The Influence of Professional Development on Informal Science Educators' Engagement of Preschool-age Audiences in Science Practices

Open Access
Author:
Crowl, Michele Marie
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
December 18, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Julia Diane Plummer, Dissertation Advisor
  • Carla Zembal Saul, Committee Chair
  • Heather A Zimmerman, Committee Member
  • Christopher Palma, Special Member
Keywords:
  • informal science educators
  • professional development
  • preschool-age audiences
Abstract:
There is little research on professional development for informal science educators (ISEs). One particular area that ISEs need support in is how to engage preschool-age audiences in science practices. This study is part of a NSF-funded project, My Sky Tonight (MST), which looked at how to support ISEs in facilitating astronomy-themed activities with preschool-age audiences. This dissertation focuses on the influence of a six-week, online professional development workshop designed for ISEs working with preschool-age audiences. I used three primary sources of data: pre/post interviews and a video analysis task from data of 16 participants, as well as observations of implementation from a subset of seven participants who agreed to participate further. I developed and used the Phenomena-driven Practices of Science (PEPS) Framework as an analysis tool for identifying engagement in science practices. Findings from this study show that ISEs identified affective goals and rarely goals that reflect science practice engagement for their preschool-age audiences. They maintained these initial goals after the professional development workshop. ISEs describe the ways in which they engage children in science using primarily science practice-related words, but these descriptions did not show full use of science practices according to the PEPS framework. When observed implementing science activities with their preschool audiences, the ISEs demonstrated a variety of forms of science engagement, but only a few used science practices in ways consistent with the PEPS framework. Engagement in the professional development workshop did not result in a transition in the ways ISEs talk about and implement science with young children. While the write-ups for MST activities were not written in a way that supported engagement in science practices, a subset of MST activities were designed with it in mind. The professional development workshop included little time focusing on how ISEs could engage children in science practices, specific to each activity. These two factors may have played a major role in why participants showed limited improvement in their use of science practices in their goals and implementation.