Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Successful with STEM? A Qualitative Case Study of Pre-Service Teacher Perceptions

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Successful with STEM? A Qualitative Case Study of Pre-Service Teacher Perceptions

Article excerpt

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education is at the forefront of educational reform initiatives at both national and state levels in the United States. With strong job growth projected in STEM-related fields over the next 10 years and a lack of students choosing pathways to these careers, continued reform in STEM-based learning is crucial to meeting economic demands (United States Department of Education, 2015). The United States is falling behind internationally in STEM areas. Currently, the United States is ranked 29th in mathematics and 22nd in science among other industrialized nations (United States Department of Education, 2015). The disparity between the projected numbers of STEM careers and the numbers of STEM proficient students entering associated college majors and pursuing STEM-related fields is unacceptable. The need for enhancing and growing STEM principles can be seen globally as well. In the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s most recent science report, themes concerned with the growth of "science, technology, and innovation" demonstrate parallels to STEM trends found in the United States. These global initiatives of many member countries note the increased pressure on science to grow and develop to meet challenges that humanity faces from environmental crises, both human and man-made (Soete, Schneegans, Eröcal, Angathevar, & Rasiah, 2015). The solutions for how to improve the number of students choosing STEM careers is multifaceted and likely does not include a global solution that works for all contexts. Studies with specific contexts and influence on policy and program improvement may allow for incremental innovation and contribution to the complex global need for STEM professionals.

Despite the projection of a need for additional STEM professionals, much of educational research reports teachers are unqualified or insufficiently trained to teach the STEM subjects. Teacher misconceptions and a lack of training for teaching STEM subjects is creating students with inadequate STEM experiences and little preparation to enter STEM college majors and careers (Benken & Stevenson, 2014; Colbert, 2014; Garrett, 2008; O'Neill, Yamagata, Yamagata, & Togioka, 2012).

Quality professional development programs and partnerships are demonstrating progress in addressing improvement for current in-service teachers, yet they do not fully address additional layers of the problem (Avery & Reeve, 2013; Gillespie, 2015; Han, Yalvac, Capraro, & Capraro, 2015; Nadelson, Callahan, Pyke, Hay, Dance, & Pfiester, 2013; Schuster, Buckwalter, Marrs, Pritchett, Sebens, & Hiatt, 2012), namely, that the need for such professional development programs indicates that pre-service teachers are graduating unprepared to teach in the STEM-rich environment of today's schools. The necessary competencies for graduates seeking to teach in STEM environments will continue to increase. The release of both the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS) (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013) have begun a shift in the level of preparation required for teacher candidates. Amid the CCSS's focus on rigor, conceptual understandings, and practical applications and NGSS's focus on processes, core ideas, and cross-cutting concepts between technical areas, the basic STEM prerequisite knowledge needed to teach is unprecedented to date.

With the variety of choices available to young professionals selecting post-baccalaureate professional development opportunities, it is not certain that new teachers will seek out quality STEM professional development programs to develop crucial STEM skills. Therefore, providing foundational preparation in STEM content and pedagogies during teacher preparation programs could be vital to improving the qualifications of future STEM teachers. …

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