In many ways, the message of this report is a simple one: all students deserve to understand and enjoy science, and helping teachers offer rich instruction will require building similarly rich learning environments for all science teachers. Creating such environments entails creating meaningful formal professional development programs and other opportunities for teachers to learn, as well as implementing policies and practices in schools that nurture cultures of learning for teachers and students alike.
As simple as this message may seem, the proverbial devil is in the details. As the new vision for the science education of K-12 students set forth in the Next Generation Science Standards (hereafter referred to as NGSS) and A Framework for K-12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as the Framework) has evolved, it is one that engages students in learning scientific and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. To achieve this new vision, teaching and learning in science classrooms will need to change, and so, too, will professional learning opportunities for teachers. This chapter summarizes the committee’s major conclusions and recommendations for effecting the needed changes, which are based on the evidence reviewed in this report and on the committee members’ collective expertise. We begin with the conclusions that flow directly from the analyses of existing literature in each chapter. We then lay out a set of conclusions the committee drew after looking across these analyses.
In reviewing the available research related to issues of contemporary science teacher learning, the committee drew a series of interrelated conclusions:
Conclusion 1: An evolving understanding of how best to teach science, including the NGSS, represents a significant transition in the way science is currently taught in most classrooms and will require most science teachers to alter the way they teach.
This vision of science learning and teaching draws on a long tradition of reform in science education that has emphasized the need for all students to learn significant disciplinary core ideas, coupled with scientific and engineering practices that are part of inquiry. In addition, the vision emphasizes the need to integrate knowledge through crosscutting concepts. To teach science in these ways, teachers will need to move away from traditional models of instruction that emphasize memorizing facts and covering a large number of discrete topics, focusing instead on core ideas, studied in depth, through active student engagement in investigations and opportunities to reflect on and build scientific explanations for phenomena.
Conclusion 2: The available evidence suggests that many science teachers have not had sufficiently rich experiences with the content relevant to the science courses they currently teach, let alone a substantially redesigned science curriculum. Very few teachers have experience with the science and engineering practices described in the NGSS. These trends are especially pronounced both for elementary school teachers and in schools that serve high percentages of low-income students, where teachers are often newer and less qualified.
Although professional development is available to all teachers, the committee found no evidence that elementary, middle, and high school science teachers have adequately rigorous opportunities to learn content related to the courses they teach, the new vision of science education, or how to teach to that new vision in challenging and effective ways. Instead, professional development appears to be more piecemeal, with few—if any—opportunities for the majority of teachers to engage in sustained study of science, scientific practices, and effective science instruction. High school teachers have some of these opportunities, while middle and elementary school teachers, who themselves may not have had much preparation in science and science teaching in their initial teacher prepa-
ration experiences, have fewer. Again, this situation is most pronounced in schools that serve high percentages of low-income students, and in which teacher turnover is especially high, leading to a less experienced and qualified workforce.
Conclusion 3: Typically, the selection of and participation in professional learning opportunities is up to individual teachers. There is often little attention to developing collective capacity for science teaching at the building and district levels or to offering teachers learning opportunities tailored to their specific needs and offered in ways that support cumulative learning over time.
While teachers in U.S. schools are required to participate regularly in professional development, mandated professional development tends to be generic, with little attention to systematically meeting the needs of science teachers. Many teachers pursue their own learning, taking summer professional development courses, volunteering to participate in curriculum development and/or review, working with preservice teachers, or taking on the role of professional developer or instructional coach. However, these individual pursuits are seldom linked to a well-articulated theory of teacher learning over time or a systemic vision of how to develop individual and collective teacher capacity.
Conclusion 4: Science teachers’ learning needs are shaped by their preparation, the grades and content areas they teach, and the contexts in which they work. Three important areas in which science teachers need to develop expertise are
- the knowledge, capacity, and skill required to support a diverse range of students;
- content knowledge, including understanding of disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific and engineering practices; and
- pedagogical content knowledge for teaching science, including a repertoire of teaching practices that support students in rigorous and consequential science learning.
