Contributor: Cynthia Crockett
The Science Education Department at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian has been funded by the National Science Foundation (award # 2013263) to conduct a nationwide study of the strengths and weaknesses of STEM and teaching knowledge of individuals who will soon enter the STEM teaching workforce titled “ Study of Preservice Teachers’ Science Content Knowledge and Pedagogical Content Knowledge.” By examining these pre-service teacher experiences before and during their preparation, this research seeks to reveal the experiences that optimize teacher knowledge for effective science teaching. It will also assess the prevalence and efficacy of novel approaches developed for pre-service teacher preparation, which can provide policy makers with information to inform the design and expansion of pre-service teaching programs. Two main questions addressed by our research are:
- “What is the strength of subject matter knowledge (SMK) of preservice teachers in the field and for the grade-level that they plan on teaching?” and,
- “What is the strength of a key type of pedagogical content knowledge in preservice teachers, their knowledge of the non-scientific ideas that their future students will hold (sometimes called “misconceptions” in the literature), referred to as PCK-M?
We would like your help in recruiting participants from your institution in this national study. We are interested in administering a survey to undergraduate students in Science Methods (or General Methods if not specified) classes because students of all intended education majors take these classes.
We began our study in the fall semester of 2021 and are continuing to collect data in the fall semester of 2022. Participation in our study requires minimal commitment on the part of the professors. The survey should preferably be given at the beginning of the fall 2022 semester but no later than October. It involves giving the link to our online survey to each undergraduate student in Methods classes (Science and/or General, and all grade-band distinctions). In addition to the initial survey questions, we ask students to complete a science content assessment that most closely matches the content and grade band certification they are pursuing. On average, the survey takes about 15 minutes to complete, and the assessment takes about 10-15 minutes to complete and would be included as part of the class. Upon completion, the students receive immediate feedback on how many and which questions they answered correctly for both content and student misconceptions. They will be able to see their performance on the test instantly or at a later date if they choose, and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in both content and students’ ideas prior to entering the classroom. Our methodology has received IRB approval from Harvard University. The survey is voluntary and anonymous. As a small token of our appreciation, each participating professor will receive a $50 e-gift card for their time and effort in having students complete the survey as part of the class.
We will disseminate our results to education professionals, policy-makers and other stake-holders. By informing those with influence over preservice teacher coursework, we hope to encourage greater use of, and funding for, such opportunities with the goal of enhancing and improving preservice teacher preparation.
My colleague Cynthia Crockett will facilitate your participation in this study. She will be able to provide additional details. Please feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We sincerely hope that your institution will be part of this important study. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Philip M. Sadler, Ph.D.
Science Education Department
Harvard College Observatory
60 Garden Street, MS-71
Cambridge, MA 02138
 And as popularized in our award-winning documentary, A Private Universe (Schneps & Sadler, 1987), which is heavily used in pre-service and professional development programs (Aydeniz & Brown, 2017; Konicek-Moran & Keeley, 2015).