Professional Development

Stanford Runs MOOC for Science Teachers on Helping Students Read

Next week a new massive open online course will begin for K-12 science teachers who want to learn how to help their students read and understand scientific texts. The course, delivered by Stanford University faculty, is free to participants. Four course sessions will run for 12 weeks and will deliver the equivalent of about 20 hours of professional development. The MOOC begins on January 13 and will be hosted on the NovoEd platform.

"Reading To Learn in Science" is being taught by Jonathan Osborne, a professor of science education in Stanford's Graduate School of Education. In a previous career, Osborne spent nine years teaching physics in inner city London schools.

During the course, Osborne will share teaching methods and the research behind them for helping students read and comprehend scientific texts. "The language of science is unique," the course description states. "It can be used to communicate rapidly enormous quantities of information with extraordinary specificity — and the same features which make it so useful also make it uniquely challenging to learn. You, as a science teacher, are uniquely well positioned to help your students comprehend the language of science texts."

Participants will "examine the selection of useful science texts; see specific strategies for supporting student comprehension before, during and after reading; learn how to recognize the unique challenges posed by science texts and how to help students overcome them; and acquire the skills to foster productive discussion around scientific ideas and texts."

The course also promises to help teachers apply their learning inside their own classrooms. The instructors will include the use of small groups to enable participants to collaborate offline in sharing ideas and resources.

Osborne's teaching assistant, Quentin Sedlacek, will also be an instructor for the course. Sedlacek, who helped develop the original online version of the course, said he sees big demand for professional development in this area. "A lot of science teachers know that their students struggle with reading and comprehending science texts, and they are out there looking for specific strategies they can use to help their kids, as well as real research that supports the use of those strategies. We're just helping people access those ideas and that research, in a form we hope will be useful for them."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.