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Planning a new science topic

Shulman’s (1987) notion of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) is concerned with how to teach specific disciplinary ideas and skills to particular students. Teachers need to develop and use it ‘on the fly’ if they are to respond in ways that have an impact on student learning progress. The internet has a contribution to make in the development of teacher PCK. Online resources are readily accessible and often multimodal, although using the internet as a knowledge source is not unproblematic. Teachers need to integrate their understanding of technology with their PCK to optimise the use of online resources. Mishra and Koehler (2006) refer to this integration as technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK).

A teacher developing a science unit on solar energy for a year 4 class used the resources in Harnessing the Sun as a focus for her planning.
Harnessing the Sun

The research

This case study research was undertaken over several weeks to investigate how a primary teacher used the Science Learning Hub in her classroom with 25 year 4 students (15 boys, 10 girls). This was the first year that Mary (a pseudonym) had taught such young students. This study investigated how Mary used the science story Harnessing the Sun. Classroom observations and interviews were conducted with Mary and the students. Qualitative data was collected in the form of videotapes, audiotapes, observations, field notes, individual teacher and student interviews and copies of teaching materials and student work. Analysis of the data for this brief was guided by the research question: How did Mary use the Science Learning Hub for planning?


A planning catalyst

Mary was confident in using the internet and online resources for her science teaching – her TPCK was strong. She had already used the web to check her science understandings, to learn new ideas, for planning and in the classroom. She chose the solar energy unit as her focus for the research study because it was a context that would appeal to her students and the topic was relevant. She liked the activities outlined in the context although she did not choose to include all of them, reasoning “I think that some of these activities will be too hard for my students.” She added supplementary activities, notably an investigation of insulation, saying “We need to do an experiment with newspaper as an insulator or the children will not know why they need to put newspaper inside the solar cooker.” She also used the learning outcomes from the unit plan: Harnessing the Sun but simplified the learning intentions and the activities for her students. For this, she needed time and support. The Science Learning Hub provided the initial catalyst and impetus for the focus of her planning, but other resources were required for Mary to be confident that her unit would work for her students.

A place to check science understanding

Mary used the Science Learning Hub as a resource for checking her own understandings of science, as there is “lots I don’t know about science”. She used it as a source of information about the topic. Mary went to the Science Learning Hub several times throughout the unit to check her understandings and develop her ideas. She also explored the site to find other relevant information, such as students’ alternative conceptions about energy.

I will always go to the Science Learning Hub now when teaching science because there is a lot of information there in one place.


Overall, Mary concluded that the Science Learning Hub was useful for teaching science because it has a lot of information. Mary found that the Hub could be productive as a springboard for planning and teaching. She commented, however, that she would use it in conjunction with other resources to craft suitable and worthwhile learning experiences. She also noted that planning in this way took time and benefited from support.


Mishra, P. & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: a framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record,108(6), 1017–1054.

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1–22.