Revealing the Structural Complexity of Component Interactions of Topic-Specific PCK when Planning to Teach

  • Elizabeth Mavhunga


Teaching pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) at a topic-specific level requires clarity on the content-specific nature of the components employed, as well as the specific features that bring about the desirable depth in teacher explanations. Such understanding is often hazy; yet, it influences the nature of teacher tasks and learning opportunities afforded to pre-service teachers in a teaching program. The purpose of this study was twofold: firstly, to illuminate the emerging complexity when content-specific components of PCK interact when planning to teach a chemistry topic; and secondly, to identify the kinds of teacher tasks that promote the emergence of such complexity. Data collected were content representations (CoRes) in chemical equilibrium accompanied by expanded lesson outlines from 15 pre-service teachers in their final year of study towards a first degree in teaching (B Ed). The analysis involved extraction of episodes that exhibited component interaction by using a qualitative in-depth analysis method. The results revealed the structure in which the components of PCK in a topic interact among each other to be linear, interwoven, or a combination of the two. The interwoven interactions contained multiple components that connected explanations on different aspects of a concept, all working in a complementary manner. The most sophisticated component interactions emerged from teacher tasks on descriptions of a lesson sequence and a summary of a lesson. Recommendations in this study highlight core practices for making pedagogical transformation of topic content knowledge more accessible.


Topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge Component interactions Chemical equilibrium Pre-service teachers Transformation of content knowledge 


Funding Information

This work was financially supported by the National Research Foundation of South Africa under the non-rated researchers program, grant no. CSUR160322161050.


