Science is responsible for some of the last century's greatest achievements: man walking on the moon, the development of the Internet and the turn toward alternative energy sources are just a few. Training in science education allows aspiring teachers to lay the groundwork for a new century of marvelous innovations and inventions.
Choosing the Right Science Education Degree
In many states, graduates can enter the education workforce with nothing more than a Bachelor of Science degree in education and a teaching certificate. Students typically focus on a specific level of education -- elementary education, for instance, or high school -- and tailor their coursework to suit that type of instruction.
Online education degrees in science education can help teachers focus their knowledge in a particular area of science or move into science as a specialty. For first-time teachers, a student-teaching or internship component will likely be required at a local school; teachers who are already licensed should be able to complete the bulk of their work online.
For those who wish to teach at the college level, a graduate degree is required. While students may find the occasional university teaching job with a master's degree in education or in their chosen discipline, candidates who have earned Doctor of Philosophy degrees tend to fare best in the market for these positions.
Many universities offer online master's degrees in education, which might help teachers advance in the school system or qualify for higher pay. Education in the virtual classroom allows students to remain responsible to their work or family commitments while enhancing their knowledge and skill and working toward their academic goals.
What to Expect in a Science Education Program
Even at middle schools and secondary schools, the hard sciences are divided into their disciplines. At most institutions, students seeking a science education degree specialize in one branch of the sciences, dividing their coursework between classes in education and study of the material they hope to teach. Students can choose to specialize in one of five main areas of science education:
- Earth science
- Physical science
Naturally, there is likely to be some overlap between the disciplines. Future biology teachers will often find themselves learning organic chemistry. Earth sciences teachers, who aspire to disciplines such as geography and geology, will often take a few chemistry or physics courses to help round out their knowledge. Physical science teachers have to know a little bit of everything.
Careers in Science Education: Salary and Employment Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a shortage of qualified teachers in the sciences -- particularly chemistry and physics -- should result in particularly good job prospects for science teachers. Overall, the BLS predicts job growth for teachers at all levels between 2008 and 2018. Take a look at these job growth percentages by educational level:
- Elementary school teachers: 16 percent
- Middle school teachers: 15 percent
- Post-secondary (university) teachers: 15 percent
- Secondary (high school) teachers: 9 percent
At the high school level, teachers earned a mean annual wage of $55,990 in 2010, the BLS reports. At the collegiate level, science teachers can earn significantly more. Consider the following 2010 salaries by specialty for science professors:
- Physics teachers, post-secondary: $86,560
- Chemistry teachers, post-secondary: $80,070
- Biological science teachers, post-secondary: $86,570
- Environmental science teachers, post-secondary: $78,490
- Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, post-secondary: $90,660
Online degrees in science education can give students the specialized knowledge necessary to help meet the need for qualified science teachers, ready to train the next generation of innovators, experimenters and researchers.
Science education at a glance
- Careers: Degree holders commonly go into: education fields
- Salary range: $54,000-$90,000 per year for common careers, according to the BLS (2010)
- Education: The minimum educational requirement is a bachelor's degree
Online Master's Degrees in Science Education
With the increased need for qualified workers to fill jobs in science, technology, and mathematical fields, the importance of having good science educators is growing. Online master's degrees in science education can prepare students to become science teachers who can spark curiosity in schoolchildren and give them the love for science that they can carry with them into adulthood.
Students enrolled in science education master's degree programs can learn about the pedagogical theory that guides the field and obtain the hands-on experience they need to be engaging in the classroom. Core curriculum for these programs often reviews how to teach students of different age groups and those from different racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
What Does a Master's Degree Program in Science Education Entail?
Depending on the program they enroll in, students can generally earn to complete a master's degree in science education within two years. The curriculum is usually designed to give students the theoretical framework they need to teach science in the classroom in addition to hands-on experience needed to handle real-life students. Coursework can teach students how to design their course curriculum, assess student progress, and keep abreast of developments in scientific education research. Examples of course topics include:
- Developing a Science Curriculum: This course typically teaches the theory and practice of designing class curriculums for students from kindergarten through 12th grade based on local and national education standards. Course topics often include the historical traditions of creating a curriculum, as well as current philosophies and best practices of curriculum development. Students may also learn about contemporary issues in curriculum development, backward design theory, the needs of different learners based on their grade level, the differences between creating a science curriculum for older and younger students, and the education needs of students in different grades. In order to give students hands-on experience with the course material, they may be required to create a curriculum for science courses for different grade levels or create a policy statement designed to guide educators in developing their own science curriculum.
- Science for Educators: This class familiarizes students with best practices for teaching science based on national and state guidelines. Course topics may include scientific reasoning, how critical thinking is applied to the natural world, strategies for making scientific investigation meaningful to students, skills needed to analyze data and scientific evidence, methods for teaching a scientific lab, current pedagogical perspectives for teaching science, and standards expectations of science teachers. In addition, students may focus on different fields of science, such as biology, chemistry, or physics. Students can acquire real-world experience with the material by developing a curriculum for a science class or teaching a mock science lab.
- Social Context and Education: This course typically explores the social and contextual influences of student learning and of how teachers approach the classroom, as well as how these factors impact education research and policy. Course subjects often include the role that race, class, sexual orientation, and ethnicity play in the way students learn and the way the education system views them. Students may also examine other social factors that can impact learning, such as family and peer groups. The course may also cover which environments are best for enhancing learning and the development of students. Students sometimes engage in role-playing exercises to demonstrate how students from different backgrounds learn and create case studies on how their own backgrounds have affected their educational development.
Before earning their degree, students may have to complete a master's thesis or pass a comprehensive examination, depending on the program they choose. Students may also need to choose a concentration of study, often based on the grade level or scientific field that they prefer to teach.
Finally, depending on their state of residence, individuals may need to pass a licensing examination in addition to completing their master's degree in order to become a practicing teacher.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Science Education
Graduates who earn a master's degree in science education can pursue a number of career options. One such option is becoming a kindergarten and elementary school teacher. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this occupation are expected to grow by 12 percent between 2012 and 2022. These professionals, who may work in public or private institutions, typically create lesson plans to teach science to their students, assign and grade homework, administer and grade tests, develop rules for student behavior in the classroom, and evaluate students based on their strengths and weaknesses and adjust teaching methods accordingly. These teachers also have non-classroom duties, such as watching children during lunchtime and giving parents progress reports on how their children are doing in class.
Individuals with a science education master's degree may also pursue a career as a high school teacher in a private or public school. The BLS reports that between 2012 and 2022, there will be a six percent increase in the amount of jobs available for these professionals. This career entails duties such as creating lesson plans for science courses, monitoring student progress by grading assignments and tests, working with students on an individual basis in order to help them in their areas of weakness, and giving progress reports to parents. High school teachers also usually help students prepare for standardized tests that may be required in their state.
Other potential careers for those who earn a master's degree in science education include middle school and postsecondary science teachers. Graduates also have the option of pursuing non-teaching careers at science publications, museums, and science and technology organizations.
"Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
"High School Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm