Authentic Science Experiences: Pre-Collegiate Science Educators’ Successes And Challenges During Professional Development
Twenty-three pre-collegiate educators of elementary students (ages 5-10 years) and secondary students (ages 11-18 years) attended a two-week science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) astronomy focused professional development in the summer of 2015 with activities focused on authentic science experiences, inquiry, and partnership building. ‘Authentic’ in this research refers to scientific skills and are defined. The study explores the authentic science education experience of the pre-collegiate educators, detailing the components of authentic science as seen through a social constructionism lens. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the researchers analyzed the successes and challenges of pre-collegiate science and mathematics educators when immersed in STEM and astronomy authentic
science practices, the educators’ perceptions before and after the authentic science practices, and the educators’ performance on pre to post content tests during the authentic science practices. Findings show that the educators were initially engaged, then disengaged, and then finally re-engaged with the authentic experience. Qualitative responses are shared, as are the significant results of the quantitative pre to post content learning scores of the educators. Conclusions include the necessity for PD team delivery of detailed explanations to the participants - before, during, and after – for the entire authentic science experience and partnership building processes. Furthermore, expert structure and support is vital for participant research question generation, data collection, and data analysis (successes, failures, and reattempts). Overall, in order to include authentic science in pre-collegiate classrooms, elementary and secondary educators need experience, instruction, scaffolding, and continued support with the STEM processes.