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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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What does a teacher need to know in order to teach science? The answer depends largely on the identity of the respondent. Some might suggest that content knowledge is important, while others indicate that pedagogical knowledge or other factors are essential to teaching. Another area that has recently gained more attention is Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK). Along with the emphasis on teaching as a unique professional status, teachers’ knowledge and beliefs have been identified as PCK in discussions among science teacher educators over the past few years (GessNewsome& Lederman, 1999). PCK is the unique combination of content and pedagogical knowledge that helps teachers transform science content into learning experiences for students. Additionally, standard documents in science education put great emphasis on developing teachers’ PCK as the crucial element of an effective reform effort.

The National Science Education Standards document (National Research Council [NRC], 1996) explicitly proposes two dimensions of science teachers’ professional development: content what teachers need to know and pedagogy how teachers should learn what they need to know (Bybee & Loucks-Horsley, 2001). Learning science and learning to teach science fall into the former category (Figure 1). This seminal document clearly indicates that having a solid understanding of science content and the nature of science is not guaranteed to make one a skilled teacher of science. Science teachers must also possess the special knowledge that allows them to tailor science learning to the needs of individuals and groups. This special knowledge called PCK differentiates the expertise of science teachers from that of scientists (Cochran, DeRuiter, & King, 1993; Grossman, 1990; NCR, 1996; Shulman, 1986; 1987).

Shulman (1986) first introduced PCK as a specific category of teacher knowledge “which goes beyond knowledge of subject matter per se to the dimension of subject matter for teaching” (p.9). Since the concept of pedagogical content knowledge was introduced, education researchers have attempted to describe and conceptualize the PCK of teachers. In recent years, research in this domain has significantly promoted the understanding of the elements that forms teachers’ knowledge. At this time, however, it is still difficult to explicitly identify and assess teachers’ PCK because PCK is a complex notion and science teachers themselves do not use this term (Loughran, Milloy, Berry, Gunstone, and Mulhall, 2001; Van Driel, Beijaard, and Verloop, 2001).

Figure 1. The framework of the Standards (NRC, 1996) for professional development

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The PCK of expert science teachers is an integrated understanding of teaching science through “trial and error in teaching situations, continual thoughtful reflection, interaction with peers, and much repetition of teaching science content” (NRC, 1996, p.67). Given the field-based nature of this concept, perhaps out best representation is within experienced science teachers. Experienced science teachers may have more developed PCK. Therefore, the goal of this study is to explore the concepts of PCK among experienced secondary science teachers who are serving as mentors for those who are in the beginning stage of science teaching in secondary schools. The focus will be on categorizing PCK by exploring these teachers’ conceptualization of PCK, specifically as it pertains to secondary science teachers’ expertise, acquired through the years of teaching experience.

Since Shulman (1986a, 1986b, 1987) called attention to the importance of PCK, educational researchers have sought specifically to explain the PCK construct (see Carleson, 1999; Grossman, 1990; Magnusson et al., 1999). Yet, most of the attempts to define and understand PCK have been through the lens of the researcher.

These explanations have resulted in limited representations that have ultimately failed to inform school reform efforts. According to Van Driel et al. (2001), these representations do not consider the teachers’ perspectives on their existing knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes. If educational researchers hope to affect the learning processes of teachers, then there has to be a representation of PCK that accurately reflects teachers’ perspectives. This study thus aims to understand PCK from the perspective of experienced secondary science teachers who serve as mentors to beginning science teachers.

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In the three research questions above, the experienced secondary science teachers to whom I refer are mentor teachers in the “Teachers as Mentors” program.

In this program, mentor teachers share their expertise in science teaching with beginning teachers who struggle with various classroom problems. Research on the roles that mentor teachers play demonstrates why these teachers are good subjects for understanding PCK. Mentor teachers are expected to have a deep understanding of subject matter, as well as an ability to create multiple representations in relation to real teaching situations (Feiman-Nemser & Parker, 1990; Huling-Austin, 1992) and be able to connect that knowledge to diverse student populations in the context of teaching (Kennedy, 1991b). They should have broader knowledge of diverse student populations and greater skills in observing and interpreting their learning and in helping novice teachers learn to teach in accordance with national mathematics and sciences teaching standards (Austin & Fraser-Abder, 1995; Wang & Odell, 2002).

Therefore, it seemed appropriate to select mentor teachers for articulating teachers’ perspectives of PCK. They have more opportunities to develop, elaborate, and reflect on their own expertise particularly PCK throughout the mentoring process than those who are not mentors. They are, thus, expected to have their own ways of representing the PCK that they have accumulated over many years of teaching experience.

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This study will be of value to the field of secondary science teacher education

in the following manners:

1. There is a dearth of in-depth qualitative studies that define PCK from the perspective of experienced science teachers. This study may encourage other researchers and teachers to find new ways to approach, investigate, and facilitate the growth of the PCK of science teachers.

2. The attempt to represent a construct of PCK through the experienced teachers’ lens and the findings of this study will provide an empirical foundation for constructing more applicable guidelines for practicing teachers to use for developing their own expertise in teaching science.

3. Conceptualizing PCK from teachers’ perspectives can help those in teacher education understand how to construct professional development programs that are conducive to the growth of PCK.

