Information to Describe and Become Outstanding Professional Science Educators

How can I develop as a professional educator?

Two basic things are needed:

  1. A process for professional development, simple to describe, although difficult to implement without repeating what was done to you as a student. A process that guarantees genuine planning and decision making that demonstrates current research and wisdom of practice in the decision you make and the consequences they have on your students.
  2. A description of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions a professional educator needs to know to be an outstanding professional educator. This includes a considerable amount of information you will use when making the complex decisions a professional educator makes.

What process?

A process to inquire and reflect on what outstanding teachers know and do to facilitate student learning and the dispositions necessary to be successful.

A reflective cycle begins with a person's present understandings and practices. We must know and describe the beliefs, assumptions, and philosophy, that are the basis for our goals and how we use these ideas to base our reasoning for the selection of our practices and resolve the consequences of those practices for students. Further it explains how decisions are informed by research and wisdom of practice. It is the reflection on the differences and similarities that lead us to seek and implement beneficial change or not to meet the needs of our students.

A model for professional development shows how teachers use such a process and a hand full of focus questions to facilitate their professional development.

What do professional educators need to know and be able to do?

There are three kinds of knowledge professional educators use when making decisions:

While all three are important this focus will always be on science as a discipline or science literacy. The handful of questions that everyone who attempts to teach anything about science or help someone understand anything about science must consider are six:

  1. What is science?
  2. What do people need to know to use science/ be science literate?
  3. How do I assess what people know about science/ science literacy?
  4. How do children, adolescents, and adults learn science/ become science literate?
  5. How do I facilitate peoples understanding of science/ literacy?
  6. How do I improve my understanding for science and how to help others understanding?

The missing details?

The big ideas represented in this handful of questions is enormous. The details and its systematic organization has been described in many publications. Outstanding teachers must have enough of this information stored in their memory so they will make decisions that will better facilitate science learning. If we don't acknowledge and systematically study and learn these big ideas, then our decisions will be poorer and students less likely to learn.

Therefore, outstanding science educators construct comprehensive understanding of each of these pedagogical areas, ideas associated with each, how they are used, and how they relate to each other to facilitate science literacy. The amount and quality of information a person has in these areas will be directly related to the quality and number of solutions available for their decision making. Which in turn will increase the likelihood of success for the educator and students.

If sufficient time is not invested in selecting, weeding, and connecting ideas, then a hodgepodge of ideas is like junk in a drawer and selecting ideas when decisions are needed is like grabbing something from the drawer without looking, results depend on luck or odds that are stacked against students' success.

To understand and implement better choices for students this handful of - discipline or subject related ideas - have been included with the three kinds of knowledge to suggest their interrelatedness in this model.

Look at what is represented? Does it fit your educational philosophy? Does it suggest current research and wisdom of practice? If not what changes would you make to suggest your understandings of these three kinds of knowledge?

Not sure? Would like more information? Time to study it?

Then let's do it ... and start with ...

What is Science?

Many intelligent people have played around with defining science - some of them more seriously than others resulting in a variety of definitions.

I am sure you recognized ideas, within these definitions, you include in your own personal definition of science and some you would not.

But, you say what is the real definition or the best definition? Well, from that list my favorite is:

A carpenter, a schoolteacher, and scientist were traveling by train through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.
"Aha," said the carpenter with a smile, "I see that Scottish sheep are black."
"Hmm," said the school teacher, "You mean that some Scottish sheep are black."
"No," said the scientist glumly, "All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black."

Awe come on you say, that can't be it. Probably not, but it really gets to the heart of science - Observation.

Everything we know, when doing science must be observable and not only observable, but a repeatable observation or verifiable. So to really get philosophical about science, one might philosophize about observation, is it real, is it imagined, what makes better observations, and is every person's imagined observation exist only in their mind? ... and so on ... but I may be going a bit too far so let's move on...

Enough ... get to a definition

Alas, there is not one. There are many things that science is and there are many things that science is not; the most important that it is not, is anything that isn't based on verifiable observation. Philosophy based on beliefs and assumptions, religion based on faith, intuition based on a gut feelings, or arguments built on assumptions that we are unwilling to challenge. Any conclusions made these ways, is not scientific. That doesn't devalue those decisions or put greater value on decisions that are scientific. It is human nature that decides what to value and what process or processes to use to decide what to believe or not. When we choose decisions based on verifiable observation, then science is the discipline that has been created and refined for that kind of decision making.

So what implications does this have for a professional science educator?

Fortunately or unfortunately it requires more study. A simple definition of science can be useful to point us in an appropriate direction, but unless that definition includes an in depth understanding of science as investigation, how to investigate, skills necessary for investigation, what has been learned and created by science, what science can do, when to use it, and when not to, then a definition isn't very helpful for professional educators.

