Research on teacher learning in professional development is at an early phase and is arguably lagging in science compared with mathematics and literacy (Borko, 2005). However, there is a handful of case studies (e.g., Crawford, 2000; Rosebery and Puttick, 1998; Smith and Anderson, 1999) that describe the features of high-quality science teacher professional development that engages teachers in doing science, as well as some analyses of its impact on instructional practice and student learning. These serve as examples for researchers to build on and as food for thought for policy makers and professional development providers.
Many, perhaps most, K-8 science teachers have limited science backgrounds and have had little or no direct experience “doing science.” An important trend in teacher professional development is to provide teachers with intensive firsthand experiences in the disciplines. Researchers have documented such programs across the core school subjects, including science (Wilson and Berne, 1999). Providing K-8 science teachers with unique learning opportunities that involve the “doing” of scientific activities is particularly interesting, as many report very limited exposure to science course work and inquiry experiences in particular. In science these experiences provide teachers with opportunities to think scientifically, to analyze phenomena, and to engage in meaningful discourse with peers. Moreover, in these settings, science teachers gain experiences with a broad range of scientific issues, including the generation of researchable questions and working as a community to interpret evidence and determine what counts. All the while, these experiences are connected to instructional practice as they are situated in K-8 curricula.
Rosebery and Puttick (1998) describe an example of long-term teacher professional development that is rooted in teacher inquiry experiences. They present an in-depth longitudinal case study of how one novice elementary school teacher, Elizabeth, developed her understanding of physical science topics and science itself through her participation in workshops that engaged groups of K-8 science teachers in doing science. Elizabeth, like many elementary school teachers, had no postsecondary science experience to speak of. She joined a group of teachers in a professional development program that took place during the summer and was run by educators and researchers from the Cheche Konnen Center. She and her peers, over a period of 3 years, worked on explaining qualitative phenomena such as “Why do helium balloons float?” This was a question taken up early in Elizabeth’s first summer workshop. For Elizabeth and her peers, it served as the basis of ongoing discussion, generation of a range of experimental trials, and practice at organizing and interpreting evidence to characterize physical