The professional development of science teacher educators:
Is there a missing piece?
Sandra K. Abell
Purdue University

     What does/should the professional development of the science education professorate look like? I recently chaired an Ad-Hoc Committee on the Professional Development of Science Teacher Educators for a national science education organization. Among the committee's charges was to "identify the needs of science teacher educators and recommend strategies to provide for the personal and professional development of science teacher educators throughout their careers." The committee tried, through various media, to collect data about ongoing professional development activities for science teacher educators. We had very little response to our calls for information. Even more curious, many of the responses we did receive answered a different question altogether, about the professional development of science teachers, K-12.

     Why is it that science educators have little to say about their own or their graduate students' professional development? Do we believe that professional development is an issue only for "them," the teachers in the field? Or, do we believe that doctoral programs themselves are sufficient as a means of professional development? Thus I have been pondering the enigma of the professional development of science educators over the course of their careers. In this editorial I would like to address one part of the puzzle: what professional development should a doctoral program in science education provide?

     If I put out a list-serv message to all NARST and AETS members asking for descriptions of their doctoral programs in science education, I am confident that commonalities would quickly emerge from the responses. First we would all assert that our programs include several courses and much one-on-one mentoring in the area of educational research. We teach graduate students about quantitative and qualitative research methods, and guide them through their own research projects. We would also report that we offer courses that delve into specific topics in the science education literature, for example, seminars about alternative conceptions, or the nature of science, or science literacy. We might even require our students to take advanced methods courses about teaching and learning science in elementary, middle, or high schools. And, of course, we would discuss the science content requirements for our students.

     I would not argue about the inclusion any of these components in a science education doctoral program.Certainly our students will engage in science education research and for which they must be well prepared (especially since, in most cases, their tenure will depend on excellence in this area). Certainly they should develop the science and science education knowledge we expect of practicing teachers. I would, however, argue that most doctoral science education programs ignore another essential component in our students' professional development. We know that many of our students will also teach teachers. Yet, where and how in our programs do they learn about science teacher education?

     You might ask, just what is there to learn? In 1985, only 7% of all science education research addressed science teacher education (Gallagher, 1987). A decade later, however, research in this area had tripled. For example, at the 1996 annual meeting of NARST, over 23% of all papers presented were in the Teacher Education strand, and in 1997, the same strand accounted for 19% of all papers. Not to mention that the lead chapter in Gabel's 1994 Handbook of Research on Science Teaching and Learning was devoted to Research on Science Teacher Education (Anderson & Mitchener, 1994). It appears that we are developing a substantial knowledge base about science teacher education. Yet where, in our doctoral programs, do our students interact with this literature?

     Shulman (1986) contends that there exists a specialized knowledge that distinguishes teachers from subject matter specialists--pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). I contend that a parallel form of PCK is being built for science teacher educators. Whereas a science teacher must have knowledge about the science curriculum, science instructional strategies, science assessment, and student science understanding (Magnusson, Krajcik, & Borko, in press), a science teacher educator must have, in addition, knowledge about curriculum, instruction, and assessment for teaching science teachers as well as knowledge about student understanding of science teaching and learning.For example, the science teacher educator should understand the areas of difficulty that prospective teachers encounter when learning about science teaching.Furthermore the science teacher educator should know strategies for helping students of teaching confront these areas of difficulty. These examples only graze the surface of what there is to learn about teaching science teachers.

     Should we specify this PCK for science teacher educators? We could draw a parallel between new national/state standards for science teachers, and standards for science teacher educators. For example, one of the Indiana Professional Standards Board Draft Standards for Teachers of Science (Abell et al., 1996) states: "The teacher of science knows that science teaching is connected to relevant resources and concerns of the community, values all segments of the community to enhance the science learning environment, and utilizes a variety of community resources to promote student awareness of how the knowledge of science can be applied to their own community" (pp. 18-19). A parallel standard for science teacher educators might read: "The teacher of science teachers understands various types of school/university relationships, sees herself/himself as a lifelong learner who can learn from a variety of collaborators, and collaborates with school-based colleagues in the preparation of science teachers."

     One of our science education organizations, AETS, has recently developed standards for science teacher educators. Interestingly, the AETS Professional Knowledge Standards for Science Teachers Educators (Lederman et al., no date) sound very much like standards for teachers, including standards for: Knowledge of Science; Science Pedagogy; Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment; and Knowledge of Learning and Cognition. As expected, there is also a standard related to Research/Scholarly Activity, including conducting research and writing grants. However, the last and shortest standard, Professional Development Activities, seems almost an afterthought. This standards states: "The qualified science teacher educator must possess the knowledge, habits of mind, and skills necessary to work with prospective and practicing science teachers." However, little has been done to describe what knowledge, dispositions, and performances might thus be required.

     How can we be responsible to graduate students and address the omission in their professional development in the area of science teacher education? One way would be to add a course called, "Research in Science Teacher Education," to the doctoral menu of courses. Another would involve designing apprenticeships in teaching science teachers in which graduate students and faculty members co-teach courses and reflect on their understanding of prospective or practicing teachers, and curriculum, instruction, and assessment related to their education. Yet another would be to form research groups for the expressed purpose of making sense of teaching science teachers. Clearly there are any number of means to achieve this type of professional development. What is required is a commitment to understanding and building the knowledge base of teaching science teachers, concomitant with making explicit efforts to include this component in our doctoral programs. Once we manage to align our doctoral programs with the knowledge base of teaching science teachers, then we can start to think about our own continuing professional development as science educators.


     Abell, S., Andersen, H., Beardmore, K., Chattin, S., Kobe, M., Miller, D., Orr, S., Rayl, S., Schurtz, E., Shugart, R., & Strawbridge, P. (1996). Draft standards for teachers of science. Indianapolis: Indiana Professional Standards Board.

     Anderson, R. D., & Mitchener, C. P. (1994). Research on science teacher education. In D. Gabel (Ed.), Handbook of research on science teaching and learning (pp.3-44). New York: Macmillan.

     Gallagher, J. J. (1987). A summary of research in science education --1985.
Science Education, 71(3), 271- 457.

     Lederman, N. G., Ramey-Gassert, L., Kuerbis, P., Loving, C., Roychoudhuray, A., Spector, B. (no date). Professional knowledge standards for science teacher educators. [On-line], (AETS Position Paper). Available URL:

     Magnusson, S. J., Krajcik, J. S., & Borko, H. (in press). Nature, sources, and development of pedagogical content knowledge for science teachers. In J. Gess- Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical contents knowledge: The construct and its implications for science education. The Netherlands: Kluwer Publishing.

     Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15, 4-14.

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