Leading scientists recognize the need to be proactive about educational reform. To address some of the challenges of teaching K-6 science, our outreach program, Science in Action! (SIA!), pairs undergraduates with K-6 classrooms to do hands-on, inquiry-based science. Our goal is to increase science literacy in our community through developing the science understanding and teaching skills of pre-service teachers, recruit more STEM majors into teaching careers, and promote enthusiasm and curiosity in the science K-6 classroom. We describe Science in Action! and describe the effect participation in the program has on undergraduates. In particular, we asked how participation effects pre-service elementary school teachers, who generally have a limited science background, and science majors, who are in the process of deciding a future career path. Pre-service teachers reported that their participation in SIA! deepened both their understanding of the scientific method and science content, as well as increased their confidence in being able to teach science. The number of science majors seriously considering a teaching career increased significantly after participating in Science in Action!

Introduction

Leading scientists recognize the need for scientists themselves to get involved in educational reform to improve critical thinking skills and STEM education in the United States (e.g., Alberts, 2007, 2008, 2009; Otero et al., 2006; Singer, 2009). The needed reform involves changing science curricula (at all levels) to promote active thinking rather than memorization (Alberts, 2007; NAS et al., 2007; Klahr et al., 2011), revising programs to better recruit (Singer, 2009; Tobias & Baffert, 2012) and train pre-service teachers (undergraduates studying to become teachers) (Morgan, 2008; Singer, 2009; Wenglinsky & Silverstein, 2006), developing professional programs to engage teaching professionals with authentic science experiences and teaching strategies (Silverstein et al., 2009; Wenglinsky & Silverstein, 2006), and promoting teacher education to a higher national priority (Burris, 2012). Education reform is a complex issue with many interacting parts (teachers, elected officials, public and private sectors, scientists, education programs), and change will be challenging even if all the parts cooperate (Mervis, 2008, 2010). Although no one suggests that basic skills in literacy and math are not important, the goal of providing greater depth to students’ understanding in math and the sciences, and developing reasoning skills, is not being met (Pianta et al., 2007). Furthermore, the curricula for grades K-6 generally underestimate the abilities of children to engage in science and participate in scientific thinking (Klahr et al., 2011; Duschl et al., 2007). This translates to fewer young students getting exposed to, and consequently engaged with, science. As Massey (1989) argued over 25 years ago, our national priorities themselves need to be focused on improving STEM education with commitments by institutions of all types (e.g., universities, professional societies) and by a variety of individuals working together to improve science education.

We address some of the challenges in teaching effective K-6 science with an outreach program, Science in Action! (SIA!), in which K-6 students use science knowledge to test and solve problems. We aim to reform local science K-6 education on three fronts: by bringing engaging science experiments to local classrooms, by providing Gonzaga University undergraduate science majors and pre-service teachers with experience teaching guided-inquiry science, and by introducing current K-6 teachers to more guided-inquiry strategies to engage their students. Our outreach program is a first step to meet the challenge of Dolan and Tanner (2005) to transform outreach programs to focus on and build relationships within the educational community of universities, colleges, and K-12 programs.

Among the complex factors influencing science education in elementary schools, two key components affecting students’ early science experiences are the science skills and the attitudes that new elementary school teachers bring to the classroom. Many pre-service elementary school teachers not only have negative attitudes about science (Morgan, 2008), but also feel that they have not received adequate training in the sciences and, thus, often lack confidence in their science teaching ability (Morgan, 2008; Murphy et al., 2007). This lack of confidence and preparation can result in teachers spending less classroom time on science and avoiding in-depth science experiences that involve questioning and discussion, in favor of simpler activities and prescriptive texts (Harlen, 1997; Harlen & Holroyd, 1997).

Teaching science effectively requires both pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge. Many reforms aim to work with pre-service teachers to improve their understanding of science content so they can teach science more effectively, as content knowledge is correlated with teacher quality (Paige, 2002). However, Morgan (2008) studied attitudes of pre-service teachers from two universities and noted that even after their required science methods course for teacher training, less than 20 percent thought they were well-prepared to teach science. Furthermore, many students left the class with the same misconceptions about science concepts with which they started the class (Morgan, 2008). These trends are troubling. Students do better in science when their teachers have a strong science background (Monk, 1994; Silverstein et al., 2009), and our traditional pre-service teaching programs are not preparing this sort of science teacher.

Addressing this situation demands a renewed focus on strengthening the science background and experience of pre-service teachers. The education literature for years has called for an increased role of practitioners in teacher preparation programs (Hammerness et al., 2005). Classroom experience for pre-service teachers is also valuable. Pre-service teachers that do hands-on guided science investigations in an elementary school as part of their training develop a positive attitude about science as well as a better understanding of how to teach science (Moseley et al., 2004). Furthermore, new pre-service teacher courses are being specifically designed to enhance understanding of science content, the nature of science as inquiry, and how to assess their own students’ thinking and learning about science (Forbes et al., 2015; Haefner et al., 2006; Sabel et al., 2015). Measures that directly assess pre-service teachers’ confidence and understanding of science are key to understanding and charting the progress of pre-service teacher education (Hudson et al., 2012).

Another strategy to improve science education is to increase the number of undergraduate science majors who pursue careers in K-12 teaching (Monk, 1994; Silverstein et al., 2009; Wenglinsky & Silverstein, 2006). These science majors are more likely to have both the content knowledge as well as the enthusiasm for science that is so valuable in teachers. Thus, science outreach programs such as SIA!, which provide teaching experience to science majors, could be an effective strategy to increase the pool of highly trained and enthusiastic science teachers.

Science in Action! addresses the above challenges. The program sends teams of two or three undergraduates, including both science majors and pre-service teachers, to local elementary school classrooms for eight visits each semester to do hands-on, inquiry-based science activities (the same team visits the same classroom for these eight visits).

We focus here on describing SIA! and its effect on undergraduate participants. In particular, we asked how SIA! participation impacts both pre-service elementary school teachers, who generally have a limited science background, and science majors, who are in the process of deciding on a future career path. We also describe how the K-6 teachers and our undergraduates rated their SIA! experience.

Materials and Methods

Program Description

Science in Action! has the following goals: (1) give pre-service teachers direct experience with hands-on science experiments to facilitate their being more enthusiastic, confident, and competent doing science with their future students; (2) encourage science majors to consider a career in K-12 teaching; (3) promote community involvement, particularly with respect to helping undergraduate students recognize the need to be engaged in helping the general public understand the relevance and importance of science. (More detailed information about program structure, student training, scheduling, and teacher and student assessment is available on request.)

Most undergraduate SIA! participants are either science majors or pre-service teachers. Teams of two to three undergraduates are sent to the same classroom once each week for eight weeks during each semester, bringing all needed supplies with them. Undergraduates participate in a weekly workshop to do the science activity and to review background science information prior to their classroom visit.

SIA! activities are designed in consultation with school district staff to reinforce the learning targets for each grade level. SIA! units do not replace the science curriculum taught by classroom teachers but enhance that curriculum by providing additional learning experiences that the classroom teacher might not have the time or resources for otherwise. Previous exposure to science activities is a critical factor in learning science (Duschl et al., 2007). Thus, outreach activities with high-need schools enhance student learning by giving more students more exposure to science at earlier ages. SIA! activities are available on request.

Another key component of SIA! is the promotion of inquiry-based teaching methods. Inquiry-based teaching uses hands-on activities in a guided way to allow students to create understanding using the scientific method—that is, using the process of discovery to understand systems, whether it be earthworm behavior or what makes objects float. A key advantage of inquiry-based learning is that it is accessible to students of all backgrounds (NSF, 1997). It uses familiar materials to test questions, and children use their skills of asking questions and observing to become familiar with science as a way of thinking. Along the way, students develop critical thinking skills and establish a base of solid scientific content.

