Why is the Good Stuff at the Bottom of the Cooler? An Inquiry about Inquiry for Preservice Secondary Science Teachers

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Burgin, S.R. (2017). Why is the good stuff at the bottom of the cooler? An inquiry about inquiry for preservice secondary science teachers. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, (2)3. Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/why-is-the-good-stuff-at-the-bottom-of-the-cooler-an-inquiry-about-inquiry-for-preservice-secondary-science-teachers/

by Stephen R. Burgin, University of Arkansas


The following article describes a lesson that was originally implemented in a high school chemistry classroom for the purpose of teaching students about density and was subsequently revised in order to teach preservice science teachers about inquiry and the practices of science. Lesson plans turned in after the experience revealed that preservice teachers demonstrated an understanding of the importance of allowing students to engage in the practices of science in order to construct their own meanings of natural phenomenon prior to being provided with an expected result. Practical examples of how science investigations can be modified for the purposes of science teacher preparation are included.

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A College – Science Center Partnership for Science Teacher Preparation

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Steinberg, R. & Saxman, L. (2017). A college-science center partnership for science teacher preparation. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/a-college-science-center-partnership-for-science-teacher-preparation/

by Richard Steinberg, City College of New York; & Laura Saxman, CUNY Graduate Center


This partnership between a college and a science center addresses the need to improve the recruitment and preparation of science teachers in an urban setting. We describe the integrated teacher preparation model where undergraduate science majors simultaneously participate in the City College of New York science teacher preparation program and serve as interns on the museum floor at the New York Hall of Science. We report on how graduates of our program are prepared to teach science and how they performed in the classroom. We found that the program was successful at recruiting students from the communities in which they intend to teach and successful at preparing them to teach inquiry-based science.

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You Learning Cycled Us! Teaching the Learning Cycle Through the Learning Cycle

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Hick, S.R. (2017). You learning cycled us! Teaching the learning cycle through the learning cycle. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/you-learning-cycled-us-teaching-the-learning-cycle-through-the-learning-cycle/

by Sarah R. Hick, Hamline University


Frustrated by how much difficulty my preservice secondary science teachers were having understanding the essence of the learning cycle and crafting learning cycle lessons, I changed both the language of the learning cycle and the way I taught it.  Using ConceptDiscovery,” Concept Clarification, and Concept Application (DCA) as the names of the stages, I began to teach the learning cycle through a learning cycle.  In my series of lessons to help them build understanding of the DCA learning cycle, I first have students analyze vignettes of learning cycle lessons in order to “discover” the critical elements of each stage.  To “clarify” the concept of the DCA cycle, I spend several class sessions leading model lessons and engaging my pre-service teachers in discussions about each stage.  To help them “apply” their understanding to teaching, I scaffold them through writing their own learning cycle lesson with help from a categorization scheme I developed for types of discovery learning experiences.  Finally, in a short additional learning cycle, I have my pre-service students compare and contrast this model with others learning cycle models as a way to become knowledgeable about the history of the learning cycle and competent in the dominant discourse around it.


When I started teaching high school biology, I figured out early on that my students were motivated by puzzles.  I made it my challenge, then, to devise lessons in which the learning experiences were structured as puzzles for my students to solve.  My early attempts included the extremely popular—though cognitively questionable—“Word-Scramble Treasure Hunts.”  In teams, students answered fill-in-the-blank questions from the text, then rearranged the circled letters of each answer to reveal the location of their next set of questions.  The treasure hunts—and the bag of donut holes for the winning team—were a huge hit with lecture-weary students.  For me, though, the logistics of the seven separate treasure hunt paths on seven different colors of paper for five different periods was overwhelming.  Plus, I had to be honest: it was simply a worksheet cut into strips.  Surely, I could do better.

Over my next few years teaching, the clues of my puzzles shifted from being words to being data.  I developed a habit of beginning instruction on a new topic by providing students with a puzzle in the form of an experimental question or a set of data—numbers, graphs, images, observations—that they collected or that I provided to them.  Their challenge was to analyze the data and draw a conclusion.  The conclusion they drew was—by my design—the concept that I wanted them to learn that day.

When I began taking courses in my doctoral program, I learned that what I was doing with my students was, in the main, a form of constructivist and inquiry teaching.  More specifically, this approach (and the learning experiences that followed) closely paralleled what was known in the field as a learning cycle.  Briefly, a basic learning cycle involves students 1) beginning their learning about a concept usually through a hands-on investigation of a phenomenon or materials; 2) getting a clearer understanding of the concept through a variety of instructional approaches including additional labs, readings, lecture, videos, demonstrations, and others; and 3) applying the learning in a new context (e.g., Bybee, 1997; Bybee, Taylor, Gardner, Van Scotter, Powell, Westbrook, & Landes, 2006; Bybee, Powell, & Trowbridge, 2007; Karplus & Thier, 1967; Lawson, Abraham, & Renner, 1989).

As I looked to move from my career as a high school science teacher to the one ahead as a science teacher educator, I was thrilled to learn that what I had been doing had a name, theory, research (e.g., Bybee et al., 2006; National Research Council 2006), and even curriculum behind it.  Because my own teaching had become so much more powerful for my high school students—and so much more enjoyable for me—I was driven to teach the learning cycle to the new science teacher candidates so that they could use it to support learning and thinking in their own classrooms.  I was pleased that I would have more legitimacy behind my aspirations for my pre-service teachers’ instructional designs than simply, “Hey, this really worked for me and my students!”  The published and researched versions of the learning cycle were so well developed, so well articulated, and so integrated into the world of science education, that I felt that helping new teachers learn to plan using that model would be fairly easy—certainly easier than the fumbling around that I had done for a few years.

Naming Rights—or Naming Wrongs?

I was caught entirely by surprise, then, when the preservice science teachers whom I mentored and supervised in my doctoral program struggled so much to learn and adopt the learning cycle in their planning.  What seemed to be such a straightforward concept to me perplexed and befuddled them.  For all the time they spent learning and writing using the Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate (5E) model (e.g., Bybee 1997, 2002, 2006; Bybee et al. 2007)—two four-credit secondary science methods courses over two terms—they struggled enormously to write lesson plans using the model.

A troublesome aspect of the 5E model seemed—ironically—to be the clever, alliterative 5E naming system itself: the preservice secondary science teachers struggled to remember what each of the Es of the 5E model stood for.  Worse, tripping up over what the Es stood for made them lose track completely of the overarching idea of the progression of thinking and learning that make up the pedagogical foundation of the learning cycle.   The typical response to being asked about the 5E Learning Cycle was a variation on a theme: “The five Es?  Um, I think explore, and expand, . . . explain, and . . . and . . . oh yeah, evaluate, and . . . shoot.  How many is that?”  The few students who could come up with all five names could not name them in order.  It seemed that while “5E” was catchy, the real meat of the learning cycle was not.  The students were—I really cannot resist this—missing the forest for the Es.

When I graduated from my doctoral program and began teaching science methods courses myself, I tried both the 5E model because of its power, presence, and ubiquity in science education and the three-part Exploration, Term/Concept Introduction, Concept Application model (Karplus, 1979; Karplus & Butts, 1977; Karplus & Thier, 1967; Lawson et al., 1989) because of its simplicity, permanence, and historical importance.  But the Explore/Exploration name in both models was too loose for my students.  What did it mean to “explore”?  “Exploration” could be a lot of interesting but aimless wandering.  My students could come up with all sorts of cool hands-on “explorations”—opportunities for students to put their hands on materials and play around with them—but to what end?  That was the problem with “exploring;” there was no promise or expectation that one would actually find anything.

