Shulman (1986) suggests that a teacher needs a philosophical understanding of a subject in order to teach it well. With reference to teaching of science in primary schools, critically discuss the extent to which you agree with this suggestion.
In his first paper, Shulman (1986), an American educationalist, wrote about three categories of knowledge: subject matter content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and curricular content knowledge. He introduced the concept of PCK as ‘the distinctive body of knowledge needed for teaching’, (p8) which refers to teachers interpretations of subject matter knowledge for facilitating student learning. The construct of PCK is a special mix of content and pedagogy, and is a special kind of knowledge for teachers. Shulman (1986, 1987) described PCK as the ways content, pedagogy and knowledge of learners are blended into an understanding of how particular topics to be taught are represented and adapted to learner’s characteristics, interests and abilities, including an understanding of what makes the learning of specific concepts easy or difficult. PCK also encompasses an understanding of student’s preconceptions and learning difficulties, and includes understanding the forms of representation to make a subject comprehensible to learners. Thus teacher’s knowledge of representations of subject matter and the teachers understanding of student’s conceptions and misconceptions constitutes Schulman’s conception of PCK, as a teacher interprets the subject matter, finds multiple ways to represent it, and adapts and tailors the instructional materials to student’s prior knowledge and alternative conceptions. Shulman describes PCK as “the most useful forms of content representation…the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations…the ways of representing and formulating the subject that makes it comprehensible for others,” (p.9). Shulman (1987) included PCK in the “knowledge bases of teaching.”, a knowledge base required by teachers in order to teach effectively, in relation to science teaching, these could be set out as below.
- Content knowledge: substantive knowledge (organization of basic scientific concepts and principles) and syntactic knowledge (ways in which facts of science are established),
- General pedagogical knowledge, principles and strategies of classroom management and organization which transcend the subject matter of science,
- Curriculum knowledge, available materials and resources, national requirements and guidelines of the National Curriculum in Science,
- Pedagogical content knowledge, the professional understanding of teachers on how to teach the subject matter, including the use of analogies and examples, illustrations and concept maps to make particular science topics accessible to all pupils,
- Knowledge of learners and their characteristics and how these may affect their learning in science,
- Knowledge of educational contexts, the political, social and religious workings of groups or of the classroom in which the teaching of science takes place,
- Knowledge of educational aims, objectives and values, including the philosophical and historical basis of teaching and learning in science.
The concept has been accepted in the educational research. “PCK has become an accepted academic construct that represents an intriguing idea. It is an idea rooted in the beliefs that teaching requires considerably more than delivering subject content to students… PCK is the knowledge that teachers develop over time, and through experience, about how to teach a particular content in particular ways in order to enhance students’ learning.” (Loughran et al., 2006, p. 9). Other scholars and educationalists have extended the concept of PCK. Grossman (1990) perceived PCK as consisting of Shulman’s key elements of subject matter representations and understanding of content related difficulties. In Grossman’s model, PCK is at the heart of teacher knowledge and is made up of four central components, knowledge and beliefs about purpose, knowledge of student conceptions, curricula knowledge and knowledge of instructional strategies. Gess-Newsome (1999) suggests five overlapping categories that elaborate on Shulman’s original notion: conceptual knowledge, subject matter knowledge, the nature of the discipline, content-specific teaching orientations and contextual influences. Magnusson, Krajcik & Borko’s model (1999) includes teacher orientation to the teaching of the subject, knowledge of subject curricula, knowledge of assessment, knowledge of student subject area understanding and knowledge of instructional strategies. Cochran, DeRuiter & King (1993) also describe four components of PCK, knowledge of student’s abilities, environmental contexts, pedagogy, and subject matter. Hashweh (2005) presented a view of PCK as a collection of teacher professional constructions, and as a form of knowledge that preserves the planning and wisdom of practice that the teacher acquires when repeatedly teaching a certain topic All these definitions of PCK include knowledge of subject matter, students, curriculum and associated pedagogy.