What can be challenging for students and teachers alike is that this method of teaching and learning science often requires participants to step outside their comfort zone. To teach science effectively teachers must be flexible (NSF, 1997), allowing students to pursue some of their own questions (albeit guided), and teachers need to be prepared to handle and even encourage questions from students for which they don't know the answers. Using this approach, the student's curiosity is actively encouraged and viewed as a skill to be honed. Likewise, the scientific method is viewed as a tool to understand more about our natural world, rather than a series of memorized steps. Our program enables pre-service teachers and current teachers to understand this new way of teaching and learning through practice. A former undergraduate participant in SIA! remarks:

Through SIA! I went outside my comfort zone teaching elementary school students. There aren't many volunteer opportunities that allow you to practice leadership in a field you are interested in while educating others and having fun.

Science in Action! provides a unique format for connecting a university community with nearby elementary schools through a science-themed venue. Teachers report that the visiting SIA! volunteers are a highlight of the week for their students. SIA! volunteers also provide a tangible link to envisioning university life for the K-6 students, especially for students from families in which post-secondary education is not common.

Assessments

Undergraduate students participating in SIA! completed a survey at the beginning and end of the semester. The survey asked students to respond to questions about their satisfaction with SIA!, their confidence and attitudes related to teaching science, and their future career plans. The rating scales were in Likert format with statements followed by five response choices (Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure/Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree). The response choices were coded on a five-point scale; high scores represented positive evaluations, and low scores represented negative evaluations. Administering the survey pre- and post-SIA! participation allowed us to track changes in the students’ attitudes toward the program and teaching.

We divided responses to surveys into two groups: science majors who were not pre-service teachers and pre-service teachers who were not science majors. The few students who were science majors and pre-service teachers were excluded from the analyses. We report on four years of data, from fall 2011 through spring 2015. Although many students volunteer for multiple semesters, only survey results from their first semester of SIA! participation were included in this data set. Over the span of four years reported here, the SIA! program contributed 353 volunteer-semesters (involving 277 unique individuals) to local schools.

Teachers participating in SIA! completed a survey at the conclusion of the academic year. This survey also consisted of a series of fixed-item questions as well as several open-ended questions that allowed teachers to suggest improvements and changes to the program. The responses to the fixed-item questions were coded in the same way as the undergraduate surveys. The fixed-item questions on the teacher survey asked about the value of SIA! to the teaching of science in their classroom, the teacher's perception of the Gonzaga student team, and the elementary school students’ perception of the Gonzaga student team.

Results

Pre-service teachers were more enthusiastic about teaching science after participation in Science in Action! than they were before. Examination of the frequencies of the responses to the statement “I enjoy explaining science to others” shows an increase in the percentage of pre-service teachers reporting that they enjoy explaining science to others after participation in SIA! (Figure 1). At the beginning of their participation in SIA!, only 6.0 percent (of total N = 50 pre-test responses) reported that they strongly agreed with the statement, whereas over a quarter (29.2%, of total N = 48 post-test) strongly agreed with this statement after their participation in SIA! For pre-service teachers, the mean score response increased significantly after participation in SIA! ((t-test for dependent samples, t = 3.806, df = 47, p < 0.001) from 3.67 (pre-test) to 4.10 (post-test)). One pre-service teacher remarked:

Science in Action helped me as a teacher candidate because I now have an idea of how to encourage the learning of science, how to incorporate their prior knowledge and everyday life in the lessons, and how to get them excited to learn about the workings of our world.

Figure 1.
Reponses of pre-service teachers to the statement: I enjoy explaining science to others. There is a significant difference in mean score between the pre-test and post-test (t-test for dependent samples; t = 3.806, df = 47, p < 0.001).
Figure 1.
Reponses of pre-service teachers to the statement: I enjoy explaining science to others. There is a significant difference in mean score between the pre-test and post-test (t-test for dependent samples; t = 3.806, df = 47, p < 0.001).

