Science learners, science teachers, science courses, and curiosity: Information for teacher education programs
It requires a unique set of skills to teach science to young children. Not only do future elementary educators need the requisite content knowledge to address the broad base of science topics that fall under the innocuous acronym known as STEM, they also need to be able to effectively respond to their students innately curious natures. And, while mandates for STEM instruction to occur at all grade levels have been a major driving force in the decision-making processes of educational entities for several decades, studies consistently expose problems with science instruction at elementary grade levels. This is an indication that elementary education degree requirements, which emphasize skills that make for great generalists are failing to provide the amount of science content needed to develop effective instructors of STEM. Compounding matters is the ineffective nature of the few science course types provided to future educators. Traditional introductory level lecture-based science courses whether intended for non-science or science majors are failing to address the issues of what is being instructed and who is doing the instructing. And, the benefits of fostering curiosity are being under-utilized as a learning tool for future teachers who will, in turn, be expected to foster curiosity within their own students. This study relied on both quantitative and qualitative data analysis to determine if the choice of science course type, the number of science courses completed, and curiosity levels impacted pre-service elementary educators’ views about their own learning of science and their views as future science teachers. Data collection included surveys, interviews, and short answer exercises. Analysis included descriptive statistics processes, Pearson product-moment correlations, inductive coding processes, and thematic study. Implications for future practices in teacher education included the need for science courses specifically designed for future elementary educators and curriculum within those courses that would include curiosity, wonder, and imagination as learning tools. The combination of specialized science courses that use curiosity to appeal to elementary educators as science learners could provide increased science content knowledge and enhanced science efficacy levels so that future educators could become the science teachers their future students need.