Current trends in science teacher professional development

By Heather King - February 2014


van Driel, J. H., Meirink, J. A., van Veen, K., & Zwart, R. C. (2012). Current trends and missing links in studies on teacher professional development in science education: A review of design features and quality of research. Studies in Science Education, 48(2), 129–160. doi:10.1080/03057267.2012.738020

For this meta-analysis, the authors examined 44 recently published studies on science teacher professional development, using an organizing frame to check for elements of best practice. This frame offers informal science education providers a useful checklist for planning their own PD programmes. Best practice in PD, according to this frame, includes:

In discussing duration, the authors note that the optimum timespan will depend on the goals of the PD. In discussing these goals, they emphasize that both leaders and researchers must clearly understand what the effect variables really are. For example, does the programme aim to change teachers’ cognition or students’ behaviour?

The full paper comprises a relatively detailed analysis of various research reports. The following issues and recommendations may be of interest to informal science educators:

Most of the studies relied on teachers’ self-reports in interviews and questionnaires. Few looked at student assessment data or asked students to report on teacher quality.


Teacher PD is an important part of the educational offerings of many informal science institutions. Yet the results of and insights gained from these PD programmes are seldom shared more widely. The findings in this comparative analysis highlight several important issues for providers of informal science education to consider:

Because it is a review, this paper does not discuss the design, implementation, or outcomes of the individual PD programmes in detail. However, it does note that, although the intentions of many PD programmes are undoubtedly good, research to verify effects is limited. Here then is an opportunity for informal science education providers to contribute to the field of teacher PD by investigating their own programmes in ways that address some of the gaps highlighted above.

The paper also raises important points regarding teacher beliefs. Teachers tend to evaluate any innovation using practical rather than philosophical criteria. Teachers want to know whether:

Even for programmes designed to include the elements of good practice, if these criteria are not met, teachers will decline the proposal or, at best, else adopt it without necessarily including the core elements.