January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Being a ‘Next Generation’ Preservice Science Teacher

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Rick Pomeroy

This is a great time to be getting into science education, everything is changing and you are poised to be the leaders or the new thinking about science education.

You are so lucky, you don’t have to unlearn all of the bad habits of the old California Science Standards. You can just focus on the new ways of teaching and learning in the Next Generation Science Standards.

Do these statements sound familiar? If you are a preservice teacher, an undergraduate considering going into teaching, or recently graduated from a science teacher credential program, you have probably heard similar statements many times. I know that I have said them to my students and many of their mentor teachers are anxious for the epiphany that these new teachers will bring when they design their “Next Generation” aligned science lessons. Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. The fact that there are new standards for new teachers to focus on does not mean that there is going to be an instantaneous transformation. To accomplish a full implementation of the new standards, even for brand new teachers, it will require some deep soul searching, re-orientation, and re-thinking of our concepts of a science curriculum.

Just like the quotes above, we are all familiar with the old adage that “Teachers teach the way they were taught.” Herein lies the challenge for new teachers. Students entering the teaching profession in 2014 entered elementary school in the late 90’s, close to the time that the State Board of Education adopted the Science Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve (2004). The consequence of this coincidence is that many of the students entering science teaching this year spent ten to twelve years in public schools learning science based on the “old” Framework. They were exposed to science instructional practices that were chosen to yield high scores on the California Standards Tests and the STAR tests. After high school, most of these same future teachers enrolled in and excelled at college level science courses that perpetuated the fact-based, didactic instruction that was honored by the “old” standards. Unfortunately, that means that their formative science experiences were probably not the rich, inquiry, critical thinking experiences that we strive to promote in our new approaches to teaching. Instead, they were exposed to unending opportunities to learn small bits of information on many subjects without the benefit of the integration, critical thinking and problem solving promised in the Conceptual Framework for K12 Science Education or the Next Generation Science Standards. When viewed this way, the “teach like they were taught” belief suggests that new teachers will have to integrate their strong content knowledge with a style of teaching that they may not have experienced as a student.

Don’t despair, things are not as bleak as this might sound. Yes, most new teachers experience their science education in very traditional ways but that doesn’t mean that they cannot learn new strategies. For the first time, we have guiding documents that describe science education as a combination of practices, content, and key crosscutting ideas to guide a new way of thinking about science curriculum. As we roll out NGSS, new teachers will have opportunities, guidance, and expectations that they will teach differently. Science departments across the state are talking about how to do this. Experienced teachers and new teachers alike are looking critically at their existing curriculum with an eye for change. New teachers should be welcome participants in these discussions. They bring a spirit that things will change and that everyone will be part of that change. Gone for the moment is the emphasis on increasing test scores, replaced by an emerging conversation about identifying the core ideas and the practices that support student learning. Despite their more traditional experiences, new teachers are primed for these discussions. We must not let ourselves fall into the “That’s the way we have always done it” hole. Instead we need to embrace change and move forward with a new vision, unimpeded by a long list of favorite, traditional activities. We need to embrace this paradigm shift while re-writing the experiences that our preservice teachers will provide for their students. Change of this magnitude will not happen overnight nor will it be easy, but it will be simpler if we begin planning for the new reality instead of attempting to tweak the past. This IS an exciting time to be in science education but we have to be realistic that our personal conceptions of the existing curriculum may no longer produce the scientifically literate citizens that our society needs. The next generation of science teachers will begin to move us in that direction and we need to encourage and support them as they define the new reality.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis.

4 Responses

  1. Great article Rick.

    Another big challenge in getting teachers to shift their instruction is the (frequently correct) perception that in college instruction is mostly lecture and text with labs that are mostly procedural. Teachers teach the way that college is taught because they feel that is the best way to prepare their kids for college. Until science education at the university level makes big changes and sends strong signals to secondary education that it expects change, there will be resistance to the shifts expected by NGSS.

  2. Peter, I agree. In a meeting with our chancellor last year, I warned that when California successfully adopts and implements NGSS the faculty will be teaching classes to students who don’t want the lecture lecture lab format but will want, and hopefully demand, an education that continues their development as thinkers and doer’s not memorizers and test takers. These new clients for the faculty, aka students, will demand to be treated in a way that appreciates their talents and abilities to address and investigate real world problems in a way that proposes solutions to problems of society. Though she was a consultant on the Conceptual Framework, she seemed a bit surprised that this new generation of students might want something more than is currently available to them.

  3. A chicken and egg problem?

  4. Yes definitely.

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Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017

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Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Science Education Policy Update

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

NSTA Los Angeles Conference Features Many CA Science Leaders

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.