A case of learning to teach elementary science: Investigating beliefs, experiences, and tensions

Lynn Ann Bryan, Purdue University


This study examines how preservice elementary teacher beliefs and experiences within the context of reflective science teacher education influence the development of professional knowledge. From a cognitive constructivist theoretical perspective, I conducted a case analysis to investigate the beliefs about science teaching and learning held by a preservice teacher (Barbara), identify the tensions she encountered in learning to teach elementary science, understand the frames from which she identified problems of practice, and discern how her experiences influenced the process of reflecting on her own science teaching.^ From an analysis of interviews, observation, and written documents, I constructed a profile of Barbara's beliefs that consisted of three foundational and three dualistic beliefs about science teaching and learning. Her foundational beliefs concerned: (a) the value of science and science teaching, (b) the nature of scientific concepts and goals of science instruction, and (c) control in the science classroom. Barbara held dualistic beliefs about: (a) how children learn science, (b) the science students' role, and (c) the science teacher's role. The dualistic beliefs formed two contradictory nests of beliefs. One nest, grounded in life-long science learner experiences, reflected a didactic teaching orientation and predominantly guided her practice. The second nest, not well-grounded in experience, embraced a hands-on approach and predominantly guided her vision of practice.^ Barbara encountered tensions in thinking about science teaching and learning as a result of inconsistencies between her vision of science teaching and her actual practice. Confronting these tensions prompted Barbara to rethink the connections between her classroom actions and students' learning, create new perspectives for viewing her practice, and consider alternative practices more resonant with her visionary beliefs. However, the self-reinforcing belief system created by her didactic nest of beliefs, control beliefs, and belief about the goals of science instruction prevented Barbara from enacting new frames in practice. The findings contribute to an understanding of the relationship between beliefs and experiences in learning to teach and indicate that reframing is crucial in developing professional knowledge. Furthermore, the findings underscore the significance of (a) identifying prospective teachers' beliefs for designing teacher preparation programs, and (b) offering experiences as professionals early in the careers of prospective teachers. ^




Major Professor: Sandra K. Abell, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education, Elementary|Education, Teacher Training|Education, Sciences

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