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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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(2001), Marks (1990), and Tamir (1988) to elicit the PCK of teachers. It could also be that these studies sought to have teachers describe their specialized teaching knowledge. Given that similar categories emerge from the empirical studies including this study, these components seem to prove essential for teaching.

While there are some similarities, there are differences. These differences in terminology may contribute to better understanding of each PCK component.

Practical and Specific Terminologies Given that the findings of this study show that PCK consists of both knowledge and the application of that knowledge, the terminology for each component of PCK should represent both the knowledge and application piece within PCK. This approach resulted in the creation of more practical and specific terminologies for components and elements than the ones in the previous studies.

Taking a closer look at the terminologies for the seven components in this study, one finds that they are more practical and specific, so that one can easily adapt them to various science teaching situations.

Knowledge of curriculum organization.

“Knowledge of curriculum,” used by the researchers described in the review of the literature, differs from “knowledge of curriculum organization” in this study.

Within this component, the specific elements categorize into two groups. One group includes static knowledge, such as TEKS, TAKS, district standards, curriculum vertical alignment and alignment with other subject areas. The other group includes the ways knowledge is applied, such as how to develop integrated science lessons, how to select what to teach, how to organize lessons in a specific order, and how to make connections between the units and lessons. Since having knowledge elements does not mean that a teacher can apply them to his or her teaching practice, it is likely more practical to include the application elements within the component.

Knowledge of assessment strategies.

Another example is “knowledge of assessment strategies.” Some of the previous research included the “knowledge of assessment” within PCK (Loughran et al., 2001; Magnusson et al., 1999; Tamir, 1988). Despite the fact that the researchers agreed that assessment is not separate from teaching practice, none of these studies provided a detailed description of the assessment component within PCK.

The experienced secondary science teachers in this study considered the assessment component to be a necessary part of their teaching practice — of their PCK. They attributed this to their linkage of assessment to their curriculum organization, their decision about teaching strategies, and to the furtherance of their teaching goals. This result of the study shows that the assessment component also includes both knowledge pieces a variety of assessment techniques, including formal and informal types of assessment, authentic assessment, quizzes, tests, laboratory journals, and student discussions and the application pieces how to initiate student discussion, how to assess student performance, how to respond to student questions, and so on.

Inclusive and Comprehensible Elements within Each Component The other contribution towards a better understanding of PCK components in this study is its articulation of inclusive and comprehensible elements within each component of PCK. As the conceptualization of PCK has varied greatly, the definitions of PCK components have also fluctuated among the researchers. In comparison to the previous studies related to PCK, the results of this study seem to provide more inclusive and comprehensible elements within each component.

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For example, “knowledge of students” in this study refers to students’ different levels of understanding, their different needs and interests, their learning difficulties related to specific science topics, their misconceptions, and their prior knowledge including previous experience and learning. Initially Shulman (1987) indicated only students’ learning difficulties with relation to content. These specific elements within this component draw attention to the aspects of students that should be incorporated into a teacher’s lesson planning and teaching practice.

Knowledge of teaching strategies.

“Knowledge of teaching strategies” in this study refers to a variety of instructional strategies including inquiry types of activities and cookbook laboratories; various representations and materials including demonstrations, simulations, and models; and teachers’ uses of these elements. According to Anderson and Smith (1987), these strategies can be used to “help students change their conceptions, but they must be used in a flexible and responsive manner” (p.

101). The working definition of “teaching strategies” that was used in this study is congruent with the one that Anderson and Smith (1987) described in their work. The four teachers in the study stated how they monitor students’ progress and diagnose students’ misconceptions, and then use that information to promote their students’ understanding of scientific concepts. These experienced teachers are capable of using appropriate teaching strategies without spending a lot of time planning their lessons.

They also demonstrate flexibility in adjusting their teaching strategies according to responses from their students.

Along with the assertion of this study that PCK is not only the knowledge, but also the application of that knowledge into teaching practice, the terminology used in this study will, likewise, be more understandable and useful to those who teach in the classroom. Therefore, the results of this study will provide more applicable guidelines for science teacher educators.

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The next point is that “knowledge of science” and “knowledge of goals” serve as base knowledge that governs all of the remaining components of PCK. Notably, all four teachers rated knowledge of science and knowledge of goals highest. Table 4 shows the ratings of each component by the participating teachers. The “knowledge of science” in this study refers to inclusive subject matter knowledge areas related to science the nature of science, scientific process, and science content per se. Many studies addressed the major role of subject matter knowledge in teaching practice (Gess-Newsome, 1999; Hashweh, 1987; Leinhardt & Smith, 1985; Smith & Neale, 1989; Wilson, Shulman, & Richert, 1987). The results of this study reaffirm the importance of subject matter knowledge in teaching science. Furthermore, all four of the participant teachers agreed that the goals for their science teaching are derived from the knowledge of science. These two interwoven components determine what to teach, how to teach, and what to assess.