As might be expected, the science majors were more likely than pre-service teachers to report that they enjoyed explaining science to others before participating in SIA! The difference in pre-test and post-test scores for science majors was not statistically significant (t = 0.569, df = 151, p > 0.05).

Participation in SIA! increased pre-service teachers’ self-reported understanding of the scientific method/process and science content. The two survey items—“This experience has deepened my own understanding of the scientific method” and “This experience has deepened my understanding of science content.” (Table 1)—appeared only in the post-test. Over two-thirds of pre-service teachers reported that the SIA! experience provided a valuable supplement to their limited training in science. These students reported that their participation in SIA! deepened both their understanding of the scientific method (66.7%, N = 48) and science content (70.8%). The science majors, as might be expected with a group of students with extensive scientific training, were somewhat less likely to agree or strongly agree that participation in SIA! deepened their understanding of the scientific method and science content (Table 1). The powerful combination of learning content along with teaching strategies is reflected in these comments from a biology graduate (now a high school science teacher):

Memorizing facts from a book or procedures of a lab give us knowledge of our subject, but when we are required to explain it to youth who have completely different schemas from our own, we are asked to dig much deeper into our understanding of the content and the nature of science in general. As a practicing classroom teacher, I would now describe that understanding as pedagogical content knowledge—a combination of both content knowledge and teaching knowledge that allows us to relate our subject to those with very different backgrounds than our own. I believe that working with students through Science in Action! enabled me to begin to grow this pedagogical content knowledge—both deepening my own understanding of the content but also allowing me to communicate this understanding to others.

Table 1.
Pre-service teachers report that their understanding of both science content and the scientific method deepened as a consequence of participation in Science in Action! Responses of science majors did not show an increase.
Post-test Survey ItemScience majors (N = 151)Pre-service teachers (N = 48)
 Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) 
This experience has deepened my own understanding of the scientific method. 48.3% 3.36 66.7% 3.65 
This experience has deepened my understanding of science content. 54.0% 3.39 70.8% 3.63 
Post-test Survey ItemScience majors (N = 151)Pre-service teachers (N = 48)
 Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) 
This experience has deepened my own understanding of the scientific method. 48.3% 3.36 66.7% 3.65 
This experience has deepened my understanding of science content. 54.0% 3.39 70.8% 3.63 

A large majority of both the science majors and pre-service teachers reported that participating in SIA! made them more confident about teaching science (Table 2). Surprisingly, both the science majors and the pre-service teachers began the project with a great deal of confidence in their ability to teach science. The pre-service teachers had an average pre-test score of 3.94, and their mean post-test score increased to 4.15 (t = 1.700, df = 46, p = 0.043). The science majors had an average pre-test score of 4.23 (N = 152), and their mean post-test score was 4.30 (t = 1.01, df = 151, p = 0.31). Paradoxically, despite their initial confidence in their ability to teach science, about four-fifths of both the science majors and the pre-service teachers (80.8%, N = 151, and 85.4%, N = 48, respectively) strongly agreed or agreed that “Participating in the Science in Action! program has made me more confident about teaching science.” One possible explanation for this seemingly contradictory finding might be that the students in both groups began their participation in the project with unrealistic assessments of their ability to teach science, discovered that it was more difficult to do than they expected, and then found the SIA! training workshops helpful as they struggled with unsuspected difficulties in teaching science lessons to young students. One pre-service teacher comments:

Science was my least favorite subject growing up because I always found it to be pretty boring. However, through SIA!, I was able to bring a passion and excitement to science to the students I worked with. The special thing about this program is that it pairs teacher candidates with science majors. This made me feel more confident because I was able to ask my partners clarifying questions about some of the science concepts, while I was able to help them with classroom management skills and engagement strategies.

Table 2.
Both science majors and pre-service teachers reported that participating in Science in Action! helped them become more confident teaching science.
Post-test Survey ItemScience majors N = 152Pre-service teachers N = 48
 Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) 
Participating in the Science in Action! program has made me more confident about teaching science. 85.4% 4.15 85.4% 4.14 
I feel confident that I can successfully teach science to others 90.1% 4.3 85.1% 4.15 
Post-test Survey ItemScience majors N = 152Pre-service teachers N = 48
 Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) Agree or Strongly Agree Mean (5 pt. scale) 
Participating in the Science in Action! program has made me more confident about teaching science. 85.4% 4.15 85.4% 4.14 
I feel confident that I can successfully teach science to others 90.1% 4.3 85.1% 4.15 

SIA! influenced science majors to more seriously consider a teaching career. At the beginning of the semester 10.4 percent of the 154 science majors agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I am seriously considering teaching as a career”; after participating in SIA!, 24.4 percent of the science majors agreed or strongly agreed with the statement (t = 2.364, df = 151, p = 0.01; Figure 2). A student who participated in SIA!, and has since received her MTE and has been teaching high school for seven years, writes:

As a freshman I thought that I wanted to be a doctor or a research scientist. As time progressed, I found that although I was interested in research, I was more interested in interacting with people. Thanks to SIA!, I discovered a passion I never knew existed. Teaching the activities to younger students through SIA! left me feeling energized and inspired. Honestly, if someone had asked me as a teenager what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would've never said a teacher. However, I have truly found a profession that I love.

Figure 2.
Reponses of science majors to the statement: I am seriously considering teaching as a career. Pre-test responses are gray, post-test responses, after participation in Science in Action!, are black. Basically, for each category of response, after participation in SIA!, more students indicated an interest in teaching science as a career (fewer disagreed with the statement; more agreed with the statement). There is a significant difference in mean score from pre-test to post-test (t-test for dependent samples; t = 2.364, df = 151, p = 0.01).
Figure 2.
Reponses of science majors to the statement: I am seriously considering teaching as a career. Pre-test responses are gray, post-test responses, after participation in Science in Action!, are black. Basically, for each category of response, after participation in SIA!, more students indicated an interest in teaching science as a career (fewer disagreed with the statement; more agreed with the statement). There is a significant difference in mean score from pre-test to post-test (t-test for dependent samples; t = 2.364, df = 151, p = 0.01).

General Perspective of Undergraduates and K-6 Teachers About SIA!

Our undergraduate volunteers and their partner elementary school classrooms had meaningful and positive experiences. Among science majors (N = 152), 94.8 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I would recommend this program to other students at Gonzaga University,” and 96.0 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Overall, this was a positive experience.” Among pre-service teachers (N = 48), 91.7 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the former statement, and 95.9 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the latter statement. Comments such as the following support these statistics:

Although I was also involved with other organizations on campus, SIA! was by far my favorite and the one I looked forward to the most.

Teachers also report that the effect SIA! had on their students was impressive (Table 3). One hundred percent strongly agreed or agreed that their students enjoyed the SIA! activities, 92.9 percent strongly agreed or agreed that their students learned a lot of science from the activities, and 97.6 percent strongly agreed or agreed that SIA! increased their student's interest in science. Thus, it is not surprising that participating teachers recommend SIA! to other teachers: 95.3 percent (N = 43) strongly agreed or agreed with the statement “I would recommend this program to other teachers.” Although our program was focused on the students, and not on the teachers’ understanding of science, teachers thought that participating in SIA! improved the quality of their science instruction (83.7% strongly agreed or agreed) and improved their own understanding of science (64.3% strongly agreed or agreed).

Table 3.
The survey of classroom teachers participating in Science in Action! shows that they thought their students enjoyed the program and that it enhanced their interest and learning in science. Furthermore, teachers thought that the program improved the quality of their instruction and improved their own understanding of science.
Post-test Survey Item for K-6 teachersNMean (5 pt. scale)Percent response: Strongly agree or Agree
Most of my students enjoyed the Science in Action! activities 42 4.86 100% 
My students learned a lot of science from the Science in Action! activities 42 4.52 92.9% 
The Science in Action! activities increased my students’ interest in science 42 4.69 97.6% 
The Science in Action! program improves the quality of my science instruction 43 4.23 83.7% 
Participating in this program has improved my understanding of science 42 3.74 64.3% 
Post-test Survey Item for K-6 teachersNMean (5 pt. scale)Percent response: Strongly agree or Agree
Most of my students enjoyed the Science in Action! activities 42 4.86 100% 
My students learned a lot of science from the Science in Action! activities 42 4.52 92.9% 
The Science in Action! activities increased my students’ interest in science 42 4.69 97.6% 
The Science in Action! program improves the quality of my science instruction 43 4.23 83.7% 
Participating in this program has improved my understanding of science 42 3.74 64.3% 

