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Figure 9. Wendy’s conceptualization of PCK (Essential knowledge areas for science teaching)
Shawna was recommended for the study by the “Teachers as Mentors” project, with which she had worked on several projects. Shawna was actively involved as a leader in the mentoring program and had an excellent reputation in her school district.
Although she was very busy with her school work, her mentoring project, and her graduate school work, she was interested in the study and agreed to participate. Of the five participants, Shawna was the only one whose entire career had been exclusively in teaching. She had thirty-three years of teaching experience. She invited me to observe three of her science classes which included students of varying abilities. She showed me the files that she had accumulated for each class, which included activity list and the like. She often explained at length as she answered my interview questions.
Shawna has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and a Masters’ degree in Educational Administration. She is currently pursuing another Masters’ degree in Integrated Science Education. Although she has the credentials to become an administrator or principal in the district, she has decided to stay in the classroom.
When I asked her the reason, she said, “because I love teaching” (first interview 11/24/03).
When Shawna started teaching, sixth-grade was taught at the elementary school level, but it later was moved to middle school. Her career began in an elementary school, and she has taught sixth-grade science at middle school for over twenty years (out of thirty-three years total). She has taught at her current middle school for ten years.
Shawna said that she learned how to be a good science teacher through trial and error (first interview 11/24/03). She had also been influenced by a mentor, who really helped her understand the social aspects of the children. She believed that good science teachers should never stop thinking and looking for opportunities for professional development. While working with her, I found her to be a thoughtful and reflective teacher. She is also very active in her professional development and takes pride in being a lifelong learner.
Shawna’s Teaching Context Shawna teaches in a school district in a town outside of San Antonio. Her middle school has a student population of approximately 1,600 students. The majority of her students are Hispanic and Caucasian, along with a small number of AfricanAmerican students. She stated that most of the students in her class come from families with low socioeconomic status, and she considers that fact when planning her lessons (first interview 11/24/05). She teaches six classes a day, and all of them are sixth grade science classes, composed of fifteen to twenty students. Shawna divided her six classes into three groups according to the students’ levels of understanding and ability. She used different activities with similar objectives to help the studentsunderstand science better.
She was associated with many science projects both locally and nationally, such as Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), an inquiry-based environmental science curriculum, and the Jason project, a hands-on inquiry program. She often invites scientists to her class to demonstrate to her students what scientists do and how they do it. She wants to encourage her students to think of themselves as scientists by acting and thinking as scientists. She also knows of many local informal science education centers and uses them as resources to teach about the local issues that are closely related to the students’ daily lives. For example, when teaching the “water” curriculum, she uses SAWS the San Antonio Water System as an organization where she can access useful materials and information for her and her students. In doing so, she encourages students to think about local issues and take responsibility as problem solvers.
Shawna emphasizes hands-on experience in science learning, so she tries to incorporate as many activities as possible into her class. She believes that students at that age learn better by doing. She also believes that activities should be connected to make students’ learning meaningful. She urges students to keep science journals, in which students record data, tables, figures, and questions that come out during activities and experiments. Students are required to complete the journal byincluding findings and conclusions after each experiment or activity. Shawn uses the journals as one of her assessment materials.
In the following sections, I will describe the components and elements of PCK from Shawna’s perspective and summarize how she conceptualizes these components as a knowledge base for teaching science.
Shawna’s Components of Knowledge for Teaching Science Shawna’s data pointed to the same seven components that had emerged from Wendy’s; however, she ranked them differently than Wendy had. Each component will be described according to the importance attributed by Shawna.
Shawna’s component 1: knowledge of science.
This component of PCK did not initially emerge from Shawna’s data until the third interview was conducted. While she and I were looking together at the codes and components in the third interview, Shawna decided that she wanted to add this component to the body of PCK components. She reported that this component is the fundamental knowledge for science teaching. This component includes science content knowledge, integrated science knowledge, and understanding the spiraling effect.
She believes that a teacher has to continually enhance her content knowledge and undo any misconceptions (third interview, 3/11/05). To do so, a teacher needs to go back to college again because certain areas of science content as in Physics or Chemistry, can only by learned in depth in class. She also believes that middle school teaching is more difficult than high school teaching because a teacher should know all
areas of science content. She stated:
The most difficult area is middle school because we have to teach all
science. They only teach one science like a Chemistry teacher is teaching Chemistry, a Physics teacher is teaching Physics. They should integrate, but [they] don’t always do that. But, in a middle school, we have to teach all of them, so how strong of teacher do we need to be? Much stronger; you need to be more knowledgeable (third
Shawna stresses that middle school teachers should have the ability to integrate the science content across all the areas of science. She tries to incorporate the aspects of Physics and Chemistry that are related to the Biology lessons (She teaches sixth-grade science at that time). She also believes that an understanding of “the spiraling effect” is another part of “knowledge of science content” for middle
school teachers. She explained:
The spiraling effect that is what we need. We got some grade levelto- grade level; like for six graders if we introduce something for the first time, [then, when they become] seventh graders, [they] will pick
depth is going to be or should be, and I think teachers have a very difficult time with that. What happens is at “all-level,” a teacher teaches the same thing and that shouldn’t be so. The students are supposed to get more depth of that topic in the next grade level (third
Her understanding of “knowledge of science” seems to mean the “knowledge of curriculum organization.” However, she believes that all these elements are included in the area of knowledge of science, particularly in the middle school teaching context.
