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Reforming the education program for physical science teachers in Taiwan.

This article reports on reforms of the science education program for prospective physical science teachers in Taiwan and examines their impact on these teachers. The reforms include restructuring the courses in physical science methods, and requiring all prospective teachers to do action research during their one-year full-time teaching practice. The former aims to instil knowledge of constructivism and enable them to teach physical science by using constructivist approaches, and the latter provides them with an opportunity to apply what they have acquired to actual teaching. This study shows that exposure to constructivism affected the teachers' beliefs and initial choice of science teaching approach. Evidence further demonstrates that successful experience with action research reinforced their beliefs, and made them more willing to employ constructivist science teaching approaches in their teaching practice. Introducing these reforms in Taiwan has the potential of enhancing the competency of prospective science teachers.

Key words

action research

constructivism

educational change

physical sciences

science education

teaching practice

Introduction

In 1995, the Ministry of Education of Taiwan put forward three major changes regarding the legislation of pre-service teacher education. They were: (a) all universities can offer teacher education programs; (b) prospective teachers are required to have one year of full-time teaching practice after graduation; and (c) the assessment system for teacher certificates is to be decided by professors of the universities offering such programs. Since then, more than 15 universities have begun to offer secondary school teacher education programs. In the meantime, the call for educational reforms has also become a nationwide issue in Taiwan. These changes not only imply a more competitive job market for teachers, but also reveal the urgency and need of future teachers to be more competent in implementing and realising the goals of educational reforms. With the enactment of the new legislation, university supervisors assume a key role in deciding whether the prospective teachers can be awarded a teacher certificate, judging according to the criteria laid down by them. Aiming to provide a better teacher education for physical science teachers, the author has begun to examine the existing problems and explore better ways for preparing more competent physical science teachers.

In Taiwan, rarely do we encounter prospective teachers immediately putting into practice instructional strategies that they have acquired. With a similar opinion, Zeichner and Tabachnick (1981) expressed that the effects of teacher preparation experience are often lost during the first year of teaching as the teachers are socialised into their classroom environments. Leib, cited in Gold (1996), also noted that much of what teachers have learned disappears when they enter the classroom. Furthermore teachers appear to be 'imprinted' by their first-year experiences, which in turn influence future behaviour (Gold, 1996). These studies indicate that the school environment influences whether teachers would put training into practice. Another possible factor may be that our pre-service teacher education program does not require them to put training into practice. She's studies (2000a; She, Len, & Sue, 2000) have reported that, if required, prospective teachers will force themselves to apply their acquired training to actual practice despite difficulties abounding.

Another common observation among prospective teachers is that they believe the traditional methods they experienced as students will lead to better test scores, which is of utmost importance to any Taiwanese wishing to achieve academic success. Others argue that they do not have the time either to experiment with other ways of teaching or to search for information on alternative teaching approaches. The following may account for the above observations. Munby and Russell (1994) indicated that teachers have reservations about the nature and quality of their own knowledge, experience and capacity to shape educational improvement. Carlgren and Lindblad (1991), Hewson and Hewson (1988), and Shymansky and Kyle (1992) have all described how the attitudes held by teachers concerning knowledge, learning, and the nature of their particular subject impact the way they teach. Shavelson and Stern (1981) also studied how classroom teaching practices are directly influenced by teachers' thoughts, judgements, and prior decisions. Clark and Peterson (1986) used the term 'teachers' beliefs' to denote the primary factor determining personal principles and teaching performance. In science education, Brickhouse (1990), Gallagher (1991), and Rowell and Gustafson (1993) came to a similar conclusion that teachers' beliefs and attitudes towards their individual subjects and science in general tend to be congruent with their teaching strategies. According to She's study (2000b), the science instruction principles adhered to by middle-school biology teachers, combined with the knowledge acquired in teacher-training programs, have a direct impact on their teaching practices. Her conclusion was that the teachers' expectations are derived from: (a) prior knowledge and experience, and (b) pre-conceived conventions, which colour interpretations of classroom interactions.

