Research Experiences

Written by Char Bezanson, Science Teacher, Eastview High School, Apple Valley, MN and Instructor in Education, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN.

Examples drawn from the 2003 workshop Developing the Earth Science Teacher Workforce.

Research experiences are necessary for preservice teachers so that they have a strong, personal understanding of the way knowledge is created in the discipline. The "nature of science" is a significant, unifying theme in the National Science Standards, and teachers who lack a significant research experience, whether in the geosciences or another science area, are handicapped in transmitting ideas about "how we know" to their students. In some states, an independent research experience is a requirement for licensure as a science teacher; of course, the quality of the research experience is variable and will be shaped by the resources available to programs and choices about the allocation of those resources.

When research experiences are part of a geoscience major or earth science teacher preparation program, students do not always appreciate its importance. If they take a science methods course that includes study of the National Science Education Standards, they will become aware of the emphasis on inquiry and the "nature of science"; the Praxis II exam in middle school science content, taken by future middle school teachers, devotes 25% of its questions to this. One of the most recurring questions of middle school and high school students is "how do they know that?" While many introductory students see their major as a "body of knowledge", it is important for all students to come to see science as a "way of knowing" as well. Sometimes this has to be made very explicit by instructors at both the college and K-12 level.

Research experiences are not always contained within courses. Students can work on faculty research projects, participate in field research through programs at a variety of universities, or work on an independent study project. Ideally, the student would follow an idea full-circle through the research process, from question to investigation through data analysis and presentation of results. There are also many grant-funded opportunities for practicing teachers to work with scientists during the summer months, and developing these kinds of experiences is a great way for faculty to develop connections with teachers.

References and Examples