The set of professional knowledge and skills that informs good teaching is vast. Central to this knowledge base are the knowledge and skill needed to teach all students, mastery of science and science practices, and understanding and skill in teaching science. The committee acknowledges that there are other domains of knowledge equally essential to effective science teaching, and chose to focus on these three as there is considerable science-specific research on how these domains enable high-quality
teaching. The capacity to teach all students science depends on teachers’ respect for and understanding of the range of experiences and knowledge that students from diverse backgrounds bring to school, and how to capitalize on those experiences in crafting rigorous instruction. Knowledge of the sciences one is assigned to teach, of how those sciences are related to one another and to other fields like engineering, and knowledge and skill in how best to teach students science also are essential to high-quality instruction as envisioned in the NGSS and Framework.
This new vision of science teaching and learning will require new learning on the part of all teachers in all of these domains. The knowledge that students bring with them from their families and communities that is relevant to disciplinary core ideas, scientific and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts is an area yet to be fully explored. In general, many teachers have had limited opportunities to engage in scientific and engineering practices themselves, much less to explore them in connection with the disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts that animate the new vision. New curricula and instructional experiences will need to be crafted—with input from and the active engagement of teachers themselves—to bring that vision to life in U.S. classrooms. The knowledge demands of this new vision will require that the entire community—science teachers, teacher educators, professional developers, and science education researchers, as well as institutions of higher education, cultural institutions, and industry all of which invest in professional development—to create new, ongoing opportunities for teachers to rise to these new standards and to document what they learn from their efforts along the way.
Conclusion 5: The best available evidence based on science professional development programs suggests that the following features of such programs are most effective:
- active participation of teachers who engage in the analysis of examples of effective instruction and the analysis of student work,
- a content focus,
- alignment with district policies and practices, and
- sufficient duration to allow repeated practice and/or reflection on classroom experiences.
The national interest in the power of professional development to enhance teacher quality has led to considerable investments in such programs and in research on what makes them effective. While the goal of linking professional development to student learning outcomes through
research remains somewhat elusive, a great deal has been learned from the careful work of researchers and professional development leaders who have iteratively built professional learning programs for teachers. More research remains to be conducted in this area, but the research in science education, as well as mathematics, suggests that professional development of sufficient duration to allow teachers to deepen their pedagogical content knowledge and practice new instructional methods in their classrooms can lead to improved instruction and student achievement. Hallmarks of high-quality professional learning opportunities include focus on specific content that is aligned with district or school curriculum and assessment policies, as well as the proactive and professional engagement of teachers are hallmarks of high-quality professional learning opportunities.
Conclusion 6: Professional learning in online environments and through social networking holds promise, although evidence on these modes from both research and practice is limited.
The potential to use new media to enhance teacher learning is undeniable. Social networking and online environments hold promise for meeting the “just-in-time” learning needs of teachers, and for providing access to science expertise and science education expertise for teachers in schools and communities that lack rich resources in these domains. While these areas have yet to be fully explored by teacher developers and science education researchers, the committee sees considerable potential for these resources as research accumulates concerning their effective use.
Conclusion 7: Science teachers’ professional learning occurs in a range of settings both within and outside of schools through a variety of structures (professional development programs, professional learning communities, coaching, and the like). There is limited evidence about the relative effectiveness of this broad array of learning opportunities and how they are best designed to support teacher learning.
Recently, there has been increasing commitment to creating schools where both students and teachers can learn. This heightened interest in “embedded professional learning” can take many forms, including professional learning communities; professional networks that reach across districts, the state, or the country; induction programs for early-career teachers; and coaching and mentoring for teachers wishing to improve their practice. Since teachers spend the majority of their professional time in classrooms and schools, it seems wise to capitalize on efforts to design
settings that support their professional learning, both individually and collectively and to expand research in those settings.
Conclusion 8: Schools need to be structured to encourage and support ongoing learning for science teachers especially given the number of new teachers entering the profession.
A growing body of research documents the generative conditions established for teacher learning when schools foster collective responsibility for student learning and well-being. However, the evidence base related to learning opportunities for teachers in schools and classrooms is weak, especially with regard to science. This, too, appears to be an area with too much potential to ignore. In particular, building school infrastructure that systematically develops the science and science teaching expertise necessary to engage all students meaningfully in the new vision embodied the Framework and NGSS can work proactively to ameliorate differences between schools that have ready access to such expertise and those that struggle to connect with it.