Discussion

Effect of SIA! on Pre-Service Teachers

The essential ingredients of effective education for pre-service science teachers include laboratory skills, hands-on learning, practical validity (seeing the exercises work in the classroom), and direct modeling of classroom practice (Palmer, 2001; Wenglinsky & Silverstein, 2006). Science in Action! involves students in these experiences. Pre-service teachers participate in hands-on learning both in the weekly SIA! workshop before their classroom visit and during the classroom visit itself. They also practice simple lab skills that they can use repeatedly in their future classroom (e.g., mixing solutions, moving planets around the sun, studying live insects). This direct approach to doing the activities in workshops, as well as during the classroom visit, teaches pre-service teachers about what science is—a way of asking and answering questions—in addition to teaching the hands-on approach. Bleicher and Lindgren (2005) specifically studied the effect of constructivist learning on pre-service teachers and found that this approach was key to increasing their self-efficacy. They argue that increasing science content in education classes isn't enough; constructivist learning is key to both learning the content effectively as well as being willing and able to teach it later (Bleicher & Lindgren, 2005). Exemplary elementary teachers echo this sentiment with recommendations that pre-service teachers actually do science as part of their training in addition to reflecting on the learning process itself (Morrison, 2013). Experiencing the satisfaction gained from answering a question through the inquiry process is so powerful that it can motivate the teacher to appreciate the inquiry approach and incorporate it into their future classroom (Morrison, 2013). Our constructivist approach with SIA! facilitates pre-service teachers facing and moving beyond any fear of science they may have. One pre-service teacher writes about SIA!,

This program was a great opportunity for me to practice teaching science in an elementary school setting. Science is such an exciting subject, and there are so many neat ways to incorporate learning science in schools, but they are often overlooked due to a lack of time. Science in Action! offered me an opportunity to see the simple ways that I could implement basic science practices into my elementary classroom one day. I worked in a kindergarten classroom. In this classroom, I learned that just getting kids to learn new words and think of new ideas is so important.

Science in Action! outreach activities provide essential hands-on training to complement the academic experiences of pre-service teachers.

The gain in confidence by pre-service teachers through participation in SIA! is similar to that reported in the literature. For example, Moseley et al. (2004) found that pre-service teachers who were paired with elementary school students on a hands-on guided science investigation developed a positive attitude about science and teaching science. Additionally, this direct interaction with elementary students facilitated reinforcing content knowledge for the pre-service teachers (Moseley et al., 2004). In another study, elementary teachers with outreach participants helping in their classroom (and with training by mentor teachers) showed greater self-confidence about teaching science and spent more class time on the subject because of the outreach program (Goebel et al., 2009). These teachers were also more accepting of the inquiry process than teachers who did not participate in the outreach program (Goebel et al., 2009). Understanding the nature of science, that is, the importance of asking questions, is key to enable teachers to effectively guide their students to reflect on their experimental results (Harlen, 1997). Furthermore, Holroyd and Harlen (1996) found a positive correlation between a teacher's level of confidence and their level of science understanding. Thus, increasing the pre-service teachers’ understanding of the process of science may improve the learning environment in their future classroom (Harlen, 1997; Paige, 2002). Studies would be valuable that track abilities and confidence in science in pre-service teachers with and without participation in science outreach.

