How Societies are Engaging With and Supporting Science Educators
Besides researchers themselves, two important stakeholders in academia are research societies and educators. The contribution of educators to research is often overlooked; nevertheless, they play a vital role in driving forward academia by
- disseminating information about research advances,
- helping the general public to understand the value of research and to develop scientific literacy,
- and most importantly, building a strong and sustained pipeline of STEM talent.
Hence, for research societies, engaging with and supporting science educators are vital steps for promoting their own fields and achieving their missions.
Science educators and their needs
Perhaps the most obvious example of a science educator is a university lecturer or science teacher at a junior high or high school. However, these specialized teachers are far from the only science educators. In many countries, science education makes up the compulsory curricula of kindergartens, elementary or primary schools, and schools for students with special needs. Science educators range from people with doctorates in a scientific field to people with average knowledge. In any case, most science educators are not highly specialized, and will often look for support from published resources or various media to supplement their knowledge or become more effective and inspiring educators. Societies have the know-how and expertise to help these educators meet their goals. And by supporting science education and educators, societies benefit from larger, more diverse, and more passionate membership pools in the future as well as improved public image and public recognition of their work.
How societies can support educators
- Training programs and online seminars
Ongoing professional development is part of every teacher’s life, and most institutions require educators to take refresher courses or policy training sessions on a semi-regular basis. Many societies have stepped in to offer such courses. Many of these courses are aimed at grade school teachers such as the PlantingScience program, which is supported by numerous societies and corporate sponsors. There are also courses aimed at university-level educators, such as the Teach The Teacher course by ESAIC. E-learning has made it easier than ever to set up such courses and reach an international audience with minimal costs.
- Content resources
Anybody with classroom experience can tell you that finding quality resources can be a real struggle. For teachers, developing resources about something outside of your specialty is often far too costly and time-consuming while juggling responsibilities both inside and outside the classroom.
Many societies have stepped up and offered their own resources. There are so many great resources now that I can hardly do them justice in this post. However, a few noteworthy examples include the fantastic array offered by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the ComPADRE Library, which was made in collaboration with societies like the American Physical Society.
- Educational events
As well as offering resources to help educators, societies can also work with educators to directly help students. Offering educational events such as science days can give kids fun, engaging activities to experience science for themselves in a new, exciting venue. Personally, I fondly remember attending a science day sponsored by a local college and GlaxoSmithKline when I was twelve. I really appreciated the chance to carry out “real” experiments in a big laboratory.
There have been many examples of successful events, but I would like to highlight the American Chemical Society’s National Chemistry Week (NCW) as a particularly great example. NCW events have been hosted across the United States, reaching millions of people. The NCW website offers extensive resources for educators to host their own events, and there have even been NCW events coordinated in Asia, Africa, and South America.
- Awards and recognition
Many teachers report feeling undervalued in society. Indeed, educators are scarcely mentioned in discussions of research policy, despite their fundamental role in training future generations of researchers. Highlighting the achievements of outstanding teachers is a great way of promoting your field and showing educators new ways to engage their students. The ExCEEd Teaching Award by the American Society of Civil Engineers or the numerous teaching awards offered by the American Chemical Society are great examples of how societies can recognize teachers in specific fields and hold them up as examples for other teachers to follow.
Tips for society leaders to support educators
- Collaborate to understand the needs of teachers and students
Teachers have varying needs and constraints, depending on their geographical location, funding, education, and social challenges. A great place to begin when increasing engagement with educators is to approach teachers’ associations for collaboration. There are thousands of associations for teachers, ranging from the National Education Association of the USA, which has over three million members, to smaller region- or subject-specific associations. Such associations can not only offer advice and let you know their underserved areas, but they can also serve as a vital go-between to get in touch with thousands of teachers.
- Use multimedia
Much has been said about using multimedia in classrooms or other education settings. Even Tiktok has gained attention for its ability to engage with young people and disseminate information on science.
The Royal Institution is a particularly great example of a society that has used multimedia effectively. Their annual Christmas Lectures are a national institution in the UK, and they maintain a very successful YouTube channel with engaging videos that boasts over a million subscribers.
However, there is one caveat to a multimedia-heavy approach—not all schools have the funding and know-how to implement digital projectors, interactive worksheets, and e-learning. To include these schools, it is worthwhile to include low-tech resources, such as printable activities or experiment ideas using household items.
- Create age-appropriate materials and activities
As mentioned before, even kindergarten teachers usually have some science education responsibilities. One of my earliest memories is studying the life cycle of frogs in nursery school, and this was one event that started my lifelong interest in biology.
When offering resources for science education, it makes sense to stratify your offerings by age groups. Scibermonkey by the Royal Society of Biology is a good example of an easy-to-use interface that allows educators to quickly access age-appropriate materials.
- Consider the ESL classroom
English is the lingua franca of research worldwide. Producing your materials in English, of course, makes the most sense. It’s also a fact that most people are not native English speakers. The proportion of English speakers who are non-native is continuously growing. English education is a major goal of many public education systems, as the ability to use English is increasingly vital for economic development, particularly in the Global South.
Furthermore, English classes are increasingly being used as a medium for teaching, and the rise of content and language integrated learning (CLIL) has seen all subjects, including science, being integrated into ESL or EFL curricula. Societies can help their materials reach the largest audiences by offering their materials in simple, accessible English. Adding glossaries for terminology or offering translations can greatly help your resources become relevant to as many people as possible.
Supporting educators is a “win-win” for academic societies, educators, students, and research as a whole. By acting as stewards for education, societies can inspire future generations of researchers and more effectively realize their mission of promoting research for a better future.