Determining the impact on the professional learning of graduates of a science and pedagogical content knowledge-based graduate degree program
This study examined the professional learning of participants in a science and pedagogical content knowledge-based graduate degree program, specifically the Master of Science in Science Education (MSSE) at Montana State University. The program's blended learning model includes distance learning coursework and laboratory, field and seminar experiences. Three-quarters of the faculty are scientists. The study sought to identify program components that contribute to a graduate course of study that is coherent, has academic rigor, and contributes to educator's professional growth and learning. The study examined the program from three perspectives: recommendations for teachers' professional learning through professional development, components of a quality graduate program, and a framework for distance learning. No large-scale studies on comprehensive models of teacher professional learning leading to change in practice have been conducted in the United States. The literature on teachers' professional learning is small. Beginning with a comprehensive review of the literature, this study sought to identify components of professional learning through professional development for teachers. The MSSE professional learning survey was designed for students and faculty, and 349 students and 24 faculty responded. The student survey explored how course experiences fostered professional learning. Open-ended responses on the student survey provided insight regarding specific program experiences influencing key categories of professional learning. A parallel faculty survey was designed to elicit faculty perspectives on the extent to which their courses fostered science content knowledge and other aspects of professional learning. Case study data and portfolios from MSSE students were used to provide deeper insights into the influential aspects of the program. The study provided evidence of significant professional learning among science teacher participants. This growth occurred in key categories defined in the literature including inquiry, building social capital, critical and responsive learning, valuing learning and building content knowledge. In general, findings from students and faculty were well aligned. Based on respondents' recommendations, the author recommended a stronger emphasis on pedagogical content knowledge, analysis of student work, and strategies for differentiating instruction for diverse learners. Conclusions include a framework and roadmap elements to inform those working to improve graduate education or professional development for science teachers.