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Putting Constructivist Teaching into Practice in Undergraduate Introductory Science

Rene' T. Stofflett, Ph.D.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


     Undergraduate teaching reform has received considerable attention in the media and by politicians and college administrators alike. In 1994 the Congress of the United States adopted six National Education Goals, singling out mathematics and science as primary targets for improvement amongst the academic disciplines (NEGP, 1994). At present, the majority of undergraduate introductory science content courses are dominated by fact-driven instructional models that assume that students passively receive information imparted through lectures and assigned textbook readings. Constructivist learning theory disputes this assumption, maintaining that students bring complex and strongly held conceptions of subject matter to the classroom which serve as a filter which interacts with the didactically provided information (Fosnot, 1989). Students frequently develop understandings of content that are often not scientific because their preexisting ideas are often overlooked during the traditional science teaching process (Osborne & Freyberg, 1985). Unlike traditional instruction, constructivist teaching specifically elicits and addresses students' ideas throughout instruction. Students and teachers co-construct knowledge via laboratory and research investigations and through discussion and engagement with text.

     One form of constructivism, conceptual change teaching, is particularly concerned with the development of scientifically accurate understandings. According to conceptual change theory, in order for many students to believe or accept scientific theories, a process of knowledge restructuring must occur (Hewson, Tabachnick, Zeichner, Lemberger, Marion, Meyer & Park, 1994; Wandersee, Mintzes & Novak, 1994). Because preexisting knowledge structures are not easily replaced, underlying knowledge structures must be elicited and addressed in the learning process for conceptual change to evolve (Posner, Strike, Hewson & Gertzog, 1982). It is not enough to simply ask the students what they know and tell them the "right answers." Instead, students' ideas must provide the framework for instruction. The instructional context must be relevant and students' ideas discussed and challenged throughout the learning process. According to the conceptual change model, students need to become dissatisfied with their existing non-scientific conceptions, as well as find the scientific conceptions intelligible, plausible and fruitful in order for conceptual change to occur (Posner, Strike, Hewson & Gertzog, 1982). The focus on students' ideas and the development of these four conceptual change constructs (hereafter referred to as IPDF, consistent with Stofflett, 1994) is the cornerstone of knowledge restructuring (i.e. conceptual change) which typically does not occur in traditional classrooms.

     Lack of attention to students' prior knowledge structures is especially prevalent at the college level. Tobias (1990) illustrated this in her study of introductory science courses at major universities, where she reported that students found science courses to be very intimidating, competitive and emphasizing of extrinsic rewards like getting good grades and objective goals like getting into graduate or medical school. Many students disliked the passiveness and anonymity they experienced in large classes and the resulting feelings of isolation due to solo, competitively graded work. She stated that students often chose non-science majors because close working relationships with professors and learning through collaboration and discussion were missing in science courses. Science was also perceived by students as a very large body of facts and formulae to be transmitted from the professor to the students who were then expected to replicate the knowledge on a test. Thomas (1990) reported a similar blanket expectation that students should blindly accept what they were told, not questioning assumptions or theories, because by doing such students felt they would be seen as subverting the authoritative knowledge of the department. One of Tobias' students contrasted the sciences to the humanities by stating that in humanities courses "you can go off and expand on things, whereas in the hard sciences you have to come up with a number or specific word" (p. 79). Gender was also identified as an issue on campus as Sandler and Hall (1986) found the climate to be particularly chilly for women, particularly in fields, such as the sciences, business, and engineering, traditionally dominated by males. The university environments in these subject matter domains often emphasized hierarchy, individual prowess and highly assertive behavior, in contrast to women's socialization which tends to develop in them a sense of cooperation and connectedness (Gilligan, 1982). These studies represent the typical university environment across the United States.

     The bulk of the content knowledge constructed by science teachers is learned in these didactically-taught undergraduate courses in hierarchical, competitive science departments. Personal content and pedagogical beliefs develop as a function of teachers' experiences as science content learners and typically center around the science textbook and course structures used in undergraduate education (Gess-Newsome & Lederman, 1990). These teaching knowledge and belief frameworks act as filters through which future teachers interpret information about pedagogical methods and make instructional decisions (Holt-Reynolds, 1990). Given that the majority of teachers at all levels have been educated in traditional fact-based science classrooms, it is not surprising that these knowledge structures are transmissionist in form and that traditional science teaching remains the norm. Viewed from a conceptual change framework, it is logical that if science teachers interpret reform recommendations from a didactic perspective, these efforts are not likely to effect major changes in their instructional practices. In fact, Anderson and Mitchener (1994) stated that research examining how to best educate science instructors to teach using constructivist approaches "may well be the most needed--and potentially fruitful--area of research in science teacher education" (p. 26).

     One of the primary assumptions we make in this article is that for teachers to transform their practice from fact-based to constructivist models, they must undergo a process of pedagogical conceptual change themselves. The first author's earlier research focused on attempts to utilize conceptual change pedagogy in science methods courses by explicitly identifying and addressing preservice teachers' conceptions of content and pedagogy (see, Stofflett & Stoddart, 1994) . The goal was to challenge traditional preconceptions of pedagogy so that knowledge could be restructured and result in more accurate understandings of constructivist science teaching. This line of research demonstrated that the four constructs of scientific conceptual change (IPDF) could be used as a framework for both promoting pedagogical conceptual change and for measuring whether or not conceptual change had occurred (Stofflett, 1994). However, some novice teachers were unable to transfer their cognitive and pedagogical changes to content other than that directly explored in their methods course and student teaching (Statler, Stoddart & Niederhauser, 1994). These findings are important because the bulk of the conceptual change research in teacher education has focused on cognitive change during methods courses and in preservice field experience settings (see also, Hewson et al., 1994; Holt-Reynolds, 1990). This led us to wonder where difficulties and successes arise when teachers attempt to implement constructivist pedagogy in their classroom practice. If the move toward constructivist teaching is a positive direction for science instruction, it will be important to know what happens to instructors as they attempt to change not only their cognition, but also their practice.


     The current study examined a university science instructor's efforts to utilize constructivist and conceptual change teaching in a discussion section of a large introductory science course (see Table 1 for a timeline). On the last day of a graduate level science education summer course taught by the first author (René), a college-level teacher (Pam ) who was a student in the course expressed dismay over her inability to resolve the conflict between her cognition and practice. Pam had one year of experience in discussion sections where she had been lecturing science facts to undergraduate science students. Her traditional pedagogical beliefs were strongly held and she struggled with the notions of constructivist pedagogy throughout the graduate course. As she reflected about her teaching during the course, she experienced a radical conceptual change. She changed her view of science instruction from the passive replication of knowledge to one of active knowledge construction and reconstruction. She stated at the end of the course that she felt she should leave teaching because "it would be unethical for me to continue in the only way I know how; using traditional methods." Instead of exiting the profession, she made an arrangement to work with René over the course of the following semester to attempt to translate her new conceptions into practice. We felt this was a good opportunity to work together to facilitate the change in her practice and to research the process as she attempted to implement the changes.

