Choose a role that will make the most of your talent and time
Take a look at some of the most effective programs in the US
involving scientists and engineers in K-12 science education.
Broaden your understanding through selected articles and other
recommended resources.
Tell us what you think.
Contact Information for the RISE program
Working Directly with Students
Working with Teachers
Supporting Systemic Reform
Helping Develop Instructional Materials
Roles: Working with Teachers
Is this role for you?
You may enjoy working with science teachers if
  • you have some experience with modern classrooms (or are willing to get it)
  • you are a tactful communicator and willing to play the role of classroom assistant
  • you would like to learn and practice new methods of teaching -- with less telling and more doing
  • you are in a hurry to see change implemented and more students impacted
A variety of roles are possible for working with teachers:
  • There are sporadic, "one-shot" opportunities to assist with a specific school activity or teacher workshop.
  • There are programs that will match you with a teacher to whom you will become a partner for a longer period. Such programs should provide training and support for both of you.
  • There may be opportunities for you to participate as a teacher, co-teacher, or facilitator in the training of science teachers through your local school district or a local university, science center, or corporation.
  • There may be opportunities for you to work in your own professional environment with a teacher who is an intern or a visitor.

Some roles in supporting teachers are less direct than others. Some businesses or professional societies administer mini-grants for teachers' classroom projects or for teachers' professional development. Some large scientific or technical corporations make special efforts to collect surplus equipment and dispense it to teachers or to set up a lending library of classroom resources. Some local companies provide classes related to their product or research area to local teachers on a limited basis.

You may have some misconceptions about what you have to offer teachers. Be sure to read Scientists and Science Education: Myths, Methods, and Madness for one experienced scientist's reflection on the roles and approaches that are truly helpful.

Advice from the field
The participants in the Working Conference on Scientists and Engineers in the Schools outlined the following benefits of scientists working with teachers of science. Be sure to notice that the benefits work both ways! By working with science teachers, you will

Provide Classroom Technical Support by

  • being a resource for teacher in content
  • developing extension activities
  • providing extra hands in classroom
  • collaboratively rethinking science fairs and classroom assessment
  • modeling effective discussions and meeting facilitation

Model and Validate Scientific Problem-Solving by

  • consistently modeling science as inquiry
  • connecting the teacher to the world of professional science
  • communicating your excitement about science
  • boosting the scientific self-esteem of students and teachers
  • providing examples of science applications to real life
  • introducing scientific collegial interactions to educators

Address Important Societal Issues by

  • serving as a change agent
  • communicating industry/academic needs and expectations to students and teachers
  • helping the public understand science as a way of knowing as well as a body of knowledge
  • showing scientists as real people
  • communicating to colleagues the power of precollege classroom
  • learning to value K-12 teachers as fellow professionals

Personally Benefit by

  • learning to communicate better with a lay audience
  • learning about human resources and material management from teachers
  • learning the leadership skills necessary to work with a large group of youngsters
  • working with broader scientific topics than your daily work allows
  • receiving a lot of positive feedback
  • becoming better informed about what classrooms are like today
  • learning about learning processes and theories from teachers and experiences with students

Benefit Your Institution by

  • boosting morale because you are supporting families and community
  • helping scientists become better teachers and communicators
  • improving the community image of scientists or engineers
  • educating future voters about science and scientific issues
  • developing better-qualified future employees through better local schools
  • improving corporate citizenship
  1. Standards for Professional Development for Teachers of Science and the Science Teaching Standards of the National Science Education Standards are directly accessible on line and provide an excellent overview of principles for these areas.

  2. The Role of Scientists in the Professional Development of Science Teachers is a 1996 report of the National Research Council's Board on Biology. Chapter 3, "A Guide For Scientists" provides an overview of scientists' roles, various kinds of programs and the authoring committee's recommendations. Also of use is Appendix A, an annotated list of 190 programs, updated in late 1995, that are organized by geographic location, also by grade-level and science subject. The contact information will be invaluable to help you get involved locally or to find out what others have done. Skim the table of contents for other valuable information such as how to attract teachers to your program, what your administrators can do to help, professional development as a component of systemic change, and program evaluation tools.

  3. Working Effectively with Teachers: Things You Should Know about Teachers, Ways You Can Help, and Getting Started and Interacting Effectively is a widely recommended section of Sandia National Laboratories' publication, Science Education in Our Elementary and Secondary Schools: A Guide for Technical Professionals Who Want to Help.

  4. Genentech, Inc., a biotechnology corporation, has established a very innovative professional development program for high school biology teachers called Access Excellence . Access Excellence offers a summer institute for teachers and has created a very lively and attractive electronic community for ongoing discussions, content updates, and sharing of resources.

  5. The National Science Foundation's Collaboratives For Excellence in Teacher Preparation Program is aimed at comprehensively improving the undergraduate education of future teachers. If there is an academic institution in your community, you should find out if there is a collaborative associated with it. These collaboratives support cooperative, multi-year efforts to increase substantially the quality and number of teachers well-prepared in science and mathematics, especially members of traditionally underrepresented populations.

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