The implication set by the words “exploration” and “explore” was setting the bar too low for both teacher and students.  With the publication of both A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the importance of using planning schema that emphasize scientific and engineering practices—especially, in this step, making hypotheses, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence (NRC, 2012)—cannot be underestimated. Bybee et al. (2006) articulated about the Explore stage that, as “a result of their mental and physical involvement in the activity, the students establish relationships, observe patterns, identify variables” (p. 9). The language of “exploration,” however, allows the novice teacher-planner to underestimate the possibility for real conceptual learning and for engagement in scientific practices.

Re-Branding the Stages

Based on the difficulties with the stage names that I saw my preservice science students experiencing, I devised a new naming system to use as I introduced the learning cycle to them. I stuck with the original core three stages—or, put another way, I lopped off the first and last of the 5Es that had been added to the older models (Bybee et al., 2006).  My reasoning for the lopping was not that engagement and assessment (“evaluation” in the 5E) were in some way insignificant; to the contrary, I lopped them out of the learning cycle because they are critical components that should frame—and be seamlessly woven throughout—all lesson plans, not just those using a learning cycle approach.  Our licensure program uses a lesson plan template that requires our preservice teachers to articulate their assessment plans (prior knowledge, formative, and future summative) as well as their plans to motivationally, physically, and cognitively engage their students in the learning.  Because of that requirement, and because of the months that we have already spent in class building skills in engaging students and designing assessments, including the “Engage” and “Evaluate” portions of the learning cycle were unnecessary—and, in fact, a bit awkward—in instruction about the learning cycle as a distinct approach to teaching and learning.

For the first stage, I decided on the name Concept Discovery.  In this stage, students are provided with a phenomenon, a structured or guided inquiry lab opportunity (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005), or a set of data to examine.  Often, they are provided an investigable question for which they propose a hypothesis, then design and carry out a test of that hypothesis.  Using inductive reasoning, they examine the data and draw a conclusion—often the noticing of a pattern, relationship, or cause and effect—which they then justify with evidence and share out with peers.  As they work, the teacher supports learning by watching, listening, asking probing questions, and providing scaffolding as needed.

I am intentional about using the word “Concept” in the name: I want it to be exceptionally clear to the teacher-planners that students are discovering a particular concept in this stage; they are not simply being tossed into a murky sea of data or materials with the hope that they may discover something.  The quotation marks are also intentional. The “Discovery” going on is akin to Columbus “discovering” America: students are not really discovering anything new to the world, they are discovering something new to themselvesToo, the discovery is contrived: they are participating in a learning experience specifically engineered to allow them—through the processes of interpreting data and making and defending claims (and, quite often, brainstorming variables, making predictions, designing tests, and engaging in scientific debate)—to come to the intended meaning.

The second step I named Concept Clarification.  The focus in this step is the teacher making sure that, regardless of—but built through discussion of—individual or group findings, the whole class comes to a common understanding of the main idea arising from the discovery experience.  The teacher makes sure that appropriate terms are introduced and defined, preferably with definitions crafted as a class based on their experiences of the concept during the Concept Discovery stage.  The teacher also uses discussion, notes, video clips, images, modeling, readings, additional laboratory experiences, and other instructional strategies to help students refine the understanding they built in the Concept Discovery stage.

The third step I left intact as Concept Application, the step in which students apply their new learning—often in conjunction with their understanding of previous concepts—in order to solve a new problem.

The naming and structure of the Concept Discovery, Concept Clarification, Concept Application (DCA) learning cycle is intended to help my preservice secondary science teachers plan single lessons or multi-day instructional sequences that allow their students to discover one concept, achieve clarity on that same concept, and then apply it to a new situation before moving on to learn the next concept.

Practicing What I Teach

The naming systems were, of course, not the only thing—and likely not the major thing—holding back mastery of the learning cycle.  I realized as I began to teach science methods courses myself that the very thing that had made learning science so difficult for me in high school—traditional instruction that started with terms, notes, and readings—was keeping the preservice science teachers from learning the learning cycle.  If leading with new terminology and following with notes and examples did not work for teaching meiosis or the rock cycle, why would it work for teaching the learning cycle?  I realized that if I wanted my own preservice teachers to learn to teach using the learning cycle, I would need to help them learn it through a learning cycle.  Over the past decade, then, I have worked to develop and refine a way of helping preservice teachers master the learning cycle in a way that honors the pedagogy of the approach itself.

I begin my lessons on the learning cycle with an assessment of prior knowledge that also serves to pique my preservice students’ interest.  I ask my students to write out or diagram what they regard to be a good general structure for the teaching of their content, be it life science, chemistry, or physics.  I have my students share their representations with their content-area partners to see if they find any similarities.  With little variation, they include lecture and lab—always in that order—as central to science teaching.  I then let them know that we will be learning a lesson structure called the “learning cycle” over the next several class periods.  In my efforts to model good instructional technique, I post the following objectives on the board:

  • Name and describe the stages of a learning cycle;
  • Create an instructional sequence using the learning cycle.

Concept Discovery

To begin the Concept Discovery stage for my students to learn the DCA learning cycle, I pass out vignettes of four lessons, one each for class sessions in Language Arts, World Language, Mathematics, and Health (see Appendix A for these vignettes).  I use examples from non-science classes because I want my students to focus on the type of thinking and tasks happening, not on the content or if they think there is a “better” way to teach that content.  Each vignette is divided into three short paragraphs, each paragraph describing what the teacher and students are doing in that stage of the learning cycle.  Importantly, I do not label the names of the stages at this point as that would undermine my preservice students’ opportunity to “discover” the heart of each stage.

I ask my students to read through the vignettes—the “data,” though I do not call it that—first without making any notes.  Then, I ask them to read through them looking at just the first stage in all four, then just the second stage, then just the third stage.  I then ask them to make notes about what the students and the teachers are doing in each stage and try to come up with a name for each stage.  Once they have completed that individual work, I put my students into groups of three to four to share out their ideas.  I spend my time roaming the room, informally checking in on their ideas as they talk and write.

Concept Clarification

Once my student groups are ready to share out, I put a chart on the board with “Stage 1,” “Stage 2,” and “Stage 3” down the left side and “Teacher does” and “Students does” on the top.  I ask them to tell me which stage they feel most confident about and want to start with (it is always the third stage).  I get them to fill in the boxes in the chart for that row and suggest a name (it is almost always “application,” lending support to the appropriateness of this name).  We then move on to the other rows and do the same.  Once we have the table filled in and I have circled the things they contributed that are central to the learning cycle and not simply to good teaching (for example, “students looking for patterns” is central to the first stage of the learning cycle but “students working as individuals and then small groups” is not), I unveil my “real” names for the stages and we craft short definitions of each from what we have recorded on the board (Figure 1).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample chart on board.

I then have students read a handout I wrote that summarizes each stage of the DCA learning cycle (see Appendix B).  For the next several class sessions, I model learning cycle lessons in science for them, with them as my mock middle and high school students.  The examples I use (see Appendix C for summaries of the example lessons) involve an array of concepts (both declarative and procedural) from life science, chemistry, and physics; contain Concept Discovery experiences that use a wide variety of data types, data-gathering techniques, and data analysis approaches; and vary tremendously in the length and complexity of both Concept Clarification and Concept Application activities.  My goal in using such a broad range of experiences is to help my methods students see a) that learning cycles can be used in all areas science, and b) that while the type of student cognitive work in each stage is consistent across different topics, there is great diversity in the types of learning tasks, instructional strategies, and assessment practices that a learning cycle can employ.

After each model lesson that I lead, I ask students to first write individually and then discuss with their partner where each stage began and ended in that lesson.  Though I have shown for the reader how the three parts of each lesson are broken up, I do not reveal those transitions to my students while I am leading the lessons.  I want them to have to puzzle through the boundaries of the stages as part of their cognitive work in learning the stages.

After informally keeping track of student ideas as they work, I lead a discussion of their perceptions and my intentions about the boundaries of the stages. I also help them see the fuzziness of those boundaries in transition: Is group share-out part of Concept Discovery or Concept Clarification?  Is practice part of Concept Clarification or Concept Application?  I remind my students that relative order of learning experiences is what is paramount, not how we divide up the sometimes fuzzy borders.

