Teacher Education

Teacher Education Resources Overview

CMASTE works closely with Science, Technology, and Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction educators (i.e. undergraduate education professors) at the University of Alberta and in other locations in Canada and around the world. We have a proud tradition of using research-based theoretical and practical approaches to teacher education. Some of the ideas, activities and resources that have been developed in association with CMASTE are featured here.

For more information on any of the topics here, please contact cmaste@ualberta.ca.

Problem-based Learning (PBL)

Problem-based Learning: PBL changes the role of teacher and student within a classroom. Student groups assume the lead role in determining what information needs to be collected and evaluated in order to complete the task or solve the problem. In an ideal setting, students take the responsibility for their group and direct their own learning. The teacher acts as a facilitator, assisting in redirecting or focusing the problem-solving strategy of the group.

PBL usually follows these guiding principles:

  • Students are presented with a real-world problem.
  • Working in groups, they identify their ideas and previous knowledge related to the problem in an attempt to better understand the scope of the problem and factors that will impact a potential solution.
  • While students engage in defining the scope of the problem, they pose “learning issues” that outline parts of the problem that they do not understand.
  • In defining what the group knows and does not know, a facilitator is better able to provide focus questions that help direct the group. Students and the facilitator order the learning issues and identify potential resources available to address the issues.
  • Student groups reconvene to reflect upon their progress and examine the remaining learning issues. Inevitably, new learning issues are identified and the problem is redefined.

In K-12 schools, science educators have reworked lessons to become more efficient to accommodate a ballooning knowledge base, in some cases, to the detriment of their students. The goals of science programs must be re-examined and new models for program delivery must be explored to ensure that educators recognize the importance of lifelong learning and necessity for the development of strong problem-solving skills within a collaborative environment.

PBL is a form of active learning that places students in collaborative groups, charged with solving a problem. It is rooted in cooperative and inquiry learning; approaches more familiar to K-12 teachers. However, unlike many approaches to cooperative learning, problem based learning, is driven by a challenge or open-ended problem. The problem is presented first to focus and direct what needs to be learned, not as a summary to test what has been learned. It also differs from many of the more traditional approaches to inquiry learning by allowing students greater independence in sequencing and determining their own learning experiences.

Supporting documents for using the instructional strategy of problem-based learning (PBL) are provided below.

Problem-based Learning Worksheets

Problem-based Learning Challenge

Science Technology Society Environment (STSE)

STSE (science technology society environment) science education is a program of education available since the late 1970s and early 1980s. It can be seen as a minimum of a tool for teaching and learning about STSE issues: e.g., global warming, nuclear energy, acid rain, open-pit mining, nutrition, alternative medicine, and pseudoscience. STSE can also be used as a synthesis of all science outcomes in a curriculum, involving, for example, knowledge, skills and attitudes for separate or combined science, technology, society and environment outcomes. (See, for example, the Alberta Education monograph, STS Science Education: Unifying the Goals of Science Education, available for download below.)

In Alberta the use of the STSE concept is restricted to use as describing the components of a curriculum called curriculum emphases--nature of science (NoS), science and technology (interactions) (S-T), and STSE issues. In this particular case there is a synthesis of the STSE concept with the curriculum emphases concept. This is illustrated in the current high-school science curricula in Alberta and the immediately past and currently present junior-high science curricula. Each unit of science study is associated with one of the three curriculum emphases (NoS, S-T or STSE), so that these outcomes can be handled as systematically and gradually as the pure science outcomes can be. A pedagogic issue is that the outcomes of these three curriculum emphases in the Alberta secondary science assessment instruments are regarded as context rather than content.

STS Science Education Overview

Thought Experiments

Thought experiments are a common methodology to present evidence and to promote reasoning in science classrooms (i.e., to promote evidence-based reasoning). Thought experiments are one of many ways of promoting evidence-based reasoning in the classroom. Other instructional strategies include:

  • wet labs: having students complete experiments in a laboratory or field-work setting
  • demonstrations: having teachers (and/or students) complete experiments in front of others
  • lab exercises: pencil and paper work where some components of a laboratory report are to be completed
  • field work: where teachers and students leave their classroom to visit the outside world

See the CRYSTAL Alberta website for a more complete list of evidential bases that might be used in the classroom.

