April 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB1

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Beneficial Science Teacher Training

Extension trainers who serve teachers assist them greatly when they provide "hands-on" experiences. A "best practice" is having the teachers experience the same methods that they will use when teaching. Teachers were surveyed both before and after their training and also after they had taught the curriculum. They reported their feelings on three scales: Confidence, Interest, and Anxiety. This research shows that teacher anxiety decreased, curiosity increased, and their confidence grew as they participated in these training modules. Further research on the teachers' experiences when teaching the curricula would enable more effective support of teachers at that time.

Joseph Konen, M.S., D.Min.
Extension Agent,
4-H Youth Development
Internet address: konen.2@osu.edu

Robert L. Horton, Ph.D.
Extension 4-H Specialist
Science Education
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet Adress: horton.2@osu.edu


Extension educators in all subject areas from 4-H to Community Development have researched-based curricula to share with science teachers. Effective design for such training will maximize the likelihood that the teachers will use the material in their classrooms. This research validates the Extension tradition of engaging learners in "hands-on" experiences in the course of their teaching.

Many teachers received science instruction in educational settings that separated "lab" time from "lecture" time. Information was given but not necessarily integrated with experiments. Usually the "teaching" came first and the lab experiences came later. Educators can assist these teachers by providing hands-on inquiry training that assists teachers to have less anxiety, more interest, and greater confidence when teaching this topic to their students.

Research Question/Hypothesis

The hypothesis behind this research is that teachers feel more comfortable with hands-on activities when they first experience these activities in a nonjudgmental training experience and that they are less anxious and more interested in these activities as a result of the experiential training.

The training sessions at the base of this research mimic the inquiry science methodology that is the standard for science teaching today. The research question is: Do such training sessions lower teacher anxiety and strengthen teacher interest and confidence in science teaching?

A modified version of the State-Trait instrument was used at three stages: pre-workshop, post-workshop, and post-teaching experience. This survey focused on three scales: (a) confidence level, (b) interest level, and (c) anxiety level.


The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) is a standardized test originally developed to study the relationship between anxiety and learning. Westerback (1984) and others adapted the STAI to measure anxiety about teaching science as the Science Teaching STAI. Czerniak (1989,1990) stated that student teachers who took more science courses had lower anxiety toward teaching science than their counterparts.

High initial state anxiety levels of experienced elementary teachers were changed in a positive direction during science instruction (Westerback & Long, 1990; Westerback & Primavera, 1988). Goldsmith (1986) found that anxiety was reduced when preservice teachers were taught using "hands-on" activities. Spielberger and Starr (1994) showed similar results regarding curiosity and exploratory behavior.

If the current goals and benchmarks for science education in our schools (AAAS, 1993) are to be met, then teachers with curiosity, confidence, and enthusiasm for science teaching will be the leaders in this effort (Horton & Hutchinson, 1997).


Elementary school teachers attended training workshops for science enrichment curricula. Teachers self-selected or were encouraged into the program by the principal or other administrator at their schools. Teachers worked in groups of two or four in the same manner as the students would do when following the curriculum. Workshops were designed to provide the same sequence of activities for the teachers that the students would use.

Workshop subject matter was either the Rockets Away curriculum, developed by Robert Horton, Youth Development Specialist with Ohio State University Extension, or Wisconsin Fast Plants, An Inquiry Science Curriculum, developed by Joe Konen, Extension Agent with Ohio State University Extension in Cuyahoga County.

Research Design

Each teacher was asked to complete the modified STAI instrument at three times: 1) before the training activity (Pre-Workshop); 2) at the end of the training activity (Post-Workshop); and 3) after they had had an opportunity to teach from the curriculum presented in the workshop (Post-Teaching). Identical questions (based on the STAI) were included at each of the three survey times. These questions were designed to determine teachers' reactions to teaching the subject matter of the workshop.

The original STAI was modified to a simple three-part scale developed for this research. While this modification loses the benefit of the STAI standardization, a practical instrument has been created to measure the reported responses of teachers at three points in their association with the teacher training experience: pre-workshop, post-workshop, and post-teaching.

Teachers were asked to respond to these three questions:

I feel _____________ about teaching about Wisconsin Fast Plants (or Rocketry).

Anxiety Scale: anxious 1 2 3 4 5 at ease
Confidence Scale: fearful 1 2 3 4 5 confident
Interest Scale: uninterested 1 2 3 4 5 curious

Research Findings

When measured before and after the workshop, statistically significant differences were found in participant feelings about their teaching of the workshop's subject matter. Table 1 shows the increase in means.

