Perspectives on learning, learning to teach and teaching elementary science

Open Access
Author:
Avraamidou, Lucy
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
June 12, 2003
Committee Members:
  • Carla Zembal Saul, Committee Chair
  • Thomas Dana, Committee Member
  • Barbara Allen Crawford, Committee Member
  • Priya Sharma, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • web-based portfolios
  • evidence
  • learning
  • teaching
  • science
Abstract:
The framework that characterizes this work is that of elementary teachers’ learning and development. Specifically, the ways in which prospective and beginning teachers’ develop pedagogical content knowledge for teaching science in light of current recommendations for reform emphasizing teaching and learning science as inquiry are explored. Within this theme, the focus is on three core areas: a) the use of technology tools (i.e., web-based portfolios) in support of learning to teach science at the elementary level; b) beginning teachers’ specialized knowledge for giving priority to evidence in science teaching; and c) the applications of perspectives associated with elementary teachers’ learning to teach science in Cyprus, where I was born and raised. The first manuscript describes a study aimed at exploring the influence of web-based portfolios and a specific task in support of learning to teach science within the context of a Professional Development School program. The task required prospective teachers to articulate their personal philosophies about teaching and learning science in the form of claims, evidence and justifications in a web-based forum. The findings of this qualitative case study revealed the participants’ developing understandings about learning and teaching science, which included emphasizing a student-centered approach, connecting physical engagement of children with conceptual aspects of learning, becoming attentive to what teachers can do to support children’s learning, and focusing on teaching science as inquiry. The way the task was organized and the fact that the web-based forum provided the ability to keep multiple versions of their philosophies gave prospective teachers the advantage of examining how their philosophies were changing over time, which supported a continuous engagement in metacognition, self-reflection and self-evaluation. The purpose of the study reported in the second manuscript was to examine the nature of a first-year elementary teacher’s specialized knowledge and practices for giving priority to evidence in science teaching. The findings of this study indicated that Jean not only articulated, but also enacted, a student-centered approach to teaching science, which emphasized giving priority to evidence in the construction of scientific explanations. It also became evident through data analysis that Jean’s practices were for the most part consistent with her knowledge and beliefs. This contradicts the findings of previous studies that indicate a mismatch between beginning teachers’ knowledge and practices. Furthermore, the findings of this study illustrated that critical experiences during teacher preparation and specific university coursework acted as sources through which this aspect of pedagogical content knowledge was generated. The third manuscript proposes new directions for teaching science in elementary schools in Cyprus and makes recommendations to improve the current teacher preparation program in light of the need for a reform. This manuscript is built upon contemporary perspectives of learning and cognition, and is informed by current trends in science education in the United States and United Kingdom. Issues of teaching and learning science as inquiry, engaging in scientific argumentation, and the use of software scaffolds in support of learning and learning to teach science are discussed with special attention to the unique educational setting of Cyprus.