Integrating nature of science instruction into a physical science content course for preservice elementary teachers: NOS views of teaching assistants

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<ul><li><p>SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATIONJulie Bianchini and Mark Windschitl, Section Coeditors</p><p>Integrating Nature of ScienceInstruction into a PhysicalScience Content Course forPreservice Elementary Teachers:NOS Views of Teaching Assistants</p><p>DEBORAH L. HANUSCINDepartments of Physics &amp; Astronomy/Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum, 303Townsend Hall, University of MissouriColumbia, Columbia, MO 65211, USA</p><p>VALARIE L. AKERSON, TEDDIE PHILLIPSON-MOWERDepartment of Curriculum &amp; Instruction, 201 North Rose Avenue, Suite 3002, IndianaUniversity, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA</p><p>Received 14 March 2005; revised 31 August 2005, 23 February 2006; accepted 28 February2006</p><p>DOI 10.1002/sce.20149Published online 27 April 2006 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).</p><p>ABSTRACT: Teacher education programs have met with limited success in improvingteachers understanding of the nature of science (NOS). Research suggests that such effortscould be enhanced by addressing NOS in preservice teachers science courses. We plannedNOS instruction in a physical science content course for preservice elementary teachers.Our first concern was the NOS views of the instructors for the course, which included un-dergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs). We examined the NOS views of nine UTAs, andthe impact of job-embedded professional development on their views. Although initiallyUTAs held a number of views inconsistent with science education reforms, four modes ofexplicit-and-reflective interventions, including analysis of NOS views of preservice teach-ers, resulted in favorable changes in UTAs views. C 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed90:912935, 2006</p><p>Correspondence to: Deborah L. Hanuscin; e-mail: hanuscind@missouri.edu</p><p>C 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.</p></li><li><p>NOS VIEWS OF TEACHING ASSISTANTS 913</p><p>INTRODUCTIONReform documents including Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1990) and Benchmarks</p><p>for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) emphasize understanding of the nature of science (NOS)as a critical component of scientific literacy. Teachers understandings of NOS then serveas a necessary (though arguably not sufficient) condition for helping students understandNOS. Research over the past several decades, however, has found teachers views of NOSto be largely inconsistent with contemporary characterizations of the scientific endeavor(Abd-El-Khalick &amp; Lederman, 2000a; Lederman, 1992). As such, teachers views mayserve as a barrier to achieving the vision of the reforms (e.g., Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, &amp;Lederman, 1998).</p><p>The science education community has responded by integrating NOS instruction in sci-ence methods courses (Akerson, Abd-El-Khalick, &amp; Lederman, 2000; Bianchini &amp; Colburn,2000; Gess-Newsome, 2002; Schwartz &amp; Lederman, 2002). However, many such effortsto improve teachers conceptions of NOS have met with only limited success in helpingteachers retain views of NOS that are consistent with current reforms (Akerson &amp; Hanus-cin, 2003). This may be due, in part, to a lack of emphasis on NOS across the preserviceteachers program of study. Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman (2000a) echoed sentimentsof earlier researchers by proposing NOS instruction occur not only in pedagogy coursesbut also in science content courses. Given the recent proliferation of specialized sciencecontent courses for teachers (Crowther, n.d.), there exists a unique opportunity to addressNOS views of prospective teachers. One of the most influential experiences that preserviceteachers have is being a learner in science courses themselves, just before moving intopreparation programs. This is a formative time in that they have an opportunity to learn notonly how science is done but also how one might teach science. However, this experiencedoes not always provide them with accurate views of the discipline, nor appropriate modelsfor science teaching. Attention to NOS within the curriculum is one means for addressingthis problem. The purpose of this study was to explore integration of NOS instruction in aphysical science content course for preservice elementary teachers. In this article, we focuson the NOS views of teaching assistants (TAs) involved in the course, and the impact ofjob-embedded professional development on their views.</p><p>The Nature of ScienceThe NOS refers to the epistemology of science, or the values and beliefs inherent to</p><p>the development of scientific knowledge (Lederman, 1992). It should be noted that thecharacterizations of NOS in reforms (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996) represent a simplified andnoncontroversial account of what remains an area of much disagreement and debate amonghistorians, philosophers, and sociologists of science (Duschl, 1994). However, because K-12teachers are expected to help students develop understandings of NOS in line with thosedescribed in state and national reforms, we selected these for integration into the course,and as such, a framework for this study. Specifically, we targeted following seven aspectsof NOS: (a) scientific knowledge is both reliable (one can have confidence in scientificknowledge) and tentative (subject to change); (b) no single, universal scientific methodcaptures the complexity and diversity of scientific investigations; (c) creativity plays a rolein the development of scientific knowledge; (d) there is a relationship between theories andlaws; (e) there is a relationship between observations and inferences; (f) although sciencestrives for objectivity, there is always an element of subjectivity in the development ofscientific knowledge; and (g) social and cultural context also play a role in the developmentof scientific knowledge.</p></li><li><p>914 HANUSCIN ET AL.</p><p>Improving Teachers Views of NOSResearchers categorize NOS instruction as being either implicit or explicit (Abd-El-</p><p>Khalick &amp; Lederman, 2000). Implicit approaches presume understanding NOS results fromengaging in scientific inquiry. However, research indicates that this is insufficient to changelearners epistemological beliefs (Lederman, Wade, &amp; Bell, 1998). Explicit approachesdirect learners attention to NOS in the context of their coursework and science investi-gations through particular constructs and reflective opportunities. In explicit instructionalapproaches, NOS understandings are specifically assessed, rather than presumed to be aby-product of instruction.</p><p>Several researchers have found explicit approaches, especially those that include a reflec-tive component, are more effective than implicit approaches in improving teachers views ofNOS (Abd-El-Khalick &amp; Lederman, 2000a). For example, Akerson et al. (2000) conducteda study of preservice elementary teachers enrolled in a science methods course that includedreflection on NOS, both orally and in writing, following a series of readings and activities.This approach resulted in students holding views more aligned with NOS as characterizedin reforms.</p><p>While the aforementioned studies were conducted in the context of teacher educationcourses, researchers have also examined science content courses as a context for enhancingNOS understanding. Studies conducted in the last decades have found college sciencestudents views of NOS to be inconsistent with contemporary views such as those advancedin the reforms (e.g., Bezzi, 1999; Fleming, 1998; Gilbert, 1991; Ryder, Leach, &amp; Driver,1999). However, more recent research suggests that content courses may, indeed, providea fruitful venue for addressing learners views. Brickhouse, Dagher, Letts, and Shipman(2000) claimed that studying students views about the nature of science is best donein a context where it is possible to talk about particular theories or particular pieces ofevidence and that knowledge of subject matter seems to influence students ability totalk meaningfully about theories and evidence (p. 355). Their study of undergraduatesenrolled in an astronomy course for nonmajors demonstrates that even brief (one-semester)interventions, when carried out with appropriate sensitivity to students views, can impactunderstanding of NOS.</p><p>Further evidence of the potential of science content courses as a suitable context forenhancing learners views of NOS can be found in a study by Abd-El-Khalick (2001), whoinvestigated the development of NOS views in a physics course. Unlike the courses in thestudies described above, this course was designed specifically for preservice elementaryteachers. The intervention, which consisted of explicit-and-reflective instructional methodssimilar to those used in science methods courses (Akerson et al., 2000; Akerson &amp; Hanuscin,2003), contributed to favorable shifts in preservice teachers views of NOS. However,because the course was offered by the Department of Education, the research does little toinform us of the potential of specialized science content courses, specifically those offeredby the respective science departments, as a venue for improving preservice teachers viewsof NOS. This point is particularly relevant, given researchers have found the NOS views ofscientists may be different from those of both philosophers and science educators (Pomeroy,1993). Just as with K-12 teachers, faculty understanding of NOS serves as a necessarycondition for teaching NOS effectively to college students. Thus, if we are to successfullyintegrate NOS instruction within science content courses, it will be important to understandthe NOS views of instructors of these courses, which may also include TAs.</p></li><li><p>NOS VIEWS OF TEACHING ASSISTANTS 915</p><p>Context of the Study and PurposePhysical Science for Elementary Teachers is the second largest enrollment course</p><p>offered by the Department of Physics at a large midwestern university. The course servesas a prerequisite for the elementary science methods course, and consists of two 50-minlectures each week, as well as a weekly 3-h laboratory session taught by undergraduateteaching assistants (UTAs). Developed originally as part of an NSF grant in the 1980s thatwas intended to improve the quality of undergraduate science education for elementaryteachers, the instructorship of the course and design of the curriculum has since passedthrough several hands. During the semester this study was conducted, the first author servedas the instructor of record, and was responsible for the preparation and training of the UTAstaff.