These future teachers in Taiwan are 'products' of traditional teacher-centred pedagogy. Although they also see an urgent need to reform such practices, they fall back easily and quickly into traditional lecture methods once they face the students. Similarly it has been reported by Tabachnick and Zeichner (1986) that practising teachers' knowledge, skills, and attitudes are likely to be different in kind, serving different purposes, and not necessarily coherent. In short, we are faced with the following problems concerning the education of science teachers:

1 What types of new perspective, theory, instructional strategies about science teaching and learning are needed for science method courses, and how can we make all of the prospective science teachers really believe in what they have learned in science method courses?

2 How can we encourage prospective teachers to implement what they have learned in classes during their teaching practice?

3 How can we bridge science method courses and teaching practice--that is, how can we make prospective teachers' beliefs and actions coherent?

Theoretical framework

Gunstone and Northfield (1997) noted that teacher education must assist teachers to learn and apply important ideas about teaching and learning. Bell and Gilbert (1996) further suggested two components of teacher development. They are: (a) the input of theoretical ideas and new teaching suggestions, and (b) trying out and practising these over an extended period and in a collaborative situation where the pre-service teachers can receive support and feedback, critically reflect, as well as renegotiate and reconstruct the aims and purposes of teaching. These studies point out that it is important for teacher education programs to provide pre-service teachers with theoretical knowledge as well as require them to put theoretical knowledge into actual teaching practices. Therefore requiring prospective teachers to do action research is a possible means to achieve such an objective.

Action research is a form of collaborative self-reflective inquiry undertaken by teachers to improve their own practices, their understanding of those practices, and the situation in which those practices are carried out (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988). Reports consistently show that teachers who participate in action research generally become more aware of their classroom behaviour, gaps between their beliefs and practices, and their students' thoughts, feelings, and learning outcomes. Personal reflection is a commonly accepted practice in many professions (Clift, Veal, Johnson, & Holland, 1990; Schon, 1991);some researchers argue that it should become a standard part of teacher education (Grimmett & Erickson, 1988). Action research is best viewed as a systematic approach to self-examination and collaborative analysis of teaching methodology. It is important to recognise that self-reflective cycles of planning--> action--> reflection occur naturally in the teaching profession, although not necessarily in that sequence. Teachers who accept and regularly practise action research (or similar methods of self-reflection) are more likely to incorporate a continuous interplay of goals, plans, social interactions, behavioural observations, interpretations and adjustments.

To facilitate the understanding of what they have been taught in their teacher education program as well as willingness to try out and make changes in their teaching practice, Bell and Gilbert (1996) proposed the idea of empowering the prospective teachers. They suggested that to empower prospective teachers is to develop in them a sense of ownership towards their own development, by encouraging them to tackle their concerns and needs, and to take the initiative for innovative teaching programs and practices. Teacher trainers can assist this development by presentation of different educational theories and teaching approaches for evaluation so that pre-service teachers can clarify their own beliefs in science teaching, and act in ways congruent with their own beliefs and commitments (Bell & Gilbert, 1996).

She's studies (2000a; She et al., 2000) found teachers more willing to make changes and try out alternative ways to solve their classroom teaching problems when they have constant support from supervisors. She et al. (2000) also reported that, with support from supervisors, the prospective teachers are more likely to achieve success and are less likely to say, 'No, it does not work in my classroom teaching'. Bell and Pearson (1993) found that it is important to provide prospective teachers with feedback, support and reflection during their teaching practice. Equally important is to make them realise what was happening in the classroom as problematic, and thus to be convinced about the need for change (Bell & Gilbert, 1996). In addition, pre-service teachers should be helped to manage their feelings associated with the change process, to view the change as a challenge rather than a problem, to plan their action, and to realise what alternatives might work in their classroom teaching.

Having been taught by the traditional teacher-centred approach, prospective teachers tend to believe that lecturing is the best way for 'feeding' students a great amount of knowledge in a very short time. This type of instruction focuses on giving knowledge without enabling students to construct their own knowledge actively, through getting involved in the learning activity, negotiating and communicating with others, and making sense of the knowledge. Constructivist-oriented teaching and learning aim to help students construct their own scientific knowledge and build up their own schema. It involves both the students' own activity and the guidance, mediation or intervention of the teacher (Duit, 1994). Many researchers recognise the importance of transforming science teachers to be constructivist (Davis & Danna, 1993; Gallagher, 1993; Peterman, 1993). Moreover the models of teacher education presented in Tobin's (1993) book are all built on the epistemological foundation of constructivism, which again supports the importance of constructivism in science teacher education.

