January 22, 2016
A new report released this week will give lawmakers, school officials and others specific direction when it comes to supporting and strengthening science teacher learning, says a University of Georgia professor who contributed to the effort.
The report, “Science Teachers’ Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts,” produced by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, assesses and discusses essential learning opportunities for elementary, middle and high school science teachers. The book also recommends new lines of research and steps administrators and lawmakers can take to strengthen science education in the U.S.
“A lot of the time there is inequitable access to professional learning opportunities in science—for example, we’re emphasizing mathematics or English and not so much science,” said Julie A. Luft (pictured), Athletic Association Professor of Science and Mathematics Education in the UGA College of Education, who was one of 16 researchers, educators, scientists and science educators from across the country selected to craft the guidelines. “The recommendations themselves are great because they give policymakers direct suggestions.”
The report, released Jan. 20, covers topics such as the state of science instruction, the current teaching workforce and teachers’ learning needs, such as professional development. It also suggests research topics that are more in line with the Next Generation Science Standards, announced in 2013, plus specific policy guidelines for lawmakers.
Luft, who specializes in issues faced by new science teachers as well as professional development options for science teachers, said the report emphasizes the need for science teachers to work collectively in order to improve their students’ learning; often, teachers work in isolation. Also, the report points out uneven distribution of professional development programs, which results in some teachers having opportunities to improve their practice while others struggle to find appropriate learning opportunities.
“There are some areas of the country where there are ample fiscal resources to support teachers, giving them the learning opportunities they need to improve their teaching and their students’ learning, Other areas, like rural regions, may not have enough fiscal resource,” she said. “So how do we solve this distribution and access problem of professional development?”
The new guidelines, which were funded by the Merck Foundation, seek to address this and other issues in science teacher education through policy suggestions and research ideas. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are private, non-profit organizations that advise the U.S. government on science and technology matters.
“This report draws upon what is known in science teacher learning, and puts this information in one comprehensive document,” said Luft. “It’s a comprehensive guide that can give different people a lot of direction.”
The professorship held by Luft is funded by an endowment managed by the University of Georgia Foundation.