Conclusion 9: Science teachers’ development is best understood as long term and contextualized. The schools and classrooms in which teachers work shape what and how they learn. These contexts include, but are not limited to school, district, and state policies and practices concerning professional capacity (e.g., professional networks, coaching, partnerships), coherent instructional guidance (e.g., state and district curriculum and assessment/accountability policies), and leadership (e.g., principals and teacher leaders).
Teachers’ capacity to teach science well over time is intimately related to the environments in which they teach. The policies and practices that shape instruction vary from teacher evaluation to curriculum and accountability to teacher assignment. For example, teachers cannot teach science courses that do not align with their preparation. Nor is it productive for the feedback teachers receive concerning their annual evaluations to run counter to messages about effective science instruction embodied in curriculum policies.
Conclusion 10: School and district administrators are central to building the capacity of the science teacher workforce.
Conditions in schools and districts can create contexts that allow teachers to take better advantage of professional learning opportunities both within the workday and outside of school. These conditions might
include, for example, required professional development time and other learning opportunities designed to foster better understanding of how to teach the redesigned science curriculum. Administrators can direct resources (e.g., location of teachers, scheduling of classes, materials budget) toward science and teachers’ learning in science. They also can send messages about the importance of science in schools. As instructional leaders, they need to understand the vision for science education in the Framework and NGSS and align policies and practices in the school to support this vision.
Conclusion 11: Teacher leaders may be an important resource for building a system that can support ambitious science instruction. There is increasing attention to creating opportunities for teachers to take on leadership roles to both improve science instruction and strengthen the science teacher workforce. These include roles as instructional coaches, mentors, and teacher leaders.
Expertise in both science and pedagogy in science is an important component of building capacity in schools and districts. The development of science teacher leaders can be an important mechanism for supporting science learning for all teachers. The range of new roles for teacher leaders—lead teacher, curriculum specialist, mentor, collaborating teacher, instructional coach, professional development leader—holds considerable potential for enhancing the science teacher workforce. Not only do these teacher leaders engage in advanced study of science and science teaching themselves, but they also take on roles that involve helping fellow teachers learn. Such leaders can guide school- or district-based professional learning communities, identify useful resources, and provide feedback to teachers as they modify their instructional practices. While little research exists on the effects of these leaders on teacher learning more generally, the committee sees these new roles as a potentially powerful mechanism for improving science teacher quality collectively.
In addition to the above conclusions, all of which are drawn from chapter-specific analyses, the committee drew two additional conclusions based on the big picture emerging from these related, but separate analyses.
Conclusion 12: Closing the gap between the new way of teaching science and current instruction in many schools will require attending to individual teachers’ learning needs, as well as to the larger system of practices and policies (such as allocation of resources, use of time, and provision of opportunities for collaboration) that shape how science is taught.
The committee’s view of science teacher learning is both individual and collective. That is, we see science teacher learning as an issue of building the capacity not only of individual teachers, but also of the science educator workforce more generally, particularly the capacity of science teachers in a school or district. The demands of schooling are such that distributed expertise is essential and building capacity across a group of teachers needs to be the goal. In addition, enhancing the collective teacher workforce is not simply a matter of ensuring that teachers, individually and collectively, have the necessary knowledge and skill. It is also necessary for schools, districts, school networks, and states to develop practices and policies including teacher hiring and retention, teacher evaluation, curriculum and accountability guidance, and school staffing and school/district leadership that enable good science teaching. Contexts shape the work of teaching, and enhancing science instruction in the United States will require new policies as well as well-prepared teachers.
Conclusion 13: The U.S. educational system lacks a coherent and well-articulated system of learning opportunities for teachers to continue developing expertise while in the classroom. Opportunities are unevenly distributed across schools, districts, and regions, with little attention to sequencing or how to support science teachers’ learning systematically. Moreover, schools and districts often lack systems that can provide a comprehensive view of teacher learning; identify specific teacher needs; or track investments—in time, money and resources—in science teachers’ professional learning
This is not a new observation, but it is a continuing problem. Despite a wealth of opportunities for science teacher learning offered in schools and districts and through cultural institutions and industry—ranging from summer institutes to research apprenticeships to curriculum development to Lesson Study—the majority of the nation’s science are impoverished in terms of targeted, coherent, aligned, and cumulative opportunities to enrich their understanding and practices in teaching all students challenging science. Piecemeal approaches have not redressed this well-established problem.
