Many preschool teachers aren’t confident in science

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Preschool instructors may not have the knowledge, skills, or confidence to effectively teach their students science, new research shows.

The problem could be contributing to America’s poor global performance in this crucially important subject.

“…it seems the preschool teachers in our study were more confident of their ability in literacy than in science…”

In their work, researchers found that early childhood educators’ self-reported ability and enjoyment was high for literacy, but much lower for science and math.

Further, while 99 percent of preschool teachers engaged in literacy instruction three to four times a week, that figure fell to 75 percent in math and only 42 percent in science.

Only 38 percent of US fourth-graders were proficient in science in 2015, according to a report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“Providing quality early-childhood science education is one way to improve the very low science achievement of US elementary school children,” says lead author Hope Gerde, associate professor in the human development and family studies department at Michigan State University. “However, it seems the preschool teachers in our study were more confident of their ability in literacy than in science—likely creating a gap between children’s literacy development and science skills.”

Gerde and colleagues studied 67 Head Start classrooms for children ages 3-5. This early childhood period is a time when kids begin developing knowledge and skills for science, she says, adding that preschool children have the capacity to engage in and learn from scientific thinking.

The study is the first to examine preschool teachers’ “self-efficacy”—or their belief in their ability and enjoyment for an academic area—in literacy, math, and science.

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Gerde says preschool teachers may struggle with science due to lack of quality training, preparation, or an aversion to science. Teachers may also feel pressure from policymakers and school administrators to focus on literacy—to the possible exclusion of science.

Importantly, the study found that only teachers with high knowledge and skills for science—not literacy or math—created quality scientific opportunities for students, such as providing science materials and engaging children in science experiences in the classroom.

“If we are to improve US children’s science learning,” Gerde says, “we must provide quality opportunities, in teacher education programs and professional development offerings, for early childhood teachers to develop knowledge and skills in science.”

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The National Science Foundation funded the research. The study appears in the journal Early Education and Development.

Source: Michigan State University