Table 1


 Time of Occurance Event Data Collected
Summer Semester (August) Graduate course in science education Pam's work, Classroom observations
Fall Semester (before first class) Meeting between Pam and René Interview [pre]
Weeks 1-3 (Fall semester) Pam's teaching Observation notes without videotaping; Journal reflections
Week 4 First videotape; First course exam Videotape, Interview [1]
Week 5 Observation without video Observation notes, Journal
Week 6 Alice's evaluation

Videotaped class

Videotape, Interview [2]. Journal
Week 7 The "meeting" Interview [3], Journal
Week 8 Videotaped class Videotape, Interview [4], Journal
Week 9 Not observed due to researcher injury Journal
Week 10 Videotaped class Videotape, Interview [5], Journal
Week 11 Videotaped class Videotape, Interview [6], Journal
Week 12 Videotaped class Videotape, Interview [7], Journal
Spring Semester (before first class) Debriefing meeting between Pam and René Interview [post], Journal

     The mentoring literature identified aspects of the role of a mentor in a college setting to include providing information about the workings of university departments, introducing the mentee to key people, providing advice and constructive criticism, serving as a role model and proving information about informal lines of communication (Hall and Sandler, 1983; Levinson, 1978). Specific to mentoring in teaching, Daloz (1986) identified as a key componentthe development of trust based on a shared commitment requiring both parties to take upon risk to induce a freedom to challenge the other's ideas; to hear the other more fully so as to understand more deeply. Furlong and Maynard (1995) characterized a mentor as a co-enquirer who could address complexities of teaching alongside the mentee within a spirit of open enquiry. René strove to serve in this mentoring role by monitoring Pam's acquisition of awareness and strategies of constructivist teaching in light of her personal reflections, as well as serving as a "counselor" who empathized with and accepted Pam's thoughts, feelings and behaviors without moralizing or imposing her own values (Tomlinson, 1995).

     Some of the pedagogical strategies Pam attempted were intended to reduce the transmission and competition in the course by fostering cooperative learning and discussion. For example, memorization of facts at a quick rate was de-emphasized by focusing on only one or two concepts per week through large and small group discussion and group problem-solving activities. While many of the traditional structures of the overall course remained in place (i.e., fact-based lectures, objective exams, and grading on the curve), in Pam's discussion sections the students participated in constructivist science education and were given the opportunity to construct meaningful understandings of content.

     We videotaped Pam's teaching throughout the Fall Semester and reflected weekly upon the taped segments during debriefing meetings. We also collected interview, journal and document data throughout the process to help determine which factors may have facilitated or hindered her progress. Because of the size of our data set, we will concentrate on factors affecting the implementation process in this paper as opposed to what her constructivist teaching actually looked like. We are currently preparing other papers which will report specifically the analysis of her cognitive and pedagogical changes.

Research Questions

1. What evidence did Pam exhibit suggesting she had maintained her pedagogical conceptual change toward an understanding of constructivist teaching?

2. What factors affected her ability to execute constructivist teaching into practice?


     The following results include some very sensitive topics. From the very beginning of the research and before any data were collected, we felt very strongly about maintaining the anonymity of the people involved. To protect Pam and others from the potential harm that could come from publishing the findings of this research (Warwick, 1982) and in accordance with our university's policy on Research with Human Subjects (IRB, 1992), we have taken much care to conceal the identities of all the people involved in both the course and the research (except René whose identity was not an issue). The subject matter, the course, and in particular, the people involved have been masked or changed. In accordance with Pam's wishes, we not identified her ethnicity and science subject matter area. Masking these variables was a difficult decision, as it limited much of the data we could include--in particular, much of the detail about the science content activities Pam included in her teaching. However, we strove to include the essence of the setting and the interactions that occurred, without violating her right to privacy. Gender was a significant variable we decided to keep consistent, as a number of issues that arose were specific to women teaching in universities. Despite the fact that her identity is concealed, Pam was involved in every step of the research and has edited and approved this manuscript for content. This is in contrast to "Springdale" (Vidich & Bensman, 1968) which brought to light the serious issues that can arise in sociological research and the use of concealment techniques.

     It is important as well to acknowledge that we were interested in what Pam perceived as facilitators and constraints to her teaching change. Much of what she experienced and described concerned other people not directly involved in the research. The points-of-view of these people are not reported in this manuscript. We were interested in Pam's interpretations and how they influenced her perceived ability to use constructivist teaching in a university setting. We wish to stress that the statements made about the influence of these people were based on our interpretations. Therefore, the contextual data that represent Pam's constructions are biased toward her point of view. However, we do not wish to minimize her interpretations or feelings about these events, as they strongly influenced her ability to execute her cognition into practice.


The Setting

     The course which served as the investigation setting was part of a three semester sequence of a basic scientific discipline required for most science majors. Pam taught three discussion sections which each met once per week and corresponded to three weekly lectures co-taught by two professors. Interestingly, Pam was not supervised by the professors of the course, but rather by teaching professionals employed by the College of Science. There were also a number of laboratory graduate assistants and other discussion section leaders involved in the teaching of the course, but their instruction was independent of Pam's.

The Instructor

     Pam was a 23 year old American-born female minority student who held a B.S. degree in her science subject matter area and was in her second year of teaching in the College of Science at a university in the United States. She was enrolled in a Master of Science program for teachers and had experienced a dramatic conceptual change from a traditional to a constructivist perspective of science pedagogy while enrolled in a summer session graduate-level science education course.

The Mentor

     René was a 33 year old Caucasian female in her second year as an Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research program was in the areas of conceptual change in science teacher education and undergraduate science education. She held a B.S. in a science content area different than Pam's and two graduate degrees (M.S. and Ph.D.) in Educational Studies. She had experience teaching science courses at the middle school and undergraduate level, as well as experience teaching courses in science education at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Implementation procedures

     To frame both the pedagogical implementation process and our research, we chose to use an action research paradigm because it fit with both the conceptual change framework of the study (Hewson et al., 1994) and methodologically with the research questions. Kemmis and McTaggart (1988) described action research as a spiral of 'Plan-Action-Observation-Reflection' followed by 'Revised Plan-Action-Observation-Reflection.' The current study utilized several small spirals representing week-to-week short term change. We acknowledge that our view of action research is a shorter-term version of the spiraling concept, yet we maintain it is applicable and appropriate here because the goal for Pam was week-to-week change. After she taught each week, Pam and a researcher (René) who also served as a mentor observed and reflected via the use of the videotapes, using a similar approach to that described by Bazuin and Yonke (1978) and Keith (1988). This process allowed for the dialogic critical reflection between the researcher and the teacher, allowing Pam to reach a greater awareness of the social context in which she was working and an awareness of her intervention and transformational capacities or lack thereof (Koetting, 1985). We determined as a result of Pam's reflections and interactions what her revised plan for action would be for the following week which she implemented and later reflected upon. This spiraling process continued throughout the semester.