New incentives and investments to redesign/restructure science teachers’ learning opportunities in schools, districts, school networks, and partnerships are needed. In particular, leadership by administrators at the school and district levels is critical to promoting and supporting the enabling conditions for science teachers to learn. Teacher leaders also play a critical role in these efforts. Approaches for elementary, middle, and high schools may need to vary, but in every case, school systems need ways to identify the myriad opportunities that exist for teacher learning, when and under what conditions these opportunities are aligned with one
another, and how scarce resources can best be used to maximize opportunities for teacher learning and growth.
Teachers matter, but they do not work in a vacuum. Their ability to elevate students’ scientific understanding depends on the schools, districts, and communities in which they work and the professional communities to which they belong. The recommendations below are intended to address the issues identified in the conclusions with particular attention to the ways that the current education system needs to be changed in order to support teachers’ ongoing learning as they respond to the demands placed by current reforms in science education.
Here, we focus on how schools and school systems (such as districts or charter networks) can improve the learning opportunities for science teachers. Focusing on this level of the system is essential, given the important roles played by principals and teacher leaders in connecting the rhetoric of visions such as that embodied in the Framework and NGSS to the realities of how teachers and students spend their time. Below we offer some specific recommendations for practices and policies we view as necessary to enhance ongoing teacher learning. Because the research base in this area is so uneven, often lacking science-specific studies related to the issues raised in this report, we think that these recommendations go hand-in-hand with research needs, and we offer recommendations for meeting these needs later in this chapter.
The following recommendations are not intended to be in chronological order—Recommendation 1, for example, does not have to be carried out first. Indeed, a plan for acting on recommendations toward the goal of enhancing science teacher learning to meet student learning goals is needed, and that plan might entail acting on a small number of recommendations, ordered in a way that capitalizes on current practice and policy and accelerates change.
In an ideal world, all these recommendations would be implemented. But in the real and complex world of schooling, it is important to start with one recommendation, building momentum, and with a long term goal of acting on the full set. Equally important is that acting on these recommendations will require additional resources (money, material, time, and personnel) or significant shifts in priorities. Such tradeoffs are inevitable, but investing in the individual and collective capacity of the workforce is essential to the improvement of science teaching in the United States. Finally, the committee presumes that acting on these recommendations
will require the engagement of teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators as partners in creating strong systems of science teacher learning.
Take stock of the current status of learning opportunities for science teachers: School and district administrators should identify current offerings and opportunities for teacher learning in science—using a broad conceptualization of teacher learning opportunities, and including how much money and time are spent (as well as other associated costs). Throughout this process, attention should be paid to the opportunities available for teachers to learn about
- approaches for teaching all students,
- science content and scientific practices, and
- science pedagogical knowledge and science teaching practices.
When identifying costs, administrators should consider both traditional professional development time and other supports for learning, such as curriculum, teacher evaluation, and student assessment/accountability. Given differences in the learning needs of elementary, middle, and high school teachers, expenditures and time allocations should be broken down by grade level and by school and district level. Plans to address any inequities across classrooms or schools should be developed with an eye toward policies and practices that will equitably distribute teacher expertise and teacher learning opportunities across the system.
Design a portfolio of coherent learning experiences for science teachers that attend to teachers’ individual and context-specific needs in partnership with professional networks, institutions of higher education, cultural institutions, and the broader scientific community as appropriate: Teachers and school and district administrators should articulate, implement, and support teacher learning opportunities in science as coherent, graduated sequences of experiences toward larger goals for improving science teaching and learning. Here, too, attention should be paid to building teachers’ knowledge and skill in the sciences and scientific practices, in science pedagogical content knowledge, and in science teaching practices. It is critical to support teachers’ opportunities to learn how to connect with students of diverse backgrounds and experiences and how to tap into relevant funds of knowledge of students and communities.