After the wrap-up discussion of the last lesson, I ask them to reflect on how I had helped them learn about the learning cycle: What did I have you do first? Then what did I have you do?  Very quickly, someone cries out, “You learning cycled us!”  I ask them why they think I “learning cycled” them instead of having them learn it in a different way.  Someone is always quick to suggest—correctly—that I must think that using a learning cycle is the best way to help people learn something new.

Concept Application

I then ask my preservice teachers what stage we haven’t done yet (Concept Application) and what an effective application for the concept of the learning cycle might be.  They gulp when they realize that, of course, I’ll be asking them to create a learning cycle lesson.  I start their work on learning to write learning cycle lessons by assigning students concepts in their discipline and asking them to brainstorm things they might include in a DCA learning cycle lesson that would help students learn that concept.  While I observe and scaffold with prompts as needed, students combine into groups to create and share a DCA lesson on their assigned topic.

Students then are asked to plan one learning cycle lesson on their own as part of a larger summative assessment for the course—a unit plan that they research and build over the term.  I ask them first to submit to me—for points—the objective(s) for the lesson as well as a rough description (a few sentences) of their plan for each stage of the learning cycle.  If the idea is viable, I allow them to move forward with their planning.  If the idea is confusing or not viable, I ask them to resubmit it as many times as necessary.  If they are unable to make a workable plan, I point them in a workable direction for the lesson with the understanding that they will not get credit for the draft.  I then have the students lead the Concept Discovery portion of their lesson, and other stages if time allows, either in their clinical placement or with their peers in our class.  They gather feedback from the students, reflect on what they learned from their experience teaching, and use that information to write the final draft of their lesson (see example student lesson plans in Appendices E and F).  The learning cycle aspect of the lesson plan is then evaluated using a brief scoring guide that evaluates the degree to which each stage achieves its goal:

  1. Concept Discovery section is appropriately designed so that students can “discover” a new-to-them concept (60%).
  2. Concept Clarification section sticks to the exact same concept, not just same topic or benchmark, and fully clarifies it with examples, notes, definitions, and whatever else would be helpful and relevant for that concept (20%).
  3. Concept Application asks students to use exactly the same concept in a new way, alone or in conjunction with previously learned concepts (20%).

I weight the Concept Discovery section three times as much as each of the other two stages because it is the lynchpin of the learning cycle.  Excellent Concept Clarification and Concept Application plans are evidence of excellent learning cycle planning skills only if the Concept Discovery phase is workable.  Without a workable Concept Discovery stage, I do not have evidence that my students can plan a learning cycle lesson.

Next Steps

Once my students have had the opportunity to complete their application of the learning cycle concept by writing a learning cycle lesson plan, I move to the next need: translating their understanding of the DCA learning cycle to the models used in the field of science education.  It is critically important to me that my preservice students are able to engage in the discourse around the learning cycle in their professional networks, in their planning, and in their professional development.  In the end, the DCA learning cycle is not meant to be an end in itself—I have no interest in seeing any of the other models ousted—it is only meant to serve as a clearer means to teach the underlying framework or philosophy of “the” learning cycle, whichever final model one chooses.

For this brief learning cycle, I set the objectives as, “Explain the evolutionary roots and development of ‘the’ learning cycle” and “Defend a lesson plan using published learning cycle theory.”  For Concept Discovery, I ask my students to examine the 5E model and Keeley’s (2008) SAIL model, then craft text or a diagram that articulates the areas of alignment and divergence that they see (Figure 2, Figure 3, Figure 4).  After students share those models with each other, for Concept Clarification, I diagram the areas of alignment on the board along with a branched evolutionary timeline showing the learning cycles by Karplus (Karplus, 1979; Karplus & Butts, 1977; Karplus & Thier, 1967), Lawson (Lawson et al., 1989; Lawson, 1995), Bybee (1997), and Keeley (2008) as a background for why the alignments are present.  For application, my students need to rewrite the rationale for the pedagogy of their lesson plan using one of the published models of the learning cycle as the theoretical base in place of the DCA cycle.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 1.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 2.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 3.

Additional Support for Creating Concept “Discovery” Activities

I recognized a few years into my career as a science teacher educator that my preservice teachers struggled the most with creating discovery portions of the learning cycle.  After a couple years of beating my head against a wall and wailing at the reading of some of my students’ derailed, tangled, or simply traditional confirmation labs (Bell et al., 2005) they were calling “discovery,” I realized that they needed more help in conceptualizing and building true, inductive, Concept Discovery experiences for their own secondary students.  They also needed help moving beyond simply thinking about labs as ways of learning, especially for content that did not lend itself to laboratory investigations

As I analyzed my own learning cycle lessons trying to figure out how I was crafting them, I realized that there were some unwritten templates that I was employing.  I first identified three main categories into which the Concept Discovery activities fit: drawing conclusions from data; inferring rules, definitions, or relationships from examples; and ordering or sorting based on observable characteristics. As I used those categories over the years and added examples, I found that all three categories—not just the first—really involved students in “drawing conclusions from data.” Additionally, I realized that I was subdividing the examples in the first category in ways that were more helpful than the larger category itself.  I then arrived at six main—and, at times, overlapping—categories into which Concept Discovery learning experiences fall:

  • investigating a hypothesis in a laboratory investigation;
  • finding patterns in extant data sets;
  • experiencing the phenomenon (live or through simulation);
  • mimicking the way the relationship or phenomenon was discovered by scientists;
  • ordering or sorting based on observable characteristics; and
  • inferring rules, definitions, or relationships from examples.

Each approach involves students in using the science practices of “analyzing and interpreting data” and “constructing explanations” as well as one or more additional science practices (NRC, 2012).  I provide my science methods students with a handout on these categories of Concept Discovery experiences (Appendix D) and ask them to identify which type each of my example learning cycle lessons employed.  Providing my preservice science teachers with this categorization of Concept Discovery has helped them to expand their imagining of Concept Discovery experiences from just laboratory investigations to a myriad of data-driven inductive cognitive experiences.  That freeing of their imagination has been especially helpful to students in chemistry and biology who frequently find themselves needing to address standards that do not seem to lend themselves to laboratory investigations.

Taking Stock, Moving Forward

Student Perspectives

My methods students and I have a tremendous amount of fun with the learning cycle in my courses.  The amount of laughter and engaged conversation during the learning cycle experiences lets me know that they are enjoying themselves; the quality of their related assignments, lessons plans, and microteaching lets me know that learning and growth is happening.  Responses to open-ended questions in on-line course evaluations, too, show that students really value the learning cycle experiences in shaping them as teachers.  One student’s entry into the “best part of the course” section nicely captures the range of sentiments that students share:

I really enjoyed and got a lot out of all of the mini inquiry/discovery lessons we got to experience. They were fun, but they also gave me many concrete and easy­to­remember examples of how to get students involved in discovering concepts. Very good meta­teaching. I also enjoyed planning for and teaching the mini lessons. It was good, low­pressure practice.

The bulk of the comments each term focuses on the role of “modeling” of effective instruction.   When students write about modeling, they are at times referring to the fact that I practice “what I preach” in the instruction of our class: I teach the learning cycle through a learning cycle.  At other times, they are referring to my leading of demonstration science lessons with them as stand-ins for secondary students.  Comment after comment makes clear that whether the student has never seen constructivism in action, learns best by doing, wants to see more practical examples of best practices or inquiry in science, or just appreciates the alignment of my expectations of their teaching and my teaching, they find the modeling to be powerful.  One student, for example, wrote,

I liked seeing the activities from the point of view from the students. Moreover, I like the way you role played the teacher trying not to break character. This gave me more insight on how the flow of the classroom should be directed and how to use open questions.

Students also express relief in finally being able to put some meat on their skeleton ideas of what “constructivism,” “inquiry,” and “student-centered” really mean.  One student wrote, “I liked having the opportunity to see lots of discovery and inquiry activities, instead of just hearing that I’m supposed to use inquiry.”  Another shared,

Before this class I had lots of vague ideas about the importance of student centered learning…I have been able to focus my ideas and see examples and practices to turn these ideas into great instruction. I feel much more confident as I proceed into teaching.

The comments also confirm for me that part of why these learning experiences are effective is that they are, after all, constructivist.  Occasionally, a student recognizes the constructivist possibilities that the approach affords, like my student who wrote, “I learn sciecne [sic] best by hands on and that is exactly what this course was and by doing activites [sic], it was easy for me to see where students may stumble.”  Fortunately, the constructivism can be just as powerful for students who are traditional in both their own learning preference and their teaching philosophy.  One student wrote that the modeling and micro-teaching “pushed me toward a more student centered teaching and away from my own way of learning.”

Given that I see my two main professional challenges in science methods instruction as 1) changing the belief structures of my traditional learners towards a constructivist paradigm for teaching, and 2) supporting the motivated constructivists to develop constructivist practices, the comments from my students let me know that the learning cycle experiences are helping me make progress towards those goals.

The View from Here

After almost a decade teaching the DCA learning cycle in a learning cycle format and six years providing examples of the types of discovery experiences teachers can design, I have gotten to a place of more comfort with what my preservice science teachers are able to do.  Sure, I still have a few students who cannot create a coherent discovery experience as part of a meaningful learning cycle, but they are now the exception rather than the rule.  They are students whose content knowledge, focus, beliefs, or academic skills are simply not aligned with those needed for the immense cognitive task of creating Concept Discovery experience.  But my other students, most of my students—including many with in-coming traditional beliefs about teaching and learning—are able to successfully craft excellent learning cycle experiences and are able to articulate the theory supporting that lesson model.  They are thus, I believe, well-positioned to enter the field of science teaching ready to build their planning, instructional, and assessment skills in ways that align with what we know in science education about effective teaching.  My next big task?  To help them do just that in their first few years in the classroom.


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Teaching Outside the Box: A Collaborative Field Experience of Formal and Nonformal Educators

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Gross, L.A., & James, J.J. (2017). Teaching outside the box: A collaborative field experience of formal and nonformal educators. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/teaching-outside-the-box-a-collaborative-field-experience-of-formal-and-nonformal-educators/

by Lisa A. Gross, Appalachian State University; & J. Joy James, Appalachian State University


This  paper describes a collaborative project in which elementary education (ELED) majors partnered with recreation majors (RM) to develop and implement science lessons in the outdoors. ELED and RM students both need experiential learning to accomplish respective skill sets in multiple settings. The purpose of this project was to provide both undergraduate groups with “real-life” experiences related to their respective fields and in doing so, to promote science learning in natural spaces.  ELED and RM students co-constructed inquiry-based lessons and related recreational activities for implementation with 5th grade students.  The researchers provide an overview of the project and describe the actions, benefits and outcomes of this university partnership.

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Anderson, D., Lawson, B., & Mayer-Smith, J. (2006). Investigating the impact of a practicum experience in an aquarium on preservice teachers. Teaching Education, 17, 341-353.

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Bleicher, R. (2004). Revisiting the STEBI-B: Measuring self-efficacy in preservice teacher education. School Science and Mathematics, 104, 383-391.

Brown, S. (2009). Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the

Soul. New York: Penguin Publishing.

Burdette, H. L. & Whitaker, R. C. (2005). Resurrecting free play in young children: Looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation and affect. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 159, 46-50.

Bybee, R. (2015). The BSCS 5E instructional model: creating teachable moments. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.

Carrier, S. J. (2009). Environmental education in the schoolyard: learning styles and gender. Journal of Environmental Education. 21(2) 35-48.

Carrier-Martin, S. (2003). The influence of outdoor schoolyard experiences on students’ environmental knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and comfort levels. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 12(2), 51-63.

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Dadvand, P., Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J., Esnaola, M., Forns, J., Basagaña, X., Alvarez-Pedrerol, M., & Sunyer, J. (2015). Green spaces and cognitive development in primary schoolchildren. Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 112: 7937-7942

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Gunning, A. & Mensah, F. (2010). Preservice elementary teachers’ development of self-efficacy and confidence to teach science: a case study. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 22, 171-185.

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James, J. J., Bixler, R. & Vadala, C. (2010). From play in nature, to recreation then vocation: A developmental model for natural history-oriented environmental professionals.

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Kisiel, J. (2013). Introducing future teachers to science beyond the classroom. Journal of Science Teacher Education. 24, 67-91.

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Cultural Institutions as Partners in Initial Elementary Science Teacher Preparation

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Smetana, L., Birmingham, D., Rouleau, H., Carlson, J., & Phillips, S. (2017). Cultural institutions as partners in initial elementary science teacher preparation. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(2).   Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/cultural-institutions-as-partners-in-initial-elementary-science-teacher-preparation/

by Lara Smetana, Loyola University Chicago; Daniel Birmingham, Colorado State University; Heidi Rouleau, The Field Museum; Jenna Carlson, Loyola University Chicago; & Shannon Phillips, The Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum


Despite an increased recognition of the role that ‘informal’ learning spaces (e.g. museums, aquariums, other cultural institutions) have in children’s science education (NRC, 2015), there remains a gap between the goals and values of ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ (i.e. school-based) learning sectors. Moreover, the potential for informal spaces and institutions to also play a role in initial teacher preparation is only beginning to be realized. Here, we present our Science Teacher Learning Ecosystem model and explain how it frames the design of our elementary science teacher education coursework. We then use this framework to describe learning experiences that are collaboratively planned and implemented with two local museums. These course sessions engage teacher candidates as science learners and develop abilities and mindsets for bridging formal and informal teaching and learning divides. Readers are encouraged to think about their unique context and the out-of-school partners available to collaborate with, be it museums similar to those described here or parks, after-school programs, gardens, etc.

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Birmingham, D., Smetana, L.K., & Coleman, E.R., & Carlson, J. (2015, April). Developing science identities: What role does a teacher preparation program play? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Chicago, IL.

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Duschl, R., Schweingruber, H., & Shouse, A. (2007). Taking Science to School:: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Falk , J.H. & Dierking, L.D. (2000). Learning from museums: visitor experiences and the making of meaning. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Falk, J. H., Storksdieck, M., & Dierking, L. D. (2007). Investigating public science interest and understanding: evidence for the importance of free-choice learning. Public

Understanding of Science, 16, 455–469.

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Programs in Out-of-School Settings. Committee on Successful Out-of-School STEM Learning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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Reflecting on a 5E Lesson with Preservice Elementary Teachers: Providing an Opportunity for Productive Conversations about Science Teaching

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Bradbury, L. (2017). Reflecting on a 5E lesson with preservice elementary teachers: Providing an opportunity for productive conversations about science teaching. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/reflecting-on-a-5e-lesson-with-preservice-elementary-teachers-providing-an-opportunity-for-productive-conversations-about-science-teaching/

by Leslie Bradbury, Appalachian State University


This article describes a guided reflection activity in an elementary science methods course.  The author details how she videotaped model “Explore” and “Explain” sections of a 5E lesson in her methods course and then systematically reflected on the teaching episodes with her students (Bybee et al., 2006).  Templates for data collection and guiding questions for the reflections are included along with a student work sample.  The author outlines what she and her students learned from the experience.

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Bradbury, L.U., Wilson, R.E., & Brookshire, L. (in press). Developing elementary science PCK for teacher education: Lessons learned from a second grade partnership. Research in Science Education.

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. Retrieved from http://bscs.org/bscs-5e-instructional-model.

Jewitt, C., Kress, G., Ogborn, J., & Charalampos, T. (2001) Exploring learning through visual communication: the multimodal environment of a science classroom. Educational Review, 53(1), 5-18.

