College Science for Preservice Elementary Teachers: What Is the Best Approach?

Article excerpt

The focus on the current state of elementary STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education has been a widely debated subject in the science education community. Certainly there are many lenses in which to analyze the various tenets of the field. For this point of view, I would like to address the college-level science courses that future elementary teachers take as part of an elementary education major. I have been in the field of science education and have worked at various institutions, all of which have different requirements for their undergraduates. What courses should we require our future elementary teachers to take for college-level science? The jury is still out, and this point of view is hoping to shed some light, spark some discussion, and perhaps move to reform practices of college science programming.

I have come to the conclusion that science course options for undergraduate elementary education majors may be rather diverse within the already packed academic program of study. But I think it is important to recognize this specific population of students. Students who enroll in my physics course may very well be future elementary teachers who are fulfilling a required science course. Often, my preservice elementary teachers are a bit trepid of physics and often identify that they are not science people. I hear this to be the case from my biology and chemistry colleagues as well. Yet, these students will ultimately be responsible (I hope) for teaching the nation's future citizens about science ... effectively. Is my introductory physics class the best course for them to enroll in given that they may only have one or two required science courses?

I have worked at institutions in which the elementary education program requires two classes. Each respective program consists of varying course offerings. Institution 1 requires students to take two of the following: Introduction to Biology, General Chemistry, General Physics, or Environmental Science. This is a large institution with lecture-hall-size courses with labs. Institution 2 requires students to take two science courses specifically designed for elementary teachers and are both physical and life science oriented. This is a large university with class sizes of 40 to 80 students and has a modified in-room lab. This means that these students do not go to the traditional "chemistry lab." Institution 3 requires one science class of physical or life science. These courses are selected by the student and may or may not have a lab component. This is a medium-size institution that has both large lecture and smaller traditional science electives. Institution 4 requires two college science courses, one life and one physical science. These courses can be selected by the student and may or may not have a lab component. Science electives may be taken as well. This institution is small, with only 20 students per course, which allows for a much more intimate learning environment.

At each institution, preservice elementary teachers are populating introductory science courses. …