District personnel and school principals, in collaboration with teachers and parents, should identify the specific learning needs of science teachers in their schools and develop a multiyear growth plan for their
science teachers’ learning that is linked to their growth plan for students’ science learning. Central to this work are four questions:
- In light of our school’s/district’s science goals for our students, what learning opportunities will teachers need?
- What kinds of expertise are needed to support these learning opportunities?
- Where is that expertise located (inside and outside of schools)?
- What social arrangements and resources will enable this work?
Using a variety of assessments/measures designed to provide the kind of concrete feedback necessary to support (teacher and program) improvement, school principals, in collaboration with teachers and school partners, should regularly consult data form such sources as (teacher observations, student work, and student surveys or interviews) to assess progress on the growth plan. It will also be important to consider the larger contexts in which the plan will unfold and how existing policies and practices regarding personnel (hiring, retention, placement) and instructional guidance (curriculum and assessment) can enable or limit the plan.
Consider both specialized professional learning programs outside of school and opportunities for science teachers’ learning embedded in the workday: A coherent, standards and evidence-based portfolio of professional learning opportunities for science teachers should include both specialized programs that occur outside of the school day and ongoing learning opportunities that are built into the workday and enhance capacity in schools and districts. Development of this portfolio will require some restructuring of teachers’ work in schools to support new learning opportunities. School and district leaders will need to develop policies and practices that provide the necessary resources (fiscal, time, facilities, tools, incentives).
As school and district leaders identify professional learning opportunities for science teachers, they should work to develop a portfolio of opportunities that address teachers’ varied needs, in ways that are sensitive to the school or district context. School and district leaders should not only make this portfolio of opportunities available to teachers; but also actively encourage, through their leadership and provision of resources, teachers’ engagement in these opportunities, and provide time during the school day for teachers to engage meaningfully in them. Furthermore, school and district leaders should work with teams of teachers to build coherent programs of science teaching learning opportunities, tailored to individual teachers and the school as a whole. The portfolio of teacher
learning opportunities should include structured, traditional professional development; cross-school teacher professional communities, and collaborations with local partners.
Design and select learning opportunities for science teachers that are informed by the best available research: Teachers’ learning opportunities should be aligned with a system’s science standards, and should be grounded in an underlying theory of teacher learning and in research on the improvement of professional practice, and on how to meet the needs of the range of adult and student learners in a school or district. Learning opportunities for science teachers should have the following characteristics:
- Designed to achieve specific learning goals for teachers.
- Be content specific, that is, focused on particular scientific concepts and practices.
- Be student specific, that is, focused on the specific students served by the school district.
- Linked to teachers’ classroom instruction and include analysis of instruction.
- Include opportunities for teachers to practice teaching science in new ways and to interact with peers in improving the implementation of new teaching strategies.
- Include opportunities for teachers to collect and analyze data on their students’ learning.
- Offer opportunities for collaboration.
Designers of learning opportunities for teachers including commercial providers, community organizations, institutions of higher education and districts and states, should develop learning opportunities for teachers that reflect the above criteria.
When selecting learning opportunities for teachers, district and school leaders and teachers themselves should use the above criteria as a guide for identifying the most promising programs and learning experiences. District and state administrators should use these criteria to provide guidance for teachers on how to identify high-quality learning experiences.
District and state administrators should use (and make public) quality indicators to identify, endorse, and fund a portfolio of teacher learning opportunities, and should provide guidance for school leaders and teachers on how to select high-quality learning experiences in science appropriate to specific contexts.
Develop internal capacity in science while seeking external partners with science expertise: School and district leaders should work to build school- and district-level capacity around science teaching. These efforts should include creating learning opportunities for teachers but might also include exploring different models for incorporating science expertise, such as employing science specialists at the elementary level or providing high school science department heads with time to observe and collaborate with their colleagues. When developing a strategy for building capacity, school and district leaders should consider the tradeoffs inherent in such choices.
School and district leaders should also explore developing partnerships with individuals and organizations—such as local businesses, institutions of higher education or science rich institutions—that can bring science expertise.
