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An Exploratory Study of Preservice Teachers’ Beliefs About the Environment

October 1, 2008

By Moseley, Christine Utley, Juliana

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the environmental teaching efficacy and outcome-expectancy beliefs of elementary preservice teachers. The study also evaluated the importance of ethnicity as a construct in influencing teachers’ beliefs toward environmental education. Among groups, participants involved in the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) curriculum (2005; experimental group) significantly increased in environmental teaching outcome expectancy (ETOE) but not in personal environmental teaching efficacy (PETE). However, non-GLOBE participants (control group) increased significantly in PETE but not in ETOE. Ethnicity, which the authors defined in this study as Hispanic or non-Hispanic, was not a significant construct in influencing personal environmental teaching efficacy and outcome expectancy. KEYWORDS: environmental teaching efficacy, Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment, outcome expectancy

Beliefs play an important part in how teachers organize knowledge and information and are essential in helping teachers adapt, understand, and make sense of themselves and their world (Schommer, 1990; Taylor, 2003; Taylor & Caldarelli, 2004). How and what teachers believe have a tremendous impact on their behavior in the classroom (Pajares, 1992; Richardson, 1996). As Pratt (1998) suggested, “Beliefs and values are not minor, they are fundamental. These beliefs and values provide the submerged ‘bulk of the iceberg’ upon which any particular teaching technique rests” (p. 16).

Teacher efficacy has been defined as “the extent to which the teacher believes he or she has the capacity to affect student performance” (Berman & McLauglin, 1977, p. 137). For almost 30 years, researchers have investigated teacher efficacy in terms of how it is related to other variables and how it can best be measured. However, there is still much to learn about this important construct, especially in the field of environmental education (EE). Most of the teacher-efficacy research has focused on beliefs in formal K-12 educational settings (Ellinger, 1997), particularly in the area of science teaching efficacy. However, in the field of EE, few researchers have investigated either teaching beliefs or, in particular, how environmental educators make meaning of their teaching beliefs in relation to their practice. Most of the research in the area of EE has focused on the evaluation of environmental programs and the impact that those programs have on the knowledge and attitude of the learner (Taylor & Caldarelli, 2004) rather than on the beliefs and attitudes that teachers bring to the teaching of EE.

Similarly, Bryan and Atwater (2002) provided arguments connecting teacher beliefs to teaching practices when working with diverse student populations. They claimed that because teacher beliefs influence teaching practices and these practices can cause biased treatment toward students depending on the students’ culture, recognizing and identifying teacher beliefs should be an important aspect of teacher preparation. Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to evaluate the environmental teaching efficacy beliefs of elementary preservice teachers. In addition, we evaluated the importance of ethnicity as a construct influencing teaching efficacy and outcome expectancy in regard to EE.

Theoretical Framework

The connection between beliefs and teaching practice begins in the concept of self-efficacy, as Bandura (1977) proposed in a theory of behavioral change. This theory of social cognition refers to an individual’s belief about his or her ability to successfully execute a course of action in a challenging situation. Two critical components of self-efficacy were originally recognized in Bandura’s (1977) social cognitive theory as (a) the belief in one’s ability to successfully perform the behavior (efficacy expectation) and (b) the belief that the performance of the behavior will have a desirable outcome (outcome expectancy). Four principal sources of information affect efficacy expectation and outcome expectancy, which depend on how the receiver makes sense of the information: performance accomplishment, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal (Bandura, 1977). Performance accomplishment comes from personal practical experience that develops a strong sense of efficacy through repeated successes. Vicarious experience involves observing another individual’s performance and gaining confidence from the observation. This modeling is relevant when the observer has little previous experience in the task being observed. Verbal persuasion from others can influence personal self-efficacy either positively or negatively: “People who are persuaded verbally that they possess the capabilities to master given tasks are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it than if they harbor self- doubts and dwell on personal deficiencies when difficulties arise” (Bandura, 1997, p. 101). Emotional arousal from the stress of performance can also affect personal self-efficacy beliefs. These four information sources all contribute to self-perceptions of teaching competence.

