Understanding the Science Practice-Linked Identities of Preservice Elementary Teachers

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posted on 15.08.2019 by Jocelyn Elizabeth Nardo
Science is an area of study with unique particularities concerning what “counts” as scientific practices where some learners are legitimized, while other learners are not. Such is the case for preservice elementary teachers (hereafter PSETs) –a population characterized by the literature as being in-need of science intervention. However, most of the literature deficiently conceptualizes PSETs’ science learning, so I sought for ways to refigure their learning positively. Drawing from Van Horne and Bell’s (2017) constructs of practice-linked and disciplinary identity, I offer that PSETs have nuanced, complex science identities that are influenced by their lived experiences inside and outside the classroom. To investigate the lived experiences of PSETs both inside and outside the classroom, 10 video-recorded, focus-group interviews were done while PSETs were undertaking an undergraduate chemistry-content course. Students were asked about their relationships with science as past elementary and high school students, as well as current undergraduate students. Students were also asked how they perceived their learning in the chemistry-content course. The research questions this work seeks to answer are:

• How do PSETs construct their science practice-linked identities?
• How does Fundamentals of Chemistry afford identity resources that contribute to PSETs’ science practice-linked identities?

The data was coded for themes surrounding their science identities, teaching identities, and learning of each individual PSET. Using narrative analysis, I synthesized three allegories, “I am a science person,” and “I am not a science person,” and Ambiguous which aim to elucidate the spectrum of ways PSETs navigate science learning as a science person, a non-science person, and an unsure person. In addition to the PSETs’ stories, I also analyzed how the chemistry-content course curriculum afforded PSETs with identity-building resources that helped science learning as current students and as future elementary teachers. I found that PSETs’ science identities formed before the course impacted the ways they participated in the chemistry-content course (practice-linked identity), but the curriculum offered students opportunities to renegotiate their science identities and practice science in ways that felt more legitimate to themselves and their prospective careers. Overall, I hope this work informs how instructors can design courses that are sensitive towards the needs of their students and highlight the importance of having a curriculum that affords students with the chance to re-engage with disciplinary practices in which their identities are legitimized as meaningful for their learning.If science determines practices that “count,” science must also acknowledge whose practices are accounted.


Degree Type

Master of Science



Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Minjung Ryu

Additional Committee Member 2

Marcy Towns

Additional Committee Member 3

Jake Burdick



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