High tech help for science teachers

September 21, 2011

Frederick W. Freking

Dr. Frederick W. Freking

In my 12 years in urban science education, I have observed effective science teaching and learning when teachers work together to provide engaging, meaningful science curriculum for their students and support for each other when their teaching doesn’t turn out the way they planned. I have also witnessed bright young teachers who struggle to connect science content to their students and, without a support network to improve their practice, leave the teaching profession. Since the Rossier Master of Arts in Teaching contains both a small on-the-ground and a larger but geographically dispersed online cohort of pre-service science teachers in Los Angeles and across the nation, plans are underway to create the online USC Urban Science Teacher Network.

Beginning science teachers need a variety of measures to support and retain them in the science teaching profession. Our network brings MAT students, their mentor teachers, scientists and science educators together with the goal of improving science instruction in our partner districts that serve high needs students, including Los Angeles Unified School District. Long-standing partnerships with local neighborhood schools and burgeoning relationships with the USC Biology Department and the Natural History Museum are key to this network. As the program grows, similar online professional science teaching communities will be developed in the key urban districts across the country where MAT science students live and will ultimately teach. The MAT students and their mentors in their respective schools are at the core of this network, along with USC’s science education faculty. Faculty and informal science learning experts will become key sources of science process and content knowledge to provide network participants with innovative ideas to engage their students.

Many science teachers struggle to plan and implement inquiry-based science lessons in their classrooms. We know that an inquiry-based approach is important for students to understand the nature of science. The USC Urban Science Teacher Network will provide additional support as our MAT students and their mentors design meaningful experiences so that their own students learn science by doing science. Synchronous online meetings will create a space for participants to share lesson plans, content ideas, experiments, or any other topic these science teachers deem necessary. The technology that supports the online MAT@USC will also support the network. On this platform, each user creates a profile that includes contact information and geographic location, interests, and key media that he or she would like to share with the group. We will also utilize an asynchronous online forum where teachers and scientists can ask questions that are answered by the network, reducing the day-to-day feeling of isolation experienced by many beginning science teachers.

Participation in the USC Urban Science Teacher Network can add more real-world examples to the preparation program for new MAT science candidates while providing a forum for experienced science teachers to participate in a professional science teaching community.

by Dr. Fred Freking, Associate Professor of Clinical Education

USC Rossier Futures Magazine - STEM issueThis article was featured in the Summer / Fall 2011 issue of Rossier’s Futures in Urban Ed magazine.

Click here to see more articles from that issue and click here to download a PDF of the magazine.