Christian preservice teachers' practical arguments in a science curriculum and instruction course

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<ul><li><p>Christian Preservice Teachers Practical Arguments in a Science Curriculum and Instruction Course </p><p>JAZLIN V. EBENEZER Department of Curriculum, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Faculty of Educa- tion, The University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada </p><p>This study portrays Christian elementary preservice teachers practical arguments in an attempt to develop a relational view of teaching and learning science in a curricu- lum and instruction course. The data source consists of personal notes from preser- vice teachers, reflective comments in class assignments, and transcripts of personal interviews. An analysis of these data implies that science educators must be sensitive to the practical arguments that Christian preservice teachers make in their science education classes based on their deeply held religious beliefs and faith. Rather than attempting to change Christian preservice teachers practical arguments, it is impor- tant to assist them to study the teaching of science from Christian worldviews. 0 1996 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Inc. </p><p>INTRODUCTION </p><p>Some science educators have translated the notion of Kuhnian revolutionary change in science (Kuhn, 1970), not only to the teaching of learners in science (Aguirre, Haggerty, &amp; Linder, 1990; Hewson &amp; Hewson, 1987; Parsons-Chatman, 1990), but also to the study of professional practice (Baird &amp; Mitchell, 1987; Gunstone &amp; Northfield, 1994; Stofflett, 1994). The theoretical argument underpinning all of these studies is the view of conceptual change articulated by Posner, Strike, Hewson, and Gertzog ( 1982). According to these authors, for conceptual change to take place or for the adoption of a new conception that is intelligible, </p><p>Science Education 80(4): 437-456 (1996) 0 1996 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Inc. CCC 0036-8326/96/040437-20 </p></li><li><p>438 EBENEZER </p><p>plausible, and fruitful, teachers must first become dissatisfied with their existing con- ceptions of teaching. In their reconstruction of the conceptual change model, Gunstone and Northfield (1994), however, suggest that conceptual change rarely in- volves complete abandonment of one notion in favor of another. Rather it often involves the addition of new notions, retention of existing notions, and the acquisition of a sense of contexts in which the new notion is more appropriate (pp. 525 and 526). </p><p>Stofflett (1994) uses the literature on scientific conceptual change to develop an intervention that would promote the accommodation of pedagogical preconceptions held by preservice teachers (p. 807). Stofflett demonstrates in her study that the theory of conceptual change can be applied to elementary science teacher education and research (p. 807). The question, however, might be what kinds of preconcep- tions did Stoffletts preservice teachers have? Stofflett attributes the preservice teach- ers conceptions to the dominant, didactic paradigm of science teaching and learning. In this study, however, I argue that it is not reasonable to look at all the preconcep- tions that preservice teachers hold in terms of scientific paradigmatic shift because of the fundamentalist views held by them. Therefore, I turn to Fenstermachers (1986) notion of practical arguments to interpret my preservice teachers beliefs. </p><p>Fenstermacher, who has dealt at length with the notion of practical arguments, dismisses the usage of a Kuhnian scientific paradigm for the study of teaching. Fenstermacher points out that the discourse in the scientific community (in the Kuhnian sense) about the tasks and aims of science is different from professional practice because in science each community of scholars is committed to its own dominant conceptual framework that guides problems of inquiry. Claims from hu- manities persuade Fenstermacher to argue for the phenomenologies of practitioners in terms of moral virtues rather than in the language of science. </p><p>The Christian preservice teachers arguments, presented in this article, cannot be viewed from the perspective of a scientific paradigmatic shift because they are based on faith rather than by sight. Their practical arguments appear to be at odds with a constructivist view of the development of knowledge about the physical world. Christian preservice teachers practical arguments of science very well may be con- sidered appropriate if based on beyond our world. Science is of this world. To bring in another world defeats any scientific purpose. </p><p>FENSTERMACHERS NOTION OF PRACTICAL ARGUMENTS FOR PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE </p><p>The notion of practical arguments is based on the ability of teachers to use morally defensible and rationally grounded ways to educate their students. Teach- ers in this propositional statement refers not only to school teachers, but also to teacher educators. The questions one may ask are: How do we educate our teachers? How do the