Whenever you do something for the first time, there is always a mixture of excitement and nervousness brewing inside. The amount of anxiety and anticipation is dependent upon the imminent venture, of course. Last week, when I was teaching my first college class at Plymouth State University (PSU), my ninety percent excitement level turned into about a ninety percent anxiety level quickly when some of my corny jokes and 80’s references fell flat. However, the students at PSU were remarkable and respectful learners and Dr. Elisabeth Johnston was an excellent educational collaborator – and I am pretty sure my lesson was clear and well-received.
The main title of my lesson was “What to Expect When You’re Teaching Science.” I created the title with the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book in mind (having seven kids requires books like that in your household). This lesson outlined one of my main objectives during this sabbatical year: to help better prepare student teachers for their future science teaching experiences. Here is one statistic from a 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education that vividly shows the need for more science professional development for future and current elementary school teachers:
Eighty-one percent of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach reading, whereas 39% of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach science! Perception is important, because if you do not feel prepared to do perform a task, when faced with that task you more than likely will not fare well. Our students need us to feel and be prepared to teach every academic subject.
Despite the State of New Hampshire being continually lauded for being in or around the top ten in academic subject ratings compared to the rest of the United States, there is still data out there that shows that there is definitely room for improvement. The one area of science in which students need the most growth in is inquiry skills. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) defines inquiry skills as “practices,” using a term that covers both the content knowledge and inquiry skills required to successfully solve a problem and / or design a better solution. Inquiry skills (or practices) are the students’ ability to “formulate questions and hypothesize, plan investigations and experiments, conduct investigations and experiments, and evaluate results.”* Considering this definition, is there any wonder then as to why future (and current) educators need a lot of experience and training to teach science effectively?
Here are ten tips I developed to help early childhood student teachers be better prepared for science instruction (available here as a pdf). I believe it can assist current elementary educators as well:
- Seek out science professional development opportunities
- Advocate for beneficial curriculum and supplies
- Refine science units and student experiences continuously
- Elevate your profession by knowing the data and taking action to improve science education where necessary
- Embrace students’ questions and allow for discovery
- Excel in your science knowledge to teach effectively
- Allow mistakes and messes
- Reflect on your students’ successes and failures as well as your own – and act upon them
- Request observations and feedback on your science instruction performance
- Strive for science to be an enjoyable and successful experience for all of your students
I’ll conclude this post with a 1987 movie clip from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that I played for the PSU students, as one example of what teaching science is like when unaware that you’re unprepared:
*definition from New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP)