An analysis of teachers' perceptions of informal science professional development

Martha L Welch, Florida International University


Science professional development, which is fundamental to science education improvement, has been described as being weak and fragmentary. The purpose of this study was to investigate teachers' perceptions of informal science professional development to gain an in-depth understanding of the essence of the phenomenon and related science-teaching dispositions. Based on the frameworks of phenomenology, constructivism, and adult learning theory, the focus was on understanding how the phenomenon was experienced within the context of teachers' everyday world. Data were collected from eight middle-school teachers purposefully selected because they had participated in informal programs during Project TRIPS (Teaching Revitalized Through Informal Programs in Science), a collaboration between the Miami-Dade school district, government agencies (including NASA), and non-profit organizations (including Audubon of Florida). In addition, the teachers experienced hands-on labs offered through universities (including the University of Arizona), field sites, and other agencies. The study employed Seidman's (1991) three-interview series to collect the data. Several methods were used to enhance the credibility of the research, including using triangulation of the data. The interviews were transcribed, color-coded and organized into six themes that emerged from the data. The themes included: (a) internalized content knowledge, (b) correlated hands-on activities, (c) enhanced science-teaching disposition, (d) networking/camaraderie, (e) change of context, and (f) acknowledgment as professionals. The teachers identified supportive elements and constraints related to each theme. The results indicated that informal programs offering experiential learning opportunities strengthened understanding of content knowledge. Teachers implemented hands-on activities that were explicitly correlated to their curriculum. Programs that were conducted in a relaxed context enhanced teachers' science-teaching dispositions. However, a lack of financial and administrative support, perceived safety risks, insufficient reflection time, and unclear itineraries impeded program implementation. The results illustrated how informal educators can use this cohesive model as they develop programs that address the supports and constraints to teachers' science instruction needs. This, in turn, can aid teachers as they strive to provide effective science instruction to students; notions embedded in reforms. Ultimately, this can affect how learners develop the ability to make informed science decisions that impact the quality of life on a global scale.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Welch, Martha L, "An analysis of teachers' perceptions of informal science professional development" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3130316.