Although a master’s degree in your favorite scientific discipline may be appealing to aspiring science teachers, choosing a program in science education is likely a better option. After all, the skills needed for these roles are fundamentally different. While a scientist performs research to learn what isn’t already known, teachers as the elementary through secondary school levels educate students on what is known. Choosing to study science education for your master’s degree program may be the biggest choice you have to make at this level of your education, but it might not be the only decision you are facing. Often, students within a science education program specialize in either elementary or secondary education preparation. Your choice determines the coursework you will take now and the grade levels you will be qualified to work with in the future.
Elementary Science Education Programs
Aspiring elementary school science teachers must be prepared to introduce their pupils to the most basic concepts of the science subjects and scientific thinking. Although these concepts may seem easy in comparison to the complex theories that come later in a student’s education, this is a huge responsibility. Without a strong foundation in scientific thinking and principles, students may struggle to understand the more complicated work ahead. Teachers who make science seem too difficult, dry or exclusive at these early grade levels may unintentionally discourage students from pursuing science and the other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects in the future. The best science teachers, the ones who make an effort to keep science lessons engaging and inclusive, encourage further studies in the field.
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To become successful at giving young students their first lessons in science, you need to study not only the principles of science and education but also the specialized theories and methods of teaching a science-based curriculum. Elementary science education programs might include core coursework in the methods of teaching life science, earth science, physical science and engineering and technology.
Not all elementary science education programs focus on the exact same grade levels. Although most such programs include at least the grade levels from kindergarten through fifth grade, some start at preschool, and others go up to sixth, seventh or even eighth grade.
Programs for High School Science Teachers
High school science teachers build on the knowledge their elementary school counterparts have imparted to students, often helping their pupils become ready for studies at the college level. As a high school science teacher, you need a higher level of science content knowledge. Secondary science education programs are more likely to incorporate studies in graduate-level science, rather than strictly science education, courses. However, your teaching skills are still paramount, so you must still take core science education classes like science teaching and learning, science curriculum models and current issues in science education.
Some science education programs consider middle school to be part of the elementary age group, while others loop it in with the high school age group. Middle grades concentrations exist within some schools’ science education programs but are harder to find.
General Science Education Programs for All Grade Levels
Although some schools differentiate between elementary and secondary school grade levels in their master of science education degrees, not all schools do. In a science education program without separate concentrations for elementary and high school teaching, you should expect to cover a wide range of levels of science education content and teaching strategies. Classes in curriculum development in science and advanced methods in science instruction are common components of core education coursework. Instead of delving deeper into the methods of teaching and learning that are effective for just one grade level group, these programs focus more on developing a breadth of knowledge pertaining to science education strategies across the grade levels.
Like other science education programs, the science courses required for the degree aren’t general science classes but instead educator-focused courses in the different disciplines of science. In these programs, you might study topics like chemistry, earth sciences, environmental biology, evolutionary biology and the physics of mechanics and optics.
If your general science education program requires or allows for some type of fieldwork or independent study project, you may have the opportunity to focus your education somewhat by choosing to work with or study the grade levels of your choice.