Doctoral Specialization in Science Education

Making a difference in science education today requires an interdisciplinary perspective to address such complex issues as promoting academic achievement among linguistically and culturally diverse students, investigating the impact of science inquiry on teaching and learning, and bridging formal and informal science learning. The doctoral specialization in science education at the University of Arizona College of Education prepares scholars and researchers to bring interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving to bear on these and other important science education issues.

The unique location and demographics of Tucson make the University of Arizona an ideal setting for collaborative research efforts in urban and rural settings as well as for exploring important questions concerning the education of diverse student populations. There is a tremendous need in science education for research and scholarship in diverse preschool, elementary, and middle school classrooms, as well as in informal education contexts. We invite applicants with strong academic capabilities and broad professional experience and who have a strong interest in addressing important issues in science education.

Research and Scholarship

We encourage interdisciplinary work in collaboration with the university’s science departments and with research programs in other areas of education. In addition to our strong relationship with science departments on campus, we also partner in our research with local school districts, museums, outdoor centers, and science centers. At the University of Arizona, specializing in science education will provide you with opportunities to work with university faculty, P-12 educators, science center and museum educators, and other graduate students to develop in-depth and practical understanding of issues of science teaching and learning.

We are currently engaged in research and scholarship in the following areas:

Elementary science education • Environmental learning • K-12 Science assessment • Informal science • Inquiry teaching and learning • Learning progressions • Middle school science • Design and study of science learning environments • Science teacher preparation • Urban science education • Urban ecology

Career Preparation

The doctoral specialization in science education is designed to prepare students for leadership roles in academic and non-academic settings. A central focus of our program is on developing leaders who can contribute in a significant way to solving practical problems facing science education. Upon completion of the Ph.D., you will be prepared for positions in university teaching and research, science curriculum design, public and private research, science centers and museums, and school leadership.


We encourage doctoral students to develop expertise in both teaching and research, and we offer a variety of funding opportunities to support professional growth in these areas. Teaching and research assistantships are available for qualified applicants. Opportunities for teaching assistantships include teaching science methods classes, supervising student teachers, and working with undergraduate classes in the university’s science departments. Research assistantships involve work on a variety of externally funded projects. Additional funding sources include limited scholarships and fellowships through the College of Education and the University of Arizona Graduate College.


Coursework in the doctoral specialization involves study on a variety of topics in science education, with particular focus on in-depth understanding of issues around science teaching and learning, educational access for students of diverse backgrounds and abilities, and connections between formal and informal science learning. Topics include science inquiry teaching and learning, cognition in science, environmental learning, designing innovative learning environments, history and philosophy of science, and research methods. In addition, doctoral students and faculty participate in a weekly science education colloquium held in collaboration with faculty and doctoral students in the College of Science. Coursework and research are intended to be concurrent, and we encourage students to affiliate with faculty research projects as early as possible in their graduate study.


Current Doctoral Students and Recent Graduates

Our current students and recent graduates have a wide range of research interests spanning P-12, higher education, and informal science settings. Here are a few examples:

Costas Manoli

My research interests lie within the field of environmental learning, and more specifically earth education, and the effects of educational programs on children’s understandings, perceptions and actions. In the past, I’ve studied students’ environmental perceptions, modifying the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) Scale (Dunlap, Van Liere, Mertig, & Jones, 2000), an instrument measuring adult environmental worldviews, for use with upper elementary students as my Master’s thesis. My dissertation study, titled Investigating the Relationship Between Children’s Environmental Perceptions and Ecological Actions, examines whether children who carry out more environmentally friendly actions (eg. recycle, conserve water, bike or walk short distances, etc.) have different perceptions of the environment than those children who carry out fewer of these actions. Further, I investigate the main reasons/factors (eg. home and school environment) that influence the relationship between perceptions and actions and to what extent.

Sanlyn Buxner

I work both at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab and at the College of Education to pursue my interest in space science education. My work in the Lunar and Planetary Lab involves both education and public outreach in the U of A Mars program as well as researching the impact of astronomy education programs on teachers and students. My work in the College of Education includes statistical analysis of a wide-scale assessment project in collaboration with the Tucson Unified School District to help district teachers develop district-wide end of unit assessments for science units in grades 1 – 8. Currently, we are analyzing and validating the assessments after piloting them in classrooms. Additionally, I am helping to develop a new curriculum institute under the direction of Dr. Marcy Wood that will serve the entire University of Arizona community. My personal research includes exploring the experiences of outdoor summer science programs for children and exploring the experience and impact of astronomy programs for science teachers.

Deborah L. Rooks

Having been an elementary teacher and a teacher of the visually impaired for many years, I now have the unique opportunity to pursue my research interests in both the field of science education and the field of special education. I am primarily interested in the impact of inquiry-based instruction in the science classroom for students with visual impairments and other disabilities, as well as the discourse practices used within the community of learners. Recently, I was involved in a two-stage study to examine the impact of alternate accommodations, including calculators, on mathematics Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test performance for special education students. Currently, I am helping to develop an innovative standards-based urban ecology course for use in urban secondary schools to examine the instructional practices used by teachers to manage the inquiry-based classroom. Additionally, I coordinate the Pima Educational Research Collaborative. PERC facilitates and offers funding for research collaborations between area school districts and members of the College of Education faculty.

Matthew Wenger

My dissertation work in informal Astronomy education allows me to combine my interest in Astronomy with my love of informal science education and science outreach. By day I work at Flandrau: The University of Arizona Science Center where I develop, prototype, and evaluate exhibits that will inform the development of the new Science Center scheduled to open in 2011. At night I research family learning experiences at public telescope observing events (also known as star parties). Using qualitative methods, I will try to understand what expectations family visitors have for telescope observing events, and which of their star party experiences they find most satisfying. I will also use my data to understand how participants use their prior knowledge to make meaning from their experiences at observing events.


Our Partners in Research


Contact Information

For TTE admission information:
Adriana Miramontez
UA College of Education
P.O. Box 210069
Tucson, AZ 85721-0069
Graduate Office Phone: 520.621.1311


For information about the specialization in science education:

Dr. Bruce Johnson
UA College of Education
P.O. Box 210069
Tucson AZ 85721-0069
Office Phone: 520.621.1311

Dr. Kristin Gunckel
UA College of Education
P.O. Box 210069
Tucson AZ 85721-0069
Office Phone: 520.621.7851

Dr. Sara Tolbert
UA College of Education
P.O. Box 210069
Tucson AZ 85721-0069
Office Phone: 520.621.9374