Content Knowledge for Teaching about Matter: Educative Curriculum Materials for Teacher Educators

Focus of the workshop
While it stands to reason that teachers cannot teach content that they themselves do not understand, research emphasizes that content knowledge alone is insufficient for effective teaching, and that the specialized content knowledge that future teachers need differs from that of the future scientist (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008; National Research Council, 2013; Shulman, 1986). That is, teachers need to understand content in ways that are “tailored to the work that teachers do with curriculum, instruction, and students” (Ball, Hill, & Bass, 2005, p. 16). Collectively, this knowledge is what is referred to as ‘content knowledge for teaching’ (CKT), and is a key mediator in science teachers’ abilities to engage in critical teaching practices such as interpreting students’ ideas, constructing explanations, and selecting and modifying resources for instruction (Davis, Petish, & Smithey, 2006; Kloser, 2014; National Research Council, 2007; Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012).
While there are numerous standardized content knowledge measures available to teacher educators, there currently are no parallel assessment tools and resources for teachers’ specialized, practice-based CKT. We are currently part of a collaborative project funded by the NSF that is developing a CKT science assessment instrument and associated CKT tasks that can be employed for both formative and summative use in in teacher education and professional development settings. In this workshop, we will share a prototype of these materials with attendees, who will then be able to utilize them in their own settings. We are hoping both to educate participants about CKT and our work, as well as to receive feedback that can help us produce resources that will be of greater use to teacher educators.
The materials we will share in this workshop focus on CKT for the structure and properties of matter, and specifically students’ ideas about the small particle model (SPM) of matter. As emphasized in the NGSS and Framework for Science Education, the concept of matter is central to understanding many other scientific ideas, yet it is both complex to teach and difficult to learn (Tsarpalis & Sevian, 2013). While there is a robust empirical base highlighting student difficulties and possible learning progressions for matter (Liu & Lesniak, 2005; Merritt & Krajcik, 2013; Johnson, 2013; Wiser, Frazier, & Fox, 2013), there is currently a lack of content-specific teaching knowledge relevant to teaching about matter in the elementary years (Smith & Plumley, 2016).
This workshop will be most relevant to those who teach elementary teachers (preservice/inservice) in the context of methods and/or content courses, as it focuses on content knowledge for teaching (CKT) science—which is applicable to both areas. Researchers who are interested in learning more about the assessment of CKT will also be able to learn more about our assessment tasks and their formative uses.
Debi Hanuscin and Emily Borda are faculty in Science, Math, & Technology Education (SMATE) at WWU. They combine expertise in science teacher education from the perspectives of chemistry, science education, and elementary education. They are currently Co-PIs on a collaborative NSF-Funded project to support the development of materials for teacher educators to help enhance the content knowledge for teaching (CKT) of elementary teachers. Josie Melton is a postdoctoral researcher on the project. Both Jamie Mikeska and Dante Cisterna are collaborators on the project from Educational Testing Service, and are involved in item development and field testing.
We hope to provide a very focused experience with objectives that can feasibly be accomplished in the timeframe available. In this workshop, participants will:
• Develop a shared understanding of content knowledge for teaching (CKT) and the Work of Teaching Science (WOTS) framework, which we have used to help define and operationalize CKT.
• Strategize ways the sample CKT assessment tasks and associated resources can be utilized in their respective contexts to support the development of science teachers’ CKT
Workshop Activities
The workshop will utilize a 5 E Learning Cycle format to support the learning of participants. We will preview one prototype CKT Packet in the session. This contains sample classroom tasks, a suggested lesson plan, reading pages, and additional resources for teacher educators to support the development of science teachers’ CKT for teaching the structure and properties of matter. The particular CKT Packet used in this workshop is focused on the work of teaching science related to eliciting, understanding, and anticipating elementary students’ ideas about the small particle model of matter.
Engage: Share in small groups how participants understand CKT and currently support teacher candidates in developing CKT in their respective contexts
Explore: Participate in a sample CKT assessment task/learning activity, as learners
Explain: Unpack the task/activity in terms of the Content and Work of Teaching Science
Extend: Examine and discuss possible uses of the task/activity and associated resources in small groups
Evaluate: Critique the resources provided in terms of addressing their needs and/or their students’ needs
Support after the Workshop
We will invite participants to complete a brief online questionnaire (Evaluate) to provide feedback on our workshop, share what they learned, and pose questions for follow-up. We will collect email addresses of participants (optional) to provide updates as our work moves forward and new materials become available. Participants in the workshop will be given the option to review and/or pilot materials developed in the project, and contribute to their refinement.