Download Full Text (323 KB)

Document Type

Book Chapter



Publication Date


Book Title

International handbook of teacher beliefs


Helenrose Fives, Michele Gregoire Gill




New York

First Page


Last Page



As we write this chapter, teachers across the United States are preparing for their first days of school. Besides the excitement associated with teaching students who are newly energized after a long summer break, science teachers also come into the school year with a host of beliefs that may well shape the ways in which they teach and may ultimately have some bearing on their students’ overall experiences with science. Although there are countless beliefs that teachers hold with regard to science, in this chapter we focus specifically on two beliefs that have received the most research attention—teachers’ self-efficacy, which describes their beliefs about their capability to teach science, and their epistemic beliefs, which describe their beliefs about the nature of scientific knowledge and knowing. Science has been described by many as one of the most difficult school subjects (Drew, 2011; Dweck, 2006; National Academies of Science, 2011). For this reason, the National Academies of Science has noted that a strong sense of competence is critical for success in science and for persistence in science-related careers. For science teachers in particular, this same robust sense of competence is required both to understand science and to teach it well, as teachers who feel incompetent in science are more likely to avoid teaching it (Grindrod, Klindworth, Martin, & Tytler, 1991; Skamp, 1995). Given the importance of competence beliefs in learning and teaching science, we focus on one of the most well-studied constructs dealing with this belief—teachers’ self-efficacy for teaching science. Besides self-efficacy, scholars and practitioners alike have documented the regrettable lack of sophistication that students have with regard to their basic scientific literacy. For example, many students in middle school believe that science is composed entirely of absolute truths (BouJaoude, 1996), and that the development of scientific knowledge leaves little room for creativity and imagination (Griffiths & Barman, 1995; Lederman & O’Malley, 1990; Smith, Maclin, Houghton, & Hennessey, 2000). These troubling cases can be traced to teachers not understanding the complex nature of scientific knowledge well enough to communicate that level of sophistication to their students (Brickhouse, 1990; Duschl & Wright, 1989; Hashweh, 1996; Keys & Bryan, 2001). They can also be traced to institutional structures, such as an undue emphasis on testing, which can lead some science teachers to avoid teaching about the complexities of science (Brickhouse & Bodner, 1992; Munby, Cunningham, & Lock, 2000). The development of students’ deep understanding and appreciation for the complexity of science starts first with teachers. Teachers must have a deep level of understanding about the complexity of scientific knowledge. That is, they must understand that knowledge in science is connected to other fields of knowledge; that scientific knowledge is often revised with new evidence; that scientists often disagree; and that scientific knowledge must be justified with evidence from multiple sources and multiple experiments. Teachers must also possess the selfefficacy to lead their students through learning activities that model that complexity. Being able to teach in such a manner is certainly no easy task. It requires substantial skills in planning and organizing. It requires teachers to possess excellent classroom management skills, the ability to engage and motivate students, as well as the ability to connect these rich learning activities to the standards on which students will be tested. Given these issues that science teachers must grapple with, we chose to study science teachers’ self-efficacy and their epistemic beliefs about science.



Science Teachers’ Beliefs: Perceptions of Efficacy and the Nature of Scientific Knowledge and Knowing

External Link

Included in

Education Commons