Tobin (1993) suggested constructivism as a referrent for teaching and learning rather than a method. He further clarified that constructivism can be used as a referrent to analyse the learning potential of any situation. It is proposed in this article that constructivism, as a set of beliefs of knowing and knowledge rather than a specific teaching strategy, would influence the teachers' teaching and interaction with students; and the question of what types of teaching approaches can be called constructivism-oriented teaching is examined. Some researchers adhere to the view that constructivism involves students in the activity of learning (Linn & Burbules, 1993; Wheatley, 1993). In essence, constructivism-oriented teaching believes that students can learn science through active involvement in the learning process rather than passively receiving inputs from teachers or textbooks. Many types of learning can be viewed as constructivism-oriented, such as doing experiments, participating in activities, as well as getting involved in group discussion (Roth, 1993) and problem solving (Linn & Burbules, 1993). As long as the nature of these activities is to provide learners with opportunities to get actively involved in the learning process and to make sense or construct their own knowledge, they can be considered constructivist-oriented.

In order to provide a better system for preparing more competent physical science teachers, the following goals were established by the author: (a) restructuring the physical science method courses to become constructivist oriented; (b) requiring all prospective teachers to do action research during their one-year full-time teaching practice; (c) requiring prospective teachers to apply constructivist-oriented teaching approaches to their teaching practice.

Purpose of the study

The present study serves two purposes. First, it describes the reforms of science teacher education program introduced. Second, it analyses the impact of these reforms on 21 prospective teachers enrolled in this study through examining: (a) the relationship between science method courses and prospective teachers' beliefs; (b) the relationship between science method courses and their capability of employing various constructivist-oriented teaching approaches; and (c) the relationship between prospective teachers' beliefs and their application of constructivist-oriented teaching approaches.

Research method

In 1998, the author started to restructure the science method courses and science teaching practice courses for physical science teachers. Since then, about 50 chemistry major students have completed the restructured constructivist-oriented science teaching courses and received their practising teacher certificates. In addition to these two courses, they were required to take ten courses related to teacher education. Though two of these courses had introduced students to ideas about constructivism, none had a similar constructivist emphasis as their science method course.

In order to become qualified professionals, pre-service teachers are required by the government to do full-time teaching practice for one year. In other words, during that year they work at school every day from 7:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. Among the graduates, only 21 were able to do their one-year full-time teaching practice. They were invited to do action research during their teaching practice, which required them to put into practice the constructivist-oriented instructional theories and teaching methods acquired from their science method courses.

The way of assessing whether prospective teachers can get their teacher certificate was to be decided by their teacher-collaborator and their supervisor. In most cases, their performance on classroom teaching and management was to be the major criterion for such assessment. Action research would therefore provide evidence on the performance of these pre-service teachers.

The sample

Twenty-one chemistry major subject teachers (13 with M.S. and 7 with B.S.) were involved in this action research study. They completed the restructured science method courses before starting their full-time teaching practice. Class size of eight to twelve prospective teachers each year is conducive to changes in course content and method.

The one-year full-time teaching practice was designed to have a lasting effect on their future teaching. During the practice, each prospective teacher was assigned to an experienced teacher-collaborator. Before the teaching practice, the author asked the teacher-collaborators to give the prospective teachers the same class to teach for one year, and thus allow them to plan and apply long-term teaching plans over several units. These experienced teacher-collaborators were encouraged to allow the prospective teachers to try out constructivism-oriented strategies in their class.

Restructuring secondary science method courses--science method and science teaching practice

Course design All of the prospective teachers were required to obtain four semester credits for the physical science method courses, which included two semester credits for the science method course and two for the science teaching practice course. The contents of the science method course were designed by the author and are shown in Table 1 which includes the nature, philosophy, and theory of science, science teaching, science learning, and the related science teaching strategies. Throughout the course, prospective teachers were taught to get involved in constructive ways of learning, to be aware of their own thinking, and to understand learning as a constructive process. They also learned how to teach students with constructivism-oriented strategies, and realised that teaching is not to spoon-feed but to help students reconstruct their understanding of science. The courses used small-group discussions and cooperative learning activities, which enabled these prospective teachers to experience personally Vygostky's theory of social constructivism. To ensure that they can employ all the teaching strategies required to design lessons, and to put them into real practice, prospective teachers were required to do microteaching for every teaching strategy they learned from the science method course.

