Preparing Preservice Early Childhood Teachers to Teach Nature of Science: Writing Children’s Books

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Akerson, V.L., Elcan Kaynak, N., & Avsar Erumit, B. (2019) Preparing preservice early childhood teachers to teach nature of science: Writing children’s books. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/preparing-preservice-early-childhood-teachers-to-teach-nature-of-science-writing-childrens-books/

by Valarie L. Akerson, Indiana University; Naime Elcan Kaynak, Erciyes University; & Banu Avsar Erumit, Recep Tayyip Erdogan University

Abstract

Preparing preservice early childhood teachers to teach about Nature of Science (NOS) in their science lessons can provide challenges to the methods course instructor. Early childhood science methods course instructors generally agree that early childhood preservice teachers enjoy using children’s literature in their instruction. Preservice teachers can write and design children’s books that can help them to not only refine their own understandings of NOS aspects, but also to consider how to introduce these ideas to young children through their stories. These stories can support the teaching of NOS through hands-on activities in the classroom. The authors tracked a class of early childhood preservice teachers over the course of a semester to determine their ideas about NOS and their depictions of NOS in a storybook they designed for young children. The authors determined whether these NOS ideas were depicted accurately and in a way that could be conceptualized by young children. It was found that nearly all of the preservice teachers were able to portray the NOS aspects accurately through their stories, and that not only did the stories hold promise of introducing these NOS ideas in an engaging manner for early childhood students, but the preservice early childhood teachers also refined their own understandings of NOS through the assignment.

Introduction

An appropriate understanding of nature of science (NOS) is considered important for reform efforts in the USA, and is highlighted in the Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, 2013). Studies have shown that preservice and inservice early childhood teachers can develop strategies for emphasizing NOS that improve student understandings of NOS (e.g. Conley, Pintrich, Vekiri, & Harrison, 2009; Deng, Chen, Tsai, & Chai, 2011, Khishfe & Abd-El-Khalick, 2002). Teachers have called for support through different strategies they can use in their classrooms (Akerson , Pongsanon, Nargund, & Weiland, 2014). Akerson, et al (2011) has found that using children’s literature is one effective strategy for emphasizing NOS to elementary students. Additionally, preservice early childhood teachers are often more excited about children’s literature than science, and so using children’s books within science methods courses can help preservice early childhood teachers improve their experiences within science methods and see how their strengths and interests in literature can connect to science instruction (Akerson & Hanuscin, 2007).

It has been the first author’s experience in teaching early childhood science methods that early childhood teachers are excited about using children’s books to support their NOS and science teaching. However, these same preservice teachers have been frustrated that they were unable to find a children’s book that would introduce the NOS aspects they wish to teach at early grade levels. The instructor believed that a good way to support the preservice teachers in both their understandings of NOS, and their wishes to teach it to their early childhood students, that the teachers could be supported in developing their own children’s books to use with their students. In this case, a course assignment was designed to help preservice teachers conceptualize how to transfer their knowledge about NOS to early childhood students through a children’s book they designed.

Based on the NSTA (2000) position statement for what teachers should know about NOS and what they are responsible for teaching their own students, the course instructor emphasized the following NOS aspects in her class: (a) scientific knowledge is both reliable and tentative (we are confident in scientific knowledge, yet recognize claims can change with new evidence or reconceptualizing existing evidence), (b) no single scientific method exists, but there are various approaches to creating scientific knowledge, such as collecting evidence and testing claims, (c) creativity plays a role in the development of scientific knowledge through scientists interpolating data and giving meaning to data collected, (d) there is a relationship between theories and laws in that laws describe phenomena and theories are scientific knowledge that seek to explain laws, (e) there is a relationship between observations and inferences with inferences being interpretations made of observations, (f) although science strives for objectivity there is an element of subjectivity in the development of scientific knowledge, and (g) social and cultural context plays a role in development of scientific knowledge, as the culture at large influences what is considered appropriate scientific investigations and knowledge.

To ensure that the preservice teachers held sufficient NOS content knowledge we measured their conceptions of NOS using the VNOS-B (Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Schwartz, 2002), and also again midway through the semester, and again at the end, to determine sufficient content knowledge and to determine whether thinking about how to teach NOS to young children may influence their own ideas. The VNOS-B does not explicitly ask about the existence of a single scientific method, but does include the empirical NOS, meaning that scientific claims and development of scientific knowledge requires empirical evidence and data. The table below shows their changes in NOS conceptions over the semester.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Preservice Early Childhood Teachers’ NOS Conceptions Over Time

For the storybook project, the instructor asked preservice teachers to  introduce all NOS ideas except the distinction between theory and law, as that is not in the early childhood curriculum. Previous research has found that early childhood preservice teachers and their students can conceptualize these NOS ideas, (Akerson & Donnelly, 2010),  and therefore we believed that including them in a children’s book would be a good way to introduce these NOS  ideas to young children. The first author was the instructor of the course, and kept a teacher/researcher journal throughout the course. The other two authors aided in ensuring the instructor was teaching NOS using explicit reflective instruction by observing each class session, taking notes of student engagement and NOS instruction, as well as photographing students working, and in analyzing effectiveness of the development of the books and instruction using the data collected as a team.

The Course Design

The project was introduced at the beginning of the semester long methods course as something the preservice teachers would work toward completing as a final “exam.” Indeed, the project replaced the final exam period for this section, and instead the preservice teachers had a book-share where the preservice teachers shared their books with the rest of the class. The NOS elements that were targeted in this project and were to be included in the book are the tentative but reliable NOS, the creative NOS, the distinction between observation and inference, the empirical NOS, the sociocultural NOS, and the subjective NOS. These NOS ideas were included because they lend themselves to connections in the early childhood curriculum, and have been previously found to be accessible to young children (Akerson & Donnelly, 2010).

To prepare the preservice teachers to develop such a book, the instructor needed to make them aware of ideas about  (a) NOS, (b) elements of children’s books, and (c) the technology they could use to aid them in their design. As is common in the practice of the course instructor, NOS was a theme in the methods course, and NOS was included explicitly in each class session, and debriefed in the context of science content that was explored as examples of instructional methods for early childhood students. The instructor modeled how to explicitly debrief for NOS conceptions each week. For example, during an investigation that included an exploration of Oobleck and whether it is solid or liquid, the instructor modeled questions to ask students regarding NOS during the debriefing to ensure explicit connection to NOS. One such question connected “subjectivity” or the background knowledge that scientists bring to a problem. The instructor asked the preservice teachers to think about how scientific subjectivity could be highlighted through this exploration. The instructor asked “what could the scientists do when they found this substance that did not fit into either classification?” A discussion followed regarding that if scientists understand solids, and understand liquids, then they would realize that this substance has components of both. The discussion ensued that it would therefore it would be difficult to categorize into one or the other. The instructor led them to realize that it was scientists who create the categories of matter, through empirical evidence and creativity. The instructor therefore helped the preservice teachers come to the realization that scientists are also creative, that they could create a new category into which they could classify the Oobleck. The instructor used explicit reflective NOS instruction to help them make a connection beyond simply teaching the distinction between observation and inference through this activity, they could connect other NOS aspects, such as subjectivity and creativity. Such activities and NOS debriefings took place on a weekly basis during the science methods course. The discussion continued with preservice teachers reflecting on how to use similar activities with young children. The instructor shared that this activity could be used as an assessment and instructional sequence for not only young children’s understandings about characteristics of solids and liquids, but also for how scientists are creative scientifically, in terms of “creating” new categories for matter, and how scientists use evidence, observations and inferences, and how claims are tentative given they can, and do, create new categories based on evidence. Additionally, given students’ prior knowledge about characteristics of solids and liquids were used to determine characteristics and identity of the new substance, conversation surrounding the importance of background knowledge, and subjectivity of scientists can occur between the teacher and students.

Using Children’s Books

The science methods instructor spent time in the methods course using children’s literature to both launch and support science activities as an example for how to use such books to emphasize NOS with children. For example, the instructor read the Skull Alphabet Book (Pallotta, 2002). In this book the reader sees an illustration of a skull, reads clues, and tries to infer the animal the skull would be from. There is a different skull from A to Z. Using this book is an example of decontextualized NOS instruction (Bell, Mulvey, & Maeng, 2016; Clough, 2006), if the instructor makes explicit connections with the preservice students. The instructor led a discussion with the preservice teachers for how this book could be used to explicitly illustrate NOS elements to elementary students. For instance, the elementary students could be asked which NOS elements are illustrated in the book-to which they could respond “Observation and inference” (observing the skull and reading the clues, and inferring the animal), “creativity” (creating an idea of what the animal might be from the evidence), “subjectivity” (one would not infer an animal that one had never heard of before), “empirical NOS” (making inferences from data), “social and cultural NOS” (one would be more likely to infer an animal from the culture they are from), and “tentativeness” (one can infer an animal and be likely correct, but never be certain because it is a skull and without seeing the living animal it is not certain). While the instructor shared this book with the preservice teachers she explicitly pointed out these ideas about NOS that could be connected to the book for children. These kinds of discussions and book debriefs were held weekly over the course of the semester, connected to children’s books as well as science concepts.

Following the use of the children’s book in introducing science concepts, the preservice teachers could think about engaging elementary students in science activities and investigations and reflecting orally or in writing how what they were doing was similar to the work of scientists. For example, preservice teachers could distribute fossils to their elementary students, asking them to make observations and inferences about the whole organism and its likely habitat. The elementary students could be asked to infer and draw the remainder of the organism and its habitat. A debriefing discussion could take place where elementary students could discuss how their inferences came from observations of the empirical data—the fossil, how they used their background knowledge (subjectivity) to make their inferences, and how their ideas about what the fossil was from might change if they had more information. Additionally, elementary students could discuss how scientists create ideas from the evidence, as they did, and how these creations would be consistent with what they are familiar in their own social and cultural contexts.

The course instructor also shared a variety of children’s books with the preservice teachers. These samples of children’s literature books varied from non-fiction to fiction, and were used to explicitly share components of children’s picture books. Features that were highlighted were (1) strong characters, (2) a story that teaches (in this case, the story would teach NOS), and (3) interesting and clear visual drawings or representations of the story.

Designing their own NOS Books

The preservice teachers were not required to use technologies such as Book Creator, or other book development applications to create their books. However, most preservice teachers took advantage of the technology to create their books, particularly for the illustrations.  One preservice teacher who was artistic decided to create her book through drawing and produced a hard copy of the book. The preservice teachers were provided with the following criterion sheet to use while designing their book to enable them to conceptualize what to include in the book (See Table 2):

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Scoring Rubric for the Create a “Book” Assignment

The books that were created by the preservice teachers were mostly very well done in terms of introducing NOS aspects to young children. There were a total of 22 preservice teachers in the class, all female. Ten preservice teachers connected their NOS books to popular characters from children’s media (e.g. SpongeBob Squarepants and the Case of the Missing Crabby Patty) or books (e.g. The Pigeon Does an Investigation). Ten preservice teachers created their own stories from scratch (e.g. Marcy Meets the Dinosaurs). Two did not consent to have their books used as examples, so they are not included. Therefore the preservice teachers were free to either modify an existing story, which aided in identifying illustrations as well as a storyline, or to create their own to illustrate NOS. Half of them did select to modify an existing story, which enabled them to embed NOS elements into a story that already existed, freeing them to consider how NOS may fit into a story already suitable for young children.

As a methods instructor, it is important to help the preservice teachers consider ways to transfer their understandings of NOS to young children through the text. It was a difficult point for some to think about, and to consider how to phrase sentences to accurately portray NOS, but in a way accessible to children. Using feedback loops this process became more streamlined, where preservice teachers provided feedback to one another. Of the twenty books submitted, all but three included all NOS aspects accurately depicted. Three books did not include subjective or sociocultural NOS. One book also did not include tentative NOS or the distinction between observation and inference. Of the aspects that were included, all but one preservice teacher included accurate representations.

Though not required, five preservice teachers included the distinction between theory and law in their children’s books. While it is clear that simply an accurate presentation of NOS ideas is not sufficient to teach NOS to young children, it is a starting point for the preservice teachers to have an accurate representation of the ideas to begin their teaching, which of course, would require explicit-reflective NOS instruction (Akerson, Abd-El-Khalick, & Lederman, 2000). Use of these children’s books would require that the preservice teachers make explicit reflective connections while sharing with young children.

Ensuring Quality

We reviewed the children’s stories created by the preservice teachers to determine whether the NOS concepts were included accurately. All authors conducted a content analysis on the accuracy of the NOS aspects that were incorporated in the stories. The authors also used the NOS children’s books to determine the preservice teachers’ NOS conceptions at the end of the semester. These sources of data were reviewed independently and then compared to ensure valid interpretation of NOS conceptions both within the books and conceptions held by the teachers themselves. The teacher/researcher log and field notes were used to further triangulate interpretations of the data.

How Well Do Children’s Books Include NOS?

It was clear that preservice teachers not only improved their NOS conceptions over the first eight weeks of the semester, but also during the last seven weeks when they were developing the books to use with their own future students, and to share with their classmates. Below we now share samples of how the preservice early childhood teachers included the various NOS aspects in their stories, by NOS aspect.

Tentative NOS

Eighteen students were readily able to incorporate the tentative NOS into their stories in a way that they could share this characteristic of NOS with their own students. All of the stories included a scientist or a character in the story revising an inference based on new evidence or the reinterpretation of existing evidence, and making a new claim. In all stories the story included this idea as part of science, and not that the scientists were “wrong” with their earlier inference.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of tentativeness in storybook.

In other stories there was a more direct description of the tentative NOS. For example, Sophia’s story (see above) was set within an alien culture, and began with the lead character saying “ Hi my name’s Meep and I come from the planet NOS. On planet NOS, we live by set of rules called Nature of Science.” She continues her story showing illustrations that Meep is visiting earth and tell people how they use aspects of NOS. The image above is presenting tentativeness of science. Though her idea is not technically “correct” in that NOS is not a set of rules to live by, nor do ideas “constantly change as we collect data,” it is still along the right track in helping younger children realize that science is not “set in stone” and scientific claims are subject to change.

Observation and Inference

Similarly, eighteen stories included an accurate representation of observation and inference. In most of these stories scientists made observations of data, and then made inferences of what they observed. For example, Emma wrote a story in which a scientist who was a mother was talking to her son Jack, about science. She introduces “observation and inferences” by immersing them in her story about Safari animals. The following illustration shows Jack’s learning of observation and inferences in the story:

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of observation and inference in storybook.

In this particular example, the author was able to make a connection where the reader would learn about observations and inferences as data were observed, and then could later connect to the tentative NOS as the claim changed with more evidence as further reading of the story showed the ideas changed and tentativeness was connected.

Empirical NOS

All twenty books included accurate depictions of the empirical NOS. In each case the main character, often a scientist, needed to collect data to solve a problem or make observations. Olivia wrote an original story about the lives of three chipmunks in a forest. In the story the chipmunks are keeping safe from hawks, and are doing a scientific exploration in the forest to determine how they are remaining unseen by the hawks. Their exploration leads them to understand camouflage.

Olivia uses following example to show science is empirical, as she also connects it to the tentative NOS. The chipmunks had their own personal “theory” for why the hawks were not able to see them, but changed their ideas as they collected new evidence through empirical data.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of scientific tentativeness in storybook.

While this story above is accurate in terms of NOS, it is also the case that the writing was at a level beyond what K-2 students could read on their own. This book would need to be a read-aloud by the teacher to the students, and would likely require much teacher input to help young learners accurately conceptualize the content. Therefore it would be necessary to aid preservice teachers to consider thinking about the reading level and vocabulary for independent reading, which appeared to be difficult for some preservice teachers.

Creativity and Imagination

Eighteen of the stories included accurate representations of creativity and imagination in the development of scientific knowledge. Ava introduces and immerses well the aspects of NOS in her storybook about Pinocchio. In the book, Pinocchio tries to figure out why his nose is growing using scientific inquiry, and through that inquiry the elements of NOS are illustrated.

Through her story she would be able to share with her early childhood students that scientists are creative in interpreting data as well as creating investigations, and in this case in her story, in creating a way to figure out that Pinocchio’s nose grows when he lies. It was clear through her story that those who use science are creative, and that aspects of NOS are part of scientific inquiries.

Though her use of text is beyond the independent reading level of most K-2 students, the story is accurate with regard to NOS concepts, and could be used as a read-aloud with explicit reflective instruction by a teacher. Following is her illustration that shows scientists are creative:

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of scientific creativity in storybook.

Subjective NOS

Eighteen stories included an accurate depiction of the subjective NOS, in which scientists’ own backgrounds influence their interpretations of data. In the stories it was usually the case that the scientific claim was shown to be made partially through the understandings of the scientist or the one doing the investigation. Mia used characters from a popular children’s story The Three Little Pigs, to teach NOS elements throughout the story. In her story the main character Mr. Wolf guides the three little pigs to act as scientists as they try to figure out whether their houses are sturdy enough to withstand the hurricane. Through these characters, Mia illustrates that scientists are subjective, and use their background knowledge in making scientific claims. As we can see from the excerpt from her story, she clearly illustrates the pigs’ subjectivities helps in making scientific claims.

Figure 5 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of the role of subjectivity in storybook.

Sociocultural NOS

Fifteen of the stories included accurate depictions of the influence of sociocultural mileu on scientific claims. In some of the books, such as Sophia’s story from the alien perspective, the clash of different cultures was used to illustrate the influence of sociocultural aspects on scientific claims.

In other books, such as the one by Isabella, there is a learning sequence where a character develops an understanding of the role of culture. In Isabella’s particular story a child named Mary meets a paleontologist (Dr. Jenkins) at a science museum. Mary has an adventure at the science museum, and learns that scientists (and other people) interpret data through the culture in which they live.

Mary learned from Dr. Jenkins that her own inference that a dinosaur’s long neck was like the dinosaur’s came from her social and cultural context. Mary learned that because if she were in a culture without knowledge of giraffes she would not have inferred that similarity.

Figure 6 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of sociocultural context in storybook.

Theory and Law

Again, though not required to include the distinction between theory and law in their stories given it is not in the early childhood curriculum, five preservice teachers did find ways to incorporate theory and law into their stories in accurate ways.

Emma included it in her story of the mother scientist teaching her son about science and NOS. She was one of the few preservice teacher authors who also incorporated the idea that theories never become laws. The others who included theory and law in their stories were clear that theories were explanations for patterns in data that determined laws. It was good to see that there were several who included theory and law—this was the most difficult aspect for the preservice teachers to gain good understandings of as well.

Figure 7 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample of theory and law in a storybook.

Assessing the Children’s Books, and Implications

All preservice teachers shared their books with each other at the end of the semester in a book share. In addition, the preservice teachers uploaded electronic versions of their books to a course website that could then be accessed by the course instructor, and electronic copies shared with all students in the class. The course instructor used the criterion sheet shared earlier to review the books for the required elements prior to the book share. Each week after the assignment was introduced there was time to discuss questions or concerns regarding the development of the books. Some preservice teachers indicated a difficulty in conceptualizing an original story, which is when the idea came to take an existing story and revise as a NOS story.

An important component was the inclusion of engaging characters and an interesting story that would teach about NOS, not necessarily a story with original characters. However, some preservice teachers designed their own characters and storylines. In one case, the instructor required a preservice teacher to revise the book prior to sharing as the information was not complete. The books were well received by their peers, and the book sharing had an air of both professionalism, as the preservice teachers were considering how best to aid their own students in conceptualizing NOS, and also “fun,” as it was energizing and fun to see and listen to the stories that were created by the preservice teachers in the class.

The preservice teachers indicated that the assignment seemed valuable to them, as it was something they could take with them into their student teaching, and into their classrooms when they became teachers. They provided feedback to one another during the book sharing, suggesting some wording changes, as well as reinforcing the accuracy of portrayal of NOS ideas when it was needed. It was clear that developing the books helped the preservice teachers think about how to introduce NOS ideas to their elementary students. This focus on ways to portray NOS ideas to elementary students influenced the preservice teachers in refining their own NOS understandings as well as about how to transfer understandings to students. The preservice teachers held good understandings of NOS as evidence by their portrayal of NOS concepts to young children through the story they created. It seems clear to us that designing the children’s books to teach about NOS to their students helped the preservice teachers consider ways to teach NOS to their own students, while continuing to refine their own understandings about NOS. We recommend the use of literacy to  teach about NOS, which seems preservice teachers are very excited to include in their classrooms.

