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Science museums offer STEM-related PD for K12 teachers

HANDS-ON LEARNING—The Mandell Academy at the Connecticut Science Center provides opportunities for local teachers to experiment with science in a student-free environment.
HANDS-ON LEARNING—The Mandell Academy at the Connecticut Science Center provides opportunities for local teachers to experiment with science in a student-free environment.

Finding quality professional development for science teachers continues to be a challenge as school districts expand STEM programs. Many science centers and museums offer STEM-related PD, and want to partner with districts to develop programs that align with school curriculum and Next Generation Science Standards.

“One thing we hear from teachers is they appreciate science museums as sources for learning because it’s hands-on, interactive and practical,” says Margaret Glass, director of PD for the Association of Science-Technology Centers. “Science museums are a place where teachers can come see science in action and in an environment where people are actively inquiring.”

Teachers can experiment with materials without students present and become learners again, says Glass. “It builds confidence and lets things flow differently in classrooms—it lets science be messy.”

Teaching together

Science centers want to cultivate long-term partnerships and open communication with district leaders, says Glass. Before investing in any programs, though, administrators need to establish goals. They must decide, for example, if they want workshops to improve content knowledge in a specific subject or a longer-term series of presentations on changing pedagogy.

Many major regional science centers focus on pedagogy.

For example, the Teacher Institute at San Francisco’s Exploratorium offers a two-year induction program for new science teachers. Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center features a STEM Excellence Pathway for pre-K through 12 teachers. And the Science Leadership Initiative at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago has STEM PD programs for entire schools.

The Connecticut Science Center in Hartford is home to the Mandell Academy for Teachers, which offers PD for science teachers across the Northeast.

In 2015, the equivalent of 4,450 days of PD was provided to 1,364 educators in 87 school districts. In addition to a team of five full-time PD specialists, the center has a network of nearly 50 instructors.

“What we’re really trying to do is change how teaching happens in the classroom,” says Nicholas Balisciano, director of programs at the Mandell Academy. “We don’t want to give teachers new content and then have them teach it in an outmoded way.”

Long-term planning

Like many science museums, The Connecticut Science Center hosts in-house workshops and sends specialists to districts to help teachers put PD into practice. The Inquiry for Teaching and Learning Series, a five-day pedagogy-focused session, costs $1,500 per educator.

The center also offers support for implementing Next Generation Science Standards and is preparing for the first state science assessments in 2019.

STEM PD is a marathon, not a sprint, says Balisciano, who encourages districts to reach out to their regional science centers to discuss long-term learning pathways.

“If you’re looking to fully utilize a science center’s resources, then it’s worth the investment to talk to that science center about where your curriculum is and where your teachers are pedagogically, and what their needs are,” he says.