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Professional Development Modules

Professional Development Standards


The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) set a vision for the science literacy of all students. Prominent in the document is a chapter devoted to Standards for Professional Development for Teachers of Science. These standards "provide criteria for making judgments about the quality of the professional development opportunities that teachers of science will need in order to implement the National Science Education Standards" (p. 55). Professional development for teachers of science begins in preservice education and continues throughout the total professional career because the science knowledge base is forever changing and expanding, as is our understanding of effective teaching and learning behaviors.

There are four assumptions underlying these standards.

  • Science teacher professional development is a lifelong and continuous process.
  • Teachers, traditionally thought of as the recipients of professional development, should have the opportunity to become the sources of their own professional growth.
  • Teachers' intellectual growth, rather than training for specific skills, should be the focus of professional development activities.
  • Professional development opportunities should be contextual - connected to teachers' work in their schools.

The first three of the four standards focus directly on teachers (their learning of science, their learning to teach science and their learning to learn) while the fourth focuses on the quality of professional development programs. The modules on this website assist providers of professional development with activities to help teachers meet the first three standards.

Standard A

Teachers of science must have a strong knowledge of science - facts and concepts; scientific inquiry; connections within and across science disciplines; science and societal issues. Not only do teachers need a breath of knowledge (basic science ideas in every science discipline), but also supporting, interconnected, and theoretical knowledge to give them a depth of knowledge. Much science knowledge will be acquired with formal college/university coursework in the preservice or inservice years. Some will be obtained from school/district-based inservice programs. All of these experiences should engage teachers in the collaborative aspects of scientific inquiry, support teachers to use a variety of technological tools, give teachers experiences with data collection and analysis, and allow time for reflection on the processes and outcomes of their own learning.

Standard B

In addition to knowing science, teachers of science must know strategies to teach science effectively. Teachers should understand not only how learning occurs (general principles of learning), but also how diverse students (different backgrounds, learning styles, experiences, motivation, etc) learn science. Opportunities for teachers to critically examine and use science curricula and instructional strategies must occur. Teachers need to build their knowledge of assessment and management of the physical, social, and intellectual environment of their classrooms. Connections between science teaching and learning that occur in the context of practice (for example, field experiences for preservice teachers or inservice teachers' team teaching) are recommended. While this standard does not recommend a specific structure to enhance teachers' learning about science teaching, it does remind us that "teacher learning is analogous to student learning" (p. 68). In other words, teachers need opportunities to pose their own questions, pursue the answers to these questions, interpret gathered information, and fit their learning in the context of their teaching - all within the context of their professional development experiences.

Standard C

Acquisition of skills to become lifelong learners should be a primary goal of all professional development experiences. Continuous learning is demanded for several reasons. The body of science knowledge grows daily. The needs of tomorrow's students will be very different from those of today's students. Perfecting teachers' teaching requires continuous reflection, reading about the findings of education research, and study of their own practice. Lifelong learning will be facilitated if teachers are provided with resources for their own professional development and the time to use these resources. Resources include: formal and informal course work; access to research findings in professional publications; media and technology to access data; opportunities to observe other teachers; and, assistance to conduct their own classroom research.

Resources for Providers of Professional Development

There are many resources (too many to include in this short essay) to assist providers of professional development with increased knowledge and sharpened skills. We recommend that, first and foremost, you consult Loucks-Horsley, Hewson, Love, and Stiles (1998) seminal work, Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics for valuable information to inform their decisions about designing professional development programs. Chapter three outlines the knowledge base that underpins professional development - learning, teaching, nature of science, and the change process. Specific strategies for professional learning are presented in chapter four. For each strategy (for example, action research, study groups, role of technology in professional development), the authors describe the underlying assumptions, key elements, implementation requirements, examples, a commentary, and a helpful list of additional resources. Critical issues that will need to be addressed (for example, ensuring equity, using standards, developing leadership, garnering public support, finding time) are described in chapter six. The book contains the results of surveys of stakeholders, useful perspectives and advice to guide professional development planning, implementation, and follow-up.

Two national associations, the National Science Teachers Association and the National Science Education Leadership Association, have compiled a volume on professional development in their Issues in Science Education series. Entitled Professional development planning and design and edited by Rhoton and Bowers (2001), this book elaborates on standards-based reform and professional development; planning for professional development; and, assessment and evaluation in support of science education reform. For example, science education reform has spawned a plethora of organizations and programs, each with its own acronym. Collins' essay provides a brief description of the history, goals, accomplishments, and influence of the major groups focused on science education. Another example for this book chronicles the development of NSTA's Pathways project and persuades the professional development provider that the Pathways publications could form the framework for a comprehensive program to incorporate standards-based instruction into the science classroom (please see Texley's essay). We recommend the essays in this book, not as the most comprehensive source of information, but as a starting point and as a timesaver for the busy professional development provider.


Loucks-Horsley, S., Hewson, P. W., Love, N., & Stiles, K. E. (1998). Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Rhoton, J. & Bowers, P. (Eds.). (2001). Professional development planning and design. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

National Science Teacher Association's Professional Development Website
This website provides a comprehensive list of professional development opportunities for areas of science education. National, state, and local science educator professional development opportunities fall within the areas of conferences, committees, journals, workshops, etc.

Laboratory Science Teacher Professional Development Program
This website provides the general program description of the Laboratory Science Teacher Professional Development Program designed by the U.S. Department of Energy. The program fully immerses science and math teachers in the realm of energy science and technology for 4 weeks and also requires a 2 year commitment for follow up data. A stipend is also provided for the teachers.

National Science Resource Center's Professional Development Website
This website, which is affiliated with the National Academies and the Smithsonian Institute, offers science teachers professional development opportunities via online resources and teacher workshops/classes held at the Smithsonian Institutes in Washington D.C.

National Association of Biology Teachers' Professional Development Website
This website is directed primarily toward life science teachers and focuses on grants, awards, field-testing, workshops, and volunteer opportunities. Online journals are also included on this website for further research in life science teaching.

National Association of Geoscience Teachers' Programs Website
This website is directed primarily toward geoscience teachers and has links pertaining to the following topics: Distinguished Speakers Programs, NAGT Sponsored Programs, Sponsored Sessions and Events, NAGT Awards, and Teaching in the Field.

The Sourcebook for Teaching Science's Professional Development Website
This website contains an extensive amount of information and resources concerning the following topics: science education journals, academic journals, conferences and workshops, professional organizations, colleges and universities, professional travel, job search resources, classroom management issues, employment resources, grant writing, and MA in science education from CSUN.

Journal of Chemical Education
This website is directed primarily toward chemistry teachers and provides an online journal of chemistry education. Besides the online edition of the current journal this website also provides a digital library, online store, and software purchase.

American Association of Physics Teachers' PTRA Program
"The AAPT/PTRA program seeks to provide sustained professional development to teachers of physics and physical science by maintaining a nationwide cadre of over 100 accomplished high school teacher-leaders trained and updated yearly to conduct extensive series of workshops in their local regions throughout the U.S." This website includes information on summer institutes, workshops, program details, and goals of the PTRA program.