The impact of each of these sources on teaching efficacy depends on an individual’s cognitive processing. Cognitive processing determines how the four sources of information influence the teachingtask analysis and personal teaching competence. “The interaction of task analysis and competence, in turn, shapes teacher efficacy” (Tschannen-Moran, Hoy, & Hoy, 1998, p. 230).

Researchers have formed the concept of teacher efficacy from two major sources: Bandura’s social cognitive theory of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977, 1997) and a study done by the RAND Corporation (Armor et al., 1976). The latter was based on Rotter’s (1966) work on locus of control. From these two sources, Gibson and Dembo (1984) created the Teacher Efficacy Scale that provided a global measure of teacher efficacy. The Teacher Efficacy Scale contained two subscales, personal teaching efficacy (PTE) and general teaching efficacy (GTE), which are similar to Bandura’s two critical components of self-efficacy. Gibson and Dembo suggested that PTE corresponded to the first component in Bandura’s social cognitive theory of efficacy expectation, in which teachers’ behaviors in classrooms are highly influenced by their own perceptions of their ability to teach. GTE corresponded to outcome expectancy, the second component in Bandura’s social cognitive theory, in which teachers believe that their teaching strategies are effective for student learning.

Multiple studies have directly related teacher efficacy to several variables, such as teachers’ adoption of innovation (Berman & McLauglin, 1977; Guskey, 1984; Smylie, 1988), positive attitudes about teaching (Guskey, 1984), teachers’ classroom management strategies (Ashton & Webb, 1986), teachers’ instructional strategies (Wagler & Moseley, 2006), student motivation (Midgely, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989), and student achievement (Armor et al., 1976; Guskey, 1982, 1988). Researchers have also shown teacher efficacy to be negatively related to teacher attrition (Glickman & Tamashiro, 1982) and stress (Smylie, 1988).

Teacher efficacy-as Bandura (1977) proposed and Tschannen-Moran et al. (1998) emphasized-is context- and subject-matter specific. According to Tschannen-Moran et al., “Teachers feel efficacious for teaching particular subjects to certain students in specific settings, and they can be expected to feel more or less efficacious under different circumstances. . . . Therefore, in making an efficacy judgment, a consideration of the teaching task and its context is required” (p. 228). Because of the contextual nature of teaching efficacy, researchers have developed several instruments and variations of those instruments to measure teacher efficacy in specific curriculum areas. Riggs and Enochs (1990) developed the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument (STEBI) to measure teacher efficacy in science, identifying the two uncorrelated factors of Bandura’s theory: personal science teaching efficacy and science teaching outcome expectancy. Similarly, STEBI has been modified to measure teaching efficacy in chemistry (Rubeck & Enochs, 1991), mathematics (Enochs, Smith, & Huinker, 2000), and special education (Coladarci & Breton, 1997). With the development of STEBI, researchers have widely used Bandura’s model of self-efficacy in research on teacher education, especially in the field of science teaching (Bleicher & Lindgren, 2005).

The critical question of how self-efficacy and outcome- expectancy beliefs are related to teaching performance still remains for educators. On the basis of an extensive review of the literature, Bandura (1997) concluded that perceived self-efficacy is significantly related to the level of motivation and performance accomplishments of the individual. Consequently, Bandura (2000) proposed an integrated perspective for human performance:

People are producers, as well as products, of social systems. By exercising self-influence, human agency operates generatively and proactively rather than just reactively. Social structures are created by efficacious human activity. The structural practices, in turn, impose constraints and provide resources and opportunity structures for personal development and functioning. (p. 29) Researchers (Delpit, 1995; Diaz, Moll, & Mehan, 1992; Moore & Reeves- Kazelskis, 1992) have also illustrated that teachers’ belief systems, based on prior experiences and cultural backgrounds, influence and affect teachers’ practice. Delpit illustrated that because of cultural influences, people have different worldviews. Southerland and Gess-Newsome (1999) reminded science educators that “pre-service teachers are understood to construct images of teaching from their past experiences as elementary and secondary learners, the activity network of the university classroom, and their own particular cultural networks” (p. 139). For teachers to become more culturally responsible, they should conduct a self-diagnosis to determine what roles their own cultures play in their teaching beliefs and practice. Regarding epistemological beliefs, researchers have rarely examined the role that ethnicity may play in development. According to Pintrich (2002), there is a need for researchers to examine the factor of ethnicity and how it may change the nature of the development of thought processes, motivation, cognition, and achievement.

