Developing Science Pedagogical Content Knowledge Through Mentoring Elementary Teachers

Abstract

Elementary teachers are typically hesitant to teach science. While a limited knowledge of science content is a reason for this, limited science pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) has emerged as another reason in recent research. This study constitutes two case studies of a professional development program for elementary teachers involving mentoring by a university professor. The mentor took the role of a critical friend in joint planning and teaching of science. The study examines the nature of the mentoring relationship and reports the type of teacher learning that occurred, with a particular focus on the teachers’ development of science PCK.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The case moth is the larval (caterpillar) stage in the life cycles of a number of species belonging to the insect family, Psychidae. The caterpillar spins a silk cocoon to which it attaches leaves or twigs, forming both a camouflage and protective case. A brief summary is available online at http://home.bluepin.net.au/yallaroo/Case_moths.htm (retrieved 14 April, 2005).

  2. 2.

    Difficult.

  3. 3.

    In my experience, teachers do not distinguish between science content knowledge and science PCK, as these are theoretical constructs more useful to researchers and the like.

  4. 4.

    Several early career teachers were involved in the various projects. The focus of the professional development was not highly effective for them, as they were still coping with “survival” issues. That is, they needed a different sort of professional development program. My conclusion was to work with teachers with at least 3–5 years’ experience.

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Acknowledgements

This research was made possible by grants from Central Queensland University, the Rockhampton Diocesan Catholic Education Office, and the Depot Hill school cluster. I greatly appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the teachers with whom I have worked on the respective projects.

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Correspondence to Ken Appleton.

Appendix

Appendix

During my 30 years as an elementary science teacher educator, I have had extensive involvement in teacher professional development in elementary science. The introduction of a new statewide elementary science curriculum prompted a local private school system to ask me to develop a professional development program to support the new curriculum implementation. This led to a series of research and development projects spanning 6 years in both private and state schools. The projects concluded with the presentation of a proposed elementary science professional development model to the local education office of the private school system.

Since the new curriculum was outcomes based and heavily influenced by constructivism, it was not clear whether traditional professional development models reported in the literature would be effective. The analysis of successful, constructivist-framed science professional development reported by Bell and Gilbert (1996) provided some guidelines, but the main approach adopted was to have teachers determine, as much as possible, the content and nature of the professional development. A series of action research projects ensued, where evaluation of each professional development project guided the shape of the subsequent project.

The first project involved participant observation of a small group of teachers cooperatively planning work from the new curriculum, with professional development provided in situ as the need became evident (Appleton and Harrison 2001). The project concluded with the teachers’ reflections and suggestions for professional development that would be effective for colleagues. The next project, which incorporated these suggestions, showed that the model was not effective (Prinsen 2001), resulting in substantial modification of the professional development program based on the research. At this point, comments from the teachers about “activities that work”—and the way they went about planning using such activities—prompted me to revisit earlier research on this (e.g., Appleton 2002) and its relation to science pedagogical content knowledge.

The next project showed that, despite success in having teachers conclude the workshops with a cooperatively planned (with the researcher) ready-to-teach science unit, they did not teach it. On reflection, they later suggested that I should visit them in their classrooms to help them get started. All subsequent projects incorporated this component, which proved to be a key aspect that helped the teachers make actual changes in their science teaching practices. At this time, the professional development was more deliberately framed around development of science PCK (see Appleton 2006, for a summary of those deliberations).

Once the professional development model had been developed to the point where it was beginning to show success in helping teachers, a search began to identify literature that may provide an understanding of what was happening to provide further guidance for improvement. This led to an exploration of the mentoring literature, resulting in a post hoc analysis of the role of mentoring in the professional development, as discussed in this paper. There was one final project after those reported here (see Koch and Appleton 2007).

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Appleton, K. Developing Science Pedagogical Content Knowledge Through Mentoring Elementary Teachers. J Sci Teacher Educ 19, 523–545 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10972-008-9109-4

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Keywords

  • Elementary science
  • Professional development
  • Science
  • PCK
  • Mentoring