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Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators (2022)

Chapter:8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design

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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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8

Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Preschool and elementary teachers have an extraordinarily challenging job, as they are responsible for children’s learning across all academic content areas—English language arts, literacy, mathematics, social studies, and all disciplines of science. Furthermore, they face other demands that are often seen as less pressing in the secondary grades, but are of paramount importance with younger children, such as supporting social-emotional learning, physical well-being, and well-roundedness (such as through art and music) (Institute of Medicine [IOM] and National Research Council [NRC], 2012). Most preschool and elementary teachers do not go into the teaching profession because they love science and engineering, and they may have little preparation for teaching science and engineering. Furthermore, as noted elsewhere in the report, they may lack the time and resources for engaging in the work; this is particularly true of teachers working in under-resourced schools, which, as has been shown, typically serve larger numbers of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other children of color.

Throughout this chapter, the committee is oriented toward the assets preschool and elementary teachers bring to the work of teaching science and engineering to young children (Zembal-Saul, Carlone, and Brown, 2020; see also Gray, McDonald, and Stroupe, 2021). This asset orientation pushes against a standard narrative that sees preschool and elementary teachers as generally weak with regard to the teaching of science and engineering. Zembal-Saul, Carlone, and Brown (2020) describe how characterizing elementary teachers as having limited science backgrounds and troubled science identities can perpetuate damaging narratives about these educators as teachers of science and engineering. These deficit narratives can interfere with the design of powerful professional learning.

Instead, repositioning elementary teachers using a lens focused on possibility allows seeing them as uniquely equipped to support children’s rigorous, responsive, and just sensemaking in science. As teachers create a trusting classroom environment where children feel safe to speak out and contributions are valued (see Brackett et al., 2019; Castagno, 2019), opportunities can open up for teachers to explore and connect with children’s cultural and linguistic resources and lived experience in families and communities (Moll et al., 1992; Warren et al., 2001) (see Chapter 5). In addition, expertise across language domains of speaking, listening, writing, and reading can be reframed as an asset that can facilitate sensemaking in science as discussed in Chapter 6.

Teachers build expertise individually and collectively, across time and across multiple settings and contexts (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM], 2015). Moreover, the committee acknowledges, and tries to account for, the historical systems in which preschool and elementary educators work—systems that have historically held teachers of young children in low esteem and have not, for several decades,

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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privileged the teaching of science (much less engineering) to young children (see Box 8-1) (Carlone, Haun-Frank, and Kimmel, 2010).

TEACHER LEARNING

Teachers are learners. The committee draws on the discussion of what teachers need to know and be able to do in Chapter 5 of Science Teachers’ Learning (NASEM, 2015) to provide a primer on teacher learning. Issues that seem especially salient in understanding preschool and elementary teachers of science and engineering are the focus.

As Science Teachers’ Learning specified, teachers need to develop professional knowledge and practices that extend beyond understanding of content, to reach the vision of science and engineering learning put forward by the Framework. Three elements are particularly key; these relate to teaching “a diverse range of students,” having expertise around the three dimensions of the Framework, and having pedagogical content knowledge and practice to “support students in rigorous and consequential learning of science” (NASEM, 2015, p. 95). Though Science Teachers’ Learning focused on science, those dimensions are extended here to include engineering as well.

Similar to Science Teachers’ Learning, in this report, the committee explores “knowledge, skills, competencies, habits of mind, and beliefs” (p. 95) and related constructs that are central in the teaching of science and engineering with young learners, recognizing that these foci are not static. Identities, dispositions, and beliefs are seen as potentially central with this population, because the standard narrative would paint preschool and elementary teachers as, if not antiscience, at least antiscience teaching. The key constructs used in this chapter are defined as follows:

  • Identity: “the ways in which a teacher represents herself/himself through her/his views, orientations, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs about science teaching, the kind of science teacher she/he envisions to be, and the ways in which she/he is recognized by others” (Avraamidou, 2016, p. 863)
  • Dispositions: “professional attitudes, values, and beliefs that support student learning and development” (Eick and Stewart, 2010, p. 785); similar to habits of mind
  • Beliefs: teachers’ perspectives (about science and engineering or science and engineering teaching, for example) that can be distinguished from their knowledge (Pajares, 1992), which change over time, across moments, and across contexts (Louca, Hammer, and Elby, 2004)
  • Knowledge: content knowledge for teaching (Ball, Thames, and Phelps, 2008), or the subject-matter knowledge and pedagogical
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Each of these elements has the potential for shaping how a teacher engages in the work of teaching. For example, an elementary teacher’s self-efficacy for science teaching and her identity as a teacher of science might influence how often she teaches science. Her beliefs about children might influence what expectations she sets for which children in her classroom. Her content knowledge for science teaching might help her push children toward sensemaking, or might constrain her from doing so, and in particular her knowledge of science practices might lead her to engage children in the forms of activity put forward in Chapter 4. Further, her capacities with regard to certain science teaching practices might support her in engaging children in sensemaking discussions. This chapter discusses what the literature shows about these potential influences. Box 8-2 illustrates how an elementary teacher might plan and enact a lesson built around a fairly typical elementary investigation—observing condensation forming on a cold can.

Teachers at all positions on the teacher professional continuum (Feiman-Nemser, 2001) may be novices when it comes to reaching the vision of the Framework and may need well-designed supports for learning to do this work. They benefit from learning opportunities that zero in on helping them develop the kinds of knowledge, skills, and proficiencies outlined above. These opportunities to learn support outcomes such as enhanced teacher capacity for engaging in effective instruction that meets the needs of every learner. That capacity for instruction, in turn, helps to support children’s learning and development. In Science Teachers’ Learning, this is referred to as the “connect the dots” model (connecting teachers’ opportunities to learn to their knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and practice, to their students’ outcomes), and the model is used in this chapter in exploring the literature on how teacher education and professional learning experiences can support preschool and elementary educators’ learning.

Connecting teacher learning to teacher outcomes and children’s outcomes is not linear; rather, learning is both iterative and dynamic and “embedded in contexts what teachers learn and how they exercise their knowledge and skill” (NASEM, 2015, p. 116). This suggests that many teacher learning opportunities do not take place in formal professional development experiences but, rather, occur in school with children and colleagues, whether in the classroom or as teachers work as a team to look closely at their learners’ work. Thus, teachers must be conceptualized as

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

learners throughout their career and their experiences (e.g., Berland, Russ, and West, 2020; Rosebery, Warren, and Tucker-Raymond, 2016). This may be particularly true for preschool and elementary teachers, given how many subject areas and topics they teach.

