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Exploring preservice elementary teachers’ critique and adaptation of science curriculum materials in respect to socioscientific issues

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The work presented here represents a preliminary effort undertaken to address the role of teachers in supporting students’ learning and decision-making about socioscientific issues (SSI) by characterizing preservice elementary teachers’ critique and adaptation of SSI-based science curriculum materials and identifying factors that serve to mediate this process. Four undergraduate preservice elementary teachers were studied over the course of one semester. Results indicate that the teachers navigated multiple learning goals, as well as their own subject-matter knowledge, informal reasoning about SSI, and role identity, in their critique and adaptation of SSI-oriented science instructional materials. Implications for science teacher education and the design of curriculum materials in respect to SSI are discussed.

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Correspondence to Cory T. Forbes.



Appendix A—Interview protocol

Reference lesson plan

  1. 1.

    Describe what you do when you come across a new science lesson for the first time. How do you decide if you’ll use it and, if so, how you’ll use it?

  2. 2.

    What do you think about modifying science lessons? When you do change lessons before teaching them, how do you go about it?

  3. 3.

    Have you ever developed a science lesson from scratch and then taught it? If so, describe the lesson and how you went about doing this.

  4. 4.

    What are your initial thoughts on this lesson?

  5. 5.

    How does this lesson compare to science lessons you taught or observed being taught during your field experiences and/or student teaching?

  6. 6.

    What are some aspects of it you like?

  7. 7.

    What are some aspects of it you like less?

  8. 8.

    What are some management concerns you’d have with this lesson?

  9. 9.

    How does the lesson meet or not meet each of the following criteria? Recall the criteria we used in class for critiquing lessons.

    1. a.

      Questioning and predicting

    2. b.

      Making explanations using evidence

    3. c.

      Communicating and justifying findings

    4. d.

      Anticipating and dealing with students’ ideas

  10. 10.

    What might you change about the lesson and why? How would you rate the relative importance of the changes you suggested?

Read scenario

  1. 11.

    What is your immediate personal response to Alex’s comments?

  2. 12.

    Do you believe humans are more important than other forms of life? Explain.

  3. 13.

    Do you think environmental issues are important? Why or why not?

  4. 14.

    Do you think morals or ethics should play a role in how we address environmental issues? Why or why not?

  5. 15.

    What do you want your students to understand about environmental issues? Why?

  6. 16.

    Why do you think environmental issues are so controversial?

  7. 17.

    How would you respond to Alex’s comment and wrap-up the lesson?

  8. 18.

    Does this scenario change your initial opinion of the lesson?

  9. 19.

    Do you think your own beliefs and values affect how you would teach this lesson? How?

  10. 20.

    How might your critique of the lesson change based on the scenario?

Appendix B—Interview lesson

Abstract: Students simulate the flow of energy through a food chain by acting as grasshoppers, shrews, or hawks and “eating” corn sprayed with pesticides.

Standards and Benchmarks: Changes in an organism’s habitat are sometimes beneficial to it and sometimes harmful (AAAS).

Objectives: Students will understand how pesticides and other environmental pollutants can negatively impact a food chain.

Class Time Needed: One forty-five minute period

Student Background: Students need to understand how a food chain operates.


  • 50–100 Pictures of corn (2/3 yellow, 1/3 another color)

  • Identity cards for each student (1–2 hawks, 3–4 shrews, 9–18 grasshoppers)

  • One paper bag per student

Science Background: Human ecology focuses on the relationship between humans and the environment. Humans can affect the environment in a number of ways including poor farming practices, pollution, and urbanization.

There are many elements that may affect the flow of a food chain. First, any sort of natural disaster can take homes away from animals or leave trees and plants to rot. This may cause less food for the animals to eat and less shelter. A man-made disaster such as an oil spill can wipe out a population of a species of animal and thus the food chain in that environment would not be complete.


  1. 1.

    Ask students the following question: How would you make a food chain using a shrew, hawk, corn plant, and grasshopper? (The grasshopper eats the corn plant.)

  2. 2.

    Once students have agreed on the food chain, divide the class into three categories: shrew, hawk, or grasshopper.

  3. 3.

    Have students go to the playground. Scatter pictures of corn around this area (some yellow, some non-yellow).

  4. 4.

    Give the “grasshoppers” 15 seconds to collect as much corn as they can in their “stomachs” (paper bags).

  5. 5.

    After 15 seconds, have the “shrew” hunt the “grasshoppers.” Each time the “shrew” tags the “grasshopper,” the “grasshopper” needs to turn over their “stomachs.”

  6. 6.

    After another 15 seconds, have the “hawks” hunt the “shrews.” Each time the “hawk” tags the “shrew,” they must turn over their “stomachs.” Whoever is tagged must sit down.

  7. 7.

    Whoever is left alive will come to the front of the class and dump the contents of their “stomach” on the table. It will be divided into two categories—yellow and not yellow.

  8. 8.

    Record these results on the board.

  9. 9.

    Tell students that the non-yellow corn was sprayed with pesticides. Explain that pesticides help keep the plant alive—but may be harmful to animals.

  10. 10.

    Explain the rules of the game:

    • If a grasshopper’s “stomach” contained any non-yellow corn, that grasshopper is dead from pesticide poisoning.

    • Each shrew that has half or more of their food supply having non-yellow corn would also be considered dead

    • The hawk probably would not die because of this pesticide use, but a large accumulation of pesticide in the hawk’s body may damage the reproductive system (the eggs may have shells that are too thin to survive)

  11. 11.

    Ask students the following questions. Have them write their responses in their science journals:

    • Why did the grasshoppers who ate yellow corn die?

    • Why did the shrews who ate the grasshoppers die?

    • Why are the hawks in danger of getting sick from eating the shrews?

    • What are some other ways that humans can hurt an ecosystem?

    • How can we stop some of these things from happening?

  12. 12.

    Facilitate a discussion around these questions. Some students may have heard of the destruction of the rainforest or large oil spills that affect the wildlife that live in bodies of water. Students should know that if something lower on the food chain (such as a grasshopper or fish) ingests something harmful then all of the consumers eat it have the potential of getting sick also.

Assessment: Collect students’ journals. Make sure they understand that if something lower on the food chain ingests something that is harmful (like a pesticide), then the consumer that eats it may become sick also.

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Forbes, C.T., Davis, E.A. Exploring preservice elementary teachers’ critique and adaptation of science curriculum materials in respect to socioscientific issues. Sci & Educ 17, 829–854 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-007-9080-z

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  • Elementary science
  • Socioscientific issues
  • Science teacher education
  • Curriculum materials