A Study of Preservice Elementary Teachers Enrolled In a Discrepant-Event-Based Physical Science Class

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Center for Science and Math Education

First Advisor

Rosalina V. Hairston

Advisor Department

Center for Science and Math Education


This research evaluated the POWERFUL IDEAS IN PHYSICAL SCIENCE (PIiPS) curriculum model used to develop a physical science course taken by preservice elementary teachers. The focus was on the evaluation of discrepant events used to induce conceptual change in relation to students' ideas concerning heat, temperature, and specific heat. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies were used for the analysis. Data was collected during the 1998 Fall semester using two classes of physical science for elementary school teachers. The traditionally taught class served as the control group and the class using the PIiPS curriculum model was the experimental group. The PIiPS curriculum model was evaluated quantitatively for its influence on students' attitude toward science, anxiety towards teaching science, self efficacy toward teaching science, and content knowledge. An analysis of covariance was performed on the quantitative data to test for significant differences between the means of the posttests for the control and experimental groups while controlling for pretest. It was found that there were no significant differences between the means of the control and experimental groups with respect to changes in their attitude toward science, anxiety toward teaching science and self efficacy toward teaching science. A significant difference between the means of the content examination was found ( F (1,28) = 14.202 and p = 0.001), however, the result is questionable. The heat and energy module was the target for qualitative scrutiny. Coding for discrepant events was adapted from Appleton's 1996 work on student's responses to discrepant event science lessons. The following qualitative questions were posed for the investigation: (1) what were the ideas of the preservice elementary students prior to entering the classroom regarding heat and energy, (2) how effective were the discrepant events as presented in the PIiPS heat and energy module, and (3) how much does the "risk taking factor" associated with not telling the students the answer right away, affect the learning of the material. It was found that preservice elementary teachers harbor similar preconceptions as the general population according to the literature. The discrepant events used in this module of the PIiPS curriculum model met with varied results. It appeared that those students who had not successfully confronted their preconceptions were less likely to accept the new concepts that were to be developed using the discrepant events. Lastly, students had shown great improvement in content understanding and developed the ability to ask deep and probing questions.