Table 1
Mean Scores, Standard Deviations, and Numbers of Valid Responses

Variable Time Mean St. Dev. N
Anxiety Scale
anxious - at ease
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Confidence Scale
fearful - confident
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Interest Scale
uninterested - curious
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5



Mean scores for both the Anxiety and Confidence scales increased from pre-workshop to post-workshop and continued to increase post-teaching. For the Interest scale, while mean scores increased from pre-workshop to post- workshop, they decreased in the post-teaching measure.

Paired sample t-tests compared the same teacher's responses: (a) pre- and post-workshop; (b) pre-workshop and post-teaching; and (c) post-workshop and post-teaching. These tests showed statistically significant increases from before to after the training workshops for all scales. There were increases from post-workshop to post-teaching for two of the three scales. Only one (uninterested-curious) scale showed a significant change (decrease) from post- workshop to post teaching. This was a decrease.

Table 2 shows the data for the Anxiety scale. Paired samples of pre- and post-workshop responses showed statistically significant decrease in anxiety, and the same was true of the pre-workshop and post-teaching paired samples. The post-workshop to post-teaching pairings did not yield a statistically significant conclusion.

Table 2
Anxiety Scale: Teacher Responses at Three Stages

Paired-Variables N Mean St. Dev. T P
pre-workshop to post-workshop 156 -1.0160 1.291 -9.83 .000
pre-workshop to post-teaching 38 -1.1842 1.625 -4.49 .000
post-workshop to post-teaching 35 .300 1.072 1.66 .107

Table 3 shows the comparisons for the Confidence scale at three stages. The paired sample t-tests showed significant change for pre- to post-workshop surveys and pre-workshop and post-teaching paired samples. The change from post-workshop to post-teaching was not significant.

Table 3
Confidence Scale: Teacher Responses at Three Stages

Paired-Variables N Mean St. Dev. T P
pre-workshop to post-workshop 149 -1.00341 .091 -11.22 .000
pre-workshop to post-teaching 38 -1.18421 .312 -5.56 .000
post-workshop to post-teaching 36 .2083 .805 1.55 .130

Table 4 shows the paired sample comparisons for the Interest Scale. Significant changes are evident for comparisons of pre- and post-workshop surveys and post-workshop and post-teaching paired samples. The pre-workshop to post-teaching pairing does not show statistically significant change.

Table 4
Interest Scale: Teacher Responses at Three Stages

Paired-Variables N Mean St. Dev. T P
pre-workshop to post-workshop 151 -.2715 1.026 -3.25 .001
pre-workshop to post-teaching 40 .300 1.471 1.29 .205
post-workshop to post-teaching 36 .8611 1.199 4.31 .000

Teachers have been only moderately responsive to the post-teaching survey and this low response has caused smaller than optimal numbers in some of the pairings. Nonetheless, because the same teacher's responses were paired each time, there are still statistically significant measures.


Surveys of teachers show that teachers find hands-on training activities to be helpful. Their anxiety about teaching the subject matter of the training decreases, and their confidence increases after they have completed the training. This increased confidence and lower anxiety remain even after they have taught the lessons for which they have been trained.

These results reinforce the value of training programs in which teachers experience the curriculum components in substantially the same way that the students will. Interest and curiosity about the subject matter also increase after training. This reinforces the value of hands-on training. Some interesting variations among the scales lead to possible interpretations. The Anxiety Scale shows continued ease for teachers as they move through training and then teaching. This suggests that greater familiarity leads to greater comfort.

The Confidence Scale increases significantly from before to after the training. Then, however, this scale increases only slightly (and not significantly) from post-training to post-teaching. This might indicate that the confidence that comes after training faces a sobering reality after the teacher has actually taught the subject matter.

The Interest Scale is most curious. It increases at first from pre- to post-workshop but then falls slightly after the actual teaching of the students. Teachers report themselves most curious after they have trained and before they have tried to teach the lesson to their students. Perhaps some of this curiosity is satisfied when they have shared the activities with their students.

Further studies could refine this data by use of the full STAI survey instrument and by increasing the population of post-teaching surveys. The variations with the Interest Scale are worth further study. Above all, additional factors at the time of the teaching to the students should be investigated. Of particular interest would be the presence of a partner with the teacher at the time of the teaching. The impact of the partner (perhaps a volunteer scientist or technician) on these scales would be worth measuring.


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