Electronic Journal of Science Education V4 N3 - Eick, March 2000

Inquiry, Nature of Science, and Evolution:
The Need for a More Complex Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Science Teaching


Charles J. Eick, Ph.D.
Auburn University

The goal of scientific literacy for all Americans includes more than just understanding the concepts of science. Scientific literacy also involves knowledge of the processes that create the concepts (or strict inquiry) and the organizing framework that is science (or nature of science) (National Research Council (NRC), 1996; American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 1993). An emphasis on teaching science through a mode of inquiry has been the present approach for attaining scientific literacy (NRC, 1996):

    Scientific inquiry refers to the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Inquiry also refers to the activities of students in which they develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world. (p. 23)

Teaching science through inquiry, especially "true scientific inquiry in the strictest sense" (Schwartz, Lederman, & Crawford, 2000, p. 7), provides the context for deepening student understanding of the processes of how science is conducted (NRC, 1996). Also, through strict scientific inquiry, a more complex understanding of the nature of science (or NOS) and its philosophical underpinnings would likely be understood, albeit implicitly (Bianchini & Colburn, 2000).

As research continues to focus on science teachers' conceptions of the NOS, the assumed connection between strict inquiry understanding and a more complex NOS understanding is being questioned (Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Lederman, 1998; Bianchini & Colburn, 2000; Schwartz et al., 2000). One recent study demonstrated that preservice science teachers' understanding of scientific inquiry can exist without a complex understanding of the nature of science (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 1998). A preservice teacher's understanding of the processes of science or scientific inquiry does not necessarily lead to a complex understanding of the epistemology of science (Schwartz et al., 2000). Without a more developed conception of the nature of science, preservice teachers have limited or little understanding of the framework or theory upon which the processes of scientific inquiry rest. This limitation, though subtle, could interfere with the goal of teaching for scientific literacy.

More complex conceptions of the NOS play a vital role in developing a more complex pedagogical content knowledge for teaching science (Borko & Putnam, 1995; Schwartz & Lederman, 2000). This pedagogical content knowledge includes understanding the organizing theory of science along with its modes of inquiry. A more complex conception of the NOS includes understanding the knowledge claims of science: the empirical nature of science, the tentative nature of scientific knowledge, and the meaning and role of theory in science among others (Schwartz & Lederman, 2000). The NOS, along with inquiry, become vital components in developing a more complete pedagogical content knowledge for the teaching of science. If the goal of science teacher education is to prepare teachers to teach for scientific literacy, then instruction on the NOS should be an integral part of teacher education. One example where teachers' understanding of the NOS is important in teaching for scientific literacy is evolution.

The science education community continues to contemplate the importance of NOS education as the Kansas State Board of Education recently decided to make the teaching of evolution optional. Awareness of the need to explicitly teach what the theory of evolution claims, and the role of theory in science and other NOS concepts, has prompted recent articles and publications for science educators (e.g. Ayala, 2000; National Academy of Science, 1998). However, science teachers' use of these publications and renewed desire to teach evolution for scientific literacy may be fraught with difficulties. Science teachers without a more complex understanding of the NOS will likely lack the pedagogical content knowledge required to teach evolution for scientific understanding. In addition, evolution itself is a highly complex and controversial topic of study (Sinclair, Pendarvis, & Baldwin, 1997). In one study, college biology students' acceptance of evolution was directly related to their understanding of science (Johnson & Peeples, 1987). Also, teachers' abilities to understand and accept the theory of evolution are often mediated by strongly held religious beliefs (Jackson, Meadows, & Wood, 1995; Dagher & BouJaoude, 1997). Those beliefs that are antagonistic to evolutionary theory often lead teachers to make a variety of compromises in their teaching of evolution (Jackson et al., 1995). These compromises can prevent the complete and scientifically grounded teaching of evolutionary theory. These compromises may lead to the explicit teaching of alternative conceptions of evolutionary theory and the role of theory in science.

