CLUSTER: Investigating a New Model Partnership for Teacher Preparation
This research oriented project integrates the informal and formal science education sectors, bringing their combined resources to bear on the critical need for well-prepared and diverse urban science teachers. It represents a partnership among The City College of New York (CCNY), the New York Hall of Science (NYHOS), and the City University of New York Center for Advanced Study in Education (CUNY-CASE). It integrates the Science Career Ladder, a sustained program of informal science teaching training and employment at the NYHOS, with the CCNY science teacher preparation program. The longitudinal and comparative research study being conducted is designed to examine and document the effect of this integrated program on the production of urban science teachers. Outcomes from this study include a new body of research related to the impact of internships in science centers on improving classroom science teaching in urban high schools. Results are being disseminated to both the informal science education community (through the Association for Science and Technology Centers and the Center for Informal Learning in Schools, an NSF supported Center for Learning and Teaching situated at the San Francisco Exploratorium) and the formal education community (through the National Science Teachers Association and the American Educational Research Association).
The Science Career Ladder program engages undergraduates as inquiry-based interpreters (Explainers) for visitors to the NY Hall of Science. Integrating this experience with a formal teacher certification program enables participants to coordinate experiences in the science center, college science and education classes, and K-12 classrooms. Participants receive a license to teach science upon graduating. The approach has its theoretical underpinnings in the concept of situated learning as noted by Kirshner and Whitson (1997, Situated Cognition: Social, Semiotic and Psychological Perspectives, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum). Through apprenticeship experiences, situated learning recreates the complexity and ambiguity of situations that learners will face in the real world. Science centers provide a potentially ideal setting for situational learning by future teachers, allowing them to develop, exercise and refine their science teaching and learning skills as noted by Gardner (1991, The Unschooled Mind, New York: Basic Books).
There is a well-documented shortage of science teachers in urban school districts. The causes of this shortage relate to all phases of the teacher professional continuum, from recruitment through training and retention. At the same time, the demographic composition of American teachers is increasingly out of synch with the demographics of the student population, raising concerns that a critical shortage of role models may be at hand, contributing to a worsening situation in urban schools. In the face of these challenges many innovative teacher recruitment and teacher preparation programs have been developed to augment traditional pathways to teaching. These programs range from high school academies for students expressing an interest in teaching to the recruitment and training of individuals making mid-life career changes. The CLUSTER program described above represents a new alternative. There are more than 250 science centers in the United States. Many of these have extensive youth internship programs and collaborative relationships with local colleges. Therefore, the proposed model is widely applicable.