Research Competencies in Science Teacher Education

Expected by NSTA

Excerpts from:

National Science Teachers Association. Standards for Science Teacher Preparation. 2003

Standard 1: Content

Science Content Recommendations

C. Recommendations for Secondary Science Teachers

C.2. Recommendations for Teachers of Biology

C.3. Recommendations for Teachers of Chemistry

C.4. Recommendations for Teachers of the Earth and Space Sciences

C.5. Recommendations for Teachers of Physics

Standard 2: Nature of Science
Standard 3: Inquiry
Standard 4: Issues


Standard 1: Content

Teachers of science understand and can articulate the knowledge and practices of contemporary science. They can interrelate and interpret important concepts, ideas, and applications in their fields of licensure; and can conduct scientific investigations. To show that they are prepared in content, teachers of science must demonstrate that they:

d.   Understand research and can successfully design, conduct, report and evaluate investigations in science.

e.   Understand and can successfully use mathematics to process and report data, and solve problems, in their field(s) of licensure.

(3)

Discussion

The rationales for three of the five content standards (subject matter, unifying concepts, and technology/applications [standards 1-3]) have been discussed at length in the NSES. Knowledge of research within the content discipline is required as the basis for conducting instruction through inquiry and engaging students in effective inquiry, as required by standards in the Inquiry cluster. Requirements for mathematics are based on the need for candidates, as teachers, to lead students in the use of mathematics to solve problems and to process, present and interpret data.

(4)

Applications in Programs

Until recently, the science content for many teachers consisted largely of lecture and validation labs (Boyer, 1987; Dunkin & Barnes, 1986; Smith & Anderson, 1984), with little attention given to undergraduate research experiences or applications of science in technological contexts. Consequently, teacher candidates with majors in the field frequently could not effectively interrelate concepts in their disciplines (Lederman, Gess?Newsome & Latz (1994); Mason, 1992).

As a practical matter, course grades may be used as performance indicators in relation to general subject matter preparation, which is the substance of standard one, or where a course specifically addresses the standard such that completing it successfully addresses the standard on its face; for example, a course in research design might meet standard four. The more specific standards (two through five) generally require more specifically targeted assessments.

(4-5)

Science Content Recommendations

C. Recommendations for Secondary Science Teachers

C.2. Recommendations for Teachers of Biology

C.2.b. Advanced Competencies. In addition to these core competencies, teachers of biology as a primary field should be prepared to effectively lead students to understand:

20.   How to design, conduct, and report research in biology.

(10)

C.3. Recommendations for Teachers of Chemistry

C.3.b. Advanced Competencies. In addition to the core competencies, teachers of chemistry as a primary field should also be prepared to effectively lead students to understand:

26.   How to design, conduct, and report research in chemistry.

(11)

C.4. Recommendations for Teachers of the Earth and Space Sciences

C.4.b. Advanced Competencies. In addition to the core competencies, teachers of the Earth and space sciences as a primary field should be prepared to effectively lead students to understand:

21.   How to design, conduct, and report research in the Earth and space sciences.

(21)

C.5. Recommendations for Teachers of Physics

C.5.b. Advanced Competencies. In addition to the core competencies, teachers of physics as a primary field should be prepared to effectively lead students to understand:

21.   How to design, conduct, and report research in physics.

(14)

Standard 2: Nature of Science

Teachers of science engage students effectively in studies of the history, philosophy, and practice of science. They enable students to distinguish science from nonscience, understand the evolution and practice of science as a human endeavor, and critically analyze assertions made in the name of science. To show they are prepared to teach the nature of science, teachers of science must demonstrate that they:

a.   Understand the historical and cultural development of science and the evolution of knowledge in their discipline.

b.   Understand the philosophical tenets, assumptions, goals, and values that distinguish science from technology and from other ways of knowing the world.

c.   Engage students successfully in studies of the nature of science including, when possible, the critical analysis of false or doubtful assertions made in the name of science.

Discussion

Understanding of the nature of science—the goals, values and assumptions inherent in the development and interpretation of scientific knowledge (Lederman, 1992)—has been an objective of science instruction since at least the turn of the last century (Central Association of Science and Mathematics Teachers, 1907). It is regarded in contemporary documents as a fundamental attribute of science literacy (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996) and a defense against unquestioning acceptance of pseudoscience and of reported research (Park, 2000; Sagan, 1996).

Standard 3: Inquiry

Teachers of science engage students both in studies of various methods of scientific inquiry and in active learning through scientific inquiry. They encourage students, individually and collaboratively, to observe, ask questions, design inquiries, and collect and interpret data in order to develop concepts and relationships from empirical experiences. To show that they are prepared to teach through inquiry, teachers of science must demonstrate that they:

a.   Understand the processes, tenets, and assumptions of multiple methods of inquiry leading to scientific knowledge.

b.   Engage students successfully in developmentally appropriate inquiries that require them to develop concepts and relationships from their observations, data, and inferences in a scientific manner.

Discussion

Reviews of scientific literature demonstrate that scientific inquiry consists of more than a single series of steps called "the scientific method." Scientists may use multiple strategies and processes to solve different kinds of problems. One of the major goals of science education, according to the Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy (AAAS, 1993) and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) is to enable students to use inquiry to solve problems of interest to them. The ability to engage in effective inquiry using scientifically defensible methods is considered a hallmark of scientific literacy.

True inquiry requires the use of nonalgorithmic and complex higher-order thinking skills to address open-ended problems (Resnick, 1987). Multiple solutions may be possible, and the inquirer must use multiple, sometimes conflicting, criteria to evaluate his or her actions and findings. Inquiry is characterized by a degree of uncertainty about outcomes. True inquiry ends with an elaboration and judgment that depends upon the previous reasoning processes.

In science education, inquiry may take a number of forms: discovery learning, in which the teacher sets up the problem and processes but allows the students to make sense of the outcomes on their own, perhaps with assistance in the form of leading questions; guided inquiry, in which the teacher poses the problem and may assist the students in designing the inquiry and making sense of the outcome; and open inquiry, in which the teacher merely provides the context for solving problems that students then identify and solve (Trowbridge & Bybee, 1990).

These three approaches lie on a continuum without boundaries between them. What is common to all of them is that they require students to solve a genuine (to them) problem by observing and collecting data and constructing inferences from data. More advanced forms of inquiry require students to ask questions that can be addressed by research, design experiments, and evaluate conclusions. Teachers who use inquiry effectively tend to be more indirect, asking more open-ended questions, leading rather than directing, and stimulating more student-to-student discussion (Brophy & Good, 1986). In general, the younger the child, the more concrete the inquiries should be.

Students who learn through inquiry gain a deeper understanding of the resulting concepts than when the same concepts are presented through lecture or readings. This has led to the principle that less is more: Teaching fewer concepts with greater depth will result in better long-term understanding than covering many concepts superficially. In addition, students will gain the skills of inquiry and scientific attitudes desired by the standards, and gain greater knowledge of how scientific research is actually conducted.

Standard 4: Issues

Teachers of science recognize that informed citizens must be prepared to make decisions and take action on contemporary science- and technology-related issues of interest to the general society. They require students to conduct inquiries into the factual basis of such issues and to assess possible actions and outcomes based upon their goals and values. To show that they are prepared to engage students in studies of issues related to science, teachers of science must demonstrate that they:

a.   Understand socially important issues related to science and technology in their field of licensure, as well as processes used to analyze and make decisions on such issues.

b.   Engage students successfully in the analysis of problems, including considerations of risks, costs, and benefits of alternative solutions; relating these to the knowledge, goals and values of the students.

Discussion

An important basic function of science teacher education is to prepare teachers to relate science and technology meaningfully to the local community, to the daily lives of students, and to broader societal issues (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996).

Nearly fifty years ago Ralph Tyler argued that subject matter specialists should seek to answer the question: "What can your subject contribute to the education of young people who are not going to be specialists in your field; what can your subject contribute to the layman, the garden variety of citizen?" (Tyler, 1949, p. 26). The response of the science education community today is to identify elements of science instruction that contribute to the science literacy of individuals as citizens

The abilities of students, as citizens, to make justified decisions on values and issues related to science and technology, to understand that there may be many sides to an issue, and that there are always cost-benefit tradeoffs in decision-making, are fundamental components not only of science literacy, but also of citizenship in a democratic society.

Many issues today are related to science and technology. Making a meaningful decision on these issues requires knowledge of related science content, the nature of science and technology, and the ways science relates to oneself and to others in society. Intelligent decision-making on issues requires data and context, or decisions become mere opinions. Science teachers must be prepared to lead students in structured explorations of issues of concern, not just soliciting opinions or conducting debates with little substantive backing.

To that end, programs must provide explicit tools for decision-making and cost-benefit analysis and ensure that candidates are prepared and capable of using these tools in their teaching.

Applications in Programs

Science teacher preparation programs should give explicit attention to the study of socially important issues related to science and technology such as species preservation, land use, chemical pollution, weapons development, and cloning, to name but a few. Such issues may be introduced in science courses, but seldom do science courses provide for structured cost-benefit analyses or decision-making on these issues that considers all perspectives. Programs must ensure that candidates are prepared to lead students in learning how to dissect and analyze issues using data and information as resources.

The question of how to consider an issue is just as important as the issues considered. To that end, candidates will themselves need to learn how to explore issues with an open mind. Once this is accomplished, they will need to learn how to lead students to explore these issues with the goal of making an informed and justified decision.

To meet this standard, candidates must demonstrate that they are aware of important issues and are knowledgeable of approaches to analyzing these issues. Candidates should access common sources of information (newspapers, magazines, televised reports) to relate their science instruction to contemporary issues and events. They must then demonstrate through student achievement that they are able to effectively lead them in the study of an important issue.


Last modified February 13, 2007
by Boris Teske, Prescott Memorial Library,
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA 71272