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It is known that employing qualitative methods in educational studies has its limitations. Of course, several limitations over the course of this study were recognized. One of the key limitations of the study relates to the nature of naturalistic qualitative inquiry. In this type of analysis, one may easily misinterpret reality by highlighting some data and devaluing other data. My personal background and the pre-perceptions about pedagogical content knowledge that I acquired during my review of the literature may have limited my interpretation of the data. I often encountered difficulty in my effort to package what I was seeing in the data into clearly marked categories or subcategories. Thus, it is important to recognize the alternative realities that I might have overlooked, and that some of the realities I reported here might have been misinterpreted despite conscious efforts to enhance the credibility of this study (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) by triangulating the findings from various data sources. I also conducted a “member check” process (Lincoln & Guba,

1985) to clarify and check the accuracy of my understanding of the data. In yet another effort to establish credibility, I shared my interpretations with knowledgeable people who reviewed and assisted in clarifying my interpretations.

Another limitation of this study relates to the case study research design. As Merriam (1998) pointed out, a case study represents a part instead of a whole. Since I dealt with a small number of teachers in specific grades and subjects, my findings may not be generalized to other cases. However, considering that the components and elements that emerged from the data analysis correspond, to some extent, to those in similar studies, the findings are certainly relevant to those who are involved in, particularly, science teacher education.

Another limitation of the study was the time constraint. The more time I spent on interviews and observations, the better I was able to capture teachers’ perceptions of PCK. Despite all my efforts, I was only able to conduct three interviews and two classroom observations for this study. However, I attempted to reduce the likelihood of misinterpreting of the data by member checking with participants during the process of analyzing the data. Thus, I believe that the findings of this study accurately represent my interpretation based on the shared ideas with the participants in the study.

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The next chapter, Chapter 2, includes a review of literature in areas related to this study. This chapter was divided to two main parts. The first part, an overview of teachers’ knowledge base in general, provides a review of the research on a model of teachers’ knowledge and a discussion of various models of teacher knowledge generated by several researchers. The second part, a variety of educational research on PCK, discusses the definitions and components of PCK across a number of earlier studies.

Chapter 3 details the research methods employed to carry out this inquiry.

This chapter of methodology includes a description of the sample, as well as the different data sources utilized for each of the three research questions. Additionally, Chapter 3 includes a thorough description of the data analysis procedures and analytical strategies employed in this study.

Chapter 4 presents the individual case studies developed for each of the four participants included in the investigation. These case studies were constructed by synthesizing the different data sources utilized during the study. Additionally, this chapter also includes a within-case and cross-case analysis aimed at identifying recurrent themes and categories in the pedagogical knowledge of the four secondary science teachers who participated in this study.

Finally, Chapter 5 includes the discussion of the findings, conclusions, implications of the study, and the directions for future research.

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To provide a common base of understanding in this study, the following

definitions are included:

Knowledge base of teaching science: the body of understanding, knowledge, skills, and dispositions that a teacher needs to perform effectively in a given teaching situation for example, teaching middle school science to a class of sixth-grades in an urban school or teaching chemistry to a class of high school seniors in an elite private school.

Scientific literacy: the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity related area as well as specific types of abilities Components: marking of a segment of data with a descriptive word Elements: specific units within each component Construct: structural representation formed by linking the relationship among categories that emerge from the data and by presenting dominance of each category

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As professionals, most of us are familiar with the literature in the field. Literature can be used as an analytic tool if we are careful to think about it in theoretical terms. Used in this way, the literature can provided a rich source of events to stimulating thinking about properties and for asking conceptual questions. It can furnish initial ideas to be used for theoretical sampling. (Strauss & Corbin, 1998,

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This chapter is a review of the literature related to the study. I will begin by discussing models of teachers’ knowledge as conceptualized by several renowned researchers in the area and then moving on to a review of previous research on the knowledge of science teachers. A review of the literature on PCK (Pedagogical Content Knowledge) as a critical part of teachers’ professional knowledge will follow, focusing on the nature, definition, and different conceptualizations of this concept.

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Before discussing the various models of teachers’ knowledge base proposed by researchers, I would like to solidify the definition of “teachers’ knowledge base”.

Adopting the definition of Wilson, Shulman, and Richert (1987), the term “teacher’s knowledge base” is defined in this study as “the body of understanding, knowledge, skills, and dispositions that a teacher needs to perform effectively in a given teaching situation” (p.106); e.g., teaching middle school science to a class of sixth graders in an urban school, or teaching chemistry to a class of high school seniors in an elite private school. The attempt to understand the complexity of teachers’ knowledge bases has generated a variety of conceptual models. I will draw an overview and discuss some of the seminal studies in this area from the past two decades.

In a case study with an English teacher, Elbaz (1983) used the term “practical knowledge” to refer to all kinds of knowledge integrated by the individual teacher in terms of personal values and beliefs oriented to her practical situation. In this effort, Elbaz called attention to the action and decision-oriented nature of the teacher’s situation, which construes the teacher’s knowledge as a function. Elbaz identified five categories of teachers’ knowledge through five in-depth interviews in the study. The categories were: (1) knowledge of self, (2) knowledge of milieu of teaching, (3) knowledge of subject matter, (4) knowledge of curriculum development, and finally (5) knowledge of instruction (i.e. of students and of the teaching-learning process).

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