Constructivism and Elementary Preservice Science Teacher Preparation: Knowledge to Application

Article excerpt

This investigation examined the impact of the constructivist learning model on elementary preservice teachers' beliefs in reference to their constructivist knowledge and the practical application of this knowledge. During the 2000-2001 academic year, 511 student teachers completed a "Student Attributes" questionnaire administered by their respective university supervisor. Ninety "Student Attributes" forms were randomly selected for data analysis. The Pearson product-moment correlation (Pearson r) was the relational measurement utilized to determine if there was a statistical correlation between constructivist knowledge and application beliefs. The correlation coefficient for the data between student teachers' beliefs towards constructivist knowledge and application was a high positive relationship of .76 (r = .76. As the student teachers' knowledge of constructivism increased, their belief that they would be "able to apply constructivist principles in the classroom learning situation" tended to increase. This correlation coefficient, r = .76, is considered to be a relatively high positive measure of the strength of the relationship. The high correlation, then, assumes that the more knowledgeable student teachers are in regards to constructivism, the more likely they will be able to apply constructivist principles in the classroom.

Introduction

"While various reform efforts may focus initially on different parts of the science ... education system, e.g., curriculum, assessment, or in-service teacher education, there is a consensus that having a well-prepared teaching force is essential for effective science ... education" (Weiss, 2001, p. 7). There is a widely known concern that elementary science education is lacking in areas that will equip preservice teachers to effectively teach science to elementary students once they enter their chosen profession. The reasoning behind the concern stems from the dismal results reflected in national and international science performance assessments from elementary and secondary students in the United States. Also, based on survey data collected in 1993 and 2000 funded by the National Science Foundation with a probability sample of approximately 6,000 teachers throughout the United States, in self-contained classes, grades 1-6, an average of only about half an hour per day (28 minutes in 1993 and 27 minutes in 2000) was spent on science instruction compared to almost an hour per day (52 minutes in 1993 and 60 minutes in 2000) on mathematics instruction and roughly 70 minutes in 1993 and over 105 minutes in 2000 on reading/language arts instruction (Weiss, Matti, & Smith, 1994; Weiss, Banilower, McMahon, & Smith, 2001). Arguments supporting the need for science education in elementary schools have been based on the desire to develop in students the knowledge, reasoning, and problem solving skills required for a rapidly changing and technologically based society (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Science Teachers Association, 1996).

Theoretical Background

A theoretical / conceptual framework establishes the shared vision for a teacher preparation program's efforts in preparing educators to work in P-12 schools. The constructivist learning model serves as the theoretical / conceptual framework for all teacher preparation programs at the higher education institution studied in this paper. Learner-centered approaches to teaching and schooling require supportive policies for preparing effective educators for P-12 classrooms. At all stages of inquiry, teachers guide, focus, challenge, and encourage student learning.

Since this institution and numerous others throughout the country adhere to the constructivist learning model and its various components, it is being promoted as the theoretical / conceptual framework and guiding principle for teacher education. Therefore, this paper utilizes the theoretical framework of the constructivist learning model and explores its ramifications for teacher preparation. …