Figure 13 shows the scope of the seven components of PCK within teaching science, which summarizes the teachers’ rating of each component according to its the importance in science teaching. The results of this study show that the teachers build their curriculum organization upon the base knowledge that includes knowledge of science and knowledge of goals. They also consider their students to be important agents for deciding what to teach (curriculum organization). Based upon these components, the teachers specifically make their instructional decision of how to teach (teaching strategies) and what/how to assess (assessment strategies).They rely upon their knowledge of resources in this decision making process.

Figure 13. The scope of seven PCK components

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The last point is the “knowledge of resources” component. The teachers in the study discussed an area that had not yet been articulated in the PCK literature.

Specifically, they spoke about a need for “knowledge of resources” in teaching science. Given that the experienced secondary teachers are able to design their lessons according to the specific needs and abilities of their students, it is probably even more effective to provide available resources for improving their understanding of science content or for developing materials or activities for their lessons.

While it might seem at first glance that this area is similar to that of “curriculum and media,” it is in fact rather distinct. In looking at the literature on “knowledge of curriculum,” we noticed that all examples were linked explicitly to published materials made specifically for science instruction. The four participating teachers spoke about resources and materials that were not always published and that often were linked to local science facilities or found in everyday experiences. This unique knowledge component enables science teachers to transform an artifact developed by science facilities or organizations as well as the aforementioned materials or activities into a classroom experience that creates a new learning opportunity. Multimedia and laboratory technology also fall into this component. The teachers recognized multimedia and laboratory technology to be another set of resources that facilitate effective science teaching. Furthermore, the four participating teachers’ conceptualizations of PCK show that “knowledge of resources” significantly affects curriculum organization, teaching strategies, and assessment organization (see Figure 14). Therefore, this study suggests that “knowledge of resources” be added to the body of PCK components.

Figure 14. The role of knowledge of resources in science teaching

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This study is expected to be significant in several regards. In the following paragraphs, the implications are discussed in terms of theory, policy, and practice.

Although many educational researchers addressed PCK as a fundamental knowledge for teaching, I am not aware of many empirical qualitative studies of PCK conceptualization with specific regard to science teaching. This attempt to conceptualize PCK from the experienced teachers’ perspectives is expected to encourage both researchers in the area and science teacher educators to find new ways to apply teachers’ insights into educational pursuits; and to approach, investigate, and facilitate the growth of the PCK of science teachers The effort to investigate the components that form a science teacher’s PCK may communicate to educational policy-makers that traditional teacher education programs are inadequate in that pedagogy and content are not interwoven in the program for professional development. This study also suggests that teacher education programs be enhanced by incorporating the seven components of PCK. The attempt to represent a construct of PCK through the experienced teachers’ lenses and the findings of this study will provide an empirical foundation upon which more applicable guidelines for the program development process can be built.

Conceptualizing PCK through experienced science teachers’ perspectives may already be a valuable practice in itself, in that this effort can help those in teacher education understand how to construct professional development programs that are conducive to the growth of PCK. This study also provides explicit criteria for practicing teachers to use for developing their own expertise in teaching science.

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Through this study, I realized that further research over a longer period of time is necessary for better understanding of these teachers’ PCK. Given the experiential nature of PCK, I would like to further study how PCK transforms over years of teaching experience. A comparative study between beginning teachers and experienced teachers is likely appropriate to see the difference in their PCK conceptualizations. Conducting a longitudinal study focusing on a teacher’s development of PCK would also be useful for capturing the evolutionary features of PCK development.

While working with these mentor teachers, it was apparent that the interactions within the mentoring program may have contributed to the development of PCK for both mentor teachers and beginning teachers. Therefore, further study is required to understand better whether participation in a mentoring program affects PCK development and if so, how.

Despite prolific efforts in this domain over the past two decades, there has been no attempt to codify the domains of this knowledge for practical use. Thus, future study is necessary in order to scale the components and develop a PCK rubric for measuring science teachers’ levels of PCK.


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You are being asked to participate in a research study. This form provides you with information about the study. The Principal Investigator (the person in charge of this research) or his/her representative will also describe this study to you and answer all of your questions. Please read the information below and ask questions about anything you don’t understand before deciding whether or not to take part. Your participation is entirely voluntary and you can refuse to participate without penalty or loss of benefits to which you are otherwise entitled.

Title of Research Study:

Defining teachers’ knowledge base from the viewpoint of experienced science teachers: A case study of perceptions of effective teaching in mentor science teachers Principal Investigator(s) (include faculty sponsor), UT affiliation, and Telephone


Eunmi Lee Science Education Center The University of Texas at Austin 512-232-6207 Funding source: N/A What is the purpose of this study?

The purpose of this study is to explore effective ways of teaching science from the perspectives of experienced science teachers who serve as mentors to beginning science teachers. The participating mentor teachers from the “Teachers as Mentors” program are invited to participate in the study. Five to seven teachers are anticipated to participate in the study. To document teachers’ perceptions, I will conduct semistructured one-on-one interviews and observations of mentoring activities. I will also utilize monthly reflective summaries of mentor teachers to better understand the teachers’ perceptions.

What will be done if you take part in this research study?

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