Studies on teacher education have given increasing attention to pedagogical content knowledge (PCK): the knowledge necessary for teaching specific content as a theoretical construct. As a component of the teacher’s professional knowledge base, orientations toward teaching science (OTS) are critical to developing the PCK needed for inquiry-based science teaching. However, there is a lack of understanding about the relationships between OTS and the content to be taught and OTS and students’ education levels. This study explored the OTS of 86 first-year Thai preservice teachers with different majors upon their entry into a science teacher education program. Their pedagogical orientations were measured with the existing Pedagogy of Science Teaching Test. The results revealed that most preservice teachers’ OTS are between the “active direct” and the “guided inquiry”. There was no significant relationship between their OTS and the subject matter; however, there was a relationship with the students’ education levels. For instruction at the secondary level, the preservice teachers’ OTS were less likely to be inquiry-based. A qualitative analysis of the written justifications indicated that the preservice teachers’ perceptions of students’ ways of learning influenced their pedagogical tendencies. This suggests that the participants perceived that the students’ education levels would influence their learning strategies. Therefore, for preservice science teachers to develop inquiry-based OTS and PCK, teacher education should emphasize on how students best learn science to achieve scientific literacy.
Scientific literacy has long been a central goal of science education in Thailand and many other countries (Abd-El-Khalick et al. 2004; Yuenyong and Narjailaew 2009). To achieve this goal, inquiry-based instruction is recommended because it allows students to learn science by engaging in knowledge construction through scientific inquiry (Dahsah and Faikhamta 2008). Scientific inquiry includes asking scientific questions, proposing testable hypotheses, collecting empirical data, making inferences and conclusions based on the data, and engaging in scientific reasoning and argumentation (National Research Council 2007). This poses a significant challenge for many science teachers who are expected to change their teaching practices from traditional lecture-based instruction to more inquiry-based approaches (Faikhamta and Ladachart 2016). Key to science education reform is science teachers’ having the knowledge base and beliefs that are appropriate for inquiry-based science teaching (Magnusson et al. 1999). However, learning to teach science as inquiry can be challenging for science teachers even if they receive support through professional development (Crawford 2007). Thus, facilitating science teachers’ learning to teach science as inquiry has also been a challenge in science teacher education (Faikhamta et al. 2018).
In an effort to support science teachers’ learning to teach science as inquiry, researchers have described the knowledge base and beliefs that are necessary for inquiry-based science teaching. Since Shulman (1986) introduced the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) theoretical construct to describe the knowledge and beliefs necessary for teaching specific content, it has been conceptualized and elaborated for guiding science teacher education and research (Abell 2008). In many models of science teachers’ PCK for inquiry-based instruction (e.g., Magnusson et al. 1999; Park and Chen 2012; Park and Oliver 2008), orientations toward teaching science (OTS) have been identified as overarching or central among other components, such as knowledge of science curricula, students, instructional strategies, and assessment. It has been suggested that science teachers’ OTS can serve as a filter for their development of the PCK for teaching specific science topics (Avraamidou 2013) and a lens through which their classroom practices can be understood (Boesdorfer and Lorsbach 2014). Given their influential role in developing PCK, OTS deserve more attention if this construct is to be useful for guiding science teacher education (Abell 2008).
In a critical review of PCK research, Friedrichsen et al. (2011) found that OTS are often used by science education researchers. Their use varies, and the relationships with the other components are not coherent; consequently, the nature of OTS becomes an issue. For example, whether science teachers’ OTS vary when they teach different science disciplines is unclear. OTS have been defined as “knowledge and beliefs about the purposes and goals for teaching science” (Magnusson et al. 1999, p. 97), thus suggesting that they are not discipline-specific. However, at least one study (Breslyn and McGinnis 2012) has indicated that individuals that teach more than one science discipline can hold multiple OTS, implying that they can be discipline-specific. Whether there is a relationship between science teachers’ OTS and students’ education levels is unclear. While OTS are considered “a general [emphasis added] way of viewing or conceptualizing science teaching” (Magnusson et al. 1999, p. 97), Friedrichsen and Dana (2005) found that beliefs about students can be a source of OTS. This has been confirmed by Ramnarain and Schuster (2014), who argued that differences in science teachers’ OTS could result from contextual factors, including student ability.
This study therefore examined the OTS of Thai preservice science teachers upon their entry into a science teacher education program. It assessed the degree to which their OTS were aligned with inquiry-based science teaching, as recommended by Thailand’s science education reforms. According to Buaraphan (2012), PCK is an unfamiliar construct for many Thai researchers; thus, Thai preservice science teachers’ OTS as a key component of PCK have not been studied. Without an understanding of the teachers’ initial OTS, designing an effective science teacher education curriculum that manages and directs those initial OTS toward inquiry-based ones would be difficult. This study also examined the role of science disciplines and students’ education levels in preservice science teachers’ OTS. This study is significant because science teachers in Thailand sometimes have to teach science outside their content specialties at multiple education levels (Siribanpitak 2019). A better understanding of their OTS could inform the design of science teacher education programs to promote the inquiry-based OTS necessary for developing PCK. This study also contributes to the literature on preservice science teachers’ OTS.
Pedagogical Content Knowledge
According to Shulman (1986), fundamental to PCK is that to develop and to implement effective instruction, teachers must have knowledge that is different from that of content specialists. This implies that acquiring content knowledge is not sufficient for teachers and that merely presenting content knowledge to students is not effective for learning. Rather, teachers must transform their content knowledge into forms of representation that are accessible and understandable to students, and pedagogical knowledge plays a significant role. Consequently, PCK becomes a “special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding” (Shulman 1987, p. 8). Based on this fundamental idea, the types of knowledge, in addition to content and pedagogical knowledge, that might facilitate teachers’ development of PCK have been conceptualized and elaborated. Grossman (1990), for example, emphasized the importance of understanding the students and the purposes for teaching the subject matter as equal to content and pedagogical knowledge in the conceptualization of PCK.
