Forum on Education of The American Physical Society
Summer 2006 Newsletter



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US Department of Energy (DOE) Professional Development for K-12 Teachers:

The Laboratory Science Teacher Professional Development (LSTPD) Program Provides K-12 Science Teachers Research Opportunities at the DOE National Laboratories

Todd Clark and Jennifer Coughlin

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush stated, "We need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations." [i]   The National Academies' Rising Above the Gathering Storm states, "Improvements in student achievement are solidly linked to teacher excellence, the hallmarks of which are thorough knowledge of content, solid pedagogical skills, motivational abilities, and career-long opportunities for continuing education." [ii] Furthermore, in recent testimony before the House of Representatives Science Committee, Dr. James Decker, Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Science, US Department of Energy stated, "The two most important ways the Federal government can improve science and math education is first to help ensure that there is a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and second, to help ensure that students have the opportunity in their schools to study science and math every day of the school year and every year throughout their K-12 education." One proposed solution to this method would be by "incorporating K-12 STEM teachers into the scientific community of the National Laboratories, teachers are provided many of the tools they need to improve their professional performance, their leadership abilities in the STEM education communities, and most importantly, their students' achievement." [iii] For this reason, Secretary Bodmann has suggested a proposed budget in 2007 to expand the DOE role in science and mathematics education by expanding its Laboratory Science Teacher Professional Development (LSTPD) program.

The DOE has always been supportive of science education, but reestablished their role in teacher professional development in 2004 when the U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced a new science education initiative to reinvigorate the DOEҳ involvement in K-12 science education. [iv] Part of this new initiative is the LSTPD program. The LSTPD program has received new attention as part of the President's American Competitive Initiative, and the expected budget for 2007 will allow the DOE to triple the number of participating teachers and more than double the number of DOE National Laboratories hosting an LSTPD program.

The Office of Science at the DOE designed the LSTPD program with teacher input and using current research and standards for the best practices of teacher professional development. The programҳ objectives are to help teachers become ambassadors for the science community to students and their parents, agents for positive change in science education, and the inspiration for the next generation of scientists, engineers, technicians, and mathematicians that support scientific research for the DOE and the United States.

The DOE has incorporated the latest research and standards for teacher professional development into the LSTPD program. The National Science Education Standards [v] list four standards for professional development of teachers of science that serve as the foundation for the LSTPD program design. In addition, research from the American Institutes for Research [vi] and publications from the National Institute for Science Education's Professional Development Project [vii] were used in the program design.

Current LSTPD teachers make a three-year commitment to the national program, but are allowed to move between seven DOE labs. The seven labs participating include Argonne National Lab near Chicago; Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island, New York; Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the San Francisco Bay area; the National Renewable Energy Lab near Denver, Colorado; Oak Ridge National Lab in eastern Tennessee; the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Washington; and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility near Norfolk, Virginia (Table). With the anticipated additional funding in 2007, the LSTPD program will grow to run at up to 17 DOE National Laboratories. Teachers may participate in programs at the same lab for all three summers, or they may move between programs during successive summers.

Each participating lab is required to design a program or programs using one or more of the following formats.

Table.   Participating labs and programs, during current pilot program

Laboratory Name Teachers as Investigators Teachers as Research Associates
Argonne National Lab *  
Brookhaven National Lab *  
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab * *
National Renewable Energy Lab   *
Oak Ridge National Lab   *
Pacific Northwest National Lab * *
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility *  
  • Teachers as Investigators is designed for teachers looking for ways to relate research frontiers to the classroom and update their skills and knowledge of research methods, scientific instruments, laboratory technology, and how scientists operate and think. These programs are typically four weeks and may include time at the lab during the school year.
  • Teachers as Research Associates is designed for teachers seeking an independent research project with a mentor scientist at a DOE National Laboratory. These programs are typically eight weeks.

Teachers receive a stipend, in addition to funding for travel, housing, professional development, and purchasing lab equipment for their classrooms. The commitment goes far beyond time during the summer, as teachers are expected to collaborate during the school year.