Improving the science literacy of teachers is also a key to increase scientific literacy of students. The Spokane Public School system was recently redesigned to align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; http://www.nextgenscience.org/). This change has been challenging for teachers, as they try to incorporate new material into already busy schedules. Science in Action! supports these teachers during this transitional period by bringing in supplementary activities that align with the new standards. Furthermore, one of the three dimensions that the NGSS emphasizes is science and engineering practices. This dimension is described as

Science and Engineering Practices describe what scientists do to investigate the natural world and what engineers do to design and build systems. The practices better explain and extend what is meant by “inquiry” in science and the range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that it requires. Students engage in practices to build, deepen, and apply their knowledge of core ideas and crosscutting concepts.

This is exactly what SIA! does. Science in Action! is an effective strategy for pre-service teachers to work directly with the NGSS in a structured environment to build confidence. Furthermore, pre-service teachers finish our program with a tool kit of science activities with which they are now familiar, aligned with the NGSS, to use in their future classroom.

Effect of SIA! on the Recruitment of STEM Teachers

Getting more STEM-literate and passionate teachers into classrooms could transform STEM education, as students do better in science when their teacher has participated in a research-based professional development program (Silverstein et al., 2009; Weglinsky & Silverstein, 2006/2007), and having a teacher passionate about science is often cited as a key factor in determining career (Morgan, 2008). But attracting significant numbers of highly trained science students into teacher training programs is a challenge (Moin et al., 2005). Giving undergraduates direct teaching experience is a successful recruiting strategy for teaching careers (Otero et al., 2006). Thus, science outreach programs that provide teaching experience are an effective mechanism to increase the pool of highly trained and enthusiastic science teachers.

The undergraduate years are a formative period and participating in science education outreach at this time can significantly influence a student's career path (Moin et al., 2005). Specifically, the best time to recruit students into teaching careers is in their junior and senior years (Moin et al., 2005). Participating in SIA! helps undergraduates make informed decisions about whether teaching is a good fit with their skills. Because each SIA! team returns to the same classroom multiple times over the semester, undergraduates develop a relationship with the K-6 students and teacher. Furthermore, multiple visits give undergraduates a more realistic glimpse of what a career as a teacher entails. Thus, SIA! promotes science literacy in future classrooms by increasing the number of science majors interested in teaching (Figure 2). Anecdotal evidence from Gonzaga students supports these results (see 3rd quote on p. 714 in Results). For example, a biology major, unsure of her career path, signed up for the first class in the pre-service teacher program to explore her career options. She writes:

I had a great experience with the whole SIA! program. It was really interesting to see the combination of my knowledge of what I had already learned or was learning in my science classes, with the classroom management and etiquette that came from the education major in the group. We visited a 3rd grade class every week and they were so excited to see the experiments we were going to teach them, and I was just excited to get them interested in science at all. At the beginning, I was terrified to be responsible for actually teaching a class of 18, I didn't want to give them wrong information and I had no idea how to manage a classroom, but I learned a lot from the education major in our group and also the weekly experiments were very well organized. I felt way more confident by the end, and I reapplied to be in it this semester. As far as influencing my interest in teaching, I am completely unsure if that is a direction I want to go, I'm really just feeling it out. But I am excited to be taking EDTE 101 while being in SIA! at the same time to see if I am interested in teaching.

Another biology major (who is now a high school science teacher) reflects:

After graduating from Gonzaga, I worked as an after-school program coordinator through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps—something that I may have never done had I not been given the opportunity to work with youth during my years at Gonzaga through the Science in Action! program.

Students who don't go into teaching can benefit from their experience in SIA! as well. Post-survey results indicated that participation in SIA! was a positive experience for the large majority of participants, and we expect many of these students to continue science outreach in their future careers as scientists. Several students from our program have started their own outreach programs in graduate school.

