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«Conceptualizing Pedagogical Content Knowledge from the Perspective of Experienced Secondary Science Teachers Committee: Julie A. Luft, Supervisor ...»

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I understand the big picture of curriculum. It is very difficult for the teachers to know what should be taught and when to teach it. And I

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units, you can teach across all the subject areas. And that’s what makes teaching fun, because you are building all of those activities rather than using the books only. And the textbook you can use as a resource. It should not be the primary factor (first interview, 11/24/05).

This component includes seven elements that indicate specific knowledge of curriculum per se, as well as skills to organize her science curriculum, including (1) state standards (TEKS) ; (2) curriculum vertical alignment; (3) integrating science subjects; (4) developing interdisciplinary lessons; (5) expanding on a concept; (6) linking local issues to the lesson; and (7) making connections between activities.

While she considers a sixth-grade science textbook as a resource and reference, she uses TEKS as a skeletal framework for her curriculum organization.

She said, “I consider TEKS, but I think it is just a bare minimum. It is just a small amount of what they need to know for science so I try to bring in even more than that”(second interview, 5/21/04). Shawna also considers curriculum vertical alignment across the grades. She said, “I look at what is being taught over the grades and see the concepts from the other grades. I think it is good because it is connected between grades” (first interview, 11/24/05). In addition to the vertical alignment of curriculum, she also reports that she needs to know how to integrate all science subjects for building lessons because at the middle school in Texas science teachers have to teach all areas of science. She thinks that this situation is unique to

middle school science teachers. She stated:

When you teach chemistry, you don’t teach chemistry. I mean there are other concepts that would go into other sciences; like earth science, there is a lot of chemistry in earth science. It is hard

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teachers are not. But, if you are going to teach in middle school, I think you have to know more than just one isolated [science] field.

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Shawna also placed emphasis on skills for developing interdisciplinary lessons. She tries to incorporate other subjects into her lessons and develops interdisciplinary lessons. She believes that science is the subject that she can integrate essential features of other subjects with, such as math skills and writing skills.

Shawna’s component 5: knowledge of students Shawna considers “knowledge of students” to be very important. She believes that this area of knowledge is crucial in choosing teaching strategies. She thinks that a knowledge of students cannot be acquired without student teaching experience and classroom experience. This component includes six elements: (1) students’ needs and types; (2) students’ difficulties in learning; (3) students’ different abilities; (4) students’ real life experience; (5) previously learned knowledge; and (6) students’ misconceptions.

She considers her students’ needs and types, different abilities, and difficulties

as she plans her lessons (first interview, 11/24/03). For example, she said:

Our kids are very mobile. Their attention span is very short. Fifth graders and sixth graders’ attention spans are only about five, ten minutes and they should be thirty minutes long, but this kids -- this

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more they are moving, but still actively engaged, the better. They are not very good about sitting and listening, so that strategy is very important for our kids, the type of students that we have here.

Shawna stated that students’ difficulties are related to their reading and math skills because those are basic skills that are required for learning science.

Another element that affects her lessons is “students’ knowledge that has been previously learned.” She thinks that understanding students’ previous knowledge is important because it is the base on which to build students’ further understanding of science concepts. She often changes her lessons or teaching strategies when she finds

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first and adjusts her lessons to the students’ levels of understanding (first interview, 11/24/03). She also considers students’ real life experiences. She believes that by applying real life experiences to activities or lessons, she helps her students to get motivated and engaged in their learning.

The last element in this component is “students’ misconceptions.” Shawna reported that sixth graders came to middle school with a lot of misconceptions, and she tries to undo that thinking and change it. She said, “If they [the students] have misconceptions, then they do not understand” (third interview, 3/11/05). She


For example, we were talking the other day about the seasons of the year. They think the earth [gets] closer or further away from the sun, [and] that is why we have the seasons, and it’s not. It’s the angle at which we are, we’re either pointed toward it or pointed away, based on the hemisphere [of] that land, whether we are northern or southern. That’s a very common misconception. So, they don’t understand the season if they don’t understand the further or closer (third interview, 3/11/05).

Shawna reported that the misunderstandings of elementary school teachers lead to the students’ misconceptions, because the teachers pass them on to the students.

Shawna’s component 6: knowledge of teaching strategies This component refers to “how science should be taught” and “how do we get there,” consisting of the following seven elements: (1) brainstorming, (2) choosing quality activities, (3) building and refining activities, (4) simulations, (5) guided inquiry, (6) hands-on laboratories, (7) field trip, (8) safety, and (9) flexibility.

She believes that the brainstorming process is an integral part of students’ engagement in learning science. She described one of the eye-catching activities that

was successful:

A simulation of a grain elevator explosion is always an eye catcher, when I teach properties of matter. [There are] the physical properties and chemical properties. The kids never understand those and to make sure that you have physical properties that can cause the physical changes and the chemical properties are part of the physical changes. So, I put cornstarch in a pile and they are unable to ignite it with a propane tank [torch], but when they hold [the]

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blow, I use probably two handfuls of cornstarch in that flame. That was the kids were just in awe. It’s unbelievable things, and they would not think it’s science. Then I teach the science concepts (first

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Related to this element, she also included the knowledge of safety in this component, because knowing information related to safety is important as a teacher plans activities and laboratories. If the activity or laboratory is considered dangerous, she often changes her teaching strategies.

Another element is the ability to choose quality activities. According to her explanation, good quality activities are needed to meet diversified students’ types and needs. She said, “Quality activities to teach the science are not just for the fun but [also] understanding the concepts” (first interview, 11/24/05). In addition, building

and refining activities is another required skill for a science teacher. Shawna stated:

The experience tells me, “I am a creative teacher.” So, I can build

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teach that concept.” And it normally does. Sometimes the activity does not go well, but I’ll go back and refine it. Like our textbook has different labs, but I don’t think they are as good as the ones I’ve developed over the years. So, you begin to see that some activities work better than others and that only comes from trying them. If they don’t work then a teacher needs to refine them. If you have tried them a couple of times, they still don’t work, then it’s time to think of something else (second interview, 5/21/04).

She thinks that middle school students tend to understand better if they can see it. Therefore, she tries to simulate as many science concepts as possible. She often collaborates with her colleagues to further develop her ideas for simulations. She also makes an effort to have a field trip to provide her students with real experiences. For

example, she explained one of her favorite lessons:

I like the water curriculum mainly because this is one where I can

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class and the kids don’t get to really see it. Until the kids really experience it, it doesn’t make sense to them. When we go to Port Aransas, they actually see the dunes. They can actually see erosions.

They can actually see the organisms, even the water cycle. All of it is all there, so they begin to see a relationship to what they were learning in the classroom. This is why [it’s] my favorite one.

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Along with the emphasis on real experiences, she also prefers hands-on activities. She believes that the students learn when they are fully engaged in the activities. She also incorporated inquiry laboratories into her lessons, but she believes that students at the middle school age learn better when clear guidelines are provided. She opposed the

idea of open inquiry:

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answers and questions. I know there are a lot of teachers, they brought inquiry, but the way I design inquiry laboratories is different. I give them a certain amount of information and then they engage in laboratory activities and they are able to see the knowledge at work or be able to tell and guess. I don’t think the kids can learn if they do inquiry only. While the students are doing inquiry, how do they ever know they are on the right track or not?

Because, I found that there are a lot of kids with a lot of scientific misconceptions and they don’t ever get those clarified so they go into college and universities level [courses] and they have the wrong information. As a science teacher, I have to be a person that relays information to them and then they [the students] are better able to do science and see it. So a lot of my inquiry laboratories are [the ones in which] they can see it, they build it and experience it and then they are able to propose more questions to test. And, I think when kids begin to ask questions, then they are beginning to make connections (first interview, 11/24/03).

Shawna also stressed that a teacher should be flexible in the use of teaching strategies. She often plans different activities and tries to vary them according to the students’ responses and understanding. By having various teaching strategies to choose from, she thinks that a teacher can meet the different needs of her students (second interview, 5/21/04).

Shawna’s component 7: knowledge of resources.

“Knowledge of resource” refers to the knowledge of “where to go get information,” according to Shawna’s explanation. This component is jumped together in a group with “curriculum organization” and “teaching strategies,” from Shawna’s perspective. The elements included in this component are: (1) local scientific organizations and facilities; (2) materials; (3) science lab technology (for example, motion detector, data collector, and so on); and (4) the Internet. She reported that the knowledge of resources helps a science teacher to efficiently organize her curriculum and to effectively develop her teaching strategies.

She often utilizes laboratory kits developed from local scientific organizations and she and her students visit local facilities in order to allow student to experience science. According to Shawna, knowing many local organizations and facilities related to the science field provides a big support in teaching science (second interview, 5/21/05). In addition to being aware of many resources for materials (for example, activity guideline, lesson plans, and so on), proficiency in the use of science laboratory technology (for example, motion detectors and data collectors) is another required element for being “a quality science teacher” (Third interview, 3/11/05). She also stressed that science teachers need to be able to use the Internet to find information for their lessons.

Shawna’s Conceptualization of Seven PCK Components The seven components and their constituent elements that emerged from the analysis of Shawan’s data, were reviewed and modified throughout discussions between Shawna and me. She agreed with most of them and further elaborated on the “knowledge of assessment strategies,” with only minor revisions of other components.

Figure 10 shows her conceptualization of PCK with the seven components. When asked to make connections among the components to show how they are interrelated within the scope of teaching science, she first categorized the seven components into three groups.

The first group includes “knowledge of the goals,” “knowledge of science,” and “knowledge of assessment strategies.” She stated that the first group is the “base” for teaching science. A characteristic of teaching science, as a subject, is determining goal setting and assessment strategies. She put the knowledge of students, knowledge of curriculum organization, and the knowledge of assessment strategies in the second group. Since she uses the idea of “backward design,” which builds assessment strategies first and then designs the lessons to prepare students for success in the assessed objectives, she organizes her curriculum based on what to assess and how to assess. In doing so, she considers the diversity of her students and their previously learned knowledge (Third interview, 3/11/05). She stated that the second group is “the content” for science teaching. This second group as a whole influences the third group.

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