Electronic Journal of Science Education V2 N4 Editorial - Crowther

Metamorphosis of preservice teachers . . .


David T. Crowther


It is the end of another academic year. As most teachers do, I have fond memories of the students which have progressed through my classes. It is hard to believe how much we have accomplished in such a short time and the changes that have taken place in the majority of these students in just one semester. . .

I remember the look on the students faces the first time we meet. They were full of anxiety and even using the word science sent shivers down some spines. The majority of the questions raised in our first meeting dealt with how much science are we really going to do. Statements such as,

  • "I didn't do well in science - is it possible for me to get an A in Elementary Science Methods?"
  • "How much math is going to be involved?"
  • "Do we have to dissect anything?"

I have my students write an introductory paper on how they define science and what their prior experiences with science were like. I have them begin with thoughts from their elementary through high school science experiences (if they remember any) and then finish with their latest experiences with science on the university level.

Some of the thoughts are very interesting and insightful. One student wrote:

"Science is fascinating, fun, and exciting, but at the same time intimidating as Hell! I love to learn new things and know that I will leave this class much more knowledgeable in an area I feel VERY inadequate in."

I think that the above statement really summarizes well the general attitude of the majority of students which enter my class. For the most part, their science experiences have been involved with memorizing, reading and re-proving scientific facts from the vast body of scientific knowledge which already exists in a primarily passive role. Very little time was spent in an active participation role learning how to learn (do) science and doing true experimentation through manipulating variables or through observing and collecting data etc. I am not going to concentrate on science reform for this editorial, rather I would like to spend my time on the tremendous attitudinal changes that I see consistently take place in the majority of my students during the semester.

I began this observation in my doctoral program. Now, after several more years of study I believe I have a consistent pattern that (at least my) preservice, elementary level, folks progress through. I would like to try it out here for comment and criticism. Read through the stages and see if you see a similar progression in your students.

In my study (Crowther, 1996) of preservice teachers enrolled in an experimental hands-on introductory level Biology course I proposed that preservice elementary education majors encounter five hurdles, or stages, as they experienced that course. The original study was a mixed methods (Quantitative and Qualitative) study. I attempted to generate a substantivie theory from a qualitative multiple case study; cross case analysis design (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992; Merriam 1988). I have been able to continue qualitative substantiation that basically the same progression takes place in my elementary science methods course as well.

Let me review the progressional stages.

1) Reservations and hesitations or the anxiety stage

2) Awareness / enjoyment stage

3) Intrinsic shift

4) Rapid building of self confidence and self efficacy

5) Empowerment.

Stage 1: Reservations and hesitations (anxiety stage)

The first stage occurs upon entering the course. This is entitled the hesitations and reservations or the anxiety stage. It seems that no matter what prior experiences preservice teachers previously had with science, whether positive, neutral or negative, they all experienced a certain amount of anxiety upon entering the course. regardless of the previous experience of the preservice elementary education majors, there were initial hesitations, reservations and anxieties as they entered the course. This is also true of most classes that students take. If it is not an anxiety of the subject it is an apprehension due to the unknown factors entering the course and experiencing a new situation. The only difference in science is that it frequently comes with profound negative stereotypes and stigmas due to the negative attention that science has traditionally drawn and traditional experiences that most students have encountered while learning science in formal settings. This stage of the theory substantiates both Lucas and Dooley (1982) and Talsma (1996) in that poor attitudes can be traced back to prior experiences with science in school.

Stage 2: Awareness and Enjoyment

The second stage, entitled the awareness and enjoyment stage, occurs and is most obvious in the first three labs and lectures of the course. Through this awareness the preservice elementary education majors become aware that science is much more than reading from a text and answering questions as most have previously encountered. The students also become aware that science is not always following a linear set of instructions to come to a preformed outcome. Enjoyment is experienced simultaneously with the awareness stage. After the initial shock that science is not a passive experience, but rather an all involving one, the preservice elementary education majors realize that science is an enjoyable process by which the world around them is explored.

The awareness and enjoyment of learning science in different contexts continued to emerge in journal entries throughout the entire semester; however, the most concentrated period of journal entries where awareness and enjoyment were the focal point of the reflection was primarily in the first three weeks of the course. This initial awareness and enjoyment of science is a direct result of the application of the suggestions of the National Science Education Standards (NRC) that "preservice teachers learn science through inquiry having the same opportunities to learn science as their students will have to develop understanding (1996, p. ). The enjoyment level of science through the use of a hands-on" or the activity approach to the learning of science is now generally accepted in the science education community. However, the results generated in this study directly support the conclusions of the longitudinal study preformed by the National Center for Educational Statistics (1989) and other studies including Shymmansky, Kyle, & Alport (1982 & 1983) and Pederson and McCurdy (1992).