For thought experiments:

  • the understanding comes through reflection on the situation
  • methodology is based on logic rather more than on empirical evidence
  • well structured hypothetical questions employ "What if?" reasoning
  • diagrams and hand-waving are common (to replace actual experimentation)

Consequences of thought experiments include:

  • challenging (or even refuting/falsifying) an accepted concept
  • confirming/verifying an accepted concept
  • establishing/creating a new concept

Examples of thought experiments include:

  • Newton's cannon
  • Galileo's leaning tower of Pisa experiment
  • Van Helmont's experiment

The above summary is presented in more detail in the files that are attached below. Check them out. Also see the teacher-education lesson plan for thought experiments and for evidential bases.

Thought Experiments

Thought Experiments Worksheet

Constructivism in Science Education

Alternative conceptions are those concepts that do not agree with those accepted by the academic community; e.g., the scientific or chemistry community. Alternative conceptions are also called pre-conceptions and misconceptions. Some examples of alternative conceptions identified by education research include:

  • heavier objects fall faster than light objects
  • the direction of force on a projected object is always in the direction of motion
  • the mass of a tree comes from the nutrients extracted from the ground
  • a continuously applied force results, eventually in a maximum speed
  • attractive force by the nucleus is shared among the electrons
  • sodium fluoride is made up of sodium and fluorine

Cause and effect research, correlational research and anecdotal evidence all agree that alternative conceptions are created early in life and are very hard to change. The area of education research that studies this phenomenon is called constructivism; i.e., the construction of concepts--alternative or otherwise. The basic idea of constructivism is that learners are not ‘blank slates’ or ‘empty cups’ to be filled with knowledge, but that they already have a huge body of knowledge and life experience. Knowledge is constructed within the individual learner--regardless of the group teaching that is done and regardless of the assumed learning that is occurring. There are a variety of kinds of constructivism that are advocated by different education researchers and learning psychologists. However, the basic advice to teachers are fairly common; e.g.,

  • Students should be actively engaged in their learning, rather than passively receiving.
  • Learning should begin from ‘where students are’ in their knowledge.
  • Science students need opportunities to test their knowledge frameworks against other knowledge and against the physical world. (See Popperian falsification as part of the Create-Test-Use section of the www.CRYSTALAlberta.ca Outreach website.)

It is important for teachers to understand, as far as possible, their students’ ‘prior knowledge’ – what the students already bring to class in their minds. In this context, knowledge should be understood as a rich, complex network, rather than as a simple list of ‘school facts’ already learned.

A constructivist lesson plan needs to allow students the opportunity to safely (without embarrassment) express their alternative conceptions and to test these conceptions (not just the conceptions accepted by the scientific community). For example, research indicates that students may provide an answer in a test indicating that all objects (ignoring friction) fall at the same acceleration (or with the same time from the same height). However, when asked either years later or asked out of the classroom setting, their original conception persists (i.e., that heavy objects when dropped from the same height will hit the ground at the same time).

See the PowerPoint file below and also the sample constructivist lesson plan for more detail. Constructivism is one of those counterintuitive ideas that need time to sink in--it needs to go slowly through the phases of awareness, understanding and action. Try to remember this in your everyday classroom teaching.

Constructivism in Science Education

Constructivism in Chemistry

Constructivist Lesson Plan

Curriculum Emphases

"A curriculum emphasis is a coherent set of messages about science. … Such messages can be communicated both implicitly and explicitly. … The coherence and flow [of curriculum emphases] are matters of concern as much as the coherence and flow of the subject matter itself." (Douglas Roberts, 1982)

The concept of curriculum emphases suggests that the science, technology, society, and environment (S, T, S & E) goals for science education cannot be presented merely through features and margin notes. They must be presented as systematically and logically as any other expectation in the curriculum. These goals can be presented by declaring S, T, S & E curriculum emphases that are not exclusive but are an emphasis in a particular unit (or units) of study. For example, a science curriculum emphasis could be attached to a unit on chemical bonding in chemistry, whereas a technology curriculum emphasis could be applied to a unit on levers and forces in physics and a society & environment curriculum emphasis to a unit on ecology in biology (see Table 1).

