PCK to TPCK: How do we make an effective transition?

PCK (Pedagogical Content Knowledge) proposed by Lee Shulman and TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) put forth by Mishra and Koehler are both valuable theories as they focus on the blending of each area of curriculum for teachers. Mishra and Koehler extend Shulman’s theory by adding a technological component which has become an important part of education today.

In reading (or re-reading the articles this week- I believe I have read them all in previous MET courses) I was struck by quotes I hadn’t really even noticed before. For example, Shulman (1986) states: Teachers must not only be capable of defining for students the accepted truths in a domain. They must also be able to explain why a particular proposition is deemed warranted, why it is worth knowing, and how it relates to other propositions, both within the discipline and without, both in theory and in practice. This quote really struck home for me as I realized it states exactly why we need the PCK model. To be effective teachers we can not just be experts on Content or Pedagogy but rather we need to blend these with other facets of the students education so they can see cross-curricular connections. Teaching each subject as if it were a fishbowl and untouched by other elements creates compartmentalized knowledge that does not help the student understand the world.
In the second article by Shulman (1987) he states that One of the frustrations of teaching as an occupation and profession is its extensive individual and collective amnesia, the consistence with which the best creations of its practitioners are lost to both contemporary and future peers. I actually stopped and said “yes” this is exactly what happens? Why does it happen? How have we not learned from this? How is it our profession does not function like architecture, medicine and engineering, where lessons are learned, ideas are shared and curriculum improves?

Finally, Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) article on TPACK is an extension of Shulman’s work on PCK. For those who have heard about, yet not studied TPACK a similar error is often made. People throw technology into their lessons with out stopping to wonder why and if it is indeed improving the lesson. My favourite quote from this article is: “ In other words, merely knowing how to use technology is not the same as knowing how to teach with it. (p1033).” Knowing how to push buttons or work a program does not mean it is improving your programming. Teaching with technology should immediately imply that something different is happening. I have become very interested in the learning by design format and believe it applies directly to the idea of PBL’s (problem-based learning) in the classroom. Learning by Design is the PBL of the teacher.

An example of how I use PCK in science is when we study the planets or solar system, even before the availability of videos like Cosmos by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, it was a very visual and hands-on unit. Students created models of our solar system not in the usual sense but rather to scale (obviously with in reason but they had to understand that and explain it). This activity required students to use math skills in measuring and finding replicas of the size of each planet in relation to each other. It involved problem-solving and collaboration ( I can’t tell you how many groups ended up frustrated when they chose thin thread to represent the distance- thin thread tangles easily and when it is metres long it is even harder to control). Students had to figure out how to store their projects so they didn’t return each day to a jumble of threads.

In addition to their own amazement at the distance of the planets from each other and their size they also had to find a way to demonstrate this to students in grade one and two. Often the most challenging part was keeping to scale and explaining how large the sun was in comparison to the items they could see.

When the students have completed the unit (including seasons etc) the groups take part in the final assignment. Each group is provided with a time period and a scenario. The scenarios are pretty open-ended and require debate with in the group to make a decision. One of the example scenario’s (this works well in my area as we are 40 minutes from Niagara Falls, students understand the seasons here, we cover the war of 1812 in great detail and there are always activities to attend, we read novels like The Bully Boys by Eric Walters so students can look at the war from a different perspective).

The scenario reads something like:
The war between Canada and the US has been going on for three years now. You are a group of General Brock’s advisors. He has stated the final push for the war must come in the next year, but when is the best time to launch the attack? As his advisors, you must come up with a proposal of when the attack should occur (why is this the best choice, preparation, surprise etc), how the attack will occur (what is the best plan that costs the least in terms of supplies and lives)?

It is great to see the kids get involved in this. They present their findings and usually a debate ensues. (Go in summer we can travel lighter, Go in winter we can walk across the Niagara river and not need boats).

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

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4 -14.

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching. The foundations of a new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1)1-23

One comment

  1. Hi Catherine,

    I really enjoyed your lesson examples. Specific to the planets/solar system models, I thought the fact that you had your students teach/demonstrate to grade one and two students was terrific! I would think that your students would be honoured by the chance to feel like the experts, especially for those students who struggle and are rarely given that opportunity. I also loved your final assignment idea where students were given a scenario that they had to work through. What a great way to get students collaborating and problem solving together towards a common goal. I also like how it allowed them to apply their knowledge to a realistic scenario, encouraging them to make connections to the “real world” and their prior knowledge given their own environment. Very neat!

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