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Development of Teachers as Scientists in Research Experiences for Teachers Programs


This study examined the teachers' development as scientists for participants in three National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Teachers. Participants included secondary science and math teachers with varying levels of education and experience who were immersed in research environments related to engineering and science topics. Teachers’ functionality as scientists was assessed in terms of independence, focus, relationships with mentors, structure, and ability to create new concepts. Hierarchies developed within these constructs allowed tracking of changes in functionality throughout the 6-week programs. Themes were further identified in teachers’ weekly journal entries and exit interviews through inductive coding. Increases in functionality as scientists were observed for all teachers who completed both the program and exit interview (n = 27). Seven of the 27 teachers reached high science functionality; however, three of the teachers did not reach high functionality in any of the constructs during the program. No differences were observed in demographics or teaching experience between those who did and did not reach high functionality levels. Inductive coding revealed themes such as teachers’ interactions with mentors and connections made between research and teaching, which allowed for descriptions of experiences for teachers at high and low levels of functionality. Teachers at high functionality levels adjusted to open-ended environments, transitioned from a guided experience to freedom, felt useful in the laboratory, and were self-motivated. In contrast, teachers at low functionality levels did not have a true research project, primarily focused on teaching aspects of the program, and did not display a transition of responsibilities.

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This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (RET sites, Awards EEC-0602040, EEC-0338092, EEC-0742871, and EEC-0742296.). The authors wish to acknowledge Julie Martin and Carol Wade for their assistance in collecting the data, and Cheryl Jennings for her assistance in analyzing the data.

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Correspondence to Lisa Benson.

Appendix: Exit Interview Questions

Appendix: Exit Interview Questions


  • Which classes and grade levels do you typically teach?

  • Have you ever taught an engineering-related topic? If so, please describe it.

  • What did you like/dislike about teaching it? How you think it went?

  • Why are you interested in teaching students about engineering?

  • Why did you want to participate in this RET program? What experiences influenced your choice to participate?

  • What did you hope to get out of the RET program? Where your expectations met? (how so)

  • In what ways was RET different from your expectations?

  • Did additional goals or expectations evolve as the summer progressed? Please explain.

  • Did you receive support from your administration for participating in this program? How did they show that support?

  • What resources do you have available at your school to continue your interest in teaching engineering topics?

Research Training and Mentoring

  • Describe your relationship with your faculty mentor. For example: How often did you meet with him or her? How accessible was he or she? How helpful was he or she?

  • If you had an opportunity, would you work with your mentor again? Why or why not?

  • Describe your relationship with graduate or undergraduate students with whom you worked. For example: How often did you meet with them? How accessible were they? How helpful were they?

  • If you had an opportunity, would you work with your mentor/grad student again? Why or why not?

  • What part of the program (activity, experience, person) did you learn the most from?

Conducting Scientific Research

  • What did you do for your research project?

  • Would you consider it successful?

  • Was it a worthwhile learning experience for you?

  • If you had another opportunity to do the project, what would you have done differently?

  • Do you feel a sense of accomplishment with your summer research project?

  • What was the most important thing you learned this summer?

  • What was your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Teaching Engineering

  • Do you feel the Legacy Cycle training was worthwhile? Why or why not?

  • What is your plan for implementing your module?

  • Do you feel well prepared to teach your module?

  • Do you think it's going to be difficult to implement your Legacy Cycle module? What concerns do you have about it?

  • What do you think the biggest challenge in teaching it will be? How do you plan to overcome that challenge?

  • Are you planning any new initiatives other than your Legacy Cycle module that relate to engineering?

  • Has your experience with RET changed your perceptions about engineering? Scientific research? If so, how?

  • Has RET affected your future teaching plans? If so, how?

  • If a student asked you what engineering is, what would you tell them at the beginning of the summer? What about now?

  • If a student asked you what engineers do, what would you tell them at the beginning of the summer? What about now?

  • Would you recommend engineering as a college major to your students? Why or why not?

  • If a student comes to you and wants to know more about exploring a major or career in engineering, what would you tell him/her? What resources would you direct them to?

  • What are some characteristics of a student that you believe has potential in engineering? How will you identify and encourage students with potential in engineering?

  • How confident are you in your ability to answer your students’ questions about the module content? Engineering in general? Engineering as a career option?

General Program

  • What did you learn this summer?

  • What have been some of the disappointments of your RET experience? What have been some of your accomplishments within your RET experience?

  • Is there anything you would have done differently?

  • What part of the program did you find the most rewarding?

  • What part of the program did you find the most frustrating?

  • What have been the best aspect of RET? Least favorite aspect?

  • Would you encourage your colleagues to apply to the RET program? Why/why not?

  • Do you have anything else you would like to say about your RET experience?

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Faber, C., Hardin, E., Klein-Gardner, S. et al. Development of Teachers as Scientists in Research Experiences for Teachers Programs. J Sci Teacher Educ 25, 785–806 (2014).

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  • Research Experiences for Teachers (RET)
  • Teacher professional development
  • Functionality
  • STEM education
  • Science practice