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Developing a Strong, Diverse Science Teaching Workforce Is Critical

By Latrece Johnson, MEd, MS

Posted on 2021-12-09

In October 2017, I had the pleasure of meeting and living on the same Peninsula of Mobile, Alabama, as one Debi Foster, the 2021 Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards Water ConservationistBefore winning this prestigious award, Foster—a new resident of Asheville, North Carolina, since her recent retirement—worked tirelessly to advocate for this unique land community that lies between two estuaries. The purpose of our meeting was to discuss my independently published elementary reader, (What Is A Peninsula?, written to define the word peninsula and to give a brief introduction to the place we call home) and how it could become a part of the community’s 2018 Art & Paddle Peninsula Style event. That encounter with Foster “fostered” my becoming Author Latrece Johnson, Local Science by a Local Scientist, and prompted me to take another intentional step of advocacy in science teaching and learning as a Peninsula of Mobile, Alabama, board member and Mobile Medical Museum board adviser.

Effective science teaching during early childhood depends on the preschool teacher candidates’ attitudes toward science and the factors affecting the development of their attitudes (Timur 2012). In my case, I became an early education classroom teacher in 2000. I have taught students from birth to fourth grade in public school, private Christian schools, Head Start, and preschools. This school year, I have volunteered to lead a preK classroom in Alabama. In each of these settings, intentionally teaching science, discovery, and/or inquiry learning is required in lesson planning. Yet I can honestly say that I received minimal professional development opportunities in science teaching targeted to educators in the early education classroom.

Furthermore, in teaching science, I notice many of the same strategies to help students learn reading concepts are those that are needed in science teaching and learning. However, students need teachers who can competently and intentionally teach science concepts just the way they would when teaching concepts in other academic subjects, particularly at the early education and elementary levels since we teach and aid learning across all academic disciplines. Recognizing my shortcomings in this area, I began to seek training and workshop opportunities—locally, statewide, regionally, and nationally—to become someone who lends her voice to the need for this training.

In 2019, after two years of working in the community, presenting at local literacy events, sharing on Facebook, and joining the Southern Association of Marine Educators (SAME); my first-ever conference session proposal, Y.E.S. (Young Environmental Stewards)—Beginning With Environmental Literature!, was accepted by the National Marine Educators Association, but sadly canceled due to a travel conflict. My experiences with networking and learning how to engage professionals in their respective arenas led to requests from organizations for interviews.

During summer 2020, I navigated Eventbrite as a tool to inform me about general science workshops and events I could attend. Not only did my knowledge of and confidence in teaching concepts and subjects increase as a result of my participation, but also one organization, PublicLab, paid me a stipend and mailed kits that I could practice with and use in classroom teaching virtually or in person. This past summer, I registered for the Teaching Science During a Pandemic survey, exactly one year after assigning my class of third graders to keep a COVID-19 Journal for the fourth academic quarter of the 2019–2020 school year. With parental permission, I encouraged the students to submit their journals to the local history museum’s call for journals about the pandemic.

Before becoming Author Latrece...Local Scientist, I also volunteered to serve as a virtual judge for three years with the Army Educational Outreach Program’s eCYBERMISSION student competition, judging students’ science projects. This year, I volunteered as an Ambassador for the program. I encourage students in grades 6–9 in my community to participate in science research that helps their communities. Next, I assist teachers in helping students submit a project about solutions to the issues they discovered during their research to the program, giving youth an early opportunity to learn how to present science research on a national platform.

Last year, I took advantage of an opportunity to host an American Chemical Society (ACS) ChemClub at a school where I used to teach. ACS ChemClubs have a flexible format that allows you to run them in the way that works best for students; therefore, in my ChemClub, opportunities to share resources as part of the overall science teaching and learning at the school began with lower elementary students. Schoolwide, the younger students made slime and elephant toothpaste and discussed the science behind it, giving the older students an engaging science experience shared with younger students and helping them build a community in which science was viewed as an intergenerational opportunity, not just a subject. This year, I am volunteering to lead a preK program and am engaging the outreach aspects of ACS as a weekly “formal science” offering to the children.

As I mentioned earlier, I live in an estuarine environment, and I am learning that strong and diverse science teaching requires partnerships. With today’s STEM/STEAM push, there seem to be more opportunities for training experiences for formal and informal educators of science. I receive newsletters from the Sierra Club, participate in legislation opportunities in my state, and am a member of the state science teachers’ association. When local venues hold Science Cafes, I attend them. Additionally, I seek opportunities to be a citizen scientist at the local levels. An educated workforce in science is indeed critical, but the great thing about this is that such a workforce can be developed both outside of and inside of a classroom. Those of us who aspire to be a voice for science do well when we take advantage of the many opportunities and experiences that are available.

Timur, B. 2012. Determination of factors affecting preschool teacher candidates’ attitudes towards science teaching. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice 12(4): 2997–3009. Retrieved from

Latrece Johnson, MEd, MS, writes elementary science readers and short stories. She is a member of the Nonfiction Authors Association and lives on the Alabama Gulf Coast where she teaches early childhood and advocates thyroid awareness.

Note: This article is featured in the December 2021 issue of Next Gen Navigator, an e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators focusing on the themes highlighted in Call to Action for Science Education and on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction. Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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