Crucial to developing relevant expertise is developing the capacity of professional development leaders. Investing in the development of professional developers who are knowledgeable about teaching all students the vision of science education represented in the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards Lead States, 2013) and the Framework (National Research Council, 2012) is critical. It is not sufficient for these leaders to be good teachers themselves; they must also be prepared and supported to work with adult learners and to coordinate professional development with other policies and programs (including staffing, teacher evaluation, curriculum development, and student assessment).
Create, evaluate, and revise policies and practices that encourage teachers to engage in professional learning related to science: District and school administrators and relevant leaders should work to establish dedicated professional development time during the salaried work week and work year for science teachers. They should encourage teachers to participate in science learning opportunities and structure time to allow for collaboration around science. Resources for professional learning should include time to meet with other teachers, to observe other classrooms, and to attend discrete events; space to meet with other teachers; requested materials; and incentives to participate. These policies and practices should take advantage of linkages with other policies For example, natural connections can be made between policies concerning professional development and teacher evaluation. Similarly, administrators could develop policies that more equitably distribute qualified and experienced science teachers across all students in school, districts, and school networks.
At the elementary level, district and school leaders should work to
establish parity for science professional development in relationship to other subjects, especially mathematics and English language arts.
The potential of new formats and media should be explored to support science teachers’ learning when appropriate: Districts should consider the use of technology and online spaces/resources to support teacher learning in science. These tools may be particularly useful for supporting cross-school collaboration, providing teachers with flexible schedules for accessing resources, or enabling access to professional learning opportunities in rural areas where teachers may be isolated and it is difficult to convene in a central location.
As noted, the above recommendations focus on schools and districts/school networks, as the committee sees work at that level as a necessary condition for realizing the vision of the Framework and NGSS. Without the work of teachers, professional development leaders, and school leaders at the local level, the promise of these visionary documents cannot be realized.
Of course, working at that local level—while necessary—is not sufficient to change how science is taught across the United States and determining whether all children have access to high-quality science learning experiences. Within and across states, as well as nationally, science education needs to be elevated through policies, practices, and funding mechanisms. Without that kind of support, the local and essential work described in these recommendations will fall short. Other reports of the National Research Council (2014, 2015) include recommendations targeted to the state level that identify policies such as those related to assessment (National Research Council, 2014), high school graduation requirements (National Research Council, 2015), and teacher certification (National Research Council, 2015) that can help create supportive contexts for improving science education. The National Research Council (2013) also has issued recommendations for a national indicator system that would make it possible to track improvement in STEM education reforms, covering domains of state policy, curriculum, accountability, and teacher quality, and the National Science Teachers Association has issued a number of relevant position statements on accountability, teacher preparation and induction, leadership, and professional development.1
As states, districts, and schools move forward with initiatives aimed at improving supports for science teachers’ learning, they should leverage these and other relevant resources that have been developed by such national organizations as the National Science Teachers Association, the
Council of State Science Supervisors, and Achieve, Inc. and are available online. These organizations also are creating networks of science educators who are exploring the Framework and NGSS and sharing ideas about implementation of the vision set forth in those documents. It is a massive undertaking to support all students, teachers, and schools in rising to the challenges of the new vision of science teaching and learning. And while the committee’s recommendations focus on a set of strategic activities that schools and districts might undertake to make progress, the science teachers, scientists, science teacher educators, and professional development leaders who constitute the membership of these organizations can contribute much to an enriched understanding of how to support ongoing teacher learning.
Considerable research exists, both in science education and in education more generally on which to draw, for insights into the wise development of policies, programs, and practices that will enhance teacher learning. At the same time, much remains to be learned. The committee identified several areas of research that would inform the work of school leaders interested in supporting ongoing teacher learning. Before offering our recommendations for future research, we reiterate the major gaps in the research literature.
- No system is in place to collect data on the science teacher workforce, their qualifications, experience, and preparation. This is due in part to differences across states in both teacher certification and data collection; the problem is exacerbated by a lack of measures that could be used to do comparative work. The authors of the National Research Council (2010) study of teacher preparation make a similar observation.
- No system is in place to collect data on general trends in science teaching and learning. This gap will challenge the collective capacity to assess any progress that may be made on meeting the challenges of the vision in the Framework and the NGSS. The observations in the National Research Council report Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-21 STEM Education (2013) are similar. Studies vary in both their conceptions of good science teaching and how teaching is measured, compromising the capacity to ascertain general trends.
