There is great benefit to be gained when scientists partner with educators to improve science education.
What can you do as a scientist that a science teacher can't or does not do? You can bring a systematic approach from your experience in the laboratory.
In most science courses, teaching is done by explaining relevant scientific topics, giving examples, and providing practice: The presumption is that such instruction is sufficient to make students capable of using their newly acquired knowledge effectively. Sometimes special environments such as laboratories or computational environments are provided, where students can explore and learn by discovery. There is a presumption that the students will acquire useful knowledge and even transfer their learning to other domains. There is evidence today that the learning outcomes are often disappointing. Students need help in making the jump from theory to application. You can provide this help by giving them more experience in the procedures and processes of science.
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Students benefit most by scientist/teacher partnerships because teachers gain content knowledge and insights into the process of scientific investigation. The scientists also gain from this relationship because they become more sensitive to the needs of teachers. They form a team by merging the experience of teaching strategies and content knowledge. This team approach is most effective when working with middle or high schools students. Most science teachers have had little experience working as practicing scientists, yet their students look to them as content "experts." Both parties should have a mutual respect for their partner's expertise. A partnership can quickly dissolve if either party dismisses the professional experience of the other.
The scientist can benefit from the partnership by spending time in the classroom and perhaps thus gaining an appreciation for diverse pre-college teaching methodologies and strategies. It is important to understand that student learn at different rates and in different ways. The depth of knowledge that a scientist possesses on a particular subject may be a liability because the students need to know only what is necessary to perform an experiment or to understand a concept. Too much information may cause confusion. Both the scientist and teacher may need to make concessions to preserve the scientific integrity as well as the pedagogical integrity of the experience for the students.
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Last Updated: April 19, 2012