PRESCHOOL AND ELEMENTARY SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING EDUCATORS

The last two decades have seen some shifts in the composition of the teacher workforce, but it has not kept up with the changing student demographics (NASEM, 2020). There are approximately 1.8 million public elementary school teachers in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2019), and another 2 million or so early childhood educators and caregivers (Early Childhood Workforce Index, 2018). Most elementary teachers are women (89%) and most identify as white (79%) (U.S. Department of Education, 2019). Among their many other responsibilities, these preschool and elementary educators largely are responsible for teaching all academic subjects, including science and engineering. That said, some schools and districts have dedicated specialists who teach these subjects, especially for grades 3–5 (Brobst et al., 2017).

These general findings also apply to early childhood teachers (AACTE, 2019; IOM and NRC, 2012). Additionally, most early childhood educators do not speak a language other than English (Early Childhood Workforce Index, 2018). More early childhood educators are people of color—around 40 percent—when the full range of these educators are accounted for, including those working in infant care and in home-based settings (Early Childhood Workforce Index, 2018).

Preschool and elementary teachers tend not to have degrees, extensive coursework, or certifications in science or engineering, due to the nature of elementary certification in most states; furthermore, elementary teachers tend to receive fewer opportunities for professional learning in science as compared to in other areas (Banilower et al., 2018; Doan and Lucero, 2021; Plumley, 2019). (Although these data stem from studies of elementary teachers, there is little reason to believe that preschool teachers are any more likely to have strong science backgrounds.) In addition, teachers with strong science backgrounds are not evenly distributed across schools in the U.S. (Banilower et al., 2018; NASEM, 2020). Given that an average of about 20 minutes per day is devoted to science teaching in elementary classrooms (Plumley, 2019), children today are less likely to experience science teaching at all, and when they do, most are unlikely to be taught by a teacher with a strong background in science. Furthermore, the uneven distribution of teachers has implications for the professional learning needs of teachers in higher-poverty elementary schools and for the availability of

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

expertise with which to build collective capacity in those schools (NASEM, 2020; Sleeter and Owour, 2011), perpetuating long-term lack of access to science and engineering (Mensah and Jackson, 2018).

Identities and Dispositions1

Preservice early childhood teachers2 may have unique motivations for becoming teachers. These can include wanting to emulate an influential teacher (Chang-Kredl and Kingsley, 2014) or wanting to take part in creating an equitable future for children (Goller et al., 2019), or perceiving oneself as good at teaching (Goller et al., 2019). Extrinsic motivations, such as job security or a job that allows time for family are sometimes in play as well (Goller et al., 2019; Liu and Boyd, 2018; Yüce et al., 2013).

As a standard narrative, preschool and elementary teachers are viewed as generalists who do not know or care much about science or engineering (Davis, Petish, and Smithey, 2006). In sizeable numbers, science representatives surveyed for the 2018 NSSME+ perceive lack of teacher interest in science as a problematic factor for science instruction in their school or district (Banilower et al., 2018; Plumley, 2019). Although the standard narrative about elementary teachers of science shows them as antiscience, lacking of knowledge of science, and/or fearful of science, research suggests that some elementary teachers have important characteristics or dispositions and knowledge that can enable them to further develop as teachers of science (Davis, Petish, and Smithey, 2006). For example, when in-service elementary teachers self-identified as scientists, their learners were more likely to document observations pre- and post-inquiry compared to respective learners of other teachers within the same grade level (Madden et al., 2010). Eick and Stewart (2010) showed that preservice elementary teachers were able to make up for not having a strong science subject-matter background by having positive dispositions. Specifically, four preservice elementary teachers in a teacher education program were studied, and each had dispositions that supported them in being able to use reform-based curriculum materials, such as inquisitiveness, investigation, and the inclination to learn alongside the learners in the classroom.

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1 This section draws in part on syntheses of the literature by Davis and Haverly (in press) and Zembal-Saul et al. (in press).

2 In this chapter, and elsewhere where indicating preservice teachers who could teach preschool, the committee uses “preservice early childhood teacher” in recognition of the fact that teacher education programs for this population are typically termed “early childhood teacher education.” Furthermore, for simplicity, the report used “preschool teacher” or “early childhood teacher” as a more inclusive term, rather than distinguishing between preschool teachers and aides. This necessarily glosses some differences in preparation and certification.

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Beliefs Related to Science and Engineering Teaching

Generally, preschool and elementary teachers are assumed to have unsophisticated beliefs about both science and science teaching and to be scared of science (or engineering) teaching (Davis, Petish, and Smithey, 2006). For example, 31 percent of elementary teachers felt very well prepared to teach science as compared to their preparedness to teach mathematics (73%) and reading (77%), and they felt more prepared to teach life or earth science than physical science or engineering (Plumley, 2019). Yet beliefs are emergent in practice and change over time and across contexts (Hammer and Elby, 2002; Louca et al., 2004). As educators gain practice in teaching science and engineering, learning theory suggests that they will become more confident (e.g., Lave and Wenger, 1991). Work by Appleton and Kindt (2002) has shown that the adoption of reform-based science teaching practices by in-service elementary teachers is linked to self-efficacy, confidence, and support from colleagues.

Scholarship has looked at preservice and in-service elementary teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs for teaching science (e.g., Bautista, 2011; Cartwright and Atwood, 2014; Gunning and Mensah, 2011; Menon and Sadler, 2016; Palmer, 2011; Sackes et al., 2012) and engineering and/or computer science (Hammack and Ivey, 2017; Ottenbreit-Leftwich and Biggers, 2017; Ozturk, Dooley, and Welch, 2018; Rich et al., 2017; Webb and LoFaro, 2020), including work that connected these self-efficacy beliefs to pedagogical content knowledge for teaching engineering (Perkins Coppola, 2019) or computer science (Israel et al., 2020; Ray et al., 2018). Generally, these studies suggest that elementary teachers’ self-efficacy for science and engineering teaching is initially relatively low but can develop with time and experience. Additional research has examined other aspects of teachers’ beliefs (Danielsson et al., 2016; Metz, 2009; Steele et al., 2013; Wilson and Kittleson, 2012), including beliefs of early childhood preservice teachers (Akerson, Buzelli, and Eastwood, 2010; Gullberg et al., 2018; Küçükaydın, and Gökbulut, 2020) and views of engineering and design (Hsu, Purzer, and Cardella, 2011).

