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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Unique way of teaching science benefits future science teachers | Penn State News

Photo: Jim Carlson
"Content courses for prospective elementary teachers in the College of Education different in comparison with courses taught at other institutions" writes Jim Carlson, writer/editor for the College of Education.

Professor Carla Zembal-Saul says the College of Education's method of teaching science is 'unmistakably unique.'
Photo: Penn State

College of Education faculty convey STEM subject knowledge in an innovative fashion in an attempt to have their education students view teaching and learning differently, and content courses for prospective elementary teachers appear to be unique in comparison with those taught at other institutions.

A suite of cross-listed courses collaboratively designed between science education in the College of Education and the colleges of Science and Engineering enables professors to focus on literacy and language development through science and STEM learning opportunities and gives Penn State students a variety of hands-on experiences and learning methods.

The college's upbeat message to prospective teachers is to develop their own theories within content courses during productive participation within a supportive community of scholars. Emphasis is placed on the nature of science curriculum, assessment and instruction in early grades.

Carla Zembal-Saul, professor of science education who holds the Kahn endowed professorship in STEM education, said a comprehensive look at the college's approach to science education is one of being unmistakably unique. She said collaboration has been the cornerstone behind the content-course curriculum in science education.

A Teaching with Insects course developed well over a decade ago by the deans of the College of Education and the College of Agricultural Sciences ran for years but never became an actual named course. "But we learned a lot from that," she said.

"There may be a couple of places that try to [create courses] with just non-science majors but non-science majors preparing to be teachers … this kind of partnership is unique," she said. "It may be that the College of Education gets a grant and they can offer a content course, but a co-designed, collaboratively designed content course with science education and whatever the science area is, or engineering, is unique."

Chris Palma, senior lecturer in astronomy, is in step with that opinion as well. "I do think these co-taught content courses that model effective methods are really a unique offering of Penn State," he said. "I don't know of any other university that offers an astronomy course like ours, and so we are working on trying to disseminate our work so that others might consider a similar model."

The courses, combined with the Teaching Elementary Science Leadership Academy (TESLA), leverage the best of what is known about preparing elementary teachers to attend to children's ideas and being responsive to their learning needs in science, according to Zembal-Saul.

She said the motivation behind creating these courses was to enable students to have "a problem-based experience, real-world phenomena, real-world problems as a way of learning about it so they were engaged in scientific practices with discourse and real data, small-group discussion, scientific argumentation.

"All of those courses had that in common," she said. "We wanted them to have a rich experience, an in-depth experience that allowed them to not only engage in the discourse and practices of science and learn science concepts but also think about what the applications to education might be."

Education and engineering faculty collaborated on SCIED/ENGR 110, Introduction to Engineering for Educators, and SCIED/PHYS 114, Sounds and Light for Educators, also was created. That was followed by a three-year, $525,000 grant from the Martinson Family Foundation in 2009 that spawned the creation of Climate Science for Educators and Biotic Response to Climate Change.

Another content course is what is now known as ASTRO/SCIED 116, taught by Palma and Julia Plummer, associate professor of education, and originated from a National Science Foundation project that paired scientists and science educators.

"The courses are designed and meant to be co-taught, and that to me is one of the most important aspects of the course," Palma said. "We have what I think is a pretty ideal background in that I'm an astronomer with a strong interest in astronomy pedagogy and Julia is a science educator with great experience in astronomy pedagogy and a background in astronomy.

"My contribution is to keep the focus of our in-class investigations on modern ideas in planetary astronomy so that the students complete the class with a really strong understanding of the solar system."

Source: Penn State News