Teacher thinking and interconnectedness: teachers' thinking about students' experiences and science concepts during classroom teaching

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Upadhyay, Bhaskar Raj

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This study examined 4 elementary school teachers’ thinking during science teaching in 2 urban schools in the southern United States. Most of the students in these schools come from minority families with low socioeconomic status. The teachers involved in this study were participants in the Linking Food and the Environment (LiFE) program, a curriculum designed for urban elementary students to learn life and environmental sciences. The research employed cross-case study methodology to understand teachers’ thinking and the decisions they made during classroom teaching. Fifteen science lessons were taped (7 videotaped and 8 audiotaped) for each teacher over a period of 7 months. Six stimulated recall interviews were conducted to elicit the teachers’ thinking and decision-making process during teaching. Data were analyzed using William and Baxter’s (1996) discourse analysis framework. Three factors that influence elementary school teachers’ thinking and the decisions they made during science teaching emerged from the data analysis:

  1. Most teachers believed that students’ experiences could be used during teaching, but they disagreed about the usefulness of students’ experiences in teaching science for understanding. Two teachers who perceived their students to be less intelligent did not use students’ experiences during teaching.
  2. All the teachers in the study asserted that students must have the knowledge of science process skills to succeed in science investigation and high-stakes tests. These teachers also believed that mastering science process skills aided in students’ understanding of science concepts.
  3. In an academically high-performing school, the school administrators played a less significant role in teachers’ thinking and decision making than in an academically low-performing school. Administrators were under pressure to “teach to the test” so that students would perform better in the high-stakes test. Teachers perceived a higher incentive for teaching science for better scores in high-stakes tests than for understanding.