Effect of SIA! on the Number of Future STEM Majors

Early exposure and encouragement in science is key to graduating more college students in STEM majors. Young students who have expectations of a career in science are more likely to graduate with a science degree from college (Tai et al., 2006). Furthermore, the excitement generated for science through participation in outreach programs is considered key to reverse the trend of a declining interest in science as children age (Murphy & Beggs, 2003). This suggests that programs focusing on cultivating the curiosity and interest of elementary students through hands-on science may be a very effective strategy to increase the number of STEM majors later on (Tai et al., 2006). Outreach programs are important for cultivating and maintaining this interest in science at an early age and providing college-age role models for these young students. A biology major who is also a pre-service teacher notices this enthusiasm for science:

I did participate in Science in Action! last semester and it was incredible. It didn't necessarily influence my decision to go into teaching as I have been interested in that profession for some time now, however it did influence my decision to teach at the elementary school level. I have always loved working with younger kiddos and this program definitely allowed me to mix my passions of science and being a role model for the next generation. This program also gave me some incredible ideas on how to get elementary students excited about science at a young age which I think is incredibly important! Each week when I walked into the classroom I could feel the excitement of the students and hear them make comments such as “This is so cool” or even “I want to be a scientist” which was really rewarding to me as a future teacher.

Long-term longitudinal studies are needed to measure the effect of K-6 outreach on the choice of major in college.

Transferability of SIA! as a Model for Outreach Programs

Science in Action! can be operated at different scales depending on the amount of logistical support and number of participants. For example, although there are substantial time and costs involved with running an outreach program, one particular strength of SIA! is that most of the key participants are already present in a university community. The majority of the “on the ground” classroom instructional time is put in by undergraduates rather than science faculty. Drawing from the large pool of undergraduates who want volunteer, leadership, service, and teaching experience allows staff overhead costs to remain relatively low. Furthermore, using undergraduates as the primary classroom partners allows for an expanded reach of the outreach program; a larger number of local classrooms can participate in SIA! than would be possible if dependent on faculty or graduate students.

This expanded reach is important because of the high number of K-6 teachers requesting to participate in science outreach. Any university personnel associated with science outreach can attest to the high demand by local teachers to bring their students to the university for a field trip. Such opportunities to form connections on campus are valuable, but outreach activities that take place only on campus generally result in reaching maximum capacity quickly due to space and time constraints. Having an outreach program that takes place in the elementary school classroom bypasses this space constraint and serves a greater number of local students, with multiple visits per classroom, as a result. Universities seeking to expand their outreach programs should find that conducting outreach activities off campus, and using undergraduates as activity facilitators, can help scale-up a program while keeping overhead costs relatively low.

The SIA! model can also be operated at a much smaller scale. One could start with a single K-6 classroom, which would require only two or three undergraduates. Another way to operate the program at a simpler scale is to limit the participating grade levels. Science in Action! currently visits seven different grade levels each week, with each doing a different activity designed to reinforce and enrich the district curriculum at that grade level. Teachers and principals frequently cite this alignment with the required curriculum as a key motivator for participating in the program. However, a department seeking to implement a smaller version of SIA! could easily limit the grades visited to just one or two, which would dramatically reduce the associated planning time and supply costs. Many communities have service organizations (e.g., Rotary Club) that fund small-scale outreach programs.

As Dolan and Tanner (2005) argue, the next step to truly improve STEM education is to transition from an outreach program to a more genuine partnership. Although developing outreach programs can be challenging, they are an effective and important strategy to increase enthusiasm and knowledge of science for pre-service teachers, to increase the recruitment of college STEM majors to teaching careers, and to promote science literacy in local K-12 classrooms. By necessity, the exact structure of an outreach program will vary depending on the unique community in which it is implemented. Many outreach models are available to help structure programs that develop relationships using local resources and take advantage of learning from other's experience (e.g., Moreno, 2005). Science in Action! is a model program that strengthens community partnerships, can be operated on multiple scales, and can benefit many stakeholders in a symbiotic relationship.

This work is supported in part from a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Undergraduate Science Education Program, Rotary Club 21, George Luger, and Robert and Claire McDonald. We thank the reviewers, K. Nitta, J. Cox, and J. Traynor, for feedback.

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