Teaching future K-8 teachers the language of Newton: A case study of collaboration and change in university physics teaching

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  • SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATIONMark Windschitl, Section Editor

    Teaching Future K-8 Teachersthe Language of Newton:A Case Study of Collaborationand Change in UniversityPhysics Teaching

    CAROL BRISCOE, CHANDRA S. PRAYAGAUniversity of West Florida, Pensacola, FL 32514, USA

    Received 21 June 2002; revised 6 January 2004; accepted 7 January 2004

    DOI 10.1002/sce.20005Published online 30 June 2004 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).

    ABSTRACT: This interpretive case study describes a collaborative project involving aphysics professor and a science educator. We report what was learned about factors that in-fluenced the professors development of teaching strategies, alternative to lecture, that wereintended to promote prospective teachers meaningful learning and their use of canonicalways of communicating physics concepts. We describe how the professors beliefs influ-enced the pedagogy that he used to communicate the language of physics and the natureof what was communicated. We also report how our collaboration fostered change as wedeveloped a shared language that allowed us to discuss how students learn and to explicatethe referent beliefs that supported the professors practices. We found that focused reflec-tion on referent beliefs led to a change in the manner in which the professor communicatedwith the prospective teachers. Traditional lecture pedagogy focused the professors concernon how he was teaching evolved toward a pedagogy that focused on how students werelearning. Classroom interactions were increased with a primary goal of orchestrating a dis-course of physics initiated in the language already accessible to the prospective teachers.This change in the manner that classroom interactions occurred provided opportunities forthe prospective teachers language to evolve toward eventually communicating their ideasin canonical physics language. C 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 88:947969, 2004

    Correspondence to: Carol Briscoe; e-mail: cbriscoe@uwf.eduThis paper was edited by former Section Editor Deborah Trumbull.

    C 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


    INTRODUCTIONIn the complicated world of physical phenomena, nothing is really as it seems. In order to

    understand real world experience, one must enter an invented world of models and languageabout experimental arrangements and observations that has developed since the time ofGalileo (Hanson, 1958). This model world and its accompanying language abstractions hasmade possible great advances in physics but it is quite contrary to the world of prospectiveelementary teachers, whose experiences drive their thinking and communicating in waysthat are often compared to that of Aristotle (Di Sessa, 1982). These prospective teacherswho will communicate their thinking to future generations will need to be initiated intoscientific ways of knowing and to learn to use the language physicists use to communicatewhat is known. But, research suggests that due to the differences inherent in the language andrepresentations that are common to the structure of the discipline as physicists understandit and the representations and language that structure students prior knowledge based onexperience, difficulties arise (Deng, 2001; Driver et al., 1994; Gunstone & Watts, 1985;Klaassen & Lijnse, 1996). Furthermore, traditional instruction may not change studentsAristotelian views (Ginns & Watters, 1995; Lemke, 1990; Roth & Tobin, 1996; Trumper& Gorsky, 1996) that act as a boundary to deter learning (Roth & Tobin, 2002). If studentsare to learn the language of physics they must be provided with opportunities to use thelanguage themselves, to set up logical arguments, and to examine relationships betweenthe language and the mathematical relationships derived from it (Champagne, Klopfer, &Anderson, 1980; Seely Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Van Heuvelen, 1991).

    Numerous studies and reports have pointed out that undergraduate science teachingtypically does not prepare prospective teachers to meet these goals (American Associationof Physics Teachers, 1996; National Science Foundation (NSF), 1996; National ResearchCouncil (NRC), 1996; Taylor, Gilmer, & Tobin, 2002). These publications recommend thatcollege faculty should be moving away from lecture as a means of instruction and increaseopportunities for students to discuss experimental results and issues related to content andthe nature of the discipline. As suggested by the NRC (1997), The teachers role is toorchestrate discourse among students about scientific ideas . . . to listen, encourage broadparticipation, and judge how to guide discussion---determining ideas to follow, ideas toquestion, information to provide and connections to make (p. 32, 36).

    The call for reform in teaching is clear; however, research in the K-12 sector has demon-strated that changing what happens in classrooms will not be easy. Long held beliefsof teachers and students are strong influences on how lessons are presented by teachersand how students approach learning (Briscoe, 1991; Cornett, Yeotis, & Terwilliger, 1990;Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1994). These beliefs, grounded in personal experiences, arehighly resistant to change (Block & Hazelip, 1995).

    Although studies have attempted to characterize the beliefs about teaching held by uni-versity instructors; Kane, Sandretto, and Heath (2002) site a weakness in these studies asnot focusing on the relationship between beliefs and the observed practices of teachersat the tertiary level. Further, they suggest that cues should be taken from the literature atthe primary and secondary levels that focus on connecting beliefs to practice in order tounderstand how academics develop as teachers and how their practices evolve through time.

    Kane et al. (2002) enumerate various methodologies that researchers have used to expli-cate teachers beliefs. Many of these methods are designed to engage teachers in strategiesof reflective practice through self study (Gibson, 1998) or in collaboration with other facultymembers (Abbas, Goldsby, & Gilmer, 2002). In collaborative settings, reflective dialoguecan become a key to unlocking and changing teachers beliefs regarding their practices(Elliott, 1991). Tobin and Jakubowski (1990) suggest that once beliefs are explicated they


    can become objects of reflection. Teachers can critically examine the congruence, or lackthereof, between their espoused beliefs about teaching and learning and the beliefs in usethat drive their practices (Briscoe, 1991; Clandenin & Conelly, 1987, 1991; Elbaz, 1981,1983). The possibility of practical change is enhanced because teachers develop a bet-ter understanding of themselves and their situation (Briscoe & Peters, 1997; Briscoe &Wells, 2002; Fenstermacher & Richardson, 1991; Richardson, 1994; Sparks & Simmons,1989; Watts, 1985). Critical reflection among colleagues affords individuals opportunitiesto develop alternative ways of interpreting their reality and is considered to be an essentialcomponent of the development of teaching expertise at all levels (McLean & Blackwell,1997; Wildman et al., 1990).

    Accordingly, collaboration between science and education faculty to improve the sci-ence education of future teachers is a central theme of several national programs (NRC,NSF). However, research has indicated that the development of strong institutional collab-oration between scientists and educators is fraught with obstacles. Contributing to misun-derstandings that hinder collaboration are conflicting beliefs regarding the knowledge basefor teaching and learning, lack of understanding of one anothers disciplines, and depart-mental workings and goals, and lack of support from other members of the departmentor the university. Among the most important factors that contribute to positive experi-ences in collaboration are the development of (a) a language of collaboration, (b) trustamong participants, and (c) respect for one anothers beliefs and values. If collaborationthat leads to reform in university science teaching is to be successful, the boundaries thatseparate the two cultures must be carefully negotiated (Duggan-Haas, Smith, & Miller,1999).

    PURPOSE OF THE STUDYThis study explores collaborative reflection and change in teaching as it was experienced

    by one physics professor during a 2-year period (four semesters of teaching), while workingwith a teacher educator at the University of West Florida. Unlike other studies which havereported how science and education faculty set out together to change science teaching bypurposefully engaging in collaborative research and reflection (Abbas, Goldsby, & Gilmer,2002; Krockover et al., 2002), this study examines a case in which collaboration was notthe initial goal of the participants. We examine the beliefs that had historically served asreferents for the scientists teaching practices. We then explore the factors that contributedto the scientists and educators crossing the cultural boundaries that typically inhibit col-laboration. Finally we explore changes in the professors beliefs and practices and howthese changes affected how he orchestrated discourse that facilitated students participationin developing a shared language of physics.

    CONTEXT OF THE STUDYThe context of this study is a college level physics course designed especially for middle

    level and elementary preservice teachers. Prior to the development of this course, educationmajors had been enrolling in university general physics. An evaluation of the success rateof students in the course indicated that most of the students were unable to handle the rigorof this algebra-based course and the drop out rate was high among education majors. Whenfunding became available through a small grant from the Florida Consortium for Excellencein Teacher Preparation (FCETP) the science educator, Briscoe, met with the head of thephysics department and he agreed to provide faculty for a new course. Constraints relatedto the structure of the physics curriculum and course scheduling influenced the original


    design of the course. In order to meet scheduling constraints within the physics depart-ment, the course was scheduled as a lecture session that met twice a week for 1 h and 15min. A separate laboratory was scheduled; however, it was not required and few studentselected to take it. Enrollment was originally set at 30 students to ensure that the problemsassociated with learning in large group settings would not affect this course. However, thedepartment head viewed the course as an opportunity to increase the departments full-timeenrollment (FTE) and insisted that enrollment be open to all students, rather than beinglimited to education majors. Text selection for the course the first semester was limited toone of three texts that the head of the department viewed as reputable among universityphysics professors. After reviewing the three texts, Briscoe recommended the text with leastmathematical focus (Krauskopf & Beiser, 2000).

    Initially, a nontenured instructor was scheduled to teach the course; however, after re-viewing the requirements as set by the grant application, he declined because he did notwant to teach a course that was not entirely lecture based. It was not until 2 weeks prior tothe start of the semester that Prayaga, an associate professor, received the assignment forteaching the course.

    A meeting was set by the department head to discuss the curriculum. It was at this meetingthat Briscoe and Prayaga met for the first time. During this meeting and at one additionalmeeting we discussed how the curriculum should be planned based on the recommendationsin the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996). Focusingon reform issues in science education, Briscoe suggested that the course might focus on afew major concepts rather than the entire text. Consistent with the National Standards, sherecommended that the prospective teachers have opportunities to explore physics conceptswith concrete materials in class sessions because they were not likely to take the labora-tory. Because actively involving students in laboratory-like activities during a scheduledlecture session in a small class room, did not seem feasible to Prayaga; Briscoe suggestedthat student demonstration experiments could provide some hands-on experience. From anumber of middle level and elementary texts, we selected five activities for students to per-form (Newtons second law, Archimedes principle, fluid pressure, heat of fusion, electricityand magnetism). These limited alternatives to the use of lecture alone for content deliverywere negotiated with difficulty. Prayaga and the department head viewed the course as atypical physics course covering traditional content, only with less emphasis on mathemat-ics. Prayaga agreed to consider implementing these negotiated alternatives; however, as thecourse was implemented the decisions regarding the day to day classroom instruction weresolely his responsibility.

    After this initial organization of the course, the implementation was followed for foursemesters. The evolution of the curriculum and the strategies used to teach the content arereported in this study.

    RESEARCH METHODSParticipantsThe Professor---Coauthor. Prayaga had taught calculus and algebra based physicscourses for science and engineering majors at the university level for 14 years. His owneducational experiences in India had been quite traditional---didactic teaching with a strongfocus on covering the syllabus for national exams. He had taught graduate physics therebefore coming to the United States. He enjoyed teaching, and he had won awards for excel-lence in university teaching and was confident regarding his teaching skills. He became apart of this study by coincidence of his department head assigning him to teach the course.


    The Science Educator---Coauthor. Briscoe was a secondary teacher of biology andchemistry for 20 years before joining the university faculty where she had taught sci-ence education courses for 10 years. At the university she had also worked with elementaryteachers facilitating reform in science teaching at both the individual and school levels.

    The Students. The students enrolled in the course over the three semesters were primarilyprospective K-6 teachers. About 20% of the enrollment included lower division studentswho elected to take the course (see Table 1). A survey of the students academic recordsindicated that their mathematics backgrounds were mixed. Most of the students had taken atleast two courses. About one half of them had a credit in college algebra. Other mathematicscourses taken by these students included prealgebra, liberal arts mathematics, mathematicsfor elementary teachers, and basic statistics. Less than 25% had taken a physics course inhigh school.

    DesignThe study employed an interpretive design (Erickson, 1986). Interpretive re...


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