Academic Exchange Quarterly     Winter   2005    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  9, Issue  4

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Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs


CHENG May Hung, May, The Hong Kong Institute of Education


CHENG May Hung, May, PhD., is senior lecturer of The Hong Kong Institute of Education.



The influence of a module on science teaching of a teacher education prgoramme is reflected by the changes in the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs of the preservice teachers at two phases: before they took the module on science teaching, and after their teaching practice period.A comparison of the findings with those obtained from the interviews suggested that the preservice teachers were more confident with teaching science, knowing more about how to engage pupils in activities and knowing that their efforts would be effective.



Science is taught as part of an integrated subject called General Studies at the elementary level in Hong Kong, and the majority of teachers, regardless of their previous education background in science, have a high probability of teaching the subject.A study of preservice teachers' perceptions of elementary science teaching (Cheng, 1997) revealed that the preservice teachers taking the arts stream in their secondary education (those taking arts at secondary seven level, aged 18), faced much greater difficulty in their teaching practice than those who took the science stream in their secondary education. Their views of science teaching were largely inadequate, and some equated science teaching to doing experiments.The researcher attempted to address these problems by finding out ways to better prepare and increase the confidence of the preservice teachers (those taking the arts stream) for teaching elementary science through the introduction of a module named the Curriculum Studies Module, that focused on the constructivist view of learning in teaching science topics.This study aims to identify how the confidence of teaching science changes among the preservice teachers after they have completed the Curriculum Studies module and their teaching practice.


Theoretical framework

Teaching Efficacy Beliefs

Teaching Efficacy Beliefs measures look into these two aspects: a personal belief about oneís own ability to cope with a task (Self Efficacy) and a belief about action and outcome (Outcome Expectancy) (Bandura, 1977).Bandura (1977) hypothesized that an analysis of these two aspects would facilitate the prediction of behaviour.In the present study, this prediction may be applied to predict how likely the preservice teachers will be to implement the science teaching strategies developed based on a constructivist view of learning.


The notion of Teaching Efficacy Beliefs has been further developed since Bandura first proposed it in 1977.Gibson and Dembo (1984) confirmed Banduraís two component model consisting of a) a factor that relates to a teacherís sense of teaching efficacy, or belief that a teacherís ability to bring about change is limited by factors external to the teacher (Outcome Expectancy) and b) a factor that relates to a teacherís sense of personal teaching efficacy, or belief that he or she has the skills to bring about student learning (Self Efficacy).In the present study, the meaning of self efficacy is adapted to reflect the preservice teachersí confidence or belief in being able to teach science and effect learning among their pupils.The self efficacy measurement is also taken as an indication of how likely the preservice teachers will be to teach science with the strategies advocated in the present study, which means teaching science based on a constructivist view of learning.


Previous studies in science teaching efficacy beliefs

There are studies that stress the development of teachersí attitudes and confidence in science teaching.Westerback and Long (1990) found that increased content knowledge could reduce experienced elementary teachersí anxiety about science teaching. They also reflected that teachers who are more comfortable with science are more likely to devote more time to teaching it, and are more likely to teach it with creativity.The relationship between science teaching efficacy beliefs and preparing preservice teachers to teach science is supported by a number of studies.Ramey-Gassert and Schroyer (1992) summarized related studies, linking quantitative findings with qualitative ones, and suggested that elementary teachersí poor self-efficacy has resulted in a science anxiety, poor attitudes towards science, and an unwillingness to spend time teaching science.They also suggested that purposeful selection of science experiences can improve science teaching self-efficacy and result in better attitudes towards science.


As Bandura has defined self-efficacy as a general sense of teaching effectiveness, a teacherís overall level of self-efficacy may not accurately reflect their efficacy in teaching Science.Riggs and Enochs (1990) devised the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs (STEB) Instrument, which is composed of two scales, the Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Scale (PSTEB) and the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy Scale (STOE), to measure practising elementary school teachersí sense of science teaching efficacy.A similar instrument was also constructed for preservice teacher education students and was applied in predicting science teaching behaviours of preservice teachers and in-service teachers.