The course of science teaching practice was designed to facilitate prospective teachers to combine their physical science knowledge with science teaching and learning theories as well as the strategies learned in the science method course, and eventually to apply them. Each prospective teacher was required to apply at least two science teaching strategies for each of the microteaching lessons. In addition, they also had to do teaching practice at schools for two weeks to get real teaching experience. At the end of the course, all the prospective teachers became familiar with the physical science content they were going to teach, and they also knew where and how to apply appropriate science teaching strategies to the appropriate physical science content.

Restructuring one-year full-time teaching practice: Design of action research

All of the prospective teachers were required to do action research during their one-year full-time teaching practice. Doing action research requires them to determine their own classroom problems and then decide on how they would change their teaching after a month's practice. They need to evaluate which alternative ways from their science method courses might be employed and to experiment with implementation. Action research also engages these teachers in the reflective cycle: planning, action and reflection. In addition, their teacher-collaborator and supervisor were available to offer feedback and support.

Data collection and analysis

During their action research, the following qualitative and quantitative data were collected. Interviews were held in order to define and clarify the subjects' beliefs concerning science instruction, classroom learning, and teaching approaches. The prospective teachers had monthly meetings with their supervisor and their classmates to share their teaching experiences and problems, as well as to report on the progress of their action research. In between these meetings and classroom observations, they sent e-mail messages or visited the supervisor with requests for help concerning specific teaching problems. Their classroom teaching over the year (five each in the first and second semesters) were recorded on videotapes. Action research design, lesson plans, instructional materials, and personal journals were also collected. The classroom observations evidenced how these prospective teachers changed over time. All 21 prospective teachers were requested to self-report the types of science teaching methods they had used within the year. Five of them were chosen as the illustrative cases to represent these 21 subjects.

Results

Prospective teachers' beliefs about science teaching and learning

At the beginning of the science method course, most of the prospective teachers believed that the traditional teaching they had received from elementary school to university worked best to help them pass examinations. They had no idea that there could be any better alternative than the traditional way of teaching. The following short narratives from five individual cases illustrated what prospective teachers believed about science teaching and learning after taking the science method courses.

Mary: I believe physical science should be related to the students' daily lives. Our lessons should make students interested in learning science, and willing to think, to construct their own knowledge, to try things out, and to develop further their potential ... I think providing more opportunities for students to learn science with active involvement would contribute to their own understanding of scientific knowledge.

Susan: I think science learning should be interesting and fun. Therefore, I believed that making students interested and happy in learning is most important in teaching regardless of the subjects to be taught. Moreover, using everyday life objects and events as illustrations would help students understand physical science ... As a teacher, I think I need to try different ways of teaching to make students more interested in learning science.

Laura: I hope students would be interested in science and apply what they have learned from class to daily life ... Students also should learn how to discover and solve problems, and to connect what they have learned about science with their lives. As a teacher, I think my role would be to inspire students and lead them to explore the physical science world. In addition, the use of familiar daily life objects as teaching materials is also important for science teaching.

Cathy: I think science teaching is to make students learn to solve problems, to acquire knowledge from observing the natural world, to make inquiry and solve problems ... I hope students would realise that the natural world is full of surprises and wonders ... In addition, through physical science learning, the students can develop their creativity, thinking and problem-solving ability, and further cultivate their science literacy.

Carol: I think science teaching is to develop students' ability to think and use their knowledge to solve daily physical science-related problems. In addition, it should make students feel interested in and curious about physical science rather than studying passively for examinations.

The above narratives show how these prospective teachers' beliefs about science, as well as its teaching and learning, are influenced by what they have acquired from the courses throughout the year. Most of them started to believe in constructivism and learning through constructive ways. They also thought that science learning should be interesting and closely related to the students' daily lives.

Prospective teachers' choices of science teaching approach in the beginning of their action research

Table 2 lists what was observed to be the major teaching strategies employed by the 21 prospective teachers in the beginning of their action research. As can be seen, six of them focused on using discrepant events to help students either reconstruct their physical science knowledge or change their preconceptions. Four of them emphasised helping students understand abstract concepts through concrete analogies. Five of them employed mainly the questioning approach to involve students in learning science through active thinking processes, and further constructing their own scientific concept. Three of them used concept mapping as their major focus by asking students to draw their own concept map in groups or individually. There was only one prospective teacher who employed instructional media, one who focused on using scientists' stories, and another who used a learning cycle to help students reconstruct their understanding of the science concepts and change their misconceptions. Their initial choice of teaching strategies clearly indicate that most of these prospective teachers were more concerned with helping students to construct or reconstruct their own understanding of science knowledge through the approaches described above. This suggests that what prospective teachers learn from the science method courses does influence their first choice of science teaching approach in real classroom practice. Moreover what prospective teachers believe about science teaching is also congruent with their initial teaching approaches.

Five cases of action research during the one-year full-time teaching practice

Mary

First planning-action-reflection cycle Mary believed that science should be related to the students' daily lives, and that teachers should provide students with opportunities to think and do experiments in order to construct their understanding of science knowledge. In the beginning of her teaching practice, Mary decided to use both discrepant events and questioning as her first planned action. Her trial, using questions, did make students think and get actively involved in classroom discussions. She found that her design of discrepant events on heat convection and conduction indeed aroused students' curiosity and interest in learning and experimenting, thus contributing to conceptual changes concerning these topics among the students.

Second planning-action-reflection cycle During her second cycle of action research, students' enthusiastic responses and positive learning outcomes made her much more willing to design other discrepant events, such as gravity, air pressure, and water pressure as her second planned action. As time went by, she also began trying other teaching approaches, such as cooperative learning, experimental and object demonstration, doing experiments, using transparencies and STS (Science, Technology and Society).

The observation revealed that Mary believed in and put into practice a specific approach to science teaching. She gradually started to reconcile her beliefs with the realities of classroom teaching. The successful learning outcomes and good responses from students reinforced her belief in trying out other approaches.

Susan

First planning-action-reflection cycle Susan believed that science learning should be interesting and fun. She also thought that teachers should provide students with daily life examples which would help them construct their understanding of scientific knowledge. In the beginning of her teaching practice, she used discrepant events in her lessons, although she was not quite sure whether she would be able to manage the class. It turned out that she worried too much, her students pondered seriously and were curious about why a phenomenon different from their predictions would happen. The use of discrepant events fostered students' interest in learning and experimenting. However, she also raised an important issue on how to improve the efficiency of using discrepant events in classroom teaching.

Second planning-action-reflection cycle From her first action research, she found that, in order for teaching with discrepant events to bring about conceptual changes, the teacher needed to remind the students to observe the particular phenomenon and provide them with the bridges in between the events to enhance their understanding. In addition, she also came to realise that her students held more misconceptions than she expected, most of which originated from their daily experience. Besides discrepant events, she also started to employ questioning, analogy, experiments and demonstration, which indeed confirmed her belief that science teaching should be interesting, should promote the students' interest, and make them happy to learn.

Through employing a specific science teaching strategy, Susan became more aware of its impact on students' thoughts and learning problems, which enhanced her understanding of the learning gaps.

Laura

First planning-action-reflection cycle Laura believed that science teaching should prepare students to solve problems of daily life and provide students with opportunities to discover and solve problems. Even though she expressed that she believed in constructivism, she still doubted whether the science teaching strategies she acquired from the courses would work in real practice. As a prospective teacher, Laura was less adventurous in trying new things. In the beginning of her teaching practice, she decided to use questioning as her approach. She felt more comfortable with this strategy because it allowed her to keep herself on school schedule, and involve students actively in thinking and classroom discussions. During the class, she found herself interacting always with the same few students, while most of the rest were not enthusiastic in responding. She discussed the problem with her supervisor, who suggested assigning a number to each student and drawing lots to decide who should answer the question.

Second planning-action-reflection cycle During her second cycle of action research, she put this method into her classroom teaching in order to make her questioning strategies more effective in her teaching. She tried out the method suggested by her supervisor and found that it indeed enabled many more students to get involved in the discussions. The author could see how she changed over time, trying alternative teaching approaches, which she originally did not believe workable, such as experiment and demonstration, discrepant events, analogy, and STS. At the end of her teaching practice, she became more willing to try new teaching strategies. During her free time, she helped the author handle the videotapes of other prospective teachers' classroom observation, which may have an impact on her teaching. This demonstrates that how her own action research and peer prospective teachers' action research observation influenced her employment of more different instructional approaches that are regarded as infeasible in the first place.

Carol

First planning-action-reflection cycle According to Carol, science teaching should develop students' ability to think and solve daffy problems. She also believed in active learning. Carol used analogy as her initial teaching strategy because she felt more comfortable with this approach and believed that it would link physical science learning with students' daily lives. At first, she adopted analogies from journals and used them with some modifications. However, she experienced a lot of frustration from the students' negative responses. After discussion with the author, she designed her own analogies with materials and events closely related to students' daily life experience.

Second planning-action-reflection cycle During her second cycle of action research, she decided to design her analogies with objects familiar to students. This change turned out to be very successful. Students became more actively involved in learning and more willing to discuss the concepts presented. Positive students' learning outcomes also showed that she had indeed helped more students construct more scientific concepts. Upon completion of analogy teaching, she expressed that had she not been required to do action research, she would have given up trying analogy teaching in face of the poor students' responses. She found herself pressured to search and develop analogies that worked in classroom teaching.

Carol used to be a very conservative student, but she gradually learned to employ alternative teaching approaches such as experiment and object demonstration as time went by. In addition, she used STS and questioning to promote students' interests in learning. In Carol's case, action research serves as the driving force pushing her to try all she can to make her teaching approach work well in real practice. Collaborative action research has prevented Carol from giving up trying new teaching strategies.

Cathy

First planning-action-reflection cycle Cathy believed that science teaching should help students develop creativity, as well as thinking and problem-solving ability. As a prospective teacher, Cathy was very eager to experiment with new ideas. She chose concept mapping as her first teaching strategy. When she started using concept mapping in her teaching, several problems arose. Her students had difficulty drawing their own concept map, even though she had taught them how. She discussed her frustration with her supervisor, who then suggested that she could use the concept map to introduce the outline of the unit to be taught.

Second planning-action-reflection cycle During her second cycle of action research, she adopted her supervisor's suggestion. She realised that, when the students became more familiar with the notion of a concept map, she could let the students draw their own concept map, first in small groups and then individually. She found her students more able to think and answer questions more systematically after employing concept mapping for a semester. As time went by, she became more confident in her teaching and began trying other teaching approaches such as experiments and object demonstration, analogy, discrepant event, problem solving, and inquiry. It turned out that her students became more interested in learning physical science and more able to think and come up with different solutions and answers to her questions. With the help and support of her supervisor, Cathy achieved success in her specific teaching strategy. Such achievement would reinforce the willingness of prospective teachers to try new teaching approaches.

Prospective teachers' science classroom observation and self-report

The classroom observations throughout the year and the prospective teachers' self-reports show that all the 21 prospective teachers used more than one science teaching strategy in their full-time teaching practice; the mean number of types of teaching strategies was about 3.6 (Table 3). As seen in Table 4, 15 student teachers used questioning and experiment/object demonstration to teach science through constructive ways, 13 of them applied STS to relate science with the daily lives of students, nine of them used transparencies, six of them used discrepant events and analogies, and two of them used inquiry and problem solving. As demonstrated in their one-year full-time collaborative action research, these prospective teachers' teaching practices are coherent with their beliefs of constructivism.

Conclusions

Three important findings were obtained, which revealed relationships between physical science method courses, prospective teachers' beliefs, and their action research.

1 The restructured physical science method courses appeared to influence prospective teachers' beliefs about teaching and learning physical science.

Before taking the restructured science method courses, most of the five prospective teachers believed that the traditional teaching method would work best to enable students to get high scores in examinations. The content of the restructured science method courses is constructivist-oriented, aiming to help these prospective teachers acquire the concepts of constructivism and learn to employ a variety of strategies to facilitate constructive science teaching (Table 1). Upon completion of the course, they changed to believe in constructivism and learning through constructive ways, according to the short narratives from interviewing these prospective teachers. They were also convinced that science learning should be interesting and closely related to the students' everyday lives. This clearly indicates how the restructured science method courses did influence the beliefs of the pre-service teachers.

