Not just Great Science Teachers ... Great Chicago Science Teachers: The role of local communities in diversifying the Physics Teaching Workforce

Mel Sabella and Andrea Gay Van Duzor
Department of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering Studies, Chicago State University

CSU students work on developing a lesson on sound

CSU students work on developing a lesson on sound to implement in the High School Classroom as part of the APS PysTEC Program

CSU students present work from Teacher Immersion Institute

CSU students present their work from the Teacher Immersion Institute at the Annual PhysTEC Conference in Austin, TX.

Universities and colleges in urban environments that serve mainly local communities play an important role in increasing diversity in the teaching workforce. One of the hallmarks of the Chicago State University preservice STEM teacher program is a focus on communities working together to promote science education. Traditionally, university faculty work with preservice teachers to help them individually develop as science teachers. At CSU, we have expanded on this model by looking at the resources of the local community and by encouraging preservice teachers to examine their own development within the context of the local community. We seek for our candidates to not just become great science teachers, but to become great Chicago science teachers.

University faculty direct the preservice program at CSU, but they have actively sought involvement from local partners interested in improving science education in the city. The secondary education program at CSU has benefited from the shared experiences of a number of communities with different areas of expertise. These communities include high school teachers in the Chicago area, two-year college faculty, and educators at Chicago science museums. High school teachers are the lead instructors of CSU's Teaching Immersion Institute and CSU has had a retired high school science teacher on staff for almost 10 years.[1] The high school teachers provide crucial voices grounding educational theory in real-world experience. Our high school teacher collaborators have also joined our research teams and now bring their expertise not only to our programs but also to the national science education community through talks, posters and papers. Two-year college faculty collaborate through a multi-institution Learning Assistant Program that serves as a supportive early teaching experience.[2] Their contributions have guided the revision of curricula and broadened the means of recruitment into the teaching field. Chicago area museums provide exciting opportunities for teachers looking to utilize local resources and our preservice teachers have benefited from internships and workshops supported by our NSF-Noyce grant.

One of the most important local partners interested in improving science education in the city is a group that can easily be overlooked: our preservice teacher candidates themselves. Preservice STEM students attending Chicago State University usually come from neighborhoods close to the university and often enter teaching careers in communities that are similar to those in which they have grown up. About 80% of the CSU student body identifies as African-American and about 70% are from the City of Chicago.[3] Supporting the local community is an important aspect of teaching for many of our preservice students who want to positively impact their neighborhoods or neighborhoods similar to the ones in which they grew-up. We support this motivation through different types of early teaching experiences for CSU students who are either interested in exploring teaching or have committed to teaching. One example is a yearly event that is embedded in our “Readings in Science Education Course,” in which our students develop STEM lessons for local elementary school students who visit CSU. In these early teaching experiences, our science education students foster a learning environment where the younger students can discuss science and engage in inquiry-based instruction. Because this type of pedagogy is implemented in the majority of science courses at CSU and the culture of our CSU students aligns with this type of teaching, our preservice teachers rarely question its importance in their own teaching, even in these early teaching experiences.

The shared experiences of our preservice teachers and the secondary students whom they will teach is a feature that we capitalize on in our secondary education program. In addition, having faculty know about the culture and the everyday lives of the student teachers they work with is essential in promoting effective teaching and building trust between these communities.[4] In our science professional education courses, we actively encourage our candidates to compare their (and often their children’s) schooling experiences with educational research and theory. We seek to have them reflect on both their individual and shared experiences to craft engaging and meaningful lessons that they may implement in their future classrooms. This reflection also helps them recognize how their own experiences have shaped their understanding of science education. This recognition, along with the understanding that their experiences do not necessarily align with those of their future students, is critical for culturally responsive teaching.[5]

Additionally, our preservice teachers have played a necessary and important role in informing the secondary education program at CSU. Just as high school teachers need to understand the communities they work with, CSU Faculty need to know the culture and lives of the students with whom we work, beyond academics. Often the lives of our students can be quite complicated and the juggling of family, work, and school can often mean that the path to a degree is not linear.[6] Because of this, it is often a challenge to foster a cohort model, and although we maintain high standards in our courses, we also need to be extremely flexible. Our students develop a rich set of tools to overcome obstacles and adapt to different types of situations. When these preservice students become teachers, many of their students will encounter similar situations, and it is these shared experiences that will assist our preservice students in supporting their own students in the classroom.[7] Our recent graduates are often in contact with us and provide critical feedback as to the structure of the program.

Listening to the local communities has had a major impact on the science education program at CSU. The experiences of high school teachers, two-year college faculty and museum educators have played a major role in developing the richness of our program. The preservice teachers we work with, who have shared much of their lives with us, have made the most significant impact. By listening to these students, we have been able to develop a science education program that it uniquely adapted for the Chicago area.

Mel Sabella and Andrea Van Duzor are faculty in Physics and Chemistry respectively in the Department of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering Studies at Chicago State University. They co-lead a number of efforts in CSU's science education research program and work closely on CSU's NSF Noyce Program, APS PhysTEC Program, and the Department's growing Learning Assistant Program.

[1] Sabella, M. S., Van Duzor, A. G., Passehl, J., & Weisenburger, K. (2012). A Collaboration Between University and High School in Preparing Physics Teachers: Chicago State University's Teacher Immersion Institute). The Physics Teacher, 50(5), 296-300.
[2] Otero, V., Pollock, S., & Finkelstein, N. (2010). A physics department’s role in preparing physics teachers: The Colorado learning assistant model. American Journal of Physics, 78(11), 1218-1224.
[4] Rodriguez, A. J., & Zozakiewicz, C. (2010). Facilitating the integration of multiple literacies through science education and learning technologies. Science education as a pathway to teaching language literacy, SensePublishers, 23-45.
[5] Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education-Washington DC-, 53(2), 106-116.
[7] Sabella, M., & Van Duzor, A. G. (2013, January). Cultural toolkits in the urban physics learning community. In American Institute of Physics Conference Series (Vol. 1513, pp. 34-37).

Disclaimer – The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.