Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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A program to train teachers as scientists and engineers

There are different initiatives out there to help attract scientists and engineers into a second career as teachers, thereby bringing their real world experience and their knowledge of the disciplines into the classrooms. I would like to propose a program that works in the other direction.

Allowing that the model of combining practical engagement with high-level teaching skill is a great framework, let's build our hybrid teacher by starting with people who are already passionate about teaching and great at working with kids.

Sure, math and science teachers take coursework in the field, but that's clearly not the same. We need opportunities to keep studying and to participate in actual on-going research projects so we are keeping our knowledge sharp and keeping our engagement with the discipline active.

I would argue further that by sustaining the teachers' status as students, their ability to sympathize and empathize with their own students would stay at a higher level.

What we need, then, are ways to achieve that. Certainly the school teachers I know can't afford to take science or engineering coursework every semester.

  • Luis F

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    Jul 11 2012: I believe the resources for learning science and engineering at low cost are already available. As long as you have an Internet connection and a device to connect to it (desktop, smart phone, tablet, etc.), the only cost associated with it is time. Take a look at MIT's OpenCourseWare ( and Annenberg's Learner (

    Since I believe access to the Internet is low cost, what we can do is allow for math and science teachers to take online courses from these great resources during their normal work hours. That should solve the time-cost.
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      Jul 11 2012: Thanks for your idea. That would be an interesting starting point, Luis. However, to my knowledge, that still wouldn't put the teachers onto current research projects nor plug them into the university departments where these are being run. Any of us can watch an online course or read through a text book (though I really DO like your point of letting teachers do it on paid time!), but we can't afford to equip real engineering labs or generate a network of industry practitioners. Engineering and science as they are happening in the field is a key element to the model.
  • Jul 7 2012: There is value obtaining education from many sources and not just colleges and universities. If you are a practitioner of science, the information you seek is in the work you do. This work includes obtaining theoretical, conceptual, and practical knowledge. If we really want to impact science education in our schools, we need to invest some time in creating educational experiences which are practical and purposeful. Most science education in the United States doesn't promote creativity and innovation yet such skills are essential in understanding the Nature of Science.
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    Jul 4 2012: Would the system all come tumbling down if colleges and universities offered teachers one free class per semester? What is the marginal cost, really, for 1 more student sitting in one more class? How would that compare to the 'pay it forward' value of future students being able/motivated to continue on to college in STEM fields?
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    Jun 27 2012: I understand what you're saying, and those things are valuable as far as they go. The kind of workshops you describe and the kind of courses required in most states to meet continuing education requirements are far short of the kind of thing that would compare to actually being engaged and participating in research and development projects in their respective fields.
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    Jun 27 2012: I have had many teaching colleagues who continue their science education through courses and workshops in summer. It's a great way to stay connected to what is going on in the field and how modern problems in the field are solved. In my state, and I expect in most states, continuing education is required to maintain the credential, so it is a matter of what teachers decide to pursue with that time.
    I knew a grade school teacher who did a hands-on science workshop for teachers in summer at MIT. In math, I have known people who have gone in summer to Park City Institute for continuing math studies hosted for teachers and geared to their needs. I know people who do workshops for teachers in experimental genetics at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. I know people who take physics by inquiry workshops for teachers at the university.
    The fact that teachers are required to take coursework to retain their credentials gives them the incentive to pursue such further study and gives institutions the incentive to provide such opportunities. What further gives institutions the incentive to offer such opportunities is that some of the big grant providers, such as National science Foundation, take outreach into account in deciding on research funding. This requirement has been a boon, I think, for teachers and students in the k12 system who are in the vicinity of major research universities, but teachers can also travel to these programs in summer. I am fairly certain financial aid is available. It's a solid continuing ed concept.