Academic journal article Science and Children

Evolving the Physics Mindset: Changing Perceptions and Attitudes toward the Teaching and Learning of Physical Science

Academic journal article Science and Children

Evolving the Physics Mindset: Changing Perceptions and Attitudes toward the Teaching and Learning of Physical Science

Article excerpt

One significant challenge we face in the K-5 world is the inadequate preservice preparation and subsequent insufficient inservice professional development offered to elementary teachers of science (Hrepic et al. 2006). This article describes one aspect of a professional development (PD) model designed by an NSF-funded initiative. The initiative offered a complex system of supports to participating elementary schools: a rigorous Next Generation Science Standards-aligned curriculum with emphasis on integration of science, literacy, and engineering; and a Professional Learning Community (PLC) for teachers of science. This included weekly instructional coaching, peer visitations, and opportunities for teachers to reflect on their practice, share feedback, and discuss best teaching strategies in a face-to-face setting. Despite such emphasis on the pedagogy of science, it was obvious that without solid foundation in the content of science, we would not be able to achieve significant results. There was a clear need to design professional development focused on the fundamental concepts of the natural sciences. Four courses called "STEM Academies" were designed to meet this need: Physical Science STEM Academy, Earth/Space Science STEM Academy, Life Science STEM Academy, and Engineering STEM Academy.

The goal of the STEM Academies is to prepare teachers to teach science and encourage them to transition from a lecture format to an authentic way of learning science by doing science. We knew from the research (Nilsson and Driel 2008) that elementary teachers often view physics as "difficult and abstract, resulting in difficulties to transform the content to the students," so we decided to make the Physical Science STEM Academy the first course in the sequence of four. In order to most effectively develop both subject matter knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge in physics, we selected and developed STEM Master Teachers to teach the course. By putting elementary teachers in front of a class of other elementary teachers, who work with the same student population and face the same challenges within the urban education setting, we empowered the entire group to change attitudes toward, and increase their confidence of, the teaching and learning of physics.

Participants must complete 45 seat hours in order to obtain credit for the course. "Credit" is comprised of three AUs (Achievement Units honored by Baltimore City Schools) and three CPD credits (Continuing Professional Development, honored by the Maryland State Department of Education); STEM Master Teachers receive credits as well for facilitation. The course has been offered in both school-year and summer course formats. School-year courses run for three hours, biweekly, in evenings from September to March; summer courses are comprised of compressed six-hour sessions, hosted across seven days. Teachers, grades kindergarten through sixth (in order to allow for both vertical and horizontal content discussions), enroll to either individually develop their own content knowledge, or to support their work with the newly developed science curriculum--for which post-session coaching is offered. Upon successful completion of Physical Science STEM Academy, participants are encouraged to continue on to the other STEM Academy content courses. We have shared the Physical Science course outline online (see NSTA Connection).

In this article, to illustrate the evolution of this unique professional development series, we give examples of learning explorations from three Physical Science course topics: electrical circuits, atomic structure, and properties of light. Please refer to the concept map to see, in detail, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) vertical conceptual progressions within the three topics (see NSTA Connection). This course has been designed for elementary teachers but focuses on the foundational physical science ideas, which are not taught (according to NGSS) until middle and high school. …

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