Certainly, a deeper understanding of the NOS by all science teachers is required to address this concern (i.e. the teaching of evolution) and the goal of scientific literacy. Continued exploration of preservice teachers' views of inquiry and the NOS will bring further insight into some of the cultural (schooling and religious) influences that shape and form these views. Understanding some of the cultural influences on preservice teachers' conceptions of inquiry and the NOS could lead to the implementation of effective conceptual change approaches in this area of science teacher education.

Nature of the Study

This qualitative study of the teaching practices of twelve student teachers (interns) included an examination of their views of inquiry in science and science teaching. The study also included interns' views on aspects of the NOS, specifically the role of facts, laws, and theories in science. The intent of the study was to understand the interplay of personal and contextual issues (including inquiry and NOS views) on the use and expression of inquiry and supporting practices in the secondary science internship. Cultural influences, including schooling and religious influences, on interns' NOS views emerged in intern responses to interview questions on the NOS. In this study, inquiry practices were defined as more student-centered practices that were both hands-on and minds-on, and a shift away from "presenting information and covering science topics" through more traditional and didactic methods (NRC, 1996, p. 20). This definition included the use of various forms of inquiry for student investigation and understanding of scientific concepts and principles. Typical examples of inquiry in this study included investigative laboratory exercises (exploratory and data-generating), encounters with scientific phenomena followed by inquiry questioning, classroom discussion on open-ended scientific problems or issues, student-generated projects from library research, and activities aiding student understanding. Preservice teachers are expected to integrate similar methods in their student teaching during their ten-week internship.

Context of the Study

The secondary science education program in the College of Education emphasizes the teaching of science through inquiry as outlined in the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996). Inquiry includes student activities that develop conceptual understanding of scientific concepts as well as strict scientific inquiry. Inquiry as a mode of teaching for the understanding of science and science concepts is explicitly addressed and practiced in two required ten-week methods courses. The science component of the secondary science education program is taught through traditional lecture and laboratory sections in university-wide courses offered in the College of Science and Math. Preservice teachers are not required to take a course in the history and philosophy of science. Also, explicit teaching of the NOS does not occur in any part of the program.

The University is located in a rural coastal plain region of the Southeastern United States. Participating schools in this study included eight rural and two urban schools located within a sixty-mile radius of the University. Four intern cases were studied for each of three consecutive quarters (ten weeks) during 1998 and 1999. Ten of the twelve interns were female and all were European Americans. Eight of the interns were in high school placements and taught in their major subject. Four interns were placed in middle schools and taught an integrated science curriculum. Table 1 shows the pertinent demographic information for each intern.

Table 1

Demographic information for each intern case

*Intern Program Major School placement Subjects taught
Carrie Traditional undergraduate undergraduate Biology and chemistry Rural high school Chemistry and anatomy
Tracy Traditional undergraduate

undergraduate General science Urban middle magnet school Integrated science
Charlene Traditional undergraduate General science Rural high school Biology and environmental science
Tabitha Traditional undergraduate

General science Rural high school Biology and physical science
Nancy Traditional undergraduate

Biology and history Urban high school Biology and U.S. history

Jake Traditional undergraduate

Biology and chemistry Rural high school Biology and chemistry

Sherry Traditional undergraduate Science and social studies Rural middle school Integrated science
Roberta Fifth-year graduate Biology Rural middle school Integrated science
Erin Traditional undergraduate Biology and chemistry Rural high school Biology and chemistry
Kendra Traditional undergraduate General science Rural middle school Integrated science
Mitch Fifth-year graduate Physics Urban high school Physics and chemistry
Shelly Fifth-year graduate Biology Rural high school Applied biology-chemistry

*Pseudonyms are used in place of interns' real names.

