Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Primary School Student Teachers' Perceived and Actual Knowledge in Biology

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Primary School Student Teachers' Perceived and Actual Knowledge in Biology

Article excerpt

Introduction

Species and ecosystems should be sustained not only for their utilitarian service to humans, but also because of humanity's moral obligations (Taylor, 2011). When building sustainability, the professional competence of teachers is a key factor. According to Kunter, Klusmann, Baumert, Richter, Voss and Hachfeld (2013), teachers' professional competence includes, among other things, cognitive aspects (e.g., professional knowledge) and beliefs related to learning. Subject content knowledge (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) form an important part of teachers' professional knowledge (Appleton, 2010; Shulman, 1986, 1987). PCK represents the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular aspects of the subject matter are organised, adapted and represented for instruction. The success of teaching, studying and learning processes depends, on the one hand, on CK and PCK (Appleton, 2010; Shulman, 1986, 1987) and, on the other hand, on actual and perceived knowledge (Ziegler & Montplaisir, 2014).

Teachers' and students' perceptions of their own knowledge have an important role in shaping their cognitions. The greater one's feeling of knowing an issue, the more time one wants to spend working on that issue (Johnson, 1994). Perceived knowledge also has implications for behaviour. Attitudes are more predictive for behaviour when they are associated with high rather than low levels of perceived knowledge of a topic (Davidson, Yantis, Norwood, & Monano, 1985).

According Abell and Smith (1994), a significant number of primary school teachers lack sufficient CK and PCK to teach essential scientific ideas in their classrooms. In biology, teachers' subject content knowledge (BCK) includes, for instance, species identification and ecology knowledge. Student teachers' (STs) knowledge of species has decreased during the last twenty years (Braun, Buyer, & Randler, 2010; Lindemann-Matthies & Bose, 2008; Randler, 2008). Furthermore, STs' ability to name animals in different ecosystems is limited, with mammals and birds being best known (Yli-Panula & Matikainen, 2014). The knowledge of species in relation to ecosystems is important in understanding the biodiversity and sustainable development of ecosystems.

In Finnish primary schools, species identification and animal knowledge in relation to biodiversity and sustainable development are part of biology (The Finnish National Board of Education, 2004, 2014). At the heart of PCK is the manner in which subject matter is transformed for teaching. This occurs when the teacher interprets the subject matter and finds different ways to represent it and make it accessible to learners. In Finnish teacher education, PCK studies therefore include discussions about and practice of teaching methods through which student teachers can acquire and create ideas on how to teach species identification and animal knowledge in relation to biodiversity and sustainable development (Faculty of Education, the University of Turku, 2014).

The issues outlined above demonstrate why species knowledge is an important topic in primary education, as well. To our knowledge, no studies of animal species knowledge other than Yli-Panula and Matikainen (2014) have been conducted until now. In the present article, we describe primary school student teachers' (PSSTs) perceived and actual knowledge regarding biological themes such as animal and species name knowledge.

Research questions

The purpose of this study is to interpret and describe (Eskola & Suoranta, 2014) how PSSTs evaluate their perceived knowledge in relation to their actual knowledge. Based on the results, the biology curriculum and instruction in elementary teacher education will be developed. The research questions are as follows:

1. What is the PSSTs' level of actual knowledge concerning animal and species names, as measured by the number of animals and species named in four different ecosystems? …

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