Research on Elementary, Middle, and Secondary Earth and Space Sciences Teacher Education

Heather L. Petcovic, Western Michigan University; Jason Cervenec, The Ohio State University; Kim Cheek, University of North Florida; Robyn Dahl, Western Washington University; and Nancy Price, Portland State University, with editorial contributions from Eric J. Pyle, James Madison University


The release of the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas in 2012 and the subsequent publication of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013 represents a new vision for K-12 science learning culminating from decades of science education reform efforts. Several aspects of the NGSS are critical to the geoscience education community. First, the NGSS place the Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) on equal footing with Life Sciences, Physical Sciences (chemistry and physics), and Engineering and Technology applications across K-12 grades. Second, the NGSS promote a vision of "three-dimensional learning" in which core disciplinary knowledge, concepts that cut across disciplines, and practices used in science and engineering are given equal prominence.

In order to fully engage with the vision of the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the NGSS, however, our nation needs a diverse and well prepared K-12 science teacher workforce. And in order for ESS to gain equal status with other sciences, the geoscience community must ensure that the K-12 science teacher workforce is adequately prepared to teach ESS core knowledge and practices. This is a challenging endeavor and complicated by the fact that the K-12 teacher education landscape is highly variable across institutions in terms of how much ESS content is included, how programs are structured, and how ESS fits into the larger institutional context. Figure 1 is our model of this complex landscape.

Within institutions, ESS may be part of an elementary, middle, and/or secondary teacher preparation program. Depending on the state, middle grades may be a separate certification, or may be included within elementary and/or secondary certification (shown in parentheses in the Figure 1 model). Teacher preparation programs usually have components of content-area coursework, education and pedagogy coursework, and in-school clinical experience. ESS content courses may be part of a generalized science (or education) program of study, or may be a disciplinary major or minor; in general, secondary teacher preparation programs require more disciplinary content than do elementary programs (Figure 1, width of the triangle). The quantity of education and pedagogy coursework and clinical experiences may also vary within individual programs. Program models vary from those in which the undergraduate degree leads directly to initial teacher certification, those at the post-baccalaureate level providing initial certification for candidates who already have a content undergraduate major, and those in which certification is obtained during a graduate program (such as a Master of Arts in Teaching program). Most post-baccalaureate and graduate programs are of shorter duration but are faster paced than undergraduate programs (Figure 1, arrow height).

Teacher education is also influenced by a push-pull of many external factors such as higher education and K-12 institutional pressures and priorities, changing teacher education accreditation standards, high stakes testing, state-by-state NGSS adoption, and public perception of the value of ESS. In addition, several external factors (#1-5 in the Figure 1 model) directly impact teacher education programs: Both nonprofit and for-profit organizations offer alternate routes to teacher certification (e.g., Teach for America, Teachers of Tomorrow) which may be in partnership with, or in competition with, university-based programs. Programs, especially clinical experiences, rely heavily on partnerships with K-12 districts. And teacher education programs are accountable to accrediting bodies (such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation [CAEP]), state teacher preparation standards, and state or national standards such as the NGSS, the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium [InTASC], and the National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC]). These factors directly influence one another, for example, accreditation requirements include national standards, and state teacher certification requirements may mirror both accreditation requirements and national standards.

Clearly, teacher education exists in a complex landscape that involve many domains of research. Here we focus on teacher education research that most directly aligns to the undergraduate teaching and learning experience (yellow text in Figure 1). Three grand challenges emerged from discussion and reflections on the existing literature and are poised to guide future research on undergraduate K-12 teacher education.

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenge #1. How do we attract and support a greater number of future K-12 ESS teachers who represent and can effectively engage diverse K-12 learners?

With less than 3% of secondary STEM teachers holding a geoscience degree we have a tremendous opportunity to grow the ESS teaching workforce. Yet growth of this workforce should reflect the growing diversity of K-12 learners, inclusive of gender, race/ethnicity, ability status, and more.

Grand Challenge #2. What are effective models for incorporating ESS into undergraduate K-12 teacher preparation and in providing professional development for inservice teachers?

In order to produce K-12 teachers that are well-prepared to teach ESS, we must first determine what makes teacher preparation and professional development programs successful.

Grand Challenge #3. How do we best prepare future and practicing K-12 teachers to engage in ESS to promote three-dimensional learning that involves the integration of disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts?

The NGSS and Framework reflect a new vision for K-12 teaching in science and engineering. Science is an interconnected enterprise encompassing three dimensions: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. To effectively teach ESS, K-12 teachers need to understand not only the geoscience concepts they teach, but also the practices of geoscientists.

Citation for this chapter: Petcovic, Heather L.; Cervenec, Jason; Cheek, Kim; Dahl, Robyn; and Price, Nancy (2018). "Research on Elementary, Middle, and Secondary Earth and Space Sciences Teacher Education". In St. John, K (Ed.) (2018). Community Framework for Geoscience Education Research. National Association of Geoscience Teachers.

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