References

Achieve, (2013). Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved June 30, 2013, from http://www.nextgenscience.org

Akerson, V. L., Abd-El-Khalick, F. S., & Lederman, N. G. (2000). The influence of a reflective activity-based approach on elementary teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37, 295-317.

Akerson, V. L., Buck, G. A., Donnelly, L. A., Nargund, V., & Weiland, I.S. (2011). The importance of teaching and learning nature of science in the early childhood years. The Journal of Science Education and Technology, 20, 537-549.

Akerson, V. L., & Donnelly, L. A.  (2010). Teaching Nature of Science to K-2 Students: What understandings can they attain? International Journal of Science Education, 32. 97-124.

Akerson, V. L., & Hanuscin, D. L. (2007). Teaching nature of science through inquiry: The results of a three-year professional development program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44, 653-680.

Akerson, V.L., Pongsanon, K., Nargund, V., & Weiland, I. (2014). Developing a professional identity as a teacher of nature of science. International Journal of Science Education. 1-30.

Akerson, V. L., Weiland, I. S., Pongsanon, K., & Nargund, V. (2011). Evidence-based Strategies for Teaching Nature of Science to Young Children Journal of Kırşehir Education, 11(4), 61-78.

Bell, R. L., Mulvey, B. K., & Maeng, J. L. (2016). Outcomes of nature of science instruction along a context continuum: preservice secondary science teachers’ conceptions and instructional intentions. International Journal of Science Education, 38(3), 493-520.

Clough, M. P. (2006) Learners‘ responses to the demands of conceptual change: Considerations for effective nature of science instruction. Science Education, 15, 463-494.

Conley, A M., Pintrich, P.R., Vekiri, I, & Harrison, D. (2004). Changes in epistemological  beliefs in elementary science students. Contemporary  Educational Psychology, 29,  186-204. ·

Deng, F., Chen, D., Tsai, C., & Chai, C. (2011). Students’ views of the nature of science: A critical review of the research. Science Education, 95, 961-999.

Khishfe, R. & Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2002). Influence of explicit and reflective versus implicit inquiry oriented instruction on sixth graders views of the nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 30(7), 551-578.

National Science Teachers Association. (2000). NSTA position statement: The nature of science.

Document Retrieved December 8, 2008. http://www.nsta.org/159&psid=22.

NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Pallotta, J. (2002). The Skull Alphabet Book. Charlesbridge: Watertown, MA.

Increasing Science Teacher Candidates’ Ability To Become Lifelong Learners Through A Professional Online Learning Community

Citation
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Veal, W., Malone, K., Wenner, J.A., Odell, M., & Hines, S.M. (2019). Increasing science teacher candidates’ ability to become lifelong learners through a professional online learning community. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 4(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/increasing-science-teacher-candidates-ability-to-become-lifelong-learners-through-a-professional-online-learning-community/

by William Veal, College of Charleston; Kathy Malone, The Ohio State University; Julianne A. Wenner, Boise State University; Michael Odell, University of Texas at Tyler; & S. Maxwell Hines, Winston Salem State University

Abstract

This article describes the use of an online professional learning community within the context of K-8 science education methods courses. The article describes the unique usage of the learning community with preservice teachers at different certification levels within the context of five distinct universities. While each approach is different there exists commonalities of usage. Specifically, the site is used to develop mastery of science content, exposure to pedagogical content knowledge, and classroom activities that focus on authentic science practices. Each case provides specific details of how the preservice teachers were immersed into a learning community that can serve them throughout their teaching career.

Introduction

What is the purpose of a science methods course? It would seem logical that a science methods course would increase the ability of the candidate to learn science content and pedagogy for that content. The actual methods for helping candidates learn to teach science are diverse and include different learning objectives, ‘student’ learning outcomes, and approaches within the classroom. A brief search of syllabi for elementary and middle grades science methods courses at the university level on the Internet yields vastly different approaches to teaching these courses and the reasons why. Science methods courses can be taught to “build fundamental knowledge of elementary science teaching and learning,” teach “strategies to bring scientific inquiry to the elementary classroom,” “increase confidence and enthusiasm for teaching elementary science,” “develop competence and confidence needed to teach science in elementary classrooms,” and “teach science skills and content.” Teacher candidates do not have the time nor training to be able to learn all of the content needed and experience the methods necessary for becoming an ‘experienced’ teacher in their first year of teaching. This article reviews how several university professors focus on a common approach to teaching a science methods course using an online learning community to guide teacher candidates to become lifelong science educators.

The Content of Learning and the Learning of Content

Methods courses are teacher preparation courses designed to prepare teacher candidates to teach a particular content area. There are typically elements of the course that boost content knowledge, but the crux of these courses is allowing teacher candidates to learn and/or practice pedagogical strategies to teach that content effectively. Methods instructors must be thoughtful about not only the activities they employ in their courses to support this knowledge and skill acquisition, but also about the materials and resources they use to support the activities in the course. Moreover, methods instructors must acknowledge they cannot possibly teach everything one needs to know to teach in their content area. Consequently, instructors must also set the foundation for teacher candidates to strategically utilize resources, many of which may be online, so they will be lifelong learners.

Table 1 provides a comparison of common goals of online syllabi from elementary and middle grades science methods courses. The search terms “elementary science methods syllabus” and “middle school science methods syllabus” were used in the Google search window. The first 40 results were downloaded and examined. Three main themes emerge from the syllabi: learning pedagogical skills to teach the science content, developing a set of habits of mind about science, and knowing the science content. In terms of the K-6 student impact, teacher candidates had to translate those skills to the students so that the students could essentially develop the same habits of mind and science content knowledge. Syllabi for courses that included the middle grades (5-8) demonstrated a change in the tenor of the language. When the middle grades course was combined with an elementary science methods course, the middle grades language, goals, and outcomes were very similar to that of the elementary methods course. At many universities, the middle grades science methods courses were combined with the secondary or high school science methods courses. The main differences between elementary and secondary science methods courses were the emphasis on depth of content knowledge and the lessening emphasis on developing habits of mind. Secondary science teachers are considered to have already developed significant content expertise and scientist’s habits of mind.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Sample Science Methods Goals and Outcomes on Syllabi

Science teachers need science content knowledge and the appropriate pedagogical knowledge to teach at their respective levels. Elementary school teachers usually focus on pedagogy and multiple content areas, especially at the younger grade levels where classes are self-contained. In terms of elementary teacher candidates, it is well documented that they often feel unprepared to teach science or have negative attitudes towards science due in many cases to their own personal experiences with science education (Tosun, 2000). At the middle grades level, most teacher candidates have more preparation in one or two science content areas and as a result typically have greater content knowledge depth than elementary teachers. At the secondary level, science teachers have certification to teach one, two, or multiple content areas and are considered to have significant content expertise. Typically, secondary teachers hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in the content they teach. This system of silos can be summarized with a question asked to each level of teacher, “What do you teach?” The elementary teacher might say “children,” the middle school teacher might say “adolescent kids” or “science”, and the secondary teacher would say “chemistry” or “biology.” Content knowledge is needed by all science teachers at all levels. College does not prepare teacher candidates to teach all the content, concepts, and facts that teachers will encounter while in the classroom. Teacher candidates need examples of convenient approaches to learning more science content and pedagogy that can become part of their lifelong learning as professional educators.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

In addition to knowing the content, science educators at all levels also need the pedagogical skills to teach the content, which is often referred to as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). As Bailie (2017) noted, “PCK has…become a ubiquitous word in the preparation of teachers” (p. 633). Science methods instructors have consistently devised activities and lessons to guide teacher candidates to develop the necessary skills for teaching science. For example, Akerson, Pongsanon, Park Rogers, Carter, and Galindo (2017) implemented a lesson study activity in their science methods course that resulted in the early development of PCK for teaching the nature of science. Hanuscin and Zangori (2016) asked teacher candidates to participate in an innovative field experience that led to the beginning development of PCK for teaching in ways consistent with the NGSS. Finally, Hawkins and Park Rogers (2016) added in video-based group reflections to lesson planning and enactment to support the development of teacher candidates’ PCK. And although Davis and Smithey (2009) state that teacher educators may only be able to support the development of ‘PCK readiness’ because teacher candidates do not have much teaching experience to draw upon, it is widely agreed that strong science PCK is a necessity for successful science teaching.

Abell, Appleton, and Hanuscin (2010) state that the “main aim of a science methods course is to produce graduates who…have a ‘starter pack’ of PCK for science teaching” (p. 81). They go on to suggest that teacher candidates in methods courses should not only learn about science content, curriculum, and the nature of science, but also how to elicit students’ understandings of science, use that data to make informed decisions, and have the knowledge and skills to design instruction that support student learning. These results draw upon the foundational characteristics of PCK that science teachers should have (Veal & MaKinster, 1999). However, as Magnusson, Krajacik, and Borko (1999) and Veal and MaKinster (1999) note, content knowledge is the foundation for PCK. This leads science teacher educators to ask, how does one support the simultaneous development of science content knowledge, pedagogy, and science PCK?

Professional Learning Community

Teacher candidates at all levels learn science content and pedagogy so that they are able to teach the concepts in the appropriate manner to K-12 students. While in college, teacher candidates have the opportunity to enroll and complete science and pedagogy courses, but what happens once they begin their professional career? How do teachers maintain relevancy and stay current with new content or pedagogical practices throughout their career? Lifelong learning of science content and pedagogical strategies should be an emphasis in all methods courses. This is often accomplished by establishing and/or participating in a professional learning community (PLC) or communities of practice. One outcome of a PLC is to increase teacher candidates’ self-efficacy in science by exposing them to inquiry in science during their methods course (Avery & Meyer, 2012) as well as help them to learn more science content. A properly formed PLC can connect and scaffold the teacher candidates’ transition from pre to inservice educator establishing them as lifelong learners (e.g., Akerson, Cullen & Hanson, 2009). Without a proper transition, the elementary teacher candidates with low self-efficacy can become in-service teachers who are less likely to seek out professional development that would support improved science teaching (Ramey-Gassert, et al, 1996). In addition, it has been found that if elementary teacher candidates are uncertain about science then they are less likely to use inquiry oriented pedagogy (Appleton & Kindt, 1999; Ramey-Gassert, & Shroyer, 1992) and the performance of their students can be affected (Bybee et al, 2006).

