Elementary Preservice Teachers’ Science Vocabulary: Knowledge and Application

Mar. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 24, Iss. 2, March 2013, p. 405-425.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examined elementary preservice teachers’ knowledge and application of science vocabulary during peer teaching. The purpose of this study was to:
(1) examine preservice teachers’ knowledge of elementary science vocabulary at the beginning and end of a science methods course, and
(2) document preservice teachers’ use of elementary science vocabulary commonly used in elementary science instruction during initial science teaching experiences.

Research Questions
The research questions asked:
1. What is preservice teachers’ elementary science vocabulary definition knowledge when they begin their teacher education coursework?
2. Is there a change in preservice teachers’ science vocabulary definition knowledge during an elementary science methods course with implicit and explicit instruction of science vocabulary?
3. How do preservice teachers apply science process and content vocabulary during peer teaching?

Participants and Context
The participants were 55 preservice teachers, who enrolled a science methods course within the Elementary Teacher Education program-housed in a College of Education at a research-intensive state university.
All the participants were between 20 and 25 years old, in their first semester as teacher candidates.
Fifty three were females and two males.

The preservice teachers in this course had completed core coursework in sciences and mathematics that included physics and calculus.
In addition, there are two science and two mathematics methods course requirements in the elementary teacher education program along with courses on engineering and design.

Research Design
This mixed methods study included two phases.
Qualitative data were captured by reviewing video recordings of preservice teachers’ lessons taught to peers and through follow-up interviews.
Quantitative pre-/posttest data offered a picture of preservice teachers’ knowledge of elementary science vocabulary words at the beginning and end of the semester.



The data reveal that preservice teachers’ initial knowledge of elementary science vocabulary was lacking , despite the successful completion of high school and college science coursework.
The pretests taken at the beginning of their first science methods course provided evidence of their incomplete background knowledge of elementary science content and process words.

The findings indicate that the course positively impacted the preservice teachers’ knowledge of select elementary science vocabulary.
The preservice teachers’ posttest scores after the science methods course in this study were significant when compared to the pretests.

However, use of science terms was inconsistent in microteaching lessons.
Preservice instructors’ application of science vocabulary as they taught lessons to peers revealed an essential need for more explicit vocabulary instruction strategies in science methods courses.
Teachers who possess weak vocabulary knowledge and a limited bank of vocabulary instruction strategies pose a concern for science instruction for all students.
This study indicates the need to provide preservice teachers with multiple strategies for content area vocabulary instruction in science methods courses.

The author concludes that significant changes in preservice teachers’ vocabulary knowledge on the posttests contrasted with their application of science vocabulary during peer teaching.
Content area methods coursework should provide preservice teachers with strategies for effective vocabulary instruction that can serve to solidify their own knowledge of science vocabulary as they learn methods for teaching science content and processes that include rich science vocabulary in their future classrooms.



Results from this study suggest that an essential component of elementary science teacher preparation should be devoted to providing preservice teachers with strategies for teaching content vocabulary infused in the context of a constructivist classroom.
Preservice teachers’ understandings of science terms and their knowledge of instructional strategies for helping children learn vocabulary will impact their future science instruction.

While an overemphasis on textbooks and highly specialized vocabulary instruction can inhibit sharing the wonder of science, conceptual understandings require learning specific science vocabulary.

Updated: Apr. 13, 2014