Table 1: Distribution of STSE Curriculum Emphases


A: Ecosystems



C: Heat & Temperature

D: Structures & Forces


Planet Earth





Unfortunately, we all know that this grid is not complete in most curricula. Even when it is more complete (as in the PanCanadian framework), the STSE goals of science education are not made explicit in the knowledge column of curricula. The STSE goals then, most often, become part of the hidden curriculum (rather than part of the assessed curriculum).

Table 2: Distribution of STSE Curriculum Emphases Components


























* A judgement of the quantity of each category typically presented in curricula and textbooks.

** Epistemology may be communicated as nature of science, of technology, of society, and of environment studies.

Some applications of curriculum emphases have restricted the components of full S, T, S & E curriculum emphases; e.g.,

  • science: nature of science
  • technology: science & technological interactions and skills
  • society and environment: society & environment issues

Regardless of the definitions and restrictions applied to curriculum emphases, the argument here is that curriculum developers and textbook authors and editors should present a consistent, systematic, coherent, and broad view of these curriculum emphases.

The concept of curriculum emphases was created by Dr. Douglas Roberts (Professor Emeritus at the University of Calgary). His original research was published in 1982 in Science Education, Volume 66, Issue 2, pages 243-266. Subsequently, Dr. Roberts and his collaborators in 1995 evolved the concept and changed the name of curriculum emphases to companion meanings (to emphasize that there are always companion meanings about science, technology, society and environment being presented in a science course). Their argument/position is that the outcomes of the companion meanings should be explicit and tested.

See the supporting files below for teaching and learning about curriculum emphases.

Curriculum Emphases (Companion Meanings)

Curriculum Emphases (Companion Meanings) Powerpoint

Evaluating Claims to Knowledge

Citizens in a democratic society are often required to read and interpret media reports of scientific research. Health and environment research reports are, for example, commonly portrayed in the media. Sometimes the research reports appear to contradict each other and sometimes the reports promote more uncertainty than certainty. Understanding the terminology and concepts for describing a research study is increasingly important for responsible citizenry. Listed below are some of the terms and concepts that will help you understand and critique media reports of research.

Types of Studies

  • correlational study—the connection or degree of agreement (e.g.,–0.3, +1.0) is sought between two variables, often without controlling for other variables; correlational studies often lead to cause-and-effect studies
  • cause-and-effect study—one variable is manipulated and all other variables, other than the responding variable, are controlled
  • control experiment—see cause-and-effect study
  • clinical trial—a controlled study involving people; usually a final-stage, double-blind study

Design Factors

  • term of study—the duration of the experiment e.g., observations over 5 s, 30 min, 3 mon or 15 a; long-term studies are most often preferred
  • sample size—the number of entities or people in a study; generally large sample sizes are preferred
  • random sample—one chosen randomly from the population of entities (to reduce bias)
  • replication—repetition of a study, generally, by an independent research group
  • placebo—in medicinal experiments, an inactive item (e.g., sugar pill) or treatment given to the control group
  • placebo effect—a beneficial effect arising from a patient’s expectations; present in both the control group and the experimental group
  • single blind—the subject (e.g., patient) does not know whether she/he has received the treatment or a placebo, but the experimenter knows
  • double blind—neither the subject (e.g., patient) nor the directly involved experimenter knows whether the subject has received the treatment or a placebo
  • control—a standard or comparison value, or procedure (e.g., leaving one of several identical samples unaltered for comparison), or a placebo
  • control group—a comparison group that does not receive the experimental treatment experimental group—a group that receives the experimental treatment
  • experimental group—a group that receives the experimental treatment

