from having all students contribute to its advancement.
  • There is a moral imperative for all students to have the opportunity to experience science.
  • Science is beautiful!

We then engaged in a “Can You Name This Scientist?” game in which candidates viewed pictures of famous scientists with disabilities and were asked to identify them.  Scientists included Alexander Graham Bell (Dyslexia), Thomas Edison (Hearing Impairment and Dyslexia), Temple Grandin (Autism), Geerat Vermeij (Visual Impairment), Jack Horner (Dyslexia), and Stephen Hawking (Motor Neuron Disease), among others. Most of our candidates were unaware that such accomplished scientists also had disabilities and that their disabilities, in some cases, may have enhanced the scientists’ interests and abilities in their fields. For example, Geerat Vermeij, a world-renowned paleobiologist attributes his nuanced abilities in identifying mollusks to his ability to feel and attend to distinctions in shells that sighted scientists might overlook (Vermeij, 1997). We were excited to see our students’ interests so piqued after this activity.

We then introduced the Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) framework, which allows teachers to develop lessons that meet the needs of the most number of learners thereby reducing the need for specific disability accommodations. The three principles of UDL are: 1) Multiple Means of Engagement (How students access the lesson or materials); 2) Multiple Means of Representation (How teachers present the material to the students); and 3) Multiple Means of Action and Expression (How students interact with the materials and show what they know). To help teacher candidates to better understand the potential barriers that students with disabilities might have in science class, we co-led a science activity in which students followed written directions for making and testing paper helicopters while assigning students equipment that helped them to simulate various disabilities. For example, some students received handouts that had scrambled letters to simulate Dyslexia, while others wore glasses that limited their vision. In addition, some students wore earplugs to simulate hearing impairments while others listened to conversations on headphones to simulate psychiatric disorders. Finally, some students had tape placed around adjacent fingers to simulate fine motor impairments, while others utilized crutches or wheel chairs. Students progressed through this activity for several minutes and then discussed their challenges as a class. We chose the helicopter activity because it required reading, cutting with scissors, throwing and observing the helicopters, and retrieving them; thus, this activity required a variety of intellectual and physical skills. We found that our students were quite impacted by this activity, as many indicated that they had never really thought about the perspective of students with these disabilities. In particular, the student who utilized a wheelchair said that she had never realized how much space was needed to accommodate the wheelchair easily during an active investigation. This led the group to discuss the need for us to set up our tables at the museum with sufficient space for all visitors to comfortably traverse the museum. Of course, we were careful to remind students that this type of simulation cannot accurately represent the true nature and complexity of anyone’s experiences, and that people with disabilities, like all individuals, develop adaptations for addressing challenges. However, this brief experience prompted our students to think about how they could redesign the lesson to ensure that as many students as possible could access it without specific accommodations.

We then informed the groups that they were each to develop plans for two activities that would be presented at the Inclusive Science Day. Based on discussions with museum administrators, we decided that having several “make and take” activities was desirable, in part because it allowed the learning to continue at home, but also because our university is in a very rural, high poverty region thus making these types of materials a particularly welcome benefit for many families (United States Census Bureau, 2014). Together, we reviewed the lesson plan document which was less formal than our typical lesson plan document (due to the informal nature of the museum activity stations format) but nevertheless, had specific learning outcomes, considerations for diversity (including gender, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, and ability), and a budget (See Figure 1 for a Sample Lesson; a blank lesson plan template is available for download at the end of this article in supplemental materials). We then informed teams that, thanks to the grant we had received, they had $50 to spend on their two lessons and that they should anticipate approximately 50 visitors to their tables (based on prior museum visitation counts). Teacher candidates then used their laptops and various resource books we provided to identify activities and develop materials lists with prices. We decided the easiest way to ensure that all materials would be received in time, and to avoid dealing with reimbursements and other financial complexities was to have students submit their final budget sheets to us during the week following the orientation. We would then order all the materials using one account and notify students once the materials were received. Students were responsible for bringing in “freebie” materials such as newspaper, aluminum cans, matches, etc. Once materials were received, student groups came to the central storage room at their convenience to check and prepare their materials in ample time for the program. We also encouraged students to create table signs for display at the Inclusive Science Day. They did this on their own time as well. Some of the activities that students developed were:

  • Fingerprint Detectives
  • Creating a Galaxy in a Jar
  • Chemical Reactions in a Pan (using baking soda and vinegar mixed with food coloring)
  • Exploring Static Electricity with Balloons
  • Egg Drop
  • Making and Testing Kazoos
  • Blobs in a Bottle (with vegetable oil and Alka-Seltzer tablets)
  • Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry
Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample lesson plan for “Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry.”