To achieve scientific literacy through science education, Magnusson et al. (1999) proposed a PCK model for science teaching. It comprised five components: OTS, in addition to knowledge of science curricula, assessment of scientific literacy, instructional strategies, and students’ understanding. Similar to Grossman (1990), who conceptualized the purposes for teaching subject matter, Magnusson et al. defined OTS as the knowledge and beliefs about the purposes and goals of teaching science. In this model, OTS are highlighted as an overarching component that shapes the other four components. Interactions among the other four components are absent; consequently, Park and Chen (2012) proposed a pentagon model in which the other four components influence one another. In this pentagon model, reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action are the mechanisms by which science teachers integrate all of these components to develop PCK. Park and Oliver (2008) added an affective component, teacher efficacy, to the pentagon model. The result is a hexagon in which OTS not only influence but are also influenced by the other five components. Despite some differences, these models present a consensus on the overarching role of OTS in PCK.
The interpretations and understanding of the PCK construct have been influenced by the various models, thereby providing opportunities for the dilution of its power and contribution to the improvement of science teaching and learning (Carlson et al. 2015). In an effort to develop a unified or consensus PCK model for science teaching, Gess-Newsome (2015) proposed a teacher professional knowledge and skills (TPK&S) model in which PCK is a component, thus enhancing its explanatory power.
The TPK&S model describes different types of teacher knowledge. First is a generic teacher professional knowledge base (TPKB) that results from research and best practices, such as knowledge of classroom management strategies and formative assessment techniques. While the TPKB is generic and not content specific, it informs and is informed by the second type of knowledge: topic-specific professional knowledge (TSPK), which is specific not only to a topic but also the student’s developmental level. Nonetheless, TSPK is similar to the TPKB in that it is also generated by research or best practices. A key difference is that TSPK is public knowledge for teaching a specific topic with a specific group of students. It is TSPK that has been previously associated with PCK; however, in this recent model is not PCK.
In the TPK&S model, PCK is considered a type of knowledge that is personal, dynamic, and tacit. These characteristics distinguish PCK from TSPK. In contrast to the TPKB and TSPK, which are context-free, PCK is context-specific; it relates to a specific experience. As defined by Gess-Newsome (2015, p. 36), personal PCK is “the knowledge of, reasoning behind, and planning for teaching a particular topic in a particular way for a particular purpose to particular students for enhanced student outcomes”. Thus, PCK can be assessed only within the classroom as teachers plan and implement a lesson. Between TSPK and PCK are teacher amplifiers and filters that act as the lenses through which individual teachers embrace, reject, or modify TSPK and its application to their personal PCK. Teacher amplifiers and filters include other variables, such as views about the societal goals for schooling, orientations toward preferred instructional strategies, and the preferred organization of the content in the various disciplines. It is important to note that in the recent TPK&S model, OTS are no longer an aspect of PCK. However, they still play a central role in teachers’ professional knowledge base because teachers integrate TSPK into their personal PCK through OTS as a kind of amplifiers and filters.
Even the PCK construct has been extended to cover the notion of integrating technological knowledge into the TPKB (Mishra and Koehler 2006). The result is the technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK), or the more recent abbreviation TPACK, framework (Koehler et al. 2013). However, OTS still play a critical role in guiding science teachers in the integration and application of technology to achieve their goals for science teaching (Campbell et al. 2014). Therefore, first-year preservice science teachers’ intuitive OTS were the focus of this study.
Orientations Toward Teaching Science
In the Magnusson et al.'s (1999) model, which is most often cited in the PCK literature in science education, OTS are defined as teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about the purposes and goals for teaching science at a particular grade level. In this model, OTS act as a conceptual map for instructional decisions and play an important role in shaping the other components of PCK. Given their definition and role in this model, OTS have gained a great deal of attention in the science education research related to PCK. However, other terminology has been used. According to Friedrichsen et al. (2009), OTS can refer to conceptions of science teaching, functional paradigms, world images, preconceptions of teaching, and approaches to teaching. Regardless of the terminology, OTS are often personally constructed by science teachers as a result of the cognitive apprenticeships (Lortie 1975) through which they observed their own science teachers’ classroom practices (Ladachart 2011). Consequently, OTS represent a general perspective through which science teachers conceptualize science teaching, i.e., their goals and the typical characteristics of the instruction provided (Magnusson et al. 1999).
Not only the terminology but also the types of OTS have been debated in the literature. In their seminal work, Magnusson et al. (1999) identified nine OTS: process, academic rigor, didactic, conceptual change, activity-driven, discovery, project-based science, inquiry, and guided inquiry. While some of these OTS have been confirmed (Faikhamta 2013; Kind 2016), there may be some overlap. A science teacher’s OTS may be too complex for categorization (Friedrichsen et al. 2011). In other words, a science teacher could simultaneously have more than one OTS. In such cases, some are central or dominant, and the others are peripheral or auxiliary (Friedrichsen and Dana 2005). Instead of identifying one type of predetermined OTS for a science teacher, many studies have described individual science teachers’ OTS (Lotter et al. 2007; Nargund-Joshi et al. 2011). A detailed analysis of OTS can be time-consuming (Friedrichsen and Dana 2003), and it inevitably limits the number of science teachers who can be participants in any given study. The goal of promoting scientific literacy via inquiry-based instruction facilitates the assessment of a large number of science teachers’ OTS with respect to their consistency with authentic scientific inquiry (Cobern et al. 2014).
While the types of OTS can be a concern, studies have consistently shown that OTS can act as amplifiers and filters in science teachers’ cognitive systems (Gess-Newsome 2015). In other words, OTS influence not only science teachers’ approaches to teaching specific topics (Boesdorfer and Lorsbach 2014) but also their development of PCK (Brown et al. 2013). In the case of amplifiers, Eick and Reed (2002) found that preservice science teachers with strong inquiry OTS benefitted from supportive experiences in science teacher education that emphasizes inquiry-based instruction. In addition, they could more easily activate their facilitating roles to support the students’ scientific inquiries. In the case of filters, Friedrichsen et al. (2009) found that science teachers’ pedagogical knowledge was filtered through their didactic OTS because their instructional strategies were based on providing information to students. OTS as amplifiers and filters have been illustrated in studies investigating the interactions among OTS and the other PCK components. For example, Park and Chen (2012) found that a didactic OTS held by a science teacher could influence his/her knowledge of instructional strategies and that such a connection could inhibit the development of connections with the other PCK components.