Nature of Evidence and Results

  • anecdotal—based upon personal experience or hearsay
  • reliable—reproducible or consistent time after time
  • valid—judged to be supported by adequate designs, materials, procedures, and skills
  • accurate—judged to be true or agreeing with the accepted value
  • precise—closely related or very similar; related to reproducibility of results
  • statistical bias—a sampling or testing error caused by systematically favouring some outcomes over others
  • random result—a result that could be expected on the basis of probability (e.g.,50% heads and tails when flipping a large number of coins)
  • coincidence—a result that is accidental and irrelevant to the study
  • significant difference—a difference that is greater than could be randomly expected when an experimental group and a control group are compared
  • certainty—the degree to which something is accepted by an individual or community (e.g., the evidence may have a high or low degree of certainty);measured by, for example, counting significant digits

Reporting Research

  • refereed journal—an academic journal for which research papers are sent to subject experts to determine whether the report is of sufficient quality to publish; also called peer-reviewed journal
  • funding agency—a report in a research paper of who funded the research. This may be important when a bias might be considered due to the self-interest of a funder.
  • abstract—a short summary describing the research processes and results

* Reprinted with permission from Nelson Chemistry, Alberta 20-30, Jenkins et al, © 2007, Nelson, a division of Thomson Canada Limited.

Evaluating Claims to Knowledge Powerpoint

Evaluating Claims to Knowledge Assignments

Evidential Based Classroom Evidence

Some would say that the most important term and concept in science is "evidence". There are several ways that teachers can present evidence to be analyzed by student's. Some of these presentation modes can save time and complete the create-test-use (CTU(T)) cycle. The assumption is that for students to understand the rules of the knowledge game they must repetitively see the full cycle of scientific concepts. They must see a concept created, tested, and then used with confidence. However, occasionally students must also see concepts tested and falsified (and then restricted, revised or replaced). Like all work in science, this requires evidence but the evidence does not always have to be collected by the student in a typical laboratory investigation. There are several evidential bases that can be used. Ideally, a full complement of evidential bases and at least one full cycle of create-test-use would accompany each unit of work in a course.

For a complete description of create-tests-use laboratory work see the CRYSTAL Alberta website.

Download the following chart (below) and put it on your wall for reference--as a reminder of what to work for to create a full laboratory program. Start with the PowerPoint (below before moving to the chart (checklist below) and the Word files. All of these files can be downloaded below.

Unit of Work _______________ Concept ______________

Evidential Bases




Test (falsify)

1. thought experiment

2. demonstration

3. dry lab (lab exercise)

4. wet lab (in the laboratory)

5. field trip

6. video/photo lab

7. computer video analysis

8. computer simulation/animation

9. computer probes/sensors

10. remote lab work (Internet)


Investigation (Student Lab)

Investigation Alternative Version

Lab Exercise


Evidential Bases & Create-Test-Use

Instructional Emphases

Using instructional emphases is a process by which teachers or textbook authors choose to emphasize one instructional approach over another for a particular lesson or unit of the course or chapter in a textbook. No instructional technique is exclusive, but this approach allows teachers to systematically cater to a wider range of learning styles, intelligences and cognitive levels. Some instructors argue that a particular unit of study might have matching curriculum, instructional and assessment emphases. For example, a nature of science curriculum emphasis might be best served by a laboratory-activity-based instructional strategy, with an assessment emphasis on knowledge about the nature of science and on problem solving, processes and skills used in the laboratory. The hypothesis being employed herein is that different students are advantaged and disadvantaged by particular instructional strategies.

