Improving the Science Teaching Self Efficacy of Preservice Elementary Teachers: A Multiyear Study of a Hybrid Geoscience Course

By Cervato, Cinzia; Kerton, Charles | Journal of College Science Teaching, November-December 2017 | Go to article overview

Improving the Science Teaching Self Efficacy of Preservice Elementary Teachers: A Multiyear Study of a Hybrid Geoscience Course


Cervato, Cinzia, Kerton, Charles, Journal of College Science Teaching


Many incoming preservice elementary education teachers have low levels of interest and proficiency in science that can lead to a failure to understand why science is an important part of the curriculum they will be expected to teach. Exposure to science content and science pedagogy courses in isolation is not likely to impact this well-entrenched attitude with the disheartening outcome that science will continue to be cursorily taught in the elementary grades (e.g., Dorph, Shields, Tiffany-Morales, Hartry, & McCaffrey, 2011; Howitt, 2007).

The college curriculum for preservice elementary education teachers is a smorgasbord of content and pedagogy. Out of more than 100 credits, only 12 are commonly dedicated to science, of which nine cover life, Earth and space, and physical science content and three are for science pedagogy. A standard approach in curriculum design encourages students to cover their science content courses in their first or second year in college, whereas the course on how to teach science is an upper level course (Bleicher, 2009; Bleicher & Lindgren, 2005).

It should not come as a surprise to anybody familiar with the literature on science education for preservice elementary teachers that the science self-efficacy of these students, defined as their confidence in their ability to do science (Bandura, 1977), is relatively low, and most of them are afraid of it (e.g., Bleicher & Lindgren, 2005; Pajares, 1996; Tosun, 2000). The vast majority have taken as few science courses in high school as their programs allowed and found them difficult, boring, and/or frustrating (Bleicher & Lindgren, 2005). However, as two science faculty and new instructors of an online Earth and space science course for elementary education majors, we were surprised by the frequent comments by students who wonder why they need to learn science to become elementary teachers. After all, we love science, why shouldn't they?

Low science self-efficacy has been shown to influence the career choice of young women, and it explains, at least in part, the gender difference in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields (Betz & Hackett, 1986). Although women are better represented in the workforce now than they were 15 years ago, the number of women in STEM fields, where salaries tend to be higher, remains lower than elsewhere (Cataldi, Siegel, Shepherd, & Cooney, 2014).

So although the low science self*efficacy of our students was to be expected, these preservice teachers have the potential of influencing a couple of generations of K-5 students throughout their career. Because self-efficacy is domain specific and context dependent (Klassen, Tze, Betts, & Gordon, 2011), and directly connected to the achievement of a specific task, we are interested in these students' science teaching self-efficacy (STSE). Higher levels of teaching self-efficacy correlate with improved student learning (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Steca, & Malone, 2006), and giving these students the content knowledge and confidence to teach Earth and space science is the main goal of our course.

Usher and Pajares (2006, 2008) hypothesized that the successful completion of a task increases the confidence in one's ability to complete that task--that is, increases their self-efficacy. Assessing students enrolled in science methods courses, Palmer (2006) showed that they use forms of self-efficacy that are unique to teaching and do not fit in Bandura's (1977) original schema. Content knowledge and pedagogical mastery are the most significant factors in teaching self-efficacy (Bautista, 2011; Palmer, 2006; Zundans-Fraser & Lancaster, 2012), suggesting that learning new science content can improve STSE. Others find a strong correlation between content knowledge and teaching self-efficacy (e.g., Cantrell, Young, & Moore, 2003; Menon & Sadler, 2016). Most of these studies were conducted at the end of students' undergraduate career, showing that taking more than two undergraduate science courses results in higher STSE (Enochs & Riggs, 1990; Luera & Otto, 2005; Ramey-Gassert, Shroyer, & Staver, 1996). …

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