In a study identifying the changes in preservice elementary teachersí sense of efficacy in teaching science, (Ginns, Watters, Tulip and Lucas, 1995), the results revealed that Science Teaching Efficacy and Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy were not significantly correlated, the former being more dependent on personal traits such as internal locus of control and self concept, whereas the latter is related to levels of aspiration, academic interest and satisfaction.†† The study concludes that the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy is more easily influenced by the teacher education programme than the Science Teaching Efficacy, as the latter is concerned more with global personality traits.It is, however, the concern of teacher educators to improve the studentsí sense of Science Teacher Efficacy, as this has implications for the teachersí ability to teach science, and the childrenís ability to learn science (Riggs & Enochs, 1990).Finally, Ginns (1995) predicted that Science Teaching Efficacy is related to an individualís experience in learning science.For the present study, this means that the teacher education programme may influence the preservice teachersí Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy beliefs, and the preservice teachersí experiences of science learning may be related to Science Teaching Efficacy.


Another direction of self-efficacy research has been to identify the factors that contribute to high science teaching self-efficacy beliefs.Ramey-Gassert, Shroyer and Staver (1996) obtained the personal science teaching self-efficacy and science teaching outcome expectancy scores of 23 elementary teachers.High science teaching outcome expectancy scores were found to be related to having personally experienced success in science and with teaching science.In another study, De Latt and Watters (1995) obtained the personal science teaching self-efficacy scores of 37 elementary teachers and invited 5 teachers with high personal science teaching self-efficacy scores and 5 teachers with low personal science teaching self-efficacy scores to be interviewed.Teachers with the highest personal science teaching self-efficacy scores expressed notions of confidence in teaching science, and felt that science was fun and interesting.These teachers were more oriented towards thematic and integrated approaches in science teaching.These data provide an association between the quantitative scores and personality traits, and the teaching and the confidence to teach among the elementary teachers.



Data collection

In order to measure the changes in the confidence to teach science topics among the preservice teachers, the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs instrument was adopted.There is a total of 25 items with a rating scale of 1 to 5, 1 meaning strongly disagree and 5 meaning strongly agree.The Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs instrument (Riggs and Enochs, 1990) was adapted to reflect the local context, and was translated into Chinese.The instrument was administered at two points. The first time was before they took the Curriculum Studies module.The second time was after the teaching practice, just before they graduated in around June.The comparison showed the influence of the module and the teaching practice on their confidence to teach science.The preservice teachers were interviewed before and after the Module and the teaching practice.These interviews were structured to find out if there were changes in the views of the preservice teachers on science teaching and learning.The interview findings supplement the reasons behind the changes in the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs.



A total of 36 preservice teachers filled out the questionnaires in the first session of the Curriculum Studies module.The questionnaire was then mailed to the preservice teachers after the teaching practice, and 27 returned the questionnaire.Eleven preservice teachers indicated their willingness to participate in the interviews.


Findings and Discussion

Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs findings

The alpha reliability values of the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs instrument was found to have a value of 0.59 and 0.78 before the commencement of the module and after the teaching practice respectively.†† PSTEB and STOE were at mean values of 38.77 (S.D. 5.18) and 34.26 (S.D.4.02) before taking the module respectively.After the teaching practice, PSTEB and STOE values were at 42.23 (S.D. 7.06) and 39.19 (S.D.8.47) respectively.The preservice teachers had significantly higher Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs and Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy values (significance both at p<0.01 level), meaning that they were more confident in teaching science after the teaching practice.


Compared with the mean values from other studies of elementary preservice teachers in Australia (PSTEB 49.6 (S.D. 5.9) and STOE 33.9 (S.D. 5.6) figures from de Laat and Watters, 1995) and the USA (PSTEB 56.54 and STOE 48.09 figures from Riggs and Enochs, 1990), the mean values for Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs is still lower, but the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy is higher than in the Australian study. ††Although the values were still lower, the increase was significant and comparable with that of the Australian study.††


A paired sample t-test was conducted to compare the responses in the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs instrument. The mean values of the items were in the range of 2.50 to 3.35 and 3.00 to 3.77 before and after the teaching practice respectively.Out of the 25 items in the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs instrument, 8 items showed a significant difference (3 with significance at p < 0.005 level and 5 at p < 0.05 level) before studying the module and after the teaching practice.These items showed that the respondents had more confidence in teaching science, knowing more about how to engage pupils in activities, knowing that their efforts would be effective, and having comparable confidence in teaching science as in other topics.Their lack of knowledge about science concepts also contributes to the low confidence level before taking the module.However, after the teaching practice, this worry about content was lowered.The preservice teachers had a more positive belief that their teaching was responsible for pupilsí achievement and found themselves able to help pupils experiencing difficulties, after the teaching practice.


