Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 4, Issue 2, Article 2 (Dec., 2003)
Pamela MULHALL, Amanda BERRY and John LOUGHRAN
Frameworks for representing science teachers' pedagogical content knowledge
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The concept of PCK conceived by Shulman (1986) embraces the idea that successful teachers have a special understanding of content knowledge and pedagogy which they draw on in teaching that content:

[PCK includes] the most useful forms of representation of [topics], the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations - in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others. (p. 9)

Also encapsulated in the idea of PCK is the notion that successful teachers have a special knowledge about learners which informs their teaching of particular content:

Pedagogical content knowledge also includes an understanding of what makes the learning of specific topics easy or difficult: the conceptions and preconceptions that students of different ages and backgrounds bring with them to the learning of those most frequently taught topics and lessons. (p. 9)

While Shulman's notion of PCK may seem to resolve the question of what it is that successful teachers know in order to teach in ways that achieve student understanding, the concept itself and its relationship to other fields of teacher knowledge is debated in the literature (e.g., Cochran, King, & De Ruiter, 1991; Ebert, 1993; Grossman, 1990; Lederman & Gess-Newsome, 1992). While the uncertainty of this relationship and the general "fuzziness" (Marks, 1990) around the concept of PCK itself have impacted on the method that we have used to explore teachers' PCK, our research has not focussed on these concerns. Rather, we, the researchers, are more interested in finding ways of helping pre- and in-service teachers to improve their practice. Thus, instead of exploring and evaluating PCK per se, we have used the notion of PCK as a means of thinking about and exploring the knowledge that successful teachers have about how to teach particular content topics to particular students in ways that promote understanding, the intention being to document this so that it might enhance the science teaching practice of others.

Of course whether the documentation of teachers' PCK is useful to other teachers depends to some extent on the degree to which a teacher's PCK is idiosyncratic. Van Driel et al. (1998) conclude from their investigation of the literature that research on science teachers' PCK should enable useful generalisations to be made. Our position is that it is reasonable to assume that there will be similarities between teachers in Australian schools who have similar backgrounds in teaching and learning science. Thus our research method generates knowledge about PCK which is generalised across small numbers of teachers, leading us to believe that it potentially applies to others.

Interestingly, there are few examples in the literature of topic specific PCK in science. The approach of most researchers in this area has been to compare and contrast particular aspects of PCK of individual teachers (e.g., Magnusson & Krajcik, 1993, heat energy and temperature) and of groups of teachers (e.g., Clermont, Borko, & Krajcik, 1994, density and air pressure); to use case studies of novice and/or practising teachers to explore aspects of their topic specific PCK (e.g., Geddis, Onslow, Beynon, & Oesch, 1993, isotopes); and to explore the effect on science teachers' topic specific PCK of programs that relied on the researchers' own PCK in that particular content area (e.g., Parker & Heywood, 2000, forces in floating and sinking; Van Driel et al., 1998, chemical equilibrium). Given our perspective of wanting to make generalisations about the topic specific PCK of successful teachers, we note that researchers have not provided detailed overviews of teachers' topic specific PCK and have neither explored that of successful teachers nor attempted to synthesise the data from their research. An interesting exception to the latter is Van Driel et al. (1998) whose description of what teachers do to help students understand the dynamic nature of chemical equilibrium was constructed by synthesising the researchers' results.

Because the literature lacks detailed examples, we have developed our own approach to representing teachers' topic specific PCK, which we now discuss.

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