«Conceptualizing Pedagogical Content Knowledge from the Perspective of Experienced Secondary Science Teachers Committee: Julie A. Luft, Supervisor ...»
She believes that one of her strengths as a science teacher is her enthusiasm:
“My enthusiasm and love of science just came naturally. I have been interested in science since I was twelve and I wanted to be a geologist. I got sidetracked, but I have always loved science” (first interview, 12/03/03). She also characterized herself as a
science teacher with a strong background both in science and education. She said:
The strengths of knowing my background knowledge came from my education at the university. The university prepared me for this and it was hard. The professors were hard on us and they kept demanding better and better and I think that is a very important thing with the teacher preparation program. So, I think it is that demanding preparation program that got me ready for what I do (first interview 12/03/03).
The following sections provide more detailed descriptions about her teaching environment and her approaches; the components which emerged from her data; and a representation of her PCK conceptualization.
Emily’s Teaching Context When this study started, Emily was a middle school teacher. She had taught in the same middle school in downtown San Antonio for thirteen years ever since she began teaching science. She reported that most of her students are from low income families (second interview, 5/20/04). The majority of students in the school are Hispanic (50%), with an equal number of Caucasian (25%) and African-American (25%) students. She has taught all grade levels in the middle school. The year that she joined this study, Emily was teaching four classes of seventh-grade science and two classes of six-grade science. Of her four classes of seventh graders, two of them were pre-AP classes (comprised of honor students), and the remaining ones were regular science classes. She designs her teaching strategies for her pre-AP classes differently from those for the regular classes. She tries to pull her students to higher levels and give them a more enriching experience. She also commented that one of her sixth grade classes has “resource kids,” students with learning disabilities. Nonetheless, she believes that she can get the students engaged in learning science through welldeveloped activities (first interview, 12/03/03).
Emily said, “My weakness as a science teacher is that I get frustrated with the politics and I lose patience with the politics because I don’t see the purpose of the politics” (first interview, 12/03/03). She expressed that the paperwork related to the politics bothers her. She also stated that one of her weaknesses is that she easily gets sidetracked because she is so eager to answer the students’ questions and to explain further. That can pull her away from what she is supposed to be doing. For this reason, she does not write her lesson plans in advance and she rarely plans how the class goes because her class may speed up or slow down in relation to student interaction.
Emily tries to be sympathetic to her students. When she thinks that the lesson or activity is boring, she believes that her students would be bored also. She said that she is able to tell this from her gut reaction, an instinct that comes from her years of teaching experience. She believes, therefore, that science should be considered a verb (that is active) versus a noun (that is passive). She said, “Science is not just a subject.
It’s a verb. You have to do science. You have to experience science. If you just read about science, you are not learning anything about science. They have to feel it. They have to have the science first.” (first interview, 12/03/03) To make students do science, she usually starts her lesson with some focused questions that allow her students to concentrate on science ideas. She wants her students to engage in the scientific inquiry process, because she thinks that her mission as a science teacher is “to help every student believe that they can think like a scientist, act like a scientist, and be a scientist” (second interview, 5/20/04).
She mainly learns new teaching strategies from professional development workshops. She considers the workshops as opportunities to share information with her colleagues on what they have done in their classes. She does not want to repeat the same lessons every year, so she is really active in her professional development (second interview, 5/20/04). She is also very active in sharing the lessons that she developed and in asking for feedback from other teachers at either nationwide or statewide workshops. As a matter of fact, the “Teachers as Mentors” project director valued Emily’s efforts and enthusiasm in this regard and recommended her for this reason.
Emily was very expressive in presenting her ideas and beliefs about teaching science and these characteristics helped me to accurately understand her conceptualization of PCK. In the following sections, I will discuss the components that came out in the interviews with Emily and how she conceptualizes PCK related to teaching science.
Emily’s Components of Knowledge for Teaching Science The same seven components that emerged from the analysis of Emily’s data were the same ones identified in the others’ cases. When asked to rate the components according to their relative importance in teaching science, Emily classified the seven components into three groups. In the following subsections, each component is described including examples based on her rating.
Emily’s component 1-a: knowledge of science Emily rated the “knowledge of science” highest, in that knowing what you teach is fundamental in order to teach. This component contains the following three specific elements: science content knowledge, scientific method and process, and the nature of science.
Emily stated that the confidence of a science teacher is directly proportional to her science content knowledge. In this regard, She was convinced that her strong
science background made her a good science teacher. She stated:
My strength is my background knowledge in my subject, because I came with a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry. When I started [teaching] Integrated Science in middle school, it was kind of scary because I did not have a background in Geology and Astronomy. My Physics was kind of weak so that’s why I decided
myself strong. Now when my students ask me a question, I feel confident that I can either, well at this level, it’s pretty much easy to answer whatever question. If things are tough, I know exactly where to find answers. My strength is my science background and the strength of knowing my background knowledge comes from my education at the university (first interview, 12/3/05).
