Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Educational Studies

Sub-Department

College of Education

First Advisor

Christine Lotter

Second Advisor

Stephen Thompson

Abstract

Students who come from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds are more likely to manifest a science achievement gap when compared to their high SES peers as a result of the myriad of factors that have the potential to influence student performance, including limited access to resources, fewer life experiences, health care concerns, fewer extracurricular opportunities, etc. (Crook & Evans, 2014; Duke, 2000; Ladd, 2012; Sirin, 2005). This achievement gap can be exacerbated in the elementary setting where many teachers do not feel comfortable teaching science as a result of a lack of science content knowledge and limited experience teaching inquiry-based science (Akerson, et. al., 2009; Diaconu, Radigan, Suskavcevic, & Nichol, 2012; Rickets, 2014; Sandholtz & Ringstaff, 2013). These challenges are further compounded as a result of systemic barriers to effective science instruction at the elementary level that stem from a prioritization on literacy and math as well as a focus on high stakes testing in those content areas, especially at schools that are already underperforming (Gutierez, 2015; Johnson & Fargo, 2014; Mensah, 2010; Sandholtz & Ringstaff, 2013). Despite these challenges, there are students in low SES schools that are reducing the science achievement gap. After studying the instructional practices, pedagogical methods, attitudes, and beliefs of three 4th grade teachers in three different suburban schools in a southeastern state whose low SES students show a smaller achievement gap compared to their higher SES counterparts across the school district, it was found that these teachers employed a combination of science inquiry and culturally relevant practices and pedagogies that might account for the success of their students. These included a focus on student understanding over rote memorization of facts, the use of authentic hands-on science practices to develop conceptual understanding, and the fostering of a social learning community. Furthermore, not only did these teachers display a positive mindset with regard to teaching science and the capabilities of their students, many of the students of these teachers expressed positive attitudes about their teacher and about learning science, as well as a feeling that their teacher believed in them as young scientists and learners.

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