What UTeach Is Reading

By Ellen Granger, Co-Director, FSU-Teach, Florida State University

Ambitious Science Teaching (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018) presents a vision of the translation-to-practice of science education research. Part of the Preface caught my eye:

Most of [our] exasperated teachers-in-training said things like “I knew whatI wanted to have happen, but didn’t know howto make it happen.”
We realized then that we had relied on broad notions like “inquiry” and “hands-on work” to shape their attempts at teaching, and had failed to show our novices actual practices — that is, approaches that you could see and hear someone using in a classroom on a regular basis. What we needed were professional routines that were recognizable, principled, and improvable (p. vi).

UTeach programs are quite proficient at helping novice teachers become experienced with such professional routines. Yet I am not sure that we are as proficient at providing teachers with a roadmap for a coherent vision of classroom instruction, a vision that grows out of decades of science education research that can often seem fragmented and disorganized to them (p. 1). Many of our preservice students struggle, seeing both the forest and the trees as they plan and carry out classroom instruction. Faculty and master teachers may also struggle because the forest and the trees are simultaneously visible to us and can result in expert blind spots that make it difficult for us to translate what we know for our students. The title of the book says it well — what we are asking of our students is ambitious teaching, and what we ask of ourselves is ambitious science and mathematics education teaching.

While UTeach program graduates establish good teaching practices early that are challenging for even the most seasoned teachers, I am nevertheless always on the lookout for tools that might help them better organize and advance their quest for excellence in teaching and learning. So far, the first three chapters hold the promise that this book will be a strong addition to the toolbox that we try to provide for our students and one that will help them to stitch together the professional classroom routines that we teach them into a coherent vision of classroom instruction.

I would like to end with another quote from the introductory pages of the book:

Our vast national investments in new standards, curricula, assessments, technology and professional development translate into student learning only through the many face-to-face encounters that teachers have with students every day, and the decisions made in those moments to press for or retreat from deep understanding, to engage in authentic science activity or prepare for the next high-stakes test, to encourage students’ identities as capable knowers of the natural world, or to politely answer all their questions for them (p. 18).

These are the decisions for which we are preparing our UTeach students and perhaps this reading will help us along this path.