A Professional Development Program to Foster Science Teachers’ Professional Competence, Enhance Classroom Practice, and Improve Student Outcomes Related to Scientific Reasoning
Background: Developing scientific reasoning competencies that enable students to understand how scientific knowledge develops is considered an important goal of science education. Thus, the literature recommends engaging students in scientific experimentation and reflecting explicitly on the procedural and epistemic knowledge involved. However, science teachers in middle schools often do not provide enough opportunities for their students to improve their scientific reasoning competencies. This lack of learning opportunities seems to be a consequence of teachers’ professional competence in this area not yet being sufficiently developed. Therefore, the call for effective and continuous professional development (PD) programs has been made.
Purpose: The planned PD program is intended to (1) foster science teachers’ professional competence, (2) enhance classroom practice, and (3) improve student outcomes related to scientific reasoning. The study firstly aims to measure all three kinds of effects of the PD program. Secondly, the study aims to identify learning pathways and learning obstacles in the teachers’ implementation of explicit instruction in experimentation.
Sample/setting: In total, 20 in-service biology teachers from the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany who are teaching in classes from Grade 5 to Grade 10 will be recruited to take part in the PD program. The PD program adopts content-related design features (e.g., developed lessons, modeled inquiry) that, from our point of view, can be considered as specifications of the more generic design of effective PD programs (e.g., content focus, active learning).
Design and Methods: A pre-post-follow-up study is planned to evaluate the effect of the PD program on teachers’ content knowledge (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), as well as on teachers’ beliefs and their self-efficacy towards teaching experimentation. Furthermore, we aim to capture changes in classroom practice via direct observation. For the student outcomes, we will take scientific reasoning competencies and motivation into account and compare the development with a comparison group. Learning pathways and obstacles will be identified through the qualitative analysis of observation protocols, transcripts from the videotaped lessons, lesson plans, and other qualitative data derived from the PD program.
Conclusions: Few studies to date have examined the effect of a PD program on teachers’ professional competence, classroom practice, and student outcomes. The present study aims to contribute to closing this research gap. Furthermore, knowledge about teachers’ learning pathways and obstacles to implementation will provide insights into how to better support science teachers with a PD program that aims to improve students’ scientific reasoning competencies through explicit instruction in experimentation.
Keywords: professional development program, scientific reasoning, experimentation, in-service teachers
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