One method to break the continuous cycle of unprepared elementary (K-6) teachers to teach science is to connect them to a community of practitioners during their science methods class as well as throughout their career. One such community could begin in a science methods course and exist as an on-line platform that allows them easy access to content, new pedagogical techniques, and classroom activities that they can rely upon throughout their career. This community could become a source of guidance as they continue to grow as professional educators of science no matter what grade level they end up teaching. The learning community that the methods instructors establish in their science methods courses must involve the learning of pedagogical strategies and content. Dogan, Pringle, and Mesa (2016) conducted a review of empirical studies investigating PLCs and determined that PLCs increased the science teachers’ content knowledge, PCK, and collaboration about student learning. Educator preparation programs are increasingly using the Internet to deliver and supplement their science methods courses with science content projects, courses, articles, and professional networks/forums. For example, Eicki (2017) studied how Edmodo could be used to create an online learning community for learning to teach science. Part of this learning community involved the communication and exchange of lesson plans and opinions about lessons in an online platform.

Given the vast nature of the Internet, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge the quality, applicability, or ‘user-friendliness’ of Internet resources. To help instructors with this problem, there are multiple legitimate educational organizations that have sites for teachers, videos of instruction, and student- and teacher-based content. For example, in this article, we present multiple cases regarding the use of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Learning Center (LC) as a website in which teacher candidates can learn more about science content, find pedagogical tools that match the content, and begin to see the NSTA LC as a learning community. While this article is not an endorsement of the NSTA Learning Center, we are using the Learning Center as an example of how this site can support teacher candidates in developing the dispositions to become lifelong learners in the science education community.

Context

In science methods courses, instructors try to bring together pedagogy that is appropriate to the science content at the level in which the teacher candidates will teach. The problem with developing one course that fits all students is that science methods courses are often geared toward the developmental level of the future K-12 students. Research evidence suggests that if elementary teachers feel unprepared or negative towards science then they are less likely to teach science to their students (Ramey‐Gassert, Shroyer, & Staver, 1996). The disposition to teach science content using appropriate pedagogy is needed. At the elementary level – which can span pre-kindergarten to eighth grade in some states – most methods courses are focused on broader PCK because it is nearly impossible for the teacher candidates to know the science content across all four science disciplines. However, while elementary standards at each grade level require more integration of concepts and less depth of science-specific knowledge, to choose the appropriate pedagogy to teach content well, one must first know the content itself well. Unfortunately, most elementary teacher candidates only take 2-3 science courses as part of their general education requirements that do not prepare them to teach the breadth nor the depth of science concepts in the standards.

Many middle level certificates overlap grade spans with elementary and secondary, so there exists the potential to have a pedagogically strong teacher needing to teach depth in a science or multiple science areas. For example, in South Carolina elementary certification includes grades 2-6 and middle school includes grades 5-8. On the other extreme, a science discipline teacher may be called upon to teach other courses at the middle school. Middle schools across the country may require science teachers to be proficient in all areas of science (e.g., biology, physics, geology, Earth science, astronomy, and chemistry) since the state or national standards are more integrated or each grade level requires multiple science areas. For example, many states have a general middle grades certificate for science, but Oregon has middle level certificates in each of the science disciplines. How can a middle grades teacher be proficient in all disciplines of science? Just taking the introductory courses in each of the four major disciplines would equate to 32 hours of science (lecture and lab for all courses); and, of course, none of these courses would likely teach how to teach these content areas. In addition, even if they successfully completed these courses, odds are the courses do not cover the basic science content they will teach.

The NSTA Learning Center is an online resource that can be utilized for preservice and inservice teaching and learning by providing a professional learning community in which teachers learn from one another by sharing content knowledge, lesson plans, and strategies. The NSTA Learning Center is an online repository of articles, book chapters, webinars, and short courses aimed at improving the content and pedagogical knowledge of preservice and inservice teachers, connecting teachers through online chats, and delivering depth and breadth of science content for primary, middle, and secondary teachers. The science content, interactive learning modules, and articles are peer reviewed and vetted by content and pedagogical experts. The implementation of this type of content has been described as blended learning by Byers and Mendez (2016). Blended learning involves using online resources with “on-site efforts” to teach students. The case studies in this article show how blended learning, inquiry, project-based learning, and independent learning can be supported to provide science content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and PCK to teacher candidates. While elementary and middle school science methods courses cannot provide all the science content and pedagogical strategies they will teach and use, these science methods courses can provide an opportunity to demonstrate and model effective lifelong learning skills.

Early Childhood Teacher Candidates

Case 1

One university offers certification through an early childhood (K-3) Masters of Education (MEd) program. The science methods course is designed to support teacher candidates learning of 1) pedagogical content knowledge, 2) science content knowledge; and 3) connect them to a community of elementary teaching practitioners to support their life-long learning of the teaching of elementary science. The learning experiences provided them with an understanding of science teaching and learning from the perspective of both learner and teacher. Though this is not a science content course, the class does utilize model lessons that exemplify science standards elementary teachers are expected to teach as outlined in national science standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013).

In order to foster long-term and sustained improvement in standards-based science teaching and learning in elementary schools the teacher candidates are asked to demonstrate their understanding of these standards documents by engaging in lesson development during the semester that exemplifies not only the content standards but also exemplary science pedagogical methods grounded in scientific inquiry. The NSTA LC allows the teacher candidates to encounter the use of the 5E method within classroom activities via articles in Science & Children as well as Science Scope, two practitioner publications from NSTA. In addition, NSTA LC e-book chapters are regularly utilized throughout the course. The elementary teacher candidates are required to use the online site as a source of articles about teaching science, as well as basic educational research supporting practice. These NSTA LC resources are used by the teacher candidates to help them develop lesson plans that are based on activities that excite students as well as connect to science content standards.

One aspect of the NSTA LC that the teacher candidates find the most rewarding is the ability to find articles written by other elementary teachers in practitioner journals that have great ideas for their classrooms. For example, when designing lessons focused on the Engineering Design Process many teacher candidates base their lessons on articles and lesson plans found on the LC.  During focus group interviews after the course, one teacher candidate stated that she found the “…readings were relatable and things that we could see doing in our classrooms. So it was really interesting to like keep going in the article.”

The teacher candidates in this M.Ed. program must complete at least one SciPack, read 5 Science Objects, watch two Webinars, listen to two Podcasts, and participate in online discussions with science teachers outside of their class. Teacher candidates also post comments and read the forum to look at past interactions between educators. The Webinars allowed them to listen to educational researchers and scientists discuss new educational policies. Teacher candidates’ use of these resources within the NSTA LC were easily checked on the site as the Learning Center tracks the use of all the resources by students. Thus, the science teacher educator can see if they have used assigned resources such as the SciPacks. The best part of the LC in the teacher candidates’ view is that they were able to put all of the resources they use into a section of the center called “My Library” and those recourses became theirs for the rest of their career! During the post course focus group interviews, teacher candidates mentioned that one down side of the NSTA LC was the cost for a year subscription. But as one teacher candidate said, “Textbooks are sometimes even pricier but with these articles you could save them. Every article I read I saved because I liked the activities that they had.”

The teacher candidates were required to use the Science Objects and SciPacks to learn science content new to them or review content that they were uncomfortable teaching. One goal of the online communities is to illustrate to them that the SciPacks could not only support their content background but usually contain a list of the most common alternative conceptions held by students thus supporting their lesson planning. At the beginning of the class the teacher candidates had voiced concern about not knowing their students’ alternative conceptions due to their own limited science background so this practice alleviated this concern. As one teacher candidate stated, “The articles were very practical and could be used directly in our classroom.  Science is the subject I am most hesitant to teach but the readings made me see how I could teach it.” Several teacher candidates mentioned that they would buy the subscription in future years so they could continue as a member of this community of practice as in-service teachers.

Elementary Teacher Candidates

Case 2

At one Texas university, the NSTA LC has been adopted as the textbook for the Elementary Science Methods course and has been used for the past five years. Teacher candidates have access to the LC during their final methods block of courses prior to student teaching and during student teaching the following semester. Teacher candidates seeking the elementary teaching credential (EC-6) are required to complete four courses in science that must include one course in introductory Biology, Physical Science and Earth Science in addition to pedagogical courses. Typically, teacher candidates seeking elementary certification enroll in science courses for non-science majors. As these are general science courses, there are no guarantees that these courses prepare future elementary teachers in the science content they will be required to teach their future students in the EC-6 classroom.

One of the goals of the course is to prepare teacher candidates to use assessment data to plan and deliver targeted instruction. On the first day of class, teacher candidates complete the latest released version of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness 5th grade science assessment to develop familiarity with the state assessment and to assess their understanding of the elementary science content they are accountable to teach upon completion of their degree.   Preservice teacher results on the 5th Grade STAAR (state level assessment in Texas) released assessments tend to be disappointing in spite of earning passing grades in the university level science courses. The disconnect between scores on the 5th grade STAAR is in part due to lack of alignment of university science courses that elementary teacher candidates complete and the content they will teach. This creates a dilemma for the science methods instructor. Should class time be utilized and designed to prepare elementary teacher candidates in PCK to remediate content knowledge or stay focused on pedagogy? Future teachers need to be prepared in both content and pedagogy. One without the other is problematic.