Data Collection

Initial interview. The initial interview with Pam occurred after the summer session science education course was completed, but before the Fall Semester had commenced. The interview was semi-structured and autobiographical in nature. We focused on her experiences as a science learner in K - 12 schooling, the role of her family, culture, and gender in her development as a scientist and as a teacher, reflections on the relationship of her understandings of content and her beliefs about teaching, her thoughts about her own teacher preparation, an examination of her conceptual change experience in the science education course, and her intentions and what she anticipated to be constraints in changing her classroom practice.

Classroom videotapes. Pam's teaching was videotaped seven times over the course of the Fall Semester. To provide continuity the same section, which met from 11 - 12 each Tuesday morning, was always taped. In the current study these videotapes were used as a reference during the interviews. We will present the actual analysis of these videotapes in subsequent papers.

Observational data. Observations of events that transpired outside of videotaped instances were recorded as field notes. These events include, but are not limited to, Pam's interactions in the science education course and meetings with other instructors of the course she was teaching.

Interviews corresponding to videotapes. Each Friday following the Tuesday class, we viewed the videotape of her teaching and audiotaped the discussion. The interviews focused on Pam's perceived strengths and weaknesses, areas of potential improvement, student behaviors, and planning for the following week.

Other documents. These included hand-outs generated for students, course textbooks and supplementary materials, and any other written material pertaining to her teaching.

Data analysis

     Research question #1. The data were analyzed for each research question separately. For the first question, we conducted a conceptual change analysis to determine whether Pam had become dissatisfied with her existing conceptions, and found the constructivist pedagogy to be intelligible, plausible and fruitful (Table 2 summarizes the constructs from Stofflett, 1994 as we used them in this study). We used the elementary teacher conceptual change coding sheets from the first author's earlier research as a guide for developing coding for conceptual change in college level science pedagogy and worked from the analysis procedures described there. We describe each of these constructs as they applied to this study in the results section.

Table 2

Conceptual Change Constructs as Defined and Used in this Study









Statements and Other Evidence of Lack of Construct Development

Dissatisfaction with Existing Conceptions Reduction in status of prior traditional conceptions of science pedagogy Direct statements of dissatisfaction with traditional pedagogy; Statements describing the conceptual change; Examples of mental disequilibrium Positive statements about traditional fact-based pedagogy; direct statements of lack of dissatisfaction with prior pedagogical conceptions



Understanding of constructivist learning and teaching

Statements about knowledge construction or reconstruction; science as a process of developing meaning; authentic and contextual problem solving; science education as eliciting and addressing prior knowledge Learning as transmission; direct statements of not understanding constructivism or constructivist teaching; fact or vocabulary memorization; rote, algorithmic problem solving; failure to address prior knowledge



Increase in status of constructivist teaching and intent of use in future college science teaching

Statements of belief or intent regarding constructivist teaching in undergraduate science; statements of commitment to constructivist pedagogy Statements of lack of belief in constructivism; lowered status of constructivist pedagogy; expressed doubts about the use of constructivism in undergraduate science teaching
Fruitfulness Ability to map constructivist cognition into practice in undergraduate science instruction Effective and appropriate planned use of constructivist pedagogy Planning for use of traditional science pedagogy; reverting to traditional science pedagogy when problems arise

     Research Question #2. For the second question we asked what Pam perceived as facilitators and restraints to her implementing constructivist practice in a university setting and specifically looked for incidents that Pam recognized as being of value to or constraining her practice. Repeated examinations of pre- and post-study interviews and the weekly video-related interviews, course documents, and observational ethnographic data led to the development of categories that organized the data to answer this second question (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984). We first identified the major themes by working "back and forth" between the interview transcripts and our grouping lists in order to develop meaningful and accurate categories (Patton, 1990). This investigation was conducted independently by each researcher and then collaboratively condensed into a single list. We then each returned to the interview transcripts to independently search for these major themes and to identify minor categories to develop a thorough and complete list. After a full set of concepts was agreed upon, each researcher coded the entire data set until 100% agreement was reached. Then, using an inductive approach we grouped the data by the major categories developed. We then searched the data for exemplars and anomalies that would best illustrate our findings. We present those in the next section.


Question #1: Did Pam demonstrate the criteria for conceptual change?

Evidence of Dissatisfaction

     To determine if Pam had became dissatisfied with her existing traditional preconceptions, we looked for direct statements of discontent regarding her former method of teaching and other descriptions or examples of mental disequilibrium. For example, she described her thoughts as she was experiencing disequilibrium when she compared the research she read while in the science education course with the way she had been teaching science previously,

Everything contradicted what I was doing in my [science] class and this was a bad thing. Because I mean I thought I was doing everything right and here I have this theory where you know, everything I'm doing is wrong, that just can't be. There is no way that what I'm doing is wrong. You know, it's the best thing I can do with that many people. [pre]

I still remember how I felt when I found that . . .what I'm teaching, what I'm lecturing in class would be stimulating misconceptions in students, even though I said it in the most perfect way possible. I was appalled. I still remember that and it was like, there is no way. There is no way [this can be].. [pre]

     Throughout the Fall Semester she repeatedly spoke of her displeasure with her former method of teaching, although from time to time when things got difficult she yearned for the good old days of lecturing with her transparencies.

Evidence of Intelligibility

     For evidence of intelligibility of constructivist teaching, we searched for statements regarding teaching and learning that were consistent with long term knowledge construction and reconstruction, science as a process, authentic problem solving within a context, and eliciting and addressing preconceptions throughout teaching. Pam demonstrated intelligibility by reflecting back on how she used to teach problem solving the previous year in an inadequate traditional fashion:

Like I did this past year. There are certain steps you go through to get to the final answer. And I would be putting [the students] in that kind of a tunnel where they have to think that order to get the final answer . . .and maybe they don't think that way. Maybe they can't. Maybe that's why they're doing awful in class or maybe that's why they can't do the problems because I keep giving them, you know, methods of how you get the final answer, you know, follow this method and you'll get the right answer. You know [I know now] that's the wrong way to do it . . .I think I'd forget too if I was taught that way. [pre]

     Here she showed intelligibility or understanding of the conceptual change process in describing disequilibrium when two ideas clash:

Whatever a student says in the classroom about what they believe and what they think is right. . .that is personal for them. They are going to give me an opinion about it and they are going to assume they are correct. So for when two opinions clash . . . there is a bit of turmoil inside because they are thinking, well, "I'm definitely right" and it makes them dig deeper into other conceptions that they have and think, "Oh yeah. This is right because of this and I understand this because look how it makes sense." So they are fighting against the other opinion . . .the more they fight the more murkier [sic] the water gets because they don't have the information up there and thus the more confused they get. And this was the pattern. [post]

     Passages that were coded as lack of intelligibility were mostly her descriptions of how she struggled initially with understanding the constructivist philosophy, having never experienced it as a learner or in teacher education.

