Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




John R. Thompson

Second Committee Member

MacKenzie R. Stetzer

Third Committee Member

Michael C. Wittmann


Teaching is a profession that requires the incorporation of many types of knowledge in order to create effective instructional experiences that promote student learning. Teachers need to blend their knowledge of the content with the methods for delivering that content and an understanding of their students' thinking. With increasing concern in the United States over student achievement in science and mathematics, there is ongoing discussion about which elements of teacher knowledge most directly correlate with effective instruction. How do specific strands of teacher knowledge blend to influence student learning outcomes? This study explores the roles of teacher content knowledge (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), particularly teacher knowledge of student ideas (KSI), in the context of a middle-school physical science curriculum on force and motion. The study takes place within the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP). The primary focus of the MainePSP is the professional development of physical science instructors in grades 6-9 via curriculum renewal using common instructional resources across multiple school districts in rural Maine.

Teachers and their students were given multiple-choice assessment items to examine teachers’ CK as well as the learning gains of their students. To measure teacher KSI, teachers were additionally asked to predict if a significant portion of their students [>10%) would select a multiple-choice option on a certain assessment item and to articulate student reasoning for selecting that choice. For both the CK and the KSI surveys, teacher performance varied widely, between 10% and 90% of the maximum score on each survey represented, with little to no correlation between CK and KSI scores. Overall results from the student assessment indicate that students come into the curriculum with incorrect ideas about force and motion, but are on par with comparable populations seen in the literature. Furthermore, there was little shift in student understanding of force and motion concepts after instruction of the curriculum. Additionally, teacher CK and KSI were not strong predictors of student performance when related to the narrow learning gains observed. We discuss possible factors to which this lack of correlation may be attributed, including the implementation process and elements of the curriculum itself, and also the resolution of the KSI instrument. Recommendations for future research are provided.