2 The restructured physical science method courses appeared to influence physical science teachers' teaching practice.

The initial science teaching approaches employed by the 21 student teachers in the beginning of their action research clearly indicate that they preferred the instructional strategies that would help students construct or reconstruct their own understanding of scientific knowledge (Table 2). Close examination of the content of our restructured physical science method courses (Table 1) and the first science teaching approaches chosen reveal a close relationship between the two.

3 Prospective teachers' beliefs about constructivist-oriented teaching appeared to have an impact on their teaching, and their constructivist-oriented teaching approach also appeared to reinforce their beliefs.

According to the prospective teachers' beliefs about science teaching and learning as well as their choices of teaching approaches in the beginning of their action research (Table 2), most of the prospective teachers believed in constructivism and their initial choice of teaching strategies were constructivism-oriented strategies. This suggests that teachers' beliefs did influence their action. The cases also provide more detailed evidence of what each individual prospective teacher believed in, and how they decided to choose the teaching strategies congruent with their beliefs.

When problems arose, they started to reconcile their ideals with the realities of classroom teaching, as in Mary's case. Susan's case clearly indicated that she became more aware of the impact of specific science teaching strategy on students' thoughts and learning. This awareness enhanced her understanding of the learning gaps and helped formulate their direction in future science teaching. The success of specific science teaching strategies employed by peer prospective teachers served as the driving force, motivating them to try out alternative approaches originally deemed infeasible, as in Laura's case. One of the advantages of using collaborative action research is to reduce the chance of giving up on trying different specific science teaching strategies, as evidenced in Carol's case. Moreover, with the help of a supervisor, the prospective teachers got support to make their specific teaching outcomes successful, as illustrated in Cathy's case. These five cases and the quantitative data from the 21 individuals suggest that prospective teachers' beliefs about constructivism-oriented teaching were reinforced when they were engaged in collaborative action research, and therefore made them more willing to try out different constructivism-oriented teaching strategies later in their teaching practice.

Implications

Restructuring the science method courses aims to provide a constructivist-oriented learning environment to help prospective science teachers acquire constructivism beliefs and constructivist-oriented science teaching strategies to be put in real practice. Without this preparation, prospective teachers may not understand fully or believe in the spirit of constructivism, thus becoming reluctant to try out constructivist-oriented teaching strategies. Although many teachers know a variety of science teaching approaches, they may not have the capability to design their own science teaching lessons by using these strategies. The restructured science method courses therefore emphasise the necessity to design their own science lesson and do microteaching by using each of the science teaching strategies acquired.

As the year progressed, the student teachers became less dependent on the collaborative researcher for finding answers to their problems in their action research. They grew in confidence as they could solve classroom problems instead of being overcome by a sense of failure when a particular classroom activity did not work as planned. Throughout the teaching practice, most of them used more than one constructivist-oriented science teaching strategy to help students construct their own knowledge. This clearly demonstrates that action research does motivate prospective teachers to employ constructivist-oriented teaching strategies. This supports Bommer's (1987) conclusion that action research encourages teachers to design and use activities more carefully and systematically than they might otherwise. It also confirms McNiff's (1988) observation that action research raises to a more conscious level much of what is already being done well in an intuitive manner. The changes in science teaching approach of the 21 student teachers demonstrate that the action research technique did sharpen their reasoning capabilities and facilitate the development of their self-monitoring skills (Biott, 1983; Elliott, 1980; Noffke & Zeichner, 1987; Ruddick, 1985).

The active participation of prospective teachers in action research creates a sense of pressure driving them to apply what they have learned in science method courses to their actual teaching practice. Without this pressure, a newcomer may not learn to implement specific approaches in a real classroom and may fail to employ certain strategies that work better than the others. In Taiwan, the vast majority of students to date have been taught through lecture style, and therefore view constructivist-oriented teaching methods with skepticism, especially as it is unknown whether these alternative teaching strategies can lead to high scores in examinations. The requirement of doing action research indeed forces prospective teachers at least to try alternative strategies, in the hope of increasing students' interest and improve their learning outcomes. It is very likely that if prospective teachers experience success in their early science teaching with action research, they would continue using this technique throughout their teaching careers.

