What are the challenges that new science teachers face in trying to meet the increasingly high expectations laid out for them in current reform documents? What do we expect new science teachers to know and be able to do? [p609] Science teachers are expected to understand: (1) the content and disciplines of science, (2) learners, (3) instruction, (4) learning environments, and (5) professionalism. [p607] New elementary teachers may face even greater challenges in teaching science than do their secondary counterparts, since they typically teach multiple subjects, including all areas of science.[p608]
The authors see standards [INTASC, 2002 & NSES] for teaching as appropriate to use as a frame for their work: They concisely represent the kinds of things that teachers should probably be able to do—and indeed, that teacher educators should help them achieve—and are the result of some form of consensus-building at a higher level than a single scholar’s viewpoint.
1. The first theme, understanding the content and disciplines of science, focuses on the teacher’s understanding of “the major concepts, assumptions, debates, processes of inquiry, and ways of knowing that are central” to the science discipline(s) she teaches (INTASC, 1992, p. 14). (p613)
- new teachers have relatively weak understandings of science overall (p613)
- In general, the preservice teachers held alternative ideas that were similar to those that have been identified in students (Bendall et al., 1993; Ginns & Watters, 1995; Schoon & Boone, 1998; Trumper, 2003). Even secondary preservice teachers showed poor understandings of topics (Haidar, 1997). (p615)
- preservice secondary science teachers in their studies initially lacked understanding of the connections between concepts in the disciplines they were to teach; but these understandings improved over time and with experience.(p615)
- In sum, preservice teachers seem, for the most part, to lack adequate understandings of science content. This trend is especially pronounced at the elementary level; results are more mixed at the secondary level. Though most studies do not characterize change over time, those that do indicate that the preservice teachers’ knowledge may improve over time. (p615)
- Overall, these papers illustrate that many preservice teachers have unsophisticated understandings of inquiry and related skills, though of course individuals vary. p616
- The studies in this area consistently find that most (though not all) new teachers have naive beliefs about the nature of science (see Lederman, 1992, for a review). p616
- new science teachers’ ideas about learners can become more sophisticated with time and support p618
- in general these teachers struggle with understanding their learners; p618
- their practices with regard to their learners are often naive. p618
- preservice teachers tend not to consider students or student learning very extensively, very carefully, or in very sophisticated ways p618
- The preservice elementary and secondary teachers tended to have very limited ideas about what to do, instructionally, with students’ ideas p619
- Rodriguez, for example, studied 18 preservice secondary teachers, including 4 focus teachers, and found that the preservice teachers tended to feel hopeless and overwhelmed about working with diverse students. p620
- The studies reported within this theme show that, in general, new teachers do not have very clear ideas about what to do with regard to students’ ideas or backgrounds; at least at the elementary level, preservice teachers seem initially to want mainly to engage, interest, motivate, or manage their students. p620
3. The third theme, understanding instruction, means that the teacher “understands principles and techniques, along with advantages and limitations, associated with various instructional strategies” (INTASC, 1992, p. 20) and “uses a variety of instructional strategies” (INTASC, 2002, p. 4). [p621]
- Overall, these studies illustrate a mismatch between teachers’ ideas and practices—their ideas about instruction seem generally to be more sophisticated and innovative than are their actual practices. [p621]
- One basic challenge that new teachers face is developing sophisticated ideas about science instruction; these papers indicate that though improvement can occur, it is neither guaranteed nor necessarily long-lasting.
- In general, these studies — mostly conducted with secondary teachers — indicate that when new teachers have stronger subject matter knowledge, they are more likely to engage in more sophisticated teaching practices. p622
- Overall, then, teachers’ subject matter knowledge seems related to their instructional ideas and practice; stronger science knowledge typically co-occurs with more sophisticated ideas or practices with regard to instruction (though most of the studies related to this point were conducted with secondary teachers). p623
- In sum, new teachers face many challenges with regard to using effective instructional approaches, including lacking relevant subject matter knowledge, not knowing how to enact their instructional ideas, and being resistant to certain innovative practices. With support, though, teachers can begin to move along a positive trajectory.p624
- In sum, based on the few studies we identified in this area, we see that new teachers tend to have concerns about and struggles with management, sometimes leading them to engage in less reform-oriented teaching practices. p628
- Appleton and Kindt (2002) identify three important aspects of knowledge of schools: understanding the priority of science in a school culture, understanding the degree of personal choice one has about the curriculum, and identifying and obtaining resources for science teaching. p629
Supportive Science Coursework
- simply requiring more science content courses is not enough to enable teachers to develop improved understanding of science p633
- Many science teacher educators assume that teachers should engage in reform-oriented practices as learners if they are to learn more inquiry-oriented teaching practices and become more knowledgeable about the science content, scientific inquiry, and the nature of science;
- Science methods courses and teacher education programs can, of course, help to promote improved understanding of instruction p634
- Zembal-Saul and her colleagues (2000) describe the importance of engaging preservice elementary teachers in multiple cycles of planning, teaching, and reflection, over the course of a year. The preservice teachers who participated in the program emphasizing elementary science teaching improved in how they organized instruction around important scientific ideas (a challenge we identified for elementary teachers, who tended instead to focus on activities) and came to recognize the importance of accounting for their learners as they planned instruction p634
- Field experiences also help preservice teachers to overcome certain challenges [p635]
- action research
- collegial relationships
- educative curriculum materials
p624 "In sum, new teachers face many challenges with regard to using effective instructional approaches, including lacking relevant subject matter knowledge, not knowing how to enact their instructional ideas, and being resistant to certain innovative practices. With support, though, teachers can begin to move along a positive trajectory."
p626 "One study provides a counterpoint to this general trend, though it focuses on only a single teacher (Abell & Roth, 1994). This preservice elementary teacher developed effective coping strategies while taking her science methods course. She infused additional science into an otherwise limited science curriculum and inspired the other teachers in her school to use cooperative learning experiences. Her personal attributes and the features of her student teaching context helped her to take risks in her environment."
Abell, S. K., & Roth, M. (1994). Constructing science teaching in the elementary school: The socialization of a science enthusiast student teacher. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(1), 77–90.