I couldn't understand what constructivism was...And when people started talking about it at the beginning of the class I had no idea what they were talking about. To tell you the truth I had never really heard about it and I had been in, well...a number of education classes but no-one has really talked about it, and when so many people were talking about it. I must be lost. They're talking about something that I don't even know about. [pre]

     She also occasionally would ask whether a particular instructional idea was constructivist or express lack of understanding about whether particular content could be presented in a constructivist manner. In the following passage she is struggling with how she will represent content she is not an expert in to her students, demonstrating that constructivist teaching, while understandable for content she is comfortable with, is not so intelligible for content in which she has less expertise.

These are the types of things [scientists] are talking about. And as you can see, I'm still a little bit, I don't know...There's not a lot of stuff right now [she is contrasting the amount of research available in this area with that of the earlier content she understood well]...I'm sure there's a lot of stuff to [a scientist in this unfamiliar field]...he's going to say, "oh my gosh, look at all this stuff that you can cover." But the thing is, I don't find that there is a lot of stuff for me to put it together in. I can't find the common theme. [6]

Evidence of Plausibility

     For plausibility, we looked for statements of belief in constructivist and conceptual change pedagogy and an intent on using them in future practice. For example, in describing her conceptual change to a constructivist orientation, she stated,

I had taken in a conviction and changed certain things which are now real. . .it was now a conviction. It wasn't just a fact. It was something I was going to practice. And that I was practicing. And so when I described it to [the science education] class, I realized even more that I had changed my perspective about teaching. . .it was so weird, it was kind of like an out-of-mind experience. [pre]

     The times she found constructivist teaching to be less plausible were when problems arose with either the students or her university science supervisors. Students' lack of attendance was a frequent source of frustration because she realized they were operating under traditional pedagogical assumptions. For example, a particular student missed a class when her classmates had developed and analyzed a set of misconceptions about a topic they were studying. The absentee student then borrowed a friend's notes, copying the misconceptions verbatim, and proceeded to study the misconceptions as if they were factual information. This later caused the student a great deal of confusion when she was studying conflicting information. Situations like these, as well as the rapid rate of the professors' instruction in lectures and the limited time for discussion in her class, decreased the level of plausibility of constructivist teaching for Pam in this college setting.

Evidence of Fruitfulness.

     We looked for confirmation of Pam's ability to map her new constructivist cognition to her actual classroom practice as evidence of fruitfulness. Compared to the three prior conceptual change constructs, fruitfulness was far less developed for Pam. However, she did find the application of constructivist practice to be "easy" when she was very familiar with the content. For example, in speaking of familiar content lessons, she stated,

[That] part was really, was really fun. There was a lot of application. I mean it was easier for me to do the planning and constructivist pedagogy and implementing it into practice. [post]

     This was not the case for unfamiliar content. Pam often struggled with finding activities and coming up with constructivist lessons when she felt weak in her knowledge of the content being covered.

I don't even know how to approach the material and present the material to the students in a constructivist way . . .I can't think of any misconceptions . . . You know [with this unfamiliar content] it was so much easier to lecture. [6]

Finding a type of lesson that could hit all different sides. That was the hardest thing for me. Especially the [unfamiliar content] part. Very, very difficult. [post]

     These statements, while similar to the lack of intelligibility statements, focused more on the actual strategies of constructivist teaching while lack of intelligibility was characterized more by an inability to even see the content from a constructivist lens.

     Other constraints to the development of fruitfulness included lack of time for both planning and interacting with the students. As described in the previous section, student attendance was a major problem. This initially added to her time problem because she was spending the first 20 minutes of several class sessions reviewing what had been done the previous week to remediate the students who had missed class. She explained her remediation by stating,

Like what happens if I ask them a question under the assumption that they already know what is going on and I expect a high level answer. They don't even know where to start . . . I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt for everything: if they don't come, if they don't study, if they don't do anything . . .That's not what [class] is supposed to be. [5]

     Finally, fruitfulness was undermined by her reaction to two supervisors who Pam felt were unsupportive of her constructivist practice. At one point she said,

I can't work with a supervisor like that. And I'm willing to give up. . . .And I will work at Burger King before I have to be under this person who is going to make my teaching life miserable. . . I'm questioning myself a lot more . . .I'm not as confident as should be. [4]

     This contextual data as well as the other lack of fruitfulness data will be explored in the sections that follow. We will also make suggestions as to methods for facilitating fruitfulness in future practice.

Question #2: Factors facilitating and hindering Pam's constructivist teaching

     Three major themes emerged while Pam attempted to execute constructivism into practice. The first was the effect of the university environment, the second was Pam's affective response and the third was the mentoring relationship (see Table 3 for coding frequencies). Each of these themes and their relationship to one another will be discussed in the following sections.

Table 3

Frequency of Major Coding Categories by Interview



Pre 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Post
Mentor (+) 4 0 4 0 2 4 1 0 7
Mentor (-) 0 6 7 0 3 6 8 7 3
Affect (+) 14 0 3 1 0 0 6 2 1
Affect (-) 23 15 12  15  3 8 9 2 5
Context (+) 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0
Context (-) 4  23 17 29 6 7 3 1 1

The Context

     The university context played a major role in Pam's ability to execute her constructivist cognition into practice. Class and room size issues arose early in the semester. In her 3:00 section, for example, there were 40 students in a room meant for around 30. She described, "I had people on the floors. All the chairs were taken up. I mean it was a full-house. And there was a group behind the group in front in a circle on the floor . .. they couldn't see. I'm sure they couldn't see me." Other problems included the course organization of content (amount and rate), "You learn more vocabulary words than you do in a foreign language class," exam problems "I understand that [course professor] wants the students to think. But it's more now in the lines of questions . . . are tricky because of the wording . . .So students think they are being tricked," and the difficulty of managing her own graduate studies while teaching the three discussion sections. Pam elaborated around the time of midterm exams,

I have had three tests and a few lab reports due Monday. Actually going in to [teaching] that day, I had a really hard time focusing on teaching because I had a test in two hours. . . I was very concerned about the exam, but I kept telling myself that I can't bring my baggage to [teaching]. I just have to forget about it and teach. But it was, it was the hardest thing . . .Science classes are really demanding. And I just can't concentrate on two things at once. It's really hard for me to do those two things at the same time. [6]

     As mentioned earlier Pam had difficulty operating within the undergraduate culture of lackadaisical student attendance and inadequate preparation for class. For example, while watching a segment from week 10, Pam reflects:

I wasn't too happy with how this particular part went. [René: What was it you were unhappy with?]. . . I was getting impatient because we had spent so much time on this that [I] was just getting very behind and also that there were new people in class and I was getting frustrated with that because I am looking at these people and I'm thinking I've got to reexplain the whole thing, you know? [René: Is it your responsibility to correct the students' lack of attendance?]. No, it isn't. But it was just frustrating to me to deal with. [5]

     This situation for several weeks prompted unwise teaching practices from Pam. Feeling the need to bring the absentee students up to speed, she was spending about 20 of the 50 minutes each week reviewing (i.e., lecturing) what had been discussed the previous week. This reduced the amount of time available for constructivist activities in an already very restrictive time frame (50 minutes per week).

     The most serious problems to arise with regard to context was the resistance by Pam's university supervisors of her use of constructivist pedagogy. This eventually led to Pam's reversion to didactic practice after negative (as perceived by Pam) encounters with two different supervisors. This problem began during the third week when the first supervisor (Alice) came to observe and evaluate Pam's teaching. After about 20 minutes of observation Alice ceased watching Pam and began to look through the course text. Pam described her own feelings of discomfort during the experience:

[Alice] was in front of the class [looking through a textbook] . . . I was inferring that she was thinking that what I was teaching was incorrect . . .. . . that made me real uncomfortable. She was making me feel like she was questioning my knowledge . . . the students were looking at her like, 'Is she questioning Pam's knowledge?' She's making me look not credible. It was real hard for me to focus on my teaching. . . I was real upset. [3]

     In addition to the anxiety Pam was experiencing, she was also concerned that she would not receive constructive feedback about the lesson. In particular, she wanted feedback on her use of groups.

She did not watch the groups the rest of the period. That's all she was doing [looking through the text]. [I] never saw her look up . . .she's not even going to watch me interact with students, in which this group thing, I'm really new with this group dynamic thing, and I don't understand it too well, and I'm not very good at it and I need someone to help me out on this . . .Instead of being an advisor, she was questioning . . . my content knowledge.[3]

     At the end of this class session and being evaluated, Pam seriously considered going back to a traditional-didactic way of teaching to look credible in the eyes of her students and supervisors. This experience had clearly lowered the level of plausibility and fruitfulness for constructivist teaching in this context. However, it had relatively little impact compared to what happened next. In the fifth week of the semester following the first exam, a meeting was held with two college administrators, the two professors of the course, Pam and her supervisors all in attendance. The group was presented with statistics from the exam comparing Pam's students with those of the other TAs. Pam reported that the evaluation of the specific statistics indicated that her students had out-performed the other students in the course. Immediately following the presentation of these statistics, states Pam:

Came a series of attacks from Bora (the second supervisor) . . . she started out by saying "these statistics don't mean anything" . . .and she goes, "Now my question is how do we know it's not the lecture TA who is helping all the students and getting these students to get this [higher] range and not Pam? " [at this point Pam described the emergence of a tangential discussion at the end of which she reports Bora as saying] "I think we're hiding that we need to reevaluate Pam." She said, "I feel that this research has shown that it is the lecture TA's work that made the significant difference and I think things need to be reevaluated with Pam". . . . So she was inferring that basically I was incompetent . . .everything I did was not helping the students at all. [René: How often has she observed your teaching?] Zero. She's observed my teaching zero times. . .(Later Bora, according to Pam, gave her rationale for her negative evaluation) She said, "Well, I have students coming in and they are trying to argue points for the test and they say Pam said [such and such]. And it is clearly wrong what Pam said." [4]

     After a lengthy discussion between the professors about the subject matter in question, it was agreed that Pam had in fact been utilizing accurate content. Pam reported that one of the administrators at the meeting had approached and reassured her after the meeting and later reassigned Bora so as to no longer supervise Pam. Despite this change, it is of particular importance that Pam's self-efficacy dropped and she reverted to direct instruction the following week.

I'm down . . . my teaching and my confidence has just pushed me, this experience has pushed me down. I can already feel it because . . . things are becoming like not . . . not as clear to me now . . . I am questioning myself a lot more, which I should be doing anyways, but I'm not as confident as I should be . . . There's a difference in the way I feel now about [the course]. And I think it's directly related to my experience in that meeting.[5]

     Pam's entire teaching demeanor had changed, which was clearly evident on the videotape. Pam watched herself and noted:

I'm talking more than anyone else. . . the atmosphere is a little morose, it's different . . . For some reason the students are looking down at their papers. They don't usually do that . . . Usually they are looking at me, but this time they are looking down. [5]

     René made note of Pam's body language and added:

You're sitting in the chair leaning way forward with your hands up like this . . . pointing at the students. And at the same time you had a real kind of . . .have you noticed that your tone of voice is kind of really forceful and authoritative [Pam: "Uh huh."]. It's very, very different from how you normally are in the class. Normally you are sitting back, you are relaxed, you know you just kind of talk to the students . . . I think perhaps it was your presence that day, the body language and the forceful tone of voice may be why the students are so subdued. . . .[during the actual lesson] I was pretty concerned and at about this point I almost stopped you but . . .that would have been inappropriate for me to do, but I was pretty concerned.[5]

      It took two weeks for Pam, with a lot of support from René and the college administrator who had reassured her following the meeting, to recover her confidence in constructivist teaching and to begin to consistently use the pedagogy again. Without this support, Pam stated she would have abandoned her attempts at instructional change. In the final interview, Pam was asked to summarize the impact of the university environment on her change process [post],

René: Reflecting back on the whole experience, the context of the course and the politics of the course, how did that affect the process of change?

Pam: This was a real big problem for me. Throughout the course I encountered lots of obstacles that I shouldn't have encountered, that shouldn't have been part of my teaching. It shouldn't be involved in the education process for these [students]. . .I think that this political foolishness almost put me into a hole because I you know there was at one point I felt like I couldn't do this [Constructivist teaching]. You know there were people out there that were totally against me, that didn't want me in the program as a [course] instructor. That didn't think I was proficient enough as a [course] instructor. This was definitely a problem for me. That affected my teaching and you know throughout the [video-] tapes you are going to see that there is a point in time where it is a definite down hill for me.


     In addition to the university context, Pam's emotional reactions also played a major role in her change efforts. The entire feeling word list generated from Pam's interviews is listed in Table 4. She expressed 55 different negative emotions with a much higher frequency of occurrence (n = 92) than the occurrence of the 15 positive emotions (n=27 times). There was a general decline, however, in the negative state of mind and a corresponding incline in the positive state over time (see Table 3). Frustration, fear and feelings of being upset or unhappy occurred the most frequently. Feeling "good" was the most common positive emotion word used by Pam, followed by enjoyment and like/love.

Table 4

Frequencies of Positive and Negative Emotions

Positive Emotion Total Frequency Negative Emotion Total Frequency
Good 9 Frustration 19
Enjoyment 6 Fear 14
Like/Love 6 Upset/Unhappy 10
Happy 3 Incompetent/Judged 7
Surprised (+) 3 Overwhelmed 6
Excited 3 Nervous 6
Interested 3 Uncomfortable 6
Sympathy/Empathy 2 Bad/down 6
Confused/lost 5
Hate 4
Pressured 4
Unstable 3
Annoyed 3
Distracted 2
Surprised (-) 2
Avoidant/Resistant 2

     Pam demonstrated positive emotion in the form of excitement as she planned and executed some of her constructivist lessons. While planning one lesson mid-semester, she exclaimed,

I think this is a good idea! I'm really open to this. I like it just because it's, it's a scenario. It's neat. I love this kind of stuff. I would love to do this if I were a student in my class . . . I'm excited about this actually. [6]

     The following week, Pam reflected positively upon the outcome of the lesson:

I was really happy with the interactions of the students, and they were really getting into it. And they had fun with it because it was kind of a funny thing. And they started reading about [the topic] in the book and that's just really fun to read about. And they were really enjoying it and I just saw some positive things come out of that. [7]

     Negative affect predominated a large part of most of the interviews, however. During the weeks of the review session and the first exam Pam expressed frustration because she felt that much of the professor's exam did not reflect the course content. She felt inadequate as an instructor because the experiences she had been giving the students during the first four weeks were not related to the test questions. As she watched the videotape of her review session, she stated:

It wouldn't have mattered [that] we had this review. . . That's so frustrating for me because I'm getting ready to do my next week's [class] and I'm feeling drained. I'm feeling drained about trying to think about new ideas. I'm just feeling drained because it's not correlating well. [1]

     She also expressed a great deal of negative emotion while planning lessons around content when she felt her content knowledge was not as strong as she would like. Reminding us of the similar situation frequently encountered by subject-matter deficient k-12 teachers (see, for example, McDiarmid, Ball and Anderson, 1989) she stated, "I'm just a step ahead of the students and that kind of puts me in an uncomfortable position." This lack of comfort then extended to the teaching of the lesson itself:

I was a little nervous going into class because I felt like I was ready but I just felt like I wasn't ready . . .I really don't really have a handle, a good handle on this material. And I feel I was just nervous about it because I feel that when you're teaching constructively you have to have more of a handle on the material than, I mean, even when you lecture. I mean you have to know everything about this material. And I think that was what was getting me nervous. [4]

     Sometimes she brought these negative feelings home with her. In particular, the feelings that resulted from encounters with her supervisors,

I was real upset afterwards. I mean I went home and told all my roommates about [Bora]. . . This is really scary for me to say, but now she's like my mortal enemy . . . My own supervisor is now, I think, someone who's going to hurt me . . .she is an antagonist in my life. [4]

     The eruption of negative feelings was sometimes productive, however. Pam described this process as she reflected back to the course she took over the summer that initially caused her to examine and restructure her beliefs.[6]

Pam: That was a very difficult class for me, I think. Because it brought up a lot of, you know, feelings. Frustrated feelings. Because I was, I thought, was doing what was right [because of good student evaluations].

René: And you wanted to go [to the science education course] and be reinforced. I mean, you wanted to go there and say, "Oh. I do that."

Pam: Yeah, right. I like those classes that do that. And I wasn't reinforced at all. And that was just, that was a frustrating time.

René: But think about how much more you grow from those types of experiences.

Pam: It's the changes. You need to make. You need to take the risk, risk of feeling like you're not being reinforced. [René: Yeah] And that's what causes the change. But a lot of people are scared of taking those kind of risks.

Relationship between Affect and Context

     The context in which Pam was working played a large part in shaping her affective responses. In particular, her interactions with her supervisors and what she felt were attacks and impositions directed at her caused her to develop many negative emotions. In the week following her first teaching evaluation and the week following the meeting' there were 15 separate instances in each interview when Pam expressed negative feelings. Of particular significance were the two weeks following the meeting in which she reported Bora questioning her content knowledge. During both of those weeks Pam's demeanor and pedagogical style in class were markedly changed, reverting back to a transmission mode of instruction. In the week following the meeting, she reflected as she watched herself on videotape [4]:

René: Just what is your initial analysis of this? I mean, what do you think happened?

Pam: I don't know. I think I had certain things I went into the classroom with and I wanted to finish and I had certain goals. Usually I'm like that, but it [normally] is different because I feel like I'm on the same level [as the students]. But in this particular segment of tape, it looked like I was at the authority level. I was at the authority level. I was the teacher and . . .

René: And where do you think that came from?

Pam: Well I just have a feeling that it came from me feeling the pressure that I wasn't doing my job. And in order to do my job it's one of the, one of the ways that teachers can do their job is to act authoritative because they think that adds to helping them complete their job successfully.

René: But in fact, if you look at what is going on now in the classroom, the students are talking more [and not paying attention].

     Despite the recognition of these behaviors and an intent to address them, the traditional style continued into the following week. Watching the tape, Pam remarks [5],

Pam: This is a boring [class].

René: I think after awhile you'll see . . . I was falling asleep. . . . [Pam: I know.] . . . Because I would suspect that you talked probably 80% of the time during this [class].

Pam: Because I'm rushing . . . Because I'm rushed. [René: Yes]. And anxious to get through this and I'm still feeling, right now, I'm still feeling like we're behind and I hate this feeling and I can't get out of this mode. . . Did I tell you that in my 3:00 class there were people who were sleeping?

     Another problem that emerged here again was the remediation of the students who did not attend class. We spoke at length about this problem and how to shift that responsibility over to the students. Pam vowed to limit reviewing at the beginning of the class. This allowed her more time to spend on constructivist activities. By alleviating the anxiety about being "behind" and realizing how ineffective her instruction had become, Pam felt more comfortable about going back to the constructivist methods she had been utilizing prior to 'the meeting.'

The Mentoring Relationship

     As demonstrated in the last section, René (serving as Pam's mentor) promoted reflection about some teaching behaviors and helped Pam get back on track after she reverted to traditional instruction mid-semester. Pam's viewing and reflecting on these videotapes of herself helped her reflect on this shift and the problems it was causing for the students. This raised the plausibility of constructivist teaching for Pam that had been lowered by the administrative struggles occurring over her teaching in this course.

     Pam also found that reflecting with her mentor on her practice via the videotapes was very helpful for monitoring her progress from week to week and as a mechanism for developing pedagogical content knowledge,

Like the Topic Y [discussion] that we had was a revelation in itself because I was able to figure out what I could do with the students. I think those [mentoring experiences] are necessary for [novice teachers] who feel they can't think of what to do [with the students]. [post]

     She later stated in the same interview that the support of a more experienced colleague who already practices constructivist teaching was the most important factor in her continued and improved use of the pedagogy.

Relationship between Affect and Mentoring

      The mentoring relationship both promoted positive affect and alleviated negative. An illustrative example of the promotion of both the construction of pedagogical content knowledge and good feelings by Pam's mentor was demonstrated over a three week period near the end of the semester. During week 11, Pam was struggling to develop constructivist lessons on a topic where she felt her content knowledge was weak. This topic (Topic Z) is well-known in the misconceptions literature to cause students a great deal of difficulty, even though it is a fundamental concept to the discipline. Aware of this, I made some pedagogical suggestions [6]:

René: I'm wondering if there's some way you could get the students to somehow challenge that misconception by presenting it as a misconception and asking them to critique it or to compare it or do something so they actually have to analyze what is wrong. Maybe what you could do is something like in small groups "I want you to develop a strategy for teaching high school kids the difference between the [scientifically] accepted view and the [common misconception] view."

Pam: [agitated] Okay. Okay. Hold on just a minute. OKAY. Immediately and I'm just going to tell you exactly what I THINK ABOUT THAT [strong emphasis]. My first thoughts are they're going to already know this [goes on to give the scientific explanation to René] . . . And because this is sort of like a high school . . . kind of concept, they should have learned this in high school [science]. And so they're going to say or they're going to be thinking to themselves, I think this is sort of a simple concept.

     After considerable discussion, Pam remained unconvinced that covering this concept was important and believed that doing so might insult the intelligence of her students. However, deferring to her mentor she did agree to begin the lesson with the topic "just in case," as well as plan additional activities so she wouldn't run out of things to do (which in and of itself was interesting given her continued concern about lack of time). The following week she reported about how the lesson went [7]:

Pam: [The misconceptions activity] was really good and they really enjoyed, I thought they really enjoyed, they had a good time with it. But there were some of those misconceptions still. And I am surprised. This [Topic Z] thing is supposed to be known by everybody, and everybody [meaning scientists] laughs about it. But see, these kids are laughing about it, and then I realize that they believe it!

René: Yeah. Yeah. So that's good. I mean I think it was a good experience for you as a teacher because one of the issues you raised last week in the interview was that you really felt like you were going to be insulting them [Pam: right, right]. . . And I think it ended up working out both really well for both you and the students.

Pam: That's right. I do remember saying that. And no, I didn't insult them at all.

René: No. I mean I thought it was a wonderful class. I thought it was one of the better classes all semester.

Pam: Yeah, I just, you're right, you're right. That's, that's real funny. I really did think that they were going to be like, "Oh, this is so easy." Okay, but I don't think they took it that way.

René: I think you set it up, yeah, you set it up in a very, in a constructivist way but also in an intellectual way. And I think that, you know, it worked really well . . .

     These good feelings arose again the next week when she described how she had over-planned the misconceptions lesson because she over-estimated the prior knowledge of her students [8].

Pam: Sometimes I thought that one idea wasn't a dense enough activity. OK, that was a worry I had. [René: What do you been by dense?]. . . that the material that you get out of it, the questions they get out of it was limited. But it turned out that never happened, you know, it turns out that I never had that problem. But I was so worried about that all the time that I thought I had to have another activity. You know, just in case it wasn't dense enough, there would be another activity maybe that would coincide with that and have two activities, and that would be enough.

René: Yeah, and I thought the last activity was really interesting. The one with the misconceptions that you were sure that the students would not have the misconceptions.

Pam: Yeah and I thought we're going to finish this lesson really quickly. [But] we were stuck on the first one. With this [misconception] and I was really surprised [tone of voice rises]. Extremely surprised the students were confused [tone of voice both pleased and excited]. It was amazing! It really was!

     The mentoring relationship also helped Pam deal with the political realities within which she was working and provided her with emotional support throughout, reassuring her that what she was doing and how she was doing it was okay. Periodically, René would induce some negative feelings in order to induce growth. For example when viewing the videotape the first week after she reverted to traditional instruction, about half-way through watching herself lecture Pam decided she had seen enough [5]:

Pam: I think we should just head on over [across campus]. I think I've seen enough of this. I think this is just . . . This is just too much for me to see.

René: Well, no. I think it's a good thing for you to see.

Pam: Well I think it was a good thing, and I think I've seen enough of it to just be real, I'm really kind of, this was a disappointing [class] I think for me. Because I feel like much of the stuff that I did . . . [Pam confused at this point] it was counter-intuitive too. What I was supposed to be doing and I felt, I feel like the students did not learn at that [class] at all. [René: I meant YOU learned a lot]. Yeah and in fact I learned the [content] very well and I was able to talk about everything about the material . . . So I was reinforcing my own learning.

René: (Paraphrasing much of the entire discussion) But also what you learn from that is about teaching. You learned about teaching and you learned about assumptions that you're making about students and you learned about how this particular practice that you use for about 15 minutes, how that's inconsistent with what [constructivist teaching] is all about, at a couple of different levels. At the level of taking too much responsibility for students and their own learning [spoon-feeding them content] and also for you know, how boring it was and how there was no student engagement. [Pam: Yeah]. The students just didn't [understand the material]. So I mean it was a couple of different things. And I think that that's real beneficial for you to think about.


     In the discussion section we will first address the minor and major contextual issues that arose in this study and their resultant effects, followed by a discussion about the role gender may have played in the process. We follow this with a discussion of the role of emotion in the pedagogical conceptual change process and a section on the roles a mentor can play in helping university undergraduate science instructors implement major changes in their teaching practice. The discussion concludes with a section about the pedagogical conceptual change process and the role action research may play in facilitating the execution of pedagogical conceptual change into classroom practice.

     Minor contextual issues. Pam ran into difficulties with the commonly experienced problems of inadequate room size, large class size, rapid rate of a large body of content being transmitted from the professors to the students, what she perceived to be poorly written test questions, and the students' lack of attendance. These types of problems are very common in university undergraduate settings and are not likely to be changed much in the near future. They may be overcome fairly well through creative means such as rearranging furniture and allowing students' small groups to sit in places such as the hallway or in the aisles. Attendance problems can be dealt with in a number of ways, such as requiring attendance to promote extrinsic motivation or natural consequences (missing out on the content) to promote intrinsic motivation. Pam struggled with the attendance issue for a number of weeks, providing neither type of motivating condition and wasting a great deal of valuable time on remediation. Once Pam recognized how she was allowing the students' attendance behaviors to shape her instructional decisions she felt more comfortable allowing the students to experience the natural consequences of their chosen behaviors. These contextual problems were all minor and we did not consider them to be major stumbling blocks for the implementation of constructivist teaching, at least in this setting.

     Major contextual issues. The serious contextual issue was the traditional pedagogical culture in which Pam was working and a distribution of power that allowed Pam to suffer abuse from superiors who apparently disapproved of her new teaching methods. Pam's reactions to the manner in which she was evaluated and how the meeting she attended was conducted were strongly negative and caused her to question the worth of constructivist teaching in this environment. Even though following the meeting she had decided to continue her efforts at change, she involuntarily reverted back to transmission practices while in the classroom. Her strong affective responses of frustration and fear lowered her self-efficacy and commitment, which shaped how she conducted her lessons. It is little wonder that it is so difficult to reform science teaching if instructors must fight battles such as the ones Pam became unwittingly engaged in during the semester we worked together.

     Gender and higher education. The context of the undergraduate science classroom may provide unique challenges for women instructors. Pam's experience with being evaluated is unfortunately all too familiar for women in the academy where in comparison to male colleagues they are more likely to be scrutinized and to have their knowledge and abilities questioned (Sandler & Hall, 1986). This "chilly" climate on campus isolates women, undermines their self-esteem, damages professional morale and dampens their participation in academic activities.

     Emotion. This case study clearly demonstrated the important role that affect can play in the conceptual change process from traditional to constructivist science teaching. Pam was heavily involved in a process of living and responding to her emotions while in a mentoring relationship that validated the process. This was similar to Tickle (1993) who found that when teachers were involved in reflective analysis of the technical aspects of teaching accompanied by a corresponding analysis of the role of emotions led to a greater degree of personal technical competence and healthy emotional management.

     Lack of focus on affective characteristics was criticized by Pintrich, Marx and Boyle (1993) as a serious omission from the research on scientific conceptual change. The results of our study indicate that it is a serious omission from the research on pedagogical conceptual change as well. Action research, the approach this study was grounded in, provided the opportunity for examining the interplay of emotions and cognition toward the improvement in practice. Dadds (1993) maintained that the distinction between affect and cognition is in fact a false one, with "warm hearts and altruistic tendencies" of equal importance as clear ideas in "putting the action into teacher action research theories" (p. 231). Maxwell (1994) suggested that there needs to be fundamental changes in the nature of rational inquiry in order to address the role emotions play. Emotions must be explicit included and critically assessed so that "through an interplay of mind and heart, we can come to have mindful hearts and heartfelt minds" (p. 102).

     Mentoring. We also recommend the assignment of an experienced constructivist mentor to the instructor attempting to change her practice. Support within the mentor-mentee relationship was of critical importance to Pam's ability to execute her cognitive change into practice. Not only did it provide her with affective support during times of struggle within the university context, it also served as a synergistic relationship where reflection was promoted and a new vision of constructivist teaching was co-constructed. Because going at it alone could be a very emotionally-taxing experience, peer collaboration among teachers in a school or college department is recommended to provide a mechanism of support for teachers undergoing change. Mentors can help mentees to live their emotions so they can overcome negative feelings which can lead to a restriction in capacity to deal with information, growth regression and a desire to escape from the situation (Tomlinson, 1995).

     Support of administrators is also of critical importance. Fear of negative teaching evaluations can undermine the plausibility of constructivist science teaching and the fruitfulness of the change efforts. Teachers would be more likely to succeed in environments where they felt supported by their peers and their superiors. Mentors are critically important for teachers at both the beginning of their careers and during periods of change (Daloz, 1986). During these trying times, mentors can provide vision as well as support, validity, advocation, empathy and challenges to facilitate growth. They provide proof that the journey can be successfully undertaken. As Byrne (1993) points out however, there is a significant difference between true mentorship and loosely defined help. René found the process of mentoring to be rewarding, yet very time consuming. Providing Pam with extended feedback had extrinsic value for René as it was part of her research agenda. It was also intrinsically motivating as through the process, René found her own learning curve as a teacher, mentor and researcher to be accelerated as a function of her interactions with Pam. However, with few women available for mentoring in traditionally male-dominated disciplines like the sciences, finding women who can provide this level of support may seem formidable (Byrne, 1993; Ehrhart & Sandler, 1987; Hall & Sandler, 1983). This raises the question of whether males can serve as mentors for females in the academy. Women may feel uncomfortable with male mentors for a number of reasons. The level of intimacy that develops in the close mentoring relationship can be very deep and could lead to a concern about appearances (Collins, 1983). Women may seek another woman as a mentor because males' attitudes toward women in higher education "remain ambivalent at best, overtly hostile at worst "(Byrne, 1993, p. 147). Finally, Ehrhart and Sandler (1987) recommended that females seek positive female role models as a way to recognize the similarity between their own self-image and that of a successful professional.

     A Larger View of the Pedagogical Conceptual Change Process. This study provides proof that conceptual change is not simply a rational process of cognitive restructuring or replacement of an old world-view with a new. The over-arching influence affecting Pam's attempts to put her newly formed conceptions of constructivist teaching into practice was the work context and its interplay with Pam's emotions and the mentoring relationship. She demonstrated that she understood what constructivist teaching should look like and found it at least initially plausible enough to try to execute it into practice in her university classroom. As Braxton, Bayer and Finkelstein (1992) point out, social controls from the university academic subject matter personnel are strong forces which promote conformity to existing teaching norms. Not only did they affect Pam's cognitive commitment to her pedagogical change, but also her emotional state. This provides critical evidence to support Strike and Posner's (1992) admission of the necessity of addressing motivational and emotional issues that arise during conceptual change, in addition to the cognitive aspects of the process. Pam's interactions with an experienced faculty mentor was invaluable to her growth as a teacher, thus supporting the recommendation made by Braxton, Lambert and Clark (1995) to establish faculty-teaching assistant mentoring relationships to facilitate the growth of understanding of professional university teaching standards.

     Viewing conceptual change from a broader social perspective is unique, as the majority of conceptual change research has focused in individual knowledge structures and understandings from a positivistic research perspective (O'Laughlin, 1992). Research pertaining to mentorship and the co-construction of knowledge by two closely related individuals involved in the conceptual change process will be significant for teacher education as well because the social constructivist perspective has largely focused on larger communities and cultures. The important role the mentor held in shaping the affect or attitude of Pam as she was experiencing difficulties in the change process led us to believe that supportive relationships will also be beneficial to teachers during their processes of growth and change.

     While Pam experienced many difficulties and set-backs during this implementation process, she persevered despite them. She implemented constructivist teaching into her university science discussion sections, was able to reflect on the instances when she reverted back to traditional methods and learn from them, and demonstrated a commitment to her newly formed pedagogical conceptions. The analysis of Pam's experience should help to inform researchers working to reform undergraduate science education to develop better strategies to anticipate and circumvent difficulties that can arise, as well as facilitate the implementation of some of the factors that facilitated teacher growth in the university science classroom.


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About the author...

René Stofflett,  Assistant Professor of Science Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Ph.D., University of Utah, 1991). Current research is in the area of science teachers' pedagogical conceptual change process and the translation of cognition into practice.  Through work with prospective secondary science teachers and experienced college-level undergraduate science instructors and professors, Dr. Stofflett is currently developing a new theory of conceptual change that offers a more holistic interpretation of the accommodation process.  She was awarded the 1992 AERA Division K Outstanding Dissertation in Teacher Education and 1992 NARST Outstanding Dissertation in Science Education.  Her home page can be viewed at http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/facstaff/r-stoff/

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