Stage 3: Intrinsic Shift

According to Reeve (1994) intrinsic motivation arises from three basic psychological needs: self-determination, competence, and relatedness. Amabile, Hill, Hennessey, and Tighe (1994) extend upon Reeve's psychological needs and suggest that the major elements of intrinsic motivation are self-determination, competence, task involvement, curiosity, enjoyment, and interest. Regardless of which definition is applied to the terminology of intrinsic motivation, there is the idea of ownership. W. Edwards Demming proposed this idea just after World War II to the Japanese which resulted in a superior car product which controlled the automobile market for several decades. The same philosophy is now finally being considered by American auto manufacturers and is highly visible in advertisements and marketing strategies today. As all good ideas, Demming's philosophy has reached into the schools. William Glasser capitalized upon the notion of "quality" by the means of ownership as a result of intrinsic motivation in his book The Quality School (1990).

As a part of the philosophical development and through self-determination, building confidence resulting in competence, relating topics to real world issues, in conjunction with involvement, curiosity, awareness, and enjoyment the preservice teachers move to a level of self awareness that science is something that they can do and enjoy doing. Once that recognition takes place the students no longer are taking the class to "just get a grade" they are doing it because they have become intrinsically motivated to do so as a result of a series of assignments and experiences (written research, teaching in the schools, and a lot of formal reflection). This third level is called the intrinsic shift. There are several outcomes of this intrinsic shift. For some of the preservice teachers it is a realization that they can learn science and that it is beneficial for them to do so. Most preservice teachers come to an awareness that the course offers them ideas and activities that they can immediately apply in their teaching. The preservice teachers feel good about what they are accomplishing and want to pass that along to their students. There is also a philosophical maturity that accompanies this shift which is reflected upon in terms of "their" future classrooms. This shift from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation is a real key in the progression of the students and their abilities to teach science in the elementary classroom.

Although students achieved the intrinsic stage in a different way and through different means, the majority of students reach this stage within approximately the same time frame, just after mid point in the semester. Students communicate the majority of the key ingredients which the research defined as intrinsic motivation thus supporting the theories of Reeve (1994) and Amabile (1994). The students also began to produce a higher quality of work as a result of this intrinsic shift. The quality was evidenced differently with each student, but yet came as a result of the confidence and efficacy that was quickly building in the participants as a result of this change.

Stage 4: Rapid Building of Self-Confidence and Self-Efficacy

Bandura (1981) showed that people's beliefs in their own abilities had an effect on their performance. He found that behaviors occur when, a) people believe in their own ability to perform that behavior and b) people expect, based upon their own life experiences, that this behavior will result in a desirable outcome. The first belief, that people believe in their own ability, Bandura called self-efficacy (Schoon and Boone, 1996). The second belief is closely connected to the confidence that one develops based upon their efficacy.

As is true with most students, once the preservice elementary education majors see practical value in what they are doing they become intrinsically motivated to learn. Once the intrinsic shift has taken place the students seem to rapidly build self-efficacy and self-confidence in both teaching and learning science for themselves and in their future classrooms.

The preservice elementary education majors involved in this study showed great gains in self-confidence and self-efficacy in the qualitative narratives provided previously and also in a quantitative pre/post survey instrument developed by Enochs and Riggs (1990). The Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument - Preservice Elementary scale ( STEBI B) was administered on the first day of the the course and then again on the last day of class. When a two tailed t-Test was run it was found that a significant difference was found between pre and post-test means and standard deviations with a resulting alpha value of <.001.

Bandura (1981) proposed that self-efficacy could be enhanced through modeling and successful mastery experiences. Gibson and Dembo (1984) concluded from their studies on teacher beliefs and self-efficacy that "student learning can be influenced by effective teaching." Gibson and Dembo (1984) further concluded that teachers who also have confidence in their own teaching abilities (self-efficacy beliefs) should persist longer,provide a greater academic focus in the classroom, and exhibit different types of feedback than teachers who have lower expectations concerning their ability to influence student learning. The participants in this study did make large gains in both self-confidence and self-efficacy as was postulated by Bandura (1981). However, in order to really capitalize and implement the effects of the increased confidence and efficacy as proposed by Gibson and Dembo (1984) in their future classrooms, the preservice teachers needed to feel empowered to do so in both teaching and learning situations.

Stage 5: Empowerment

The final or last stage of this substantive theory states that through all of the prior stages the preservice elementary education majors progress to a point of empowerment. Empowerment is universally defined as giving power to or to enable. In education circles there are many definitions to empowerment; however, the idea is basically the same. Tice (1992) explained that once the teacher is enabled to do something it then takes the "teacher's assertion" in order to fully carry out the empowerment process. Short (1992 & 1994) proposed six dimensions of teacher empowerment: Involvement in decision making, teacher impact, teacher status, autonomy, opportunities for professional development and teacher self-efficacy. All of which are opportunities which are provided on the preservice level in this study.