Another issue is the nature of OTS. On the basis of a critical review, Friedrichsen et al. (2011) proposed three dimensions for OTS. They comprise the goals and purposes of science teaching, views of science, and beliefs about teaching and learning. This proposal has provided a framework for investigations of the nature of OTS. In the case of preservice science teachers, not all of these dimensions have been explored with empirical research. In one study that did, Kind (2016) found that only five of 20 preservice science teachers with informed views of science expressed inquiry-based OTS. Rather, she found that in OTS, ideas about teaching and learning science were emphasized more than beliefs about science. Therefore, OTS could be defined as the ideas and knowledge about learning and teaching science. Similarly, Demirdöğen (2016) suggested that direct interactions among beliefs about the nature of science and the other components of PCK were dependent on the existence of a direct relationship between those beliefs and the purposes for teaching science. This implies a trivial or indirect role for beliefs about science, as a proposed dimension of OTS, in shaping the PCK components. A recent study of preservice science teachers by Ladachart (2019) found a lack of a relationship between the understanding of the nature of science and the OTS.
Sandoval (2005) made an important point regarding views or epistemologies of science. He argued that there are two different epistemologies held by students, formal epistemology and practical epistemology. Formal epistemology refers to “students’ expressed beliefs about professional or formal science”, while practical epistemology refers to “epistemological ideas that students apply to their own scientific knowledge building through inquiry” (Sandoval, 2005, p. 635). This distinction corresponds with Hogan’s (2000) two kinds of students’ knowledge about the nature of science, distal knowledge and proximal knowledge, respectively. In this regard, Sandoval (2005) noted that it is practical epistemology, rather than formal epistemology, that influences student learning through inquiry. This epistemological distinction helps explain why preservice science teachers with informed views of science did not hold OTS in a manner that was consistent with their views of science. It is possible that, while they knew how scientific knowledge is constructed, they may not construct their own knowledge in a similar manner. This is supported by Kang (2008), who pointed out that, instead of science teachers’ epistemology of science, it is their personal epistemologies (e.g., knowing as receiving knowledge versus knowing as active meaning construction) that play a role in their espoused goals of science teaching. According to these research results, views of science as a proposed dimension of OTS were not a focus in this study.
Hanuscin et al. (2011) suggested that OTS can be context-specific. Context can refer to the science disciplines (e.g., physics, chemistry, and biology) that are taught. Studies have indicated discipline-related differences in the conduct of scientific inquiry (Gray 2014). Consequently, science teachers may epistemologically commit to some specific discipline and its application to their personal epistemology. This was demonstrated by Veal and Kubasko (2003). Biology and geology teachers tended to have different epistemological orientations, which influenced their approaches to teaching evolution. Breslyn and McGinnis (2012) found disciplinary differences in science teachers’ conceptions of inquiry. For an individual teacher, the conceptions of inquiry were related to the discipline taught. Ramnarain and Schuster (2014) discussed domain- or topic-specific OTS. They asserted that science teachers’ OTS were influenced by subject-matter competence. These studies investigated experienced science teachers; thus, the findings might not be generalizable to preservice science teachers with a limited commitment to the science disciplines.
Science teachers’ OTS can be influenced by other contextual factors, i.e., the school and classroom environments, such as class size, resource availability, time constraints, student ability, school culture, and parental expectations (Nargund-Joshi et al. 2011). In a comparison of two groups of science teachers working in different school contexts, Ramnarain and Schuster (2014) found more didactic OTS among the teachers at disadvantaged township schools than those at suburban schools. The latter exhibited more inquiry-based OTS. These findings were confirmed in a subsequent study. The science teachers at the more privileged schools showed stronger guided- and open-inquiry OTS than those at the less privileged schools (Ramnarain et al. 2016). Regarding the classroom context, Mavuru and Ramnarain (2018) found that the integration of students’ socio-cultural practices, experiences, and beliefs can influence science teachers’ OTS in that they become more process- and activity-driven. Suh and Park (2017) argued that a change in views on student learning facilitated or catalyzed science teachers’ inquiry-based OTS. These findings support Friedrichsen and Dana’s (2005) assertion that beliefs about students can serve as a source of OTS. As was the case with discipline specificity and OTS, the aforementioned studies focused on experienced science teachers; thus, the findings might not be generalizable to preservice science teachers with limited teaching experience in schools and with students.
Given the significance of OTS, it is critical that science teacher education programs facilitate preservice science teachers’ inquiry-based OTS to facilitate the development of PCK. Previous studies have indicated a tendency for science teachers to hold didactic OTS as a result of their cognitive apprenticeship as students (Friedrichsen et al. 2009; Ladachart 2011). Therefore, science teachers’ initial OTS need to be assessed and addressed to facilitate the development of more inquiry-based OTS (Lotter et al. 2007). Changing science teachers’ didactic OTS can be challenging (Kind 2016) because they are robust and highly resistant to change (Brown et al. 2013). This finding suggests the need for well-designed science teacher education programs. In a retrospective study of preservice teachers with inquiry-based OTS, Avraamidou (2013) noted that preservice science teachers’ OTS regarding inquiry can be shaped by experiences, e.g., inquiry-based investigations, contemporary theoretical discussions, outdoor field studies, friendly classroom environments, and instructor characteristics.
On the basis of the review of the literature, it can be summarized that OTS plays influential roles in preservice science teachers’ PCK development. It can act as a filter and/or amplifier, when preservice science teachers gain experiences and develop PCK during science teacher education programs. However, the nature of OTS is not well understood especially in cases of Thai preservice science teachers. While it is rather conclusive that preservice science teachers’ views, beliefs, and epistemologies of science do not significantly influence their OTS as was theoretically proposed, it is suggested that their personal or practical epistemology matters in this regard. Moreover, previous studies of experienced science teachers suggest context-specific OTS regarding the science disciplines, classroom environments, and especially the students. However, what remains an issue is whether such contextual factors can influence preservice science teachers’ OTS. As a result, context-specific OTS needs to be explored in cases of preservice science teachers that have limited experience with students and limited commitment to the science disciplines. This study sought to determine the presence of context-specific OTS in Thai preservice science teachers by focusing on two contextual factors (i.e., subject matters to be taught and students’ education levels). This study will contribute to the knowledge base on the nature of preservice science teachers’ OTS, and this will facilitate improvements in the design of science teacher education programs.
This study aims to explore initial OTS of first-year preservice science teachers who had just entered a science teacher education program in Thailand. In doing so, the following four research questions were posed:
What are the initial OTS of first-year Thai preservice science teachers?