In addition to identifying activities that engaged different senses, our students thought about how to meet a variety of learners’ needs. For example, magnifiers and large ink stamp pads would be available at the fingerprint station for all students, while the “Blobs in a Bottle” activity station had alternative “jelly balls” that could be felt by visitors who couldn’t see the vegetable oil “blobs.” The kazoo station, which used toilet paper tubes, waxed paper, and rubber bands, allowed visitors who could not hear to feel the movement of the waxed paper when the kazoos were played. The station also had adaptive scissors and pre-cut waxed paper for visitors needing fine motor skill support. The UDL considerations and accommodations provided for each activity are contained in Table 1 below.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
UDL Considerations and Accommodations for Accessibility on Inclusive Science Day

The Day of the Event

The Inclusive Science Day was announced by the museum on social media, through our local schools, and through the local newspaper. The museum generously waived their admission fee for the day in order to encourage attendance as well. On the day of the program, students were asked to arrive two hours in advance to set up their stations. We provided lunch to ensure that we had time to speak to the group about the importance of the work they were about to do, and to allow the museum staff to convey any final instructions to the students. When the doors were opened, we were thrilled to see large numbers of families entering the museum space. Over the two hours that our program ran, the museum estimated that we had over 150 visitors, approximately three times their expected attendance. The attendance was so good that some of our student groups needed to send “runners” out to purchase additional materials; our “Galaxy in a Jar” group even began using recycled bottles from our lunch to meet the demands at their table.  Safety was a consideration at all times. Goggles were made available at all tables with splash potential, and safety scissors were used at stations with cutting requirements. In addition, our students (and we) wore our clubs’ T-shirts so that visitors could easily identify instructors. Each activity table had at least one science education and one special education candidate co-teaching. We supervised the students by assisting in crowd control, helping to ensure that visitors could easily navigate through the rather limited museum space, obtaining written permissions for photos from parents/caregivers, and responding to candidate questions. Some photos from the day are shown in Figures 2-4.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). “Blobs in a Bottle” activity demonstrating density and polarity of water and oil. Tactile “jelly balls” and magnifiers were available for visitors with visual impairments.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). “Chemical Reactions in a Pan” activity using baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring. Varied sizes of pipettes and pans were available to address diversity in visitors’ fine motor skills.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). “Exploring Sound with Kazoos” activity. Visitors were encouraged to use their senses of vision, touch, and hearing to test the instruments.

Research Findings/Project Evaluation

Overall, our teacher candidates found this project to be highly meaningful and helpful for their professional learning. Perhaps one of the most important themes that emerged from our evaluative research was that science and special education candidates welcomed the opportunity to collaborate as none of them had reported having opportunities to do so in the past. Some of the student post-activity responses included the following:

“[Inclusive Science Day] allowed me to gain more experience and to really learn what it is like to teach students who have disabilities. I also was able to see how students with different disabilities reacted to the same activity. I found that those students who had a disability found a different way to cope with their disability than we had thought they would.”

“I saw how different general education and special education teacher think. There were many differences to our approaches to creating the lesson.”

“I really liked that I was able to consult with the special education teachers if I was unsure of how to help a student with disabilities.”

“I had a great time sharing my content knowledge of science with those whose specialty is special education. Conversely, I had a great time learning from experts in special education and I really enjoyed seeing them be so in their comfort zone when we did have kids with exceptionalities. I envy their comfort levels and it makes me want to reach that level of comfort.”

“We were well prepared for any differentiation that would have needed to be done. And we all learned from each other.”

“I feel this was an awesome experience. The people I worked with really added something to our experiments that I otherwise may not have thought about.”

Challenges cited by our students included feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of visitors at each station, not having knowledge about the visitors’ backgrounds in advance, and difficulties in maintaining visitors’ focus on the science content. We found one student’s reflection to be quite sophisticated in its recognition of the need for more training on inclusive science:

“I still feel that I would like more professional development when it comes to leading science activities for students with disabilities. I had an experience with a wonderful young man and I felt very challenged because I don’t feel comfortable enough to gauge what I should be allowing him to do on his own and at the same time I didn’t want to hinder him from reaching his full potential. So, I feel like further professional development in that area is needed for me.”

Qualitative  analysis of candidate pre and post responses resulted in themes that included: 1) candidates’ assessment of collaboration as a powerful professional development opportunity; 2) identification of different perspectives between science and special education candidates; 3) a common desire to do good work by making accessible for all students; 4) recognition of informal learning spaces as viable teaching venues; and; 4) a strong need for more training and opportunities to teach science to students with disabilities. Our findings support earlier research suggesting that teacher candidates are inclined toward inclusive practices (McGinnis, 2003) and that opportunities for collaboration with special education candidates enhance their comfort level in co-planning and co-teaching (Moorehead & Grillo, 2013). Our teacher candidates’ expressions of the depth of impact this professional development experience had on them makes sense when considered in light of Kahn and Lewis’ (2014) study which suggested that teachers’ experience with any students with disabilities increased their feelings of preparedness toward working with all students with disabilities. In addition, our findings reinforce studies suggesting that informal learning spaces can provide unique and flexible learning opportunities for teacher candidates, particularly in that they provided multiple opportunities to teach the same lesson repeatedly, thus allowing for reflection and revision (Jung & Tonso, 2006). Perhaps most importantly, this study underscores the desire for and efficacy of increased training and experience in implementing inclusive science practices during teachers’ pre-service educations.

