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Designing Simulations for Science Teacher Preparation: Reflections from the 2021 Convening

AACTE Simulations for Secondary Science Teachers conference

I recently had an incredible learning opportunity to be a part of the AACTE Simulations for Secondary Science Teachers conference. The goal for the convening was to introduce participants to the simulation design process and to support them to create a secondary science simulation scenario in smaller teams. Large group zoom meetings with almost 55 participants provided a valuable opportunity to listen, ask questions, and reflect on matters that concern science teacher preparation. The convening provided just the right amount of stimulation and sense of community that probably many of us were missing due to the recent pandemic. Until now, I saw myself as a user—employing simulations to help my teacher candidates understand and practice core teaching practices. However, being a part of the scenario development team afforded an insider or “behind the scenes’ perspective.” I was able to understand the complexities, affordance, and constraints of the simulation designing process. 

In our scenario development team, we strived to create a classroom event that was focused and as realistic as possible. It was not linear but an iterative and messy process. We constantly considered, “what are the core objectives for teacher candidates’ learning? How should candidates’ approach the scenario? What background information they may need? We aimed for a simulation that will allow avatars’ perspectives (posing as students) to be as authentic and diverse as real students. However, representing an actual classroom event through a simulation is a challenging endeavor. As a team, we shifted our discussion from pros and cons of the simulation design system to actually leveraging its strengths. An insider perspective enlightened me to view simulation development as an integrated, three step process consisting of planning, development, and implementation phases and a set of questions to consider within.

As a science teacher educator, I see the point in using simulations to prepare science teacher candidates. It is rare for teacher candidates to get a chance to view, analyze and learn from examples of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013) aligned instruction during field placements. Simulations can be used to model and then rehearse NGSS aligned instruction. At the convening, I was able to take a new angle with the lens of a methods course instructor who prepares non-traditional learners as next gen science teachers. Non-traditional learners within higher education institutions have a unique set of learning challenges and life situations (Laing, Chao & Robinson, 2005; Gilardi, & Guglielmetti, 2011; Munro, 2011; Grabowski, Rush, Ragen, Fayard, & Watkins-Lewis, 2016). These challenges include high drop-out rates, learning and educational gaps, difficulties in adapting to new ideas, and experiencing programs that are not aligned to their learning needs. I intend to design a methods course that includes simulations as a teaching tool to be potentially responsive towards the learning needs of non-traditional teacher candidates. For instance, simulations can provide an active experiential learning opportunity that might ease peer interactions and discussions around instructional challenges, all of which can be otherwise daunting notions for non-traditional learners.

Overall, I experienced designing simulation scenarios as a very generative process. It offered a rich learning context – we deliberated on questions that are critical to consider for science teacher preparation, identified needs and gaps, and heard from various stakeholders. The question is, “did we simplify the process of designing simulations? The answer is a yes and a no. We got more clarity and articulated common goals for designing simulations, but we also complicated things in a good and constructive manner.

 Meenakshi Sharma is assistant professor of science education at Mercer University College of Education

Gilardi, S., & Guglielmetti, C. (2011). University life of non-traditional students: Engagement styles and impact on attrition. The journal of higher education, 82(1), 33-53.

Grabowski, C., Rush, M., Ragen, K., Fayard, V., & Watkins-Lewis, K. (2016). Today’s non-traditional student: challenges to academic success and degree completion. Inquiries Journal, 8(03)

Laing, C., Chao, K. M., & Robinson, A. (2005). Managing the expectations of non‐traditional students: a process of negotiation. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 29(2), 169-179.

Munro, L. (2011). ‘Go boldly, dream large!’: The challenges confronting non-traditional students at university. Australian Journal of Education, 55(2), 115-131.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


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