According to Emily, a science teacher should update and upgrade his or her science content knowledge because science knowledge is changeable. She usually does that by participating in professional development workshops (second interview, 5/20/04). She also admitted that a science teachers’ science content knowledge is different from that of scientist. She said, “a science teacher has many branches of knowledge within science. Some of them might be very specific while some of them are more general and broad.” (first interview, 12/3/03) This component also includes knowing the scientific method and process.
Given that science facts, laws, and theories are produced by scientific method and process, Emily states that understanding of the scientific process is necessary for grasping science knowledge. She thinks that her teaching strategies are related to the discipline of science. Most activities in her classes are designed to promote students’ “inquiry” by following the scientific process (first interview, 12/03/03).
My science class is unique because of the inquiry, the exploration.
Because it’s kind of funny for a lot of kids, they think that
blueprint that they follow. They don’t understand that scientists have to be, have to brainstorm, have to think, have to pull on their prior knowledge, their interest, their ideas, the needs and then from there [they] develop their experiment. So, I think that my lessons follow that somewhat (first interview, 12/3/03).
Emily’s students learn the nature of science by engaging in activities that incorporate the scientific process. For this strategy to be successful, she thinks that a science teacher needs to understand the nature of science. According to Emily, science is not always true; it needs evidence to explain it, and she tries to incorporate this idea into her lessons. In accordance with this belief, she accepts any results of laboratory work if students can logically explain them. Emily thinks that it is a part of
the science process, saying:
When we do labs, if the results come out wrong, it’s so hard for the kids. So, they’ll try to change their results section, and I tell them “No, you should report what happened. And I tell them,
allowed to be wrong and still get 100 percent. If your hypothesis is wrong, that’s okay. We’ll go back and retest. We’ll go back and redo. They [should] do labs like scientists; they [should] go back if they have to redo it. They often come up with a new problem.
Sometimes there are new questions from what they get from the lab and that’s what we do (first interview, 12/3/03).
Emily’s component 1-b: knowledge of goals Another component of PCK is “knowledge of goals.” According to Emily, the subject that a teacher teaches determines the “goals.” Therefore, this component goes with “knowledge of science” in that sense. She defined this component as “what is the most important thing that you want to come away with, besides TAKS test” (third interview, 3/23/05). This component includes three specific elements: integrated understanding of science concepts, real-life application, and scientific literacy.
Emily believes that, above all, students should understand scientific concepts and how the concepts are integrated in order to apply their knowledge to their lives (second interview, 5/20/04). In order to boost students’ integrated understanding,
Emily often encourages student discussion. She stated:
the unit they realize that the human being functions as one whole.
So you look at the system through its parts, but then coming to an understanding and “aha,” that there is a whole and you can’t really just separate them out (second interview, 5/20/04).
Another element within this component is “real-life application.” Emily believes that a lesson is successful and that she has achieves her goal for the lesson
when students are able to apply the knowledge to their real lives. For example:
When we first started with the levers and pulleys, it’s really neat because the kids are given the materials and they are given some
box here and then they start thinking about how to make a lever work. Then they start exploring and they move into moving the load closer to the floor, moving it farther away and that moment of “aha,” and then they start saying things like “Oh, Miss, I always wondered why they have the handle on the hammer so far away from the head of the hammer. Oh, now I understand why the longer the screwdriver, the better it is. Now I understand…” And so they start pulling these things into their real lives. I think [it was] the success (Emily, first interview 12/03/03).
Accompanying these two elements, “scientific literacy” is also included in this
component. When asked about her ultimate goal for her science classes, Emily stated:
and to believe that they are scientists and that every time they ask a question, they are acting like scientists. When they go into their homes and they are around the neighborhood with their friends and they say, “I wonder why …” That’s because they are thinking like a scientist. That’s my main goal. I mean that it’s right there in my mission statement. My mission is to have every student to believe that they can think like a scientist, act like a scientist, and then be a scientist (second interview, 5/20/04).
As her mission statement clearly shows, she expects her students to be scientifically literate by asking questions and thinking and acting as scientists do.
Emily’s component 2-a: knowledge of students Five specific elements that emerged from Emily’s data are grouped into this component: (1) students’ different levels of understanding; (2) different abilities of students; (3) different interests of students; (4) different needs of students; and (5) prior knowledge of students.
Emily determines her teaching pace and strategies based on her students.
When asked about the primary factors that she considers when planning and teaching
a lesson, she stated:
I have to go with what kind of students I’ve got. What are their ability levels? What are their interests? From there, I might make
Emily also stated, “I have different classes of different ability levels and different needs, so I need to consider that” (first interview, 12/3/03). According to Emily, it is also important for a middle school science teacher to construct her lessons based on students’ interests because those lessons tend to more successful in engaging students in the learning process. She strives to meet these differences when she teaches. She
I think that something is changing in the learning style of students
they’re learning (second interview, 5/20/04).
Emily also considers students’ prior knowledge. To informally assess the knowledge her students have previously acquired, she usually asks questions. She
Emily’s component 2-b: knowledge of curriculum organization This component includes six elements that emerged from Emily’s data. Those elements are: (1) TEKS; (2) organizing integrated science lessons; (3) making connections between concepts; (4) vertical alignment; (5) aligning with other subject areas; and (6) being flexible.