Nine of the cooperating teachers in this study had worked successfully mentoring past interns in the program. Cooperating teachers varied in their stated use of inquiry in their classrooms, but all said that they used laboratory investigation and/or student-centered activities at least on a weekly basis. In only one case (Tabitha) did the cooperating teacher explicitly state her preference for emphasizing the vast content of science through more efficient didactic and teacher-centered approaches. This cooperating teacher's intern (Tabitha) was the only intern in this study who stated that she felt limited in her ability to use more inquiry-based practices than she did in her internship.


This study took place in the context of these twelve interns' classrooms with the researcher as participant. The researcher acted in the role of the interns' university supervisor. The researcher chose the twelve interns (four each quarter) to participate in this study based on their high potential for using inquiry-based teaching practices in their classroom, as rank-ordered by their two methods professors. High potential was determined by these preservice teachers' prior written work and practice teachings that demonstrated their desire in practice to be inquiry-based teachers. Selection was made from the top half of the two independently rank-ordered lists where identical names occurred for both professors. Three fifth-year program students were among the participants. They had already completed an undergraduate degree in science and were seeking initial certification to teach. They would possibly provide rich data in their views of inquiry and the nature of science in this study (Maxwell, 1996).

Interns' views of science, including facts, laws, and theories in science, came from an extended interview at the end of their internship using the Teachers Pedagogical Philosophy Instrument for First-Year Teachers (see Appendix) (Richardson & Simmons, 1994). Data on interns' views of inquiry came from extended written reflections on their use of inquiry in three observed lessons as well as a rationale paper on inquiry in science teaching: what inquiry is, its purpose and importance, and examples of use. These writings were compiled in a portfolio. Descriptions of intern teaching practice, including frequency of use of inquiry-based practices, came from field notes on three classroom observations, inspection of daily lesson plans, and ongoing intern/cooperating teacher conversations on practice. Interview and portfolio data were coded thematically using a grounded approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The researcher's coding and interpretation of the data occurred at the end of each case study and were guided by previous literature on this topic. Interview and portfolio data were compared with descriptions of intern teaching practice. Cross-case analysis of the data was conducted in search of common themes or findings that could describe the nature of interns' conceptions of science, inquiry, and potential influence on inquiry practice (Maxwell, 1996). Common themes emerging from the data were described using typical cases with individual pseudonyms (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Numbers of such cases were cited to strengthen findings. Exceptional cases were also highlighted to show variation in the data.


Teaching and Viewing Science as Inquiry

All of the interns in this study used some form of inquiry practices in their classrooms. Strict inquiry, or ongoing scientific investigation like scientists, was only observed in three cases (Nancy, Jake, Kendra). These three interns' cooperating teachers planned and implemented these inquiries before the arrival of the interns. The degree and type of inquiry practices used varied in each case with eleven interns using inquiry practices at least two days each week. Table 2 lists the typical inquiry practices used by each intern and the frequency of use of these practices on a weekly basis.

Table 2

Typical examples of inquiry practice and weekly frequency of use for each intern

*Intern Typical inquiry example(s) Frequency of use

Data generating laboratory One per week

Data generating laboratory, demonstration, activity, and project Four per week

Data generating laboratory and activity Four per week

Exploratory laboratory, activity, and discussion Two per week

Exploratory laboratory, activity, and project Three per week


Data generating laboratory, demonstration, and activity Two per week

Demonstration, activity, project, and discussion Two per week
Roberta (Fifth year student)

Activity and discussion Two per week

Data generating laboratory and activity Two per week

Demonstration and activity Three per week
Mitch (Fifth year student)

Data generating laboratory, demonstration, and discussion Four per week
Shelly (Fifth year student)

Data generating laboratory, activity and discussion Two per week

*Pseudonyms are used in place of interns' real names.

