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Professional Development of Science Teachers

Today, more than ever, it’s essential for students to develop comprehensive knowledge and skills across scientific disciplines. With the growing global focus on innovation, there’s an ever-increasing demand for STEM expertise across nearly every field. But even for those who don’t pursue a STEM-related career, an effective science education cultivates an appreciation for the natural world and an opportunity to practice critical thinking. 

In other words, high-quality science instruction can help lay the groundwork for students’ life-long success. But for science teachers to continue providing engaging classroom experiences and driving meaningful results, they have to make space for their own skill-building and knowledge growth. And as the field of science evolves and state and district standards change, the professional development of science teachers has become even more valuable.

Here is some helpful background about science educators’ professional development, skills and qualities to expand, and what busy teachers can do to ensure they’re providing the best possible science education. 

Why is the professional development of science teachers so important?

All educators should prioritize professional development, but it’s especially critical for those who teach science subjects. And that’s primarily due to two reasons.

First, science education in the US has many opportunities for improvement, and highly effective science instruction can help schools meet their full potential. In 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a multi-state effort, released new standards for teaching science in the US. Since then, more than 40 states have agreed to adopt the standards, but many have yet to officially roll them out. According to The Nation’s Report Card, 42% of eighth-graders participated in scientific inquiry-related classroom activities “never,” “hardly ever,” or only “once in a while,” while 25% had low levels of interest and enjoyment in science.

Second, science is rapidly evolving, while scientific literacy is becoming more important. With technology advancing at breakneck speeds, having a working knowledge of the fundamentals of science is essential for everyone. 

According to NGSS, “Science—and therefore science education—is central to the lives of all Americans, preparing them to be informed citizens in a democracy and knowledgeable consumers.  If the nation is to compete and lead in the global economy and if American students are to be able to pursue expanding employment opportunities in science-related fields, all students must have a solid K–12 science education that prepares them for college and careers.”

Successful professional development of science teachers helps ensure teachers can support student learning as science advances. It also gives educators the tools and skillset to deliver high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials in a way that keeps students stimulated and helps them master the subject.

What are the five qualities of an effective science teacher?

As you evaluate professional development opportunities, science teacher courses, and solutions to support the classroom experience, there are a few key areas you’ll want to focus on addressing. Here are five characteristics and capabilities of highly effective science teachers:

       1. Foster scientific literacy

Scientific literacy is the understanding of scientific concepts, processes, and phenomena and the ability to apply this knowledge in real-life scenarios. When students possess scientific literacy, they can understand the fundamentals of our natural world and have the tools to explore it further.

Educators who support the development of scientific literacy often use local or global issues, like climate change, to illustrate science through their lesson plans. This helps students learn to identify, understand, and discuss scientific concerns.

       2. Inspire scientific thinking

Science helps us make sense of the world by gathering information and making inferences. Scientific thinking helps students develop a hypothesis to a question, identify ways to test that hypothesis, and collect evidence to support it.

Educators who inspire scientific thinking help students develop skills to advance their knowledge of how the world works both inside and outside the classroom. For example, students might use this process to understand why shadows occur, what happens when water evaporates, or how well plants grow in a variety of conditions.

       3. Cultivate curiosity

Educators know that children are naturally curious, and traditional, lecture-based methods of education often fail to leverage or encourage that curiosity as a means of mastering a subject. But a highly effective science teacher often uses more engaging and differentiated instruction that supports different types of learning and fosters curiosity.

The goal is to equip students with the knowledge and skills to answer their own questions independently by gathering information, testing their theories, and analyzing results.

       4. Understand the value of an interdisciplinary approach

Most questions or problems in life don’t fit within one subject. And effective teachers know that one of the best ways to create a more enriching and engaging learning experience is to take an interdisciplinary approach.

When it comes to science, an interdisciplinary approach might mean integrating reading comprehension, delving into the history of noteworthy scientists and scientific discoveries, using math when recording observational data, or illustrating outcomes. This helps students tackle a problem from multiple perspectives and gain a broader understanding of the topic they’re learning.

       5. Passion for science and continuing education

When it comes to teaching, enthusiasm is often contagious. If a teacher is outwardly and authentically excited about a topic or activity, their lesson is more likely to resonate with students and keep them engaged. Like your students, one of the best ways to stoke your passion for science is to keep learning. Highly effective science teachers continually explore new subjects and ideas and seek new ways to bring those ideas back to the classroom.

What is the best science professional development for teachers?

For teachers to master these five qualities, it’s vital that schools provide the time and resources to support their learning. Professional development of science teachers (and the resulting boost in science instruction) benefits their students, the district, and society as a whole.

Because NGSS sets the standards most states abide by or aspire to, it’s an excellent resource to begin professional development. The NGSS website offers several tools and resources to empower educators, help expand knowledge of standards, implement standards, and assess students’ levels of understanding.

Additionally, busy teachers can also benefit from access to personalized and flexible state standards-aligned curriculum alongside ongoing professional development — and that’s where Propello comes in. This solution offers a full year of curriculum, assessments, and labs created by education experts and developed to NGSS guidelines. Materials can be easily re-sequenced and tailored to the unique needs of each student and classroom to keep students engaged and improve outcomes.

Be on the lookout for more content and events from Propello to support your professional development journey! In the meantime, be sure to sign up for a free account today..