The results demonstrate that both the constructivist-oriented science method courses and action research should be part of all teacher-training programs in Taiwan. Prospective teachers who have acquired constructivist-oriented science teaching strategies and reflective teaching practices are more likely to become more competent and effective. This in turn increases their job satisfaction and willingness to improve professionally. For many teachers, the prospective teaching experience is the critical chance to experiment and learn from classroom mistakes. Reforms, including restructuring science method courses and requiring prospective teachers to do action research during their teaching practice, do have the potential of enhancing the competency of prospective science teachers.
Table 1 Science method course contents

 Assignments and class
Course contents activities

Weeks 1-2
Nature of science, Science teaching, and Writing their own
Science learning Philosophy of science and philosophy of
Science teaching constructivism, Social science, science
constructivism teaching and science
 learning report

Weeks 3-4
Science learning theory: Information processing
theory, Cognitive theory, Piaget theory
 Science teaching strategies: Concept mapping Involve students in
 theory and a learning activity of concept learning how to make
 mapping a concept map
 Draw a concept map
 for a science unit

Week 5
Science curriculum development
Unit plan, lesson plan, instructional
objectives, evaluation of students' outcomes

Weeks 6-7
 Science teaching strategies: Guided inquiry Involve students in
 theory , questioning, and a guided inquiry learning how to use
 physical science activity guided inquiry
 activity with
 questioning

 Microteaching: Guided inquiry with Plan guided inquiry
 questioning teaching with
 questioning lesson
 plan and actually do
 a microteaching class

Weeks 8-9
 Science teaching strategies: Problem-solving Involve students in
 theory and a problem-solving physical science learning how to use
 activity the problem-solving
 activity
 Microteaching: Problem-solving Conduct a problem-
 solving teaching
 lesson plan and
 actually do a
 microteaching
 class

Weeks 10-11
Concept development, misconception and Involve students in
conceptual change: theory, diagnosis method learning how to
and conceptual change teaching approaches diagnose students'
 misconception and how
 to do conceptual
 change teaching
Science teaching strategies: Learning cycle, Conduct a lesson to
discrepant events, and well-designed bring about
discrepant events activity conceptual change by
 focusing on specific
 physical
Microteaching: Conceptual change strategies science concepts and
 actually do a
 microteaching class

Weeks 12-13
Teaching with analogy Involve students in
 learning how to
 develop different
 types of analogies
 Science teaching strategies: Analogy and an Design an analogy and
 analogy activity Microteaching: Analogy employ that analogy
 in microteaching

Weeks 14-15
Science, Technology and Society (STS) Ask students to
Gender issues complete two science
Science teacher self-reflection unit plans (each unit
Science teacher's beliefs, teaching practice plan should include
and classroom interaction at least three
 science teaching
 strategies learned
 in science method
 courses); STS is also
 required

Table 2 Science teaching approaches used by prospective teachers

Major focus in their science Number of
teaching approaches prospective teachers

Discrepant events 6
Analogy 4
Questioning 5
Concept mapping 3
Scientists' stories 1
Instructional media 1
Learning cycle 1

Table 3 Number of science teaching approaches used by prospective
teachers during teaching practice

Number of science teaching Number of
approaches used prospective teachers

1 0
2 3
3 7
4 6
5 5

Table 4 Types of science teaching approaches used by prospective
teachers during teaching practice

Types of science teaching Number of
approaches used prospective teachers

Discrepant events 6
Analogy 6
Questioning 15
Concept mapping 3
Learning cycle 1
Scientists' stories 3
Instructional media 1
STS 13
Transparencies 9
Inquiry 2
Problem solving 2
Experiment and object demonstration 15


Acknowledgement

This research was funded by the National Science Council (NSC88-2511-S-009-003), Taiwan, R.O.C. The author wishes to thank the participating prospective physical science teachers and their students.

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Hsiao-Ching She works at the Institute of Education, National Chiao-Tung University, 1001 Ta-Hsueh Road, Hsin Chu City, Taiwan.

Hsiao-Ching She

Institute of Education, National Chiao-Tung University, Taiwan
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