These typical practices and frequencies of use came from analysis of intern teaching data. Interns' use of inquiry manifested itself as: inquiry demonstrations where students observed phenomena for interpretation; data gathering and exploratory laboratories; student-generated discussions and questioning on a topic of study; student-centered research projects; and hands-on activities that developed student understanding of the concept of study. Hands-on activities and laboratories were the most common form of inquiry observed in practice. Traditional or cookbook laboratories that were not inquiry-oriented were observed infrequently in three high school cases (Tabitha, Nancy, and Erin). Most of the inquiry experiences were designed for students to encounter or observe scientific phenomena or principles for interpretation and understanding. Interns equated inquiry teaching strategies with hands-on and laboratory practices used to help students learn scientific concepts:

    There are several inquiry methods which I do and plan on employing. Among these are demonstrations, exploratory labs, application labs, classroom and real world observations, etc. These uses of inquiry methods and objects increase student participation and ownership of the ideas and concepts being explored. (Mitch, fifth-year student)
    Since I believe that science should be taught in a hands-on, minds-on manner, I consider inquiry strategies to be very important. If students are able to get hands-on experiences that lead to inquiry in science, I feel that they will be able to learn more than if they were learning in the traditional manner. (Erin)

Interns' stated views on the role of science and inquiry in science did not vary greatly. They viewed scientific inquiry as the posing of questions and investigation of them in order to learn the truths of science. Nancy's view of inquiry was typical of most interns. She stated, "Science is based on questioning and investigation. Answers to problems are not obvious to scientists. They use inquiry strategies accompanied by investigation to come to some conclusion." Interns viewed science as a way of understanding nature and the world around them through use of the scientific method. Observation, exploration, and experimentation were viewed as a crucial part of this process. Science was also seen as a tool to solve problems in our world and help us in our everyday lives.

Only two interns had some understanding of the role of theory as explanation in science. Erin who was an undergraduate chemistry major viewed theories as best explanations of scientific phenomena:

    "...And then a theory would be like - they think it works but they don't really know and that this is the best possible explanation somebody has come up with." (Erin)

Only one intern, Mitch, held a more complex understanding of the nature of science and the role of theory in it. When asked to distinguish between facts, laws, and theories in science, he stated:

    Facts are just a list of ideas and observations; theories put those observations and lists into some organizational framework that may explain why it's happening or why whatever it is - the "why"; and the law is the theory seems to hold; until disproven or until something comes up that is contrary to the theory and then go back and reevaluate the theory. (Mitch, fifth-year student)

His more complex NOS understanding may have been an influence in his high level of inquiry used both in the classroom and in the laboratory. However, the data suggest that Mitch's approach was more informed from his educational background and experience teaching at the University. Mitch was a fifth-year student who had almost completed his doctorate in physics. He also had experience teaching at the university in both lab and recitation sections. During his internship, he frequently used hands-on activities and demonstration in his physics and chemistry teaching. Many of these activities were inquiry in nature where students encountered scientific phenomena and principles through observation and data gathering. Students then had to interpret and explain these observations in light of previous understanding. Mitch's frequency of use of inquiry was similar to four of the other interns. However, Mitch appeared more comfortable in planning and using inquiry in his classroom. Mitch cited elements of his pedagogical content knowledge (content understanding and teaching experience) as the reason for his approach to teaching. However, explicit references to the NOS as supporting his inquiry approach, or inclusion of the NOS in his lessons, were not evident in the data.

A Hierarchical View of Truth in Science

Eleven interns shared a less developed understanding of the NOS that included a hierarchical view of facts, laws, and theories in science - Mitch being the exception. These interns saw theory as graduating to law if and when it was proven. Interns equated scientific laws as being true and established through proof from replicable experimentation and observation of natural phenomena. Facts in science were the trivial observations or findings in science that were obviously true and accepted by everyone. Theories were scientific ideas that were supported by facts but not yet established as truth. Theories were not proven like laws or obvious like facts but could be proven or disproven with time and continued study.

    A fact? I guess I just say that's a given - I mean, a fact is something that you're supposed to assume is true. I guess, something that doesn't change. Something you expect as given would be a fact. (Tracy)
    Well, a fact - like presenting to a class like a fact - is something that's in the books; it's been proven; it's been done. You read it; if there's something you can do, like a demo or something, that proves that it's going to work every single time, therefore it's a fact. I guess I think of a law as something that's been proven, too. (Charlene)
    Theories are something we're going on because we don't really have concrete proof of [them]. And laws are - we feel we do have proof on...And a theory is just - theories of science are things that just haven't been proven yet but are still being explored, but for the time being we're accepting it. (Nancy)

Five of the interns in this study shared thoughts about scientific theory in which the researcher recognized religious influences. These influences appeared present as these interns recalled the example of the theory of evolution in defining theory in science. Although none of the interns in this study taught a unit on evolution, these five interns appeared to have evolutionary theory in mind when asked about the role of theory in science. Carey made explicit reference to both the theory of evolution and the theory of creation as equally competing theories of the origins of life:

    When I think of theory, I think of theory as evolution and theory of creation, and I think that theory of evolution, that could change sometime. That theory has not yet been - it's something that can be disproven to me. (Carey)

The everyday use of the word theory as meaning conjecture may have led to a less complex understanding of theory and its role in science. However, this data suggests that these five student teachers likely developed their understanding of theory in the context of fundamentalist religious beliefs about the origins of the world. Cultural couching of scientific theory in the contested arena of evolutionary theory may have led to an understanding of theory as an alternative belief, and not an understanding supported by overwhelming empirical evidence. When empirical evidence was considered in some of these cases, interns did not view the evidence as serious or substantial enough to speak in support of evolutionary theory. Empirical evidence was contrasted with personal experience and belief. Thus, these five interns viewed theory in science as being equated somewhat with scientific belief, or science accepted with no convincing empirical evidence or foundation. They viewed scientific theory as a belief in science in which one could choose to believe or not believe. They viewed their role in teaching theory as sharing scientific belief and letting students decide for themselves. Explicit and implicit references to evolutionary theory and the controversy in teaching it were used by these interns in describing their concepts of theory in science. Some of these interns may have had these same religious beliefs themselves:

    ... And a theory is something that you - I think it's something that you believe - your beliefs about maybe science that you can't prove but that you feel strongly about. (Sherry)
    I just look to see, you know, what the facts are, how do I use them, and then I use my own intelligence to come up - to say if, you know, if I believe in a theory. (Roberta, fifth-year student)
    ...that's the way I see theories because you have the theory of evolution; well, not everybody believes that but, you know, it's a theory and that's just what some people believe - that most people believe, you know, you don't have to necessarily believe it. But facts pretty much everyone believes. (Jake)
    Um, theories - I think that you have to present in a way - you know, you have to be careful not to hurt anyone or to encourage anyone. But you have to present all the facts, I think, that go to a theory or maybe support the theory in such a way that the kids can look at the theory - and leave it kind of open-ended maybe to kind of draw their own conclusions based on their knowledge of the subject, or their experiences and stuff that they've had with it. (Charlene)

Lack of Education on Theory

Ten interns in this study had difficulty in verbalizing their thoughts, or appeared to be formulating ideas for the first time, on differentiating between facts, laws, and theories in science. Mitch and Erin were the only exceptions. Two interns asked to come back to this question, "How do you distinguish among facts, laws, and theories in science?", during their interview. All interns answered this question but some verbalized their difficulty or inability to clearly distinguish among facts, laws, and theories in science. This task appeared especially difficult when defining theory in science:

    You know, I really don't know that I know [in reference to theory]. And when we were talking about laws today, I told Ms. R., "I don't really know - I feel like I need more background than that. I don't feel like - at [University] - I don't feel like that's been real - I mean everybody says, "Laws and the theories," you all ask about 'em but I don't know...I mean, I know a theory is an idea behind something and I know a law is something that's been proven over and over and over again. But I don't really - I don't know that I can answer that question. (Kendra)
    ...And a theory - you could say are generally, generally accepted and - I'm having a problem with this - theories: theories are for the most part true - so far they've held up and they're generally accepted and so - But this is a personal area where I'm pretty wishy-washy on. (Shelly, fifth-year student)


Eleven of the student teachers in this study shared a personal understanding of the need to use inquiry practices in teaching the concepts of science to their students. Five of these eleven used inquiry practices in their teaching at least three times a week. However, the use of "strict" inquiry as a scientist was only observed in three cases. The cooperating teacher, not the intern, was responsible for planning this strict inquiry in each case. The lack of "strict" inquiry among the interns may be the result of entering a brief ten-week internship where the expectation is to teach where the cooperating teacher leaves off. The advanced planning and time needed to implement strict inquiry may be unrealistic in this situation. Also, the pedagogical content knowledge of interns has been shown to be limited and focused on mastering such teaching skills as classroom management, curricular understanding, and basic teaching strategies (Adams & Krockover, 1997a). Inquiry strategies for understanding science concepts better meets this immediate and novice need. Interns' use of inquiry in most cases manifested itself through inquiry demonstrations, hands-on activities, open-ended discussion and questioning, and laboratory data collection that functioned to help students understand scientific concepts. This approach to inquiry is emphasized for preservice teachers in the secondary science education program. Also, the almost daily use of this inquiry approach observed in the data of intern practice for five interns may have been an artifact of intense supervision during the internship. Daily supervision by the cooperating teacher with periodic visits by the university supervisor undoubtedly puts pressure on interns to perform their best.

Eleven of the student teachers in this study did not have a complex conception of the nature of scientific knowledge and the role of theory in scientific understanding. Only Mitch had a more complex understanding of the tentative nature of knowledge in science and the role of theory as a framework to organize this knowledge. He was the only student teacher in this study who had completed graduate work in science, almost obtaining his doctorate in physics. His more in-depth experience studying and conducting research in physics may have contributed to his more complex understanding of the NOS (Brickhouse, 1990). Mitch also had a more in-depth understanding of the subject that he was teaching. According to Borko and Putnam (1995), science content understanding also includes knowing the organizing theory and modes of inquiry that guide further knowledge acquisition. Mitch's more developed pedagogical content knowledge in the areas of content, inquiry, and the NOS may have supported his ability and desire to frequently use inquiry in his teaching. A better understanding of the NOS accompanied his knowledge of content and processes in physics. His pedagogical content knowledge seemed more complete in his area of study (Schwartz & Lederman, 2000). Yet, in his interview, lesson plans, and written reflections on practice, Mitch does not make explicit reference to the NOS in his teaching or a NOS-based rationale for his approach.

Alternative conceptions of the nature of science were common among the student teachers in this study. They believed that scientific knowledge could be proven or disproven through the scientific method. Most did not view scientific knowledge as tentative but as proven. This view may have originated through past science teaching and learning based in textbooks (Duschl & Wright, 1989; Gallagher, 1991; McComas, Almazroa, & Clough, 1998). Middle and high school science texts introduce the scientific method as the means in which scientists generate knowledge. This knowledge is then put to continued testing for its veracity. Secondary science teachers in most cases rely on these texts for their students' understanding of this content. In this study, student teachers' viewed the scientific method as the means to generate and verify truth in science. This conception along with simplistic treatments of the NOS in science education likely led to their understanding of a hierarchy of veracity in science where truth (or law) has withstood the test of time and scrutiny (McComas, Almazroa, & Clough, 1998).

Ten student teachers in this study viewed theory as hypothesis or conjecture in science. Only Mitch and Erin saw theory as explanation. This confusion may come from textual treatments (and subsequent teaching) that contrast law and theory in science, as well as the common use of theory as conjecture in society (Johnson & Peeples, 1987; McComas, Almazroa, & Clough, 1998). Texts portray scientific laws as having the backing of consistent observation. Theories on the other hand are presented as more tentative and human derived explanations. These precursory and simplistic treatments of NOS concepts in textbooks are followed by a bombardment of seemingly "proven" science content. This combination of brief and simplistic NOS teaching along with a content emphasis may be a reason for the alternative conceptions among these student teachers, as well as preservice teachers in other studies (Abd-El-Khalick, 1998; Gallagher, 1991).