Researchers have defined race, culture, and ethnicity in many ways. Race continues to be understood as a matter of biological variation among human beings. However, Grant (1994) and Ladson- Billings (1994) asserted that race is a social, not a biological, construct. Manning and Baruth (2004) defined culture as “people’s values, language, religion, ideals, artistic expressions, patterns of social and interpersonal relationships, and ways of perceiving, behaving, and thinking” (p. 44). In addition, Manning and Baruth (2004) defined ethnicity as a “consideration [of ] people’s national origin, religion, race, and any contribution thereof ” (p. 45). Many times, ethnicity is comingled with race. Therefore, many people are unable to distinguish between ethnicity and race. However, ethnicity is not static and fixed, but it is variable within the group and the individual member of the group (Freeman, Atwater, Butler, & Draper, 2006). Teachers’ ideas about these differences play important roles in their philosophical beliefs about their students and the teachers’ own instructional practices (Manning & Baruth, 2004).

Rationale and Purpose

Research on teachers’ beliefs has surfaced as one of the most valuable psychological constructs of teacher education in a field in which attitudes and values have already been the prevailing constructs (Pajares, 1992). However, more empirically based research is necessary to provide practical application evidences. Furthermore, few studies in the area of EE have examined the influence of various factors on preservice teachers’ environmental knowledge and beliefs, and few have addressed the influence of ethnicity. In his review of the literature in the field of EE, Rickinson (2001) noted, “There are few studies that focus specifically on the influence of factors such as gender, socio- economic grouping and geographical location, and there are none that examine the relative importance of such factors” (p. 290). Therefore, the rationale of the present study was to provide empirical evidence that shows the process of change in teacher beliefs by analyzing the data measured in a quantitative method. In addition, this study was an attempt to connect EE efficacy research and the emerging concern about preparing teachers to work in multicultural settings (Collier, 2002; McIntyre, Rosebery, & Gonzalez, 2001). Because of the global connections and similarities between EE and multicultural education, we wanted to determine whether there was a connection between environmental teaching efficacy and culture. In specific, we tried to isolate one component of culture-ethnicity-as a construct, or predictor, of environmental beliefs.

To evaluate the effectiveness of an Earth systems science curriculum in preparing elementary preservice teachers to teach EE, we addressed the following research questions: (a) What effect did participation in an Earth systems science curriculum have on personal environmental teaching efficacy (PETE) and outcome expectancy of elementary preservice teachers? (b) Is the self- reported ethnicity of elementary preservice teachers a construct that influences their PETE and outcome expectancy?

Method

This study involved seven preexisting undergraduate science labs. Therefore, for pragmatic reasons, we used a quasi-experimental design. In specific, we used a nonequivalent-control-group design using pretests and posttests. We administered the Environmental Education Efficacy Belief Instrument (EEEBI) to three experimental groups and four control groups of preservice elementary teachers at the beginning of the semester on the initial day of class (pretest) and at the end of the semester on the last day of class (posttest). We collected gender and self-reported ethnicity on a biographical data form. Participants signed informed-consent forms to participate in this research study.

Participants

Participants given the pretest were 115 students (86 women, 11 men, 18 nonreporting gender; age range = 20-35 years; M age = 27.4 years, SD = 3.2 years) who were seeking teacher certification in the area of early childhood. Participants given the posttest were 102 students (81 women, 10 men, 11 nonreporting gender).

The participants in this study were enrolled in a one-semester lab course on Earth and life science with multiple sections at a large urban Hispanic-serving institution. Students who were enrolled in the multiple sections of the lab course were seeking teacher certification in the areas of (a) early childhood (EC)-4th grade, (b) 4th-8th-grade science and mathematics, (c) 4th-8th-grade social studies and language arts, (d) special education, EC-12th grade, and (e) bilingual education, EC-4th grade.

The ethnicity of participants was approximately equal between Hispanic and non-Hispanic participants on the pretest, but Hispanics slightly outnumbered non-Hispanics on the posttest (see Table 1). Ethnicity was self-reported as an open-ended question on the surveys. The researchers did not give participants any direction as to the reporting of their ethnicity. All participants who reported any Hispanic or Latino ethnic origins were categorized as Hispanic, whereas all those participants who did not report any Hispanic or Latino ethnic ties were categorized as non-Hispanic. Initially, 115 preservice teachers completed the pretest, whereas only 102 of the preservice teachers completed the posttest at the end of the semester.

In general, students take the lab course for Earth and life science at the beginning of their junior year, prior to the science methods course. All students in the lab course had completed a minimum of 6 hr of general education science. The Earth and life science lab is a required upper division onecredit lab course in a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies program.

In this study, the experimental group comprised students in three of the lab sections that researchers revised to reflect an Earth systems science approach. The control group comprised students enrolled in four remaining lab sections that maintained a traditional Earth and life science lab with no emphasis on Earth systems science.

Treatment

Participants in the control group spent the initial 8 weeks of the semester completing a conducting lab activities in Earth science class and used a standard college-based Earth science lab manual. They spent the second 8 weeks of the semester in a conducting basic life science lab activities class and used a college-level general biology lab manual. All lab activities were conducted indoors.

Faculty determined that revisions to the lab course needed to be made to more closely align the course to the National Research Council’s (1996) national science-education standards and to better reflect the true nature of interdisciplinary science. Thus, we chose an Earth systems science approach for the revised course and used an Earth systems science curriculum, Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE; 2005), as its conceptual framework. During this study, we chose three sections of the lab (experimental group) to pilot the revised curriculum.

We selected the GLOBE curriculum as the conceptual framework for the Earth systems science lab because it is a hands-on international environmental science and education program for K-12 schools, and because it integrates mathematics, science, and technology. It involves students, teachers, and scientists in collecting, sharing, and analyzing data about the Earth’s land, air, water, and biological systems. The organization of activities of GLOBE contributes to meeting its three primary objectives: “(a) to enhance environmental awareness, (b) to increase scientific understanding of the Earth, and (c) to support improved student achievement in science and mathematics” (Finarelli, 1998, p. 77).

The GLOBE Program combines the use of EE materials with the opportunity for students to conduct protocol-direct hands-on science. GLOBE emphasizes four earth systems (atmosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere) and the interconnectedness of these systems. Over the course of time that students spend in the field, they make various GLOBE protocol measurements that allow them to see on a local scale how these earth systems and cycles are interconnected.

Instrument

Sia (1992) created the EEEBI by modifying the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs Instrument Form B (STEBI-B), which Enochs and Riggs (1990) constructed and validated as a reliable tool for studying elementary preservice teachers’ beliefs towards science teaching and learning. Enochs and Riggs modified the 23-item STEBI-B questionnaire for preservice teachers from the original 25-item STEBI-A (Riggs, 1988), which was developed for in-service teachers. Sia modified the questions from STEBI-B to reflect future EE teaching beliefs of preservice teachers. On the basis of the STEBI- B (Enochs & Riggs, 1990), the EEEBI (Sia, 1992) is a questionnaire that uses a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) for participants to show their level of support for given statements. The EEEBI comprises two scales. The first scale, containing 13 items, measures PETE, which is defined as belief in one’s ability to bring about student achievement in EE. The second scale, containing 10 items, measures environmental teaching outcome expectancy (ETOE), which is defined as teachers’ belief that students can be successful at learning EE. These two subscales are consistent with Bandura’s (1982) social cognitive theory, Gibson and Dembo’s (1984) teacher efficacy instrument, and Enochs and Riggs’ (1990) STEBI-B. The authors reviewed the two constructs-PETE and ETOE-separately, because many studies have shown them to be uncorrelated (Rubeck & Enochs, 1991; Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998).

