Top Concerns of Science Teachers

Issues and Concerns for Science Teachers

Individual academic disciplines have concerns specific to them and their courses, and science is no exception. In science, each state has decided whether or not to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (2013). The NGSS were developed by the National Academies, Achieve, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

These new standards are "internationally benchmarked, rigorous, research-based and aligned with expectations for college and careers." For teachers in states that have adopted the new NGSS, implementing the three dimensions (core ideas, science, and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts) are a top concern at every grade level.

But science teachers also share some of the same issues and concerns as their other teacher peers. This list looks at some of the other concerns for science teachers beyond curriculum design. Hopefully, providing a list such as this can help open up discussions with fellow teachers who can then work towards effective solutions to these issues.

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Girl (12-14) wearing safety goggles, doing chemistry experiment
Nicholas Prior/Getty Images

Many science labs, especially in chemistry courses, require students to work with potentially dangerous chemicals. While science labs are equipped with safety features like ventilation hoods and showers, there is still a concern that students will not follow directions and harm themselves or others. Therefore, science teachers must always be aware of everything that is happening in their rooms during labs. This can be difficult, especially when students have questions requiring the teacher's attention.

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Controversial issues

Many topics covered in science courses can be considered controversial. Therefore, it is important that the teacher has a plan and knows what the school district policy is concerning the way they teach topics such as evolution, cloning, reproduction, and more. Similar issues are raised by other academic departments. There may be book censorship in English classes and political controversies in social studies classes. Districts should see that teachers in every subject be given the training to deal with controversial issues.

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Time requirements and limitations

Labs and experiments often require science teachers to spend a lot of time in preparation and set up. Therefore, science teachers will need to organize their time differently to meet the responsibility of planning, implementing, and grading assessments. Modifying labs to meet the needs of all learners may also be time-consuming.

Many labs cannot be completed in less than 50 minutes. Therefore, science teachers are often faced with the challenge of dividing the stages of an experiment over the course of a couple of days. This can be difficult when dealing with chemical reactions, so a lot of planning and forethought needs to go into these lessons.

Some science teachers have adopted a flipped classroom approach by having students watch a video of a lab as homework before they come to class. The idea of the flipped classroom was initiated by two chemistry teachers to address the concerns of time spent in set up. Previewing the lab would help students move through the experiment more quickly since they would know what to expect.

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Budget limitations

Some science lab equipment costs a lot of money. Obviously, even in years without budget constraints, budget concerns may limit teachers from doing certain labs. Videos of labs may be used as a replacement, however, the opportunity for hands-on learning would be lost.

Many school labs across the country are aging and many do not have new and updated equipment called for during certain labs and experiments. Further, some rooms are set up in such a way that it is actually difficult for all students to effectively participate in labs.

Other academic subjects do not need the specialized equipment necessary for dedicated science labs.  While these subjects (English, math, social studies) are interchangeable in classroom use, science has specific requirements, and keeping science labs up to date should be a priority.

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Background knowledge

Certain science courses require students to have prerequisite math skills. For example, chemistry and physics both require strong math and particularly algebra skills. When students are placed in their class without these prerequisites, science teachers find themselves teaching not only their topic but also the prerequisite math required for it.

Literacy is also an issue. Students who read below grade level may have difficulty with science textbooks because of their density, structure, and specialized vocabulary. Students may lack the background knowledge to understand many of the concepts in science. Science teachers need to try different literacy strategies such as chunking, annotation, sticky notes, and vocabulary word walls.

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Collaboration vs. Individual grades

Many laboratory assignments require students to collaborate. Therefore, science teachers are faced with the issue of how to assign individual grades for these assignments. This can sometimes be very difficult. It is important for the teacher to be as fair as possible so implementing a form of individual and group evaluations is an important tool in giving out fair grades to students.

There are strategies for grading a group collaboration and even allow student feedback on the distribution of points. For example, a lab grade of 40 points could first be multiplied by the number of students in the group (three students would be 120 points). Then the lab is assigned a letter grade. That letter grade would be converted into points which can be distributed evenly by the teacher or the members of the group then determine what they believe is a fair distribution of points.

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Missed lab work

Students will be absent. It is often very difficult for science teachers to provide students with alternative assignments for lab days. Many labs cannot be repeated after school and students are instead given readings and questions or research for assignments. However, this is another layer of lesson planning that can not only be time-consuming for the teacher but provide the student with much less of a learning experience. The flipped classroom model (mentioned above) can help students who have missed labs.