In addition, lack of college education on the NOS and religious influences may work together in some instances to further support alternative and simplistic conceptions. Two students in this study, Kendra and Shelly, shared their difficulty in knowing the difference between laws and theories in science. Kendra blamed this lack of knowledge on her university education that apparently did not address this issue in her classes. Also, evidence in this study's data suggests that the relegation of theory to hypothesis status may be influenced or reinforced by a religious environment that questions the role of theory in science in light of more permanent religious truths. This is most evident in the instance of evolutionary theory in biology (Jackson et al., 1995, Sinclair & Baldwin, 1995, Sinclair et al., 1997). Five student teachers in this study appeared to reflect on evolutionary theory and religious conflicts when formulating their thoughts about theory in science. Carey and Jake explicitly mentioned the theory of evolution in their response on how they viewed theories in science. Sherry explicitly stated that she viewed theory as a belief in science. Such views of theory intermingled with belief may be influenced by religion and culture that denigrate the role of theory in science. This situation may be particularly acute in areas of the country where communities are opposed to the teaching and learning of evolution in biology classes. Further research is needed to delineate the potential role of religion and culture on preservice teachers' understanding of scientific theory.


Understanding the nature of science and the role of theory in science are difficult concepts to teach under ideal circumstances (Sinclair et al., 1997). More explicit and informed teaching on the NOS is necessary if students are to begin to understand science as a means of tentative knowledge creation that is guided and understood through theory (Duschl & Wright, 1989; Gallagher, 1991; McComas, Almazroa, & Clough, 1998; Schwartz et al., 2000). Such explicit teaching of the NOS is a first step toward developing scientifically literate teachers who teach for scientific literacy. The impact of NOS understanding on beginning science teachers' practices is likely to be limited amidst the concerns and developing pedagogical content knowledge of early teaching (Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R. L., & Lederman, N. G., 1998; Adams and Krockover, 1997b). Preservice, as in this study, and beginning science teachers may rely on inquiry practices requiring limited pedagogical content knowledge because of their limited teaching and laboratory experiences. As beginning teachers develop their pedagogical content knowledge and begin to master the early skills and concerns of teaching, they will be ready to use more in-depth and stricter forms of inquiry. Adequate understanding of the NOS and key NOS concepts to conduct strict inquiry and explicitly teach the NOS will be vital at this juncture in their careers. Professional development in helping new teachers implement strict inquiry and NOS teaching at this point in their careers may be more effective than at the very beginning of teaching. This is the point at which scientifically literate teachers teach for scientific literacy.

In this study, inadequate understanding of the nature of science did not immediately impact the use of inquiry by student teachers as a means of teaching science concepts. However, this lack of understanding may impact their future use and teaching of strict scientific inquiry. These teachers may be able to implement strict inquiry in their future classrooms but doubt remains (except in Mitch's case) as to their ability to connect this inquiry with the NOS and an informed teaching of key NOS concepts. Preservice teachers' inadequate understanding of the NOS will likely lead to the perpetuation of alternative conceptions of "truth" in science and the role of theory in science that come from texts, past science teaching, and religious influences. These influences appear present in this study's data. This implication becomes even more poignant in the teaching of evolution (Linhart, 1997; McComas, Almazroa, & Clough, 1998).

Addressing preservice teachers' alternative conceptions and the cultural influences that contribute to them is an important first step in our quest for national scientific literacy for all Americans (AAAS, 1993). Science teacher educators need to include a component or course on the NOS and its importance on teaching and understanding science as a discipline as well as the concepts of science. In a supportive and non-judgmental environment, preservice teachers need to begin to reflect on this issue, learn more about the nature of science, and discuss how a more complex understanding of the nature of science is relevant for them as future science teachers (Jackson et al., 1995).


