Promoting Shifts in Preservice Science Teachers’ Thinking through Teaching and Action Research in Informal Science Settings

Aug. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 24, Issue 5, August 2013, p. 811-832.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to investigate the influence of an integrated experiential learning and action research project on preservice science teachers’ developing ideas about science teaching, learning, and action research itself.

The author utilized a qualitative, interpretive, case study methodology.
The participants were 10 master’s degree students in secondary science education, at a large public university in the southeastern United States.The students were engaged in both service learning and action research as an integral part of the class including in-class work, outside of class work, course assignments, and grading.
Data included pre- and post-questionnaires, reflective journals, and final project written reports. Additionally, three of the 10 were selected for in-depth profiles to present in this article.


The data indicated that all 10 participants gained enhanced understandings of children as diverse learners and the importance of prior knowledge in science learning. The students also identified growth in their understanding of topics including how to more effectively use questions, conduct hands-on activities, and conduct action research.

Shifts in thinking were observed for two of the in-depth case study students, while one, showed little change.
One student took a route that explored the elements of science knowledge construction including the importance of alternative conceptions, reasoning, and making new connections to the knowledge base. The active and immersive nature of the service learning/action research project appeared to extend these understandings for her in a way that discussions and videos in the classroom might not have done.
The other student, also, observed first hand a theme that is often discussed in university classes; middle school children assume gender roles in science. He expressed his surprise at this finding, indicating that he gained new insights about the congruence between research literature and his own data collection. His data suggest that he became inspired to create a more gender-inclusive science classroom.
The contrasting case of third student, however, indicated that students need to have a disposition of openness to learning from these activities and be prepared to make connections among experiences for deeper learning to occur. Confident that she understood older learners and the research process already, her’s learning appeared to be more superficial and limited in scope.
The data suggest the third student may have had excellent experiences with the lecture/laboratory teaching mode of university biology and held it in high esteem as a model for teaching science. The other two students on the other hand appeared to be genuinely interested in how children respond to science instruction, and thus, took the opportunities in the course to ponder and analyze the meaning of various social interactions to build their beliefs.

The results of the current study suggest that action research may be one avenue in which preservice teachers can collect performance data with their students to better understand the distinction between engagement and the attainment of learning outcomes.
The results indicate that experiential learning combined with action research might provide fruitful opportunities for learning. In addition to the advantages of informal science settings previously cited, including freedom from curriculum and testing constraints, working with small groups of children, and freedom from mentor teacher agendas, informal settings can provide spaces for experimenting with ‘‘focused aspects’’ of teaching. While these focused aspects of teaching could be provided by an instructor, in this study, they were shaped by the preservice teachers’ own action research questions.

The author recommends that teacher educators incorporate more experiential learning opportunities into science teacher preparation.
Second, methods class instructors should allow students to determine their own action research questions gives them a better understanding of how to conduct action research in the future. The author considers action researchas the key for the development of dialogic learning in this study which added to the richness and meaning of the course assignments for the students.

Updated: Feb. 08, 2017


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