Theses Doctoral

Teachers' instructional goals for science practice: Identifying knowledge gaps using cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT)

Hamen Farrar, Cynthia Sue

In AP Biology, the course goal, with respect to scientific acts and reasoning, has recently shifted toward a reform goal of science practice, where the goal is for students to have a scientific perspective that views science as a practice of a community rather than a body of knowledge. Given this recent shift, this study is interested in the gaps that may exist between an individual teacher’s instructional goal and the goals of the AP Biology course. A Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) methodology and perspective is used to analyze four teachers’ knowledge, practice, and learning. Teachers have content knowledge for teaching, a form of knowledge that is unique for teaching called specialized content knowledge. This specialized content knowledge (SCK) defines their instructional goals, the student outcomes they ultimately aim to achieve with their students. The study employs a cultural-historical continuum of scientific acts and reasoning, which represents the development of the AP Biology goal over time, to study gaps in their instructional goal. The study also analyzes the contradictions within their teaching practice and how teachers address those contradictions to shift their instructional practice and learn. The findings suggest that teachers have different interpretations of the AP Biology goals of science practice, placing their instructional goal at different points along the continuum. Based on the location of their instructional goal, different micro-communities of teachers exist along the continuum, comprised of teachers with a shared goal, language, and culture of their AP Biology teaching. The in-depth study of one teacher’s AP Biology teaching, using a CHAT perspective, provides a means for studying the mechanisms that connect SCK to classroom actions and ultimately to instructional practice. CHAT also reveals the nature and importance of contradictions or cognitive dissonance in teacher learning and the types of support teachers need to recognize contradictions and to internalize and set their instructional goal, facilitating their learning. Without recognition of contradictions, some of these micro-communities are not aware that their instruction is not in line with the AP Biology goal of science practice. An in-depth look at teacher learning revealed the criticality of reflective practice and the need for an “expert” within a teacher’s community to facilitate = learning and develop SCK to incorporate science practice in classroom instruction.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Science Education
Thesis Advisors
Rivet, Ann
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 3, 2016