So to dig deeper, we need to explore ... science literacy

Before we do. Is all the information about science increasing your anxiety?

If so, try this, and hurry back...

From Science Definitions to Science Literacy

I hope that was encouraging.

Now, let's tame the powerful question: What is science literacy?

First, a little history. - In 1989 a group of scientists and educators joined together to create a project group and called themselves Project 2061. Their first task was to compile the book, Science for All Americans. It is a comprehensive description of what science literacy is and provides an excellent document for professional educators. This and more of their work is available through AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science).

A second group that publishes many professional science documents and most notably the National Science Standards is the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association).

A third group The National Academies Press published A Framework for K-12 Science Education in the summer of 2011.

If you haven't already, head off into the wilderness and take a look at these three organizational web sites:

  1. AAAS and documents created through the Project 2061 group,
  2. NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) and the National Science Standards
  3. The National Academies Press and A Framework for K-12 Science Education

Hurry back...

Wow! It looks like they each have a lot of information

Yes, they do, but for now just know what these groups are so you can associate the publications we will be referencing to them.

Before we get more into science literacy, let's review or explore a couple of big ideas.

First, science is based on verifiable observations.

Second, in science there are no right answers. Science is never done. There certainly are ideas that are more accepted, by the scientific community, than others, but the nature of science is every idea is open to change.

Third, no matter how much science you know it will never be enough.

The information included in Science for All Americans, is a compilation created by an expert panel of scientists, mathematicians, social scientist, and technologists of what they believe every American graduate should know and be able to do to be science literate; not what a person needs to know to be a scientist, nor is it what a student needs to know to be awarded a science scholarship to a prestigious college or university to study in a science field, but what everyone should know. More importantly for you, it is what a professional educator need to know to teach at any grade level.

Now, let's do a bit of a pretest or diagnostic assessment or exploration about the nature of science.

The nature of science is the foundation for science literacy and there are many misconceptions propagated by the media and uneducated population so don't be too disappointed if some of your thoughts are not in line with these ten questions about the nature of science.

Oh... Remember I said I would help you? Here are some suggestions and misconceptions that I believe will help you with the questions.

I imagine the thinking you did responding to the nature of science questions was pretty deep. The information is pretty comprehensive for an overview of the nature of science, but as a future professional educator you need a solid understanding of the big ideas for science literacy.

As you review the different organizations of the dimensions of science literacy and their categories the nature of science information will be valuable.

So what are these dimensions and categories of science literacy?

Good question. There are three different documents used by educators to plan, create, and implement a science curriculum. Do you recall the documents from AAAS - Project 2061, NSTA - National Science Standards, and National Academies Press - A Framework for K-12 Science Education? Each of these have been used, or in the case of the recent Framework ... will be used to design curriculums.

Links to each of these different documents, summaries and outlines.

So how do I compare them and decide which is better?

Good question. In order to compare them, some form of organization needs to be used to match up similar areas and identify different areas that may not be represented. A Meta analysis of different subjects has found four different dimensions that all subjects have.

These four dimensions can be used to organize and compare these three different organizations of science information. I have prepared a chart where these four dimensions are used to compare the categories described in Project 2061 by AAAS, the National Science Standards by NSTA, and A Framework for K-12 Science Educators by the National Academies Press.

After you review them and either select one to use or create your own, you can give it a test drive by finding where to categorize different ideas and skills to know for science literacy.

As a professional science educator we have looked at two of the most important areas related to that handful of questions we need to answer to become an outstanding science educator - What is science? and What needs to be known to be science literate?

Other class focus questions

You may not have previously studied and reflected on the rest of the focus question specifically for science literacy, but you do have a lot of general information for them:

  1. How do we assess students science literacy?
  2. How do people become science literate?
  3. How is science literacy facilitated?
  4. How do professional educators improve professionally?

We have already looked at a sample model that begins to illustrate how these questions and answers are related to the three kinds of knowledge and each other at the beginning of this page.

As you review, reflect, and discuss answers to these questions, select ideas which are important to you, your students, and your peers' learning. These can be added to this generic model of ideas, their connections to students, and mediators for decision making so it becomes a model for your decision making and rationales for those decisions.

One useful resource is the principled procedures.

It won't take long as you add ideas to your web until you have quit a bit of information.

Here is the previous sample with some of the information temporarily removed so more specific information could be included. Here is another page with more specific information.

To document your ideas for a professional science educator you could use a jumbo sized initial page with tons of information, or use multiple pages with different groups of information on different sheets of paper with arrows to indicate pages where additional information is located, or use an electronic format with links to more and more detail.

These samples are parts and pieces of an incomplete document that if completed would be the knowledge base for you as a professional science educator.

Other documents which could be included along with it are position papers, sequence plans, currriculums, teaching videos, student artifacts, professional assessments, and reflections; which would make a professional portfolio.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes