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Qualified to teach? How personal and academic characteristics of pre-service science teachers compare with their understandings of basic chemical ideas . Dr Vanessa Kind School of Education Durham University Durham, UK .

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dr vanessa kind school of education durham university durham uk

Qualified to teach? How personal and academic characteristics of pre-service science teachers compare with their understandings of basic chemical ideas

Dr Vanessa Kind

School of Education

Durham University

Durham, UK

qualified to teach
Here in the UK, academic qualifications are used to select applicants for teaching:-

A “good” degree in a science

2 sciences studied to 18 (A levels)

16+ (GCSEs) in Maths, Science, English

Qualified to teach?
but let s look at their backgrounds
But let’s look at their backgrounds
  • Science teachers are:-
  • 25% biology graduates
  • 47% “other science” graduates
  • Few hold degrees in physical sciences
  • (Moor et al, 2006)
  • Physical science specialist teachers are rare
  • Science teachers often have to teach all sciences to 11-16s
  • To teach physical sciences well, we rely on those without chemistry/ physics degrees knowing / learning the necessary subject knowledge
  • Teachers teach science
    • Within specialism and
    • Outside specialism
personal factors
Personal factors
  • Teachers may prefer to be
  • Specialists
  • Generalists
  • Teachers’ self confidence for outside specialism teaching may be
  • High
  • Low
  • “In progress”
research questions
What misconceptions about basic chemical ideas are held by trainee science teachers?

In what ways do trainees’ academic and personal characteristics correlate with their misconceptions?

Research questions
theoretical background
Content knowledge (CK)

is a vital component of teachers’ subject matter knowledge

is the facts and concepts of the subject matter

(Cochran and Jones, 1998)

Good CK is a precursor for effective science teaching

(Abell and Lederman 2007)


teachers who lack self-confidence tend to teach less content knowledge

(Jones and Carter, 2007)

Theoretical background
  • Trainee teachers with chemistry degrees have fewer misconceptions than those with physics / biology degrees
  • Non-chemist trainee teachers with high self-confidence and preference for teaching as generalists may have poor chemistry knowledge
  • Misconceptions data were collected by questionnaire comprising open questions in five areas:-
    • particle theory, chemical bonding, conservation of mass in reactions, combustion reactions and mole calculations
  • Personal characteristics were collected by Likert scale questionnaire using paired statements
    • Preference for within / outside specialism teaching
    • Confidence for teaching within / outside specialism
trainee teacher sample 2
Trainee teacher sample (2)
  • 179 responded to the misconceptions questionnaire – at the start
  • 152 responded to the personal characteristics questionnaire – after 3 months (27 withdrawals)
the trainee teacher sample 1
The trainee teacher sample (1)
  • ”Postgraduate Certificate of Education” (PGCE) participants 2005 – 2008
  • 90% held degrees regarded as ”good” in UK
  • 20% held higher degrees in science
  • 54% were female
  • 60% were aged 21 – 25
chemistry misconceptions 1
Chemistry misconceptions (1)
  • Particle theory and change of state
  • 16% suggested a copper atom would be coloured
  • 20% thought bubbles in boiling water would be hydrogen and oxygen

20% thought exhaust gases would have less mass than petrol

31% said energy from burning methane is from bond breaking

11% said energy in burning methane comes from air, flame, oxygen or carbon


17% suggested mass decreases when a precipitate forms

7% suggested mass increases when a precipitate forms

Mole calculations
  • 18% gave answers showing they could not use reacting mass reasoning
  • 6% thought the mass of carbon dioxide produced by a power station would be less than the starting mass of coal
Chemical bonding
  • 35% explained the formula of methane as ”carbon forming four bonds”
  • 36% reasoned covalent bonding is ”weaker” than ionic bonding
  • 60% did not list any ions as present in hydrochloric acid
  • 16% used hydrogen chloride molecules to explain displacement
misconceptions summary
Misconceptions – summary

