Science Education Opportunities - Teacher Research Experiences
Teacher Research Experiences

Research experiences for teachers encompass many models. The bottom line is that teachers become actively involved in research with the intent to: a) understand more about science, the process of science, and the culture of science; and b) carry that understanding in an active way into the classroom.

These collaborations have the advantage of keeping the parcticipants in their professional roles. The researchers remain in the role of researchers and the teachers remain in the role of teachers. This makes involving a teacher in the experience of research fairly comfortable for all of the parcticipants.

Research experiences offer the potential of being high-impact. Commonly, the teacher has not parcticipated in research first-hand; thus the experience is life- and profession-changing. Not only does the teacher have current, cutting-edge science information to bring into the classroom, but they develop an understanding of the process of science. THIS component changes the WAY science is taught in the classroom; science become active and reflects what you, as a scientist, really do.

Consider the information presented on the home page:
  • Over the next five years, 200,000 qualified math and science teachers will be needed in the classroom.

  • Currently, the majority of math and science teachers have taught less than 5 years.

  • Many math and science teachers are not certified in the field they are teaching.
  • Research experiences are a terrific arena for involvement by researchers. You may think "but I'll only reach a few teachers" - but you will reach them in a deep way and they will spark change where ever they go.

    Research experiences are not, and should not be, one-way-streets. Your science will be in the spotlight in the classroom. You have an extra team member. A fresh pair of eyes and new brain often opens new ways of looking at the research question and data. You and your team have the opportunity to collaborate with someone who teaches as a professional; there are many techniques and skills used in the K-12 classroom that can enhance the undergraduate and graduate classroom. Think "mutualism."

    A Few Models
    Funding Opportunities

  • Find out what is out there. The Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic Program specifically targets involvement of teachers in NSF-funded polar research projects. There are 12-16 teachers "available" each year and their involvement is funded completely through OPP and ESIE. Contact your Program Officer if you are interested in including one of the TEAs.

  • If you would like to design your own research experience for teachers, check out existing programs to learn how they implement the experience.

  • Remember that the goal of a research experience is to have teachers understand science and the process of science better through first-hand experiences - not to make the teacher into a researcher. They, as teaching professionals, translate the science and process of science to the students in the classroom

  • Plan a research experience that is integrated with your research efforts; this makes it more likely that you will be able to maintain involvement.

  • Everyone involved is a professional; expect everyone to be a professional and to treat each other in that manner.

  • Consider involving a small team of teachers (2 to 3); they will build on each other's excitement and knowledge, and will develop a strong "support network." In the long run, this will lighten your workload.

  • Involve the teacher(s) in as many aspects of the experience design as possible. This is not something you are doing "to" the teacher; this is something you are doing "with" the teacher.

  • Be clear of the expectations of everyone involved. What do you expect of the teacher? What does the teacher expect of you and the experience? What training is needed? Who will provide the training? Is $$ needed for the project - and where will it come from?

  • You are a mentor; have high (well defined) expectations, be patient, help the teacher achieve success.

  • Define all aspects of the project and be realistic about time and effort commitments of all parcticipants. You are very busy. The teacher is very busy. Most of the work may be best done in the summer. Think along the scale of a senior thesis project.

  • Define clear goals in terms of time investment and products. Have the teacher work toward a poster presentation at a meeting, the development of a suite of research-based activities for the classroom, a co-authored journal arcticle, etc.

  • Determine meeting times; all parcticipants should honor them.

  • Involve the teacher in research team discussions. Make sure they understand the big to small picture and relevance of the research.

  • Get your students involved. They will benefit from the exposure (content knowledge, methods of teaching, etc.).

  • Keep checking in to make sure everyone is moving forward; pause to re-assess when necessary. Periodically, teachers or researchers give up before completing the project. Typically this results from not defining goals and expectations clearly - or from biting off more than you or the teacher can chew. COMMUNICATION is key.

  • Realize that, peridically, things don't work. Personalities clash, time commitments are overwhelming, enthusiasm covers a lack of qualities needed to parcticipate in long-term research, etc. Communicate to determine why it is not working. If it really cannot be resolved, close it (on a professional, positive note) and move on. Neither you nor the teacher should become frustrated to the point of "never being involved with such a project again!" Use the experience to develop a more realistic view of involvement (or non-involvement) in new projects.