</p><p>As the instructor aligned the existing curriculum of the course with reforms by includinginstruction in NOS, she acknowledged preservice teachers opportunity to learn about NOSwithin the laboratory sessions would be influenced by UTAs own understandings of NOS.Consequentially, she planned explicit-and-reflective interventions targeting UTAs concep-tions of the NOS. The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of this professionaldevelopment on UTAs conceptions of the NOS. The specific research questions were:</p><p> What are UTAs initial views of the NOS? How do these compare to NOS viewsespoused in science education reforms?</p><p> How, if at all, do these views change over the course of the semester? What factors contribute to these changes?</p><p>METHODThe design of this study is interpretive in nature (Bogdan &amp; Biklen, 1998), utilizing ob-</p><p>servation, interview, and document analysis to illuminate the meaning participants ascribedto various aspects of NOS, and to identify how this meaning changed over time. Given thefirst authors role as course instructor, the data could be considered partially evaluative ofher training of the laboratory assistants. Therefore, the second and third authors assistedin data collection and analysis, acting as peer debriefers to ensure appropriate and validinterpretations of the data.</p><p>ParticipantsIn the semester the study was conducted, each of the 11 laboratory sessions was taught</p><p>by a different UTA, 9 of whom agreed to participate in this study. Consistent with historicalprecedence within the department, the UTA staff included both education majors and physicsmajors. Three education majors were selected by the course instructor from volunteers whohad previously earned an A in the course, and were recommended highly by their own UTAand an instructor from the School of Education. Savannah,1 Amanda, and Gretchen werejuniors, and this was the first time each taught a physics laboratory. Savannah, unlike theother two women, had previously received explicit-and-reflective NOS instruction withinher science methods course, taught by the third author. The physics majors were selected bythe physics department chairperson. Three (Lauri, Brad, and Doug) had previously taughtlaboratory sessions for this as well as other courses. The remaining (Alex, Richard, and Ben)were teaching this laboratory for the first time, and this was their first teaching experience at</p><p>1 Pseudonyms have been used to protect confidentiality of participants in this research.</p></li><li><p>916 HANUSCIN ET AL.</p><p>the university. Lauri, Brad, Richard, and Ben were seniors in their last semester of college,while Doug and Alex were both juniors. None of the UTAs had any previous courseworkin history or philosophy of science. Two additional physics majors who acted as UTAs forthe course declined participation in the study.</p><p>Interventions Targeting UTAs Views of NOSAs part of their responsibilities, the UTA staff met with the course instructor each week</p><p>for between 1 and 2 h. These meetings had two distinct foci: (1) to reflect students under-standing of the previous weeks activities, with the goal of improving both the curriculumand the instruction of the laboratory sessions; and (2) to examine and prepare for the up-coming weeks laboratory sessions. As part of that preparation, UTAs participated in thelaboratory activities as learners, discussing strategies to facilitate students understandingof the concepts. Because understanding NOS was a focus of the curriculum, the course in-structor implemented explicit-and-reflective interventions to address UTAs views of NOS.This job-embedded professional development was therefore an integrated part of UTAsweekly responsibilities, rather than an add-on. The interventions undertaken to enhanceUTAs conceptions of NOS took on four distinct forms, each of which is described below.</p><p>Introduction to NOS as a Goal of Science Education. Because UTAs lacked prior ex-perience of learning and teaching NOS, it was important to orient them to NOS as aninstructional objective. The course instructor provided handouts excerpted from reformdocuments (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 1996; NSTA, 2000) to demonstrate the importance ofNOS as an aspect of science that their students (the preservice teachers) would be requiredto emphasize in their science teaching. Discussion of each of these reforms was intended toillustrate the emphasis on NOS within the field of science education, rather than specific tothe course instructors personal agenda for the course. In addition, it was intended to helpboth physics and education majors develop a better sense of the goals and expectations forelementary science teaching, given the nature of the course.</p><p>Content-generic Laboratory Activities. During weekly meet...</p></li></ul>

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