Scientists know that sometimes their best insights begin with a simple observation. That’s certainly true at Pennsylvania State University, where the biology faculty began noticing that a growing number of their students were asking about obtaining their high school teaching certification. Around the same time, faculty at Penn State’s College of Education saw an increase in students inquiring about teaching opportunities—such as being a peer mentor or a teaching assistant—in the biology department. “The science faculty and the education faculty sat down and started talking over lunch,” says Richard Cyr, professor of biology and assistant head for undergraduate affairs. “How could we put our two programs together in a way that would benefit students and faculty alike?”
Those brainstorming sessions led to a proposal to develop a combined degree program called Go Teach: Penn State. The program is designed to improve the quality of tomorrow’s K–12 science teachers by recruiting prospective teachers from the ranks of undergraduate science students.
Students in the new five-year Go Teach program—which is being developed with a new grant from HHMI—earn a bachelor’s of science in biology and a master’s of education, and become credentialed to teach science at the high school level in Pennsylvania. “We realized we could fit some of these education courses into the curriculum under the general education requirements for the biology major,” Cyr says. Normally, completing both degrees, one after another, would take six years.
The new program will ground students in the most up-to-date techniques for teaching science, including the latest thinking on science curriculum development at the secondary school level. “We hope that the students that we send out are really at the cutting edge of science pedagogy. They know their stuff, and they’re teaching it in the best way possible, using the most modern tools,” Cyr says.
With a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s of education, these newly minted teachers should have ample job opportunities. And the students in their classrooms will benefit from teachers who have a deep knowledge of their subject.