Developing Biology Lessons Aimed at Teaching for Understanding: A Domain-specific Heuristic for Student Teachers

Feb. 22, 2009

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, (2009) 20:1–20

Teaching for understanding requires teachers to organize thought-demanding activities which continually challenge students to apply and extend their prior knowledge.
Research shows that student teachers often are unable to develop lessons in teaching for understanding.
The authors explored how a domain-specific heuristic can assist student biology teachers in developing problem-posing lessons according to teaching for understanding.
The research questions were the following:
1. To what extent does the design heuristic enable student biology teachers to develop problem structures for biology lesson plans that are in line with problem-posing education?
2. What benefits and drawbacks do the student biology teachers experience while using the design heuristic for developing problem structures and lesson plans? 

Context and Participants

The current study was conducted in the context of a graduate school of teaching. Fifteen student biology teachers volunteered to participate in the study.
Their age varied from 24 to 30 years.
The student biology teachers all had a master’s degree in the life sciences when starting their teacher education.
They where specialized in different areas of the life sciences (ethology, animal physiology).
During 1 year, they attended working classes on Mondays.
The rest of the week they taught at an internship school.
On average, the participants taught six biology lessons each week. At the time of data collection, the student biology teachers had approximately 6 months of teaching experience.
They were not familiar with the design heuristic.
This was introduced to them by a teacher trainer who was knowledgeable on the subject of biology teaching.

Worksheets of lesson plans were analyzed according to criteria for problem-posing lessons.
Furthermore, student teachers’ perceptions of the design heuristic’s usefulness were categorized in a cyclical process.

In general, the heuristic appeared helpful to most student teachers for designing problem-posing lessons satisfactory according to the criteria.
Furthermore, teachers indicated that using the heuristic deepened their subject matter knowledge and their awareness of pupils’ prior knowledge.

Updated: Apr. 06, 2009