We do not yet know how best to develop the knowledge and skills that teachers require to lead laboratory experiences that help students master science subject matter, develop scientific reasoning skills, and attain the other goals of laboratory education. Further research is needed to examine the scope and effectiveness of the many individual programs and initiatives. The poor quality of laboratory experiences of most high school students today results partly from the challenges that laboratory teaching and learning pose to school administrators.
Reimagining Education in the Exponential Age
In this section we describe the difficulty school administrators encounter when they try to support effective laboratory teaching. School administrators have a strong influence on whether high school science teachers receive the professional development opportunities needed to develop the knowledge and skills we have identified. Providing more focused, effective, and sustained professional development activities for more science teachers requires not only substantial financial resources and knowledge of effective professional development approaches, but also a coherent, coordinated approach at the school and district level.
Some school and school district officials may be reluctant to invest in sustained professional development for science teachers because they fear losing their investments if trained teachers leave for other jobs. Younger workers in a variety of occupations change jobs more frequently than their older counterparts National Research Council, However, compared with other types of professionals, a higher proportion of teachers leave their positions each year. In response to surveys conducted in the mids, teachers indicated that, among the reasons they left their positions—including retirement, layoffs, and family reasons—dissatisfaction was one of the most important.
Mathematics and science teachers reported more frequently than other teachers that job dissatisfaction was the reason they left their jobs.
Some research indicates that teachers do not respond to sustained professional development by taking their new knowledge and skills to other schools, but rather by staying and creating new benefits where they are. One study found that schools that provide more support to new teachers, including such professional development activities as induction and mentoring, have lower turnover rates Ingersoll, , p. In addition, some researchers argue that, although professional development expends resources time, money, supplies , it also creates new human and social resources Gamoran et al. Gamoran and others studied six sites where teachers and educational researchers collaborated to reform science and mathematics teaching, focusing on teaching for understanding.
Gamoran and colleagues found that, although the educational researchers provided an infusion of expertise from outside each of the six school sites, the professional development created in collaboration with the local schools had its greatest impact in supporting local teachers in developing their own communities.
These school-based teacher communities, in turn, not only supported teachers in improving their teaching practices, but also helped them create new resources, such as new curricula. The teaching communities that developed, with their new leaders, succeeded in obtaining additional resources such as shared teacher planning time from within the schools and districts Gamoran et al. Although the time frame of the study prevented analysis of whether the teacher communities were sustained over time, the results suggest that school districts can use focused professional development as a way to create strong teaching communities with the potential to support continued improvement in laboratory teaching and learning.
Currently, most schools are designed to support teaching that follows predictable routines and schedules Gamoran, Administrators allocate time, like other resources, as a way to support teachers in carrying out these routines. However, several types of inflexible scheduling may discourage effective laboratory experiences, including a limits on teacher planning time, b limits on teacher setup and cleanup time, and c limits on time for laboratory experiences.
Shared teacher planning time may be a critical support for improved laboratory teaching, because of the unique nature of laboratory education.
As we have discussed, teachers face an ongoing tension between allowing students greater autonomy in the laboratory and guiding them toward accepted scientific knowledge. They also face uncertainty about how many variables students should struggle with and how much to narrow the context and procedures of the investigation.
A supportive school administration could help teachers overcome their isolation and learn from each other by providing time and space to reflect on their laboratory teaching and on student learning in the company of colleagues Gamoran, In this approach, school administrators recognize that leadership for improved teaching and learning is distributed throughout the school and district and does not rest on traditional hierarchies.
In , according to a nationally representative survey of science teachers, most school administrators provided inadequate time for shared planning and reflection to improve instruction. When asked whether they had time during the regular school week to work with colleagues on the curriculum and teaching, 69 percent of high school teachers disagreed and 4 percent had no opinion, leaving only 28 percent who agreed.
However, 66 percent of teachers indicated that they regularly shared ideas and materials with their colleagues, perhaps indicating that they do so on their own time, outside school hours Hudson et al. Only 11 percent of responding teachers indicated that science teachers in their school regularly observed other science teachers. Among teachers who acted as heads of science departments, 21 percent indicated that the lack of opportunities for teachers to share ideas was a serious problem for science instruction Smith et al.
Time constraints can also discourage teachers from the challenges of setting up and testing laboratory equipment and materials. Associations of science teachers have taken differing positions on how administrators can best support teachers in preparing for and cleaning up after laboratory experiences.
The American Association of Physics Teachers AAPT suggests that physics teachers should be required to teach no more than instructional minutes per day. Many schools schedule eight to minute class periods, so that following the AAPT guidelines would allow physics teachers two preparation periods. The guidelines also call on administrators to schedule no more than students per teacher per day, if the teacher is teaching only physics the same laboratory activity taught several times may not require preparation and no more than students per teacher per day if the.
The guidelines note that simply maintaining the laboratory requires at least one class period per day, and, if schools will not provide teachers with that time, they suggest that those schools either employ laboratory technicians or obtain student help. The National Science Teachers Association takes a slightly different position, suggesting that administrators provide teachers with a competent paraprofessional.
The paraprofessional would help with setup, cleanup, community contacts, searching for resources, and other types of support National Science Teachers Association, No national survey data are available to indicate whether science teachers receive adequate preparation time or assistance from trained laboratory technicians. Some individual teachers told our committee that they did not have adequate preparation and cleanup time. Finally, adequate time is essential for student learning in laboratory experiences. On the basis of a review of the available research, Lunetta , p.
School administrators can take several approaches to providing time for this type of ongoing discussion and reflection that supports student learning during laboratory experiences. Block scheduling is one approach schools have used to provide longer periods of time for laboratory activities and discussion.
In this approach classes meet every other day for longer blocks of about minutes, instead of every day for 40 or 45 minutes. However, an analysis of national survey data indicates that teachers in block schedules do not incorporate more laboratory experiences into their instruction Smith, In another approach, schools can schedule science classes for double periods to allow more time for both carrying out investigations and reflecting on the meaning of those investigations.
In an ideal world, administrators would provide adequate laboratory space and time to allow students to continue investigations over several weeks or months, and they would also provide time for students to work outside regular school hours. One study found that, when laboratories were easily accessible, and year-old students who used the facilities during their free time reported increased interest in academics and took advanced science courses Henderson and Mapp, Teachers play a critical role in leading laboratory experiences in ways that support student learning.
However, the undergraduate education of future science teachers does not currently prepare them for effective laboratory teaching. Undergraduate science departments rarely provide future science teachers with laboratory experiences that follow the design principles derived from recent research—integrated into the flow of instruction, focused on clear learning goals, aimed at the learning of science content and science process, with ongoing opportunities for reflection and discussion.
Once on the job, science teachers have few opportunities to improve their laboratory teaching. Professional development opportunities for science teachers are limited in quality, availability, and scope and place little emphasis on laboratory instruction. Further research is needed to inform design of laboratory-focused teacher professional development that can support teachers in improving laboratory instruction. In addition, few high school teachers have access to curricula that integrate laboratory experiences into the stream of instruction.
Administrators who take a more flexible approach can support effective laboratory teaching by providing teachers with adequate time and space for ongoing professional development and shared lesson planning. This would require both a major changes in undergraduate science education, including provision of a range of effective laboratory experiences for future teachers, and developing more comprehensive systems of support for teachers. American Association of Physics Teachers. AAPT guidelines for high school physics programs.
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Storytelling and drama
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