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General Science and Teaching

Science Methods Courses: Weigh In!

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Lara Smetana Lara Smetana 6080 Points

As I prepare for the upcoming Spring semester, I'm interested in any insight you can share from your own experience. What was most useful in your own teacher preparation? What do you wish you would have been exposed to before entering the classroom?

Adah Stock Adah Stock 101510 Points

Hi Lara!
I unfortunately didn't gain any insights in my college science methods courses. My professors not been in the classroom for so long they had no idea what the real world was like.
You asked what we thought would be beneficial. I think visits to real teachers while they are teaching and then have the group come together and report on what they saw, what the thought the teacher did well, and what they thought the teacher needed improvement on. In short a reflection of a real teacher in action before they learn about the different approaches.

Who else has an opinion about how best to address the preservice teacher?

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

I think I was very fortunate to have been trained in an alternative program that gave veteran teachers a voice during the program's development. Surveys were sent out and focus groups were developed to determine what worked and what didn't. My preparation program was very effective and I was able to assimilate and become an effective teachers almost immediately because of it. With that said... Teacher preparation programs should focus on application of theory rather than memorization of theory. There seems to be a serious disconnect between the two. I've met far too many teachers who can recite Vygotsky heroically but haven't a clue how to implement his ideas in their lessons and classroom environment. Current brain research is also left out of teacher preparation programs and this always leaves me scratching my head - isn't that supposed to be our area of expertise? Yet we are required to know so little about it. Kendra

Kate Geer Kate Geer 7865 Points

I don't know what the limitations of your course or schedule are, but my program had a large focus on practical application. In conjunction to our normal coursework, we also were tasked with the curriculum development and implementation of a science camp for students at the same time. We were applying what we were learning under the guidance of a lead master teacher in each science camp classroom. Granted, this was a camp, so there were no grades, standards, tests, etc, but were able to focus on our teaching practice. We had to complete a nightly journal that included reflections of what we were learning our course and what we were teaching in our camp classrooms. Granted, my college was unique in that it operates on a 3 week block schedule, so I had no other classes to do during this time except this one.

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

I would agree that methods courses need to be more focused on practical application. In Wisconsin, we focus on building a portfolio, but the materials in the portfolio do not need to be classroom tested. There was a lot of emphasis on standards, but not on integration across the curriculum, which I think is absolutely critical, especially if we are to encourage those students who dislike science to become more open and involved. Instead of extensive dialoging of "student talk," I would have liked the opportunity to have more "laboratory" experience to try some of the ideas and techniques. And nothing really prepared me to teach in an urban school, even though I have a certificate in urban education.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89678 Points

Hi All!
Lara said: I'm interested in any insight you can share from your own experience. What was most useful in your own teacher preparation? What do you wish you would have been exposed to before entering the classroom?
I hope our preservice and new teachers out there will share their insights on this thread! Those of us teaching science methods courses want to know what has been helpful (and not) as our students transform their college learning into classroom practices across America. Please share what you found most helpful and what you wish had been covered more thoroughly. Were you made to feel more comfortable and competent to teach science? Did you have opportunities to practice engaging inquiry activities as the facilitator of learning? Were you expected to observe teachers teaching science as part of your course work? If so, how was that helpful? Please share.

Wendy Ruchti Wendy Ruchti 24805 Points

I know that what has been helpful for my students (so they say) are 1) the practical strategies, used to tie theory to practice....what DOES a social constructivist classroom look like on a day to day basis and 2) the tie to math and literacy. Unfortunately, or fortunately(I haven't decided yet), we have state tests in math and literacy....no more science at the state level. That puts a lot of focus on those two subjects. They love to experience strategies that tie science into literacy and math.

Kathy Sparrow Kathy Sparrow 47692 Points

Wendy said, “I know that what has been helpful for my students (so they say) are 1) the practical strategies, used to tie theory to practice....what DOES a social constructivist classroom look like on a day to day basis and 2) the tie to math and literacy.” I agree with Wendy. Both from teaching pre-service teachers as well as previously being a science curriculum supervisor, pre-service students and teachers need practical strategies. In my classes, I model what a constructivist class is, as well as inquiry investigations. Students sit and work in table groups which gives them experience in working as a team or group, as well as support and feedback. Students are also assigned a field teacher with whom they work for 15 hours during the semester in one of the public schools. My students also have practice writing 5E lessons and teaching them to their peers as well as to either a small group or an entire class at their field school. I think one of the most important things that a pre-service needs to attain is a confidence that he/she can teach science.

Angie Fairweather Angelika Fairweather 12180 Points

Lara said: I'm interested in any insight you can share from your own experience. What was most useful in your own teacher preparation? What do you wish you would have been exposed to before entering the classroom? Kathy, I think it is fantastic you use the constructivist approach while teaching your college students. I would love to attend more training were the instructor modeled best practices, instead of PowerPoint. Like Kendra, I feel I was fortunate to have a mentor while I was in my ACP program. She was there when I tried my first lab, and helped me refine my instruction and lab management throughout the year. Later when I became a coach, I went into many veteran teacher classrooms that were still making the management and instruction errors I made my first year. They never had a mentor to point out a better way. I also was lucky to work in a school were I was invited to observe other teachers. It was fantastic to see a lab, Kagan structures, and inquiry learning before I tried it in my own classroom. I picked up so much valuable classroom management ideas and curriculum instruction strategies during these observations. However, it is often very painful the first year to give up a conference period to do an observation. I think it would be powerful for new teachers to have coverage assigned so they may observe a multitude of teachers. Has anyone else found observing other teachers helpful?

Therese Houghton Therese Houghton 7210 Points

Alyce, I think that all pre-service teachers should be required to complete a lab research course. My teacher training only covered educational research and no science work. My science learning comes exclusively from my undergrad degree in chemistry and biology. Which courses are required for an undergraduate science teacher degree?

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

by Lara Smetana, Wed Dec 15, 2010 10:00 AM
As I prepare for the upcoming Spring semester, I'm interested in any insight you can share from your own experience. What was most useful in your own teacher preparation? What do you wish you would have been exposed to before entering the classroom?

Hi Lara and other thread posters,

Like many other posters, I also think that it is important to provide pre-service teachers with practical application rather than on memorization of theory. One of the most valuable parts of pre-service training was observing veteran teachers. My program accomplished this in two ways. First, I was provided with a series of videos that showed teachers in various courses modeling different teaching/learning theories in their classrooms. I also visited several classrooms in my local district to observe how teachers taught prior to my student teaching. These experiences, in conjunction with my student teaching, gave my an excellent model to follow as I began to teach.
There are several areas that I wish my pre-service teacher training had focused on more. These include:
differentiating instruction
classroom management (specific methods, tools, etc)
tactics for helping students who have severe behavior problems


Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

by Therese Houghton, Today, 10:40 AM
I think that all pre-service teachers should be required to complete a lab research course.

Hi Therese,

I agree with your suggestion for a lab research course. Like you, my education degree (specifically name "Secondary Science Education") did not include any science content. All of my science content knowledge also comes from my undergrad degree. Would you suggest that pre-service teachers take a lab research class that is administered by a science department or would you suggest a course that is run by the education department? After reading your post, I was thinking that it would be valuable for science teachers (and possibly elementary ed teachers...since they also teach science) to take a lab course in which they could learn (or refresh) lab safety, how to conduct hands-on experiments, how to record lab results, how to draw conclusions or interpret results, etc.

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

by Therese Houghton, Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:40 AM
I think that all pre-service teachers should be required to complete a lab research course.

Hi Therese,
I just got my January NSTA Reports in the mail and the front page article is "Bringing a Research Background to Science Teaching". As I was reading the article it made me think of your post. It's a great article with lots of information regarding research programs for science teachers (and preservice teachers).

LeRoy Attles LeRoy Attles 56530 Points

Classroom management techniques is probably the most overlooked thing that needs to be taught in preservice courses. A new teacher has a lot to manage from behavior to implementing management of activities and lesson plans and grade books. Strategies to help manage all of these responsibilites is definitely needed

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

From my perspective, most teachers have not had anywhere near enough experience as scientists to really understand how science works in the real world. It took me several years of field research before I really felt competent to design research, and a big part of that is having the confidence to ask the right questions. I think a lot more focus on the inquiry process is critical, especially for those teachers who have not grown up with the ability to explore independently. An inquiry-based research course would be fabulous for most teachers.

Wendy Ruchti Wendy Ruchti 24805 Points

I agree, Jennifer, especially when most of their science content at the university is taught through a lecture-based distribution of information. I've been working with my colleagues in the content areas to try to really help pick the courses that our pre-service teachers take to make sure they are inquiry based.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

In the past (not currently) I taught a content class to pre-service teachers. I appreciate the comments. In my class, I designed lessons according to the grade level standards teachers would have to teach. I introduced each lesson with an activity designed to demostrate concepts. I gave very little technical information prior to the activity. After completing the activity we discussed what happened and why; covering the scientific concepts and background for the activity. Each activity was designed to be reproducable in an elemetary classroom. Examples included roller coasters made from pipe insulation and lots of masking tape to illustrate KE and PE, making ice cream for heat transfer...... What I hoped is that students in my class would have a portfolio of lessons they could transfer to their classrooms. I would be grateful for any feedback on this approach.

Susanne Hokkanen Susanne Hokkanen 79370 Points

As a relatively new science teacher, I would love to add to this discussion. First, I wish I would have had more information and practice with formative assessments. The whole formative assessments thing was "cloudy" at best in my undergraduate studies. I came out with the idea that formative assessments were smaller quizzes and other graded work that showed the students what they did not understand, and not the idea that they were assessments to inform my teaching - or showed me what I needed to do or cover to better help the students to understand. I also agree that there should be more hands-on inquiry opportunities for undergrads. I finally began to "really get" inquiry at the National Conference in Philly when I participated in an all day PD sponsored through Biological Sciences Curriculum Studies (BSCS). Experiencing inquiry as a student is the best way for a teacher to learn how to "present" it in a lesson/unit. Finally, I also agree that classroom management instruction is imperative - especially in relation to having an active lab or active classroom. I am sure many teachers stop offering the hands-on opportunities, or at least offer fewer of them, when the classroom becomes a management nightmare. Again, I gained my greatest insight while a participant in the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy, and I now use "Lab Procedure Points" to encourage students to work safely and stay on task. I hope this insight helps. Thanks for asking, Sue

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

Pam, I only wish that my methods classes had been so enlightened! We watched videos and critiqued each other, which made all of us a little fearful. I think it is so important for teachers to experience the joy of learning from the point of view of the students we teach. My math methods professor did encourage us to do many of the same things we expected our students to do, and it was so beneficial. At least when we put those lesson plans together afterward, they were very concrete and understandable.

Daniel Carroll Dan Carroll 18570 Points

I was in the Faifax County transition to teaching program. The most valuable thing we did was get time in the classroom having real and practical experiences

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

So Dan, are you a refugee from corporate America too? I think that after being in an environment that required solutions, not just a theory, we tend to want to see the results.

Elizabeth Herriges Elizabeth Herriges 3815 Points

I am just learning how little I know on a variety of science topics. The NSTA a wonderful place to be able to visit, test my knowledge, gather resources to teach myself, and learn from others. This is going to be a very valuable place for me to develop as a teacher-in-progress.

Susanne Hokkanen Susanne Hokkanen 79370 Points

Elizabeth, I was a history major, secondary certified in social studies when I was hired to teach science. I was not amazed at what I didn't know - I knew I didn't know it. :-) I joined the NSTA within weeks of getting my science teaching job - and what a life saver/career changer it has been for me. I enrolled in every webseminar, read journal articles - many, and worked on sci-packs, sci-objects etc...when I could. I was accepted and completed a year in the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy, and gained even greater insight into science teaching. I am 100% committed to teaching science now, and I will graduate this summer with my Masters of Science in Science Education from Montana State University. (Yeah!) I didn't have a methods course in undergrad college on teaching science - only history, since that was my major. I am formally introducing my daughter to the NSTA later this evening. She is beginning her student teaching this spring working on her elementary certification. I will ask her too, what she would like more experience or time working on within her undergrad work. Sue

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

Sue, I think it is fantastic that you transitioned from social studies to science. I started in science, but have migrated toward social studies. I think it is important to understand science in a social context. Isn't it fascinating to see it from both sides?

Dat Le Dat Le 21565 Points

Best way to learn how to teach is through a mentor. Taking courses at the university is good, but what is helpful is learning directly from doing. This includes getting ongoing support and guidance from master teachers, participating in meaningful staff development and ongoing self reflection and improvement.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 36288 Points

Leroy said,"Classroom management techniques is probably the most overlooked thing that needs to be taught in preservice courses. A new teacher has a lot to manage from behavior to implementing management of activities and lesson plans and grade books. Strategies to help manage all of these responsibilites is definitely needed" I agree this is an important piece of best practices that seems to be left out of pre-service education. I can speak to this from personal experience. My daughter is a brand spanking new mathematics teacher in high school and this issue is HUGE for her. I am trying to be her mentor in this area, but my experience has been all elementary education. it is very difficult to engage students in inquiry learning when maagement issues loom. And yes, I know that the content has to be engaging enough to prevent management issues but it is not always so cut and dried.

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 63625 Points

Lara wrote, "What was most useful in your own teacher preparation? What do you wish you would have been exposed to before entering the classroom?"

When I was preparing to be a teacher, our preparation was divided into three blocks. In the first block, we observed excellent teachers, discussed their good teaching practices, and compare what they were doing to education theory. We were taught how to observe and reflect. We developed and taught short lessons to our peers. We also spent some time in the classroom aiding and mentoring. In the second block, we continued developing our own resources and continued practicing our craft. We received critiques from our peers based on what we learned in block one. We also continued to go out in the field to observe and aide in the classroom setting so we could get real world experience. Finally, in block three, we had our student teaching semester where we put everything we learned into practice. Discussion of learning theory is a must, but I learned most about teaching from my field experiences. It helped having a veteran teacher available of whom to ask questions and observe.

Therese Houghton Therese Houghton 7210 Points

I have a couple of suggestions to add based upon my field experience and methods courses. First teach pre-service teachers how to act professionally in the classroom at all times. What I mean is that we are supposed to be shaping a professional class of citizens, so let's treat the students as such. I have seen the exact opposite in the majority of classrooms. Unless we set the standard of professionalism in the classroom, we cannot expect success from our students. Start the day with " Good morning class", say "Good afternoon" and "please". Treat them as if they already are professionals and they will rise to your expectations. I think that in-service training should include a behavior-training component.Do not dress like a student, or fraternize with them either. Instead be a mentor and a leader to them, someone they can look up to. A second suggestion comes from a 10th math teacher, who has a labor-saving system. All of the 10th grade math teachers teach the same material because it is a high-stakes year. On his team, he creates the smartboard lesson material, another teacher writes the paper lesson plans, and a third makes all the copies. They then pool all of the learning materials. I thought that this was a efficient way to prepare.

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