Future Plans and Conclusion

Based on the feedback from the teacher candidates and the museum, we are planning to make Inclusive Science Day an annual event. However, we are considering several changes for future projects including:

  • Multiple training evenings for teacher candidates
  • Pre-registration for Inclusive Science Day so that we can anticipate attendance size and specific needs of visitors
  • Creating a “Quiet Zone” area at the museum for visitors who would benefit from a less bustling environment
  • Identifying additional sources of funding for consumable materials
  • Greater outreach to our early childhood teacher candidates to encourage participation

As students with disabilities are increasingly included in science classrooms, it is incumbent of teacher education programs to ensure that their science teacher candidates acquire the tools and the dispositions for teaching all learners. While more formal approaches, such as dual licensure programs and co-teaching internship placements are on the horizon for many programs, teacher education programs should not overlook the power of extracurricular events, informal learning spaces, and student organizations to provide important professional development opportunities for teacher candidates, pilots for new program development, and occasions to both serve and learn from the community.

 

Supplemental Files

Lesson-Plan-Template.docx

References

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Personal Science Story Podcasts: Enhancing Literacy and Science Content

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Frisch, J.K. (2018). Personal science story podcasts: Enhancing literacy and science content. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/personal-science-story-podcasts-enhancing-literacy-and-science-content/

by Jennifer K. Frisch, University of Minnesota Duluth

Abstract

Podcasts (like “You are Not So Smart”, “99% Invisible”, or “Radiolab”) are becoming a popular way to communicate about science. Podcasts often use personal stories to connect with listeners and engage empathy, which can be a key ingredient in communicating about science effectively. Why not have your students create their own podcasts? Personal science stories can be useful to students as they try to connect abstract science concepts with real life. These kinds of stories can also help pre-service elementary or secondary teachers as they work towards understanding how to connect science concepts, real life, and literacy. Podcasts can be powerful in teaching academic language in science because through producing a podcast, the student must write, speak, and listen, and think about how science is communicated. This paper describes the personal science podcast assignment that I have been using in my methods courses, including the literature base supporting it and the steps I take to support my teacher candidates in developing, writing, and sharing their own science story podcasts.

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References

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Designing a Third Space Science Methods Course

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Vick, M.E. (2018). Designing a third space science methods course. Innovations in Science Teacher Education 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-a-third-space-science-methods-course/

by Matthew E. Vick, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Abstract

The third space of teacher education (Zeichner, 2010) bridges the academic pedagogical knowledge of the university and the practical knowledge of the inservice K-12 teacher.  A third space elementary science methods class was taught at a local elementary school with inservice teachers acting as mentors and allowing preservice teachers into their classes each week.  Preservice teachers applied the pedagogical knowledge from the course in their elementary classrooms.  The course has been revised constantly over six semesters to improve its logistics and the pre-service teacher experience.  This article summarizes how the course has been developed and improved.

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References

Bahr, D.L. & Monroe, E.E. (2008, Nov 25). An exploration of the effects of a practicum-based mathematics methods course on the beliefs of elementary preservice teachers. International Journal of Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from http://www.cimt.org.uk/journal/bahrmonroe.pdf

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Supporting Preservice Teachers’ Use of Modeling: Building a Water Purifier

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Kim, Y. & Oliver, S.J. (2018). Supporting preservice teachers’ use of modeling: Building a water purifier. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/supporting-preservice-teachers-use-of-modeling-building-a-water-purifier/

by Young Ae Kim, University of Georgia; & J. Steve Oliver, University of Georgia

Abstract

Research has shown the value of modeling as an instructional practice. As such, instruction that includes modeling can be an authentic and effective means to illustrate scientific and engineering practices as well as a motivating force in science learning. Preservice science teachers need to learn how to incorporate modeling strategies in lessons on specific scientific topics to implement modeling practice effectively. In this article, we share an activity designed to model how the effectiveness and efficiency of a water purifier is impacted by creating a primary purification medium using different grain sizes and different amounts of activated charcoal. We seek for the preservice science teachers to learn how modeling is a process that requires revision in response to evidence. The water purifier activities in this paper were adapted for use in a secondary science teacher preparation program during the fall semesters of 2015 and 2016 as a means to introduce an effective modeling activity that is in the spirit of NGSS. These activities also support preservice teachers’ development of teacher knowledge relative to ‘model-based inquiry’ as well as teaching systems thinking. In addition, preservice science teachers learn how to think of modeling as an assessment tool through which they might gauge students’ understanding. Modeling may be used as a form of authentic assessment where student accomplishment is measured while in the act of constructing a model, revising a model or any of the other modeling related processes.

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References

Crawford, B., & Cullin, M. (2004). Supporting prospective teachers’ conceptions of modeling in science. International Journal of Science Education, 26, 1379–1401.

Gilbert, J. K. (2004). Models and Modelling: Routes to more authentic science education. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 2(2), 115-130.

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