Our Practice, Their Readiness: Teacher Educators Collaborate to Explore and Improve Preservice Teacher Readiness for Science and Math Instruction

Published: 
Feb. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 24, Issue 1, p. 111–131, (February, 2013). 

(Reviewed by the Portal Team) 

The authors are four preservice teacher educators who, at the outset of the project, believed that they shared a common sociocultural perspective on science and mathematics learning and teacher education.
They became collaborators and co-researchers to explore their preservice teachers' (PTs’) attitudes toward science and mathematics.

The Context of the Study
The goals for the collaborative research project were as follows:
- to increase our knowledge of PTs’ prior experiences with learning science and math both in and out of elementary and secondary school;
- to determine the nature of relationships that might exist between PTs’ attitudes to science and math (and the teaching of these subjects) and their undergraduate major and gender;
- to develop understanding of the effectiveness of some of the pedagogical approaches we were using in our courses, including teaching the processes of science inquiry, using place-based learning, and using constructivist-based models;
- to reflect on and improve our practice as science and math education instructors;
- to provide the PTs with an out-of-classroom science and math learning experience.

Methodology and Data Collection
The authors viewed their project as action research.
The mixed method study focused on: the relationship between gender and undergraduate major (science versus nonscience) with respect to previous and current engagement in science and math, understanding the processes of inquiry, and learning outside the classroom.
A field trip to a science center provided the setting for the data collection.

132 preservice teachers answered a survey, which was comprised of 50 questions/statements that were based on the queries that the authors had brought individually to the project.

Conclusions

The authors review the findings with respect to:
How prepared do the pre-service teachers feel they are to teach science and math given their backgrounds?
They then consider in light of these findings: How can they teach their courses in ways that increasingly support their PT’s in teaching science and math?

PT Preparedness
There are significant differences among the PTs in the program, both in terms of their attitudes and prior experiences of science and math education, and in their confidence in engaging their students in these subjects.
The PTs have a broad range of views regarding fundamental concepts around science inquiry, the construction of science knowledge, and the relationship between science and technology.

The findings showed that the science major of PTs explained most of the gender differences with respect to the PTs’ attitudes toward science and mathematics.
The process of inquiry is generally poorly interpreted by PTs, and non-science majors prefer a more social approach in their learning to teach science and math.
About 30% of the PTs admit to feeling somewhat disengaged and/or stressed about having to teach elementary science and math, and these PTs reported largely negative or neutral experiences of science and math during their schooling.
All of these PTs were non-science majors.

However, the majority of the participants on the field trip were non-science majors, and they reported the experience as being quite positive and useful.
The point is that when a professional learning opportunity in a social context is offered, the non-science majors are likely to take advantage of it.

Impact of the Study on their Practice(s)
This collaborative research project provided two avenues for professional learning: the findings we established from the data collected from the PTs and the actual experience of collaborating and learning about each others’ philosophical stances.
Each of the authors must determine to what extent they choose to actually embed them in their individual practice.

This project has provided the authors a first step, the opportunity to work with each other’s different philosophies and experience how they connect to teaching practices.
The four educators reflect on the impacts of the research on their individual practices, for example, the need to: include place-based learning, attend to the different learning strategies taken by non-science majors, emphasize social and environmental contexts for learning science and math, be more explicit regarding the processes of science inquiry, and provide out-of-classroom experiences for PTs.


Comments on Collaboration
The collaborative model within which they chose to work did not meld the voices of the four researchers into one, but rather allowed each voice to stand on its own.
While they found the process of collaboration to be a rich learning experience, from the organization and implementation of the field trip, through the design of the survey, to the processes of analysis and writing, it was not without issues.
Complementary benefits of four perspectives were countered by the challenges of allowing four voices to be heard.

At the outset of the project, they believed that they shared common perspectives on preservice teaching, but the collaborative process teased out differences in their preferred pedagogies.
The authors were fortunate to have recognized early in the project that each of them brought different expertise to the table: organizational abilities, data analysis skills, experience in multi-layered research, and writing and editorial skills, which provided pathways to distribute the work.
Yet when diverse directions surfaced based on their philosophical stances, it was their genuine respect for each other as humans and as educators that enabled them to prevail as collaborators.

Updated: Mar. 17, 2014
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