Initial Publication Date: July 12, 2018

Grand Challenge 2:

What are effective models for incorporating ESS into undergraduate K-12 teacher preparation and in providing professional development for inservice teachers?


Current and future science teachers are being asked to teach science in ways that may differ radically from the ways they learned science (National Research Council, 2015). In order to produce K-12 teachers that are well-prepared to teach the Earth and space sciences (ESS), we must first determine what makes teacher preparation programs successful. Teacher preparation programs across the nation vary widely across several characteristics, including (but not limited to) content, course requirement, recruitment methods, graduation and placement rates, and student demographics. This is due in part to state- and district-level differences in teaching standards, differences in the types of institutions that offer teacher preparation programs, and the grade levels for which the programs are designed (elementary, middle, secondary). For example, most teacher preparation programs are offered at four-year and Masters granting colleges and universities, but some are offered at two-year colleges. Other types of institutions, like museums and non-profits, offer masters' degrees (e.g., the American Museum of Natural History MAT in Earth and space science) as well as professional development workshops. A rigorous evaluation of teacher preparation and professional development must consider the diversity of contexts in which teacher learning takes place. It must also consider what is known about the key features that characterize effective professional development (National Research Council, 2015). Inservice teacher learning is not limited to professional development, as professional learning communities (PLCs) and instructional coaching can also contribute to teacher learning.

Recommended Research Strategies

Here we recommend short and long-term strategies that could yield insight into Grand Challenge 2 and ultimately drive forward both knowledge and practice. While short and long term strategies can both be approached immediately and simultaneously, short term strategies (#1-4) tend to focus more on synthesis of current literature, surveys of our current state of knowledge, or application of excising research to the field of teacher education. In contrast, long term strategies (#5-7) require more significant time and resource investment (such as support by external funding), focusing on more large-scale empirical students that can build the knowledge base.

  1. There is a need to identify and evaluate (i.e., measure the efficacy of) existing models of teacher preparation and professional development, particularly those that specifically address the needs of elementary, middle, and/or high school pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) necessary for teaching ESS. For example, while reasoning with models is a feature of all science disciplines, it is especially important in the ESS where many processes and events occur at spatial and temporal scales that cannot be directly experienced. For example, research that focuses on ways to help teachers use models effectively with their students could be beneficial for teachers of earth and space science at all grade levels (Miller & Kastens, 2018). Information about current models of teacher preparation and professional development that are relevant for ESS teaching could be obtained through a national survey, systematic literature review, or other mechanisms. Evaluation of existing programs should include methods for identifying their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. While most teacher preparation programs exist at 4YC and Masters-granting universities, some are hosted at other types of institutions, including 2YC, museums, non-profits, etc. These alternative pathways into teaching should also be identified and evaluated.
  3. After existing models are identified and evaluated, additional research could be conducted to define the specific PCK and CK needed by teachers of ESS at elementary, middle, and high school, including special needs and/or underrepresented groups. This could be achieved through a literature review of research on ESS PCK and CK and would benefit from research on PCK in other science disciplines.
  4. While ESS teacher preparation has unique characteristics, challenges, and opportunities, research on teacher preparation would benefit from collaboration with other science education organizations (e.g., the Association for Science Teacher Education [ASTE], the National Association for Research in Science Teaching [NARST], the National Science Teachers Association [NSTA], the National Earth Science Teachers Association [NESTA], the National Association of Geoscience Teachers [NAGT], etc.). Such a collaboration could also help teacher educators capitalize on the interdisciplinary aspects of ESS.
  5. Standards and other specific requirements for initial and continued teacher licensure vary widely from state to state. Successful teacher preparation programs can remain informed of local needs and ensure that teachers are fully prepared to enter the classroom by building robust partnerships with local districts. Many teacher preparation programs actively cultivate partnerships with local school districts and typically focus on the nature and extent of clinical experiences teacher candidates have. Partnerships that simultaneously support pre-service and in-service teachers could have broad impact on the quality of ESS instruction. It is estimated that most teachers teach within 30 miles of where they grew up or went to college (Barth et al., 2016), so programs can be revised or designed with the knowledge that students enrolled in the program are very likely to teach in that region. Programs should be tailored to the unique needs and standards of ESS teaching in local districts.
  6. How is "success" defined for ESS teacher preparation and professional development programs? Several metrics (e.g., recruitment of pre-service teachers into teacher preparation programs, retention, graduation rates, post-graduation employment, student learning and performance indicators, etc.) are used for measuring the success of a teacher preparation program, and so measuring "success" is a complex endeavor. Measuring the success of professional development programs for in-service teachers is equally complex. Furthermore, there are significant regional differences in teacher preparation requirements (e.g., state standards, district requirements, student populations, etc.), so direct comparison of programs is not always possible.We need to develop a methodology or tool for evaluating ESS teacher preparation programs and models, so that we can determine and implement the most effective models.
  7. The success of ESS teacher preparation programs must include the long-term success of graduates after they leave the program and enter K-12 classrooms. Our evaluation of ESS teacher preparation programs would benefit from the same type of longitudinal phenomenological research recommended above for GC#1. Successful teacher preparation programs should produce a K-12 ESS teacher workforce that teaches well, reflects the demographics of the student population, experiences low rates of attrition, among other factors. This can be evaluated best through longitudinal studies of ESS teachers as they move from teacher preparation programs into the workforce.