Enochs and Riggs (1990) reported Cronbach’s alpha coefficients of .90 for the teaching-efficacy scale and .76 for the outcome- expectancy scale on the STEBI-B. Enochs and Riggs also noted validity coefficients significant at .05 and .01 levels for content and construct validity. Previous researchers using EEEBI reported high reliability of a Guttman split-half coefficient of .9132 (Moseley, Reinke, & Bookout, 2002). On the basis of the validity and reliability of the original STEBI-B (Enochs & Riggs, 1990) instrument and the modified EEEBI (Sia, 1992) instrument, we determined the EEEBI to be appropriate for measuring environmental teacher efficacy for this study. Reliability analysis using Cronbach’s alpha determined that before intervention, teaching efficacy was .822, and outcome expectancy was .724; and that after intervention, teaching efficacy was .649, and outcome expectancy was .765.

Data Analysis

We coded the data on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Then we standardized responses for scoring by renumbering the responses to negatively worded questions to reflect a positive statement. We analyzed the EEEBI data using SPSS to conduct a comparison of means on the pretest and posttest administrations by using an independent- samples t test. We conducted an independent-samples t test rather than a paired-samples t test because the students were inconsistent in putting their identification numbers on both pretests and posttests and because the pretest total (n = 115) did not correlate with the posttest total (n = 102). We used a 2 (group) x 2 (ethnicity) analysis of variance (ANOVA) to examine any possible effects of ethnicity on the predata or postdata. We separated the responses for each survey into two subsets of efficacy: PETE and ETOE. We also separated the responses for each survey into two additional subsets: Hispanic and non-Hispanic. We did not use gender as a subset because of the low percentage of men in the study. The independent variable was the Earth systems science curriculum, whereas the dependent variables were mean scores on the PETE and ETOE subscales. The experimental group was the preservice teachers enrolled in the revised Earth systems science lab, using the GLOBE Earth systems science curriculum as the conceptual framework of the course. The control group was the preservice teachers enrolled in the traditional Earth and life science lab. Differences in PETE and ETOE that were related to the ethnic groups of Hispanic and non- Hispanic were also calculated for control and experimental groups.

Results

To determine the effect of the Earth systems science curriculum on preservice elementary teachers’ PETE and ETOE, we used independent-samples t tests. Prior to intervention, independent- samples t tests revealed that there was no difference between the control and experimental groups’ ETOE, t(109) = 1.172, p = .244. However, there was a significant difference between the groups’ PETE, t(111) = -3.953, p = .000. Table 2 reveals that the experimental group started with a significantly higher PETE than did the control group.

An independent-samples t test among groups (Table 3) revealed that although the PETE of the preservice teachers participating in the GLOBE curriculum (experimental group) did not increase significantly, their ETOE did (t = -2.542, p = .012). In contrast, the PETE increased significantly for the non-GLOBE participants (control group; t = -2.588, p = .011), whereas the ETOE did not.

To assess the joint effects of ethnicity and group affiliation on preservice elementary teachers’ PETE and ETOE, we conducted 2 (group) x 2 (ethnicity) ANOVAs prior to and after intervention (see Table 4). Prior to intervention, results of the two-way ANOVA showed that Ethnicity x Group Affiliation interaction was not statistically significant for ETOE, F(1, 86) = 0.59, p = .44, or for PETE, F(1, 88) = 0.29, p = .59. In addition, after intervention, results of the two-way ANOVA showed that Ethnicity x Group Affiliation interaction was not statistically significant for ETOE, F(1, 79) = 2.48, p = .12, or for PETE, F(1, 79) = 0.52, p = .47. Thus, as students began the semester, there was no significant difference between the groups’ PETE or ETOE on the basis of their ethnicity. In addition, the effect on PETE or ETOE as a result of whether the preservice teachers were in a lab section using the GLOBE curriculum did not depend on whether the preservice teachers were Hispanic or non-Hispanic.

Discussion

Environmental Teaching Efficacy and Outcome Expectancy

We designed this study to investigate changes in elementary preservice teachers’ environmental teaching beliefs after participation in an Earth systems science course and to investigate whether ethnicity was a construct in influencing the teachers’ environmental teaching beliefs. We administered the survey instruments to two groups of students (experimental and control) on two occasions: at the beginning and conclusion of a semester-long Earth and life science lab. We chose this design to detect shifts in teacher efficacy over the time of the course.

Between groups, the Earth systems science course and, in specific, the GLOBE curriculum did not significantly influence preservice teachers’ PETE or ETOE. Among groups, GLOBE participants (experimental group) significantly increased in ETOE but not in PETE. Among groups, non-GLOBE participants (control group) increased significantly in PETE yet not in ETOE. However, the experimental group’s PETE was significantly higher prior to intervention. Thus, although PETE mean scores did not significantly increase after intervention, they remained high. This finding implies that GLOBE participants felt confident that they would impact the learning of their students in EE, whereas non-GLOBE participants felt more confident about their own teaching ability but not as confident about their ability to impact student learning. Although teacher educators hope preservice teachers increase significantly in both PETE and ETOE, a significant increase in ETOE could imply a stronger sense of competency in EE, especially toward successful studentlearning outcomes.

In this study, we assumed that when teachers completed the survey, they knew what EE teaching is and what it encompasses. Yet, is that truly the case? We also assumed that GLOBE was an example of an EE curriculum. However, is that the case? Or is this curriculum an integrated content-based science, mathematics, and technology curriculum that happens to conduct measurements outdoors? Of course, these questions also raise questions of what is EE curricula and how do teachers come to understand what curricula fall into that category. This study was conducted in a state that does not have separate EE standards for K-12 education or teacher certification. EE objectives are embedded in the science and social studies standards. Thus, can elementary preservice teachers without any prior experiences in EE recognize an EE curriculum as such if they are not explicitly told what one is, or do they view it as an extension of science and social studies teaching? We think that the preservice teachers in this study, most of whom went through the educational system in this state, saw EE only as an extension of the science and social studies standards that they are required to teach and not as a separate discipline of teaching. If the latter is the case, then the use of EEEBI as an instrument to measure environmental teaching efficacy may be inappropriate because the preservice teachers do not relate to the items on the survey about their confidence in teaching EE.

Preservice teachers need to become more aware of how their teaching beliefs shape their teaching practice, especially in the area of EE. Thus, teacher educators need to spend time and give attention to discussing the goals of EE, the role of the educator in EE, essential practices in the field, and how learning about the environment is fostered. Teacher educators cannot assume that preservice teachers know what EE is just because they conduct activities outdoors or model EE practices. Teacher educators need to be explicit in the objectives and delivery of EE activities and curricula with preservice teachers.

At present, we are conducting a follow-up study in which preservice teachers in three sections (experimental group) of the Earth systems science lab are given explicit information about the definitions of EE and environmental literacy, the history of EE, and the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE; 2004) Guidelines for the Preparation and Professional Development of Environmental Educators. Four other sections of the Earth systems science lab (control group) will not receive the explicit information about EE, yet all seven sections of the lab will be involved in the GLOBE curriculum. The data from this follow-up study using the EEEBI are currently being analyzed and will be compared with the data in the present study. Will being explicit about what EE is and what EE teaching practices are significantly increase both PETE and ETOE of the elementary preservice teachers? As we noted in the theoretical framework, Bandura (1997) proposed four important sources of information that affect self-efficacy-performance accomplishment, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal. In this study, we neither asked preservice teachers to teach the GLOBE curriculum nor to reflect on their lab experiences. Instead, they served as participants only in receiving the material as students participating in a traditional, although hands-on, field-based science lab experience. In fact, participating in a lab outdoors was a new experience for many of the students. Thus, the emotional arousal of the outdoors for some may actually have been a negative rather than a positive experience. If the goal of the course is to significantly and positively influence the EE teaching efficacy of the preservice teachers, they must engage in the actual teaching of the GLOBE curriculum (performance accomplishment) with supervision for positive feedback and encouragement (verbal persuasion). In addition, they must be allowed opportunities for reflection about those experiences for their personal cognitive development. “When teachers reflect on their teaching experiences, they can attribute their success or failure to factors outside of themselves, or they can assess the personal factors they brought to the task, including assets or liabilities” (Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998, p. 231).

At present, we are conducting another study with preservice elementary teachers to determine their initial definition of the environment. The NAAEE (2004) guidelines assume that all teachers have the same initial definition and understanding of the term environment. Our preliminary studies are showing that this assumption is incorrect. Accordingly, we ask the following question: What impact will their differing definitions of the environment have on preservice teachers’ environmental teaching efficacy and outcome expectancy?

