Strategies for Bridging Disciplinary Divides

If you are interested in strengthening the role of Earth science and sustainability concepts in teacher preparation at your institution, it will almost certainly involve working with your colleagues in other departments and programs.

At many institutions, teacher preparation programs are housed in schools or departments of education, often separated both physically and structurally from science programs. The faculty may differ in their focus as well, particularly in their relative emphases on teaching, research, and service. Reaching across the divides between programs can be challenging; here are some strategies to consider as you move forward:

Learn more about the constraints your education colleagues may face

  • The standards: Has your state adopted the NGSS? If not, what science standards are in place for your state? Before you reach out, become familiar with the Earth science content standards (often called Earth and space science) that teachers at different grade levels are expected to teach.
  • Your state's certification requirements: Typically, a degree alone is not enough to allow students who major in a teaching program to enter the classroom. They must receive an endorsement or certification from the state, typically obtained through a test. Ask your colleagues or find out what those requirements are in your state.

Propose collaborations

Earth and environmental science programs and departments are full of content experts, and may have a lot to offer a teacher preparation program. However, STEM programs and teacher prep programs will both have a lot of requirements and restrictions that influence their decisions about courses and opportunities they can offer. By collaborating, you can develop strategies that will satisfy both programs. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Education program typically receive the results of the content certification exams from the state for their students. Consider working with them to explore these data to determine content areas where future teachers struggle. This could lead to realigning the content in courses that future teachers already take, or proposing new courses to meet these needs.
  • Work with education colleagues and faculty in other STEM disciplines to design an introductory science course that meets the standards, helps future teachers integrate content and active pedagogy, and fits into what might be a tight schedule for students.
  • Consider collaborating with community partners to create an opportunity for service learning or similar experience to connect students with the community and highlight the relevance of classroom material in the real world. Collaborations could be between students and university extensions or with local schools, and could also give students classroom teaching experience outside of their pre-service experience.
  • If you want to propose large-scale changes, be strategic in your approach and work with your administration to implement change.

Discuss strategies for integrating the sciences, math, engineering, and technology

The NGSS emphasize integrated science teaching that also includes engineering practices—an unfamiliar concept for most teacher preparation programs. As states adopt the NGSS, they are exploring how to update their teacher preparation programs and offer professional development for current teachers that reflect these new ideas. By bringing together a group of people that represent all of the STEM disciplines as well as education faculty, you can discuss strategies that will work across multiple contexts.