The Science Semester: Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry for Prospective Elementary Teachers

Oct. 01, 2014

Source: Journal Science Teacher Education, Volume 24, Issue 6, (October, 2013), p. 1049–1072

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors describe the Science Semester, a semester-long course block that integrates three science courses and a science education methods course for elementary teacher education majors.
The purpose of this study was to examine the ways in which prospective teachers’ conceptions about teaching science as inquiry (PCK), and their efficacy for teaching science (PK) change across the Science Semester.

The authors used a mixed-methods approach to evaluate the prospective teachers’ conceptions of inquiry and their science teaching self-efficacy: an open-ended survey and focus group interviews.

The authors gathered data from six cohorts of the Science Semester, offered to sophomores in elementary teacher education program between 2003 and 2008.
Participants in this study were representative of students in the entire program: the majority was White, and female.


The elementary teacher education majors enrolled in the Science Semester have a complicated relationship with inquiry teaching and learning.
As sophomores, they viewed themselves as students who will someday be teachers, but did not yet see themselves as actual teachers.
Entering the Science Semester, they related to science as coursework they needed to complete to meet program requirements.

The Science Semester was designed to provide inquiry-oriented and problem-based learning experiences, opportunities to examine socially relevant issues through cross-disciplinary perspectives, and align with content found in elementary curricula and standards.
For some students, this was a welcome change, and the collaborative group work, cross-disciplinary sociocultural science topics relevant to their lives and to elementary science curriculum, and shift in roles for instructors and students was productive and engaging.
For others, it was a struggle that forced them to engage in science learning practices that clashed with their expectations for their own learning.
In both cases, it was the cross-disciplinary, problem-based nature of the instruction that moved students into this complicated and messy relationship with inquiry instruction.

In contrast to the mixed views on their own learning, all of the participants eagerly embraced the idea that elementary science teaching should involve inquiry-based methods.
The idealized image of exciting, activity-based experiences for children fulfills the prospective elementary teachers’ goals for their future classrooms, and is congruent with their goals for a nurturing classroom environment.
By the end of the semester, prospective elementary teachers moved to intermediate understandings of inquiry and significantly increased self-efficacy for science teaching


Based on the findings the authors indicate several recommendations for teacher education programs.
These findings fully support policy statements that science and science methods instruction must model inquiry for prospective elementary teachers.
It is also important to provide opportunities for explicit reflection on inquiry models, as prospective teachers do not grasp the full complexity of these models implicitly.
Finally, coordination of the course curriculum with upper level classes is important.
For the small number of prospective middle school science teachers in the cohorts, additional coursework in inquiry science and science methods were part of their senior year.
For the rest of the students, the move of science methods and science courses to a single semester in the sophomore year meant that these students did not receive additional support for developing knowledge of science instruction until student teaching in their senior year.
For these students, additional support or drop-in discussions in the junior year would be helpful.

Updated: Dec. 14, 2015