To address this issue, the teacher candidates analyze the results of their personal STAAR score. Questions on the released test are categorized by science discipline, and as a PLC they work together to identify the state standard and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) each item addresses (Texas Education Agency, 2017). During this process, teacher candidates identify their areas of science content weakness and complete the appropriate NSTA Indexer in the LC for each content area in need of further development. The course instructor identifies and suggests NSTA Professional Development Indexer assessments that align to the content subsections of the STAAR assessment to help guide teacher candidates. Table 2 shows the science content TEKS and the appropriate corresponding Indexer Assessment.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Relationship between TEKS and NSTA Indexers

Typically, teacher candidates complete 3-4 of the NSTA Indexer assessments as a result of the STAAR analysis. The number of Indexer assignments has ranged from 1 to 6, which depends upon their background content knowledge. For the purpose of this course, the teacher candidates were required to complete both the pre and posttests. While the STAAR was used due to contextual location of the university, the NSTA Indexer can be used nationally. Once teacher candidates complete their Indexer assessments, the methods professor works with each candidate to select up to two NSTA SciPacks to remediate their content knowledge in the targeted areas. SciPacks are online modules that are completed outside of class. On average, the teacher candidates improve their content scores on the NSTA Indexer by 40% when they take the posttest compared to the initial indexer score. Elementary teacher candidates have shared anecdotally that the SciPacks are very challenging. Using the Indexer and SciPacks allows the instructor to focus on PCK in class and improve teacher candidate content knowledge without sacrificing class time that is dedicated for pedagogy. The analysis of personal assessment data from an online science teacher site provided the scaffolding for these teacher candidates to become lifelong learners.

Case 3

In 2012, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction sent three representatives to Washington, DC to consult on the development of the Next Generation Science Standards. As representatives for one of the lead states for standards adoption (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the representatives were also charged with curricular development for K-12 science classrooms in North Carolina and by extension, science teacher education and professional development.  NGSS considers science learning within a 3-dimensional framework: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Shortly thereafter in preparation for NGSS standards adoption, the elementary science methods course was reconceived, using the NSTA LC. The use of NSTA LC addressed a number of concerns.

The elementary undergraduate teacher candidates in the university’s programs are extremely diverse. They have attended all manner of public, private, parochial, and home schools. As a result, their level of science pedagogical understanding is not uniform. Before enrolling in the science methods course, all teacher candidates had to pass at least one college-level life science and one physical science course. Performing well in these courses provided no guarantee of attainment of the extensive science content needed to support K-6 science content knowledge.  These teacher candidates also take the NSTA Indexer, content pretest, as the first step in designing a self-study program that will fill the holes in each teacher candidates’ science content knowledge. Teacher candidates take the same Indexer posttest to determine how well they have developed their content knowledge through self-study over the semester.

The teacher candidates must contend with having to complete their studies in light of securing and sustaining employment, and using the NSTA LC allows them the course schedule flexibility to become a certified teacher. In other words, if they cannot work, they cannot complete their studies. For many, maintaining employment interferes with their studies. Using the NSTA LC allows the teacher candidates to continue to work on their classroom assignments in between their employment responsibilities. By being able to access their assignments using their e-textbook and having access to other preservice and inservice professionals, they can study, ask questions, and share their concerns without carrying heavy textbooks or waiting for office hours. The PLC emerged from the need to find a different pedagogical approach to science methods due to the personal nature of the candidates.

The University’s motto is, ‘Enter to learn, depart to serve.’ The responsibility to promote social justice and lifelong learning is palpable throughout the campus. The teacher candidates are required to buy access to their NSTA LC e-textbook for a year. This allows them to use this resource through their methods course and student teaching field experience in which they have time to strike up online discussions of national and regional social justice issues.

Course evaluations and online data about the teacher candidates’ usage of the NSTA LC indicated that teacher candidates who demonstrate the highest level of science efficacy, as measured by course grades and use of the online resources, were also the ones who have taken greatest advantage of participation in the online learning community. For example, several teacher candidates mentioned how they increased their excitement and comfort with searching for and learning about science content and science lessons. Those who have less science efficacy are reluctant to communicate and ask questions with practicing teachers in the online forums despite knowing its value. Data gathered through the NSTA LC administrator’s page, indicated that as science efficacy increased over the span of the science methods course, teacher candidates took advantage of the online science learning community. Since all teacher candidates were required to maintain an online ‘portfolio’ (Professional Development Indexer or Learning Plan), there was an increase in the amount of online artifacts (downloadable chapters, articles, lesson plans, podcasts, and videos) from the beginning of the year to the end.

The adoption of the NSTA LC supports teacher candidates to conceive science from a 3-dimensional, national perspective, rather than a 2-dimensional, state perspective. It allowed the diverse teacher candidates to personalize their learning of science content with the accessible 24/7 access to content, pedagogical strategies, and online discussions of various social justice issues. The improvement of lifelong learning through the use of an online professional development community requires continued study, but the outcomes are most promising.

Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Candidates

Case 4

In one university in Idaho, teacher candidates seeking an elementary (K-8) certification take one science methods course, typically at the junior or senior level, one or two semesters before they embark on their year-long field experience. Prior to taking this course, PSTs must have taken two natural science courses with labs (for a total of 8 credit hours); these prerequisites run the gamut from geosciences to astronomy and from biology to chemistry. On the first day of class, teacher candidates are asked to describe their feelings about teaching science at the elementary level. The responses are typically split evenly, with half providing some version of “scared” and half providing some version of “excited.” The case describes a journey into how the implementation of NSTA LC evolved over a year of teaching a science methods course.  The NSTA LC was first implemented into this elementary science methods course in the Spring of 2016 with three goals in mind: 1) to introduce teacher candidates to a supportive professional community; 2) to provide science content knowledge support when needed; and 3) to use practitioner articles to illustrate topics in the course.

As previously noted, the NSTA LC houses lesson plans, books and book chapters, and even opportunities for conferences and professional development. By introducing teacher candidates to the NSTA LC, the goal is to motivate them to find NSTA to be a useful resource and become a lifelong learner. These hopes seemed to bear out, as evidenced by the comments received from teacher candidates in course evaluations over five semesters that they appreciated the LC because they could keep documents in their library forever and refer back to them and the LC when teaching. One teacher candidate stated her appreciation of the resource by stating, “The NSTA LC had so many more resources and articles (written by a variety of authors) that we would not have read in a book,” while another teacher candidate said, “I like that I can keep this account and use the information in my own classroom.”

Given the wild variations in content knowledge encountered in the teacher candidates in the course, the implementation of the NSTA LC resources were used to immediately support teacher candidates in their science understandings for the course, and also demonstrate how one could use the LC to learn/review content for future teaching. Throughout the semester, the teacher candidates were required to complete three Science Objects that related to elementary science centers (Kittleson, Dresden, & Wenner, 2013) they taught during the semester. Unlike the case studies discussed above, candidates in this class were not required to complete the entire NSTA PD Indexer for the course, but rather strongly encouraged to complete this and ‘brush up’ on content prior to their science PRAXIS tests. Indeed, some candidates did recognize the usefulness of the LC in terms of boosting content knowledge that then enabled them to better structure their science centers, and by citing how it could support “individual learning” for the PRAXIS tests and in their careers. Beyond qualitative responses on course evaluations, downloaded statistics from each class cohort on the NSTA LC paint a promising picture: The majority of candidates downloaded at least ten Science Objects and SciPacks throughout their semester in the course. While downloading these resources does not necessarily mean that candidates completed/intend to complete them, anecdotally, teacher candidates shared that they often download the Science Objects and SciPacks as a preventative measure of sorts, thinking about what they may need to learn/review once they have their own classrooms. It is certainly encouraging that PSTs acknowledge they may have gaps in their content knowledge and see that the NSTA LC may be a way to help fill those future gaps.

The use of practitioner articles found in the NSTA LC brings the realities of science activity implementation into the classroom. The articles connect theory and practice and illustrate what elementary science can look like. On average, 30 NSTA practitioner journal articles (from Science and Children and Science Scope) are assigned for teacher candidates to read throughout the semester. These readings cover topics such as integrating the NGSS and Common Core State Standards (CCSS, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) , argumentation, science for all students, assessment, and engineering at the elementary level. Many teacher candidates commented on the usefulness of these articles, stating, “The articles that we read were beneficial and related to the discussions we had in the classroom,” and “I will refer back to all the articles when I am teaching.” And while the majority of articles downloaded by teacher candidates were the assigned readings, nearly all of them downloaded additional articles related to other assignments in the course (lesson plans, student misconceptions, etc.), indicating that teacher candidates found the articles to be useful resources. The ensuing discussions about content from the articles helped to establish an atmosphere of professional exchange of ideas to teaching science concepts that they intend to use well into their careers as lifelong learners.

Case 5

This elementary and middle level science methods course is taught at a university in the southeast. The course focuses on the PCK necessary to teach science, which includes science content knowledge and instructional strategies. Since the focus is on teacher candidates who will become certified to teach from grade 2 to 8, the focus is on general science pedagogy with content-specific examples so that activities and demonstrations can show the depth of concepts at different grade levels within the spiral curriculum. For example, two weeks are spent discussing misconceptions related to seasons and moon phases. The content is appropriate in that the activities relate the content at the fourth and eighth grade levels due to the science standards in the state. While discussing how to introduce and conduct activities, teachers need to know depth of knowledge so that they can address potential and real misconceptions. The teacher candidates must learn the content of why there are seasons and why there are different phases of the moon not just the facts of seasons and the names of phases of the moon.

The course emphasizes learning appropriate science content knowledge for specific lesson plans so that inappropriate activities and misconceptions are not taught. While the course grade and objectives cannot require the students to know all science content knowledge in the grade 2-8 standards, it is a learning outcome that the teacher candidates can research the content needed for that lesson plan. Reading book chapters and articles and communicating with classroom teachers in an online platform helped teacher candidates understand how to teach specific topics better as evidenced by their graded and implemented lesson plans over the course of the semester. The NSTA LC was chosen for its ease of use and type of activities that could be used by teacher candidates so that they could learn content, develop pedagogical skills, and participate in a community of teachers who share ideas.

The teacher candidates in the combined elementary and middle grades science methods course subscribe to the NSTA LC for six months. During this time period they download any content they feel they can and will use in the future. These downloaded resources are theirs for a lifetime. The NSTA LC is integrated into a project for integrating science content and pedagogy. The project requires the teacher candidates to take a pre-test exam, gather online resources from the site’s resources, complete mini-courses about the science topic, and complete a posttest after six weeks. While not part of the course grade, participating and engaging in the online professional discussions and posts is encouraged so that the teacher candidates learn to become part of an extended PLC. Besides the use of the NSTA LC as a project assignment, the website is used during normal instruction to show other possible activities, lesson plans, and explanations of concepts. The project and use of the NSTA LC is more of a self-guided endeavor because when they become classroom teachers they will have to learn more science content on their own and this is one effective method for doing it. Online learning of science content within a community of science teachers is how current teachers develop and grow the depth of their topic-specific PCK. This project and use of the NSTA LC allows teacher candidates to learn this process in a controlled environment in which the content is controlled and other professionals can assist in the learning to implement science content.

