Content Knowledge and Classroom Inquiry Style: Factors Influencing Inquiry-based Science Teaching Practice of Elementary Student Teachers

Open Access
Ward, Annmarie Rehm
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 21, 2007
Committee Members:
  • Carla Zembal Saul, Committee Chair
  • Gregory John Kelly, Committee Chair
  • Scott P Mcdonald, Committee Member
  • Bernard Joel Badiali, Committee Member
  • teacher preparation
  • pedagogical content knowledge
  • curricular vision
  • classroom inquiry
  • orientation toward teaching science
  • elementary science teaching
This comparative case study explores the interface between substantive content knowledge (SCK) of science concepts and inquiry-based teaching of those concepts through fine-grained examination of the inquiry-based science teaching practice of three elementary student teachers who shared the same year-long elementary teacher internship program within a professional development school program involving a major northeastern university and a neighboring school district, and whose student teaching contexts were very similar, including teaching the same unit on light and sound at the same elementary school. Four elements were determined individually and analyzed cross-case for the three participants: 1) specific problematic content knowledge-related teaching events that arose during inquiry-based teaching of specific concepts of sound and light, 2) the nature of the three student teachers’ substantive content knowledge (CK) of those concepts examined in terms of depth, interconnectedness, organization and understanding of importance of underlying concepts, 3) their individual classroom inquiry style (CIS) described in terms of eight emergent aspects and representing consistencies in the way individual participants implemented classroom inquiry for teaching multiple science concepts, and 4) their orientations toward teaching science (OTS). Key findings indicate that 1) The majority of problematic events exhibited by the three participants related to choosing and implementing important learning goals; 2) Using emergent aspects of CIS to analyze teaching allowed differentiation among the three participants’ very similar inquiry-based teaching; 2) Although limitations in substantive CK could account for all of the observed problematic content knowledge-related teaching events, CIS provided an alternative and often more plausible explanation, contradicting current literature ascribing limitations in conversationally risky teaching practice to limitations in CK; 3) Certain aspects of CIS (scientific rigor and coherence of investigations) were more consistently associated with level of CK, while other aspects (focus on intended learning goal; level of teacher directedness; explicitness of connections among observations, evidence and claims; opportunities for open discussion, and opportunities for understanding student thinking) were more closely linked to the participants’ OTS. Important implications of these findings include 1) the value of analyzing CIS in addition to Features of Classroom Inquiry when analyzing inquiry-based teaching; 2) Importance of CIS as a tool for developing individual trajectories for enhancing elementary teachers’ inquiry-based teaching; and 3) the importance of specialized content courses for elementary teachers at all stages of their professional development continuum integrating curricular vision and general science teaching strategies.