Center for Science and the Schools promotes teacher education with STEM colleges

The Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS), a University-wide center based in Penn State’s College of Education, uses knowledge and experiences of science and engineering education to develop and foster teacher-researcher partnerships that strengthen science and engineering education at all levels. 

Having just celebrated its 10th anniversary, CSATS continues to increase mutually beneficial partnerships between Penn State science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) colleges and K-12 school districts. The goal is to partner with Penn State researchers to design and implement teacher professional development utilizing research-based best practices.

One example of this partnership is the highly successful CSATS Saturday Science Workshops, a program for K-8 teachers. CSATS collaborates with experienced and novice researchers to design and implement about six workshops each year. These workshops expose teachers to aspects of cutting-edge science and engineering research through inquiry-based activities that can be easily adapted for use in the K-8 classroom. 

“We share with researchers various teaching and learning strategies which work well in teacher professional development programs,’’ said CSATS director Annmarie Ward. “This partnership allows the research faculty to broaden their teaching repertoire and see how an inquiry-based teaching approach is quite effective.’’

The partnership also meshes the present and the future. “We see K-12 students as our future scientists and engineers,’’ Ward said. “Their STEM education, how they learn it, the kinds of activities they do, and how their teachers are prepared is very important to building the future workforce of America.

“The STEM colleges are understanding the importance of this partnership. I think the knowledge of how people learn and best practices in teaching and learning which CSATS brings to the partnerships are benefiting researchers in the STEM colleges,” Ward said. 

In addition to the Saturday Science Workshops, CSATS also collaborates with STEM faculty on research grants from federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the United State Department of Agriculture. 

These grants require a “broader impacts” (BI) component that benefits society more broadly. These BI elements are becoming increasingly important in the proposal review process. CSATS faculty work with researchers to develop and implement education-based BI components that enhance the competitiveness of the proposals. 

CSATS faculty are science education professionals with backgrounds in K-12 teaching and expertise in best practices for teacher professional development. Several are also former STEM researchers.

They, along with the other CSATS faculty, strive to make prospective programs cohesive through the involvement of graduate students, undergrads and K-12 teachers and students in the learning experience. 

“Often, an exciting element of researchers’ work is the interdisciplinary nature of the research, as they often use many science disciplines, and partner with other experts, such as engineers or geographers, to solve complex problems,’’ said Leah Bug, assistant director of CSATS.

“Because of that, we can help the teachers see the interrelationships of STEM and how content areas are connected and not just ‘now I teach science and now I teach technology and now I teach engineering.’ It’s very much a systems approach. We help them to see these connections through the partnerships with STEM researchers.’’

Bug said researchers have altered their method of instruction in the classroom as a result of working with CSATS, which was followed by appreciation from students for the new approach. “We try to model the ways we want them to teach in the classroom by using those methods in our workshops,’’ Bug said.

All of the pieces must connect to create an effective program.

“We’re starting to do more and more with undergraduate and graduate education,’’ Ward said. 

“Those pieces interact and intersect with teacher preparation. Many undergrads go through science programs to get their teaching degrees, a part of that group is going to go on and become science teachers. “So the way they are taught influences how they are going to teach.”

Nayab Gill, standing at left, and Michael Easterbrook, members of Penn State's International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition Team, offer assistance at a Bioenergy Byproducts Education Program teachers workshop conducted by CSATS. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 14, 2015