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, this article showcased multiple ways to use the online NSTA Learning Center as part of pK-8 science methods courses. The LC has been used as a method to learn topic-specific PCK in multiple contexts as well as an interactive tool for teacher candidates to investigate general pedagogy. In all of the cases there is anecdotal evidence concerning the effectiveness of using the LC either as an addition to one’s course or in lieu of the course textbook. However, as can be seen in a number of the cases the LC is not just a tool one can use in the science methods course but can become part of the teacher candidates’ journey as professional educators to become lifelong learners as they develop PCK. The authors feel that these benefits far outweigh the cost of the use of the LC and put the teacher candidates on the road to becoming highly efficient teachers of science. As one teacher candidate stated:

I found the resources provided for us….like we got NSTA. Most of those articles were pretty applicable. They had ideas you could use in your own classroom. It is so beneficial. It was pricey but it was worth it as we used it every week. The site had very valuable information that I would use in the future.

Part of establishing a community of lifelong learners is to develop the context in which teacher candidates can learn from multiple resources, participate in active dialogue about teaching and learning science, and develop appropriate lesson plans and activities using diverse sources of science content and pedagogy. The introduction and discussion of forming a community of lifelong learners necessitates the need for research to determine the benefits of using online, interactive, and collaborative sites in developing science teacher candidates. The idea and implementation of a single textbook and downloaded articles are gone. The new generation of teacher candidates need more dynamic and interactive methods for developing science content and pedagogy. Online sites for promoting lifelong learning of content, pedagogy, and PCK will become the standard in the near future.

References

Akerson, V. L., Cullen, T. A., & Hanson, D. L. (2009). Fostering a community of practice through a professional development program to improve elementary teachers’ views of nature of science and teaching practice. Journal of research in Science Teaching46, 1090-1113.

Appleton, K., & Kindt, I. (1999). Why teach primary science? Influences on beginning teachers’ practices. International Journal of Science Education21, 155-168.

Avery, L. M., & Meyer, D. Z. (2012). Teaching Science as Science Is Practiced: Opportunities and Limits for Enhancing Preservice Elementary Teachers’ Self‐Efficacy for Science and Science Teaching. School Science and Mathematics112, 395-409.

Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Powell, J. C., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins and effectiveness. Colorado Springs, Co: BSCS5, 88-98.

Byers, A., & Mendez, F. (2016). Blended professional learning for science educators: The NSTA Learning Center. Teacher learning in the digital age: Online professional development in STEM education, 167

Dogan, S., Pringle, R., & Mesa, J. (2016). The impacts of professional learning communities on science teachers’ knowledge, practice and student learning: A review. Professional Development in Education, 42, 569-588.

Ekici, D. I. (2017). The Effects of Online Communities of Practice on Pre-Service Teachers’ Critical Thinking Dispositions. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics Science and Technology Education13, 3801-3827.

Kittleson, J., Dresden, J., & Wenner, J.A. (2013).  Describing the Supported Collaborative Teaching Model: A designed setting to enhance teacher education. School-University Partnerships, 6(2), 20-31.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Authors: Washington D.C.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Ramey-Gassert, L., & Shroyer, M. G. (1992). Enhancing science teaching self-efficacy in preservice elementary teachers. Journal of Elementary Science Education4, 26-34.

Ramey‐Gassert, L., Shroyer, M. G., & Staver, J. R. (1996). A qualitative study of factors influencing science teaching self‐efficacy of elementary level teachers. Science Education80, 283-315.

Veal, W.R., & MaKinster, J.G. (1999). Pedagogical content knowledge taxonomies. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 3(4). Retrieved from http://ejse.southwestern.edu/article/view/7615/5382

Vick, M.E. (2018). Designing a third space science methods course. Innovations in Science Teacher Education 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-a-third-space-science-methods-course/

Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange Revisited: Using Literacy Strategies to Support and Enhance Teacher Candidates’ Understanding of NOS

Citation
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Allaire, F.S. (2018). Cobern and Loving’s card exchange revisited: Using literacy strategies to support and enhance teacher candidates’ understanding of NOS. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/cobern-and-lovings-card-exchange-revisited-using-literacy-strategies-to-support-and-enhance-teacher-candidates-understanding-of-nos/

by Franklin S. Allaire, University of Houston-Downtown

Abstract

The nature of science (NOS) has long been an essential part of science methods courses for elementary and secondary teachers. Consensus has grown among science educators and organizations that developing teacher candidate’s NOS knowledge should be one of the main objectives of science teaching and learning. Cobern and Loving’s (1998) Card Exchange is a method of introducing science teacher candidates to the NOS. Both elementary and secondary teacher candidates have enjoyed the activity and found it useful in addressing NOS - a topic they tend to avoid. However, the word usage and dense phrasing of NOS statements were an issue that caused the Card Exchange to less effective than intended. This article describes the integration of constructivist cross-curricular literacy strategies in the form of a NOS statement review based on Cobern and Loving’s Card Exchange statements. The use of literacy strategies transforms the Card Exchange into a more genuine, meaningful, student-centered activity to stimulate NOS discussions with teacher candidates.

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Promoting “Science for All” Through Teacher Candidate Collaboration and Community Engagement

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Kahn, S., Hartman, S.L., Oswald, K., & Samblanet, M. (2018). Promoting “science for all” through teacher candidate collaboration and community engagement. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/promoting-science-for-all-through-teacher-candidate-collaboration-and-community-engagement/

by Sami Kahn, Ohio University; Sara L. Hartman, Ohio University; Karen Oswald, Ohio University; & Marek Samblanet, Ohio University

Abstract

The Next Generation Science Standards present a bold vision for meaningful, quality science experiences for all students. Yet students with disabilities continue to underperform on standardized assessments while persons with disabilities remain underrepresented in science fields. Paramount among the factors contributing to this disparity is that science teachers are underprepared to teach students with disabilities while special education teachers are similarly ill-prepared to teach science. This situation creates a pedagogical and moral dilemma of placing teachers in classrooms without ample preparation, thereby guaranteeing attitudinal and practical barriers. To address this challenge, the authors of this manuscript developed a novel project in which, through voluntary participation, members of Ohio University’s National Science Teachers Association student chapter co-planned and co-taught inclusive science lessons with members of the university’s Student Council for Exceptional Children at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery, a local hands-on discovery museum. This manuscript describes the motivation for, methods, and findings from the project, as well as recommendations for other programs wishing to implement a similar model.

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards present a bold vision for equitable and excellent science opportunities through a call for “All Standards, All Students” (Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] Lead States, 2013, Appendix D). Following in the footsteps of the earlier “Science for All” efforts, the NGSS articulate a range of supports for marginalized groups in science, including students with disabilities. For those of us who have worked on issues of science equity and accessibility throughout our careers, it seems implausible that profound educational disparities and attitudinal barriers persist in the 21st Century. Yet despite decades of work on inclusive science research and practice, persons with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in science careers while students with disabilities underperform on science assessments (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011; National Science Foundation [NSF], 2013). Paramount among the factors contributing to this disparity is that science teachers are underprepared to teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, while special education teachers are similarly ill-prepared to teach science ( Irving, Nti, & Johnson, 2007; Kahn & Lewis, 2014). An obvious solution is to have science and special educators co-teach in the classroom, yet research suggests that without preparation and experience in such models, teachers face tremendous obstacles including lack of co-planning time, challenges with establishing roles and responsibilities, and simply lack of familiarity with discipline-specific accommodations (Moin, Magiera, & Zigmond, 2009). This situation creates a pedagogical and, as we believe, a moral dilemma of placing teachers in classrooms without ample preparation, a set-up for attitudinal and practical barriers.

We were therefore interested in developing flexible opportunities for science teacher candidates to interact and co-teach with special education candidates in an effort to provide meaningful experiences for all of our students, contribute to the research base in inclusive science teacher education, and support our greater community. To that end, we developed an Inclusive Science Day during which members of our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter co-planned and co-taught inclusive science lessons with student members of our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery (OVMoD), a local hands-on discovery museum. In doing so, our candidates learned about inclusive science practices, experienced co-planning, budgeting, and delivering science activities for a diverse audience, gained appreciation for the benefits of informal science community partnerships, and learned about themselves as future teachers of all students. This manuscript describes the motivation for, methods, and findings from our project, as well as recommendations for other programs wishing to implement a similar model.

Theoretical and School Context

Teacher Preparation and Science for Students with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, later reauthorized as the IDEIA (2004), guarantees a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. For the more than 6 million students in American schools identified as having disabilities, this means that they are guaranteed opportunities for learning commensurate with their abilities across subjects, including science. While most science teachers at all levels will teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, most receive little formal education in inclusive science practices. In their nationwide survey of 1088 science teachers, Kahn and Lewis (2014) found that, while 99% of the participants had taught students with disabilities during their careers, nearly one-third had not received any training on the subject and of those who had “on the job training” was cited as the most prominent context for learning. Similarly, special education teachers receive little training in science education (Patton, Palloway, & Cronin, 1990), leaving them to frequently be marginalized in inclusive science settings, with science teachers taking the lead. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that students with disabilities underperform on standardized science assessments and are underrepresented in science fields. Without the benefit of teachers who have been adequately prepared to develop accessible lessons using inclusive pedagogical approaches, students with disabilities will continue to be underserved in the sciences.

Although science and special education are often characterized as representing different philosophical stances (McGinnis & Kahn, 2014), contemporary frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2015) can mediate these differences by capitalizing on the abilities and acknowledging the challenges of all students, thereby creating a cohesive approach to ensuring access for the greatest number of learners. We hypothesized that allowing candidates to co-plan and co-teach UDL activities would provide them with the unique opportunity to discover each other’s strengths, assess their own weaknesses, and become exposed to different perspectives. As in most teacher education programs, however, these opportunities were scant for our candidates due to the structural requirements of their different programs of study and teaching placements. It seemed that a less formal opportunity was needed to explore possible benefits and challenges of collaborative inclusive programming. We decided to turn to the OVMoD for assistance.