The participants in this study have progressed through the stages of anxiety, awareness and enjoyment, intrinsic motivation, and rapid growth in self-confidence and self-efficacy, all of which are part of the definition of empowerment. The empowerment stage in this study is a stage where the preservice elementary education majors have rather complete confidence in themselves and their abilities to actually teach science in their future classrooms. It also has given them the confidence needed to go on and take further science courses. An additional part of this stage experienced by the preservice teachers is that they are now doing science lessons and activities either in a concurrent practicum or in other situations involving groups of children. The preservice teachers find that the required knowledge is present not only to teach the activities, but to take the assertion and do the activities with children. They are able to adjust to the lesson so that it fits with the specific age and cognitive level of the students with whom they are working. Most of the comments made by the preservice teachers came through informal conversations which conveyed the excitement and success of the lesson that they taught. The relevance of the semester now accompanied with practical and successful experiences leads to exciting final reflections by the preservice elementary education majors. They speak of the impact that the course has had upon their attitudes and confidence in both the teaching and learning of science. They are empowered to make the learning come full circle and prepare the future generations of young science enthusiasts. All of the students conveyed their attainment of this stage usually in their final journal reflection and then again in the final interview.

The participants explained how they were able to take the lessons to their practicums or other learning environments with children, modify the activity so that it was appropriate for the students in their given situations, teach the concept in a hands-on inquiry manner, and watch the whole process of learning and enjoyment of doing science begin in the eyes of their students. The feeling of being enabled to do science truly becomes empowerment as the preservice teachers teach with confidence and passion and then pass it on to their students. It is interesting to note that the practicum alignment with the course in this study was incidental, but proved to be the major key to the empowerment stage. This only adds to the validity of the argument that you really don't learn or know something until you have to teach it.

A Brief Conclusion To The Study

Piel and Green (1992) have reported that due to the recent emphasis to improve preservice elementary education majors' science understandings many universities are simply requiring more science courses as prerequisite to entering the professional sequences. In the same study Piel and Green (1992) came to the conclusion that "in spite of highly visible recommendations for more extensive academic course work, results indicate the impracticality of addressing teacher competence through added course work before appropriate attitude adjustment processes have been planned or implemented." The same conclusion was made by Talsma (1996) in her recent study of preservice teachers.

It is important for teacher preparation institutions to recognize that by the time preservice elementary education majors take their science methods course (s) their previous attitudes whether negative or indifferent have been reinforced by the traditional college courses which they have already taken. It is no wonder that so much time in methods courses must be spent initially in convincing the preservice teachers that science is intrinsically interesting.

Based upon the findings presented in this study and related theory of prospective elementary teacher's progression in teaching and learning science, preservice elementary education majors must learn science and become science advocates in their future schools by first learning to enjoy science and then becoming more confident in their ability to teach science.

This study demonstrates a successful alternative in the learning of content science. The Biology course explained in this study has allowed for content and process to be taught simultaneously in a learning environment which enhances preservice teacher's attitudes toward science. This study has theorized the hurdles that preservice teachers overcome in learning content science in order to achieve a positive attitude and confidence toward the subject. This will empower them to teach science in a positive and exciting way so that their future students will not have to overcome the traditional fears and views of science that their teachers may have passed on or may have encountered learning science in a more traditional environment.

Hands-on classes are emerging in colleges and universities across the nation. Numerous funding sources advocate and finance the development of such courses and programs. In a recent study, Wylo (1993) followed recent graduates of elementary education who had experienced a course similar to the course described in this study into their first career teaching assignments. Wylo found that in all of the 38 students surveyed the positive attitudes acquired in the program persisted over time.

Further research in the validation of the hurdles in learning that preservice elementary education majors encounter as they study science in alternative science courses as well as the long term effects of such courses on professional practice seems to be relevant. Although one study has shown that science instruction improves in the field with such a course, further research and replication studies should be done to explore the long term effects of such theories and programs in practice both inside and outside of the science education community.


Once again, I have forced the readers of the EJSE into another one of my research agendas. As I proposed earlier in the editorial, I think that this is a rather common sense developmental theory for prospective elementary teachers experiencing their first hands-on inquiry based science content or methods course. But, I would like to do more than have a substantive theory based upon qualitative measures. Formalizing this into a quantitative format will take a little bit of effort from those interested in testing it out. After all, isn't this how research really gets formalized?? We start with observations, formalize them into ideas based upon descriptive data, formulate a hypothesis, and then test it.

Well...thanks for letting me ramble on and I hope you enjoy the rest of this issue of the EJSE.


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