Some student-centered instructional strategies involve paying attention to the students'

  • learning styles
  • multiple intelligences
  • cognitive levels
  • prior learning
  • relevant world

Other instructional strategies that can be employed in the classroom include

  • using a learning cycle
  • promoting critical and creative thinking
  • identifying and employing logical reasoning
  • emphasizing conventions of communication
  • providing the rules for the knowledge game

The privilege of being a science or mathematics teacher is the variety of strategies that are available for one's classroom and laboratory. Some instructional strategies that promote evidence-based-reasoning in the classroom might involve

  • laboratory work
  • demonstrations
  • dry labs (pencil and paper lab work)
  • thought experiments
  • field work
  • computer simulations
  • video labs
  • video analysis by computer
  • computer sensors/probes
  • remote access by the Internet

See more strategies and links in the Word file below. Also see the teacher-education lesson plan for instructional strategies.

Instructional Strategies (Sample)

APT Resources


Learn Alberta

The 2Learn.ca Education Society of Alberta

Science News Resources



Science Daily

New Scientist

TED, The Guardian

Popular Science

Scientific American


Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

BBC News/Science and Environment

BBC News - Health


National Geographic


The Scientist

The Guardian (science)


ChemMatters Online

ChemMatters is an educational magazine containing fascinating articles on hot topics for teenagers. American Chemical Society.



Includes an excellent searchable database for resources.

Student Created Resources

Solar System Models

Planet Size - Distance Science Lesson

Planet Size - Distance Information Sheet

Solar System Lesson Plan

Space Exploration - Lesson Plan

Space Exploration - Planet Jeopardy (Powerpoint)

Space Exploration - Planet Activity Sheet

Space Exploration - Solar System Activities


Scaling the Heavens Activity


Science 7: Heat and Temperature

Science 7 Unit E: Planet Earth

Science 8 Unit B: Cell and Systems

Science 9 Unit A: Biological Diversity

Science 10 Unit A: Energy and Matter in Chemical Change

Science 10 Unit C: Cycling of Matter in Living Systems

Science 10 Unit D: Energy Flow in Energy Systems

Science 30 Unit D: Energy and the Environment

Biology 20

Lesson Planning

There are many formats for organizing the creation of lesson plans in science and mathematics education. One that is widely used at the University of Alberta in Education courses is presented below and in the attachments at the end of this page. The format is created from research done by Dr. Ted Aoki (1980s), Hunter (1982), and Rosenshine and Stevens (1986). Much of this research looked at what the best teachers (identified by their peers) did in their classrooms. The file for this page is available for download at the bottom of this page.







A. Intents/Objectives/Purpose (from Aoka's IDAE (Intents, Displays, Activities, Evaluation) Model)

Program of Studies (Pedagogic Purpose): · Cut and paste (or retype) the PoS reference for this lesson. Include concepts, skills, attitudes, and other goals, as applicable. Quote the document; provide a reference, including a page reference.

Academic Purpose: · State the academic purpose of the lesson (e.g., the scientific purpose of a laboratory lesson is to create, test or use a concept).

C. Activities

B. Displays/Resources


· e.g., read daily bulletin, take attendance, hand-out any messages to students, collect any permission slips from students, remind students of future events, interview individuals concerning past absences

· e.g., collect homework, mark homework, monitor homework, take up homework, and/or ignore the homework; use homework for review

· e.g., have resources for the lesson in place and ready to go

· administrative closure

List the resources opposite each activity as if a substitute teacher or colleague was using the lesson plan and would be able to quickly connect the activity with the resource.

1. Introduction/Set/Advanced Organizers

  • conceptual introduction (including review and/or linking of concepts)
  • make students aware of what they are supposed to learn
  • activate the prior knowledge of the students
  • focus attention on the main elements of the lesson
  • motivate the students to be interested in the lesson (motivational set)
  • use a structured overview, advance organizers and a statement of objectives
  • scaffolding is involved in all elements of lesson design

See pages 99-100 of Principles of Classroom Management by Levin and Nolan (2000). These are elements of a lesson plan identified by the classroom research of Rosenshine et al.