Unlike other teachers cases, a great emphasis is placed on this area of knowledge because Shawna usually uses a “backward design” to develop her lessons
and units. She believes that assessment should be ongoing. She explained:
“Backward design” starts with my assessment and I build the units. So, I am really choosing the activities that address what I want my students to know. So it is really good because what it does is that it forces teachers to choose quality activities in the first place. They have quality activities and have a reason for what you are doing. So many of the teachers do the activities because it is fun or they do like doing enough activities, but that doesn’t mean it is necessary to teach concepts that they supposed to teach (third interview, 3/11/05).
She divided assessment strategies into two categories: formal versus informal.
According to her categorization, formal assessment includes exams, authentic assessment, and problem-based assessment; informal assessment includes questioning, classroom discussion, lab debrief, and daily assignments. She considers informal assessment as on-going evaluation to diagnose what her students understand and learn.
For instance, she said, “Assessing to make sure what exactly my students are taught now then I could build on a higher level of learning” (first interview,
students’ understanding about science concepts in the units; and (2) to help students integrate what they have learned and apply it to real life. Regular examination is usually used for the first purpose. Project-based assessment or authentic assessment is used for the second purpose (third interview, 3/11/05). She distinguished authentic assessment from project-based assessment. She defined “problem-based assessment” as being when students identify the problem in a simulated situation and then come back with the solution for how to address the problem. Meanwhile, “authentic assessment” depends on students’ real-life situation or real-life problem. She
Once the lake across the road [near the school], all of sudden, huge amount of fish killed and they had to identify what the problem is, what caused that fish kill. And then, make a recommendation that prevent from the problem from happening again. They did a “simulation” where they do gather their data and analyze their data.
And make a presentation to the city board of directors or something like that (third interview, 3/11/05).
She tries to include more authentic assessment as her formal assessment. Shawna values making connections between her science lessons and students’ real lives, and she believes that this type of assessment helps her to achieve the goals of her class, for example, scientific literacy.
Shawna’s component 3: knowledge of goals.
Shawna’s definition of this component is “what I am aiming for in my science teaching” (third interview, 3/11/05). This component includes (1) scientific literacy;
(2) understanding of science concepts; (3) scientific communication; and (4) making connections to real life.
Shawna wants her students to be life-long learners and to solve problems by
applying their understanding of science to real life. She stated:
My ultimate goal is for them to love what they learn and to keep searching for answers. I want them to be life-long learners. Science is what drives our world. Everything keeps going right back to it. So, I believe their lives would be better if they would be stronger in science.
If kids say, “well, what do we need science for?” I will say, “Everything is science. Everything is.” Every time we read about something or see something on the news or something happens at home or they see something on their way home or out in the courtyard, everything relates back to science (second interview, 5/21/04).
An understanding of science concepts is necessary for students to further utilize the concepts in the future. She said, “Even though they don’t become scientists, they still use science everyday. I want them to be more knowledgeable in science.
And it’s really important” (third interview, 3/11/05). She encourages her students to communicate scientifically in the class. She commented, “The students should be able to explain it and to share their knowledge with other students or family members” (second interview, 5/21/04). Although she believes that a scientist should do that, she admitted that it is difficult to get students to convey what they are thinking in this manner. She said, “It is a real challenge keeping them talking like the scientist rather than jive talk from the neighborhood. I have to constantly keep reminding them of when they give an answer or explain what they think” (second interview, 5/21/04).
She believes that it is important to make connections between what her students have learned in class and their real-life situations. When I asked for the
importance of an activity that she had developed, she explained:
and they can make a difference as an individual. Here in San Antonio, water is a big issue and that’s what this [activity] is. The name of it is “Incredible Journey.” The kids are responsible for being good stewards and conserving water and a lot of times they don’t know what they can do even as young as they are, whereas with the unit, they can (second interview, 5/21/04).
Shawna believes that students better understand the knowledge when they can use it. She said, “I assume that they actually do understand things because they can relate it to their real lives more than just a bunch of words on paper. I feel the assumption is true” (second interview, 5/21/04). In spite of time constraints, she tries
to implement her beliefs as much as possible in her classes. She said:
and making those relationships and I would much rather take more time to cover them than hurry up and get through the material just
connection. (second interview, 5/21/04).
Shawna’s component 4: knowledge of curriculum organization.
Shawna refers to the knowledge of curriculum organization as “how it should be organized” (third interview, 3/11/05). She thinks that knowledge of curriculum organization is a crucial part of science teaching. Her strengths as a science teacher
come from this area of knowledge. She stated: