Preparing Educators to Teach Science
One of the most significant challenges associated with engaging the next generation in the sciences is training teachers to foster students’ scientific curiosity. Nearly every state in the country reported a shortage of science teachers last year, pointing to the need to build a stronger pipeline of educators who can nurture students’ interest in science from an early age, and new research shows that science teachers are more likely to succeed in engaging students using inquiry-based instruction approaches. Inquiry-based instruction involves providing students with opportunities to apply scientific methods to experimenting and problem-solving rather than lecturing and drilling in scientific facts. The National Association of Science Teachers, the National Science Education Standards, and Next Generation Science Standards all encourage K-12 teachers to use an inquiry-based approach to science instruction, yet it remains an exception rather than the rule in many classrooms throughout the country. In light of this, teacher education programs at the University of Chicago, The University of Texas at Austin, The Arizona Science Center, and elsewhere are training teacher candidates in inquiry-based instruction. At the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP), this involves pairing traditional academic coursework with experiential learning that prepares aspiring teachers to integrate exercises in creative thinking and hands-on problem solving into science lessons. For example, UChicago UTEP’s students are given an assignment that involves examining the anti-bacterial properties of common herbs. Teacher candidates are required to work through the entire scientific process, from developing a research question and establishing a hypothesis to conducting an experiment, producing and analyzing data, and reporting research results, which prepares them to lead students through inquiry-based science lessons.
Why It Matters
As the global economy grows and evolves, there is an increasing need for skilled workers in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. In the United States, STEM fields pay workers 1.7 times more than the national average and represent some of the fastest growing career paths. Jobs in biomedical engineering, software development, and mathematics are all expected to grow by more than 15 percent by 2020. Yet, a significant gap between the need for skilled workers in STEM industries and the number of students graduating from high school and college with the skills for or interest in STEM careers remains.