Teachers of Science: Beliefs and Practices of Graduate and Undergraduate Students

Saturday, February 13, 2016
Patricia Simmons, NCSU, Raleigh, NC
This on-going 3-year study is designed to: 1) understand physics graduate teaching assistants’ learning of pedagogy during their year-long teaching of freshman level physics laboratory classes; 2) understand secondary science teachers’ learning of content and pedagogy over time as a result of key interventions during their year-long student teaching experience; and 3) to determine what similar or parallel factors significantly influenced the beliefs and practices of both groups in their teaching practices over a one-year period. Multiple measures employing a variety of data collection and analysis techniques were used to assess and gather observational, survey, and interview data. The following themes best capture teacher beliefs and performances, and are used to describe teacher beliefs and actions: Teacher-centered—beliefs and actions in which the teacher serves as the chief conduit of most content knowledge transmitted to students; Developing—beliefs and actions in which the teacher emphasizes the explanatory nature of science, generates examples and connections; and Student-centered—beliefs and actions in which the teacher stresses the nature of science, employs more student-centered instructional methods, and encourages student-student interactions. Among the assertions supported by preliminary data analysis in year 1 are:1) The majority of physics graduate teaching assistants exhibited teacher-centered teaching styles. Only 5-10% exhibited student-centered behaviors in their classrooms interactions. Most physics TAs saw questioning and experimenting as major principles of science, understood science when they confident and were able to make connections, and described science as a more fluid and dynamic enterprise (using terms associated with language from the Enlightenment time of science). A few students mentioned the collaborative nature of science and the ethics of science. They learned science through thinking about ideas and then being able to explain science through written or visual representations or talking with others; 2) The majority of pre-service teachers espoused equal proportions of student-center and teacher-centered beliefs. Although they described their practices in the classroom as student-centered, the observed practices revealed that their behaviors were more teacher-centered. Most pre-service teachers reported that their undergraduate science content courses provided poor instructional models of reform-based science teaching and learning that were of little value in preparing them as science teachers. They emphasized that these courses focused on disseminating factual knowledge about the biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science concepts contained in their science textbooks. More than half described science as the study of the natural and physical world, and the scientific method as the foundation of science.