nurturing confidence in preservice elementary science teachers

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  • Journal of Science Teacher Education (2006) 17:165187DOI: 10.1007/s10972-006-9016-5 c Springer 2006

    Feature Article

    Nurturing Confidence in Preservice ElementaryScience Teachers

    Robert E. BleicherCalifornia State University Channel Islands, 1 University Drive, Camarillo, CA 93012, U.S.A.e-mail:

    Published online: 27 June 2006

    The purpose of this study was to examine changes in personal science teachingself-efficacy (PSTE), outcome expectancy (STOE), and science conceptual under-standing and relationships among these in preservice teachers. Seventy preserviceteachers enrolled in science teaching methods courses participated in this study.PSTE, STOE, and science conceptual understanding increased significantly dur-ing participation in the course. The study established that novice learners withminimal prior knowledge couldnt be expected to understand and employ coreconcepts in their learning schema without extensive guidance. The relationshipbetween science learning confidence and science teaching confidence has notbeen theoretically delineated in the area of science teacher education. Findingssuggest that there may be important connections between the two for preserviceteachers that would be fruitful areas for future research.

    Keywords: Science content knowledge; Self-efficacy; Preservice elementary teachersmethods courses.


    Teacher preparation programs are designed to build the foundation for strongpedagogical knowledge. However, preservice teachers science understanding isoften insufficient to provide the confidence required to teach science effectively, ina manner that achieves positive factual and conceptual learning outcomes in theirstudents (Bleicher, 2004; Darling-Hammond & Hudson, 1990; King, Shumow, &Lietz, 2001; Schibeci & Hickey, 2000). This study examined changes in personalscience teaching self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, and science conceptual under-standing in preservice teachers. This research was informed by Banduras (1977)theory of social learning, literature on conceptual understanding, and other studiesof preservice elementary science teaching self-efficacy.

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    Banduras Theory of Social Learning

    Banduras theory of social learning (Bandura, 1977) provides a useful frame-work to examine the construct of personal science teaching self-efficacy from acognitive science perspective. Simply put, Banduras theory posits that we are mo-tivated to perform an action if we believe that the action will have a favorableresult (outcome expectation) and we are confident that we can perform that actionsuccessfully (self-efficacy expectation). Self-efficacy has been studied from manyperspectives (Tschannen-Moran, Hoy, & Hoy, 1998). However, within science ed-ucation, Banduras model has been widely taken up due to its utility in research onscience teaching and teacher education.

    Self-efficacy is expressed in everyday terms when we talk about feeling confi-dent to do something (e.g., the ability to get the job done, answer the right question,or come up with the best plan). Thus, teachers who have high personal scienceteaching self-efficacy expectations will express that they are confident that theycan teach science effectively. Regardless of their confidence in their own abilities,there is not always an equal confidence in how well students will achieve in theirlearning. Thus, Banduras second construct of outcome expectation is critical tounderstanding the whole activity of science teaching.

    Self-efficacy and outcome expectations are shaped by four sources of infor-mation: performance accomplishment, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion andemotional arousal (Bandura, 1977). Performance accomplishment derives frompersonal practical experience. Vicarious experience involves a person observing an-others performance and gaining confidence from this in a manner akin to Lave andWengers (1991) notion of legitimate peripheral participation involved in craft ap-prenticeship situations. Verbal persuasion from others can influence our confidenceeither positively or negatively. Finally, the stress of performance relays emotiveinformation that can affect our self-efficacy.

    From an exhaustive review of the literature (Bandura (1997)) concluded thatthe evidence across studies is consistent in showing that perceived self-efficacycontributes significantly to level of motivation and performance accomplishments.Bandura (2000) embraces an integrated perspective for human performance inwhich social influences operate through psychological mechanisms. Bandura (2000)has written a concise, yet profound statement about the complex interrelationshipbetween human activity and social systems

    People are producers as well as products of social systems. By exercis-ing self-influence, human agency operates generatively and proactivelyrather than just reactively. Social structures are created by efficacioushuman activity. The structural practices, in turn, impose constraints andprovide resources and opportunity structures for personal developmentand functioning (p. 29).