Teachers understanding of the nature and purpose of the discipline strongly influence their personal pedagogical content knowledge. Teachers use prior experiences to make sense of a science experience (Ausubel, 1963; West & Fensham, 1974). Teachers teach science based on their own experiences and understanding, teaching the way they were taught, (Harlen, 1991, p1). Literature and research has discussed the understanding held by primary school teachers and found misconceptions about science concepts were widely held. Teachers are limited by the extent of their personal experiences and accompanying beliefs. These beliefs can and have remained unchallenged, in some cases predating formal schooling, and in some cases can share children’s misconceptions, (Appleton & Kindt, 1999; Vlaardingerbroek & Taylor, 2003; Redman, 2005). When teachers are unsure of the nature of their discipline they will not be well equipped to guide learning or be able to assess that learning. Fleer (1999) states “It can be expected that the way the learning context is structured is likely to be as a direct result of the teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge and philosophy about how children think and learn (p.275). Grossman et al (1989) states without the essential base of subject matter knowledge, primary teachers are simply unable to provide effective instruction as it is essential for the teacher to explain the scientific concepts clearly. Failure to identify misconceptions and alternative conceptions are as a result of weaknesses in their subject knowledge. Few primary school teachers are science specialists and therefore can be expected to have limited science content knowledge and science PCK, (Appleton & Kindt, 1999b). Whilst some of the problems can be addressed in teacher education programmes, it is up to the individual to continue their own CPD and to work closely with colleagues in order to gain help and insight with teaching science in a meaningful way. As Hess (2007) states, a teacher must formulate a flexible and adaptable philosophy of teaching which develops “just as the scientist always holds his hypothesis subject to modification with the introduction of new evidence, so must the philosophy of a teacher develop and shape itself to the conditions and factors of social change.”
The teaching of science in primary schools has created concerns for many years (Holroyd & Harlen, 1996; Holroyd & Harlen, 1997; Appleton & Kindt, 1999), specifically the issue of primary teacher’s content knowledge in science. Teachers need to teach science in ways that promotes and contributes to scientific literacy. Primary teachers are more likely to fear teaching science, through lack of confidence which then affects their style of teaching, (Appleton & Kindt, 1999). The knowledge and understanding required to teach science at the primary level as opposed to secondary level still calls for a well developed understanding of fundamental scientific concepts especially the physical sciences such as forces, energy and the physics of motion, (Vlaardingerbroek & Taylor, 2003). More of a concern is the lack of subject matter knowledge, content knowledge from many teachers. (Murphy & Beggs, 2001) Some findings from the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED 1995) were that: Some teachers’ understanding of particular areas of science, especially the physical sciences, is not sufficiently well developed and this gives rise to unevenness of standards, particularly in years 5 and 6 (age 10 and 11), and In the upper years of Key Stage 2 (which represents age 7-11 year old children) shortcomings in teachers’ understanding of science are evident in the incorrect use of scientific terminology and an overemphasis on the acquisition of knowledge at the expense of conceptual development.
This lack of confidence may influence a teacher to the point of avoiding teaching science or using didactic strategies in the classroom giving children the view or belief that science is a body of facts or knowledge to be learned. This means children develop misconceptions about science, about what science is and what it means to be scientific. Science involves making sense of a visible and invisible world. Science provides explanations about the world but it can not and does not tell us everything. What it can do is provide reliable facts and data that help us to understand better the world around us. But scientific knowledge is greater than the accumulation of facts and data, science also represents ideas and concepts that explain phenomena (Bybee). Teachers of science have to identify which scientific ideas are important to learn and understand how to teach these ideas and concepts, given the differing preconceptions and prior knowledge of what the children already understand and the current scientific explanations. But science is more than just a body of knowledge; science has a particular processes and methods that scientists use to obtain that knowledge, such as observation and experimentation that result in empirical evidence. “The power lies in this empirical evidence, and the analysis, and inference derived from it, (Bybee). “Many believe that this is the essence of science, its method….systematic controlled observation or experiment whose results lead to hypotheses which are found valid or invalid through further work, leading to theories that are reliable”, (Bauer, 1992). This is a misconception from many teachers of science that science has a systematic method, “a straight-line progression of steps,” (Moreno, 2007). Formulate a question, construct a hypothesis, perform an experiment to test hypothesis, gather, interpret and analyse data, and communicate results and conclusions. This is the typical scientific method which many teachers seem to push children through.
Current reforms focus on the need for children to conceptually understand rather than know a body of facts. Science teaching has long been about the mastery of facts, laws and principles. To understand science conceptually means to know and understand the ideas of science and the relationships between them, and the ways to use these ideas to explain and predict other natural phenomena. Childrens ideas develop very early and by the age of five children have developed a set of their own theories about the world. These misconceptions can be due to a number of factors. Preconceived notions can influence the future learning of new concepts; these notions can come from a variety of sources and have a basis in religion, superstition, or a child’s personal observation or experience. Until the child has examined alternative ideas, conceptual change will not occur. Opportunities must also be made to challenge non-scientific beliefs, to show the distinction between scientific thinking, reasoning and using evidence and between religious, emotional and intuitive thinking to create an understanding of what science can answer. Conceptual misunderstanding will occur when children are taught scientific information in a way that does not challenge them to confront their own preconceived notions and non-scientific beliefs. Factual misconception occurs often from being taught ‘bad science’. A teacher with poor subject knowledge in teaching science will be unconfident when answering questions. Children who have misunderstood or misinterpreted what has been taught have not had the opportunity to ask enough questions, and the teacher through poor questioning has not revealed this alternative thinking. Through good questioning teachers can recognize errors in understanding. Vernacular misconceptions arise from the use of scientific terminology whose words mean something different in everyday language. For example, the word theory, in a scientific context a theory is an explanation of a concept or idea that is supported by evidence and is widely accepted by the scientific community such as the Theory of Evolution, whereas the word theory in everyday use means a hunch or a guess.
Although the nature of science is defined differently, Lederman (1992) claims it refers to the values and assumptions inherent in the development of scientific knowledge. Children need to be provided with opportunities to learn science in ways that represent the nature of science practiced by real scientists, (Gallagher, 1991). Abell & Smith (1992) noted many science teachers misunderstand and misrepresent the nature of science as teacher’s views of the nature of science can influence childrens conceptions of science. Duschl (1988) argued that the view of the nature of science in a classroom setting is a view in which scientific knowledge is presented as an absolute truth… A catalogue of facts to be memorized which promote a view of science which is static and certain. According to Abd-El-Khalick, et al, (1998 & 1999) aspects of the nature of science which should be emphasized in primary classrooms are that “scientific knowledge is tentative (subject to change), is empirically based (based on and/or derived from observations of the natural world), is subjective (theory-laden), partly the product of human inference, imagination and creativity (involves the invention of explanation), socially and culturally embedded, the distinction between observations and inferences and the functions of and relationships between scientific theories and laws.”
Narrow minded views of science as a body of facts, as an established body of knowledge can put of children and they will not learn. Murphy & Beggs (2001) say the emphasis on national testing may have resulted in science being taught as facts or as a body of knowledge, especially in the final years of primary school, as teachers feel they need to prepare children for tests by ensuring children can recall the required content knowledge. Ponchaud (2001) indicated further pressures on UK primary teachers that militate against their delivery of good science teaching may include the recent government initiatives in literacy and numeracy, which have resulted in the timetabling of science as short afternoon sessions in many schools. Campbell (2001) and Ponchaud (2001) also found that, when asked about what they liked best in science, primary children most frequently replied ‘doing experiments’ and ‘finding out new things’. Bricheno (2000) cited the importance of small group practical work in promoting positive attitudes to science. Ponchaud (2001) was concerned that scientific enquiry has diminished in many English primary schools. He pointed out that teachers should capitalize on the flexibility of the primary curriculum to carry out longer-term experiments, which would be more difficult to do in the timetable-constrained post-primary school.
The teaching of science has changed and teachers are now required to teach for conceptual understanding (Skamp, 1988, p2) using appropriate pedagogy. About purposeful science experiences based on students needs balanced with the requirements of the formal curriculum. Need to present science concepts in meaningful ways. Teaching strategies used in the classroom need to be more constructivist based rather than didactic, with the emphasis on conceptual learning through learning processes such as hands on investigation and group learning
Also teach about the history and philosophy of science, “though studying the history of science children can gain a better appreciation of science and the role that scientists played in shaping our society to acquire a better understanding of the attitudes, emotions and thinking which characterise the work of scientists,” (Heiss, 2007, p.16).
Engaging students in product testing is an effective strategy for learning how to use the skills of science. As children conduct a “fair test” for a product, they will learn how to control variables in an investigation, making science more relevant. Also, long term investigations will help children get a feel for the work that scientists do. These long term investigations simulate what scientists do, e.g., working together to formulate a question, making observations, gathering data, drawing conclusions, sharing and challenging conclusions drawn from data, and finally trying to reach a consensus. Work could be done with schools around the world where children compare data. Additionally, making connections with mathematics and ICT creates a realistic view of doing science.
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