Informal Science Learning

Informal science learning spaces, such as museums, zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens, provide unique opportunities for contextualized science learning for their visitors (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009). By providing materials and exhibits that are not otherwise readily accessible, allowing for open, unstructured discovery, and welcoming learners of all ages and backgrounds, these spaces offer incomparable resources to their surrounding communities (Fenichel & Schweingruber, 2010). Informal science learning spaces also provide powerful contexts for learning, not only for visitors but also for teacher candidates (Duran, Ballone-Duran, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2009). By providing candidates with teaching opportunities in such spaces, candidates learn to “think on their feet” as they are met by learners about whom they have no prior information, and must therefore anticipate challenges and respond quickly. They are also exposed to visitors representing a variety of ages, backgrounds, and abilities, thus necessitating a true “science for all” attitude and approach (McGinnis, Hestness, Riedinger, Katz, Marbach-Ad, & Dai A., 2012). Finally, bringing teacher candidates to informal science learning spaces allows them to learn about and serve their community, and of course, allows the community to become better acquainted with the programs and services available through the university, thereby promoting symbiotic learning opportunities (Bevan et al., 2010).

Our Programs

The Patton College of Education at Ohio University serves approximately 1600 undergraduate and 900 graduate students and uses a clinical model for teacher preparation, thus ensuring extensive in-school opportunities for students beginning in their sophomore year and benefitting from close relationships with partner schools (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010). Within our Department of Teacher Education, undergraduate and masters students can select from a wide swath of science teaching majors leading to certification in middle and secondary science areas. In addition, we have a thriving early childhood program that includes courses in both preschool and elementary science methods. Likewise, our nationally-recognized special education program leads to multiple graduate and undergraduate licensures. Undergraduate licensures include programming for intervention specialists seeking degrees to work with students with mild-to-moderate or moderate-to-intensive educational needs.

As vigorous and comprehensive as our programs are, teacher candidates from science education and special education interact infrequently during school hours due to their divergent course and placement requirements. Fortunately, our college supports (both philosophically and financially) our professional organization student chapters which afford opportunities for flexible collaboration. Our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter welcomes all students with an interest in science teaching and learning. This chapter experienced a renaissance recently with regular meetings, numerous fundraising activities, learning opportunities including attendance at a regional NSTA conference, and a concerted commitment to service learning in our community. This chapter currently has approximately 25 members representing both undergraduate and graduate programs, although most are undergraduate secondary (middle and high school) science education majors. Our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) boasts a large, consistent membership of approximately 35 to 40 teacher candidates who meet regularly, assist with functions held by the local developmental disabilities programs, and provide fundraising support for members of the community with disabilities as well as schools in need of resources for serving students with disabilities. This organization enjoys the leadership of a long-term and beloved advisor who has developed the group through many years of mentoring and modeling. In addition to our college of education, our university’s center for community engagement provides small grants for service learning projects. We were fortunate to receive funding for our Inclusive Science Day project to cover the cost of training materials used with our teacher candidates, consumables for science activities, and refreshments. In addition, this grant provided funds for two of our students to attend a regional NSTA conference early in the year at which they interviewed various leaders in the science education community as well as publishers and science education suppliers about their inclusive science materials. This experience was eye-opening for our students, who presented their findings at subsequent group meetings, as it set the stage for our Inclusive Science Day planning.

The Intervention: Inclusive Science Day

In order to determine the potential for an Inclusive Science Day at an informal learning space, the OU-NSTA advisor raised the idea with a colleague from the College of Education, who is also on the board of the OVMoD to discuss possibilities. The colleague indicated that the museum had made concerted efforts to reach out to visitors with all abilities through use of universally-designed displays and a “sensory-friendly” day; she was completely open to the idea of having teacher candidates plan and teach at the museum but would need to discuss the idea with the museum’s executive director and other board members.  The OU-NSTA advisor then met with the SCEC advisor, who was equally enthusiastic about the prospect of collaboration. Both the OU-NSTA and SCEC advisors then presented the idea to their respective executive board members who were highly receptive. Concurrently, the OU-NSTA advisor participated in an 8-week course on service learning offered by the university’s center for community engagement in order to better understand the dynamics of collaborative endeavors with community entities and to consider in depth both the potential learning opportunities for the teacher candidates and the service opportunities for the museum. While it might have been possible for this project to come to fruition without that training, the advisor felt that it undoubtedly prepared her for the potential benefits and challenges. Once all parties embraced Inclusive Science Day, the two advisors began to plan the training and research.

Planning and Orientation

One of the most daunting tasks was simply identifying a day/time that students could meet for an orientation and training. As this was a voluntary endeavor, we knew that we would need to ensure that our meetings were highly efficient, focused, and would inspire our teacher candidates to collaborate on their own time to ensure availability and convenience. Once we had an announced orientation time, the two advisors met to plan the training. We determined that the 2 1/2-hour evening training would include the following agenda:

  • Welcome, Refreshments, and Survey Invitation
  • Why Inclusive Science Day? and “Can You Name This Scientist?”
  • Collaborative Hands-on Simulation Activity (“Helicopters”) and Debriefing UDL
  • Lesson Planning and Budgeting Activities
  • Next Steps!

As we had decided to conduct research on teacher candidates’ experiences and attitudes regarding inclusive science practice, we applied for and received IRB approval for a pre and post survey that was distributed anonymously online at the orientation (pre) and after the Inclusive Science Day (post). Students were recruited for the Inclusive Science Day and associated research via e-invitations sent to organization membership lists in advance of the orientation. Because of our desire to avoid exerting pressure on students to participate in either the research or project, we did not require students to RSVP. We were very pleased to see that 18 students attended the training (ten special education and eight science education, including one elementary science methods student). When the students arrived at the orientation, they created nametags, had the opportunity to complete the survey online, and enjoyed pizza. We then distributed students among five tables so that at least one special education candidate was at each table. After introductions, we engaged in a brief brainstorming challenge to identify why inclusive science education might be important.  Candidates actively identified reasons including:

“There aren’t enough scientists with disabilities in the field.”

“Science is part of every child’s life and body.”

“You can teach science through different in different ways (e.g., visual, tactile, kinesthetic, etc…).”

“Knowing about science is important for everyone!”

“We need to know how to teach all students.”

We added three others to the list that students did not mention:

  • Science benefits from having all students contribute to its advancement.
  • There is a moral imperative for all students to have the opportunity to experience science.
  • Science is beautiful!

We then engaged in a “Can You Name This Scientist?” game in which candidates viewed pictures of famous scientists with disabilities and were asked to identify them.  Scientists included Alexander Graham Bell (Dyslexia), Thomas Edison (Hearing Impairment and Dyslexia), Temple Grandin (Autism), Geerat Vermeij (Visual Impairment), Jack Horner (Dyslexia), and Stephen Hawking (Motor Neuron Disease), among others. Most of our candidates were unaware that such accomplished scientists also had disabilities and that their disabilities, in some cases, may have enhanced the scientists’ interests and abilities in their fields. For example, Geerat Vermeij, a world-renowned paleobiologist attributes his nuanced abilities in identifying mollusks to his ability to feel and attend to distinctions in shells that sighted scientists might overlook (Vermeij, 1997). We were excited to see our students’ interests so piqued after this activity.

We then introduced the Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) framework, which allows teachers to develop lessons that meet the needs of the most number of learners thereby reducing the need for specific disability accommodations. The three principles of UDL are: 1) Multiple Means of Engagement (How students access the lesson or materials); 2) Multiple Means of Representation (How teachers present the material to the students); and 3) Multiple Means of Action and Expression (How students interact with the materials and show what they know). To help teacher candidates to better understand the potential barriers that students with disabilities might have in science class, we co-led a science activity in which students followed written directions for making and testing paper helicopters while assigning students equipment that helped them to simulate various disabilities. For example, some students received handouts that had scrambled letters to simulate Dyslexia, while others wore glasses that limited their vision. In addition, some students wore earplugs to simulate hearing impairments while others listened to conversations on headphones to simulate psychiatric disorders. Finally, some students had tape placed around adjacent fingers to simulate fine motor impairments, while others utilized crutches or wheel chairs. Students progressed through this activity for several minutes and then discussed their challenges as a class. We chose the helicopter activity because it required reading, cutting with scissors, throwing and observing the helicopters, and retrieving them; thus, this activity required a variety of intellectual and physical skills. We found that our students were quite impacted by this activity, as many indicated that they had never really thought about the perspective of students with these disabilities. In particular, the student who utilized a wheelchair said that she had never realized how much space was needed to accommodate the wheelchair easily during an active investigation. This led the group to discuss the need for us to set up our tables at the museum with sufficient space for all visitors to comfortably traverse the museum. Of course, we were careful to remind students that this type of simulation cannot accurately represent the true nature and complexity of anyone’s experiences, and that people with disabilities, like all individuals, develop adaptations for addressing challenges. However, this brief experience prompted our students to think about how they could redesign the lesson to ensure that as many students as possible could access it without specific accommodations.

We then informed the groups that they were each to develop plans for two activities that would be presented at the Inclusive Science Day. Based on discussions with museum administrators, we decided that having several “make and take” activities was desirable, in part because it allowed the learning to continue at home, but also because our university is in a very rural, high poverty region thus making these types of materials a particularly welcome benefit for many families (United States Census Bureau, 2014). Together, we reviewed the lesson plan document which was less formal than our typical lesson plan document (due to the informal nature of the museum activity stations format) but nevertheless, had specific learning outcomes, considerations for diversity (including gender, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, and ability), and a budget (See Figure 1 for a Sample Lesson; a blank lesson plan template is available for download at the end of this article in supplemental materials). We then informed teams that, thanks to the grant we had received, they had $50 to spend on their two lessons and that they should anticipate approximately 50 visitors to their tables (based on prior museum visitation counts). Teacher candidates then used their laptops and various resource books we provided to identify activities and develop materials lists with prices. We decided the easiest way to ensure that all materials would be received in time, and to avoid dealing with reimbursements and other financial complexities was to have students submit their final budget sheets to us during the week following the orientation. We would then order all the materials using one account and notify students once the materials were received. Students were responsible for bringing in “freebie” materials such as newspaper, aluminum cans, matches, etc. Once materials were received, student groups came to the central storage room at their convenience to check and prepare their materials in ample time for the program. We also encouraged students to create table signs for display at the Inclusive Science Day. They did this on their own time as well. Some of the activities that students developed were:

  • Fingerprint Detectives
  • Creating a Galaxy in a Jar
  • Chemical Reactions in a Pan (using baking soda and vinegar mixed with food coloring)
  • Exploring Static Electricity with Balloons
  • Egg Drop
  • Making and Testing Kazoos
  • Blobs in a Bottle (with vegetable oil and Alka-Seltzer tablets)
  • Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry
Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample lesson plan for “Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry.”

