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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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In this chapter, I have attempted to describe the methodological approach and procedures I employed to examine mentor teachers’ understanding of pedagogical content knowledge. The rationale for using the case study and the procedure for adopting grounded theory as an analytic framework were discussed at the beginning of this chapter. My experience and background relative to this study were also described because they might influence, to a certain extent, my interpretation of the data. Some discussion about the nature of each collected data source and the way each source supplements the others followed after that. Specific procedures for analyzing data were described and the processes and explanations of utilizing NVivo

2.0 as a technological tool to effectively manage data analysis were illustrated in detail. Lastly, the techniques for enhancing the validity and credibility of the study were discussed at the end of the chapter.

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How much and which conceptual details to include and which can be excluded. It all goes back to answering the questions “What was this research all about/” and “What were the main issues and problems with which these informants were grappling?” Then, there should be sufficient conceptual detail and descriptive quotations to give readers a comprehensive understanding of these. (Strauss &

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This chapter consists of two parts: the description of each case and the overall analyses across four cases. The first part of the chapter is divided into four sections, one section for each case. Each section is titled with the name of the participant and consists of three sub-sections, including each participant’s teaching context; the components of PCK which emerged from the data; and each participant’s conceptualization of his or her own PCK components.

Each section begins with the participant’s personal background as a science teacher and the teaching context related to his or her school and classes. This allows for a better understanding of each participant’s conceptualization of PCK. Next, there is a discussion about the PCK components that the teacher conceptualized. Each component is rank ordered by the teacher according to its importance to teaching science. Interestingly, seven common components emerged in all four cases. While the components and elements within each component were initially based on my interpretation of interview data and field notes, I kept reconstructing according to each participant’s input over the course of the study. Thus, it is, in part, a coconstructed interpretation between the participating teachers and myself. In the third interview, every teacher agreed upon the components of PCK, with some minor modifications of the elements within the components.

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conceptualization of the identified PCK components, a diagram that depicts the teacher’s conceptualization of PCK. Each diagram was created from the third interview and revised by exchange of emails for clarification.

The second part of Chapter 4 is a discussion of PCK components across the cases. This part is mainly based on the results drawn from the cross-case analysis.

Discussion about each component is briefly presented, then illustrated with examples from the four teachers.

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Based on the sampling criteria, Wendy was recommended for this study by the “Teachers as Mentors” program director. She was identified as one of the best mentor science teachers, with a strong science background. When I asked her to participate in this study, she willingly agreed. She told me that she had even participated in an action study research project with a university faculty member seven years ago. She enjoyed this experience immensely. In working with Wendy, I found her to be an energetic and enthusiastic science teacher.

Wendy has an undergraduate degree with a double major in Biology and Kinesiology and two masters’ degrees, one in Integrated Science and the other in Biology. She started her career as a biology teacher and coach with a Biology and Kinesiology Certificate and acquired a Composite Certificate through a Master’s program. During 28 years of teaching experience, she has taught Biology, Kinesiology, Marine science, Physical science, Marine biology, Chemistry, AP chemistry, AP Biology, Physical science, and GMO (Geology, Meteorology, Oceanography) in four high schools ranging in size from lA to 5A. She is very confident in teaching high school science.

Wendy enjoys mentoring beginning high school teachers in the “Teachers as Mentors” program. She feels her knowledge of science and her experience as a science teacher make her a good mentor. Wendy has served as a mentor in the program for four years and also she presented effective instructional strategies many times at teachers’ conferences, both statewide and nationwide.

Wendy believes that her strength is keeping in touch with what is new in science, so she always looks for new ideas and materials, she can use in her science classes. She values collaboration with colleagues in her subject area because she is able to learn from others’ experiences, while sharing successful ideas and activities (second interview, 5/18/04). She often discusses and modifies ideas or activities with her colleagues and tries to develop activities that will work better in her science classes. In addition, she is a self-motivated participant in conferences and workshops on professional development. She uses the workshops as opportunities to get new ideas and materials related to science teaching and to share information with other teachers. The following sub-sections describe Wendy’s teaching context and explore how she conceptualizes PCK as an experienced science teacher.





Wendy’s Teaching Context Wendy teaches in a high school in a rural area of south Texas. The semester she joined this study marked her fourteenth year at her present school. The majority of her students were White and Hispanic and a small number were African American.

She described her students as being neither well-educated nor coming from wealthy families. Most of the students in Wendy’s class will find jobs in the local job market instead of going to college (first interview, 12/01/03). She currently teaches Chemistry, AP Chemistry, Biology, AP Biology, Physical science, and GMO. She has six classes a day and each class is composed of fifteen to twenty students. Her students usually include sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Wendy strives to establish a good rapport with her students. This is evident in the classroom as students frequently ask questions about the topics that are being covered in class. The level of dialogue creates a class environment in which students are attentive to the topic covered and engaged in the lesson (observation, 3/10/05).

Wendy’s classroom is usually decorated with the products of classroom activities and student projects.