Comparing the Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs values obtained before the module and after the teaching practice, the difference in the values among individual cases ranges from a gain of 17 to a decrease of 19 points.The difference in values for the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy among individual preservice teachers ranges from a gain of 14 to a decrease of 14 points.The range for the difference in the Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs values is 4 points wider than that of the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy.Hence, though the trend for the whole group is an increase in confidence level, there were two individual preservice teachers who had particularly negative changes in Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs values and one of them also had negative changes in the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy value.As the questionnaire was anonymous, the author could not identify the individual who experienced such negative changes.The explanation was made based on a postulation that the preservice teacher may have had much difficulty in teaching science during the teaching practice.On the whole, the preservice teachers experienced a significant increase in their confidence to teach science, and the amount of change depends on individual situations which may include their perception of learning in the Curriculum Studies module, and their experience in the teaching practice.


Interview findings

In order to find out the preservice teachersí concerns, the question ďHow do you feel about being a science teacher?Ē was used in the interviews.Before the preservice teachers took the module, the interview findings suggested that all eleven preservice teachers interviewed shared a number of concerns about science teaching, and only two mentioned positive feelings.Their confidence in teaching science continued to grow as shown by the increased number of preservice teachers mentioning this point (8), and more (4) felt that they had a sufficient academic background. One reported having better control of the pace of teaching:


I think teaching science topics is more interesting.... I have greater confidence this year.I have a better control of the pace of teaching this year.I can estimate the time needed for practical activities rather than just using discussions.(Billy) [1]


Another suggested that pupils had a better response in the lessons:


I think that GS (General Studies) is easier to teach.There are practical activities in the topics and the pupils have a better response. It feels easier to teach.(Mandy)


Arranging practical activities increased the participation of pupils and this led to a better estimation of the pupilsí learning:


In the practical activities, I can easily tell who is participating.The learning outcome is more easily seen.I have greater confidence in teaching General Studies than other subjects.I can better prepare for GS (General Studies) lessons, there are activities and the pupils are more engaged.It is more interesting. (Billy)


Occupying pupils to think led to feelings of success in teaching science as mentioned by one of the preservice teachers:


I didnít have any confidence before I taught as the subject teacher had told me that they had low ability.... Later I found out that occupying them in completing worksheets or involving them in thinking would be better.As I include more activities, they are more occupied (in thinking) and it is better.(Dick)


Another reason for feeling more confident was attributed to being aware of what pupils think:


I am more confident in teaching.Before I would just read the teachersí reference book, and would not be aware of what pupils think.I would not know the ways to correct their concepts or guide them to new concepts.... I now have equal confidence in teaching science as in other subjects such as Chinese and maths.I would not be less confident in teaching science.(Eva)


Others (4) felt that they have a sufficient background in science, such as:


I feel that I have sufficient knowledge in teaching human reproduction.The difficult part is binary fission.I feel that I have adequate knowledge about oviparous and viviparous reproduction.I am confident in the basic parts.I would not feel helpless and not know how to teach when I am facing the topic.(Cathy)


These quotations suggest a good match with the measures of the Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs and the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy values, and help to illustrate how the preservice teachers arrive at the perception that they have better confidence in teaching science.


Conclusions and implications

After the teaching practice, the preservice teachers experienced gains in confidence with teaching science.The findings from the quantitative measures of the Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs and the Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy values and those of the interviews are consistent with each other. The findings in the interviews have also provided some explanations about negative changes or low increase in the Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs and Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy values.These include a perceived lack of academic knowledge and experience in science teaching, and contextual constraints such as classroom management, timing for the teaching schedule and conducting practical activities in the classrooms.Moreover, the worry about content may not be a genuine concern for the content itself but may also be a reflection of their lack of confidence with the pedagogy.It appears that the Curriculum Studies module with its emphasis on teaching science based on a constructivist view of learning has influenced the preservice teachersí professional development and positively influenced their confidence in teaching science.The changes in preservice teachersí confidence to teach science have been reflected by the STEB instrument and the interviews.Finally, the method and the findings of this study can add to the literature in related studies in Teacher Efficacy Beliefs that interview findings may provide explanations to changes in the quantitative mean values.



[1] Pseudonyms are used for the purpose of the study.


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