Engaging Pre-Service Teachers in Authentic Science Teaching

Dr. Kermin Martinez-Hernandez, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, St. John Fisher College

What it can be done to better prepare pre-service teachers and as a result their students, in science?  As an educator, I ask myself that question at the beginning of each semester. I always heard that middle school students are not engaged in learning science and that elementary teachers do not like science either or perhaps they are scared of science. I experienced that first-hand with my pre-service teachers students in the Early Childhood Education Major. I used that challenge as a motivation to do my action research project. Over the years, I have learned that we learn better by doing and being involved in the constant process of searching for answers (aka problem solving and critical thinking). Also, there is always the phrase, what if?  What if we start early on… sparking the interest about science earlier in our students, perhaps at the elementary/middle school age. But how? One way to accomplish this is to train future teachers in different teaching and learning techniques that they can later use and implement with their students. Keeping that in mind, I developed my action research project using Problem-Based Learning (PBL) as my driving force.

I decided to have  pre-service teacher students from St. John Fisher College  work in conjunction with East Rochester Middle School students (ERMS) in the development of PBL projects. I established a partnership with the Helping Youth through Preventive Education (HYPE) program and my students visited the school for a period of six weeks. My Fellows action research project had two main goals: (a) to provide early exposure to pre-service teachers to work directly with middle school students in an authentic setting and (b) to provide ERMS students participating in an after-school program with an opportunity to learn how to do research of their own interest using PBL in conjunction with Fisher students.  I was interested in assessing if there was a change in Fisher students’ attitudes after doing this project and if this project sparked some interest among middle school students in science. I strongly believe that the Fisher students enjoyed and benefited from this PBL and teaching experience at ERMS. The project allowed Fisher students to be engaged in an authentic setting with real students at an early stage in their education degree. Simultaneously, the project allowed ERMS to do research and present their results to their parents. I invite you to read and learn more about my journey doing this project by visiting my report, Problem-Based Learning with Middle School Students: Engaging Pre-Service Teachers in Authentic Science Teaching in an After School Setting.


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