The state requires science teachers to devote forty percent of their science class time to be laboratory work. Wendy typically allocates more than forty percent of class time to hands-on activities and laboratories. She does this because she feels her students would have a better learning experience by being involved in the lessons, as opposed to having just lecture. She also states that most students are tactile learners, so they understand science concepts through doing and seeing science.

During her participation in the study, the laboratories were mostly guided inquiry (she gave students guidelines but allowed students to make some decisions) or verification type activities (she gave them directions and monitored students’ progress). She preferred group work with two, three, or four students, as the students helped each other in following the science procedures, and they discussed the questions that emerged during the activity. Wendy valued students’ discussion in her classes, while de-emphasizing memorization and regurgitation. She tried to bring real life experiences into her science classes as much as she could and often did this during the laboratory. As students participated in laboratories, they were encouraged to write about their findings and experiences in their science journals. Throughout the semester, Wendy kept reviewing the journals and used them for formative assessment.

As a science teacher, Wendy places great emphasis on conceptual understanding and knowing the vocabulary associated with the concepts because she believes both to be necessary for future learning and real-world application.

Additionally, for those who have difficulties with understanding what they are doing, Wendy personally tutors them after school.

The following subsections discuss the knowledge components for science teaching from Wendy’s perspective, as well as her conceptualization of those components to form a construct of PCK.

Wendy’s Components of Knowledge for Teaching Science In the process of analyzing Wendy’s interviews and my observations of her class, seven distinct components emerged to form her PCK for science teaching.

These components include knowledge of (1) science; (2) students; (3) goals; (4) teaching strategies; (5) curriculum organization; (6) resources; and (7) assessment.

Within each component, the specific elements indicate that each knowledge area is not only includes static knowledge, but also dynamic skills. I will describe the seven components and specific elements within each component in the following paragraphs. Each component is discussed in the order, Wendy assigned, according to its importance in teaching science.

Wendy’s component 1: knowledge of science.

When I asked Wendy to weigh each component according to importance to science teaching, she rated the knowledge of science highest. Particularly, she put a

great emphasis on knowing scientific content saying:

Obviously, if you don’t have the content knowledge, it will be hard to be a science teacher. I guess some teachers do it by trying to stay like a chapter ahead, but I think it will get you in trouble because students don’t stay within the chapter. What about they go some by themselves and bring some questions from outside. They wouldn’t necessarily be on that [chapter]. So, I would think that would be a number one for the science teacher (third interview, 3/10/05).

This knowledge area also includes the nature of science and the scientific inquiry process. Wendy tries to get as many students as possible engaged in lab activities because she believes most students are tactile learners. Furthermore, Wendy considers laboratories as opportunities to learn science. She tries to use laboratories that demonstrate a principle through the process of science. Furthermore, she values the process of doing science over the results of investigations (first interview, 12/01/03).

The following quote describes Wendy’s view of laboratory activities:

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supposed to happen. And you try to tell them, in science, a lot of our discoveries were made through accidents. They weren’t even doing these experiments for this and it went off someplace else but that was a good thing, because then we discovered a new pharmaceutical product. You try to tell the students that mistakes in science are not always bad. And I think it is going along with the discipline of science completely (first interview 12/01/03) Another element included in the knowledge of science from Wendy’s perspective is the knowledge of current issues in science. Wendy actively participates in professional development workshops to learn current scientific issues and how to incorporate them into her lessons. She believes that her effort to keep up with recent developments in science is essential because the body of scientific knowledge is always updated by new findings through scientific research (third interview 3/10/05).

Wendy’s component 2-a: knowledge of goals.

Wendy reported that goal setting in science teaching is given the first priority in her teaching practice because it guides “where to go” (third interview, 3/11/05).

Two main elements are included within this component of PCK: scientific literacy and a real-world application. While these two elements seem to be similar, Wendy draws some distinctions I adopted the definition of “scientific literacy” used in the National Science Education Standards [NSES] (NRC, 1996). According to the Standards, “scientific literacy” includes “the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity related areas” as well as “specific types of abilities” shown in the content standards of NSES (p. 22). Wendy offered an

illustration of the importance of personal scientific literacy. Specifically, she said:

I know obviously that all students I have are not going to college.

They are not all going to be doctors, but I think learning science helps you be a better problem solver and a better thinker and if you are that [a problem solver and thinker], then it helps you in any part of your life (second interview 5/18/04).

Her goals are to have the students learn about science, the skills found in science, and how to participate in society. Her lessons are configured designed to achieve these goals.

She also emphasized the importance of getting her students to apply what they

learn in her class to their real lives, saying:

I try to bring in real-world applications to my science class, not just what is in the textbook. Because so many kids say, “well, I don’t need algebra because when am I going to use it again?” I don’t

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chemistry has a lot to do with everything, too. I try to bring the realworld applications in too (first interview, 12/1/03).

She also tries to link daily life materials and phenomena to her lessons by using them as attention-getters, or assigning students month-long projects. During one class observation, she assigned her students a project called “Just hangin’ around real world reactions” (see Appendix). This project, according to Wendy, relates to the

everyday uses of chemical reactions. Wendy described the project as follows:



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