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Schwartz, R. S., Lederman, N. G., & Crawford, B. (2000, January). Making connections between the nature of science and scientific inquiry: A science research internship for preservice teachers. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, Akron, OH.

About the author...
Charles Eick received his Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Sciences from Clemson University in South Carolina. After participating in an alternative certification program in South Carolina and then Georgia, he taught both high school and middle school in the metro Atlanta area for eight years. While teaching, he obtained his Master of Science Education degree from Georgia State University. Continuing to follow his wife's employment opportunities, he moved to Auburn, Alabama where he obtained his doctorate and now is Assistant Professor of Secondary Science Education.


Salish I Research Project
Teachers' Pedagogical Philosophy Interview

(Developed by Lon Richardson and Patricia Simmons)

First Year Teachers

Level I Interview Questions

1. How would you describe yourself as a classroom teacher?

2. What role model do you have for yourself as a classroom teacher?

3. Describe a well-organized classroom. When you have your classroom running the way you want it, what is it like?

4. How did you form this model of the well-organized classroom?

5. How long did it take you to develop this model of teaching?

6. What do you consider to be the founding principles of teaching? If you had to write a book describing the principles that teaching should be built on, what would those principles be?

7. How do you learn best?

8. How do you know when you have learned?

9. How do you know when you know something?

10. What are facts, laws, and theories in science/mathematics?

11. How are facts arrived at?

12. How do you distinguish among facts, laws, and theories in science/mathematics?

13. When you picture a good learner in your mind, what characteristics of that person lead you to believe that they are a good learner?

14. What is science/mathematics?

15. In what ways do you learn science/mathematics best?

16. When you learn science/mathematics, is it different than learning mathematics/science or history?

17. What are the founding principles of science/mathematics?

18. How do you decide what to teach and what not to teach?

19. How do you decide when to move from one concept to another?

20. What learning in your classroom do you think will be valuable to your students outside the classroom environment?

21. Describe the best teaching/learning situation that you have ever experienced.

22. In what way do you try to model that best teaching/learning situation in your classroom?

23. What are some of the impediments or constraints for implementing that kind of model in your classroom?

24. What are some of the tactics you use to overcome these constraints?

25. Are there any things at the local/school/state levels that influence the way you teach? What are some examples of this?

26. What are values?

27. How do you arrive at these values?

28. What are some of the things you value most about science/mathematics?

29. How do you believe your students learn best?

30. How do you know when your students understand a concept?

31. How do you know when learning is occurring, or has occurred in your classroom?

32. How do you think your students come to believe in their minds that they understand something?

33. In what ways do you manipulate the educational environment (classroom, school, etc.) to maximize student understanding?

34. What science/mathematics concepts do you believe are the most important for your students to understand by the end of the school year?

35. How do you want your students to view science/mathematics by the end of the school year?

36. What values do you want to develop in your students?

37. What are some of the things you believe your students value most about their educational experience in your classroom? When they leave here they say, 'I really liked (his/her) class because ______________'.

38. How do you accommodate students with special needs in your classroom?

39. What do you believe are your main strengths as a teacher?

40. In what areas would you like to improve as a teacher?

41. When did you realize you were becoming a good teacher, understanding that you were having a positive effect on your students and satisfied that you were doing the right thing?

42a. Were your undergraduate education/pedagogy courses beneficial to you when you began teaching? Why or why not?

42b. Were your undergraduate science/mathematics courses beneficial to you when you began teaching? Why or why not?

43a. What changes would you make in undergraduate education/pedagogy courses, if you could, to make the experience more meaningful?

43b. What changes would you make in undergraduate science/mathematics courses, if you could, to make the experience more meaningful?

44. In reference to the teaching model or teaching package the you have developed..if you had to divide that up into a pie chart, how much of the that chart would come from undergraduate training, graduate training, your on-the-job experience, or anything else that you can think of?

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