teachers that we teach, in turn, educate their students? </p><p>For the study of teaching, Fenstermacher borrows Aristotelian ideas of theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom. Fenstermacher makes a clear distinction between the generation of knowledge (knowledge in theory) or (theoretical wisdom) and the ap- plication of knowledge (knowledge in use/action) or (practical wisdom). He states that the argument of knowledge generation concludes in propositions/assertions/ </p></li><li><p>PRACTICAL ARGUMENTS 439 </p><p>claims about events, states, or phenomena, whereas the argument of knowledge ap- plication contains empirically testable assertions that terminate in actions. </p><p>Adapting Greens (1983) work, Fenstermacher (1986) argues that the value of edu- cational research for educational practice is the help it provides in identifying what is required to change the truth value of the premises of the practical argument in the mind of the [teacher], or to complete or modify those premises or to introduce an al- together new premise into the practical argument in the mind of the [teacher] (p. 43). The change in premises and actions taken must be based on teachers moral convictions and beliefs about the nature of teaching. Teachers themselves must deter- mine the change in their practical arguments to accommodate new practices. </p><p>The application of new practices based on normative or prescriptive theories in the classroom is trivial. Teachers practical arguments (purposive, passionate, intuitive, and moral properties of human action) are necessary to translate empirical findings into classroom practice. The criterion of benefit of the study of teaching is not for im- proving educational practice, but rather for improving the practical arguments in the minds of teachers. Therefore, the inquirers of teaching might want to frame their problem of inquiry around the practical arguments advanced by teachers. Accord- ingly, research methodology must be appropriate to generate knowledge and under- standing of a quality that may be considered valuable by the teacher. </p><p>In considering the practical arguments made by the teachers based on their moral convictions, Fenstermacher ( 1986) suggests that we should supply teachers with the means to structure their experiences in ways that continually enlarge their knowl- edge, reasoned belief, understanding, autonomy, authenticity, and sense of place (p. 46). To attain this type of pedagogical competence, Fenstermacher outlines two important steps: ( 1 ) to assist teachers in framing the practical arguments undergirding their teaching practices, of which many are not likely to be consciously known by the teacher; and (2) to assist in the teachers appraisal of the premises in the practical ar- gument by having himher presenting evidence that bears on hisher own relevant premises (p. 46). When these steps are carried out on an on-going basis, the teacher learns from hisher own practices. Fenstermacher considers teacher educators who teach in this way are themselves students of teaching and will not simply toss re- search findings at teachers with the expectation that these findings will show up in practice. </p><p>Although Fenstermacher asserts that empirical inquiries would be extremely useful for determining how and why changes take place in teachers practical arguments, this study goes only to the extent of identifying preservice teachers practical argu- ments. It does not trace changes in preservice teachers thinking. </p><p>PROBLEM STATEMENT </p><p>This article addresses the practical arguments of Christian elementary preservice teachers in my own curriculum and instruction course that has adopted a relational philosophy for teaching and learning science. In the context of this study, relational means to stress that faith is of the spirit whereas science is of the temporal. It has been my experience that Christian preservice teachers with a fundamentalist view ex- perience tension in being confronted with scientific ideas which are of this world. </p></li><li><p>440 EBENEZER </p><p>Tension, in this context, refers to the conceptual conflict that an individual experi- ences when counter views are presented. The Christian preservice teachers practical arguments, therefore, characterize tension. </p><p>Although tensions might arise when the learners conceptions are explored, this study is in favor of helping preservice teachers frame their own practical arguments and appraise the premises of their practical arguments in light of their moral convic- tions. </p><p>The primary question for this study therefore is: What practical arguments do Christian preservice teachers make as they experience a relational view for science teaching and learning? The secondary questions are: How do Christian preservice teachers notion of truth compare with other Christian worldviews? How can these teachers be assisted in studying the teaching of science from Christian worldviews? </p><p>RESEARCH CONTEXT AND METHODS </p><p>In the last few years, the curriculum and instruction course, through phenomenog- raphy (Marton, 198 l) , has identified preservice teachers practical arguments of