Teacher Perceptions of Their Preparation to Teach Mathematics/Science


 Walter Maximilian Poole
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1 Teacher Perceptions of Their Preparation to Teach Mathematics/Science When professional development planners do not have detailed information about the needs of the particular teacher audience they plan to serve, they can get some general guidance from national data about teacher preparedness. Although there are no nationallyrepresentative data based on assessments of teacher content knowledge, as part of the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education teachers were asked how well prepared they felt to teach each of a number of topics typically included in the mathematics/science curriculum (Weiss, Banilower, McMahon, & Smith, 2001). Elementary Teachers Perceptions of Their Preparedness to Teach Various Disciplines Figure 1 shows results for elementary teachers of selfcontained classes, where the teacher is responsible for teaching multiple subjects. Seventysix percent of these teachers reported feeling very well qualified to teach reading/language arts; in contrast, only 18 percent indicated feeling very well qualified to teach physical science. Elementary Teachers Considering Themselves Very Well Qualified to Teach Each Subject Physical Science 18 Earth Science 25 Life Science 29 Social Studies 52 Mathematics 60 Reading/Language Arts 76 Figure 1
2 Middle Teachers Perceptions of their Preparedness to Teach Science Content Middle grades science teachers are typically responsible for teaching all science areas to their students, but as can be seen in Figure 2, they do not perceive themselves as equally well qualified in all of the science disciplines. Middle grades science teachers in nonself contained classes were most likely to report feeling very well qualified to teach science process skills, and least likely to report feeling very well qualified to teach physics topics. Middle School Science Teachers Considering Themselves Very Well Qualified to Teach Each Subject Physics 20 Chemistry 32 Earth Science 36 Environmental Issues Biology Process Skills 51 Figure 2 High School Teachers Perceptions of their Preparedness to Teach Science Content High school science teachers are likely to specialize, teaching several science courses, or multiple sections of a science course, within a single discipline. Accordingly, data on high school science teachers perceptions of their preparedness were analyzed separately for teachers assigned to teach one or more courses in a particular area. High school chemistry teachers were most likely to report feeling very well qualified to teach topics in their discipline (see Figure 3), followed by biology, physics, and earth science teachers. Teachers assigned to environmental science, physical science, and integrated science courses were least likely to report feeling very well qualified to teach topics in those areas.
3 High School Science Teachers Considering Themselves Very Well Qualified to Teach Their Subject Integrated/General Science 64 Physical Science 66 Environmental Science 73 Earth Science 81 Physics 82 Biology/Life Science 84 Chemistry 90 Figure 3 Middle Teachers Perceptions of their Preparedness to Teach Mathematics Content Middle grades mathematics teachers were given a list of topics recommended by the NCTM Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000) and asked to indicate how well qualified they felt to teach each one. As can be seen in Figure 4, a majority of middle school teachers reported feeling very well qualified to teach computation, estimation, measurement, numeration and number theory, prealgebra, patterns and relationships, geometry and spatial sense, and data collection and analysis. Relatively few reported feeling very well qualified to teach functions, statistics or calculus.
4 Middle School Mathematics Teachers Considering Themselves Very Well Qualified to Teach Each Topic Calculus 4 Statistics Functions Probability Algebra Geometry 58 PreAlgebra 75 Measurement Estimation Computation 90 Figure 4 High School Teachers Perceptions of their Preparedness to Teach Mathematics Content As can be seen in Figure 5, a majority of high school mathematics teachers indicated they felt very well qualified to teach each of a number of topics, ranging from 61 percent for functions to 94 percent for algebra and prealgebra. At the other end of the spectrum, only about onequarter of high school mathematics teachers reported feeling very well qualified to teach statistics or calculus.
5 High School Mathematics Teachers Considering Themselves Very Well Qualified to Teach Each Topic Calculus Statistics Probability 42 Functions 61 Geometry 70 Estimation Measurement Computation Algebra PreAlgebra Figure 5 Teachers Perceptions of their Preparedness for Mathematics/Science Instructional Activities Both science and mathematics teachers were also asked how well prepared they felt for each of a number of tasks they might be expected to accomplish as part of their teaching responsibilities. Table 1 shows the percentage of grades K 4, 5 8, and 9 12 science teachers indicating they were either fairly well prepared or very well prepared for each task; analogous results for mathematics teachers are presented in Table 2.
6 Table 1 Science Teachers Considering Themselves Well Prepared for Each of a Number of Tasks, by Grade Range of Teachers* K Take students prior understanding into account when planning curriculum and instruction Develop students conceptual understanding of science Provide deeper coverage of fewer science concepts Make connections between science and other disciplines Lead a class of students using investigative strategies Manage a class of students engaged in handson/projectbased work Have students work in cooperative learning groups Listen/ask questions as students work in order to gauge their understanding * Includes teachers responding very well prepared or fairly well prepared to each statement on a four point scale that included not adequately prepared and somewhat prepared. Table 2 Mathematics Teachers Considering Themselves Well Prepared for Each of a Number of Tasks, by Grade Range K 4 of Teachers* Take students prior understanding into account when planning curriculum and instruction Develop students conceptual understanding of mathematics Provide deeper coverage of fewer mathematics concepts Make connections between mathematics and other disciplines Lead a class of students using investigative strategies Manage a class of students engaged in handson/projectbased work Have students work in cooperative learning groups Listen/ask questions as students work in order to gauge their understanding * Includes teachers responding very well prepared or fairly well prepared to each statement on a four point scale that included not adequately prepared and somewhat prepared. In science, elementary teachers were less likely than middle and high school teachers to report feeling prepared to develop students conceptual understanding of science, provide deeper coverage of fewer science concepts, make connections between science and other disciplines, lead a class of students using investigative strategies, and to manage a class of students engaged in handson/projectbased work. In contrast, in mathematics, it was the high school teachers who were less likely to report feeling prepared to make connections between mathematics and other disciplines, and manage a class of students engaged in handson/projectbased work; most teachers in all three grade ranges indicated feeling well prepared to develop students conceptual understanding of mathematics, and to provide deeper coverage of fewer mathematics concepts.
7 For more information about teacher perceptions of their preparedness, please read Chapter 2 of the Report of the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (Weiss, Banilower, McMahon, & Smith, 2001), which can be found at
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