Cultural Institutions as Partners in Initial Elementary Science Teacher Preparation

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Smetana, L., Birmingham, D., Rouleau, H., Carlson, J., & Phillips, S. (2017). Cultural institutions as partners in initial elementary science teacher preparation. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(2).   Retrieved from

by Lara Smetana, Loyola University Chicago; Daniel Birmingham, Colorado State University; Heidi Rouleau, The Field Museum; Jenna Carlson, Loyola University Chicago; & Shannon Phillips, The Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum


Despite an increased recognition of the role that ‘informal’ learning spaces (e.g. museums, aquariums, other cultural institutions) have in children’s science education (NRC, 2015), there remains a gap between the goals and values of ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ (i.e. school-based) learning sectors. Moreover, the potential for informal spaces and institutions to also play a role in initial teacher preparation is only beginning to be realized. Here, we present our Science Teacher Learning Ecosystem model and explain how it frames the design of our elementary science teacher education coursework. We then use this framework to describe learning experiences that are collaboratively planned and implemented with two local museums. These course sessions engage teacher candidates as science learners and develop abilities and mindsets for bridging formal and informal teaching and learning divides. Readers are encouraged to think about their unique context and the out-of-school partners available to collaborate with, be it museums similar to those described here or parks, after-school programs, gardens, etc.

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