Opinion
Federal Opinion

A Bigger, Better STEM Field Begins With Teachers

By Jen Gutierrez — October 25, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I’ve spent a 26-year career as a science and STEM educator, first of children and now adults. “Lifers” like me have seen the education pendulum swing across a wide arc of changes in the theories and research on how children learn science and STEM best. And yet, in spite of all this attention, we continue to struggle when it comes to getting excellent, well-trained science teachers in front of all children—not just those who live in our wealthiest districts or attend private schools.

This ongoing crisis, which amounts to a dearth of high-quality science education, demands a sense of urgency from all stakeholders: teachers, parents, administrators, community and business leaders, higher education leaders, and politicians. As we prepare students for jobs of the 21st century, whether these students are college- or career-bound, we must have science teachers who are not only on the cutting edge of content and pedagogy, but also passionate and dedicated to engaging all children, regardless of their ZIP codes.

A Bigger, Better STEM Field Begins With Teachers: As we develop a clearer blueprint for good science education, more teacher professional development is needed, writes educator Jen Gutierrez.

We must have a more concerted system for preparing and supporting prospective science teachers. Preservice programs need to work closely with pre-K-12 schools and districts to ensure that teacher training reflects state and local trends in education, such as the growth in the fields of science and engineering. Teachers need ongoing professional time and opportunities provided by national, state, and district initiatives to enhance their own knowledge and adjust their instruction to help their students become nimble enough to face the challenging demands of the workplace. Learning should be an ongoing process for students as well as teachers, regardless of how long they’ve been in the profession.

Teacher-support programs and enrichment initiatives can be plentiful, but how powerful are they? We should capitalize on those with the greatest potential to coordinate a systemic plan for teacher improvement. The National Science Teachers Association, on whose council I sit, recommends that teacher-induction and -preparation programs focus not only on pedagogy, but also on establishing strong content knowledge. One way to make the process more effective is for induction programs to make sure that candidates understand what students must learn, as well as how they best learn.

We must have a more concerted system for preparing and supporting prospective science teachers."

The National Research Council’s 2011 “A Framework for K-12 Science Education” and the 2013 Next Generation Science Standards, which are based on the NRC framework, outline a broad set of expectations for K-12 students in science and engineering. These documents recommend improving K-12 science education within three dimensions of learning: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and the core ideas in four disciplinary areas (physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space science; and engineering, technology, and applications of science).

BRIC ARCHIVE

How do we ensure that all students have access to well-trained and qualified science teachers? Education Week Commentary invited teachers, professors, and teacher-educators across the country to weigh in on this pressing challenge. This special section is supported by a grant from The Noyce Foundation. Education Week retained sole editorial control over the content of this package; the opinions expressed are the authors’ own, however.

Read more from the package.

For the first time, these two documents address what science education should look like and how each dimension must be integrated into a set of standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments if we are to truly support students’ meaningful learning in science and engineering.

STEM business and industry partners also have a key role to play in providing teacher training. They have access to a wealth of opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math for students and their teachers, and they have the financial capital to sustain ongoing initiatives.

One of Arizona’s power utility companies—theSalt River Project—provides in-state teacher-training workshops and educational grant funding related to the science behind water and energy industries. Nationally, the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy trains teachers in grades 3-5 to deepen their understanding of mathematics and science content and increase their use of research-based instructional resources aimed at enhancing students’ learning. These business and industry partners also benefit: They want to recruit from a well-prepared, STEM-ready workforce.

These are but two examples of many across the country, but all teachers should have access to such resources.

It isn’t an easy or inexpensive task to prepare science educators to be the most effective teachers for all our students, but the rewards are great. A high-quality science and engineering education for every child would have a positive impact on our nation, ensuring that all students are prepared to face the science and engineering challenges of the 21st century.

An education that includes excellence in the STEM disciplines is no longer an option or just an elective course. We are facing tremendous global crises that include hunger, climate change, and cancer. We need future generations who are prepared to take on these and other issues and design solutions so that our world can be a safer and healthier one.

Coverage of science learning and career pathways is supported in part by a grant from The Noyce Foundation, at www.noycefdn.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2016 edition of Education Week as Ideas for Growing a Bigger, Better STEM Field

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal How a Divided Congress Will Influence K-12 Education Policy
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives education committees will have new leaders in January.
6 min read
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks Monday, June 13, 2022, during a debate with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, Hosted by Fox News at the The Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston for a debate intended to prove that bipartisanship isn't dead.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a June debate with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, at The Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston. Sanders is poised to become the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Josh Reynolds/AP
Federal What the Federal 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Actually Says
The bill would restrict federal funds for lessons on LGBTQ identities. The outcome of this week's election could revive its prospects.
4 min read
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol on March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida House Republicans advanced a bill, dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, rejecting criticism from Democrats who said the proposal demonizes LGBTQ people.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in Tallahassee on March 7, 2022. Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law was a model for a federal bill introduced last month.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal Fed's Education Research Board Is Back. Here's Why That Matters
Defunct for years, the National Board for Education Sciences has new members and new priorities.
2 min read
Image of a conference table.
vasabii/iStock/Getty
Federal Opinion NAEP Needs to Be Kept at Arm’s Length From Politics
It’s in all our interests to ensure NAEP releases are buffered from political considerations and walled off from political appointees.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty