Preservice Elementary Teachers and Explanation Construction: Knowledge-for-Practice and Knowledge-in-Practice


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2012 meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching in Indianapolis, IN.

  • Contract grant sponsor: Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.

  • Contract grant sponsor: University of Iowa College of Education.

  • Contract grant sponsor: PECASE/CAREER Award, from the National Science Foundation.

  • Contract grant number: REC-0092610.

  • Contract grant sponsor: Center for Curriculum Materials in Science, a CLT grant, from the National Science Foundation.

  • Contract grant number: 0227557.

  • Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors.

Correspondence to: Laura Zangori; e-mail:


Effectively designed science learning environments revolve around students’ sensemaking through the use of evidence to ground explanations about natural phenomena. However, little research has been conducted to investigate elementary teachers’ learning to promote students’ sensemaking in elementary (K-5) classrooms. The purpose of this multiple-case study is to explore how preservice elementary teachers conceptualize and foster students’ construction of evidence-based explanations. Our findings show that when the preservice teachers had difficulty conceptualizing their ideas about explanation construction, they were also challenged to support students’ explanations constructed in the classroom. They frequently accepted evidence as a complete explanation and afforded their students opportunities to describe evidence rather than formulate evidence-based claims. Furthermore, each of the preservice teachers articulated rich and varied conceptions of ways to elicit students’ prior knowledge and scaffold new knowledge construction that were not evident in their enactments in the classroom. These findings, which complement and extend those of other studies focused on in-service elementary teachers, suggest that a lack of emphasis on sensemaking components of scientific practice could be an endemic issue across the teacher professional continuum for which elementary teachers require ongoing and multifaceted forms of support. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 97:310–330, 2013