Shulman’s (1987) notion of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) is concerned with how to teach specific ideas and skills to particular students. As well as knowing what ideas to teach their students, teachers also need to know the best ways to teach the ideas so their students can understand them.
This case study research was undertaken over several weeks to investigate how a primary teacher used Science Learning Hub resources in her classroom with her 25 year 4 students (15 boys, 10 girls). The study investigated how Mary (a pseudonym) used the Harnessing the sun resources. Classroom observations and interviews were conducted with Mary and the students. Analysis of the data for this brief was guided by the question, ‘How did Mary use the Science Learning Hub so her planning became a linked series of activities that culminated in making and using a solar cooker?’
Auditing the learning outcomes for their match to her young students learning needs
The first thing Mary examined on the Hub was the list of learning outcomes. She wanted to see how they would fit her young students’ levels of learning and what she thought they could achieve.
She found that she needed to add the big ideas of science:
- Scientific investigation is based on careful and systematic observations and accurate descriptions of what is observed,
- Solar energy is a renewable energy source, which utilises the heat and light energy from the Sun.
- Solar energy is used on Earth in a variety of ways, for example, a solar oven.
She found she needed to simplify some of the learning outcomes, for example, ‘solar energy in the form of light and heat is transmitted from the Sun through space to Earth’ instead of ‘solar energy in the form of light and heat is transmitted through space to Earth and can be transformed into different forms of energy’.
Examining the specified activities against the science of the solar cooker
Mary deduced the science concepts her students would need to know to understand how a solar cooker worked. She found that there were no activities related to insulation or reflection in the Hub unit – both important components in the solar cooker. She added an investigation of newspaper as an insulator and an investigation of tilting tinfoil lids for light reflection.
Altering learning intentions and activities not easy
Mary found that many of the concepts and activities on the Hub were too difficult for her young students. She accessed other resources pitched closer to her students’ levels of understandings and skills and added these to the Hub materials to craft a unit to fit her students.
Mary concluded that her analysis of the solar cooker for its component parts was key to her planning for the breadth of science ideas her students would need to develop a coherent understanding of solar cooking. From this, she identified activities and connected them together to develop a coherent unit.
Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1–22.
These articles were part of this case study: