Making sense of physics: student teachers' experiences of a physics subject knowledge enhancement course

Inglis, Michael (2015). Making sense of physics: student teachers' experiences of a physics subject knowledge enhancement course. EdD thesis The Open University.



Concerns about the inadequate supply of secondary school physics teachers in England are widely reported. One attempt to increase supply is the Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course, intended to develop the physics subject knowledge of non-physics graduates so they can enter an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) course to become physics teachers. Little attention has been given to examining SKE students' experiences of engaging with a subject they last studied at school. In this study, individual semi-structured interviews and focus groups are used within an interpretivist methodology to explore the cases of seven physics SKE course students in one English university. The research is informed by social models of subject knowledge development within a community of practice, with the aim of exploring the students' conceptualisations of subject knowledge and how these develop during ITE, and what they experience as significant for their subject knowledge development.

Data analysis is exploratory, utilising grounded theory approaches. Key findings are: students hold diverse beliefs about physics as a body of factual content knowledge; they prioritise the development of confidence at explaining physics as an affective criterion for sufficient subject knowledge; they perceive influential messages about the nature of physics subject knowledge for teaching from the modelling of practice by course tutors; and, interaction with peers and tutors is highly valued, especially during peer-teaching activities where students take it in turns to 'teach' physics to each other. Viewing the SKE course as a community of practice (Wenger, 1998) reveals the importance of sustained interaction, for facilitating development of subject understanding, and the role of ITE tutors for brokering students' entry into the communities of practice of physics and of physics teachers. This research provides support for ITE policies that emphasise the value of university-led subject knowledge development by experienced teacher educators.

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