Journal of Science Teacher Education

, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 1049–1072 | Cite as

The Science Semester: Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry for Prospective Elementary Teachers

  • Danielle J. Ford
  • Steve Fifield
  • John Madsen
  • Xiaoyu Qian


We describe the Science Semester, a semester-long course block that integrates three science courses and a science education methods course for elementary teacher education majors, and examine prospective elementary teachers’ developing conceptions about inquiry, science teaching efficacy, and reflections on learning through inquiry. The Science Semester was designed to provide inquiry-oriented and problem-based learning experiences, opportunities to examine socially relevant issues through cross-disciplinary perspectives, and align with content found in elementary curricula and standards. By the end of the semester, prospective elementary teachers moved from naïve to intermediate understandings of inquiry and significantly increased self-efficacy for science teaching as measured on one subscore of the STEBI-B. Reflecting on the semester, prospective teachers understood and appreciated the goals of the course and the PBL format, but struggled with the open-ended and student-directed elements of the course.


Preservice teacher education Elementary teacher education Inquiry Science education Self-efficacy 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. HRD-0455781 and DUE-0088527. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


  1. Adamson, S. L., Banks, D., Burtch, M., Cox, F, I. I. I., Judson, E., Turley, J. B., et al. (2003). Reformed undergraduate instruction and its subsequent impact on secondary school teaching practice and student achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teazching, 40, 939–957.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aikenhead, G., & Solomon, J. (1994). STS education: International perspectives on reform. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, D. E., Donham, R., & Fifield, S. (2007). Kids, chemicals and cancer. Problem-Based Learning Clearinghouse. Published online 9/13/2007.
  4. American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1989). Science for All Americans. Washington, D.C.: AAAS.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, R. D., & Mitchner, C. P. (1994). Research on science teacher education. In D. Gabel (Ed.), Handbook of research on science teaching and learning (pp. 3–44). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. Barnett, J., & Hodson, D. (2001). Pedagogical context knowledge: Toward a fuller understanding of what good science teachers know. Science Education, 85, 426–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beiswenger, R. E., Stepans, J. I., & McClurg, P. A. (1998). Developing science courses for prospective elementary teachers. Journal of College Science Teaching, 21, 253–256.Google Scholar
  8. Bleicher, R. E. (2004). Revisiting the STEBI-B: Measuring self-efficacy in preservice elementary teachers. School Science and Mathematics, 104, 383–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bleicher, R. E. (2006). Nurturing confidence in preservice elementary teachers. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 17, 165–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boone, W. J., & Gabel, D. L. (1998). Effectiveness of a model teacher preparation program for the elementary level. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 9, 63–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Briscoe, C., & Prayaga, C. S. (2004). Teaching future K-8 teachers the language of Newton: A case study of collaboration and change in university physics teaching. Science Education, 88(6), 947–969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bryan, L. A., & Abell, S. K. (1999). The development of professional knowledge in learning to teach elementary science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 121–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Capobianco, B. M. (2007). A self-study of the role of technology in promoting reflection and inquiry-based science teaching. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 271–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Capraro, R. M., & Slough, S. W. (2009). Project-based learning: An integrated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) approach. Boston: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  15. Clandinin, D. J. (1985). Personal practical knowledge: A study of teachers’ classroom images. Curriculum Inquiry, 15, 361–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (1995). Teachers’ professional knowledge landscapes. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  17. Cresswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2006). Designing and conducting mixed-methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  18. Danielewicz, J. (2001). Teaching selves: Identity, pedagogy, and teacher education. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  19. Engel, C. E. (1997). Not just a method but a way of learning. In D. Bound & G. Feletti (Eds.), The challenge of problem based learning (2nd ed., pp. 17–27). London: Kogan Page.Google Scholar
  20. Fifield, S., Grusenmeyer, L., & Ford, D. Pedagogical change, loss, and mourning in elementary science teacher education. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing (in press).Google Scholar
  21. Ford, D. J. (2005). How will I know if my students learned what they’re supposed to? Curriculum evaluation in the NCLB era. Problem-Based Learning Clearinghouse. Published online 8/30/2005.
  22. Ford, D., Fifield, S., Qian, X., Allen, D., Donham, R., Gwekwerere, Y., & Sharma, A. (2008, March). Preservice K-8 teachers’ developing pedagogical context knowledge within an integrated science and education continuum. Baltimore, MD: Symposium presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching.Google Scholar
  23. Ford, D., Fifield, S., Grusenmeyer, L., Madsen, J., Nandakumar, R., Pizzini, E., & Qian, X. (2010, March). From university students to teachers of science: Researching preservice K-8 teachers’ acquisition of pedagogical context knowledge within a reform-based curriculum. Philadelphia, PA: Symposium presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching.Google Scholar
  24. Friedrichsen, P. M. (2001). Moving from hands-on to inquiry-based: A biology course for prospective elementary teachers. American Biology Teacher, 63(8), 562–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gess-Newsome, J., & Lederman, N. (1999). Examining pedagogical content knowledge. Boston: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  26. Gess-Newsome, J., Southerland, S. A., Johnston, A., & Woodbury, S. (2003). Educational reform, personal practical theories, and dissatisfaction: The anatomy of change in college science teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 731–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Goldstein, L., & Lake, V. (2000). “Love, love, and more love for children”: Exploring preservice teachers’ understandings of caring. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16, 861–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Goodman, B. E., Freeburg, E. M., Rasmussen, K., & Meng, D. (2006). Elementary education majors experience hands-on learning in introductory biology. Advances in Physiology Education, 30, 195–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Guziec, M. K., & Lawson, H. (2004). Science for elementary educators: Modeling science instruction for childhood education majors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 33(5), 36–40.Google Scholar
  30. Hayes, M. T. (2002). Elementary preservice teachers’ struggles to implement inquiry-based science teaching. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13(2), 147–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Howes, E. (2002). Learning to teach science for all in the elementary grades: What do preservice teachers bring? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39, 845–869.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hubbard, P., & Abell, S. (2005). Setting sail or missing the boat: Comparing the beliefs of preservice elementary teachers with and without an inquiry-based physics course. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 16, 5–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kagan, D. (1992). Professional growth among preservice and beginning teachers. Review of Educational Research, 62, 129–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelly, J. (2000). Rethinking the elementary science methods course: A case for content, pedagogy, and informal science education. International Journal of Science Education, 22(7), 755–777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Klein, J. T. (1996). Crossing boundaries: Knowledge, disciplinarities, and interdisciplinarities. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.Google Scholar
  36. Krajcik, J., & Czerniak, C. (2007). Teaching science in elementary and middle school: A project-based approach. New York: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  37. Krockover, G. H., Shepardson, D. P., Eichinger, D., Nakhleh, M., & Adams, P. E. (2002). Reforming and assessing undergraduate science instruction using collaborative action-based research teams. School Science and Mathematics, 102(6), 266–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lee, C., & Krapfl, L. (2002). Teaching as you would have them teach: An effective elementary science teacher preparation program. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 13(3), 247–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Levin, B. B. (Ed.). (2001). Energizing teacher education and professional development with problem-based learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.Google Scholar
  40. Levinson, B. A., & Holland, D. C. (1996). The cultural production of the educated person: An introduction. In B. A. Levinson, D. E. Foley, & D. C. Holland (Eds.), The cultural production of the educated person: Critical ethnographies of schooling and local practice (pp. 1–54). Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  41. Loucks-Horsley, S., Hewson, P., Love, N., & Stiles, K. (1998). Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  42. Luera, G. R., & Otto, C. A. (2005). Development and evaluation of an inquiry-based elementary science teacher education program reflecting current reform movements. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 16, 241–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lunetta, V. N., Hofstein, A., & Clough, M. P. (2007). Learning and teaching in the school science laboratory: An analysis of research, theory, and practice. In S. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 393–441). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Marx, R. W., Blumenfeld, P. C., Krajcik, J. S., & Soloway, E. (1997). Enacting project-based science: Challenges for practice and policy. Elementary School Journal, 97, 341–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McLoughlin, A. S., & Dana, T. M. (1999). Making science relevant: The experiences of prospective elementary teachers in an innovative science content course. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 10(2), 69–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  47. National Research Council. (2000). Inquiry and the national science education standards: A guide for teaching and learning. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  48. National Research Council. (2001). Educating teachers of science, mathematics, and technology: New practices for the new millennium. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  49. National Research Council. (2005). America’s Lab Report: Investigations in high school science. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  50. National Research Council. (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  51. National Science Foundation. (1996). Shaping the future: New expectations for undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Washington, DC: NSF.Google Scholar
  52. Newman, W., Abell, S., Hubbard, P., McDonald, J., Otaala, J., & Martini, M. (2004). Dilemmas of teaching inquiry in elementary methods. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 15, 257–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Norman, K. (2000). Restructuring elementary teacher preparation programs to integrate content and pedagogy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, January 6–9, Akron, OH.Google Scholar
  54. Norman, K., & Yamashita, R. (n.d.) The integrated Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies and Multiple Credential Program @ California State University San Marcos. Retrieved from:
  55. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  56. Peterson, R. F., & Treagust, D. F. (1998). Learning to teach primary science through problem-based learning. Science Education, 82, 215–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pinar, W. F. (1998). Introduction. In W. F. Pinar (Ed.), Queer theory in education (pp. 1–47). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  58. Posner, G., Strike, K., Hewson, P., & Gertzog, W. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Science Education, 66, 211–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Riggs, I., & Enochs, L. (1990). Toward the development of an efficacy belief instrument for elementary teachers. Science Education, 74, 625–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Schwarz, C. V., Meyer, J., & Sharma, A. (2007). Technology, pedagogy and epistemology: Opportunities and challenges of using computer modeling and simulation tools in elementary science methods. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1–22.Google Scholar
  62. Smith, D. C. (1999). Changing our teaching: The role of pedagogical content knowledge in elementary science. In J. Gess-Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical content knowledge (pp. 163–197). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  63. Smith, D. C. (2000). Content and pedagogical content knowledge for elementary science teacher educators: Knowing our students. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 11(1), 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Smith, D. C., & Anderson, C. W. (1999). Appropriating scientific practices and discourses with future elementary teachers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(7), 755–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Spector, B., Burkett, R., & Leard, C. (2007). Mitigating resistance to teaching science through inquiry: Studying self. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 185–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stepans, J., McClurg, P., & Bieswenger, R. (1995). A teacher education program in elementary science that connects content, methods, practicum, and student teaching. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 6(3), 158–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Stofflet, R., & Stoddart, T. (1994). The ability to understand and use conceptual change pedagogies as a function of prior content learning experience. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31, 31–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Stokols, D., Hall, K. L., Taylor, B. K., & Moser, R. P. (2008). The science of team science: Overview of the field and introduction to the supplement. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 35(2S), S77–S89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  70. Stuart, C., & Thurlow, D. (2000). Making it on their own: Preservice teachers’ experiences, beliefs, and classroom practices. Journal of Teacher Education, 51, 113–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sunal, C. S., Whittaker, K. W., Freeman, L. M., Odell, M., Hodges, J., Edwards, L., et al. (2001). Teaching science in higher education: Faculty professional development and barriers to change. School Science and Mathematics, 101(5), 246–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Volkman, M. J., Abell, S. K., & Zgagacz, M. (2005). The challenges of teaching physics to preservice elementary teachers: Orientations of the professor, teaching assistant, and students. Science Education, 89, 847–869.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Vosniadou, S. (2012). Reframing the classical approach to conceptual change: Preconceptions, misconceptions and synthetic models. In B. J. Frazer, K. G. Tobin, & C. J. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (pp. 119–230). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Watters, J. J., & Diezmann, C. M. (2007). Multimedia resources to bridge the praxis gap: Modeling practice in elementary science education. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 349–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Watters, J. J., & Ginns, I. S. (2000). Developing motivation to teach elementary science: Effect of collaborative and authentic learning practices in preservice education. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 11(4), 301–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Weld, J., & Funk, L. (2005). “I’m not the science type”: Effect of an inquiry biology content course on preservice elementary teachers’ intentions about teaching science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 16, 189–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wilson, S., & Cameron, R. (1996). Student teacher perceptions of effective teaching: a developmental perspective. Journal of Education for Teaching, 22, 181–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Windschitl, M. (2004). Folk theories of “inquiry:” How preservice teachers reproduce the discourse and practices of an atheoretical scientific method. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41, 481–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Zeidler, D. L., Sadler, T. D., Simmons, M. L., & Howes, E. V. (2005). Beyond STS: A research-based framework for socioscientific issues education. Science Education, 89, 357–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zembal-Saul, C., Starr, M., & Krajcik, J. S. (1999). Constructing a framework for elementary science teaching using pedagogical content knowledge. In J. Gess-Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical content knowledge (pp. 237–256). The Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  81. Zembylas, M., & Barker, H. (2002). Beyond “methods” and prescriptions: Community conversations and individual spaces in elementary science education courses. Research in Science Education, 32, 329–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Association for Science Teacher Education, USA 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Danielle J. Ford
    • 1
  • Steve Fifield
    • 2
  • John Madsen
    • 3
  • Xiaoyu Qian
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  2. 2.The Franklin InstitutePhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

Personalised recommendations