Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Teaching and Learning

First Advisor

Soonhye Park


The purpose of this study was to identify essential features of Epistemic Orientation toward Teaching Science (EOTS) and to explore the relationships between EOTS and instructional practices. This study proposes a new concept, EOTS: defined as a teacher's set of interrelated beliefs that are developed and used when teaching science, and are shaped by the Nature of Knowing in General, the Nature of Knowing in Science, the Nature of Learning, and the Nature of Teaching. The essential elements of EOTS were identified through a comprehensive literature review and refined through a multiple-case study.

The participants of the study were three exemplary fifth grade teachers who had been implementing an Argument-based Inquiry (ABI) approach, called Science Writing Heuristic (SWH), for more than three years and were highly devoted to encouraging their students to engage in science practices addressed in Next Generation Science Standard. Data were collected from multiple sources including semi-structured interviews, Video-Stimulated Recall interviews, classroom observations, researchers' field notes, and classroom artifacts. Data was systematically coded, and each belief and practice analyzed in-depth.

The results identified eleven interconnected beliefs held in common by all three teachers. Among the eleven elements, How to Learn was the core belief that was most connected to the others and also aligned well with the Source of Knowing, How to Learn, Evidence-based Argument, and How to Teach; this idea established a strong structural foundation for the EOTS. In addition, some elements were explicitly presented when the teachers made instructional decisions, while others were only presented implicitly.

In addition, prominent patterns of instructional practice were evident across the three cases. The teachers did not plan how to teach in advance, rather they made instructional decisions based on their epistemic orientations. In particular, they emphasized a conceptual understanding of the big ideas in science by making connections between students' ideas and the big ideas in science. Constant negotiation (construction and critique) was another pattern observed throughout the lessons. In creating effective learning conditions for conceptual understanding and constant negotiation, teachers used language practices and social, group-work as epistemic tools to help students construct and critique knowledge. Moreover, physical resources, such as physical materials and time, were used in a way that encouraged students to engage in science practice. More importantly, the way in which classroom practices and dialogue were managed relied heavily on the essential elements of ETOS. Specifically, How to Learn and Control of Learning influenced the student-centeredness of their instructional practices.

This study provides several implications for teacher education and research. Teacher-education programs should focus energy on shaping teacher ideas about learning, and address the epistemic foundations of science practices. Further investigation into the essential elements of EOTS, and the relationship between these elements and instructional practices must be pursued with diverse subjects, contexts, and methodologies, to develop a fuller understanding of how these elements work as a whole.

Public Abstract

This study explored teacher Epistemic Orientation toward Teaching Science (EOTS), which was defined as a teacher’s set of interrelated beliefs that they develop and utilize when teaching science. This multiple-case study examines beliefs and practices of three exemplary elementary teachers who were devoted to encouraging student engagement in science practices that are addressed in Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Central to this study is the idea that, to improve the teaching of science in the K-12 classroom, teacher education programs must teach more than strategies and skills: a teacher’s epistemic orientation should be prioritized or at least considered in teacher education program. A key finding of this work was that teacher beliefs about knowledge and knowing, nature of science, learning, and teaching must be well aligned to each other in order to form strong orientation to teaching science. The study also suggests that teacher educators should challenge teachers’ beliefs about learning (how students learn and control of learning), rather than beliefs about teaching, to initiate changes in their orientation to teaching science. The findings of this study provide a guidance to teacher educators by pointing to essential components of beliefs and practices that are compatible with current reform movement in science education (e.g. NGSS).


publicabstract, Epistemic Orientation, Epistemological Beliefs, NGSS, Science Practice, Teacher Change, Teacher Education


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Copyright 2016 Jee Kyung Suh