Science and engineering teaching may also be shaped by teacher beliefs about children, and particularly children of color. In general, scholarship that does not specifically focus on elementary science or engineering suggests that white teachers tend to hold lower expectations for their students of color, that it is challenging for teachers to change their expectations of students, and that these low expectations can negatively impact students’ learning (e.g., López, 2017). Rivera Maulucci (2010) found that the three participating fifth grade teachers’ expectations of minoritized children as well as other characteristics of the school context and culture shaped the quality of the science learning experiences they provided; science was marginalized (in favor of mathematics and English language arts), and instruc-

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

tional quality, teacher morale, and teacher beliefs also suffered. Focusing on issues related to justice in teacher preparation, including for preschool and elementary educators of science and engineering, may support developing learning environments that are in turn supportive of children of color and children from other groups historically marginalized in science and engineering.

Knowledge Related to Science and Engineering

Generally, preschool and elementary teachers of science and engineering are assumed to have insufficient understanding of science and engineering subject-matter knowledge. Indeed, there is some literature that suggests that elementary teachers have some of the same non-normative ideas as their students do (see Davis, Petish, and Smithey, 2006, for a review). The subject-matter knowledge expected for elementary teachers is extraordinarily broad, making some of the expectations on these teachers unreasonable. Being able to position teachers as learners, furthermore, can open space for shared epistemic agency in classrooms (Berland, Russ, and West, 2020).

Cobern and colleagues (2014) tested the validity of an assessment instrument for measuring pedagogical content knowledge with 28 preservice elementary teachers. The authors found that the preservice teachers were able to make reasonable choices about different instructional approaches regardless of their science subject-matter knowledge, suggesting that elementary teachers may successfully compensate for shaky subject-matter knowledge. Exploring preservice elementary teachers’ subject-matter knowledge, Nixon, Smith, and Sudweeks (2019) compared the knowledge of 169 preservice elementary teachers to the knowledge of 439 fifth and sixth grade practicing teachers. The authors found that preservice teachers scored worse on an assessment of their knowledge of science topics that inservice teachers were implementing. The authors conclude that elementary teachers are able to (and do) learn the science topics they are responsible for teaching, even without intervention. Together these studies and others suggest some important strengths of elementary teachers in terms of their knowledge for science teaching.

Other scholars looked at early childhood and elementary teachers’ knowledge of specific topics or science areas, including greenhouse effect, wind, anatomy, biotechnology, species identification, evolution, the environment, energy in physical systems, and lunar phases (e.g., Palmberg et al., 2018; Rice and Kaya, 2012; Saçkes and Trundle, 2014)—demonstrating the broad (and sometimes esoteric) set of topics these teachers are apparently expected to understand, and some of these studies showed ways the teachers’ knowledge was lacking. Some of these studies also show, however, how preservice preschool and elementary teachers can develop their knowledge

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

with carefully designed experiences and that they do have important knowledge of many fundamental ideas in science (e.g., Rice and Kaya, 2012).

Overall, although many of these studies of subject-matter knowledge show areas where preservice teachers may struggle or lack knowledge, they also show that preservice teachers bring important resources to their understanding of the science and that they can learn science content through teaching and compensate for missing subject-matter knowledge when necessary.

SUPPORTING EDUCATOR LEARNING

As discussed in the previous sections, evidence suggests that preschool and elementary teachers bring strengths to the work of teaching science and engineering and that they also face some challenges. It is essential that teacher educators build on the strengths of those they educate and consider how to best support teachers in developing their knowledge, practice, and confidence. Furthermore, because these teachers teach multiple subjects (typically all academic subjects) and children receiving different levels of support (e.g., accommodations/services described in Individualized Education Programs), these educators are in the position of needing to balance a myriad of demands. This section addresses approaches of supporting educators in being prepared to engage in this complex work. The section turns first to preservice teacher education and then to ongoing professional learning for in-service teachers.

Preservice Teacher Education3

This section explores the roles of specific structures in initial teacher education, including content coursework, methods course, field experiences, and programmatic efforts. These efforts take place across contexts, including schools of education in universities, other university-based units (including, importantly, science departments, where content courses are typically taught), field placement schools or informal settings, and alternative certification programs. This section does not explore in-depth how to recruit teachers (particularly teachers of color) to preservice teacher education programs. It is important to note that there is less research examining the preparation of preschool teachers. In general, the reviewed research shows that most work in teacher education focuses on supporting preservice teachers’ knowledge and beliefs, and less on their actual practice. This research also uncovers a relative dearth of work focused on equity- or

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3 The subsections draw heavily on recent reviews by Davis and Haverly (in press) and Zembal-Saul and colleagues (in press).

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

justice-oriented pedagogies in preschool and elementary science and engineering, though a few important examples of such work exist. The section turns first to research on the science content courses taken by preservice elementary teachers and how they learn science content.

Science Content Courses and Related Experiences

A key finding related to the role of science content courses is that they can support a range of outcomes, not just the development of subject-matter knowledge. This research explores a number of foci for teachers’ needs, including how science content courses seem to

Overall, findings from these studies suggest that some designs can promote preservice teachers’ subject-matter knowledge and self-efficacy beliefs and help them improve in their attitudes about science; some of this work shows positive relationships between subject-matter knowledge and self-efficacy beliefs (e.g., d’Alessio, 2018). Findings also suggest some approaches preservice teachers can take that are less supportive of their learning. For example, d’Alessio found that individuals who opted not to discuss science content when given the opportunity also decreased in self-efficacy after an intervention involving microteaching.

This body of research also explores other aspects of the courses themselves, including

Findings from this work focused on innovative course design suggest that certain approaches—such as increasing engagement, providing hands-

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

on experiences, or even incorporating a mindfulness component—may have positive effects not only on the preservice teachers’ knowledge, but also on their beliefs and attitudes. To elaborate on one example, Riegle-Crumb and colleagues (2015) conducted a quasi-experiment comparing 238 preservice elementary teachers in the experimental group (hands-on science sequence) and 263 nonscience and non-education major students in the comparison group (regular lecture-based science course). The regular courses were similar to what the preservice teachers would have taken if the hands-on science class was not in place. Controlling for differences in the characteristics of the individuals in the groups, the study found that the students in the hands-on science coursework reported more confidence as science learners and an increased sense of science as relevant to their own lives, as well as more enjoyment of and less anxiety toward science. This was in contrast to the students in the comparison group, whose attitudes toward science declined after experiencing the traditional course. The researchers concluded that the use of a hands-on science sequence was associated with positive attitudes toward science learning.

Related to the learning of science content is the understanding of the NOS. For example, preservice teachers designed children’s books to teach different aspects of the NOS to children during field placements (Akerson, Erumit and Kaynak, 2019). This strategy supported early childhood preservice teachers’ understanding of the NOS and related pedagogical content knowledge. The studies related to the NOS suggest that explicit instruction in the NOS is important in shaping preservice teachers’ views of the NOS—but they also show the importance of other kinds of experiences, including experiences that bring preservice teachers into the world of science (e.g., through science research or through interviewing scientists) and into the world of science teaching (e.g., through analyzing children’s work or designing instructional materials).

Science Methods Courses

Elementary science methods courses positively shape aspects of preservice elementary science teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, identities, and performances related to science teaching. Some of these studies focus on how science methods courses can affect (typically improve) aspects that matter in preservice teachers learning, including their

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Some of these studies focus directly on equity and justice and suggest the importance of diversifying science teacher educators (Mensah and Jackson, 2018) and equity- and justice-oriented curricular design (Bravo et al., 2014; Mensah et al., 2018; Settlage, 2011).

Other studies take on important aspects of how science methods courses support preservice teachers in learning to do important aspects of teaching, including

For example, in a mixed-methods study of 55 preservice teachers, Carrier (2013) found that although preservice teachers entered the science methods course with limited subject-matter knowledge of science vocabulary, they improved in their knowledge during the course. They demonstrated, however, problematic vocabulary instructional strategies during their peer teaching experiences in the course (e.g., decontextualized use of vocabulary, introducing vocabulary at the start of a lesson and not returning to it). Results of the study highlight the importance of supporting novice teachers in learning effective instructional strategies for working on science academic language with children.

A third group of studies explore effects of more specific features of the science methods courses themselves, including:

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

For example, Bautista and Boone (2015; see also Bautista, 2011) used mixed methods to study 62 preservice teachers in an early childhood program science methods class that was using a mixed reality avatar system for supporting the preservice teachers in learning to teach. The preservice teachers’ self-efficacy increased over the course of the semester; factors that seemed to shape that self-efficacy included preservice teachers’ sense of their subject-matter knowledge and whether they were being observed by their peers. The mixed reality avatar experiences seemed to complement and extend the preservice teachers’ other opportunities for teaching, such as micro-teaching experiences with their peers. Together, this research on innovative uses of technologies suggests some promise of technologies in supporting preservice teachers’ learning and enhancing their self-efficacy for teaching science and engineering.

Further work explored how approximations of practice and other features of practice-based teacher education—usually within science methods courses—could shape preservice teachers’ characteristics or their performance or practice. (Practice-based teacher education emphasizes preservice teachers learning to do the responsive work of teaching and not only developing knowledge or beliefs related to teaching.)

For example, in a qualitative study looking at 22 preservice elementary teachers, Kademian and Davis (2018) found that preservice teachers planned to use a range of teaching practices likely to be supportive of leveraging children’s contributions and that using carefully designed tools during planning a discussion seemed to support the development of their content knowledge for teaching as well as their teaching practice. Bottoms and colleagues (2015) explored how small-scale teaching experiences in an after-school STEM club in a dual immersion Spanish/English setting supported preservice teachers in developing their thinking about the teaching of science for equity. Together, the papers on practice-based teacher education listed above suggest that providing structured teaching experiences as approximations of practice can support preservice teachers in their development of their knowledge, beliefs, self-efficacy, and practice, although preservice teachers still struggled in some areas. These experiences were variously strengthened through the use of tools, virtual or technology-mediated experiences, or settings that included children with a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Areas for further research include studies that explore how elementary science methods courses can shift preservice teachers’ knowledge of or beliefs related to justice-oriented or antiracist pedagogies. Thompson and colleagues (2020) put forward a framework of four principles for practice-

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

and equity-based science methods experiences, including developing critical consciousness, learning about children’s cultures and communities, designing for each child’s full participation in the culture of science, and challenging the culture of science through restorative justice; frameworks of this sort warrant further empirical research. Another area for further work is the need for more studies to unpack the impact of using curriculum materials on preservice teachers’ readiness for and ability to plan inquiry-based instruction and to differentiate instruction (e.g., by group size or by the intensity of instruction).

Field Experiences

Two key findings with regard to field experiences are that (1) they are crucial in supporting learning to teach preschool or elementary science and engineering and that (2) coherence between the field experience and the teacher education program can enhance opportunities to learn. Some of this research has focused on the roles of the practicum or student teaching in

Some of this work highlights the role of the mentor teacher (e.g., Canipe and Gunckel, 2020; Chen and Mensah, 2018; Gunckel, 2013). Other studies highlight the role of curriculum materials (e.g., Biggers and Forbes, 2012; Forbes, 2013; Sullivan-Watts et al., 2013). For example, Sullivan-Watts and colleagues (2013) followed 27 preservice teachers from their science methods class into student teaching. In this mixed-methods study exploring many of the dimensions that shape elementary science teaching, the authors found that most of the preservice teachers’ lessons involved inquiry in some way. However, initially, many of these lessons focused only on observation or classifying and not more sophisticated sensemaking practices. The authors found that science subject-matter knowledge and preference for science teaching were both strong predictors of the quality of science lessons. The authors also found that using kit-based curriculum materials seemed to

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

support structuring questions and investigations; the kits did not, however, seem to support sensemaking around data.

Further work explored particular characteristics of the practicum experience, including the roles of

These studies add to the evidentiary base about the importance of the field and show how specific characteristics of that field experience can be important to name and nurture. For example, cogenerative dialogue during co-teaching in the field, or other purposeful experiences in the field, may offer a way for preservice preschool teachers to shift their perspectives to center children and their learning. Siry and Lang (2010) and then Siry and Lara (2011) showed how dialogue expanded children’s action in the course of science investigations, and preservice teachers’ awareness of children’s learning. These experiences of co-planning and co-teaching with their mentors also seemed to foster identity development. These studies, together, point to the importance of experiences that allow preservice teachers to deeply engage with children and colleagues. These studies contribute to a key theme across this set of papers, namely, the importance of coherence between the program’s stance and the field experiences.

Box 8-3 examines work that explores the supports needed for novice elementary teachers to work toward justice in science teaching—one focusing on the role of the cooperating teacher (Chen and Mensah, 2018) and the other focusing on the linguistic diversity of the field placement (Rivera Maulucci, 2011).

Programmatic Approaches

Thus far, the chapter has focused on discrete parts of a teacher education program that can support preservice teachers’ learning; now, the attention shifts to the role of the program as a whole and the importance of coherence within the design and organization of programs. Programs can promote their particular vision through coordinated design and enactment efforts, and this may be particularly important in elementary and early childhood teacher education, given the nature of preschool and elementary teaching (e.g., Davis and Boerst, 2014; Sandoval et al., 2020; Zembal-Saul, 2009). Some studies of early childhood and elementary science and engineering teacher educa-

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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tion experiences focus at the level of the teacher education program. These studies take up how a teacher education program can support

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

For example, Ford and colleagues (2013) studied the effects of an approach of a “science semester” in an elementary teacher education program. In this mixed-methods study, the authors studied 312 preservice elementary teachers. The authors were interested in the preservice teachers’ self-efficacy and beliefs about science and science teaching. In the “science semester,” preservice teachers were immersed in science for a semester of the teacher education program, taking courses in earth, life, and physical science as well as elementary science methods. The courses share an inquiry-based and problem-based learning approach, and the instructors make purposeful cross-disciplinary connections, involving extensive co-planning and co-design across instructors. By the end of the semester, the preservice teachers showed improved personal science teaching efficacy (confidence in their ability to be an effective teacher of science), some knowledge of inquiry-based instruction, and appreciation of problem-based learning. As with many studies of self-efficacy, they did not show improved science teaching outcome expectancy (confidence in the connection between their teaching practices and children’s learning). The preservice teachers also expressed some concerns about their own experiences with learning through inquiry. Although some of the typical concerns lingered—most notably here, about engaging children in investigations—the integrated and immersive experience shows numerous benefits and much promise.

Examining the development of knowledge and skill of a high-leverage practice across a practice-based teacher education program, Arias and Davis (2017) used a case study approach to longitudinally study four preservice teachers across a 2-year practice-based teacher education program. The authors found that the preservice teachers became more sophisticated in how they were able to enact the high-leverage science teaching practice of supporting children in making evidence-based claims. The preservice teachers’ prior experiences and backgrounds and the pedagogies of practice incorporated throughout the program were found to shape that development. The authors also identified some areas for further growth. Most notably, the preservice

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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teachers tended to do some of the intellectual work for the children they were teaching. The preservice teachers’ successes, though, suggest that practice-based pedagogies can support this challenging work, even for novices.

Hernandez and Shroyer (2017) conducted a qualitative study involving 12 Latinx preservice teachers who were generally bilingual, nontraditional, first-generation students. The participants were enrolled in a teacher education program with a purposeful pipeline design intended to diversify the teaching force. The authors looked at the participants’ use of culturally responsive teaching strategies in their science and math instruction when teaching children with a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The preservice teachers were mostly successful with some dimensions of culturally responsive teaching (e.g., connecting content to children’s lives and building relationships with children), though they also experienced some struggles (e.g., facilitating knowledge construction). As with the science semester (Ford et al., 2013), the whole-program practice-based approach (Arias and Davis, 2017), and other papers in this section, as well as other literature focused on justice in elementary teacher education (e.g., Sandoval et al., 2020), the programmatic approach afforded some important strengths, while not, of course, addressing every area of need in elementary science teacher education.

Initial Teacher Education Summary

In summary, the literature makes clear how different facets of teacher education can support preservice teachers’ own learning and development in areas related to the teaching of science and engineering. Science content courses can support the development of subject-matter knowledge, knowledge and beliefs about how scientists construct knowledge through engaging in practices, beliefs about science and science teaching, attitudes toward science and science teaching, and science teaching practice. Science methods courses, including practice-based teacher education experiences, can support the development of more positive beliefs, self-efficacy, attitudes, and science identities; knowledge; understanding of and engagement in science and engineering practices; instructional planning and the use of curriculum materials; and engagement in science and engineering instructional practices (including some regarding supporting children of color and emergent bilingual children). Field experiences can support preservice teachers’ self-efficacy, beliefs, identities, knowledge, instructional practice, and use of curriculum materials. Programmatic approaches can support the development of self-efficacy, beliefs, knowledge, practice, cross-content work, and efforts around equity and justice.

Based on this analysis of the literature, it is important that the design of teacher education experiences for preservice early childhood and elementary teachers of science and engineering consider the following:

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
  1. Incorporate opportunities for preservice teachers to develop knowledge, beliefs, identities, and practice, around…
    • The value of science and engineering for young children—to promote motivation for teaching these subjects in the first place
    • Science and engineering content and disciplinary practice—to work toward the vision for science and engineering teaching put forward in the Framework
    • Equity and justice in science and engineering—to ensure mean- ingful learning experiences for every child and to work to redress systemic forms of oppression
    • The integration of science and engineering with other subjects or domains—to improve the time available for meaningful science and engineering teaching and support children to make connections among content areas
    • The effective use of science and engineering curriculum materi- als, including for supporting sensemaking—to improve teachers’ abilities to use curriculum materials
    • Engagement in instructional practices, such as eliciting and working with children’s ideas and supporting children to use tools, make decisions, and refine their explanations and design solutions—to support preservice teachers’ ability to promote children’s sensemaking and identity development
  2. Work toward coherence across the structures involved in initial teacher education, which could include science and engineering content classes, science (or engineering) methods classes, other content area methods classes, field experiences, and others, as well as coherence with future school workplaces
  3. Build on preservice preschool and elementary teachers’ strengths

Professional Learning Opportunities for In-service Classroom Teachers4

In Science Teachers Learning (NASEM, 2015), professional learning was described as being situated in formally organized programs offered by a wide range of individuals and organizations both within and often

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4 Portions of this section include content from multiple papers commissioned by the committee: “Engineering Education in Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade: An Overview” (Cardella, Svarovsky, and Pattison, 2020); “The Integration of Literacy, Science, and Engineering in Prekindergarten through Fifth Grade” (Palincsar et al., 2020); “The Integration of Computational Thinking in Early Childhood and Elementary Engineering Education” (Ketelhut and Cabrera, 2020); and “The Integration of Computational Thinking in Early Childhood and Elementary Education” (Moore and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2020).

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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outside of school systems. That said, even when there were diverse and numerous professional learning opportunities available for K–12 teachers, they were shown as overwhelmingly disconnected from district curricula, removed from school contexts, and rarely provided coherent opportunities for teachers to develop increasingly sophisticated knowledge and practices over time. Much teacher learning, then, takes place outside of those formal programs. Rather than foregrounding descriptive accounts of professional development programs, that report focused on “connecting the dots” across teachers’ opportunities to learn, teacher learning, and student outcomes. This serves as a jumping off point for exploring the literature more specific to this report’s charge.

