Prospective Elementary Teachers’ Analysis of Children’s Science Talk in an Undergraduate Physics Course

Feb. 15, 2014

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 25, Issue 1, p. 97-117 (2014)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examined how prospective teachers used physics content knowledge when analyzing the talk of elementary children during special activities in an undergraduate physics content course designed for prospective teachers.

The participants were 30 undergraduates intending to pursue careers in elementary teaching and enrolled in a pilot version of a physics course targeted toward prospective and practicing elementary teachers.
The authors employ a qualitative methodology, analyzing the discourse of prospective teachers participating in two key activities.

The physics course studied here used Physics and Everyday Thinking (PET), a curriculum designed specifically for prospective and practicing elementary school teachers.
In addition, special activities focusing on Learning About Learning (LAL) are integrated into PET.
In LAL activities, prospective teachers consider their own science learning, scientists’ development of new ideas, and elementary school students’ science ideas.
The activities include readings summarizing research on children’s common ideas about science topics and video clips of children talking about their science ideas.

Data collection was designed to capture the nature of prospective teacher talk while they were engaging in small group and whole class discussions.
Therefore, all class meetings in which the prospective teachers discussed the videos of the children while working on LAL activities were filmed in their entirety.


In this study, prospective elementary teachers in an undergraduate physics course
(1) reflected on their own learning and
(2) identified and restated the science ideas in the talk of children in using scientific discourse while analyzing videos of elementary school children talking about science.
The first finding is evidence that the video analysis activities in this course facilitated the prospective elementary school teachers’ application of subject matter knowledge.
The second finding provides evidence that the prospective teachers used their subject matter knowledge in ways that related to tasks of teaching, suggesting that such activities may provide opportunities for prospective teachers to develop pedagogically-appropriate science subject matter knowledge for teaching science to children even before they enter a classroom.
The participants were considering teaching as a career but were not yet enrolled in a teacher education program.
As such, this study suggests that desirable content applications to analyzing student talk can be achieved as early as the undergraduate content education for future teachers.

The authors posit that the close coupling of content and pedagogical activities contributed to this.
In PET, the prospective teachers were prompted to discuss the children’s learning around specific physics concepts soon after learning the concepts and struggling with developing appropriate vocabulary themselves.
In many cases, the physics activities prior to the LAL activity helped the undergraduates disambiguate terms that are used synonymously in everyday talk but have particular meanings in science discourse (e.g., force, energy, motion). Prospective teachers participating in such activities have the opportunity to see an immediate link between subject matter knowledge and teaching children, helping them to see the purpose of developing strong disciplinary knowledge.
Activities like those discussed here may help prospective teachers transform their subject matter knowledge into usable knowledge for teaching by providing an immediate opportunity to do so in the company of peers learning the same content and an instructor who is a content area expert.
Further, analyzing video requires drawing on and coordinating knowledge of science content, pedagogy, and children’s ideas.
Integrating subject matter knowledge with these other types of knowledge may help teachers to develop pedagogically relevant subject matter knowledge, which may lead to the development of pedagogical content knowledge.


The findings lead to implications for the way elementary school teachers are prepared.
This study demonstrates that the content that has often been viewed as disconnected to the task of teaching elementary students can be used by undergraduates in ways that are applicable to the task of working with elementary students, with appropriate activities.

Furthermore, the authors recommend on developing specialized content courses for pre-service teachers and fostering productive collaborations between content and education specialists.
Content curricula that address the natural sciences requirements of undergraduate programs and explicitly address aspects of learning about learning are necessary for relevant science content experiences for elementary teachers.
The Physics and Everyday Thinking curriculum has been modified since its first version for use with the broader population of non-science majors.
The LAL activities are intended to be valuable for all non-science majors to establish a connection between themselves as learners and the physics content. Such curricula intended for the broader audience of non-majors and mindful of the needs of future teachers, can meet science requirements for elementary teachers while providing necessary enrollments to run the course.

In conclusion, activities such as analyzing video episodes of elementary students talking about their science ideas in content courses for teachers have clear advantages to both the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and in assisting teachers to develop their ability to listen to and analyze children’s thinking about the subject matter.
These activities explicitly helped prospective teachers transfer their subject matter knowledge to pedagogical content knowledge in exactly the type of activity in which their subject matter knowledge will be most useful: listening to children.

Updated: Aug. 31, 2016