Lunenberg, M., Korthagen, F., & Swennen, A.  (2007).  The teacher educator as a role model. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23, 586-601.

Mulholland, J., & Wallace, J.  (2005).  Growing the tree of teacher knowledge: Ten years of learning to teach elementary science.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 767-790.

NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Schön, D.A.  (1983).  The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action.  New York: Basic Books.

Shulman, L.S., & Shulman, J.H. (2004). How and what teachers learn: A shifting perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 36, 257-271.

Implementing Tool-Supported Rehearsals for Ambitious Science Teaching in an Elementary Science Methods Classroom

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Benedict-Chambers, A., Aram, R., & Wood, G. (2017). Implementing tool-supported rehearsals for ambitious science teaching in an elementary science methods classroom. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/implementing-tool-supported-rehearsals-for-ambitious-science-teaching-in-an-elementary-science-methods-classroom/

by Amanda Benedict-Chambers, Missouri State University; Roberta Aram, Missouri State University; & Gina Wood, Missouri State University


In this article, we focus on the implementation in our elementary science methods course of a suite of tools supporting peer rehearsals designed to provide opportunities for preservice teachers to notice and analyze important features of ambitious science instruction prior to teaching in elementary classrooms. The tools include (1) an Engage-Explore-Explain (EEE) Framework for Science Teaching and Learning, which is similar to the first three phases of the 5E learning cycle (2) a list of Developing Student Ideas targeting science concepts in the lessons (3) a list of Common Challenges to Scientific Practices often experienced by elementary science learners; and (4) a EEE Framework feedback form. In rehearsals, novices use the tools to teach specific ambitious practices to their peers and the teacher educator. As the novices elicit and support students’ thinking, the peers and teacher educator use the tools to determine how to respond in ways that reflect children’s sensemaking and use of scientific practices. We developed the tools to guide novices in (a) designing lessons that engaged elementary students in sensemaking about natural phenomena using scientific practices; (b) anticipating, eliciting, and constructively responding to student ideas during instruction; and (c) reflecting on important features of their own science instruction. We describe the learning opportunities tool-supported rehearsals provide for novices to try out and collectively analyze moves for supporting students’ sensemaking. We also discuss how the just-in-time coaching from teacher educators and peer feedback may develop novices’ pedagogical content knowledge and prepare them to engage children in ambitious practice in elementary school classrooms.


Like many science teacher educators, we strive to prepare our preservice teachers to teach science in ways advocated by new science education reforms. These reforms acknowledge the complexity of meaningful, deep science learning and call for an integrated approach to instruction where teachers help students use scientific practices to develop, deepen, and apply their knowledge of core ideas and crosscutting concepts (National Research Council, 2012; NGSS Lead States, 2013). Supporting this vision of teaching and learning is complex. Novice teachers need support in recognizing the subtleties of this kind of ambitious instruction in science classrooms (Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012). Indeed, we are challenged to prepare novices to facilitate students’ sensemaking in ways with which they may not be familiar (Appleton, 2007). Moreover, novices may need support in learning how to deepen their own science content knowledge to successfully facilitate children’s science understanding (Abell, 2007).

Developing science content knowledge and learning to engage students in scientific practices involves two important aspects. First, it entails learning to notice (van Es & Sherin, 2008), understand, and shape the existing ideas that students may have about particular phenomena (Zembal-Saul, Blumenfeld, & Krajcik, 2000). Second, it involves learning to anticipate and notice students’ use of scientific practices to investigate science phenomena and to support those that move learners toward meaningful science learning and understanding. Learning to notice, understand, and shape student science ideas and practices requires not only action on the part of the novice but also guided reflection on their instruction.

Science and mathematics teacher educators have recently been using peer-teaching rehearsals in methods classrooms to prepare novices to engage children in ambitious practice when they later work with them in classrooms (Benedict-Chambers, 2016; Davis & Boerst, 2014; Lampert, Franke, Kazemi, Ghousseini, Turrou, & Beasley, 2013; Windschitl et al., 2012). Rehearsals are different from run-throughs of lessons that sometimes occur in methods classrooms where peers and teacher educators observe instruction and offer feedback at the end (Grossman, 2005). There are three main differences in rehearsals in regards to the roles of peers, the teacher educator, and the type of instruction enacted. First, rather than just observe the instruction or offer feedback at the end, in rehearsals the peers actively respond to the instruction in ways that represent children’s thinking and the range of interactions teachers may encounter in a classroom setting. Second, in rehearsals, the teacher educator does not wait until the end to give feedback, but rather takes an active role during the lesson. The teacher educator may offer examples of common alternative conceptions that children could have about a science concept for the teacher to take up during the instruction. The teacher educator might also pause the rehearsal to offer just-in-time coaching or to engage the class in a discussion where they reflect on ways to respond to student performance. These discussions allow the teacher educator to use the novices’ instruction as a venue for helping them notice the principles, practices, and content knowledge entailed in the complex work of teaching (Lampert et al., 2013). As the class collectively discusses problems of practice, they can develop a shared understanding for how to interpret and manage the difficulties of ambitious practice. Finally, in rehearsals novices enact specific teaching practices that are deliberately chosen to enable novices to elicit student understanding and to make judgments about how to respond to student performance. These are practices the class had previously studied in video clips of instruction (e.g., videos where teachers probe student thinking or help students write claims supported by evidence).

Although some might feel that rehearsals do not offer the benefits of classroom experiences, many teacher educators argue that the opportunity to focus on the difficult work of responding to student ideas and to have in-the-moment discussions of alternative teaching moves may outweigh the perceived constraints of this approach. Similarly, scholars who study rehearsals argue that while novices are certainly learning to teach during student teaching, their attention may not be focused on the principles and practices entailed in ambitious teaching (Davis & Boerst, 2014; Lampert et al., 2013; McDonald, Kazemi, & Kavanagh, 2013; Windschitl et al., 2012). In sum, although the students in the rehearsals are not elementary children, the rehearsals are designed to be approximations of actual classroom interactions where novices must interpret and manage the complexities of authentic practice (Grossman, Compton, Igra, Ronfeldt, Shahan, & Williamson, 2009).

Drawing on this research, we developed a suite of tools to use with rehearsals in our elementary science methods classroom. The tools scaffolded three critical learning opportunities for novices as they prepared to teach science lessons in classrooms at the end of the semester. These opportunities included (1) designing lessons that engaged elementary students in sensemaking about natural phenomena using scientific practices; (2) anticipating, eliciting, and responding to developing student science ideas and common challenges of using scientific practices; and (3) noticing and analyzing the instructional moves they made in their rehearsals to support student learning. In this article, we focus on the ways the tool-supported rehearsals provided novices with opportunities to notice and analyze important features of science instruction prior to teaching lessons in actual elementary classrooms.

 Theoretical Framework

To develop the tool-supported rehearsals in the elementary science methods course, we used the research of Grossman et al. (2009) on the ways that novices in different professions are prepared to enact and notice features of complex practice. Their framework of practice includes three components: (1) representations of practice such as video recordings of instruction, (2) decompositions of practice involving the identification of features that may not be visible to novices, and (3) approximations of practice such as teaching rehearsals. For instance, in a beginning class for clinical psychologists, Grossman and colleagues found that professors first represented, or modeled ways to develop a therapeutic alliance between a therapist and client. After the representation, professors decomposed the practice, and used a particular language for talking about different approaches for responding to clients. After discussing these moves, the novice psychologists approximated the interactions and took on the roles of a therapist and a client as they worked to build a therapeutic alliance. These approximations provided novices with opportunities to experiment with specific aspects of complex practice. Support and feedback during the approximations prepared them for the uncertainties of real clinical practice.