In addition to identifying activities that engaged different senses, our students thought about how to meet a variety of learners’ needs. For example, magnifiers and large ink stamp pads would be available at the fingerprint station for all students, while the “Blobs in a Bottle” activity station had alternative “jelly balls” that could be felt by visitors who couldn’t see the vegetable oil “blobs.” The kazoo station, which used toilet paper tubes, waxed paper, and rubber bands, allowed visitors who could not hear to feel the movement of the waxed paper when the kazoos were played. The station also had adaptive scissors and pre-cut waxed paper for visitors needing fine motor skill support. The UDL considerations and accommodations provided for each activity are contained in Table 1 below.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
UDL Considerations and Accommodations for Accessibility on Inclusive Science Day

The Day of the Event

The Inclusive Science Day was announced by the museum on social media, through our local schools, and through the local newspaper. The museum generously waived their admission fee for the day in order to encourage attendance as well. On the day of the program, students were asked to arrive two hours in advance to set up their stations. We provided lunch to ensure that we had time to speak to the group about the importance of the work they were about to do, and to allow the museum staff to convey any final instructions to the students. When the doors were opened, we were thrilled to see large numbers of families entering the museum space. Over the two hours that our program ran, the museum estimated that we had over 150 visitors, approximately three times their expected attendance. The attendance was so good that some of our student groups needed to send “runners” out to purchase additional materials; our “Galaxy in a Jar” group even began using recycled bottles from our lunch to meet the demands at their table.  Safety was a consideration at all times. Goggles were made available at all tables with splash potential, and safety scissors were used at stations with cutting requirements. In addition, our students (and we) wore our clubs’ T-shirts so that visitors could easily identify instructors. Each activity table had at least one science education and one special education candidate co-teaching. We supervised the students by assisting in crowd control, helping to ensure that visitors could easily navigate through the rather limited museum space, obtaining written permissions for photos from parents/caregivers, and responding to candidate questions. Some photos from the day are shown in Figures 2-4.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). “Blobs in a Bottle” activity demonstrating density and polarity of water and oil. Tactile “jelly balls” and magnifiers were available for visitors with visual impairments.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). “Chemical Reactions in a Pan” activity using baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring. Varied sizes of pipettes and pans were available to address diversity in visitors’ fine motor skills.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). “Exploring Sound with Kazoos” activity. Visitors were encouraged to use their senses of vision, touch, and hearing to test the instruments.

Research Findings/Project Evaluation

Overall, our teacher candidates found this project to be highly meaningful and helpful for their professional learning. Perhaps one of the most important themes that emerged from our evaluative research was that science and special education candidates welcomed the opportunity to collaborate as none of them had reported having opportunities to do so in the past. Some of the student post-activity responses included the following:

“[Inclusive Science Day] allowed me to gain more experience and to really learn what it is like to teach students who have disabilities. I also was able to see how students with different disabilities reacted to the same activity. I found that those students who had a disability found a different way to cope with their disability than we had thought they would.”

“I saw how different general education and special education teacher think. There were many differences to our approaches to creating the lesson.”

“I really liked that I was able to consult with the special education teachers if I was unsure of how to help a student with disabilities.”

“I had a great time sharing my content knowledge of science with those whose specialty is special education. Conversely, I had a great time learning from experts in special education and I really enjoyed seeing them be so in their comfort zone when we did have kids with exceptionalities. I envy their comfort levels and it makes me want to reach that level of comfort.”

“We were well prepared for any differentiation that would have needed to be done. And we all learned from each other.”

“I feel this was an awesome experience. The people I worked with really added something to our experiments that I otherwise may not have thought about.”

Challenges cited by our students included feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of visitors at each station, not having knowledge about the visitors’ backgrounds in advance, and difficulties in maintaining visitors’ focus on the science content. We found one student’s reflection to be quite sophisticated in its recognition of the need for more training on inclusive science:

“I still feel that I would like more professional development when it comes to leading science activities for students with disabilities. I had an experience with a wonderful young man and I felt very challenged because I don’t feel comfortable enough to gauge what I should be allowing him to do on his own and at the same time I didn’t want to hinder him from reaching his full potential. So, I feel like further professional development in that area is needed for me.”

Qualitative  analysis of candidate pre and post responses resulted in themes that included: 1) candidates’ assessment of collaboration as a powerful professional development opportunity; 2) identification of different perspectives between science and special education candidates; 3) a common desire to do good work by making accessible for all students; 4) recognition of informal learning spaces as viable teaching venues; and; 4) a strong need for more training and opportunities to teach science to students with disabilities. Our findings support earlier research suggesting that teacher candidates are inclined toward inclusive practices (McGinnis, 2003) and that opportunities for collaboration with special education candidates enhance their comfort level in co-planning and co-teaching (Moorehead & Grillo, 2013). Our teacher candidates’ expressions of the depth of impact this professional development experience had on them makes sense when considered in light of Kahn and Lewis’ (2014) study which suggested that teachers’ experience with any students with disabilities increased their feelings of preparedness toward working with all students with disabilities. In addition, our findings reinforce studies suggesting that informal learning spaces can provide unique and flexible learning opportunities for teacher candidates, particularly in that they provided multiple opportunities to teach the same lesson repeatedly, thus allowing for reflection and revision (Jung & Tonso, 2006). Perhaps most importantly, this study underscores the desire for and efficacy of increased training and experience in implementing inclusive science practices during teachers’ pre-service educations.

Future Plans and Conclusion

Based on the feedback from the teacher candidates and the museum, we are planning to make Inclusive Science Day an annual event. However, we are considering several changes for future projects including:

  • Multiple training evenings for teacher candidates
  • Pre-registration for Inclusive Science Day so that we can anticipate attendance size and specific needs of visitors
  • Creating a “Quiet Zone” area at the museum for visitors who would benefit from a less bustling environment
  • Identifying additional sources of funding for consumable materials
  • Greater outreach to our early childhood teacher candidates to encourage participation

As students with disabilities are increasingly included in science classrooms, it is incumbent of teacher education programs to ensure that their science teacher candidates acquire the tools and the dispositions for teaching all learners. While more formal approaches, such as dual licensure programs and co-teaching internship placements are on the horizon for many programs, teacher education programs should not overlook the power of extracurricular events, informal learning spaces, and student organizations to provide important professional development opportunities for teacher candidates, pilots for new program development, and occasions to both serve and learn from the community.

 

Supplemental Files

Lesson-Plan-Template.docx

References

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An Innovative Integrated STEM Program for PreK-6 Teachers

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Lottero-Perdue, P.S., Haines, S., Bamberger, H., & Miranda, R.J. (2018). An innovative integrated STEM program for preK-6 teachers. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/an-innovative-integrated-stem-program-for-prek-6-teachers/

by Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Towson University; Sarah Haines, Towson University; Honi J. Bamberger, Towson University; & Rommel J. Miranda, Towson University

Abstract

In this article, we describe an innovative, 6-course, 18-credit post-baccalaureate certificate (PBC) program for pre-kindergarten through grade six teachers (PreK-6) in Integrated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (iSTEM) Instructional Leadership. Here, the acronym, “iSTEM,” refers to education that not only addresses each of the S, T, E and M subjects, but also emphasizes the connections among them. We collaboratively contributed to the development of the program, and teach courses within it. The program graduated its pilot cohort of teachers in 2015, is running its second cohort, and is recruiting for a third. The article summarizes the program’s origins and integration approach and key aspects of program design. Those key aspects include: make-up of the program team; a deliberate course sequence; decrease in structure (and increase in more open-ended, student-centered learning approaches) over time in the program; and movement in the program from growth as an iSTEM teacher towards growth as iSTEM teacher leader. Each of the courses is described in greater detail, followed by a discussion of program assessment and evaluation. The article concludes with our reflections about the program’s challenges and successes thus far.

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References

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The Home Inquiry Project: Elementary Preservice Teachers’ Scientific Inquiry Journey

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Kazempour, M. (2017). The home inquiry project: Elementary preservice teachers’ scientific inquiry journey. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/the-home-inquiry-project-elementary-preservice-teachers-scientific-inquiry-journey/

by Mahsa Kazempour, Penn State University (Berks Campus)

Abstract

This article discusses the Home Inquiry Project which is part of a science methods course for elementary preservice teachers. The aim of the Home Inquiry Project is to enhance elementary preservice teachers’ understanding of the scientific inquiry process and increase their confidence and motivation in incorporating scientific inquiry into learning experiences they plan for their future students. The project immerses preservice teachers in the process of scientific inquiry and provides them with an opportunity to learn about and utilize scientific practices such as making observations, asking questions, predicting, communicating evidence, and so forth. Preservice teachers completing this project perceive their experiences favorably, recognize the importance of understanding the process of science, and reflect on the application of this experience to their future classroom science instruction. This project has immense implications for the preparation of a scientifically literate and motivated teacher population who will be responsible for cultivating a scientifically literate student population with a positive attitude and confidence in science.

Innovations Journal articles, beyond each issue's featured article, are included with ASTE membership. If your membership is current please login at the upper right.

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References

Adams, A., Miller, B., Saul, M., Pegg, J. (2014). Supporting elementary preservice teachers to teach STEM through place-based teaching and learning experiences. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 18(5). Retrieved from http://ejse.southwestern.edu/issue/view/1119

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