Promoting STEM Career Interest in the Classroom: An Exploratory Study Linking Teacher Professional Development with Changes in Teaching Practices
Our study included three phases: we began by looking at how Principal Investigators (PIs) described the critical aspects of their professional development (PD) projects, then surveyed more than 250 former ITEST teacher participants about their experiences, and finally concluded with a comparative study of ITEST and non-ITEST teachers to look at patterns in classroom technology implementation. We found that in addition to using commonly cited elements of effective PD, such as promoting collaboration among teachers, students, and project staff, PIs also described practices specific to ITEST projects, such as providing authentic STEM learning experiences, emphasizing out-of-school experiences for teachers and youth, and immersing teachers in research and other real-world STEM practices. Surveyed ITEST teachers described long-lasting positive impacts of their ITEST PD experiences; 87% said they were currently implementing at least some aspect of what they learned during their ITEST PD experience. In the comparative study of 59 ITEST and non-ITEST teachers, we found that teacher practices were best described by a Classroom Technology Implementation Framework that included: the type of technology used, the alignment with STEM inquiry practices, the use of student-centered pedagogies, and the incorporation of real-world relevance in teaching. We noted that intense technology implementers used STEM workplace technologies to engage their students in STEM inquiry practices; they tended to use more student-centered pedagogical practices; and they were more likely to make connections to the real world, either placing the learning in a local context, or connecting to the workplace. While ITEST and non-ITEST teachers were equally likely to be intense technology implementers—just under 20% of teachers in both groups—there were fewer minimal users of technology in the ITEST group. This indicates that while ITEST PD may not change all teachers into intense technology users, it may help them use technology to transform their teaching in ways that foster student use of STEM inquiry practices, promote student-centered learning, and apply science to real-world problems. Overall, our research provides a deeper understanding of how teachers implement STEM technologies in authentic ways in their classrooms and the effect of that implementation on broader teaching practices.