Toward Understanding the Nature of a Partnership Between an Elementary Classroom Teacher and an Informal Science Educator

Dec. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 24, No. 8, December 2013, p. 1023-1047

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to examine the partnership and roles of an informal educator and a classroom teacher.
The authors also sought to define this relationship in order to gain insight into the roles of each educator.
In addition, this study explored student outcomes as a result of the partnership.

The authors utilized case study methodology to examine the relationship between two educators in depth to explicate these roles and relationships in a different setting—an elementary classroom.
The relationship was defined through a framework of cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (Buck 1998; Intriligator 1986, 1992 ) containing eight dimensions.

The participants were two educators: one participant was a female informal science educator and the other was a female fifth-grade teacher.
Primary data sources included observations and interviews, while secondary data sources included artifacts such as emails, the informal educator’s program brochure, and lesson plan notes.


Findings suggest that a partnership of only moderate commitment may be needed for students to learn from programs and that during the programs each educator hold distinct roles.
Previous research has examined partnerships in the informal setting, and has indicated that both formal and informal educators can be uncertain of their roles and then experience frustrations with one another (Tal et al. 2005; Tal and Steiner 2006; Tran 2007). This study found that clarification of these roles in advance might serve to alleviate concerns found in previous studies of formal and informal educator partnerships.
Furthermore, the roles played by the classroom teacher included classroom management, making connections to classroom activities and curricula, and clarifying concepts. This role indicates that, while in the classroom setting, teachers can make valuable connections between the students’ prior knowledge and interests and the content being taught by the informal educator.
Finally, this study found that students do indeed learn from informal programs.
An analysis of two educators' partnership thorough the 8 dimensions resulted in a classification of coordination, indicating that this level of partnership may be sufficient to achieve positive outcomes for the teacher and students.

Consistent with previous examinations in science education of educator roles, the informal educator’s role was to provide the students with expertise and resources not readily available to them.
Both educators’ perceptions suggested they were at ease with their roles and that they felt these roles were critical to the optimization of the short time frames (1 h) the informal educator was in the classroom.


Results indicate the importance of maximizing the informal educators’ expertise given limited time in the classroom and constraints (e.g., curriculum pacing) on teachers which may deter them from engaging in extensive communication before and after informal programs. It is critical, however, that classroom teachers not only remain in the room but also actively engage in participation of the program with genuine interest.
Pre and posttest scores indicate that students learned science as a result of informal educator’s programs, suggesting that the relationship of coordination between two educators was sufficient to achieve positive student outcomes.

Hence, a number of recommendations to elementary science teachers and teacher educators can be offered by this partnership.
The informal educator noted that her programs included components of science teaching that were not a part of the classroom teacher’s typical instruction (e.g., hands-on resources, ability to answer students’ detailed science questions, taking students outside). Therefore, elementary science teachers should identify in advance how the informal educators they invite into their classrooms can provide resources and expertise that enhance instruction.

Findings suggest that the rapport between the two educators was important to the success of their partnership. It is therefore recommended that elementary teachers identify informal educators with whom they can build relationships (e.g., through professional development workshops or community activities) and can consistently invite into their classrooms.

Finally, to prepare teachers for working with informal educators, science teacher educators should relay these findings to the teachers with whom they work by suggesting the importance of carefully selecting informal educators for the content and resources they can offer students, as well as being an active participant and a ‘‘translator’’ when the informal educator is with their students.
It is recommended that preservice methods courses include a component of informal education that shares these findings, indicating the level of partnership needed and role teachers should play in order to achieve successful outcomes as a result of informal programs.

Buck, G. (1998). Collaboration between science teacher educators and science faculty from Arts and Sciences for the purpose of developing a middle childhood science teacher education program: A case study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Kent State University, Kent, OH. UMI #: 9842486, UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor, MI.

Intriligator, B. (1986). Collaborating with the schools: A strategy for school improvement. In Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA.

Intriligator, B. (1992). Establishing interorganizational structures that facilitate successful school partnerships. In Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA.

Tal, T., Bamberger, Y., & Morag, O. (2005). Guided school visits to natural history museums in Israel: Teachers’ roles. Science Education, 89, 920–935.

Tal, T., & Steiner, L. (2006). Patterns of teacher-museum staff relationships: School visits to the educational centre of a science museum. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education, 6(1), 25–46.

Tran, L. (2007). Teaching science in museums: The pedagogy and goals of museum educators. Science Education, 91, 278–297.

Updated: Mar. 22, 2016