Competent teachers have a direct, positive effect on students’ learning[i]. To that end, the United States must attract, prepare, and retain pre-K – 16 science teachers who are well educated intellectually and practically. Such science teachers possess a conceptual understanding of science, its applications, and the nature and history of science. They also have a deep understanding of how people learn science as well as skills and dispositions grounded in that knowledge that enable them to promote meaningful learning at their levels of science teaching specialization including the early childhood and elementary years.[ii]
The ASTE position, supported by much scholarship, is that our nation’s students, particularly those in our most challenging schools, are best served by teachers who have acquired the specialized knowledge of teaching and assessment that enable them to promote science learning. Thus, ASTE supports alternative pathways that ensure competence consistent with these standards prior to full certification as a science teacher. Such efforts ensure that teachers can teach well and are fully prepared consistent with the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and the NSTA Standards for Science Teacher Preparation National Science Teachers Association (2003). After certification, new teachers need special science-specific teaching support during their first years of teaching to enable them to apply their science and pedagogical knowledge and skills successfully. Science teacher preparation must provide a foundation upon which teachers may build throughout their professional lives in a phased but continuous life-long process.
Assuring Development of Highly Qualified Science Teachers
Science Teacher Preparation and Professional Development programs are essential elements in the success of contemporary science education. They should reflect the goals, research, best practices, and vision of science education communities. To that end, programs should be developed and maintained by professional science educators collaborating with colleagues in the pure and applied sciences. These programs should focus on practices that:
- are grounded in the research and professional literature on science learning and teaching;
- reflect reform expectations outlined in the National Science Education Standards and related literature;
- explicate developmentally appropriate knowledge and skills in science and in science teaching at specific grade levels (preK-16);
- are based on the candidate’s content and pedagogical knowledge and on evidence of effective teaching that includes a range of teacher and student performances;
- are amended periodically as the relevant knowledge evolves with guidance from experts in science teaching, science teacher education, and pure and applied science fields.
The Nature of Excellent Science Teacher Preparation and Development Programs
ASTE is committed to the preparation and development of teachers who promote the national goal of scientific literacy for all and who also encourage the educational development of young people who will contribute later in their lives at the frontiers of the pure and applied sciences. Informed by results of contemporary research on learning and teaching (see for example, NRC, 1999), science teachers must be prepared to meet the needs of their students and communities, grow by participating with others in the science education community, and participate in the development of science education. ASTE is committed to assisting science teacher preparation and professional development programs in achieving the range of learning and teaching goals that are the consensus of professional communities in science education.[iii]
Excellent science teacher preparation and professional development programs have some common characteristics. In such programs, prospective and practicing science teachers:
participate in collaborative professional settings with peers, expert science teachers, science teacher educators, and pure and applied scientists.
- engage in activities that promote their understanding of science concepts and the history and nature of science;
- experience strategies for effective science teaching and inquiry including meaningful laboratory and simulation activities using contemporary technology tools;
- question and evaluate evidence and justify assertions scientifically;
- develop science-specific pedagogical knowledge grounded in contemporary scholarship;
- engage in substantive clinical experiences where they develop and implement lesson plans appropriate for students from diverse backgrounds, assess their success on student learning, and plan next steps to improve their teaching;
- find and use credible information about the safe and effective use of laboratory activities, independent science projects, science fairs, field trips, simulations, computer tools, and curriculum resources.
Responding to Challenges
Multiple complex challenges face science teaching and science teacher education in the USA. These include:
- science teacher shortages in specific science fields and geographic areas[iv];
- profound under-representation of women and minorities in some science teaching fields; and
- large numbers of teachers leaving science teaching positions within their first five years of teaching[v].
The need to expand and support excellent science teacher preparation and professional development programs in fields and locations where there are such problems is clear. Thus, ASTE joins with the National Science Teachers Association[vi] and others encouraging efforts to create scholarships, loan forgiveness programs, tax rebates, and other incentives and innovative school structures to recruit, prepare, and retain competent science teachers. To promote these important but challenging goals collaboration among organizations and individuals with expertise in science teacher education, science teaching, science education research, and the pure and applied sciences is essential.
National Research Council. National Science Education Standards, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1996.
National Research Council. How People Learn, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999.
National Research Council. Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New practices for the new millennium, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.
National Science Teachers Association, Standards for Science Teacher Preparation, Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association, 2003.
National Science Teachers Association, Position Statement on Science Teacher Preparation, Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association, 2004.
**This position statement has been prepared by an ASTE Teacher Preparation and Professional Development Position Statement Task Force, Vincent N. Lunetta, Chair, 2004, working in collaboration with the Teacher Preparation Standing Committee of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) in 2003 – 2004. It complements the NSTA Position Statement on Science Teacher Preparation (NSTA 2004).
[iii] Currently, this consensus is elaborated in the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996), Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology (NRC, 2001), and the Standards for Science Teacher Preparation (NSTA, 2003).