    Conceptual Understanding

    Donovan, Bransford, and Pellegrino (1999) argue that in order to be ableto teach for understanding, preservice teachers must be given the opportunity toexperience learning for understanding themselves. From their extensive literaturereview, they conclude that this is rarely the case in most teacher training programs.They emphasize that teacher education programs must provide preservice teacherswith subject specific training that helps develop what they call deep understandingof the key organizing principles of the subject. This is equivalent to the construct ofconceptual understanding being employed in this study.

    Conceptual understanding refers to the interrelationships among facts, con-cepts, and principles in a content area (Resnick, 1989). Conceptual understandingreflects concept relationships represented in the form of propositions which, whenused as constituents within procedures, algorithms, or rules, become forms of pro-cedural knowledge necessary for problem-solving proficiency that serve as a foun-dation for future learning (DeJong & Ferguson-Hessler, 1996). Vosniadou (1996)suggested that core concepts within a discipline have a relational structure that di-rectly affects conceptual understanding. The relatedness among these core conceptsmust be reflected in course curriculum and text-based materials. Similarly, Romanceand Vitale (1997, 1999) suggested that instructional activities should be designedto require learners to demonstrate how they would represent their understandingof core concept relationships. The TIMSS study (Schmidt, McKnight, & Raizen,1996) found that instructional materials used in the United States typically consistedof many diffusely arranged concepts that inhibited meaningful learning. Further, theamount of information presented is so vast that it results in the mere mentioningof concepts rather than developing student understanding of core concepts and theirrelationships. As a result, most students do not achieve a conceptual understandingof the subject content knowledge. According to Donovan et al. (1999), findingsfrom cognitive science research indicate that conceptual understanding allows forgreater transfer (application to new problems).

    Kozma, Russell, Jones, Marx, and Davis (1996) have shown that novice learn-ers cannot be expected to direct their attention to core concepts in a discipline.Rather, novices require extensive guidance from experts (teachers) to develop deepthought processing and conceptual understanding. This extensive guidance providesa scaffold to support learners as they proceed on an intellectual apprenticeship fromtheir current state of understanding to a state that is progressively closer to expertsunderstanding.

    Studies of Preservice Personal Elementary Science Teaching Self-Efficacy

    A number of science education researchers have examined various factorsthat contribute to personal science teaching self-efficacy (e.g., Balunuz, Jarrett,& Bulunuz, 2001; Cakiroglu & Boone, 2002; Cantrell, Young, & Moore, 2003;Palmer, 2006; Rice & Roychoudhury, 2003). Based on their conviction that pre-service teachers beliefs about science and science teaching and learning were a

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    limiting factor to their development as teachers in elementary preservice methodscourses, Enochs and Riggs (1990) developed a research program based on Ban-duras self-efficacy theory. An important contribution was the development of avalid and reliable instrument (the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument,STEBI-B) that could be easily administered to measure the two components inthis theory. Based on Banduras two-component model, the STEBI-B is composedof two scales, Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Belief (PSTE) and Science Teach-ing Outcome Expectancy (STOE). They urged that the early detection of low self-efficacy in elementary science teaching was critical to any teacher preparationprogram. Several researchers have heeded this advice and used the STEBI-B toexplore issues of self-efficacy in preservice teachers. For example, Bleicher andLindgren (2005) conducted a study of the learning cycle and self-efficacy. Tosun(2000) studied the effects of prior science coursework on self-efficacy. Schoonand Boone (1998) studied alternative conceptions and self-efficacy. Scharmann andHampton (1995) examined self-efficacy in relation to cooperative learning. Settlage(2000) examined learning cycles and self-efficacy. Three other studies have beenparticularly helpful in informing this current study and are discussed in more detailbelow.

    Jarrett (1999) studied 112 preservice teachers participating in a field-basedelementary science tea


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