Academic journal article Science Educator

The Impact of a Summer Institute on Inservice Early Childhood Teachers' Knowledge of Earth and Space Science Concepts

Academic journal article Science Educator

The Impact of a Summer Institute on Inservice Early Childhood Teachers' Knowledge of Earth and Space Science Concepts

Article excerpt


This study investigated inservice PreK to Grade two teachers' knowledge of some earth and space science concepts before and after a short-term teacher institute. A one-group pre-testpost-test design was used in the current study. Earth science concepts targeted during the professional development included properties of rocks and soils, and the space science concepts included moon shapes and sequences and the cause of moon phases. After the instruction, participants better understood properties of rocks and soil and targeted lunar concepts. They also were able to draw observable moon phases and pattern of changes in phases. The results of the current study indicate that even a short-term professional development enhanced inservice teachers' knowledge of targeted concepts.

Key words: inservice early childhood teachers, teacher professional development, earth science, lunar concepts


Most early childhood teachers do not teach science regularly in their classrooms, and when they do teach science, it is often for less than two hours per week (Greenfield, Jirout, Domínguez, Greenberg, Maier, & Fuccilo, 2009; Tilgner, 1990). In a more recent study, the majority of early childhood teachers reported that they teach science once or twice a week with a total of up to 60 minutes of science instruction (Saçkes, Trundle, Bell, & O'Connell, 2011). Early childhood teachers spend less time on science instruction for several reasons, including lack of time, self-confidence, collégial support, materials, money, space, enthusiasm/interest, and content knowledge (Appleton & Kindt, 1999, 2002; Cho, Kim & Choi, 2003).

Lack of content knowledge in science has been reported to be one of the most important reasons that teachers of young children do not teach science (Appleton, 1992; Cho et al., 2003; Harlen, 1997; Tobin, Briscoe, & Holman, 1990). Kallery and Psillos (2001) reported that only about 22% of the early childhood teachers in their study felt that they had sufficient scientific content knowledge. Garbe tt (2003) found that many early childhood teachers had a limited understanding of the science concepts they are expected to teach, which makes them uncomfortable teaching science, and teachers also reported low confidence in teaching science (Pell & Jarvis, 2003; Tilgner, 1990). Early childhood teachers' lack of confidence in their ability to teach science has been largely attributed to their limited science content knowledge (Appleton, 1995; Schoon & Boone, 1998).

Teachers use a variety of coping strategies to compensate for their lack of science content knowledge including teaching as little of the subject as possible, teaching more biology versus physical science, relying on commercially developed lessons, using non-fiction childrens' trade books, and avoiding all but simple hands-on activities (Akerson, 2004; Harlen, 1997).

Several studies have provided evidence that inservice training can enhance teachers' science content knowledge (Hemler & Repine, 2006; Parker & Heywood, 2000). Parker and Heywood (1998) reported that a ten-day course designed to teach basic astronomy concepts to inservice elementary teachers was effective at improving teachers' knowledge of day and night, seasons, and moon phase concepts. Another ten-day professional development program designed to teach standards-based earth science concepts (e.g. properties and formation of rocks) to nineteen inservice teachers was again effective at improving teachers' knowledge of the related earth science concepts (Trundle, Krissek, & Ucar, 2005). Studies also have shown that in addition to improving teachers' content knowledge, inservice training programs can change teachers' attitude toward science teaching and improve their confidence about science teaching (Jarvis & Pell, 2004). Improved science content knowledge was found to be related to teachers' ability to create inquiry-based science lessons (Luera, Moyer, & Everett, 2005). …

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