Are first-year preservice science teachers’ OTS influenced by their majors, i.e., physics, chemistry, and biology?
Are the preservice teachers’ initial OTS influenced by the subject matter?
Are the preservice teachers’ initial OTS influenced by the students’ education levels?
The study adopted a mixed-methods approach to address to the research questions. According to Creswell and Plano Clark (2011), the central premise of a mixed-methods approach is that “the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches, in combination, provides a better understanding of research problems than either approach alone” (p. 5). The mixed-methods approach was considered appropriate for the study because quantitative data alone might not be sufficient to provide insights into the underlying reasons for the preservice science teachers’ answers regarding their OTS. Therefore, qualitative data were used as a supportive set of data to help explain the quantitative results. Given various ways of mixing quantitative and qualitative approaches, this study utilized an embedded design, in which a qualitative strand was added to a quantitative design. In this regard, quantitative and qualitative data were concurrently collected using the same instrument. With a priority given to the quantitative approach, quantitative data were analyzed to assess the general tendencies in the preservice science teachers’ OTS. Then, qualitative data were analyzed to provide a deeper explanation of the quantitative findings. The study is described below.
The study was conducted at a northern Thailand university with a unique science education program. According to Faikhamta et al. (2018), there are typically two kinds of science teacher education programs in Thailand: the five-year bachelor’s degree program and the two-year master’s degree program. The undergraduate education program recruits students completing their secondary education, and the graduate education program recruits those completing a bachelor’s degree related to science. The program in which this research was conducted is referred to locally as a five-year parallel program. Students completing their secondary education enroll simultaneously in two bachelor’s degree programs: one in science and the other in education. Upon completion of these two programs, they receive two bachelor’s degrees. Thus, their commitment to a science discipline is assumed to be stronger than that of preservice science teachers studying for a bachelor’s degree in education only. They must study several science courses, as well as education courses, as required by the Teachers’ Council of Thailand.
The participants comprised 86 Thai first-year preservice science teachers, 21 males and 65 females, who were engaged in the five-year parallel program. They were divided into three groups according to their majors or disciplines: physics, chemistry, and biology. There were 28 physics majors (10 males and 18 females), 29 chemistry majors (3 males and 26 females), and 29 biology majors (8 males and 21 females). All the participants were purposefully selected for convenient reasons (Patton 2002) given that they were enrolled in Self-Actualization for Professional Teachers, a course that introduces them to their future role as science teachers and the laws and rules governing teachers. Before taking this course, they had completed only one educational course: Educational Philosophy. They were studying the fundamental sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and biology, during their first year of studies.
While there are many ways to assess science teachers’ OTS, the Pedagogy of Science Teaching Test (POSTT) (Cobern et al. 2014) was used in this study. First, this instrument was designed to assess the science teachers’ OTS in light of the Thai science education reforms that have resulted in a focus on inquiry-based instruction. Second, its structure is consistent with the science discipline classification according to Thailand’s National Core Science Curriculum Standards (NCSCS): biological sciences (BS), physical science (PS), and earth and astronomical sciences (EAS). Thus, the study focused on discipline-specific OTS. Third, the POSTT is a contextualized assessment. Questions based on instructional scenarios allowed the participants to make decisions and to provide their underlying pedagogical reasons. Thus, the students’ education levels were explicit as contextual cues in the scenarios to allow for modifications consistent with the NCSCS. It also facilitated the achievement of the other research purpose: the assessment of preservice teachers’ OTS in relation to the students’ education levels. Fourth, the four-choice format of the POSTT allowed for a quick formative assessment of individual OTS profiles. Fifth, the 16 items cover a variety of common science classroom instruction situations. Thus, the POSTT has been translated into several languages, and it has been used in many countries.
For an item that was categorized as biological sciences, the scenario was a lesson on frog dissection (see Fig. 1). The participants were asked about the actions they would take to facilitate student learning. The participants had four choices, each corresponding to an item on the spectrum of OTS: the didactic direct, active direct, guided inquiry, and open inquiry approaches. These are very close to the levels of inquiry-based instruction, i.e., confirmation or verification inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and open inquiry, developed in previous studies (Banchi and Bell 2008; Blanchard et al. 2010). Each choice representing each OTS reflected different modes of fundamental epistemologies, i.e., ready-made science vs. science-in-the-making, which were consistent with Kang’s (2008) classification of science teachers’ personal epistemologies, i.e., knowing as receiving knowledge vs. knowing as active meaning construction. However, the four types of OTS identified by Cobern et al. (2014) were considered more appropriate because of the inclusion of “didactic direct” OTS, which, despite not being inquiry-based, are still common in Thailand. Table 1 presents the key characteristics of each OTS.
As is illustrated in Table 2, the 16 POSTT items can be classified into three groups according to the NCSCS science disciplines. There were five BS, six PS, and five EAS items. These items can also be classified into three groups according to the students’ education levels. Four items related to the lower elementary level (Grades 1–3), six items to the higher elementary level (Grades 4–6), and six items to the secondary level (Grade 7–12). Table 2 shows a structure of the POSTT as used in the study. The structure of the modified POSTT facilitated the combining of the data for the individual items for an overall result. This enabled the calculation of scores for the preservice science teachers individually and in groupings by major. To ensure validity, after the original POSTT had been translated and back-translated into English and Thai, both versions were sent to two science education researchers to check and to improve the translations. Once the translation was satisfactory, the Thai version was piloted with eight preservice science teachers from another nearby university. For each item, a blank space was provided for the preservice science teachers to detail their reasoning to facilitate the analysis of their responses. Feedback from this step led to improvements in the version of the POSTT used in the study.
Data collection began the first time each group of participants attended the class. They were asked to complete the Thai version of the POSTT, and they were encouraged to provide their opinions on teaching science. They were also informed that there were no right or wrong answers because the test was to assess their preferences rather than their knowledge. They were also told that the results would not affect their course grades. On items for which the options did not completely reflect their instructional preferences, they were advised to choose the one that came closest. They were also encouraged to provide reasons for each answer. This enabled the assessment of their understanding of the items and any inconsistencies between their answers and their reasoning. The participants completed the modified POSTT in approximately 90 min. Despite the instructions, some participants did not provide reasons for all the items. Some simply wrote that a reason was similar to one provided for another item.
In accordance with Cobern et al. (2014), data analysis was based on a scoring system in which one point was given for each answer representing a didactic direct OTS, two points were given for an active-direct OTS, three for a guided inquiry OTS, and four for an open-inquiry OTS. The increase in points indicated an instructional tendency toward scientific inquiry. This scoring system allowed the researcher to make statistical calculations and comparisons for the three groups of majors. It also allowed for examinations of variations in the scores in relation to the science topics and students’ education levels indicated in the scenarios. On the basis of this scoring system, a Cronbach’s alpha reliability was calculated. The result was 0.51, which can be considered low when compared to the normal standard in educational research. However, this value should not be considered the result of a poor instrument. This instrument also yielded weak inter-item correlations in the study by Cobern et al. (2014). They contended that “different teaching situations may evoke different pedagogical preferences” (p. 2283). This seems reasonable given that previous studies have also discussed the role of context in OTS (Ramnarain and Schuster 2014). Cobern et al. (2014, p. 2277) suggested that “resulting means and standard deviations can be considered meaningful as simple descriptions of central tendency and dispersion within items, instruments, individuals, or groups”.
For the first research question (What are the initial OTS of first-year Thai preservice science teachers?), the average of the individual participants’ mean scores was calculated and statistically compared, with “3” as the point reflecting guided inquiry OTS as an instructional approach recommended in the NCSCS. For the second research question (Are first-year preservice science teachers’ OTS influenced by their majors?), the average of each group of participants by major was calculated and statistically compared to determine the existence of differences. For the third research question (Are the preservice teachers’ initial OTS influenced by the subject matter?), the average of each group by subject category was determined and statistically compared to assess differences among the three subject categories. The data analysis for the fourth research question (Are the preservice teachers’ initial OTS influenced by students’ education levels?) was similar to that for the third research question; however, the focus was the possible differences among the three education levels with the same group of the participants.
Normality tests were performed to ensure for the independent-samples t-test. The results of the Shapiro–Wilk test (Field 2009) indicated that the data were normally distributed (p > .05). The exceptions were the physics participants’ OTS for PS (p < .05) and the lower primary education level (p < .05). The equality of variances was assessed with Levene’s test (Field 2009) to ensure the appropriateness of performing a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). The OTS were equal in all respects (p > .05). The exception was the overall OTS of the participants (p < .05). Therefore, non-parametric statistics, i.e., the Kruskal–Wallis H test or Welch’s t-test, were used instead of an independent t-test and one-way ANOVA in the cases in which data normality or variance equality were not assured (Field 2009).
Subsequently, a qualitative data analysis was performed to gain insights into the results of the quantitative analysis. Six participants in each group of majors, the three with the highest scores and the three with the lowest scores, were purposefully selected to gain the maximum variations in the written reasons (Patton 2002). The result was a total of 18 participants. In each group of majors, the written reasons were grouped according to the OTS choices, i.e., didactic direct, active direct, guided inquiry, and open inquiry. This grouping allowed the researcher to read the reasons underlying the same OTS in seeking for shared meanings within each OTS. In doing so, the researcher transformed the participant’s written answers into a digital format using a word processor program, which allowed him to read, highlight, and manipulate the data more easily during the process of qualitative data analysis.
There were four rounds of reading. For the first round, the researcher read to understand an overview of and be familiar to the data. There was no attempt to code the data in this round. Once familiar with the data, the researcher conducted the second round of reading, in which he aimed to develop a coding system. Informed by Harris and Rooks (2010), who identified five aspects that were of particular concern to science teachers managing inquiry-based classrooms (i.e., students, materials, tasks, scientific ideas, and classroom community), the researcher noted that the participants were concerned with students and scientific ideas. However, the other three aspects were not evident, which was understandable given the fact that the participants were first-year preservice science teachers. They had not studied lesson planning that focuses on developing learning materials and tasks, or how to build a classroom community. During this round of reading, other aspects (e.g., formative assessment and classroom control) were discerned and coded as they existed in the data.
After the second round of reading, the researcher had four codes (i.e., students, scientific ideas, formative assessment, and classroom control). The third round of reading was done to evaluate how these codes could be representative of the whole data. It was clear that the “student” code was too broad, since it applied to almost all of the data. Moreover, by taking a deeper consideration, the meaning of what the participants referred to as students could be multifaceted. For example, a physics participant wrote: “For second grade kids that are young, we should guide them to do and think by asking and letting them find answers through trying out”. The answer refers to both the students’ readiness (i.e., the kids are young) and the students’ ways of learning (e.g., the students can learn by doing and thinking). As a consequence, the researcher decided to recode the data in the “student” category, resulting in three codes (i.e., students’ readiness, students’ ways of learning, and students’ attitude to learning). Thus, there were six aspects of the underlying reasons that were coded (see Table 3). The frequencies for each code were then calculated to reveal the patterns in the answers.
Because a large proportion of the responses of the participants who were purposefully selected for the qualitative analysis related to students’ ways of learning, a detailed analysis of this aspect of the study was conducted in the fourth round of reading. In doing so, a pilot study by Ladachart (2018) provided four categories for the preservice science teachers’ pedagogical preferences: learning by listening, learning by seeing, learning by doing, and learning by thinking. These categories are not mutually exclusive. They can simultaneously influence a preservice science teachers’ reasoning, and they facilitate the coding of learning outcomes. On the basis of the participants’ indications of students’ actions (e.g., listening, seeing, doing, and thinking) or the associated teacher actions (e.g., telling, showing, guiding, and asking), the frequencies of these keywords in the OTS in each grouping of majors were calculated. This enabled the focus on the reasons for their pedagogical preferences. It should also be noted that in some cases, one written reason could be given more than one code because it had more than one meaning. For example, the same physics participant wrote: “For second grade kids that are young, we should guide them to do and think by asking and letting them find answers through trying out”. This statement indicated that the students would learn by “doing” and “thinking;” therefore, it received two codes, i.e., learning by doing and learning by thinking. The tentative results of the qualitative analysis were presented to a science educator to assess validity. All discrepancies were discussed until a consensus was reached.
The results of the analysis of the quantitative data are presented in relation to the research questions. The results of the qualitative analysis helped to explain the results of the quantitative analysis.
Research Question 1: What are the First-Year Preservice Teachers’ Initial Orientations Toward Teaching Science?
The average of the mean scores for the participants as individuals and for each major resulted in an overall average of 2.48 (SD = 0.35). This indicated that the participants’ averaged OTS was between the didactic direct inquiry (two points) and the guided inquiry (three points) (see Table 4). The results were similar for each major: 2.46, 2.58, and 2.40 for the participants with major in physics, chemistry, and biology respectively. The one-sample t-tests were conducted, using 3 points as a constant reference to the guided inquiry recommended by the NCSCS. The statistical difference of .05 indicated that, on average, the participants’ OTS were not yet aligned with the NCSCS requirements.
Research Question 2: Do Majors Matter?
Because of the unequal variance, instead of a one-way ANOVA, Welch’s F test was used to examine the relationship between the majors and the averaged OTS (Field 2009). The results of this cross-group comparison indicated that there was no significant difference (Welch’s F [2, 53.99] = 1.98, p > .05). The detailed analyses included comparisons of the averages of the OTS for each grouping of participants by subject category. Normality and equality of variance tests were warranted for the BS and EAS scenarios. The results of a one-way ANOVA were F (2,83) = 2.560, p > .05 for the BS scenarios and F (2,83) = 0.476, p >.05 for the EAS scenarios. There were no significant differences. In the PS scenarios, the equality of variances was not assured. A Kruskal–Wallis H test (Morgan et al. 2013) confirmed that there were no significant differences in the OTS with respect to majors (χ2 [2, N = 86] = 1.770, p > .05).
The averages of the OTS for each grouping of participants in each of students’ education levels were also compared. Normality and equality of variance tests were warranted for the higher elementary level and secondary level groupings. A one-way ANOVA indicated no significant differences in the OTS of the groups. The values were F (2,83) = 1.951, p > .05 for the higher elementary level and F (2,83) = 1.421, p > .05 for the secondary level. In the lower primary level group, the data were not normally distributed. The Kruskal–Wallis H test (Morgan et al. 2013) confirmed that there were no significant differences in the OTS in this education level (χ2 [2, N = 86] = 1.997, p > .05). Therefore, regardless of science subjects and students’ education levels, it was concluded that the participants’ majors did not influence their choices of OTS.
Research Question 3: Are Orientations Toward Teaching Science Influenced by Science Subjects?
In the within-group comparisons of the participants’ responses by science subjects taught, Welch’s F test was used for the physics participants because the data were not normally distributed (Field 2009). The results indicated that there was no statistical difference (Welch’s F [2, 53.48] = 0.27, p > .05). A one-way ANOVA was used for the participants with chemistry and biology majors. The results showed a similar pattern in that there was no significant relationship between the OTS responses and the science topics in the scenarios: F (2,84) = 1.209, p > .05 for the chemistry participants and F (2,84) = 1.398, p > .05 for the biology participants. Therefore, it was concluded that the participants’ responses associated with the OTS did not significantly vary with the science subjects taught.
Research Question 4: Are Orientations Toward Teaching Science Influenced by Students’ Education Levels?
The relationship between the participants’ OTS and the students’ education levels were assessed through within-group comparisons. Welch’s F test was used for the participants with physics major because the data for the lower primary level were not normally distributed (Field 2009). The results showed that the physics participants responded differently: Welch’s F (2, 52.44) = 6.007, p < .05. There were differences in the OTS regarding the higher elementary and secondary levels (Mean difference = 0.416, p = .001). For the chemistry and biology participants, the data were normally distributed, and the variances were equal. A one-way ANOVA was used. The results showed a similar pattern in that there were differences in the responses in relation to the students’ education levels: F (2,84) = 3.561, p < .05 for the participants with chemistry major and F (2,84) = 3.261, p < .05 for those with biology major. As was observed in the physics participants, the differences in the chemistry participants were between the higher elementary and the secondary levels (Mean difference = 0.303, p = .050). For the biology participants, however, the differences were between the lower elementary and secondary levels (Mean difference = 0.353, p = .046). Therefore, it was concluded that the students’ education levels influenced the participants’ responses. Figure 2 illustrates the means for the participants by the students’ education levels.
Insights from the Qualitative Data
The results of the qualitative data analysis indicated that the participants focused on the students’ ways of learning in choosing pedagogical approaches (see Fig. 3). Rarely were other issues, such as student ability and readiness, scientific ideas and methods as learning objectives, classroom management and control, student attitudes to learning and habits of mind, and formative assessments, considered in their reasoning. This result should not be surprising given that the participants were first-year preservice science teachers who had just entered a science education program and had not yet begun studying the fundamental educational courses, such as the psychology of learning, science curricula, lesson planning and classroom management, and educational assessment. Their reasoning seemed to rely heavily on their personal learning experiences as students. It is noteworthy that some participants used “we” or “us” to describe the students’ ways of learning. This implies an assumption that they, as prospective teachers, and their future students had similar ways of learning or, according to Kang (2008), shared personal epistemologies. For example, three participants wrote the following:
Because air is what we cannot see but can feel when a fan or wind blows. Turning on a fan provides the clearest demonstration that air is a substance that really exists even though we cannot see it. (Physics No. 18: didactic direct)
Because it helps us know what we are doing, and we have experiment results to support what we are studying. (Chemistry No. 1: guided inquiry)
In observing things around us, we may not know their true meanings. But that will lead to a way to prove or investigate what we see so that we can find the answer for ourselves. (Biology No. 9: open inquiry)
Although students’ ways of learning received the most references, other patterns were observed. First, it was evident that the participants referred to student ability and readiness mainly when the scenarios were about teaching science to lower elementary students. Second, the correctness of scientific ideas, step-by-step methods, or classroom management and control were less of a concern when inquiry modes of instruction were preferred (see Fig. 3). Third, the preference for inquiry-based instruction tended to focus more on student attitudes to learning and habits of mind and their actual learning or thinking as indications for the use of formative assessments. The participants who favored inquiry-based instruction were more likely to epistemologically espouse a relative rather than an objective stance (Kang and Wallace 2005). The assumption was that given the same or similar classroom experience, students would not necessarily think in the same ways; rather, they would construct meanings that were different from those of the teacher and the other students. For example, two participants who preferred inquiry-based instruction wrote the following:
Ask a question to spark the students’ thinking. Then let them do something to prove their point and find answers. It is a kind of challenge. And let them feel free to express opinions. It may result in out-of-the box thinking. (Biology No. 22: guided inquiry)
Each student has different thoughts and interests. By letting them write their conclusions, we can know who has met the objectives. (Biology No. 19: open inquiry)
It was also interesting that similar patterns emerged when the participant groupings were analyzed by major.
Because students’ ways of learning received the most mentions, a detailed analysis was conducted. Some interesting patterns were revealed. The participants favoring direct modes of instruction were likely to state that students would learn science best by listening and seeing (see Fig. 4). This opinion was expressed less often by the participants favoring inquiry-based modes of instruction. The preference for inquiry-based instruction was related to perceptions that students would learn science best by doing and thinking through hands-on and minds-on activities. Moreover, the participants who seemed to be more aware of other ways of learning (e.g., participation, collaboration, and discussion) favored inquiry-based rather than direct modes of instruction. Thus, the results of the quantitative and qualitative analyses indicate that the participants’ pedagogical preferences were likely influenced by their perceptions of students’ ways of learning. They tended to perceive that younger students should learn science experientially. While this is also true for older students, the participants tended to state that older students could learn science through abstraction.
However, some tension was perceived in some participants with majors in physics and chemistry. They tended to perceive inquiry-based instruction as being more appropriate for higher elementary than lower elementary students (see Fig. 2). While being aware that very young students should learn science through concrete experiences (i.e., learning by doing), the participants also perceived that those students need the appropriate scaffolds or structures to be able to learn science. For many, open inquiry was not appropriate for the lower elementary students because it lacks the scaffolds or structures to facilitate learning. The teacher’s role was seen as providing guidance or offering suggestions:
Because students will learn science through experiments for which the teacher guides and finds the methods. Because the students are still young, the teacher must provide some guidelines, and the students will try to think according to the teacher’s suggestion. (Chemistry No. 23: guided inquiry)
At the fourth grade, students cannot find things in their environment for experiments. Thus, the teacher must help them find methods for the experiment, including equipment that is more appropriate to this level. Then let the students observe and see what they got from that experiment. (Physics No. 10: guided inquiry)
This study revealed the OTS of 86 first-year preservice science teachers with different majors. Their orientations seemed to be approximately midway between the active direct and guided inquiry approaches on the continuum proposed by Cobern et al. (2014). The findings confirm those of previous studies (Kind 2016) regarding the dominance of didactic OTS among preservice science teachers regardless of their majors. As has been suggested by Friedrichsen et al. (2009), science teachers’ OTS are constructed through the cognitive apprenticeship process (Lortie 1975). They observed their science teachers’ teaching practices and developed their own conceptions about science teaching (Ladachart 2011). Dahsah and Faikhamta (2008) indicated that since the enactment of the National Education Act in 1999, science education in Thailand has been transitioning from direct to inquiry-based approaches. The first-year preservice science teachers in this study had completed only the basic (Grade 1–12) education and one education course at the university. It is thus highly likely that their OTS, as expressed in the Thai version of the POSTT, resulted from their experiences in schools (Brown et al. 2013) in which science was taught mainly as a mix of direction instruction and structured or, at best, guided inquiry (Faikhamta and Ladachart 2016).
The domain- and discipline-specific OTS of experienced science teachers reported by Veal and Kubasko (2003) were not confirmed in this study of Thai preservice science teachers who had just entered a science teacher education program. Their intuitive OTS were not considerably different despite the variety of science topics embedded in the instructional scenarios in the POSTT. As individual groups with different majors, their OTS did not significantly vary according the domains of science. This result did not corroborate Ramnarain and Schuster’s (2014) conclusions that subject-matter competence had an influence on science teachers’ OTS.
However, the conclusions of Friedrichsen and Dana (2005) were supported. Subject matter was not always a central component of the OTS. While the data on the participants’ content knowledge were not available, it must be noted that subject-matter competency was indeed different from the epistemological commitment to the science disciplines. As first-year preservice science teachers, the participants’ experiences with knowledge-development approaches, e.g., experimental vs, historical (see Gray 2014), in specific science disciplines were limited or not explicit. Consequently, they tended to be less committed to science domains or disciplines than were the experienced science teachers who had participated in previous studies (Breslyn and McGinnis 2012). This result should not be seen as a rejection of domain-specific OTS, which could develop later after the participants have gained more discipline-specific experience at the university.
Perhaps, the most interesting result of the quantitative analysis was the relationship between the participants’ intuitive OTS and the students’ education levels. This result was apparent in all three groups of participants regardless of majors. This suggests that in making instructional decisions in the scenarios, the participants considered the students: The students’ education levels or other associated characteristics were important factors. This result supported Friedrichsen and Dana’s (2005) conclusion that beliefs about students were a source of OTS. It also confirmed the findings of Suh and Park (2017) that a change in views on how students learn triggered “a holistic change” in science teachers’ OTS. In classrooms with culturally diverse students, Mavuru and Ramnarain (2018) noted that the integration of the students’ socio-cultural practices, backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs resulted in the science teachers’ OTS being more process- and activity-driven, as identified in Magnusson et al.’s (1999) list of OTS. However, all of these studies were conducted with in-service science teachers who had experience teaching students. The current study contributes to this literature. The findings indicate that even first-year preservice science teachers without teaching experience tend to consider some student characteristics, such as education levels, in making decisions on instructional approaches.
The qualitative analysis focused on the reasoning underlying the participants’ decisions. It showed that the participants’ perceptions of the best ways for students to learn science influenced their decision-making regarding teaching approaches. They perceived that young students at the elementary levels should be taught science through fun and concrete experiences. Therefore, they preferred inquiry-based instruction over direct instruction. They tended to perceive that abstraction was appropriate for older students at the secondary level; thus, didactic modes of instruction were considered to be preferable and more feasible. These perceptions were based on their own personal epistemologies as science students. Thus, a clearer picture has emerged. According to Tsai (1998), students develop epistemological beliefs that relate to their learning orientations while learning science. Given the cognitive apprenticeship process (Lortie 1975), it is likely that once students become first-year preservice science teachers, they might adapt their epistemological beliefs and learning orientations as a source of their personal epistemologies and intuitive OTS. This explanation is well aligned with Kang’s (2008) finding that science teachers’ goals for teaching science, i.e., their OTS, are consistent with their personal epistemologies.
The findings of previous research indicate that the students and contextual factors, such as class size, availability of resources, time constraints, school culture, and parental expectations, can influence science teachers’ OTS (Nargund-Joshi et al. 2011; Ramnarain and Schuster 2014; Ramnarain et al. 2016). The participants in the current study did not seem to consider these contextual factors, which had not been embedded in the instructional scenarios in the POSTT. Therefore, the participants tended to ignore these factors. They mainly relied on their personal epistemologies or perceptions of the best ways of learning for the students in choosing instructional approaches that were appropriate for the education levels stated in the POSTT.
Implications and Recommendations
With the science education reforms in Thailand and many other countries, inquiry-based instruction has been recommended for promoting scientific literacy among students (Abd-El-Khalick et al. 2004; Yuenyong and Narjailaew 2009). However, science teachers can face critical challenges in aligning their classroom practices with the standards of scientific inquiry (Harris and Rooks 2010) since such reform-based classroom practices indeed requires professional skills and knowledge, including PCK (Gess-Newsome 2015). In this regard, OTS are critical to science teachers’ development of PCK (Abell 2008; Friedrichsen et al. 2011) because they must transform their general professional knowledge, topic-specific professional knowledge, and classroom experiences into the PCK through which their OTS act as amplifiers and filters (Gess-Newsome 2015). Therefore, it is likely that science teachers with didactic OTS will struggle to embrace the reform-based view of instruction and to develop PCK for inquiry-based instruction as the reform-based view and instructional practices do not fit well with their existing OTS (Brown et al. 2013). In light of the models of PCK (Gess-Newsome 2015; Magnusson et al. 1999; Park and Chen 2012; Park and Oliver 2008), where OTS is a component, the results of this study provide several implications and recommendation regarding preservice science teachers’ development of PCK for inquiry-based instruction as follows.
This study explored the intuitive OTS of first-year preservice science teachers with different majors. It revealed that their intuitive OTS were not yet aligned with inquiry-based OTS. Regardless to their major, the average scores of their OTS were between the didactic direct inquiry and the guided inquiry. While this result cannot be used to claim that these OTS will influence the first-year preservice science teachers’ development of PCK in the future, previous research has cautioned that having didactic OTS can be problematic in developing PCK for inquiry-based instruction (Eick and Reed 2002), given that OTS can shape the other components of PCK (Demirdöğen 2016) such as knowledge of instructional strategies (Park and Chen 2012). Therefore, the first recommendation is a precaution that preservice science teachers’ intuitive OTS should be explicitly addressed at the beginning of the science teacher education program, so that they will be aware of their own OTS (Brown et al. 2013). Such explicit awareness of OTS will enable the first-year preservice science teachers to develop PCK for inquiry-based instruction when engaging in the science teacher education program. While intuitive OTS can be robust and resistant to change, Avraamidou (2013) has demonstrated that a positive change in their OTS, once made explicit, is possible within a science teacher education program. Nonetheless, it is important that preservice science teachers are aware of their own OTS first, in order for them to change those OTS in forthcoming courses of the science teacher education program.
The intuitive OTS of the first-year preservice science teachers in this study were based mainly on their perceptions of the best ways for students to learn science. These perceptions stemmed from their personal epistemologies, which had been developed through cognitive apprenticeship (Lortie 1975). They developed epistemological beliefs and learning orientations while learning science in school (Tsai 1998). Therefore, the second recommendation is that teacher education programs work to make preservice science teachers’ more aware of personal epistemologies and their effect on teaching. The findings of Avraamidou’s (2013) case study suggest that experiences with inquiry-based investigation, contemporary theoretical discussions on learning, and student visits in the methods course can positively influence preservice science teachers’ OTS. Suh and Park (2017) highlighted a shifted view of students’ learning strategies in science as critical to changing teachers’ OTS toward inquiry-based instruction. This implication is consistent with Schneider and Plasman’s (2011) conclusions. In a review of the learning progression for PCK, they suggested that “teacher thinking appears to progress first to thinking about learners, then to thinking about teaching, and finally to building a repertoire” (p. 555). The tendency of preservice science teachers’ intuitive OTS to focus on students’ ways of learning could be harnessed to provide a starting point for developing inquiry-based OTS and PCK.
Studies in science education have often suggested that inquiry-based instruction can be classified along a continuum, for example, confirmation inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and open inquiry, according to who, in other words, the students or the teacher, will generate the questions, propose the data collection methods, and make interpretations of the results (Banchi and Bell 2008). It has often been recommended that science teachers’ management of inquiry-based instruction increases in sophistication along the continuum as the students acquire skills and content knowledge. Blanchard et al. (2010) noted that “the greater the skill level and the knowledge of students, the higher level of inquiry that can be reasonably employed” (p. 609). Similarly, Wang et al. (2014) noted that “at the beginning of a new science subject curriculum, guided inquiry is necessary to show students how to do inquiry […] As students progress on learning content knowledge and inquiry skills, open inquiry needs to be provided to them” (p. 296). An implication is that preservice science teachers, at least those participating in this study, might not think this way. They tended to assume that older students were more mature and therefore ready for learning through abstraction, such as listening to a lecture and observing a demonstration, rather than hands-on inquiry. Thus, science teacher educators should challenge this assumption in discussions with preservice science teachers.
This study revealed a tendency for Thai first-year preservice science teachers to base their pedagogical orientations on their perceptions of students’ strategies for learning science; however, there are limitations. First, while the participants were purposively selected, many were from the same university. Therefore, caution should be used in generalizing the results of this study to other preservice science teachers. Other factors, e.g., degree of content knowledge and self-efficacy, may contribute to this tendency. Second, this study relied on data collected from a questionnaire; thus, it might not reflect the complexity of the participants’ OTS. Other data collection methods, e.g., interviews, may provide deeper insights into preservice science teachers’ OTS. Future studies are needed for the confirmation and elaboration of the results of this study.
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Ladachart, L. Thai First-Year Preservice Science Teachers’ Orientations toward Teaching Science. Asia-Pacific Edu Res 29, 455–471 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40299-019-00498-6
- Inquiry-based instruction
- Orientation toward teaching science
- Pedagogical content knowledge
- Preservice science teachers