Practicing What They Preach: Science Teacher Educators Return to School

In a forthcoming book, 25 science teacher educators describe their experiences after returning to teach students in K-12 public schools and informal settings.  Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Teachers: Practicing What We Teach was edited by Michael Dias, professor of biology and science education, Kennesaw State University (Georgia), Charles J. Eich, professor of science education, Auburn University, and Laurie Brantley-Dias, professor of instructional technology, Georgia State University.  The book will be published early in 2013 by Springer Publishers.

I was asked to write the last chapter of the book, and my comments here are based on reading the pre-published manuscripts, and content of the chapter that I wrote.

In the current era of reform, teacher education has been thrown under the bus, especially by the U.S. Department of Education.  Education policy and practice are being radically transformed in American education, and teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are being pressured to fall in line with the marketization and privatization of K-12 schools.  In teacher preparation this is clear by looking at proposals to privatize or deregulate the education of teachers, in the increasing reductive entry and exit tests for prospective educators, in differential funding to those teacher preparation institutions whose students score higher on high-stakes examinations, and the increasing growth of home schooling because of various reasons, but perhaps the wish to reject formal schooling and indeed professionally educated teachers (Please see Michael Apple’s chapter entitled Is deliberate democracy enough in teacher education?, 2008).

One of the most important ideas that I took away from these narratives is how the professional images of these science educators changed because they were willing to take risks, and work in a culture that was very different from the one given by academia.  In crossing cultures from academia to public school and informal science settings, these professors put themselves in the environment of teachers, who in a way were more knowledgeable about the practice of teaching science than they were.

I found richness in these reports, as well as creativity, and above all else, there was courage as shown by these teacher educators’ willingness to leave the safety of university life and immerse themselves in the world of K-12 classrooms   Many of the authors took this step to find out how it feels to be back in a school in today’s classroom, and how this experience might affect their work as teacher educators.  Trying out progressive teaching strategies such as inquiry-based, the radical idea of helping students construct their own ideas, and problem-based approaches was a central goal of most of the authors.  They also hoped that thoughtful reflection of their experience through the writing and critique of their chapters in this book would give the assuredness and self-confidence to change their views and impact their university colleagues and their students.

But not everything which was reported was rosy.  And this is why these reports have such credibility.  Most of these professors had strong background in science and how to teach science.  But every one of them had problems when they entered the classroom.  Some professors left university life and took jobs in secondary schools, thinking that this would be a permanent career change.  Others took leaves of absence and taught either one or two semesters in a K-12 school.  Another group, while remaining at their university post, took time weekly to teach in a local school.  And the last group taught in more informal settings, such a camps or summer school.

Why did these professors decide to do this and then write about their experiences?  Some of them indicated that they want to improve their “street cred” with their teacher education students who sometimes would make comments such as “How can you teach us anything about teaching science when you haven’t been in a classroom for years?”  Other professors wanted to find out how progressive teaching ideas such as inquiry-based learning would actually work in the classroom.  Many of the professors were successful here, but even the ones that were successful had to make constant changes, and get help from teachers and colleagues.  Still, other professors simply wanted to work with children and youth and experience again why they decided to become teachers in the first place.

I’ll tell you more about these fascinating experiences in the coming weeks.  For now, I simply wanted to let you that this book is coming along, and that there are teacher educators that are trying to reform education from the inside-out, rather than the top-down corporate and conservative model that is strangling K-12 schools, and teacher education.

If you are teacher educator, what was your most recent experience teaching K-12 about?  How did it work out?


The Debate We Should Have Had: Science, Climate and the Next Four Years

Note:  I just received this update from ScienceDebate’s Shawn Otto reminding us of the following debate on climate science on Thursday, November 1 in D.C.

The Debate We Should Have Had: Science, Climate and the Next Four Years

Featuring Obama campaign surrogate Kevin Knobloch and former Republican congressman and Delaware governor Mike Castle.

Moderated by‘s Shawn Otto and ClimateDesk Live’s Chris Mooney.


Thursday, November 1, 2012
The Mott House, Capitol Hill
9:30a.m.-11:00a.m. Eastern US Time Zone

In the aftermath of  hurricane-cyclonic storm Sandy’s fury, this debate will raise questions about why the Presidential campaigns have been silent on global warming and the predictions that climate scientists have made about extreme weather phenomena such as superstorms, such as Sandy, infernos experienced last summer in Colorado, major droughts, and extreme flooding.  

If you cannot be present for livestreamVigo over to anytime after the 11:AM debate.



Inspiration in the Rockies


The Rocky Mountains as seen from the YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, Colorado, August 19, 2012

This is a view from the YMCA of the Rockies, which I first visited in August, 1975 to attend my first conference of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP). Since then I’ve been here about 15 times.

But it was my attendance at the (AHP) conference that changed my outlook as a teacher at Georgia State University.

Continue reading “Inspiration in the Rockies”

Count Down to the Next Generation Science Standards

UPDATE: The Next Generation Science Standards are available for public view and feedback here.


According to various bloggers, the Next Generation Science Standards are to be released today for public review.  The release has been delayed twice, and hopefully we’ll see the draft of the science standards.

According to the Next Generation Science Standards site at Achieve, Inc., the standards will be available for two rounds of public feedback “to help guide the writing team.  Feedback will be aggregated and made public.”

In the run up to the development, writing and now the release of the new science standards, there has been a lot posturing, and rationalization for why America needs new science standards, and why there is the need to develop a national science assessment based on this set of standards.

Is there Research to Support this Effort?

Over on Anthony Cody’s website, Living in Dialog, he ran a post this week that conversation between Dr. Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon.  Zhao was born in China’s Sichuan Province and is author of Catching Up or Leading the Way (ASCD, 2009),and Yvonne Siu-Runyan, professor emerita from the University of Northern Colorado, and past president of NCTE.

Here is part of the interview in which Dr. Zao was asked about the common standards and education.  Zao concluded that it’s an expensive and futile exercise that will likely cause more damages in terms of narrowing the curriculum and leading to more teaching to the test.

YSR: You are suggesting that educators and local schools must find inventive ways to educate our young to live in an ever-changing unknown world. Do you think that the Common Core State Standards can accomplish this? I just read the piece in Ed Week where Anthony Cody featured you entitled, “Yong Zhao Interview: Will the Common Core Create World-Class Learners?” In this interview you question the value of the Common Core State Standards. Why? Many think that this will help to solve the issues of inequities in our schools.

YZ: Well, I don’t. I think the best analysis of why the Common Core Standards Initiative won’t make a difference is done by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute in the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, which you can find at this link. It is based on sound research and shows the Common Core won’t improve performance, reduce the achievement gap, or increase efficiency, as the proponents have suggested.

I have written quite a lot about this initiative. The simple message is that they will not improve education. It is an expensive but futile exercise.

YSR: I know implementing the Common Core State Standards is and will continue to be expensive, but why do you think it is a futile exercise?

YZ: It is futile exercise that will likely cause more damages in terms of narrowing the curriculum and leading to more teaching to the tests.

Dr. Zao referred to the Brookings Institute research on the Common Core.  According to the report, the common core will have little to no effect on student achievement.  It suggested that:

Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning. That conclusion is based on analyzing states’ past experience with standards and examining several years of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The evidence is that the research does not support the principle rationale that the new standards will result in higher achievement scores of American students.

Questions about the Science Standards

In a recent publication entitled Achieving a New Generation of Common Science Standards, we have argued that there are many reasons to question the viability of the new standards.
Continue reading “Count Down to the Next Generation Science Standards”

Nationalized Assessments in Mathematics, English/Language Arts & Science are Just Around the Corner

National Assessments in  mathematics, English/language arts and science are coming soon to an American school in your neighborhood.  Although the national science assessments are a few years away, the national assessments in mathematics and English/language arts will begin early pilots and field testing next school year, and will be ready for full operational administration in 2014 – 2015.

Is this an idea that is good for American education?  For students? For parents?  For Teachers?


In a recent post on this blog entitled The Testing Games: How America’s Youth are being put at risk, we suggested that American students from grades 3 – 12, participate in an annual event that makes them take tests to ensure that their state and school continue to receive federal funding.  The testing games that children and youth are annually required to participate in are used to identify winners and losers.  Unlike the Hunger Games, children are used to determine winning schools, teachers and districts.  No one dies. However, we are testing the life out of our children and youth.

As we noted in the post on testing, student scores determine whether a school has done a good or bad job.   Schools which receive Federal ESEA funding must make progress (known as Adequate Yearly Progress) on test scores.  Schools compare scores from one year to the next, and use the difference to determine how well or poorly the children and youth did.  And we added that policy makers are hunting for bad teachers.  To do this, they have required states to begin using VAM (Value Added Modeling) to rate teachers, and to then humiliate the teachers by publishing VAM scoresin the local papers, as in Los Angeles and New York City.

Each spring, American students sit for hours at their desks, or at a computer and take tests in mathematics and reading, and for some students in science, and social studies.  In many school districts, especially in poorer communities, students are prepped for the tests by their teachers, who may take as many as two or three weeks to get them ready.  We know how this testing mania, and the consequences attached to high-stakes tests has led to wide-scale cheating by school officials, with state department’s of education looking the other way, or not participating in the exploration of the causes of test erasure scandals.

Even when we examine the social-emotional toll that high-stakes testing, we continue along a path as if students didn’t matter.

Anxious teachers, sobbing children was the title of an opinion article published in the Atlanta newspaper a few weeks ago.  The article, written by Stephanie Jones, professor of education at the University of Georgia, asks “What’s the low morale and crying about in education these days?  Mandatory dehumanization and emotional policy-making  — that’s what.”

Policy makers, acting on emotion and little to no data, have dehumanized schooling by implementing authoritarian standards in a one-size-fits-all system of education.  We’ve enabled a layer of the educational system (U.S. Department of Education and the state departments of education) to implement the NCLB act, and high-stakes tests, and use data from these tests to determine the fate of school districts, teachers and students.  One of the outcomes of this policy is the debilitating effects on the mental and physical health of students, teachers and administrators.
Continue reading “Nationalized Assessments in Mathematics, English/Language Arts & Science are Just Around the Corner”