ASSESSING ELEMENTARY PRESERVICE TEACHERS SCIENCE CONTENT KNOWLEDGE TO IMPROVE THE SCIENCE EDUCATION PROGRAM
Elementary school teachers feel less qualified to teach science and spend less time teaching science than other subjects (Fulp, 2002, Weiss et al., 2001). This may indicate elementary teachers’ lack of knowledge and understanding of science and how to teach it (TIMSS, 2003).
To address preservice teachers’ content knowledge as it relates to the new revised CT curriculum framework, an action research project was conducted.
1. Identify content strengths and weaknesses of our preservice teachers enrolled in Elementary Science Methods.
2. Analyze grade 5 Science Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) scores in Earth/physical sciences.
3. Strengthen content areas in physical/earth sciences.
The 2010 CT Science Curriculum Framework includes Grade-Level Concepts (GLCs) and Grade-Level Expectations (GLEs) that provide guidelines for developing curriculum and planning instructional activities (CT Dept of Ed, 2011). This framework was the rationale for this research project.
METHODS: Three assessments were used to address the objectives: Likert-type survey; pre- and post-tests; and CMT science results for grade 5.
Results: Cooperating teachers cited more weakness of their student teachers’ understanding of the content standards than they did strengths.
A pre- and post-test was given to all science methods students that aligned with the CT Science Standards for grades 3-5 in earth and physical science. The tests consisted of open ended questions for each of the earth and physical science concepts.
Results: Preservice teachers mean score for the pretest was 10% (n=44). Mean score for the posttest was 44%. Responses were scored correct if they were complete. No partial credit was given. Responses indicated superficial comprehension of the concepts.
Standardized Science Test: Grade 5 CMT science results were collected from the twelve participating schools.
Results: Mean raw score for the 12 districts were: Earth science—8.9/14; physical science—9.1/14. This was lower than the life science standards: 9.9/14.
Descriptive statistics were used. Trends were analyzed and correlated to identify areas of content strengths and weakness. This informed course changes.
Conclusions: Instruction in physical and earth science concepts from the grade 3-5 CMT took place throughout the semester. Students did not have a strong conceptual background in the content prior to taking the methods course. Understanding went from 10% to 44% by the end of the semester. However there was not enough time spent working with these concepts in class. Lack of class time did not allow for adequate exploration of science kit materials. It is recommended that additional science content instruction be required prior to the methods course and that more time for science methods be allocated.
Connecticut Department of Education. (2010). Prekindergarten – Grade 8 Curriculum Standards
And Assessment Expectations. Link: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2618&q=320890
Fulp, S. L. (2002). The 2000 national survey of science and mathematics education: Status of elementary school science teaching. Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research, Inc.
TIMSS. (2003). International mathematics report: Findings from IEA's trends in international mathematics and science study at the fourth and eighth grades.