Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Mentoring New Science Teachers: A Checklist to Help Mentor Teachers Assess the Teaching Skills and Knowledge of New Science Teachers

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Mentoring New Science Teachers: A Checklist to Help Mentor Teachers Assess the Teaching Skills and Knowledge of New Science Teachers

Article excerpt

During the fourth week of school a new teacher comes to you, his assigned mentor, with teaching concerns. You have already watched him teach and know that he has a good grasp of the material, but needs guidance on how to help his struggling class understand science concepts. Meanwhile, another of your mentees is having difficulty controlling the behavior of some students in his class. This second teacher, though familiar with the science material, is unfamiliar with classroom management strategies. Your third mentee, whose primary field is biology, is having difficulty planning lessons for a section of physics she has been scheduled to teach. New science teachers with such different skill sets are not uncommon. This article provides a checklist for mentor teachers to use when assessing the teaching skills and knowledge of new science teachers. This checklist helps prioritize what and how much assistance the new teacher needs.

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The role of the mentor

Most experienced high school science teachers are asked at some point to serve as a mentor to a novice teacher. While mentor-training programs have been established in many states, they often only focus on how the mentor can help new science teachers understand and negotiate the school culture, such as how the school runs and where supplies are kept. Less attention is given to teaching mentors how to assist new science teachers to develop their content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, and science-specific pedagogical content knowledge.

Science content knowledge (SCK) for teaching differs somewhat from the content knowledge of the professional scientist. While all teachers must know the facts and concepts of the discipline, as well as be able to use subject-specific basic and integrated process skills, teachers' SCK also encompasses the ability to organize content not just according to the logic of the discipline, but in a way that recognizes the prior school-based and informal experiences of students. Additionally, SCK includes the teacher's understanding of how knowledge is generated and comes to be accepted within a discipline, the relationships between concepts in the fields of science and their real-world utility, and the mathematical skills necessary to represent and analyze data (NRC 2001).

General pedagogical knowledge (GPK) includes knowledge of questioning, assessment, and classroom management--the knowledge and skills that all teachers need, regardless of subject or grade level taught, in order to create productive learning environments (Feiman-Nemser et al. 1999). Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK; Shulman 1986) refers to the knowledge necessary to teach a specific subject and transform subject content knowledge into a form accessible to students. In science, this includes knowing how to help students (i) recognize what distinguishes science from other domains of knowledge, (ii) develop scientific habits of mind, and (iii) utilize specific process and manipulative skills used in the discipline, such as identifying variables or correctly focusing a microscope. Additionally, PCK includes knowledge of appropriate analogies, illustrations, examples, and demonstrations, as well as strategies for identifying any preconceptions that students hold about a topic, and recognition of misconceptions that may arise during the course of learning. Addressing issues of safety in laboratories, understanding gender issues that pertain to learning science, and understanding how to teach the material to a diverse student population are all part of science-specific pedagogical content knowledge (Driver et al. 1994; Morine-Dershimer and Kent 1999).

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While all new science teachers need support and guidance, some need more than others because each enters teaching with differing prior experiences. In the past, new teachers generally began their careers after completing an education program that included a student teaching practicum under the direction of an experienced science teacher and college supervisor. …

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