Engaging Teachers in Science Practices and Discourse Through Online Professional Development

Engaging Teachers in Science Practices and Discourse Through Online Professional Development

Mary V. Mawn (SUNY Empire State College, USA) and Kathleen S. Davis (University of Massachusetts – Amherst, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8009-6.ch020
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Online professional development courses and programs provide science teachers with ongoing and relevant professional development opportunities that overcome time, distance, and budget pressures. To demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach, this chapter presents a case study of elementary and middle school teachers enrolled in two online courses in chemistry and science education. Based on this work, three themes emerged: the ability to incorporate inquiry-based teaching and learning in online environments, the importance of online discourse and reflection, and the role of linking theory with practice. Specifically, teacher participants reported increased experience exploring content via inquiry, felt actively engaged with their peers as they constructed their knowledge, and expected to adapt inquiry-based activities in their classrooms as a result of these online courses.
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Good teaching matters! In the National Academy of Education’s seminal Policy White Papers Project, which addresses the future of teacher education, the authors state “there is persuasive evidence that students benefit from high quality instruction and that these benefits are cumulative for students who have good teachers for several years” (Wilson et al., 2009, p. 1). Thus, there is a great need to provide science teachers with on-going and relevant professional development (PD). The landmark Glenn Commission report, Before It’s Too Late (U.S. Department of Education, 2000), states that better mathematics and science teaching is grounded in improving the quality of teacher preparation and making continuing PD available. Having access to PD programs can be problematic. Teachers must deal with time and travel constraints and budget pressures, leaving little opportunity to pursue PD. However, online courses and programs can allow teachers to fit coursework into their schedules as they can be accessed at any time, from any place (Asbell-Clarke & Rowe, 2007). For some teachers, online coursework may be the only option for furthering their subject knowledge (McNall Krall, Straley, Shafer, & Osborn, 2009).

There is growing evidence supporting online PD (Clary & Wandersee, 2009; Davis & Snyder, 2012; McNall Krall et al., 2009), but developing an effective course involves more than putting notes and assignments online. The objectives of this chapter are to provide considerations and approaches for developing online PD courses for science teachers; present a case study for how two online courses engaged teachers in inquiry, meaningful discourse, and making connections to their classroom practice; and discuss implications, recommendations, and future directions for the online professional development of science teachers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Discourse: Ways of talking in the online environment.

Scientific Inquiry: Practices that scientists employ as they investigate the world.

Online Course: A course delivered via the internet, providing a means for content delivery, assignment completion, and synchronous and asynchronous communication for learners in different locations.

Science Discourse: Ways of talking in the field of science.

Reflection: The process of examining one’s thoughts in relation to new observations, experiences, and information, and considering how this may shape and influence one’s beliefs.

Science Education: Study of science teaching and learning.

Professional Development: Continuing teacher education in content knowledge and instructional practice.

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