Elementary Science Teacher Candidates’ Use of Science Phenomenon for Instruction

An explicit goal of science education as introduced by the NRC (2012) framework is to emphasize on scientific literacy across K-12 grades. Scientific literacy is not limited to developing the knowledge of science as a subject matter but also about having students understand the nature of science, especially, developing an awareness regarding the role of science in the society. Scientific literacy can afford individuals an ability to make sense of and evaluate the impact of science and related policies on personal lives, local communities and across the globe. One of the key steps to accomplish the goal scientific literacy in early grades and beyond is to use real life science phenomenon as a center of science instruction.  Real life phenomenon nurture students’ curiosity and connect classroom science to the real world. Phenomena are “observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict” (Achieve, 2017). A phenomenon- based instruction needs teachers to move away from teaching topics to having students explain the world around them. During such instruction, students must engage in rich learning opportunities that afford the use scientific and engineering practices and crosscutting to uncover the story behind why and how an event happens in the natural world (Fig 1, Reiser, 2014; Schwarz, Passmore, & Reiser,2017). The instructional process should allow students’ the epistemic agency to ultimately use the evidence gathered during learning opportunities to construct a causal explanation for the phenomena (Hutchison & Hammer, 2010; Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten & Stroupe, 2012; Reiser, 2014). To implement the vision of phenomenon- based instruction within classrooms, especially elementary grades, where students are rarely engage in inquiry instruction is a critical challenge ( Beyer & Davis, 2008; Metz, 2011; Biggers, Forbes, Zangori, 2013) One key step is to prepare teachers for this work during the foundational years of teacher preparation. The current research is situated within a science methods course that aimed to prepare teacher candidates to use science phenomena as a context for teaching and learning. We examined, if and how elementary science teacher candidates used phenomena for science instruction within their placement classrooms during a semester of students teaching. We examined two instructional scenarios during which 23 elementary science teacher candidates tried to use real-world phenomenon. These scenarios involved using science phenomenon for a) small group science- talks and b) for planning and implementing classroom-based assessments at the end of a 2-day lesson instruction implemented by them. All 23 teacher candidates belonged to the same section of a science methods course at a large Midwestern university in United States. Teacher Candidates received explicit learning opportunities to learn about the use science phenomenon for talks and assessments within their methods course.  Data sources included audio recordings of science talks, assessment items, teacher candidates’ post written analysis and reflections related to science talks, and students’ written work in response to the assessments. The findings show that teacher candidates struggled to use open ended prompts aligned with the science phenomena during science talks and for designing assessment items. In the science talks, when teacher candidates did use a phenomenon, they often focused on students’ descriptions of it- mainly fixed on eliciting “what” was going on during the event instead of causality and mechanisms underlying it. Phenomenon- based assessments afforded teacher candidates an opportunity to notice students’ reasoning, however they mostly struggled to translate the science phenomena into an actual assessment.  In both science talks and assessments, most candidates did not probe or pay attention to students’ mechanistic thinking around phenomena. The findings can help design targeted learning experiences for preparing teacher candidates to make science phenomena as a center of instruction.  The findings helped diagnose where teacher candidates are in their practice and what experiences they further to translate science phenomena into meaningful instruction that can support students ‘ideas and their sense- making of the natural world.

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