the nature of science, teaching, and learning, and has assisted preservice teachers in de- veloping morally defensible practical arguments. It has also provided them with prac- tical settings, experiences, and arguments to develop additional ways of perceiving learning and teaching from the perspectives of science. Thus, the course has been an important site for cultivating attitudes of reflective inquiry. </p><p>Phenomenography is an assessment tool that can be used to conceptualize an indi- viduals practical arguments. A basic principle underlying this assessment tool is the concern for the qualitatively different ways a phenomenon is conceptualized rather than for how many have conceptualized in a particular way. For instance, I did not count or even attempt to find out how many students in my classes were Christian and how many of these students practical arguments were affected by what I did in class. This was because, in this study, Christian preservice teachers were not isolated or given any special treatment or intervention. In fact, I do not attempt to identify who are and who are not Christians in my class. However, more than 50% of my stu- dents in any given year are Christians because Manitoba is a Canadian province where Christianity has strong roots. Many of these students then experience a tension when confronted with a relational view of science teaching and learning. </p><p>Data Source </p><p>On-going conversations with preservice teachers about issues of science teaching and learning are part of the curriculum and instruction course. It is usually the philo- sophically inclined preservice teachers that participate in conversations other than course requirements. Many Christian preservice teachers are part of such groups. </p><p>Formal interviews with four Christian preservice teachers (Sally, Tom, Mary, and Mark) constitute a major part of my data. The 45-minute to 1-hour interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. </p><p>Various assignments in class called for preservice teachers reflective comments. These became part of the data. Pertinent to this study is the background knowledge </p></li><li><p>PRACTICAL ARGUMENTS 441 </p><p>of preservice teachers. It has been this prior knowledge and experiences that have formed the practical arguments that they hold. </p><p>Preservice Teachers Backgrounds </p><p>For the purpose of this study, the most important information about the preservice teachers is the aspect of their religious affiliation. All preservice teachers described in this study were in their fourth-year bachelor of education programs and have been identified by pseudonyms. The following paragraphs describe six of these young pre- service teachers who are regular church attendees and hold responsible positions in their churches. </p><p>Leah, a Mennonite Christian, was very quiet in class. Her assignments revealed her emotions about the large group discussions on relational aspects of science teaching. She talked openly with me about her concern. </p><p>Sally, also a Mennonite Christian, expressed unhappiness with what happened in the course at first. She said that I conflicted with her own religious views as well as her peers in class. During the second term, Sally started to engage in conversations with me about science and Christianity. </p><p>Tom, a Baptist Christian, received his first degree in theology. Tom expressed that students were unhappy with some of the constructivist principles. Tom chose to write a paper on preservice teachers views on constructivism for his second assignment. From time to time, our conversations revolved around Christianity and constructivism. </p><p>Mary is a Catholic Christian. Mary separated religion and her science studies. She did not see disparities between constructivism and her Christian beliefs. She there- fore did not question philosophical issues of teaching. </p><p>Andrew is a Mennonite Christian who is also a profound thinker. Andrew drew parallels between a conceptual change model found in the science education litera- ture to the ones found in the Bible. </p><p>Mark is an Evangelical Christian who has completed his bachelor of arts and mas- ter of arts in theology. Mark interpreted science from the perspectives of the wisdom literature. From the beginning, Mark was very open to class discussions and shared his views persuasively and broadly. </p><p>These Christian preservice teachers practical arguments revolve around the notion of truth because in-class knowledge is considered as relational, relative, and contex- tual. Preservice teachers practical arguments about truth are related to Christian liter- ature as well as literature on the philosophy of science. </p><p>DATA ANALYSIS </p><p>To best analyze the data for this study it is imperative to reiterate the high points of what each Christian preservice teacher believes about truth. It is also important to indicate how their practical arguments that characterize tension may be ratio- nally grounded in Christian worldviews. Preservice teachers have argued about truth in five different ways: (a) man discovers Gods hidden truths; (b) everyone dis- covers truth in varying d...</p></li></ul>