2. Clarifying/Creating-Understanding/Concept-Development

  • the content of the lesson proceeds in a step-by-step fashion
  • illustrate the content by using concrete examples familiar to the students
  • the content is interspersed with questions that check for student understanding
  • link among main ideas must be perceived by the students
  • link main ideas to activated prior knowledge; signal transitions between ideas
  • use internal introductions and closures at the transitions (slow and deliberate)
  • call attention to main ideas; summarize the subsections of the lesson
  • use modeling and instruction
  • match the instructional strategy to the content/context of the lesson
  • follow conventions of communication for the language and the discipline
  • summarize the main ideas near the end of the presentation—closure

See research report by Barak Rosenshine et al (1986). They asked teachers to nominate colleagues who they judged as being excellent teachers. The lessons of these excellent teachers were observed and analyzed. The lesson activities were classified and described in detail, as indicated on the left.

3. Coached/Guided-Practice/Seatwork

  • a period of time where students practice a new skill or knowledge
  • use, for example, written exercises, oral questions and answers, and group work
  • monitor the student work closely and provide frequent feedback and correction
  • use individual interventions to assess the need and content for group interventions
  • use group interventions to, for example, correct the first few questions of an exercise and to introduce a more advanced example for the next few questions
  • students should experience high amounts of success (over 75 percent) with coached practice before moving on to solitary practice
  • scaffolding helps students to acquire cognitive strategies such as study skills, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills
  • use scaffolding by supporting students’ attempts to use a cognitive strategy; by adjusting the support according to learner characteristics, the nature of the material, and the nature of the task, and by treating the support as temporary
  • move from modeling and instruction to feedback and coaching, and increasingly transfer control to the students

See pages 99-100 of Principles of Classroom Management by Levin and Nolan (2000).

4. Closure/Summary

  • summarize the key ideas
  • go back full circle to the introduction and the objectives/purposes
  • involve the students in creating the closure to the lesson
  • give students some idea as to where future lessons will take them
  • introductions and closures are key elements of a well presented lesson
  • make sure that time is saved for a closure—after guided practice and before the bell

See pages 99-100 of Principles of Classroom Management by Levin and Nolan (2000).

5. Solitary Practice/Homework

  • students practice on their own and experience success at a 75% level
  • the solitary practice can be classroom work or homework
  • the effectiveness of homework is directly related to whether it is checked and feedback is provided to the students

See pages 99-100 of Principles of Classroom Management by Levin and Nolan (2000).

6. Review/Assessment

  • periodic reviews conducted on a weekly and monthly basis
  • helps students to consolidate their learning
  • provides additional reinforcement

“These six researched-based components … should not be viewed as constraints to the teacher’s creativity and individuality. … Together, however, the components provide a basic framework that lessens student confusion about what is to be learned.” (p. 100)

See pages 99-100 of Principles of Classroom Management by Levin and Nolan (2000).

D. Evaluation/Reflection (of/on lesson)

[Include description (knowledge, comprehension, and application), analysis, evaluation and synthesis in this evaluation/reflection section of your lesson plan. Use pedagogic language and concepts to justify the lesson plan created. See Bloom’s Taxonomy (1962) for the language and concepts related to the analysis, evaluation and synthesis levels of thought.]

Lesson Plan Blank

Lesson Plan Content

Performance Based Assessment

What is Performance Based Assessment?

  • A systematic observation and rating of student performance of an educational objective.
  • Ongoing observation over a period of time, and typically requires the student to finish products.
  • Continuing interaction between teacher and student and should ideally be part of the learning process.
  • Real-world performance with relevance to the student and learning community.
  • Scoring guide or rubric is used.

What is a Performance Task?

  • A performance task gives the student the opportunity to illustrate, perform, or demonstrate what they know and can do.
  • Performance standards provide clear statements of the kinds of performances that constitute evidence that students had met the content standards. They answer the question, how well must a student perform?

What are Performance Criteria?

  • A description of the characteristics that will be considered when a performance task.
  • Often defined in a rubric or scoring guide are referred to as holistic, or analytical trait; general, or specific.
  • Anchor papers or benchmark performances may be used to identify each level of competency in the rubric or scoring guide.

See the PowerPoint with the above information, the Reading, the Rubrics, and the Templates below.

Performance Based Assessment