- No system in place to collect data about the myriad professional learning opportunities that teachers encounter in and out of
school. The committee found enormous variation in teacher learning opportunities, with no centralized way to determine general trends or the effectiveness of various programs or combinations of experiences. This observation is similar to a conclusion drawn by the authors of the National Research Council (2010) report on teacher preparation.
- While there is a body of research on formal science professional development, that research tends to focus on individual programs and to rely heavily on teacher self report. Few studies used research designs involving control or comparison groups and incorporating pre/post measures of teachers’ knowledge and beliefs, instruction, and students’ outcomes. Without such studies, it is difficult to draw strong conclusions about effectiveness. The field lacks consistently used, technically powerful measures of science teachers’ knowledge and practice, as well as measures that capture the full range of student outcomes. There are a handful of noteworthy exceptions to this pattern (e.g., Heller et al., 2012; Roth et al., 2011).
- Substantially less research exists on other, potentially equally important opportunities for science teacher learning, including professional learning communities, mentoring and coaching, online learning, teacher networks, and teacher evaluation. In general, the evidence base related to learning opportunities for teachers that are embedded in schools and classrooms is weak, especially with regard to science.
- Almost no studies address school organization and context and how they might affect the impact of professional development programs. Little to no published research exists on the effects of recruitment, retention, and staffing policies on the quality of the science teaching workforce and of science instruction in schools and districts.
- Research on how and under what conditions principals and leaders affect the quality of science learning in their schools has yet to be conducted. Also lacking in the research literature are studies of how teachers learn to become leaders, as well as research that examines the role, expertise, or preparation of science professional development providers and facilitators.
Research Recommendation 1: Focus Research on Linking Professional Learning to Changes in Instructional Practice and Student Learning
In general, more research is needed to understand the path from professional learning opportunities to changes in teacher knowledge and
practice to student learning and engagement in terms of both individual teachers and the teacher workforce more generally. To be maximally helpful, that research should attend to the contexts in which teachers learn and teach (see Figure 8-2). The contextual factors that shape and are shaped by teachers’ learning opportunities, include teacher hiring, staffing, and assignment policies and practices; student and school demographics; resource distribution and use; instructional guidance; teacher evaluation; and school organization.
Research Recommendation 2: Invest in Improving Measures of Science Instruction and Science Learning
Fundamental to most research aimed at linking science teacher learning to student science learning and engagement is the development of publicly credible, technically sound, and professionally responsible measures of relevant teacher and student outcomes. Because teaching and learning also have subject-specific aspects, these outcome measures need to sample broadly from the practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts outlined in the new vision of science teaching and learning. The committee cannot emphasize enough the centrality of good measures of teacher and student learning, particularly for addressing gaps in all of the domains cited above. This issue is noted in the National Research Council report Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education (National Research Council, 2013) as well. Lacking good outcome measures, considerable resources will continue to be devoted to professional learning opportunities with a limited ability to gauge their effects. Such measures would enable a great deal of needed research.
Research Recommendation 3: Design and Implement Research That Examines a Variety of Approaches to Supporting Science Teachers’ Learning
The committee urges a broad conceptualization of professional learning and thus research that examines how teachers learn from portfolios of learning opportunities, including both off-site and embedded professional development (e.g., study groups, professional learning communities, lesson study). Of particular benefit would be research assessing the effects of the interactions among various learning opportunities, as well as the particular contributions of different kinds of learning experiences to teacher knowledge and practice. The conduct of such research would require having much better documentation of the range of learning opportunities in which teachers participate and that were designed intentionally to build upon, extend, and enhance one another. Moreover, any investment in
teacher learning ought to be designed to document its effects; this would mean designing strong research in tandem with professional learning experiences, whether those experiences are based in cultural institutions, industry, universities, or schools. As is the case with all of the research recommended here, attention should be paid to contextual variation and how aspects of state, district, and school context mediate and/or moderate the effects of professional learning opportunities on teacher practice and student learning.
