Opinion
Federal Opinion

A Bigger, Better STEM Field Begins With Teachers

By Jen Gutierrez — October 25, 2016 4 min read

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

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

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 Biden Pick for Education Civil Rights Office Has History With Racial Equity, LGBTQ Issues
Biden selected Catherine Lhamon to lead the Education Department's civil rights work, a role she also held in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Lawmakers Press CDC About Teachers' Union Influence on School Reopening Guidance
Republican senators asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky about reports a teachers' union had input on guidance for schools on COVID-19.
3 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce then-President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Biden Taps Ex-Obama Aide Roberto Rodriguez for Key Education Department Job
Rodriguez served as a top education staffer to President Barack Obama and currently leads a teacher-advocacy organization.
3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
Getty
Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP