Professional science knowledge and its impact on confidence in the teaching of earth science : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This study focused on the nature and parameters of the relationships between the professional science knowledge of primary and intermediate teachers and their confidence in teaching in the Making Sense of Planet Earth and Beyond strand of Science in the New Zealand Curriculum (earth science). The study was divided into two phases of data collection. The first phase used a questionnaire survey of 18 teachers from the Taranaki, Wanganui, Manawatu, Palmerston North and Horowhenua districts of the western and central North Island of New Zealand. The survey identified the influence of the relationships between the participants' backgrounds in earth science, their professional knowledge frameworks and their efficacy to teach earth science. The second phase of data collection builds on the trends and common themes identified in phase one. Data were collected in the second phase through interviews of four teachers selected from phase one participants. Analyses of the data collected revealed the importance of maintaining a well-developed understanding of the subject matter when teaching earth science. Subject matter knowledge has a notable impact in teachers' efficacy beliefs and ability to translate content into teachable material. Findings support pervious researchers' conclusion that teachers with high self-efficacy have had a long interest in science and a relatively strong background of formal science studies with opportunities for exploring science in informal settings. Results indicate that effective earth science teachers possess a genuine interest and enthusiasm for earth science. Conversely, teachers with relatively little earth science background display less developed knowledge frameworks and weaker efficacy beliefs. Common indicators of these weaknesses include avoidance of earth science topics in general or use of 'shallow' teaching strategies such as transmission approaches or 'resource based' units. In some cases it appears that teachers' confidence in their ability to teach earth science may be misplaced. Results indicate that in some cases, teachers can use their considerable classroom skills to avoid confronting earth science concepts where their knowledge is inadequate. The implications for these findings are considered.