Overall, the evidence base on teachers’ professional learning in science was not robust when the Science Teachers’ Learning (NASEM, 2015) report was written. However, with the available evidence, a consensus model of effective professional learning experiences (Science Teachers’ Learning Conclusion 5) was proposed. The consensus model put forward includes the following features (p. 118):

  • content focus: learning opportunities for teachers that focus on subject-matter content and how students learn that content;
  • active learning: can take a number of forms, including observing expert teachers, followed by interactive feedback and discussion, reviewing student work, or leading discussions;
  • coherence: consistency with other learning experiences and with school, district, and state policy;
  • sufficient duration: both the total number of hours and the span of time over which the hours take place; and
  • collective participation: participation of teachers from the same school, grade, or department.

Studies that were intentionally designed to “connect the dots” (which included two studies focused on elementary science; see Heller et al., 2012; Roth et al., 2011) informed an extension of the consensus model. The extended consensus model included the following program characteristics (pp. 134–135):

  • Teachers’ science content learning is intertwined with pedagogical activities such as analysis of practice.
  • Teachers are engaged in analysis of student learning and science teaching using artifacts of practice such as student work and lesson videos.
  • There is a focus on specific, targeted teaching strategies.
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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  • Teachers are given opportunities to reflect on and grapple with their current practice.
  • Learning is scaffolded by knowledgeable professional development leaders.
  • Analytical tools support collaborative, focused, and deep analysis of science teaching, student learning, and science content.

The Next Generation Science Exemplar System (NGSX) offers an example of a professional learning experience that aligns with many of these ideas and that is aimed directly at supporting the kind of instruction recommended throughout this report (Reiser et al., 2017). NGSX is designed based on the consensus model outlined above, and incorporates five design principles (Reiser et al., 2017, pp. 282–283):

  1. Situate teacher learning in tasks requiring sensemaking of classroom cases.
  2. Focus professional development on the science practices of argumentation, explanation, and modeling.
  3. Help teachers connect what is new about the science, student thinking about the science, and pedagogical supports for the science.
  4. Organize teacher study groups to apply the reforms to their own classroom practice.
  5. Develop peer facilitators’ expertise in knowledge-building facilitation.

In the design, face-to-face teacher groups work with an array of online resources, including rich video cases, to explore three-dimensional (3D) learning and teaching. Participants experience 3D learning themselves, examine student thinking and practices, and analyze how other teachers support students in those practices. The authors describe the theory of action as assuming that teachers “need to understand the core shifts in the reform by investigating examples of practice, and then work on how to apply them to their own practice” (Reiser et al., 2017, p. 294). As an example of a partial connect-the-dots study, examining how teachers’ confidence, beliefs, and knowledge related to 3D learning shifted as a result of the professional learning experiences, the initial results are promising. Participating teachers (who included some elementary teachers, as well as middle and high school teachers) became more able to use disciplinary core ideas themselves to explain phenomena and became more confident about their ability to engage in this kind of teaching. They shifted in their beliefs about some teaching strategies (e.g., diminishing how they valued the pre-teaching of vocabulary). Finally, they became more sophisticated in their ability to reason about pedagogical scenarios involving science practices. The approach

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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reflects the promise of focused professional learning experiences aimed at supporting instruction that centers children, investigation, and design.

Several focal areas are reviewed next: professional learning experiences to support preschool and elementary teachers in learning to teach engineering (and computational thinking); learning to integrate science and engineering with language art; opportunities for preschool teachers; and teaching toward equity and justice in preschool and elementary science and engineering.

Engineering Education Professional Learning Experiences

Universities and STEM education centers often serve as providers of engineering education professional learning experiences, and a few studies out of those organizations have explored the effects of professional learning experiences aimed at supporting elementary teachers in learning to teach engineering (e.g., Capobianco, DeLisi, and Radloff, 2018; Duncan, Diefes-Dux, and Genry, 2011; Guzey et al., 2014; Sun and Strobel, 2013; Watkins et al., 2018). These studies yield insights about the development of teachers’ expertise around engineering education (e.g., Sun and Strobel, 2013) and the possible effects of professional learning experiences on their knowledge, beliefs, and/or practice with regard to engineering teaching (e.g., Capobianco, DeLisi, and Radloff, 2018; Duncan, Diefes-Dux, and Genry, 2011; Guzey et al., 2014; Watkins et al., 2018). Furthermore, in an example of professional learning experiences to support computational thinking, an after-school year-long professional learning opportunity was connected to work with both preservice and in-service teachers. The preservice teachers participating in the experience often integrated computational thinking into typical science lessons, but also saw an increase in their self-efficacy for teaching computational thinking (Cabrera et al., 2019, 2020; Ketelhut et al., 2019).

Research shows that these experiences vary widely; most common are in-person workshops (from 1-hour to multiweek programs), sometimes designed based on the consensus model for professional learning experiences (i.e., engaging teachers as learners in engineering activities, modeling effective practice, and making connections to teachers’ work) (e.g., Sargianis, Yang, and Cunningham, 2012). Some of these experiences capitalize on the research happening at universities to bring preschool and elementary educators into engineering education (e.g., Duncan, Diefes-Dux, and Gentry, 2011; Guzey et al., 2014). Teaching engineering in the preschool and elementary grades is so new that this continues to be an important area for future research. However, Engineering is Elementary (EiE) provides one of the most extensive forms of support for teachers in learning to incorporate engineering into their

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

elementary classrooms (Cunningham, Lachapelle, and Lindgren-Streicher, 2006). (A new curriculum, Wee Engineer, takes this work to preschool, as discussed in Chapter 7.) The EiE workshops incorporate many of the characteristics of effective professional learning experiences as described above. Over time, EiE developed first a train-the-trainer program and later a national network of certified professional learning opportunities providers to extend their reach (Sargianis, Yang, and Cunningham, 2012). These efforts help to build the expertise of the facilitators, one of the keys of the extended consensus model.

Museums and other sites of informal learning often serve as providers of engineering education professional learning experiences for preschool and/or elementary teachers. Several museums work as a part of the EiE network, including the Museum of Science in Boston (where the curriculum was developed), the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Arizona Science Center. The Lawrence Hall of Science, the Exploratorium, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh also offer their own programs and partnerships for professional learning; for example, the Exploratorium partners with a California district to work with all of the elementary schools in the district. The New York Hall of Science engages both formal and informal educators in professional learning experiences using its Design-Make-Play framework that informs integrated STEM activity (Honey and Kanter, 2013) and in the STEM Educators Academy run by ExpandED Schools. Head Start on Engineering aims at engineering-focused professional learning experiences for preschool teachers.

Professional Learning Experiences Supporting Content Integration

Numerous scholars have studied professional learning opportunities for elementary teachers to learn to integrate science and literacy. Some of these include opportunities for teachers to ask questions, give feedback, and reflect on their personal beliefs and practices or to practice implementing instructional activities and pedagogical strategies (e.g., Hart and Lee, 2003). Some provide a range of forms of support across the year (e.g., Paprzycki et al., 2017). Some provide ongoing access to consultants such as science content experts or practicing scientists (e.g., Shymansky et al., 2013). Still others provide opportunities for co-design involving teachers and researchers (e.g., Fazio and Gallagher, 2019). Such experiences variously lead to more coherent and elaborate conceptions of both literacy and science instruction, improved knowledge and practices for teaching science with English learners, improved scores on standardized mathematics, reading, and/or science tests, and/or teacher-reported professional growth (e.g., Hart and Lee, 2003; Lee and Maerten-Rivera, 2012; Paprzycki et al., 2017; Shymansky et al., 2013).

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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In-service elementary teachers often express concern about their lack of science or engineering subject-matter knowledge. For example, in Stoddart and colleagues (2002) study of a professional development project to encourage in-service elementary teachers in rural California to focus on inquiry and language acquisition, researchers found that, initially, the majority of their 24 participants felt well prepared to teach either science or language, but not both. After the professional learning experiences, however, the majority of teachers believed they had improved in the domain initially perceived to be their weak domain. (See also Cahnmann and Remillard, 2002; Lee et al., 2016.)

Professional Learning Experiences for Preschool Teachers

Given the argument made throughout this report about the importance of engaging even very young children in science and engineering, what is known about professional learning opportunities for preschool teachers in terms of teaching science and/or engineering? Two recent articles provide some insight into this realm. Hollingsworth and Vandermaas-Peeler (2017) found that, after training in what the authors call “inquiry methods,” the participating teachers reported using some inquiry practices, including observing and questioning; they did not, however, support children in more sophisticated practices, such as making predictions or evaluating evidence. The teachers noted that scheduling and time constraints as well as lack of materials all pose challenges to them in engaging children in inquiry-based science teaching. Brenneman, Lange, and Nayfield (2019) designed and iteratively refined a professional learning experiences model aimed at empowering preschool teachers in providing high-quality STEM learning experiences, particularly within schools serving children with a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Grounded in much the same literature as the consensus model presented above, the model included workshops, reflective coaching cycles (to provide individualized coaching), and professional learning communities. Taken together, these two papers suggest the importance of social supports (e.g., coaches, colleagues) and structural or systemic supports (e.g., materials, instructional time), as well as support for teaching strategies likely to be of importance in the preschool setting.

Other studies have examined the impact of professional learning experiences that aim to support preschool teachers’ instructional practices for science. For example, studies of MyTeachingPartner—Math/Science (Kinzie et al., 2014; Whittaker et al., 2020) show positive effects of the combination of curriculum materials and professional learning experiences (designed drawing on the consensus model for professional learning). Findings from a 2-year quasi-experiment comparing the intervention to a business-as-usual

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

comparison condition, involving 140 teachers in a range of early childhood settings, showed positive effects on children’s science skills after the second year of the intervention, though the findings cannot clearly distinguish between possible effects of the amount of science taught from the effects of the quality of the science taught (Whittaker et al., 2020). An earlier study, comparing a business-as-usual condition, a curriculum-only condition, and a curriculum-plus-teacher-supports condition, found positive effects of the inclusion of teacher support—but only for mathematics outcomes, not for science outcomes (Kinzie et al., 2014).

Foundations for Science Literacy (FSL; Gropen et al., 2017) supports teachers as they plan and facilitate science learning experiences and assess children’s conceptual understanding during science investigations. The program includes coursework, curriculum guidance, classroom-based assignments, and coaching. Findings from a randomized controlled trial with 142 preschool teachers indicated that teachers in the FSL professional learning program demonstrated higher quality of science teaching and improved pedagogical content knowledge in physical science relative to teachers in comparison classrooms. Furthermore, findings from an instrumental variable analysis suggest that the quality of science instruction mediated the relationship between FSL participation and children’s science learning.

These large-scale studies reflect how the consensus model (or extended consensus model) for professional learning experiences, particularly in conjunction with supportive curriculum materials and coaching, can support preschool teachers in their science teaching.

McWayne and colleagues (2018) have also recently worked to co-design Readiness through Integrative Science and Engineering (RISE) (McWayne et al., 2020)—a relationally and culturally situated science, technology, and engineering professional development program—with Head Start preschool teachers and families with a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The RISE Home-School Connection component aims to “flip the scripts” on traditional notions of family engagement, bringing children’s experiences outside of school into the classroom. The program suggests three strategies for teachers to learn what families know and do in science and engineering: (1) observe, talk with, and listen to children, (2) learn indirectly from families via neighborhood walks, and (3) learn directly from families by planning joint activities, family discussion groups and home visits.

Professional Learning Experiences and Equity

Relatively little work since the publication of Science Teachers’ Learning (NASEM, 2015) has pushed forward with a focus specifically on teaching toward equity and justice in preschool or elementary science and engineering.

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

As one example, Lee and colleagues (2016) conducted a cluster randomized controlled trial study involving 103 fifth grade teachers. The study explored the effects of the P-SELL (Promoting Science among English Language Learners) intervention. The intervention combined educative curriculum materials—designed to promote teacher learning as well as children’s learning—with teacher professional learning workshops taking place during the summer and throughout the school year. The workshops reflected many of the characteristics described above as the extended consensus model. The findings demonstrated positive effects on teachers’ subject-matter knowledge and their (self-reported) instructional practices (including teaching for understanding, teaching for inquiry, language development strategies, and use of home language). Thus, the study connected some of the dots between teacher knowledge, teachers’ opportunities to learn via professional learning experiences and educative curriculum materials, and teacher practice.

Marin and Bang’s (2015) work with Indigenous educators in an out-of-school setting shows that connecting to “storywork” while designing science curriculum became part of a “decolonizing pathway” that reclaimed and situated Indigenous stories as part of science teaching and learning. Rosebery, Warren, and Tucker-Raymond (2015) worked with early career prekindergarten to seventh grade teachers serving learners from historically nondominant communities. As part of a 30-hour professional development program, they were able to cultivate interpretive power, or teachers’ attunement to the diversity of children’s sensemaking and ability to see their ideas as generative in science.

