Development of Teachers as Scientists in Research Experiences for Teachers Programs

Oct. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 25, Issue 7, November 2014, 785-806.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study explored how teachers’ functionality as scientists developed and aspects of their experiences that were important to their development as scientists.

The study was conducted in three National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Teachers (RET).
The participants were 27 secondary science and math teachers with varying levels of education and experience who were immersed in research environments related to engineering and science topics.
Scientific functionality was assessed across five constructs (independence, focus, structure, relationship with mentors, and ability to create new ideas) at four levels (low, low-middle, middle-high, and high). Themes were further identified in teachers’ weekly journal entries and exit interviews through inductive coding. Increases in functionality as scientists were observed for all teachers who completed both the program and exit interview.


The results revealed that seven of the 27 teachers reached high science functionality during the program with one of the teachers reaching high functionality in all five constructs.
In contrast, three teachers did not reach high functionality in any of the constructs during the program. These two groups of teachers did not appear to have any major differences in demographics or other characteristics.
These results suggest that a teachers’ background before participating in a RET program does not determine whether a teacher will reach high scientific functionality or not.

To gain an understanding of the differences between the teachers who reached high science functionality and those who had low scientific functionality, the teachers’ experiences were further analyzed through inductive coding.
This analysis revealed seven themes: (1) making connections between research and teaching, (2) working with open-ended problems and environments, (3) developing independence and self-confidence, (4) mastering concepts and techniques, (5) participating in scientific research, (6) developing a realistic view of engineering and scientific practice, and (7) developing a sense of belonging.

To gain an understanding of the differences between the experiences of the teachers who reached high science functionality and those who had low scientific functionality, the teachers were put into two categories (high science functionality and low science functionality) and were compared based on the themes evident in teachers from each group. Teachers within the high science functionality group adjusted to open-ended environment, transitioned from a guided experience to freedom, felt useful in the laboratory, and were self-motivated.
In contrast, the low science functionality group did not have a true research project, primarily focused on teaching aspect, and did not display a transition of responsibilities.
These differences begin to offer insight into the elements that go into a research experience that is successful in helping teachers develop into functional scientists.

Implications for Practice

The results from this study suggest that teachers, regardless their background, can develop their scientific functionality during a RET program.
In addition, this work suggests that there are aspects of the program that can either negatively or positively influence their development.
As such, it is important for those organizing similar PD experiences to closely consider the organization of the program.
Furthermore, it is important that PD experiences themselves stay current with the most recent research findings and policies on science and mathematics education.

Updated: Mar. 15, 2016


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