  1. Abell, S. A. (2008). Twenty years later: does pedagogical content knowledge remain a useful idea? International Journal of Science Education, 30(10), 1405–1416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aydin, S., Friedrichsen, P. M., Bozc, Y., & Hanuscinb, D. L. (2014). Examination of the topic-specific nature of pedagogical content knowledge in teaching electrochemical cells and nuclear reactions. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 15(4), 658–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aydin, S., Demirdogen, B., Atkin, F. N., Uzuntiryaki-Kondakci, E., & Tarkin, A. (2015). The nature and development of interaction among components of pedagogical content knowledge in practicum. Teaching and Teacher Education, 46, 37–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergquist, W., & Heikkinen, H. (1990). Student ideas regarding chemical equilibrium. Journal of Chemical Education, 67, 1000–1003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carlson, J., & Daehler, K. R. (2018). The refined consensus model of PCK. In A. Hume, & A. Borowski (Eds.), Repositioning PCK in teachers’ professional knowledge (in press).Google Scholar
  6. Cohen, R., & Yarden, A. (2009). Experienced junior-high-school teachers’ PCK in light of a curriculum change: ‘The cell is to be studied longitudinally’. Research in Science Education, 39, 131–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cooper, R., Loughran, J., & Berry, A. (2015). Understanding sophisticated practice. In A. Berry, P. Friedrichsen, & J. Loughran (Eds.), Re-examining pedagogical content knowledge in science education (pp. 60–74). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Davidowitz, B., & Potgieter, M. (2016). Use of the Rasch measurement model to explore the relationship between content knowledge and topic-specific pedagogical content knowledge for organic chemistry. International Journal of Science Education, 38(9), 1483–1503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Garritz, A., & Ortega-Villar, N. A. (2012). Interview and content representations for teaching condensed matter bonding: an affective component of PCK? Paper presented at the The annual National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Indianapolis,USA.Google Scholar
  10. Geddis, A. N., & Wood, E. (1997). Transforming subject matter and managing dilemmas: a case study in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 13(6), 611–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gess-Newsome, J. (2015). A model of teacher professional knowledge and skill including PCK: results of the thinking from the PCK Summit. In A. Berry, P. Friedrichsen, & J. Loughran (Eds.), Re-examining pedagogical content knowledge in science education (pp. 28–42). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Hume, A., & Berry, A. (2010). Constructing CoRes—a strategy for building PCK in pre-service science teacher education. Research in Science Education, 41(3), 341–355. Scholar
  13. Karal, I. S., & Alev, N. (2016). Development of pre-service physics teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) throughout their initial training. Teacher Development, 20(2), 162–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lehane, L., & Bertram, A. (2016). Getting to the CoRe of it: a review of a specific PCK conceptual lens in science educational research. Educacion Quimica, 27(1), 52–58.Google Scholar
  15. Loughran, J. J., Berry, A., & Mulhall, P. (2006). Understanding and developing science teachers pedagogical content knowledge. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. Loughran, J., Keast, S., & Cooper, R. (2016). Pedagogical reasoning in teacher education. In J. Loughran & M. Hamilton (Eds.), International handbook of teacher education (Vol. 1, pp. 387–427).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Magnusson, S., Krajcik, J., & Borko, H. (1999). Nature sources and development of pedagogical content knowledge for science teaching. In J. G. Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical content knowledge: the construct and its implications for science education (pp. 95–132). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
  18. Mavhunga, E., & Rollnick, M. (2013). Improving PCK of chemical equilibrium in pre-service teachers. African Journal of Research in Mathematics. Science and Technology Education, 17(1–2), 113–125.Google Scholar
  19. Mavhunga, E., & Rollnick, M. (2017). Implementing PCK topic by topic in methodology courses - a case study in South Africa. In A. Sickel, & S. Witzig (Eds.), Designing and teaching the secondary science methods course: An international perspective (pp. 149–168). Rotterdam: Sense.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McDonald, M., Kazemi, E., & Kavanagh, S. S. (2013). Core practices and pedagogies of teacher education: a call for a common language and collective activity. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(5), 378–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nezvalová, D. (2011). Researching science teacher pedagogical content knowledge. In Problems of Education in the 21st Century (Vol. 35, pp. 104–118). Accessed 12 Jan 2018.
  22. Park, S., & Chen, Y. (2012). Mapping out the integration of the components of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK): examples from high school biology classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(7), 922–941. Scholar
  23. Park, S., & Oliver, J. S. (2008). Revisiting the conceptualisation of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK): PCK as a conceptual tool to understand teachers as professionals. Research in Science Education, 38, 261–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Park, S., Jang, J., Chen, Y.-C., & Jung, J. (2010). Is pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) necessary for reformed science teaching? Evidence from an empirical study. Research in Science Education, 41, 245–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Polanyi, M. (1962). Tacit knowing: its bearing on some problems of philosophy. Reviews of Modern Physics, 34(4), 601–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Quilez-Pardo, J., & Solaz-Portolez, J. J. (1995). Students’ and teachers’ misapplication of Le Chatelier’s principle: implications for the teaching of chemical equilibrium. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(9), 939–957.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rollnick, M. (2017). Learning about semi conductors for teaching-the role played by content knowledge in pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) development. Research in Science Education, 47(4), 833–868.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sanger, M. N. (2008). What we need to prepare teachers for the moral nature of their work. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(2), 169–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schmelzing, S., Driel, J., Jüttner, M., Brandenbusch, S., Sandmann, A., & Neuhaus, B. (2013). Development, evaluation, and validation of a paper-and-pencil test for measuring two components of biology teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge concerning the “cardiovascular system”. International Journal of Science & Mathematics Education, 11(6), 1369–1390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tyson, L., Treagust, D. F., & Bucat, B. (1999). The complexity of teaching and learning chemical equilibrium. Journal of Chemical Education, 76(4), 554–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. van Driel, J. H., Verloop, N., & de Vos, W. (1998). Developing science teachers pedagogical content knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 673–695.Google Scholar
  32. Veal, W. R., & MaKinster, J. G. (1999). Pedagogical content knowledge taxonomies. Accessed 10 Aug 2016.
  33. Witzig, S. B., & Sickel, A. J. (2017). Setting the landscape: focusing on the methods course in secondary science teacher education. In S. B. Witzig & A. J. Sickel (Eds.), Designing and teaching the secondary science methods course: an international perspective (pp. 1–8). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Science Education Division, Wits School of EducationUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations