Learning to teach the nature of science: A study of preservice teachers

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Science Teaching


John Tillotson


Learning, Nature of science, Preservice teachers

Subject Categories

Education | Science and Mathematics Education | Teacher Education and Professional Development


Based on Shulman's (1986) theory that teaching requires specialized knowledge referred to as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), this study sought to explore factors that mediate between the translation of their understanding of nature of science (NOS) and its teaching, and the nature of the knowledge required to teach the NOS. Participants were 17 preservice science teachers enrolled at three different universities in similar science education programs and undergoing student teaching experiences. They were observed teaching, and also interviewed during and after student teaching experiences. Artifacts used by in teaching were also collected as data sources. An open-ended questionnaire designed to assess their conceptions of the NOS was also used.

Results indicated that beyond the struggles of classroom management, working under the controlled environment of a host teacher and unfamiliar school circumstances, the PCK necessary for teaching NOS was not sufficiently developed among these teachers. They exhibited significant content knowledge of NOS and teaching methodology. However, the pedagogical knowledge necessary for teaching NOS was either misconceptualized or lacking. An assumption that NOS is learned implicitly through inquiry activities dominated their understanding of how to teach NOS. Thus most incidences where NOS was taught were through inquiry learning with lack of reflection on the implications of the inquiry process to the generation of scientific knowledge.

In order to help the preservice teachers cross the bridge between preservice and in-service teaching, education programs need to offer more than a rudimentary or superficial knowledge and understanding of various aspects of NOS. For instance, it is not enough for preservice teachers to "know" that scientific knowledge is socially and culturally embedded. They should be able to use examples and/or simplified case histories from scientific practice to substantiate this claim and make it accessible and understandable to students or lead students to reflect upon the activities that they perform in view of their implications to the scientific process.

Teacher education programs need to focus on helping these teachers to become comfortable with leading discussions regarding various aspects of NOS, design science-based activities that would help students to comprehend those aspects, and contextualize their teaching about NOS with some examples or "stories" from the history of science, as suggested by Abd-El-Khalick (2000). Furthermore, they need to be helped to be able to reflect on the implications of such activities.


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