Conservation of mass was best understood

Chemists have fewer misconceptions overall


Overcomplicate using

e=mc2 for all

energy responses


describe or

restate questions

Chemical bonding showed

most misconceptions

trainees preferences for specialist generalist teaching
Trainees’ preferences for specialist / generalistteaching


I prefer to teach topics in my specialist area (PTS)

I am pleased to teach topics in all areas of science (PTA)

  • 4 response categories:-
  • Positive specialist strongly agree disagree
  • Neutral specialist agree agree /neutral
  • Neutral generalist disagree agree
  • Positive generalist strongly disagree agree / strongly agree
trainees confidence for teaching within and outside specialism
Trainees’ confidence for teaching within and outside specialism


I am less confident when I teach outside my specialist area (LCO)

I do not need to teach my specialism to feel confident as a teacher (DNS)

  • Four response categories:
  • Super-confident Strongly disagree Strongly agree
  • Confident Disagree Agree
  • Working confident Agree / Neutral Agree/Neutral
  • Anxious Strongly agree Strongly disagree
personal characteristics summary
Personal characteristics – summary
  • 38% polarised –
  • 19% positive specialists ,
  • 19% positive generalists
  • Physicists - most polarised between these ”extremes”
  • Chemists – highest proportion of positive specialists
  • 50% are neutral specialists
  • No background characteristics correlated statistically
36% are super-confident or confident
  • Chemists show highest proportion of super-confidence
  • Physicists show highest proportion of anxious trainees
  • Statistics indicate –
  • Inter-specialist differences are significant
  • Possession of a higher degree confers confidence
comparing misconceptions and personal characteristics
Comparing misconceptions and personal characteristics
  • Data reveal that for the cohort as a whole:-
  • No significant correlations are observed between personal characteristics and misconceptions scores
  • Misconceptions are spread relatively evenly across all preference / confidence sub-groups
”Anxious” trainees do not score worse than other sub-groups
  • ”Super-confident” trainees do not score better than other sub-groups
  • Positive specialists do not score differently from positive generalists
  • But - whole cohort data are skewed by inclusion of chemists who scored more highly.
  • Compared to the whole sub-groups:-
  • Positive generalist biologists score lower than chemists / physicists
  • All positive specialists tend to score higher than other preferences
  • Biologists exhibit lowest scores regardless of confidence level
  • Super-confident biologists score lower than chemists
  • ”Qualified to teach” means:-
  • More than having a ”good” degree in any science
  • Correcting personal misconceptions
  • Knowing not to repeat school-learned erroneous thinking
  • Super-confidence – can mean ”over-confidence”
  • about 10% are super-confident biologists
  • Anxiety – can mean ”defensive pessimism”– knowing how to handle personal challenges
  • characteristic of physicists
  • Personal characteristics may be useful indicators to guide science teacher preparation
  • Abell, S. K. and Lederman, N. G. (eds) (2007) Research on science teacher knowledge. Handbook of research on science education Lawrence Erlbaum Associates , Hillsdale, NJ, USA
  • Cochran, K. F. and Jones, L.L. (1998) The Subject Matter Knowledge of Preservice Science Teachers in International Handbook of Science Education part two edited by Fraser, B. J. and Tobin, K.G. Dordrecht: Kluwer
  • Jones, M.G. and Carter, G. (2007) Science Teacher Attitudes and Beliefs in Handbook of Research on Science Education, Edited by Abell, S.K. and Lederman, N.G. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates , Hillsdale, NJ, USA
  • Moor, H.,  Jones, M.,  Johnson, F.,  Martin, K.,  Cowell, E. and Bojke, C. (2006) Mathematics and science in secondary schools The deployment of teachers and support staff to deliver the curriculum, Department for Education and Skills Research Report No 708 National Foundation for Education Research , Slough, UK Retrieved April 2008 http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR708.pdf
Dr Vanessa Kind
  • School of Education
  • Durham University
  • Leazes Road
  • Durham DH1 1TA
  • +44 191 334 8369
  • Vanessa.kind@durham.ac.uk