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Introducing Future Teachers to Science Beyond the Classroom

Journal of Science Teacher Education


Informal science education institutions (ISEIs), such as museums, aquariums, and nature centers, offer more to teachers than just field trip destinations—they have the potential to provide ideas for pedagogy, as well as support deeper development of teachers’ science knowledge. Although there is extensive literature related to teacher/museum interactions within the context of the school field trip, there is limited research that examines other ways that such institutions might support classroom teachers. A growing number of studies, however, examine how incorporating such ideas of connections of ISEIs to pre-service teacher education might improve teacher perceptions and awareness. Pre-service elementary teachers enrolled in a science methods class participated in a semester-long assignment which required participation in their choice of activities and events (workshops, field trips, family day activities) conducted at local ISEIs. Students generally saw this embedded assignment as beneficial, despite the additional out-of-class time required for completion. Comparison of pre-/post-class responses suggested that teachers shifted their perceptions of ISEIs as first and foremost as places for field trips or hands-on experiences, to institutions that can help teachers with classroom science instruction. Although basic awareness of the existence of such opportunities was frequently cited, teachers also recognized these sites as places that could enhance their teaching, either by providing materials/resources for the classroom or by helping them learn (content and pedagogy) as teachers. Implications for practice, including the role of ISEIs in teacher preparation and indication, are also discussed.

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  1. It is worth noting that the term ‘informal learning’ is used by many researchers and practitioners in the museum and education fields to refer to learning that occurs in out-of-school settings, in contrast to the more ‘formal’ settings of the classroom (see for example Gutwill and Allen 2012; Leinhardt and Knutson 2004; Phillips et al. 2007; Tal and Morag 2007). Other terms such as ‘free-choice learning’ (reflecting the role of the learner) and ‘out-of-school-time learning’ (reflecting learning happening beyond the school day) are also used to refer to learning activities beyond the classroom (Bodilly and Beckett 2005; Falk and Dierking 2010; Schwartz and Noam 2007). While there are merits to each of these terms, a full discussion of the terminology used within the field is beyond the scope of this paper.

  2. It is also important to note that the activities in which teachers engage as part of their interactions with these institutions (ISEIs) are typically more formal in character (e.g., field trips, professional development sessions) involving more structured activities often with specific desired content learning outcomes and limited learner choice. This investigation focuses more on the environments—or institutions—where learning and teaching opportunities for K-12 teachers lie, rather than the characteristics of the learner’s participation (e.g., formal vs. informal or free-choice).


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The authors would also like to thank graduate students Tamara Galvan and Terrence Hegamin for their assistance with data management and analysis. Additional thanks go to the pre-service teachers whose comments led to the ideas presented here.

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Correspondence to James Kisiel.


Appendix 1

See Table 4.

Table 4 Community science activities available during study

Appendix 2

Student Questions for Investigation

Pre-semester Survey Questions

  1. 1.

    Describe, in a few sentences, how you think community institutions like museums, zoos, parks, and professional organizations might be able to help you as a new (science) teacher?

Post-semester Survey Questions

  1. 1.

    Describe, in a few sentences, how you think community institutions like museums, zoos, parks, and professional organizations might be able to help you as a new (science) teacher?

  2. 2.

    To what extent have your ideas about the usefulness of community science institutions and their resources changed over the course of the semester?

    • My ideas about community science resources are much more positive

    • My ideas about community science resources are slightly more positive

    • My ideas about community science resources are about the same as before

    • My ideas about community science resources are slightly more negative

    • My ideas about community science resources are much more negative

  3. 3.

    Briefly explain how your experiences this semester changed the way you think about community science resources. Let us know if a particular event/assignment was especially useful.

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Kisiel, J. Introducing Future Teachers to Science Beyond the Classroom. J Sci Teacher Educ 24, 67–91 (2013).

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