University of Dayton partners with Catholic middle schools to improve teacher preparation and the teaching of science
Partnership is one of the central components in the lives of education professionals. As teachers, we form partnerships with our students and partnerships with their families. We seek partnerships with other teachers and our administrators to support our growth and to share the workload. We look to our community partners for support and resources and as a source of opportunities for our students. We even encourage the development of partnerships among our students, asking them to collaborate within the classroom to extend their learning and deepen their commitment to the community of learners we value.
The outcome of partnership, collaboration, is one of the key components in professional development for both pre-service and practicing teachers. The professional development literature in science education identifies collaboration as one strategy that can be used as a means of providing professional development for practicing science teachers (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998). Collaborative partnerships can take many different forms and need to provide benefits to all partners involved. However, a chief goal must be to offer teachers opportunities to work with others who can contribute to their growth as teachers of science.
Collaboration is equally important in the development of new science teachers. Stemming from the idea that students must learn how to teach, rather than being told how to teach, pre-service teachers need to be presented with opportunities to think like science teachers and develop skills that are routine for science teachers (Loughran, 2007). Through interaction with a community of practice, novice science teachers learn how to solve challenging problems in the context of the science classroom (Putnam & Borko, 2000).
One challenge for pre-service teachers who are pursuing a middlechildhood teaching license in science content (grades 4-9 in Ohio) is that sometimes they are not able to student teach in both of their chosen content fields. States that follow the National Middle School Association guidelines for preparing middle school teachers require candidates to demonstrate competence in two content fields and reading instruction. While students often have field placements early in their academic careers in both selected content fields, the critical partnerships developed during student teaching between preservice science teachers and master science teachers are missing.
Upper grades (7 and 8) science teachers, both practicing and pre-service, in small Catholic K-8 schools face unique challenges in the development of partnerships to support science teaching. Because requirements for teaching in the upper grade levels have changed to require teachers to specialize in only one or two content areas, in some schools one teacher may be the sole source of science instruction for students. In addition, these teachers' preparation may or may not have included extensive background in science content knowledge. Those who teach science in the upper grades in Catholic schools often are without partners for planning and teaching science. This often leaves "the science teacher isolated and without the support a partnership can supply.
When I came to the University of Dayton (UD) in 2005, an excellent opportunity to build a partnership that supported both Catholic school upper grades science teachers and preservice middle-school science teachers was waiting for me. Coming to UD was like a homecoming of sorts. I was returning to my Catholic college roots, having graduated from the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, nearly 20 years before. The sense of homecoming stemmed from the university's Marianist heritage; and its mission encouraging students and faculty to take an active role in the larger community. The importance of working within and for community had been a hallmark of my education at St. …