The ACESSE: Advancing Coherent and Equitable Systems of Science Education project (Penuel, Bell, and Neill, 2020) is a networked improvement community that involves science education leaders from several states with researchers from two universities, with the goal of enhancing vertical and horizontal coherence within and across state systems. A focus of the network is to enhance teachers’ professional learning opportunities around formative assessment and equitable science teaching. Team members co-design and share resources and modules across state systems, to be used broadly to support teachers’ professional learning. The team’s framework for equitable science learning provides a guidepost for dimensions to which professional learning experiences around equity and justice should attend (Bell, 2019).

Professional Learning Opportunities for Classroom Teachers Summary

In summary, the extended consensus model put forward in Science Teachers’ Learning (NASEM, 2015) is supportive of in-service teachers’ learning. Models of professional development experiences or other professional learning opportunities for teachers typically build on the consensus

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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model or the extended consensus model, wholly or in part, and results of studies of these experiences add to the evidence showing the efficacy of such models.

SUPPORTING EDUCATORS IN WORKING TOWARD EQUITY

Children’s increasing opportunities and access to high-quality science and engineering learning and instruction (Approach #1) hinge on teachers teaching these subjects. If teachers do not see themselves as people who can do science and engineering or who can teach science and engineering, then they are unlikely to do so. Thus, bolstering preschool and elementary teachers’ self-efficacy for science and engineering teaching and their identities as people who teach science and engineering, as explored in several studies reported in the chapter, is key. In addition, teachers need opportunities to learn to make these experiences accessible for children, yet the committee found little research on learning to support children with learning disabilities and/or learning differences (e.g., through differentiation) in science and engineering.

Toward the goal of emphasizing increased achievement, representation, and identification with science and engineering (Approach #2), work by both Mensah (e.g., Mensah and Jackson, 2018) and Avraamidou (2013, 2014) shows the importance of diversifying the teacher education workforce. These studies highlight the importance of seeing “people like you” in science teacher education, particularly for preservice elementary teachers. Representation also matters in terms of who the preservice teachers themselves are. This chapter highlighted one example of a teacher education program that is working purposefully to diversify the teaching workforce for elementary education (Hernandez and Shroyer, 2017); more scholarship in this area could be helpful. (An initiative of the American Indian College Fund aimed at increasing the pipeline of Indigenous early childhood teachers and improving Native early childhood education, for example, warrants further study in relation to science and engineering education.)5

Expanding what constitutes science and engineering (Approach #3) can include expanding teachers’ perspectives on how a wide range of children engage in this work meaningfully. Several papers reviewed in this chapter show, in different ways, the power of placing preservice preschool and elementary teachers in field settings that include children with a variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds (Bottoms et al., 2015; Brenneman et al., 2019; Rivera Maulucci, 2011). Furthermore, studies with practicing teachers emphasize the importance of providing focused supports for

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5 For more information, see https://collegefund.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Early-Childhood-Education-Initiatives_B.pdf.

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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emergent multilingual learners. Lee and colleagues (2016), for example, used professional learning experiences in concert with educative curriculum materials to support teachers in learning teaching strategies for emergent multilingual learners, and Rosebery and colleagues supported teachers in coming to value a range of approaches to sensemaking.

The committee found few studies of preservice or in-service teachers with regard to seeing science and engineering as part of justice movements (Approach #4), though Marin and Bang’s (2015) work with Indigenous educators would help position them to do so. The committee did identify a few studies that looked at teachers’ identity as a social justice teacher (Chen and Mensah, 2018; Rivera Maulucci, 2011), which could be a step toward such work, as well as a framework that warrants further empirical exploration (Thompson et al., 2020).

SUMMARY

Preschool and elementary teachers bring numerous assets to their work in teaching science and engineering. Recognizing these teachers’ assets—including aspects of their identities, dispositions, beliefs, and knowledge—and not focusing exclusively on what they may lack can help to flip the narrative about how to enhance science and engineering instruction in the early years.

Professional learning opportunities for preservice and in-service teachers need to build on their strengths. These learning opportunities can take a number of forms, but must provide a degree of coherence with teachers’ professional contexts. In preservice teacher education, structures including science content courses, science methods courses, field experiences, and programmatic approaches can, collectively, support preservice preschool and elementary teachers in developing their knowledge, beliefs, identities, and practice. In-service professional learning experiences that focus on content and pedagogy, promote teachers’ active engagement (e.g., reviewing children’s work), focus on specific teaching strategies and ensure opportunities to grapple with practice, and build on analytic tools can support similar kinds of outcomes. Figure 8-1 summarizes how preservice teacher education and in-service professional learning experiences “connect the dots” from opportunities to learn to teaching outcomes.

As shown throughout this chapter, designing and providing experiences like these requires teacher educators and professional learning facilitators to have strong knowledge and expertise. For example, to teach preservice or in-service teachers about justice-oriented science or engineering education, one must have strong expertise about justice-oriented science or engineering education oneself. Similarly, to support teachers in learning about the teaching of engineering, one needs rich expertise around engineering teaching.

Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Image
FIGURE 8-1 Connecting the dots: Designing learning experiences for preservice and in-service preschool and elementary teachers of science and engineering.
SOURCE: Adapted from NASEM (2015, Fig. 6-1).
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page197
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page198
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page199
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page200
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page201
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page202
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page205
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page208
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page209
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page210
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page211
Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"8 Supporting Educators to Center Children, Investigation, and Design." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators Get This Book
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Starting in early childhood, children are capable of learning sophisticated science and engineering concepts and engage in disciplinary practices. They are deeply curious about the world around them and eager to investigate the many questions they have about their environment. Educators can develop learning environments that support the development and demonstration of proficiencies in science and engineering, including making connections across the contexts of learning, which can help children see their ideas, interests, and practices as meaningful not just for school, but also in their lives. Unfortunately, in many preschool and elementary schools science gets relatively little attention compared to English language arts and mathematics. In addition, many early childhood and elementary teachers do not have extensive grounding in science and engineering content.

Science and Engineering in Preschool through Elementary Grades provides evidence-based guidance on effective approaches to preschool through elementary science and engineering instruction that supports the success of all students. This report evaluates the state of the evidence on learning experiences prior to school; promising instructional approaches and what is needed for implementation to include teacher professional development, curriculum, and instructional materials; and the policies and practices at all levels that constrain or facilitate efforts to enhance preschool through elementary science and engineering.

Building a solid foundation in science and engineering in the elementary grades sets the stage for later success, both by sustaining and enhancing students' natural enthusiasm for science and engineering and by establishing the knowledge and skills they need to approach the more challenging topics introduced in later grades. Through evidence-based guidance on effective approaches to preschool through elementary science and engineering instruction, this report will help teachers to support the success of all students.

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