Integrating Science Methods with Professional Development: How "Third Space" Courses Benefit Preservice and Inservice Teachers

By Vick, Matthew | Science and Children, September 2017 | Go to article overview

Integrating Science Methods with Professional Development: How "Third Space" Courses Benefit Preservice and Inservice Teachers


Vick, Matthew, Science and Children


Learning how to teach elementary science well is not only a goal for preservice teachers. Our partnership has led to an on-site science methods course in our partner elementary school library that blends pedagogical instruction with practical classroom time to the benefit of inservice and preservice teachers. In the course, both sets of teachers engage with the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as well as the concepts of the Nature of Science.

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Traditionally, methods courses are taught in a university classroom. Pre-student-teaching practicum experiences are typically incorporated near the end of methods sequences to apply the pedagogical knowledge. The university classroom and practicum experience are the first two spaces of teacher education. Zeichner (2010) called for greater blending of the academic knowledge of the university classroom and the practical knowledge of the K-12 classroom, known as a third space.

The third space isn't the elementary school library; rather, it's a K-6 classroom where preservice teachers apply their new pedagogical knowledge each week by co-teaching inquiry-based lessons with a mentor inservice teacher. The inservice teachers experience this third-space methods class as a form of "professional development in work" (Bredeson 2003) rather than being outside of their classroom work.

Preservice teachers engage in lessons and discussions on pedagogy such as conceptual change theory, the role of misconceptions, and inquiry-based teaching. Both pre-service and inservice teachers learn about and apply the NGSS through coursework, such as analyzing student misconceptions and designing lessons aligned to the standards. Preservice teachers partner with a mentor teacher throughout the experience, allowing them both to build a trusting relationship with each other. Additionally, preservice teachers get to know the elementary students by being in the same classroom each week.

Structure of a Third-Space Course

Our 14- to 15- week elementary science methods course is one 150-minute class period each week. Inservice teachers and their elementary students in grades K-6 participate in the lessons taught by the preservice teachers. The course serves 24 preservice teachers with collaboration from 12-15 inservice teachers. The K-6 school serves 500 students in 21 homerooms. Three class periods are held online where preservice teachers learn about the NGSS and pedagogical issues that are later connected to classroom work. The textbook for the course is Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science (Konicek-Moran and Keeley 2015).

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Our course meets the five structures for a successful third-space methods class described by Bahr, Monroe, and Eggett (2014; Figure 1). A gradual increase of teaching responsibilities builds the knowledge base and abilities of our preservice teachers as they and the inservice teachers develop an inquiry-based mindset from the beginning (seeTable 1). Everyday Science Mysteries (Konicek-Moran 2008) provides structure for the first two class periods in which the preservice teachers read one of the mysteries and have the students brainstorm ideas to test the concepts from the stories. The focus is on integrating a scientific and engineering practice (SEP) into their instruction by getting students to ask good scientific questions that drive an investigation.

Preservice teachers next select one of the NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books based upon a concept that the elementary students are studying to read to the class (in part or in whole); then, they plan a discrepant event about a misconception related to classroom content, such as a demonstration of a pumpkin floating while a grape sinks (challenging the idea that big or heavy objects always sink). After that, preservice teachers start planning full lessons aligned to a specific SEP that use inquiry or conceptual change. …

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