Enactments of Ambitious Science Teaching in Informal Contexts as a Means to Support Pre-Service Teacher and Minority Students’ Identity Trajectories into Science Teaching and Learning

​Research in science teacher education suggests that the types of pedagogical strategies teachers use to encourage meaningful science talk among students (conversations that allow students to explore science using their own words and evidences) profoundly affects student engagement and learning (Colley & Windschitl, 2016). This is especially true for minority students, particularly girls, who learn best when they are given opportunities to talk about scientific concepts in ways that draw on their local and culturally based interests and ways of talking (Thompson, 2014). However, research demonstrates that opportunities to encourage student talk can be limited by classroom practices that enforce canonical ways of discussing science, a strict adherence to curricular goals, and the devaluing of identity-related talk connected to girls’ lived experiences (Aikenhead, 2006; Moje et al., 2001). These practices result in science classrooms that typically value a limited set of identities: those associated with ‘good science student’ or ‘potential scientist’ (Carlone, Haun-Frank, & Webb, 2011; Hughes, 2001). Students (girls in particular) are challenged, therefore, when they try to imagine themselves as being a part of science or having an identity as an insider to science. To address this, an pedagogical practice called ambitious science teaching (AST) offers students opportunities to engage in specific strategies designed to elicit science-related talk in the classroom (Thompson, Windschitl, & Braaten, 2013). This approach requires teachers develop core instructional practices that elicit students’ own ideas and evidence-based explanations for phenomena, which creates the potential to support students’ identity work through science talk. 

Research shows that despite emphases on inquiry-based methods in science education classes, novices frequently revert to traditional teaching practices once they enter the classroom (Windschitl, 2006).  This is likely because they have not had sufficient opportunity to practice these strategies, with real students.  To address this gap, this study asks:

1.  How do opportunities for pre-service teachers (PSTs) to engage with students in an out-of-school-time science program, enable their uptake of ambitious science teaching practices, in ways that position them on trajectories as insiders to ambitious science teaching?   

2. How do these pedagogies engage girls from minority backgrounds in the kind of science talk that supports identity trajectories into science.

This study will commence in Fall 2017, and I am currently recruiting research assistants to aid in literature reviews, ethics applications, participant recruitment, data collection and analysis. 

Funded by:  Fonds de Recherche Québec Société et Culture (2017-2020)

Research Assistant:  TBA


  • Aikenhead, G. S. (2006). Science education for everyday life. New York, NY: Teachers College Press
  • Carlone, H. B., Haun-Frank, J., & Webb, A. (2011). Assessing equity beyond knowledge- and skills-based outcomes: A comparative ethnography of two fourth-grade reform-based science classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(5), 459–485.
  • Colley, C., & Windschitl, M. (2016). Rigor in elementary science students’ discourse: The role of responsiveness and supportive conditions for talk. Science Education, doi: 10.1002/sce.20243
  • Hughes, G. (2001). Exploring the availability of student scientist identities within curriculum discourse: An anti-essentialist approach to gender-inclusive science. Gender and Education, 13(3), 275–290.
  • Moje, E. B., Collazo, T., Carrillo, R., & Marx, R. W. (2001). “Maestro, what is ‘quality’?”: Language, literacy, and discourse in project-based science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(4), 469–498
  • Thompson, J. (2014). Engaging girls’ sociohistorical identities in science. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(3), 392–446.
  • Thompson, J., Windschitl, M., & Braaten, M. (2013). Developing a theory of ambitious early-career teacher practice. American Educational Research Journal, 50(3), 574–615.
  • Windschitl, M. (2006). Sparking the debate over science education reform. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, 71(8), 20–31.

Contact: Allison Gonsalves, PhD

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