Ethnicity as a Cultural Construct

Ethnicity, as defined in the present study as Hispanic or non- Hispanic ethnic groups, was not a significant construct in influencing PETE and ETOE. The present study and its type of quantitative analysis suggest that ethnicity, which the participants self-reported, as a factor of culture does not play a significant role in influencing environmental teaching efficacy. Yet, other studies that we cited in the theoretical framework section of this study have implied that cultural backgrounds influence teacher practice and beliefs. What other factors-such as gender, socioeconomic, or geographic backgrounds-influence environmental teaching efficacy beliefs? More importantly, from a researcher’s perspective, we ask the following questions: How effectively can these factors be separated from culture as defined by Manning and Baruth (2004)? Should researchers separate them?

The present study also supports Manning and Baruth (2004) in cautioning against comingling race and ethnicity when reporting demographic information and separating these constructs. Many educators assume that ethnicity deals exclusively with groups of color, such as Native Americans, Asian Americans, or African Americans. This view of ethnicity promotes a we-they attitude that limits valid conceptualizations of ethnic groups. Healey and O’Brien (2007) stated the following:

Traditionally, in the United States, race has been seen as a set of fixed, unchanging, unambiguous categories. . . . [T]he increasing numbers of cross-group marriages and “mixed race” individuals reminds us that race is subjective and negotiable, not fixed and permanent. That is, racial identity is a definition of self that is constructed during socialization and negotiated and developed in interaction with parents, siblings, peers, and others in the community. (p. 4)

Should researchers quantify the diverse factors of culture, in all its complexity, for use in statistical analysis research? The next question is more important: Can they be quantified for that use? As a result of the present study, we question the validity of quantifying demographic cultural constructs-especially in the narrow definition of race-as the only means of evaluation, and we cite this as a limitation to the present study. We recommend qualitative research consisting of follow-up interviews and focus-group discussions with participants to further ask them about their beliefs about EE and how they define it.

Teachers need to understand that a student’s culture affects how that student learns in school. Environmental educators need to recognize that the same holds true in understanding how preservice teachers learn about and make sense of the environment. Robertson (1987) defined culture as all the shared products of human society. He also stated:

These products are of two basic kinds, material and nonmaterial. Material culture consists of all the artifacts, or physical objects, human beings create and give meaning to-wheels, clothing, schools, factories, cities, books, spacecraft, and totem poles. Nonmaterial culture consists of abstract human creations-languages, ideas, beliefs, rules, customs, myths, skills, family patterns, and political systems. (p. 55)

All of these complex material and nonmaterial factors in culture contribute to a person’s beliefs about the environment. As environmental educators, how can we determine which of these factors contribute more or less in the defining of beliefs about the environment? This debate and the complex definitions of culture and its role in shaping beliefs will continue to be issues in research methodology.

EE is a complex discipline involving multiple learning processes, content, and instructional strategies. EE research over the past 40 years has concentrated on effective methods for providing EE and on its impact on student learning. However, more research needs to be done in EE about the teachers themselves, their beliefs, and those factors that contribute to their beliefs. If teacher educators have a better understanding of the sociocultural factors that affect preservice teachers’ perceptions of environmental issues, the teacher educators will be more successful in cultivating positive environmental experiences and curricula in teacher education programs. It is important for environmental educators and researchers to understand how their students, preservice teachers, think in a particular social context and to recognize how the cultural practices of a particular society could affect the environment in the future.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This research was funded through the University of Texas at San Antonio’s College of Education and Human Development Academy for Teacher Excellence.

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Christine Moseley is an associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research involves preservice teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about the environment. She currently teaches Earth systems science and environmental education courses. Juliana Utley is an assistant professor of mathematics education at Oklahoma State University. Her research interests involve elementary and middle school mathematics pedagogy and preservice teachers’ attitudes toward mathematics. Copyright (c) 2008 Heldref Publications

Copyright Heldref Publications Summer 2008

(c) 2008 Journal of Environmental Education, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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