Preservice Teachers’ Uptake and Understanding of Funds of Knowledge in Elementary Science

Feb. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 24, Issue 1, (February, 2013), 13–36.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this work, the authors are interested in supporting beginning teachers in identifying and productively drawing on the everyday knowledge and experiences that children bring to science learning.
They focus on preservice teachers’ emerging understandings of the nature and utility of learner’s funds of knowledge.

The authors defined noticing funds of knowledge as recognizing that students have important prior knowledge, skills, and experiences that have been developed outside of the classroom.
They believe that noticing is an essential beginning step for any further consideration of the utility of funds of knowledge or the design of instruction where it will be elicited and leveraged.

The authors address to these two questions:
(1) How do preservice teachers make sense of the funds of knowledge students bring to science?
(2) How does their understanding of funds of knowledge manifest itself in the ways that preservice teachers view classroom events and plan for science instruction?

To address these questions, the authors focus on three sections of an elementary methods course where fourth-year preservice elementary teachers explored ways to make science teaching meaningful, relevant, and engaging for diverse students. 

The participants were 76 preservice teachers who were in their fourth year of a 5-year elementary teacher education program at a large university in the American Midwest.
The participants were enrolled in three different sections of a science methods course taught during a 3-h class given once weekly.

In this course, the authors designed three core experiences that linked the work of the course with work in the field.
In this course, preservice teachers combine campus-based course work with a weekly field component.


The authors argue that when preservice teachers define the utility of funds of knowledge, they do so in reference to managing classroom interactions and supporting student learning.

The authors consider preservice teachers’ description of the utility of funds of knowledge as a hook to be productive and reasonable but insufficient.
On the one hand, viewing funds of knowledge as helpful in engaging learners with a particular science concept or phenomenon is consistent with an antideficit view of students’ everyday knowledge and experiences.
In addition, once engaged, the possibility for meaningful learning is increased.
However, the authors find other uses, leveraging funds of knowledge to support deeper understandings of science content or to give value to students’ ideas and experiences, to be even more productive.

The authors find that these categories of interpreting and responding more fully realize the potential of funds of knowledge in the science classroom setting.
The text excerpted from reflective writing and lesson planning assignments revealed a pattern of interpreting described by five broad categories of utility.
Three of these categories—funds of knowledge as a hook, as foundational to meaning making in science, and as useful in positioning students as experts—all describe a positive, productive use. The latter two categories indicate that preservice teachers sometimes find funds of knowledge to be unsupportive in the science classroom.

The preservice teachers in this study display emerging skills in paying attention to and making connections to the familial and community contexts in which students live.
These connections between home and school may provide scientific phenomena and concepts for study that have personal meaning and significance for students.
Thus, the authors posit that in noticing children’s funds of knowledge, the seniors in this study demonstrate an important emerging capacity for recognizing the familial and community settings in which their students live as resources for positively influencing students’ motivation to participate in school science.


This study raises several implications.
First, it suggests that preservice teachers can and do notice and leverage students’ funds of knowledge in their science teaching.
The authors suggest that conducting and analyzing science talks, among other pedagogical approaches, can offer an important space for preservice teachers to evaluate the funds of knowledge their students bring to the classroom.

Second, they propose that using these categories of the utility of funds of knowledge with preservice teachers might serve as an important learning heuristic.
In this study, they only shared with preservice teachers frameworks for noticing.
If preservice teachers also had tools for reflecting upon and recognizing how to leverage their students’ funds of knowledge, they might have clearer pathways to developing more robust skills in interpreting and responding to these funds of knowledge in supportive and productive ways.

Lastly, in this study, preservice teachers’ responses to funds of knowledge were manifested, at least in part, in the lesson plans for instruction they designed.

Updated: Mar. 12, 2014