Teachers, scientists, and program managers designed the LSTPD program to:

  • Use facilities and the research communities of the DOE National Laboratories. The DOE has been providing mentor intensive science research opportunities for thirty years, and performs the most unique and innovative research on the planet, reaffirming its role to provide access to these resources to science and mathematics teachers.
  • Represent a long-term commitment between the DOE and the teachers involved in the program. For teachers to believe they can use DOE resources in their classrooms, they need to feel connected to the DOE scientific community and that will not happen in a short-term program. Participants in the program make a three-year commitment to the program, allowing meaningful relationships to be built and changes in pedagogy to take root.
  • Be flexible. Teachers need options of differing summer program commitments-four to eight weeks-depending on, for example, their science backgrounds, family obligations, and what they expect to get from the program. Some DOE labs may be able to provide independent research experiences for high school teachers and other labs may be able to run workshops that focus on a particular research topic for middle school teachers.
  • Address content knowledge that teachers will use in their classrooms. 31% of Life Science Teachers and 46% of Physical Science teachers are taught by teachers without a major or a minor in the subject area they teach. [viii] There are many studies to suggest that strong preparation in a teacher's subject area improves student achievement. [ix] By allowing teachers to select labs based upon their self-selected needs for content improvement we can match teachers' content needs to lab expertise.
  • Allow teachers to work in a collaborative manner. Teachers should be able to share ideas about how to translate their lab experiences into ways that will impact student learning. Teacher collaboration has been shown to be effective tool in teacher professional development
  • Treat teachers as professionals. Teachers should be paid for work that they do to improve their teaching ability and they should have opportunities to attend conferences and workshops that will help them stay current with the latest research in science and science education. Program structure allows for teachers to write mini-grants that enhance each teacher's unique needs for professional improvement and resources for their classroom.
  • Be scalable so that it can reach as many science teachers as possible. Based upon feedback from reviewers of the program we have made regional assignments to help ensure that all fifty states will have representation in our program.

Proposed Regional Assignments for 2007 if funding allows

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Preliminary data on the potential success of the program are hopeful. The program has a ninety-five percent retention rate and has to date provided over seventy thousand dollars in funds for science and math resources. The program is inspiring our teachers to become leaders as evidenced by increased participation and presentation in conferences and awards such as the prestigious Milliken Award. The teachers themselves provide very positive feed back regarding their participation in the LSTPD program. For example:

"LSTPD has had a significant effect on my leadership within our group of science teachers in our building and with the science specialist that coordinates instruction for all of Richmond City science. I am looked upon as a source of information and teaching ideas as well as a resource to draw upon lab suggestions and curriculum guidance." LSTPD Teacher, Jefferson Laboratory

"LSTPD has increased my confidence in speaking to other teachers. I have a better understanding of the content and I also have super hands-on materials to help me." LSTPD Teacher, Jefferson Laboratory

"I had become ingrained in the history of old science and was no longer embracing new science. This experience renewed my questioning ability and inquisitive attitude." LSTPD Teacher, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

This program increases science teacher credibility because participants will be science and mathematics teachers who have actively engaged in the process of research in their fields. With increased credibility, these teacher-scientists will be better able to advocate for positive changes within the system that will improve science and mathematics education for all students.

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Middle School teachers at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, who participated in the Teachers as Investigators Model.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Teacher as Researcher performing Electrophoresis of DNA from Mycobacterium tuberculosis genes.
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Middle school teachers from Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility Teachers as Investigators in Washington, DC for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards National Conference.

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Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility Teacher as Investigator marvels at magnetic experiment she built for her classroom. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Teachers as Researchers in Advanced Materials laboratory.


[i] President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address. January 31, 2006.

[ii] Augustine, N.R. Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. National Academies Press (2006)

[iii] Decker, James. March 30, 2006 - Full Committee - Hearing - K-12 Science and Math Education Across the Federal Agencies

[iv] Abraham, S. 2004 Remarks by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center on July 8, 2004.

[v] National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

[vi] Birman, B., L. Desimone, A. Porter, and M. Garet. 2000. Designing professional development that works. Educational Leadership 57 (8) 28-33.

[vii] Loucks-Horsley, S., P.W. Hewson, N. Love, and K.E. Stiles.1998. Ideas that work: Science professional development.

[viii] Seastrom, M. M et. al. Qualifications of Public School Teacher Workforce: Prevalence of Out of Field Teaching 1987-1988 to 1999-2000 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2002).

[ix] Increasing the Odds: How Good Policies Can Yield Better Teachers. National Council on Teacher Quality. 2006

This article contains material originally published in 'The Science Teacher, Summer 2006', Copyright (C) National Science Teachers Association, all rights reserved.

On the web:

LSTPD Program:
Office of Science:
US Department of Energy:

Todd Clark ( is a science education advisor at the Office of Science, US Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20585.

Jennifer Coughlin ( ) is an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow for the Office of Science, US Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20585.



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