The research questions were
1 . Were there any differences in the degree of science content understandings held by teacher candidates in the traditional and conceptual change groups following science content instruction?
2. What effects did the treatments have on the teacher candidates’ understandings of science pedagogy?
3. What effects did the treatments have on the teacher candidates’ ability to use conceptual change pedagogy in their instructional practice?
27 college seniors enrolled in a university elementary teacher education program located in the western United States. The subjects were randomly placed by the university certification admissions committee into two sections of a 10-week science methods course. There were 17 conceptual change (14F, 3M) and 10 (8F, 2M) traditional subjects, All subjects had previously completed the two science content courses required for their certificate. The most frequently taken courses were "Common Medicines ," "Trees and Shrubs ," and "Energy Resources."
The research presented in this article is based on three hypotheses.
- First, the pedagogy through which teachers learn science content is a primary determinant of how they understand and teach science.
- Second, in order for most elementary teacher candidates to develop conceptual understanding of science content they need to reconstruct their subject-matter knowledge through a process of conceptual change.
- Third, the experience of learning science content themselves through the conceptual change process will facilitate the understanding and application of conceptual change pedagogy in science instruction.
The conceptual change instruction was developed around the four conditions necessary for accommodation of a scientific conception as described by Posner et al. (1982). These conditions are intelligibility (ability to understand the concept), plausibility (believability and consistency of the concept), dissatisfaction with existing conceptions, and fruitfulness of the concept for use in external contexts.
Five step strategy
- The first step involved the diagnosis of misconceptions.
- The second step involved exploring the phenomena in question using guided discovery methods.
- The third step consisted of a discussion of the results of the experiments.
- The fourth step was used to facilitate the development of dissatisfaction with the preexisting conceptions.
- When students were able to distinguish between scientifically accepted ideas and naive theories, the instruction moved to the final step, where teacher candidates were given the opportunity to develop fruitfulness by applying the new concepts to real-world examples. The instructor asked the students to provide examples of the phenomena occurring in their own lives and to explain the concept in context. For each concept explored, the five-step model was used.
- The teacher candidates in the conceptual change group had significantly higher gains in their content understandings than did those in the traditional group.
- This finding supports previous research (e.g., Champagne et al., 1985; McClosky, 1983) that traditional science instruction, even that with a heavy emphasis on laboratory work, does not significantly improve students’ conceptual understandings. Challenging students’ countertheories must be an integral part of science instruction, if students’ conceptual knowledge is to improve.
- This finding was also consistent with the idea that teachers teach as they were taught (Stoddart & Stofflett, 1992).
- The subjects in the conceptual change group were better able to translate their cognition of conceptual change pedagogy into practice than were the traditional subjects.
- The findings of this study indicate that this round of reform will fail, as previous rounds have, unless the recommendations on teaching and learning are applied to teachers as well as students.
- The data presented in this study indicate that many teacher candidates hold similar misconceptions and learn in the same way as students do: To improve their understanding they also need to be taught conceptually.
- The pedagogy used in college science content courses will need to incorporate the new views of teaching and learning if teacher knowledge is to be improved.
- Showing teachers how to use innovative curriculum and instructional materials and modeling innovative practice will not be sufficient to bring about changes in their science teaching.
- Teachers must experience the innovative pedagogy first as learners before they can develop intelligibility of the methods being taught.
- The findings of this study draw attention to a fundamental dilemma in science education reform: the expectation that teachers can learn to be constructivist teachers when they have not been constructivist learners.
- Educational reformers, however, typically expect teachers to change their pedagogical conceptions by being shown and told about innovative practice (Shulman, 1986; Stoddart, 1993)
- the authors propose that the use of conceptual change pedagogy in teacher preparation is the one that is most likely to bring about change in teacher candidates’ conceptions of teaching and learning precisely because it involves the challenging of preconceptions and reconstruction of knowledge structures.
- These findings are a powerful example of constructivist theory in practice: They demonstrate the importance of the personal construction of knowledge over teaching as showing and telling.