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Using critical experiences to build understanding of science teacher educators’ pedagogical knowledge

posted on 28.02.2017, 00:14 authored by Cooper, Rebecca
Abstract The research looked to investigate the role of critical experiences in developing pedagogical knowledge (PK) of science teacher educators’ (STEs) and the way/s STEs notions of PK develop/change over their career. The research also looked to consider if there were dispositions that better supported the development of PK for STEs. Critical experience, a key concept developed as part of this research, is defined as an experience that challenges or affirms (Armstrong, 2007) our current thinking on an issue and compels us to have “the inner debate” (Day & Leitch, 2001) that helps us to see more than the “flashbulb” (Sikes et al., 1985) moment and appreciate change and developing understanding as a gradual journey. This concept was built on the notion of critical incidents (Sikes, Measor, and Woods, 1985), but was extended to include the longer periods of time often used by the participants. Morine-Dershimer and Kent’s (1999) model of PK supported the analysis and description of the shifts and changes in the participants’ PK. This model was chosen because it had reflection as a central facet, bringing together general PK with personal PK to assist in developing context specific PK. Further, this model included and valued participants’ beliefs and experiences, which was important in terms of highlighting the science context of this research. The participants’ experiences with and beliefs about science and science education were central to their development of PK. Eight STEs from six Australian universities, all of who worked as secondary school science teachers prior to becoming STEs, were selected using years of experience, based on the stages of career developed by Huberman (1989) as a profiling mechanism. Participants wrote about their critical experiences and were interviewed individually, face-to-face. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and combined with the participants’ written notes to form a case for each participant. The cases were analysed to identify categories and themes in the critical experiences and also, an individual theme for each participant. The findings suggested that critical experiences are personal and emotive and provided access to the participants interpretations of their experiences. They often provoked a reconsideration of PK which could be discussed with respect to the facets of PK. Reflection, as a critical element of this PK model, provides a focus for what we know personally combined with what we know professionally. Continual reflection and risk taking with teaching practice assisted to challenge the notions of PK held as science teacher and shift them to accommodate the complexities of science teacher education. This research indicated that there were several dispositions that could assist in developing an understanding of PK for science teacher education, such as a tendency to; reflect, take risks, build relationships or care for others. The participants' dispositions helped to sort out which was at the forefront, their personal or professional identity, which in turn, drove the decision making and actions taken by a participant. Further research could involve a study of the development of PK for STEs who have not been science teachers, using critical experiences.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Deborah Joy Corrigan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education