Typical research on professional learning is small scale, conducted by the program designers or providers, and uses locally developed measures. Although a growing number of studies entail carrying out large-scale, rigorous examinations of professional development interventions that link teachers’ learning to student outcomes, the results of those studies are mixed. The collective body of small-scale research has produced some insights, but understanding of the nature and effects of the range of professional learning opportunities will remain limited without large-scale studies that include multiple programs and are not as dependent on teacher self-report. A wide range of research methodologies have important roles in shedding light on science teacher learning, as does the use of multiple measures of teacher knowledge and practice and student engagement and learning.
Research Recommendation 4: Commit to Focusing on Meeting the Needs of Diverse Science Learners Across All Research on Professional Development
The committee urges that research on science teacher learning focus on opportunities that help teachers meet the needs of diverse students while teaching to the standards. Accomplishing this goal will require developing and studying professional learning programs—in and outside of schools—that interweave attention to science content with attention to the needs and experiences of all students, including English language learners, special education students, gifted and talented students, and diverse learners. Compelling research exists in many of these areas. But teachers do not teach diverse learners on Tuesdays and science on Wednesdays; they teach the two together, and supportive professional learning experiences for teachers will integrate knowledge across a range of domains. For example, teachers would be aided in achieving the new vision by research documenting how they can tap into students’ funds of knowledge when teaching a specific scientific practice or disciplinary idea. In other words, research that attends to the development of all three dimensions of teacher knowledge and skill discussed in this report—the
capacity to respond to all learners, disciplinary scientific knowledge, and pedagogical content knowledge—is essential.
Research Recommendation 5: Focus Research on Exploring the Potential Role of Technology
When relevant, attending to the potential role of technology in enabling teacher learning would help schools and school districts take advantage of the capabilities of new technologies in enabling teacher learning. Such research could focus on online or hybrid professional development programs, face-to-face learning opportunities that take advantage of the use of technology in pursuit of ambitious instruction, the use of technology to teach to the new vision of science learning, or the support of online professional networks of teachers.
Research Recommendation 6: Design and Implement Research Focused on the Learning Needs of Teacher Leaders and Professional Development Providers
The field also needs research on the development of teacher educators, professional development leaders, and teacher leaders more generally. Learning to teach teachers is related to but distinct from learning to teach. Research documenting and explaining how skilled teacher developers acquire relevant knowledge and practice would help improve the quality of professional learning across the myriad settings in which it takes place.
First, given current efforts toward developing new curriculum and assessment materials aligned with the Framework and NGSS, it would be strategic to design research that documents what teachers learn in developing and implementing those materials, especially in their classrooms and with the range of supports provided to help them. As teachers and schools embrace the new vision for science teaching and learning, teachers, teacher leaders, principals, and professional development staff will be learning a great deal. Research should document that learning so that efforts to reform science instruction can learn productively from that experimentation.
Second, many fields of research relevant to science teaching and learning currently do not address what science teachers and their students learn. Science education would benefit greatly from being integrated into programs of research concerning instructional reform, English language
learners, how to reach and teach diverse student populations, teacher preparation, and teacher evaluation.
Finally, given that many schools and school networks are currently engaged in efforts to improve teacher learning opportunities, some of the research envisioned here might draw on design-based implementation research, networked improvement communities, strategic education partnerships, or other research designs. These research traditions—which are designed as collaborations among various stakeholders (schools, teachers, policy makers, and researchers) and committed to responding quickly to data and shifting course when necessary—holds great promise for helping teachers and schools respond in a timely fashion to the mandate to raise standards and teach all children scientifically rich curricula.
Heller, J.I., Daehler, K.R., Wong, N., Shinohara, M., and Miratrix, L.W. (2012). Differential effects of three professional development models on teacher knowledge and student achievement in elementary science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(3), 333-362.
National Research Council. (2010). Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Committee on the Study of Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards, Board on Science Education. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2013). Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education: A Nation Advancing? Committee on the Evaluation Framework for Successful K-12 STEM Education. Board on Science Education and Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2014). Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards. Committee on Developing Assessments of Science Proficiency in K-12. Board on Testing and Assessment, Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (2015). Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. Committee on Guidance on Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Next Generation Science Standards Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Roth, K., Garnier, H., Chen, C., Lemmens, M., Schwille, K., and Wickler, N.I.Z. (2011). Videobased lesson analysis: Effective science PD for teacher and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(2), 117-148.