commitment to collaborative work; and their self-efficacy and recognition of the power of hands-on experiences in learning science. Although, based on self-reports of a relatively small sample, the results suggest that this is a promising way to integrate teacher education in formal settings with instruction in informal learning environments. However, further research and development are needed to document these promising findings.

Existing research and a variety of evaluation studies suggest that teacher professional development offered by informal science institutions should adhere to the following criteria:

  • goals need to be defined clearly and need to be attainable;

  • programs should be developed in collaboration with teachers and schools to ensure the applicability and usefulness of the strategies offered (conduct a needs assessment);

  • programs ought to aim beyond the immediate professional development experience and focus on implementation in the classroom, with attention to fidelity of implementation while allowing teachers to adjust to their specific situation;

  • professional development experiences need to allow teachers to learn from one another, share experiences, and model new strategies; and

  • online offerings need to include “practice at school” and follow-up support should be provided.

Taking the Lead in a Statewide Initiative

In some instances, informal settings can take the lead in improving the quality of science education in formal settings. In the late 1990s, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle was instrumental in working with other stakeholders to implement a statewide systemic reform effort called LASER (Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform). Part of a strategic leadership team, the Pacific Science Center helped bring exemplary inquiry-centered science curriculum materials to the state’s elementary school children. Along with the new curriculum materials, the leadership team also ensured that teachers received professional development before presenting the material in the classroom.

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