  • Research experiences do not have to include a field experience, although this is preferable (this gets back to "first-hand experience versus "hearing about it"). Much research is lab-based and long-term. Include as many components of the research process as possible (identification of the questions; design and implementation of the experiment; data collection, display, and interpretation; determination of conclusions and identification of new questions).

  • Encourage the teacher to involve their school and administration. This extends the impact of the research experience and increases the chance of success in changing the way science is conducted in the classroom. You may need to get involved here by writing a letter to the school board, administration, etc. Invite board members and administrators to join the teacher throughout the research experience.

  • A component of the research experience is to aid the teacher in translating the information and process of science into the classroom to improve science literacy. Hosting the teacher in the field/lab is the first step. Be available to help the teacher design paths to translate the experience to their students. Offer to review content, co-design activities, share ideas for student research projects, visit the classroom, etc. Remember that this is the realm of expertise of the professional teacher; the teacher should LEAD this aspect of the research experience.

  • Connections to Existing Program Models

    Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA) Through TEA, teachers parcticipate as members of polar research teams and share their experiences via daily electronic journals, e-mail, and periodic Web broadcasts. Following the field work, parcticipants collaborate with colleagues and researchers to transfer the experience into the classroom via presentations, development of on-line activities, and mentoring of other teachers.

    The REVEL Project provides teachers with the opportunity to parcticipate in scientific research to obtain materials and experiences to bring back into the classroom. The length of the REVEL project is approximately two weeks during the summer. Teachers parcticipate in seagoing research expeditions as formal members of the scientific party. REVEL explores the relationship between different types of volcanoes and life. The scope of the research ranges from the origin of life to new aspects of biotechnology. The REVEL Project is supported by the National Science Foundation and the University of Washington.

    Reef Watch Several teachers monitor Florida reef ecosystems. During the field session, the teachers maintain on-line journals and communicate via e-mail. The teachers transfer their experience to the classroom by mentoring colleagues and developing on-line activities. This model differs from TEA in that several teachers work in the field together for two weeks with shared researcher-mentors.

    Columbia University's Summer Research Program for Science Teachers The primary aim of the Program is to provide middle and high school science teachers with sustained hands-on experience in scientific research so they can better understand the practice of science, and better transmit to their students and fellow teachers a feeling for its practice. Each teacher spends two consecutive summers working as a laboratory research assistant under the supervision of a Columbia faculty mentor.

    Funding Opportunities

    NSF Proposal Guidelines for Teacher Enhancement Projects Part of Elementary, Secondary and Informal Education's Program Solicitation and Guidelines.

    The NSF's program for undergraduate students has been expanded - IN SOME DIRECTORATES - to include research experiences for teachers. Check out Research Experiences for Undergraduates and the Program Solicitiation for more program information. Contact your OPP Program Officer.

    Susan Loucks-Horsley, 1999, Ideas that Work: Science Professional Development
    Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 70p. For copies of the publication, call: 1-800-621-5785. A terrific readable overview of the key principles involved in designing effective professional development programs (such as research experiences). Good food for thought as you are designing your research experience for teachers.

    The National Science Education Standards cover aspects of teacher professional development. Well worth a review.

    Bringing the Excitement of Science to the Classroom by the Teachers and Mentors of the Partners In Science Program. A "how-to" manual and parcticipant account of one of the first and most widespread scientific work experience programs. Carried by Research Corporation. Worth much more that the $4 investment.

    Suggestions for Success Comments from TEA teachers and PI's based on their field sessions.

    ".....For many years we have honored the contribution of teachers to our society through awards. But as Terry Dozier, former National Teacher of the Year and teacher adviser to Secretary of Education Richard Riley explained to Forum parcticipants, the greatest honor we can bestow upon a teacher is not a title like "Teacher of the Year," but acknowledging and using his or her expertise to improve American education......"
    Teachers Leading the Way: Voices from the National Teacher Forum
    April 1998U.S. Department of Education

    New ideas, suggestions for changes, recommendations for additions, etc. always are welcome and can be mailed to:

    There's No Place Like Home....