The best graduate degree option for science teachers is a master’s degree in science education. This program provides the breadth of science knowledge needed to succeed at teaching different disciplines of science along with the depth of study in teaching and learning that will make you an effective educator. Within this area of science education degrees, you might find some distinct programs of study, including STEM education degree programs, programs that emphasize science over education and vice versa, programs tailored toward teachers of elementary vs. high school grade levels and programs that are and are not intended to result in an initial teaching certification.
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain
Science vs. STEM Education Programs
When speaking of science education programs, the emphasis is usually on the natural and physical sciences, like biology and physics. However, these sciences are part of the larger categorization of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Some universities choose to offer a STEM education program in addition to or instead of a science-only program in education. A STEM education program typically includes some coursework in teaching STEM subjects as a whole as well as content courses in different fields within STEM.
Some STEM education programs allow students to choose their content courses based on their areas of specialized interest within the STEM subjects,
Education vs. Science Program Focus
Although your knowledge of teaching is just as important as your knowledge of science, different science education degrees prioritize these two disciplines differently. One feature that may indicate a distinction is whether the program is a Master of Education (M.Ed.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree. Generally, M.Ed. programs in science education emphasize the education aspects – studies in the theory of teaching and learning and effective teaching strategies – more heavily than the science coursework. M.S. programs in science education still cover teaching and learning coursework, but they place more stress on studying science content than M.Ed. programs do.
Although many universities offer either an M.Ed. or an M.S. degree in science education, some schools have both options available.
Elementary and Secondary School Science Education Programs
Depending on your grade level, the job duties of a science teacher can be as different as teaching students the name of the planets in our solar system and going over complex college-level concepts and calculations in a high school Advanced Placement (AP) course. Clearly, you need different knowledge bases and teaching strategies to be effective when teaching science to elementary school students compared to high school students.
It makes sense, then, that schools offering a master’s degree program in science education may allow students to choose to concentrate on elementary or secondary grade levels. Both programs of study include core classes in methods used to educate children and adolescents in science. At some schools, these courses are the same for both grade level concentrations, while others specialize these courses.
Coursework in science content areas rounds out the master’s degree program. At the elementary concentration level, these topics are usually varied and intended specifically for elementary school teachers, with an emphasis on how to teach the content. Secondary school science teachers, who must command a greater amount of science content knowledge in the disciplines they teach, may take more or more extensive studies in graduate-level science courses.
Science education occurs in other settings besides schools. If your ambition is to educate people about science in non-classroom roles at aquariums and zoos, museums and other settings, a specialized informal science education program may be the most relevant option.
Choosing Between Licensure and Non-Licensure Programs
Master’s degree programs in science education come in licensure and non-licensure formats. A licensure science education program is designed to match the state’s teaching certification requirements, allowing first-time teachers to acquire a non-temporary teaching license. You should choose a licensure program if you have not previously worked as a licensed, fully credentialed teacher in your state. Often, graduate students enrolled in a licensure program are currently teaching their first classes under a temporary, provisional or emergency teaching certification.
Established teachers don’t need to go through the licensure process, and the courses that prepare them for it, all over again. Instead, they should look for non-licensure programs with a curriculum that better fits their needs and experience. Instead of rehashing the basics of classroom management, lesson organization and learning assessments, you can develop advanced knowledge and skills that expand your abilities as a classroom teacher in a program not designed for attaining initial licensure.