Developing tools to support novice teacher noticing and analysis

To help the novice teachers learn to notice and analyze important features of science instruction, we used a suite of tools that were developed by the first author (Benedict-Chambers, 2016). The tools included (1) an Engage-Explore-Explain (EEE) Framework for Science Teaching and Learning, which is similar to the first three phases of the 5E learning cycle (Bybee, Taylor, Gardner, Van Scotter, Powell, Westbrook, & Landes, 2006); (2) a List of Developing Student Ideas targeting concepts addressed in the rehearsals and classroom lessons; (3) a List of Common Challenges to Scientific Practices often experienced by elementary science learners; and (4) a EEE Framework feedback form.

Engage-Explore-Explain (EEE) Framework for Science Teaching and Learning

The first tool, the Engage-Explore-Explain (EEE) Framework for Science Teaching and Learning, was created to guide novices in designing, enacting, and noticing important features of ambitious science instruction (see Benedict-Chambers, 2016). The EEE Framework identified science teaching practices linked with each EEE phase that integrated the work of using scientific practices to promote student learning:

  • Engage phase: Elicit and engage students’ ideas with an investigation question
  • Explore phase: Support students’ observations and data collection explorations
  • Explain phase: Help students notice patterns in data and develop evidence-based explanations

The teaching methods and scientific practices emphasized in the framework were based on recent research identifying high-leverage practices (e.g., Windschitl et al., 2012) and current reforms including the Next Generation Science Standards (NRC, 2012; NGSS Lead States, 2013). The scientific practices included asking questions, developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence. The EEE Framework guided novices in identifying and embedding instructional moves to elicit students’ ideas and use them as resources for learning throughout the science lesson.

Lists of Developing Student Ideas and Common Challenges to Scientific Practices

The second and third tools, a List of Developing Student Ideas and a List of Common Challenges to Scientific Practices, were designed to help novices anticipate, notice and understand the logic of typical ideas students may have about specific phenomena (see Appendix A), and difficulties elementary students commonly face in learning to use scientific practices (see Appendix B). The information about student science ideas was derived from research on student thinking related to the concepts in the lessons (e.g., Driver, Guesne, & Tiberghien, 1985). The scientific practice challenges, such as students’ difficulties in making and recording qualitative observations in an accurate manner, came from the teacher educators’ research and teaching experiences in elementary schools (see Arias, Davis, Marino, Kademian, & Palincsar, 2016). Novices were expected to include questions in their lesson plans to elicit and build off children’s existing science ideas and to understand the logic of their possible developing and alternative ideas. During the rehearsals, peers role-played students with developing science ideas representing children’s sensemaking strategies and the range of responses the novices might encounter in an elementary classroom. Peers also enacted scientific practice challenges to simulate interactions where “students” struggled to use the practices to construct scientifically acceptable explanations.

EEE Framework Feedback Form 

The fourth tool, the EEE Framework feedback form, was developed to help novices attend to important features of each phase of EEE instruction during their own and peer rehearsals (see Appendix C).  The feedback form names key teaching practices associated with each phase of the EEE science lesson. It describes three levels of performance for each teaching practice and provides space for observers to comment on peers’ use of the teaching practices, ways to improve their instruction, and to pose questions to help clarify instruction during rehearsals. After the rehearsal, peers and the teacher educator record evidence of practice on the form to support their feedback claims about the teaching team’s rehearsal. The teaching teams used the feedback to improve aspects of their instruction before teaching the lesson in elementary classrooms at the end of the semester.

Tool-Supported Rehearsals and Reflections

Novice teachers in the science methods courses were introduced to the suite of tools early in the semester, and the teacher educator provided rich in-class opportunities for novices to understand and use each of the tools (see Table 1). The EEE Framework form was applied to videos of science lessons where novices enacted key teaching practices associated with each phase of the Framework. The feedback form provided space for novices to sort through the complexity of the video case and to identify, describe, and analyze important teaching practices in writing. During and after each video example, the teacher educator facilitated discussions designed to help novices notice where practices occurred in the lesson, how practices were implemented, and general effectiveness of each practice in responding to existing and emerging student ideas and challenges to scientific practices.

The novice teaching teams applied their understanding of the tools as they planned the rehearsals. They used the EEE Framework for Science Teaching and Learning to develop the Engage, Explore, and Explain phases of the science lesson. They also designed the lessons to elicit and address the science conceptions and challenges to scientific practices reported in the Student Ideas and Challenges tools. The grade level of the elementary classroom and the state science learning standards determined the phenomenon investigated in each lesson.

Each teaching team’s Engage, Explore, and Explain rehearsal was videotaped and the rehearsals lasted approximately 20 minutes. During the rehearsals, the peers simulated the role of elementary students exhibiting developing student ideas and common challenges to scientific practices. The peers also used the EEE Framework Feedback form during the rehearsals to record evidence of the teaching team’s performance. During the instruction, the teacher educator offered approximately three just-in-time feedback comments, giving novice teachers opportunities to adjust their teaching as needed. Following rehearsals, the teacher educator, teaching teams, and their peers collaboratively discussed what they noticed about the teaching performance and how to manage any difficult interactions. Written feedback from both teacher educator and peers on the feedback forms guided this analysis. Sometimes these discussions focused on the teachers’ own understanding of the phenomena, as a way to develop their science content knowledge. Other times the discussions focused on helping the novices more effectively facilitate students’ conceptual understanding. For instance, in the rehearsal, a novice teacher may have explained to a peer student the accepted science idea and how it conflicts with an alternative idea offered by the peer student. After the rehearsal, the class may discuss ways to probe the peer student’s thinking as a means for the novice teacher to acknowledge and try to understand the peer student’s view. These discussions may help novices develop pedagogical content knowledge as they learn how to anticipate and respond to student thinking about particular phenomena in productive ways (Zembal-Saul et al., 2000).

After each class in which a rehearsal took place, novices individually reviewed their lesson videos, taking notes including time-stamps to cite as evidence, and completed the Science Teaching Rehearsal Reflection. The reflections were driven by prompts that directed the novices to focus on and analyze specific aspects of their instruction—science content, student ideas, and scientific practices.

Between the Engage and Explore lesson phase rehearsals on campus, novices visited their assigned elementary classroom to observe and gain entré into the existing classroom culture. They also drafted a pre-test, the results of which would inform their science lesson planning.  Novices again visited their elementary classroom the week between the Explore and Explain lesson rehearsal to administer the pretests. At the end of the semester, teaching teams combined the phases to teach a complete EEE Framework lesson in the elementary classroom. Afterwards they administered a post-test designed to gauge student learning. The novices then analyzed their pre- and post-test student data, examined the video of their classroom lesson, and submitted a final reflection to address all three phases of the EEE science lesson.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Tool and Rehearsal Use During a Semester Long Science Education Course

Novice Teacher Rehearsal Reflections

To examine the ways the tool-supported rehearsals provided novices with opportunities to notice important features of science instruction, we looked at rehearsal reflections from 49 novice teachers enrolled in the course. A total of 147 Engage, Explore, and Explain reflections were collected across three sections of the course. We focused on the last question of the reflection, “First, indicate one new area you or your team could revise from your lesson and what you could have done to improve the instruction. Second, provide evidence (timestamp or student work evidence) from the lesson to prove that revision is needed to better support student learning. Third, provide a rationale to explain why your idea for revision could have more effectively supported student learning of the specific science concept of your lesson. Fourth, indicate specific moves that describe what you could have done to improve the instruction.” We independently read a sample of the reflections and looked for what novices identified or noticed as important to revise in their lesson. Some novices identified multiple areas for revision, but the most substantive topic per reflection was selected.

Reflections of Novice Teachers

Novices focused on three aspects of their instruction: (1) moves related to student use of scientific practices; (2) moves related to student science content learning; and (3) general pedagogical moves. Scientific practices instruction included students making predictions, making and recoding observations, identifying patterns and interpreting data, and writing evidence-based claims. Science content learning related to the phenomena emphasized in the lesson rehearsals such as the structure and function of stems and roots, conservation of matter, and sound energy. General pedagogical moves included teaching strategies not specific to science instruction but applicable to teaching any subject matter. For example, novices discussed their need to revise the amount of time they spent during each part of their lesson or their ways of engaging and maintaining student attention. As shown in Table 2, in 82% of the rehearsal reflections, novices named an area for revision in their rehearsal that related to student use of scientific practices (45%) or student science content learning (37%).

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Aspects of Science Teaching Noticed in Novice Teachers’ Videotaped Rehearsal Reflections

For example, in her rehearsal reflection, Sara focused on revising the moves she made related to student use of scientific practices:

One area that my team could revise would be providing students with the correct information to fill in their claim and evidence. When we collected students’ data, there were some errors in the data and we did not know how to tell students that for their final claim, they need to use the correct data. This happened at 10:04 in our video. This idea for revision would more effectively support students’ learning of how changing the shape of an object does not change the volume of the object because students need to see that the volumes are the same. If there is an error in the data collected, they will think that the volume did change because they can compare the numbers and see that one is a lot smaller than the rest. We would correct this in our lesson, by addressing the errors as we walk around the classroom as students are completing the investigation. During the Explain Phase, we plan to have an error on the board so that we can teach students the importance of having accurate data and that re-investigating a situation can be helpful. (Sara’s Explain Reflection).

In this excerpt, Sara identified an issue related to helping “students” in the rehearsal collect accurate data about how the shape of an object does not change its volume. She realized that students did not collect accurate water displacement data during the investigation. She considered two ways to revise her instruction. She considered walking around the room to help students address their errors during the investigation, and then she imagined discussing an incorrect example with the class after the investigation. She noted that these revisions might emphasize the importance of accurate data in supporting one’s claims about how the shape of an object does not change its volume. The focus of her revision relates to student use of scientific practices, and in particular helping students construct evidence-based claims.

Another novice, Ben, noticed the moves he made related to student science content learning in his rehearsal:

Instead of using our diagram of a plant and a story, we should use celery stalks both in colored water and out of water to show the phenomena of how stems work. At 1:15 in the video we tell the story about watering plants, but it doesn’t capture the phenomena of stems and it seems to be that we will be talking about roots instead, which could be very confusing for first graders. Specific moves that we could have done would have been to bring in celery in a jar with colored water and shown the students that the colored water had made it all the way up to the leaves of the celery and turned the leaves a different color. By asking the students how they think the water got up to the leaves, this would begin to make them question the phenomena and would get them focused on the job of a stem. Making the students question the phenomena is the first step in scientific inquiry. (Ben’s Engage Reflection).

Here, Ben focused on the story he provided in the Engage phase to activate his “students” thinking about the structure and function of celery stems. He noticed that his hook, which focused on watering plants in his yard, might lead students to pay attention to the function of roots rather than the function of stems. In his analysis, he considered another way to help students begin to think about the structure and function of stems. He imagined bringing celery in a jar of colored water into the class. He wondered if this demonstration might help students develop some initial ideas about how stems carry water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves of a plant. The focus of his revision relates to student science content learning as he imagined ways to revise his instruction to better support students’ learning of stems.

In Melissa’s reflection, she considered the importance of revising her instruction to maintain student attention. Her focus is on general pedagogical moves she made in her rehearsal:

I feel like we can fill out the t-chart, identify the patterns, and write the [Explain] handout together, but we can allow the students to fill out the bottom of the handout [the evidence-based claims] on their own using their charts so that we can see if they are understanding rather than them just copying what we write up on the chart.

Every single [student] worksheet has all of the correct answers filled in, but it is because we wrote the answers up on the board for them to copy…I think that the revision could have supported student learning because we can actually see whether or not the students are understanding the lesson. By [asking] students to fill [it] out themselves, they will have to understand just how important it is to pay attention (Melissa’s Explain Reflection).

In this excerpt, Melissa noted that all of the peer students in her rehearsal completed the data table and evidence-based claims accurately, but she realized that they might have copied the answers the teacher wrote on the board. She considered asking students to use the data table to complete the evidence-based claims on their own. She also mentioned that asking students to complete the explanations could help them to focus on the instruction. She reasons that holding students accountable for paying attention to the instruction may contribute to her ability to effectively assess her students’ thinking and her students’ opportunities to generate explanations of their developing science ideas.


Tool-supported rehearsals may support novice teachers in learning to notice important aspects of their instruction, such as students’ use of scientific practices and student science content learning. As other teacher educators have found (e.g., Grossman et al., 2009; Windschitl et al., 2012), it may be that the suite of tools helped to make visible some of the complex features of practice that can be difficult for novices to see in busy classroom settings. For instance, naming the developing ideas that children may hold about phenomena and the common challenges students may face in learning to conduct investigations might remind novices to pay attention to those aspects of student sensemaking when they reflect on their instruction.

It may also be that using these tools provided a vision of exemplary science teaching and a shared language for parsing practice that helped the class engage in collective sensemaking (Goodwin, 1994). Starting the first day, the class was immersed in studying, practicing, and reflecting on instruction that engaged students in using scientific practices to develop conceptual understanding in ways that are consistent with practicing scientists. Working collaboratively to identify and productively engage with the challenges of ambitious practice may be a singular affordance offered by the methods classroom context (Lampert et al., 2013). Pausing a rehearsal, highlighting an interaction where a “teacher” could notice an important student idea, and asking them to rewind and revise their instruction are unique science pedagogical learning opportunities.

We are aware of the potential limitations of tool-supported rehearsals. Some novices may find it hard to buy-in to the authenticity of the simulated interactions and adopt the role of “elementary students” in their peers’ rehearsals. Novices may be unnerved by the teacher educator’s feedback and the request to rewind and redo an aspect of their lesson. To mitigate these scenarios, methods instructors are encouraged, day one of their course, to include their students in building mutual trust and in clarifying the anticipated learning outcomes of the rehearsals. We must celebrate all learning, especially those of novice teachers.  Indeed, teacher educators do well to respect preservice teachers as beginners and to recognize that learning to notice complex features of instruction does not come naturally, but must be learned (Rodgers, 2002). At the same time, we are challenged to design methods courses to better prepare preservice teachers for success in K-12 classrooms. We must develop, test, and implement innovative pedagogical approaches that prepare novices to think and act like an effective science teacher who is equipped with and confident in using a full array of ambitious science practices.


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Education for Sustainability: A 5E Lesson on the Water Cycle Introduces Elementary Preservice Teachers to Think about Their Impacts on Earth’s Fresh Water Supply

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Nation, M.T., & Davis, J. (2017). Education for sustainability: A 5E lesson on the water cycle introduces elementary preservice teachers to think about their impacts on earth’s fresh water supply. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/education-for-sustainability-a-5e-lesson-on-the-water-cycle-introduces-elementary-preservice-teachers-to-think-about-their-impacts-on-earths-fresh-water-supply/

by Molly Trendell Nation, University of South Florida; & Jeni Davis, University of South Florida


The following lesson demonstrates the use of a 5E learning cycle to teach elementary preservice teachers (PSTs) the basic principles of the water cycle and scientific modeling. An Education for Sustainability (EfS) approach was utilized to further engage students in thinking about human impact and the implications we have on this natural process. Through this classroom activity, PSTs were able to explore Earth’s water system and the consequential social effects on water availability, cleanliness, and sustainability worldwide.

