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Elementary Teachers' Understanding of Students' Prior Science Knowledge: Implications for Practice and Teacher Education
Unformatted Document Text:  Elementary Teachers’ Understanding of Students’ Prior Knowledge Gomez-Zwiep, S. & McComas, W.. concept.Misconceptions and Teacher Practice The literature concerning misconceptions and teacher practice is limited. In addition to student misconceptions, teachers also need to be aware of student thinking to adequately address misconceptions. If teachers are not conscious of student thinking, misconceptions and the effect of instruction on misconceptions will not be evident. Wagner (2003) investigated the impact of use of lesson studies on preservice teachers’ ability to focus on student thinking. Participants in the lesson study were instructed on how to use pedagogical content knowledge to make changes in lessons, identify what areas of the curriculum will be easier or more challenging for students, and how to use misconceptions as an opportunity for student learning. Although participation in a lesson study increased preservice teachers’ demonstration and attention to pedagogical content knowledge, the results of the study found that this knowledge did not often translate into teacher practice and instruction in the classroom. Halim and Meerah (2002) investigated aspects of trainee teachers’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge and their awareness and use of student misconceptions. Pedagogical Content Knowledge involves knowledge of content, pedagogy, and curricula. It is knowing what, when, why and how to teach using one’s experience and knowledge of good teaching practices. Teachers were asked to respond to scientific questions as if they were explaining them to lower school pupils. Trainee teachers often restated their own understanding of science rather than use their knowledge of teaching. Even those trainee teachers who expressed awareness of specific student misconceptions failed to use this knowledge in their instruction. The study suggests that being aware of misconceptions alone does not guarantee that teachers will consider or use that awareness in their teaching. Meyer (2004) used the comparative case study approach to investigate preservice, novice, and expert teachers conceptions of prior knowledge. The study compared how the teachers understand the concept of prior knowledge and how the use that knowledge to make instructional decisions. The research found that preservice and novice teachers held insufficient conceptions of prior knowledge. These incomplete conceptions prohibit an effective the effective implementation of constructivist teaching practices. Expert teachers however were found to have very complex conceptions of prior knowledge and made significant use of their students’ prior knowledge in instruction. Preservice teachers and novice teachers were preoccupied with the content and getting though the instructional day. In a review on science reform by Keys and Bryan (2001), there were clear gaps in the evidence collected on teaching practices. In general, Keys and Bryan found that our advances in understanding how students learn have not been matched by an advance in our understanding about teaching. In other words, we know very little about how teachers deal with student misconceptions in the classroom. The classroom teacher seems to be the missing link in our conversations about misconceptions. Contribution Elementary teachers will surely be faced with student misconceptions in their classrooms. It is also clear that these misconceptions will affect the success of the science instruction of that teacher. Science misconceptions will affect how new information is processed, categorized and stored. There is a significant amount of literature regarding the range and nature of science misconceptions students and teachers may have. Similarly, there is a substantial body of literature on what teaching methods are the most effective at addressing misconceptions. What is not as well documented is how well the current research on misconceptions is translating to practical use in the classrooms. What little research exists suggests that being aware of misconceptions alone does not guarantee that teachers will consider or use that awareness in their

Authors: Gomez-Zwiep, Susan. and McComas, William.
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Elementary Teachers’ Understanding of Students’ Prior Knowledge
Gomez-Zwiep, S. & McComas, W..
concept.
Misconceptions and Teacher Practice
The literature concerning misconceptions and teacher practice is limited. In addition to
student misconceptions, teachers also need to be aware of student thinking to adequately address
misconceptions. If teachers are not conscious of student thinking, misconceptions and the effect
of instruction on misconceptions will not be evident. Wagner (2003) investigated the impact of
use of lesson studies on preservice teachers’ ability to focus on student thinking. Participants in
the lesson study were instructed on how to use pedagogical content knowledge to make changes
in lessons, identify what areas of the curriculum will be easier or more challenging for students,
and how to use misconceptions as an opportunity for student learning. Although participation in
a lesson study increased preservice teachers’ demonstration and attention to pedagogical content
knowledge, the results of the study found that this knowledge did not often translate into teacher
practice and instruction in the classroom.
Halim and Meerah (2002) investigated aspects of trainee teachers’ Pedagogical Content
Knowledge and their awareness and use of student misconceptions. Pedagogical Content
Knowledge involves knowledge of content, pedagogy, and curricula. It is knowing what, when,
why and how to teach using one’s experience and knowledge of good teaching practices.
Teachers were asked to respond to scientific questions as if they were explaining them to lower
school pupils. Trainee teachers often restated their own understanding of science rather than use
their knowledge of teaching. Even those trainee teachers who expressed awareness of specific
student misconceptions failed to use this knowledge in their instruction. The study suggests that
being aware of misconceptions alone does not guarantee that teachers will consider or use that
awareness in their teaching.
Meyer (2004) used the comparative case study approach to investigate preservice, novice,
and expert teachers conceptions of prior knowledge. The study compared how the teachers
understand the concept of prior knowledge and how the use that knowledge to make instructional
decisions. The research found that preservice and novice teachers held insufficient conceptions
of prior knowledge. These incomplete conceptions prohibit an effective the effective
implementation of constructivist teaching practices. Expert teachers however were found to
have very complex conceptions of prior knowledge and made significant use of their students’
prior knowledge in instruction. Preservice teachers and novice teachers were preoccupied with
the content and getting though the instructional day.
In a review on science reform by Keys and Bryan (2001), there were clear gaps in the
evidence collected on teaching practices. In general, Keys and Bryan found that our advances in
understanding how students learn have not been matched by an advance in our understanding
about teaching. In other words, we know very little about how teachers deal with student
misconceptions in the classroom. The classroom teacher seems to be the missing link in our
conversations about misconceptions.
Contribution
Elementary teachers will surely be faced with student misconceptions in their classrooms.
It is also clear that these misconceptions will affect the success of the science instruction of that
teacher. Science misconceptions will affect how new information is processed, categorized and
stored. There is a significant amount of literature regarding the range and nature of science
misconceptions students and teachers may have. Similarly, there is a substantial body of
literature on what teaching methods are the most effective at addressing misconceptions. What
is not as well documented is how well the current research on misconceptions is translating to
practical use in the classrooms. What little research exists suggests that being aware of
misconceptions alone does not guarantee that teachers will consider or use that awareness in their


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