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Elementary Science Education: The Influence of Student Teaching-Where It All Begins

Article excerpt

Introduction

Preservice elementary teachers arrive at their student teaching semester with established values, attitudes, and beliefs. They carry with them a lifetime of experiences as learners which strongly influence the way they think about teaching and learning (Ball, 1988; Lortie, 1975). In particular, the beliefs they have about science play a critical role in shaping their patterns of instructional behavior (Thompson, 1992; Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1994). The pedagogical knowledge which they have garnered from methods classes and fieldwork in classrooms also influences their teaching philosophy in regards to science. Many preservice teachers enter their student teaching semester with limited conceptual understandings of scientific ideas regardless of how many previous science classes they have had (Riggs, 1991). This can lead to apprehensions about their ability to teach and their effectiveness as teachers in the area of science. The issue of how to alter preservice teachers' beliefs about science and their ability to teach this subject during their student teaching semester is of considerable interest in the field of science education. In a situation-specific context such as the teaching of science in elementary schools, any concerns that student teachers have about their adequacy as science educators may ultimately result in the implementation of poorly conceptualized and ineffective learning experiences in science that involve little more than a perfunctory commitment of effort and time (Ginns &Watters, 1990). This certainly seems to be the case as over the past few decades the condition of science education in elementary schools has been questioned and concerns have been stated about the quality and amount of instruction in science (eg. Tilgner, 1990; Gee, 1996). "Although one could increase the amount of science in preservice courses, this action would not necessarily lead to increased commitment to the teaching of science by teachers" (Ginns & Watters, 1990, p. 4). Any one of these factors may be the cause of problems in elementary science education. Research into self-efficacy and related science teaching behaviors may provide solutions to these and other problems (Riggs, 1991).

Relation of this Work to Other Efforts / Statement of the Problem

The literature abounds with research depicting elementary science education as lacking in areas that will equip and entice preservice teachers to effectively and consistently teach science to elementary students once they enter the inservice teaching realm. 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 (self-contained elementary 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).

Nevertheless, a sizable proportion of teachers reported instructional emphases that ran counter to current reform recommendations. For example, approximately 20 percent of science classes give heavy emphasis to preparing students for standardized tests, which have been shown to focus on lower level knowledge and skills (Madaus, West, Harmon, Lomax, & Viator, 1992). …