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Introducing the ASSIST Approach to Preservice STEM Teachers

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McDermott, M.A., & Kuhn, M. (2017). Introducing the ASSIST approach to preservice STEM teachers. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/introducing-the-assist-approach-to-preservice-stem-teachers/

by Mark A. McDermott, University of Iowa; & Mason Kuhn, University of Northern Iowa


The Argument-based Strategies for STEM Infused Science Teaching Approach (ASSIST) is a pedagogical approach based on the Science Writing Heuristic (SWH).  In addition to framing instruction around the SWH approach, ASSIST emphasizes the use of multimodal communication, focuses on purposeful integration of mathematics, technology, and engineering in science learning, and provides templates to help teachers plan activities and units aligned with the approach.  The authors of this paper have utilized the approach in their classrooms as well as helped inservice teachers understand and utilize the approach through professional development.  Recently, the authors have also begun to develop and implement methods courses for preservice elementary and secondary science teachers based on the approach.  In this article, an engaging activity based on a card trick is described that introduces preservice students to the SWH as a way to promote more general understanding of the approach.  The goal of the activity is to help the preservice students identify the major characteristics of the SWH approach that is central to the ASSIST approach while simultaneously experiencing the potential for student learning the approach provides and the connections to development of an appropriate view of the nature of science.  This sets the stage for future learning related to implementing the overall ASSIST approach in classroom settings.

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Gunel, M., Kingir, S., & Aydemir, N. (2016). The effect of embedding multimodal representation in non-traditional writing task on students’ learning in electrochemistry.  In B. Hand, M. McDermott, & V. Prain, (Eds.) Using multimodal representations to support learning in the science classroom. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

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Hand, B., Cavagnetto, A., Chen, Y. C., & Park, S. (2016). Moving past curricula and strategies: Language and the development of adaptive pedagogy for immersive learning environments. Research in Science Education, 1-19. DOI: 10.1007/s11165-015-9499-1

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McDermott, M., & Hand, B. (2013). The impact of embedding multiple modes of representation within writing tasks on high school students’ chemistry understanding. Instructional Science, 41, 217 – 246.

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Prain, V., & Hand, B. (2016). Learning science through learning to use its languages.  In B. Hand, B., M. McDermott, & V. Prain, (Eds.) Using multimodal representations to support learning in the science classroom. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

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Developing case studies in teacher education: Spotlighting socioscientific issues

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DeCoito, I., & Fazio, X. (2017). Developing case studies in teacher education: Spotlighting socioscientific issues. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/developing-case-studies-in-teacher-education-spotlighting-socioscientific-issues/

by Isha DeCoito, Western University; & Xavier Fazio, Brock University


Despite the growing corpus of research on socioscientific issues (SSI) in science education, the relevant implications for science teacher education remain relatively unexplored. There is a need for preservice and inservice programs that challenge teachers’ discomfort and suggest means for teaching controversial issues. In order to better inform these efforts, it is necessary to learn more about how preservice teachers use science curriculum materials dealing with SSI in science learning environments. One avenue for exploring SSI with teacher candidates (TCs) is through case studies. Case studies have had extensive usage in numerous disciplines; in science education case studies can take into consideration many different facets of science including epistemology, scientific content, and the nature of science. With the goal of gaining a better understanding of how to support TCs in fostering their future students’ understanding of SSI, this research study was conducted while TCs were supported by their instructor in the development of case studies about SSI in a secondary science methods course.  This paper outlines the processes involved in preparing and supporting TCs while they assumed dual roles – curriculum developers and co-constructors of knowledge – as they developed their case studies. Additionally, it provides a structure for developing case studies and highlights an example of a case study focusing on genetically modified salmon. Further, this assignment provides a useful framework for science teacher educators wishing to create appropriate SSI assignments for TCs in science education.

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Aikenhead, G.S. (2007). Humanistic perspectives in the science curriculum. In S. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 881-910). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Aikenhead, G. (1994). Consequences to learning science through STS: a research perspective. In J. Solomon & G. Aikenhead (Eds.), STS education: international perspectives on reform. Teachers College Press, New York, pp. 169–186.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). (1989). Science for all Americans. Washington, DC: AAAS.

Australian Education Council (AEC). (1994). A statement on science for Australian schools. Victoria, Australia: Curriculum Corporation.

Bliss, T., & Mazur, J.  (1996). Common thread case project: Developing associations of experienced and novice educators through technology.  Journal of Teacher Education, 47, 185-189.

Choi, I., & Kee, K. (2008). Designing and implementing a case-based learning environment for enhancing ill-structured problem solving: classroom management problems for prospective teachers. Education Technology Research and Development, 57, 99-129.

Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). (1997). Common framework of science learning outcomes K to 12: Pan-Canadian protocol for collaboration on school curriculum. Toronto, Canada: Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

Davis, E. A. (2006). Preservice elementary teachers’ critique of instructional materials for science. Science Education, 90, 348-375.

Davis, E.A., & Krajcik, J. (2005). Designing educative curriculum materials to promote teacher learning. Educational Researcher, 34, 3–14.

DeCoito, I. (in press). Urban agricultural experiences: Focusing on 21st century learning skills and integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. In M. Barnett, A. Patchen, L. Esters, and N. Kloboch (Eds.), Urban Agriculture and STEM learning. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

DeCoito, I., & Peterson, S. (2010). Writing in science: Developing positive attitudes and pedagogical knowledge in a teacher education course. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, Philadelphia, PA, March 20-24.

Evagorou, M., Albe, V., Angelides, P., Couso, D., Chirlesan, G., Evans, R.H., Dillon, J., Garrido, A., Guven, D., Mugaloglu, E., & Nielsen, J.A. (2014). Preparing pre-service science teachers to teach socio-scientific (SSI) argumentation. Science Teacher Education, 69, 39–48.

Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), The nature of intelligence (pp. 231–236). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Forbes, C.T., & Davis, E.A. (2008).  Exploring preservice elementary teachers’ critique and adaptation of science curriculum materials in respect to socioscientific issues. Science & Education, 17, 829-854.

Gray, D. S., & Bryce, T. (2006). Socio-scientific issues in science education: Implications for the professional development of teachers. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36, 171–192.

Herreid, C.F. (2006). Using cases to teach science. The Handbook of College Science Teaching. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association Press.

Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: Science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 645–670.

Höttecke, D., & Riess, F. (2009). Developing and implementing case studies for teaching science with the help of history and philosophy.  Paper presented at the tenth international history, philosophy, and science teaching conference, South Bend, USA.

Hughes, G. (2000). Marginalization of socioscientific material in science-technology-society science curricula: Some implications for gender inclusively and curriculum reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37, 426–440.

Kumar, D. D., & Chubin, D. F. (Eds.). (2000). Science, technology, and society: A sourcebook on research and practice. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum

Lee, H., & Witz, K. G. (2009). Science teachers’ inspiration for teaching socio-scientific Issues: Disconnection with reform efforts. International Journal of Science Education, 31, 931– 960.

Ontario Ministry of Education (2007). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Science and Technology. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education (2008). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9 and 10: Science. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success. Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools.  Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Pedretti, E., & Nazir, J. (2011). Currents in STSE education: Mapping a complex field, 40 years on. Science Education, 95, 601–626.

Sadler, T.D., Amirshokoohi, A., Kazempour, M., & Allspaw, K.M. (2006). Socioscience and ethics in science classrooms: Teacher perspectives and strategies. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43, 353–376.

Shulman, L. S. (1992). Case Methods in Teacher Education. Teachers College Press, New York.

Tal, T., & Kedmi, Y. (2006). Teaching socioscientific issues: Classroom culture and students’ performances. Cultural Science Education, 1, 615–644.

Thiede, K. W., Anderson, M. C., & Therriault, D. (2003). Accuracy of metacognitive monitoring affects learning of texts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 66–73.

Zeidler, D.L., Sadler, T.D., Applebaum, S., Callahan, B., & Amiri, L. (2005). Socioscientific issues in secondary school science: students’ epistemological conceptions of content, NOS, and ethical sensitivity. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Dallas, TX.

Zeidler, D. L., & Sadler, T. D. (2007). The role of moral reasoning in argumentation: Conscience, character, and care. In S. Erduran, & M.P. Jiménez-Aleixandre (Eds.), Argumentation in science education (pp. 201-216). Netherlands: Springer.