know about science, not only the “level” of knowledge (as indicated by number of science courses, degrees, certificates) teachers need to teach science. Without careful attention to what teachers need to know to teach science and how they can learn it, solutions are often limited to adding more courses to a given sequence, program, or credential requirement.
The strands of science learning, presented in Chapter 2, provide a useful rubric for analyzing the kinds of science that teachers currently learn and identifying the aspects of science proficiency that current professional development is unlikely to support. Two recurrent patterns in undergraduate science curricula emerge when considered in light of the strands. First, much like many current K-12 science curricula, undergraduate science curricula tend to emphasize, most heavily, conceptual and factual knowledge (Strand 1). There is some emphasis on doing investigations (Strand 2), although typically through contrived experiments in which both process and results are clearly spelled out for students. Undergraduate science rarely emphasizes reflection on scientific knowledge (Strand 3), and participation in science (Strand 4) is rarer still.
Not surprisingly, undergraduates’ and prospective science teachers’ views of science reflect these emphases. They often view science narrowly as a body of facts and scientific practice as nothing more than the application of a sequential scientific method. An example of this narrow view is discussed in Mark Windshitl’s study of the views of preservice science teachers as they designed and conducted studies in the context of a secondary science methods course.3 Study participants included 14 preservice teachers with earned bachelor’s degrees in a science. The study tracked teachers’ thinking about science through their regular journal entries for one semester and conducted interviews with them on their experiences in science from middle school forward. When researchers analyzed the teachers’ efforts to develop inquiry projects (from formulating questions through presentations to peers), they found that they had a common “folk view” of science, meaning that they viewed hypotheses as guesses with little bearing on how problems should be framed and examined. Scientific theory assumes a peripheral role in this view of science, relegated to the end of a study as an optional tool one might use to help explain results.
Many elementary and middle school teachers, like many college-educated adults in this society, have only a superficial knowledge of science. Inadequate undergraduate courses, as well as inadequate teacher education or credentialing programs, and insufficient professional development opportunities all contribute to the problem.