Identifying beliefs held by preservice chemistry teachers in order to improve instruction during their teaching courses

Katarína Kotul'áková
Department of Chemistry, Trnava University, Priemyselná 4, P.O. BOX 9, 918 43 Trnava, Slovakia. E-mail:

Received 27th August 2019 , Accepted 3rd March 2020

First published on 23rd March 2020

Today, science education demands preparation of scientifically literate people, emphasizing more the process of working with information than owning it. Such a task requires a deep understanding of pedagogical content knowledge by science teachers. This study focuses on revealing the beliefs of prospective chemistry teachers during their teaching preparation in order for them to be confronted and potentially changed. We focused on determining (a) how prospective chemistry teachers comprehend learning, (b) what they target for modification in students’ learning, (c) how they comprehend knowledge, and (d) how they see their role in science education. Q methodology was used to investigate the beliefs of 69 chemistry teacher candidates at all levels of teaching preparation having them rank and sort a series of 51 statements. The analysis showed three types of beliefs concerning science education: (1) active students do inquiry based on a constructivist approach (believed by more experienced and older preservice chemistry teachers), (2) the importance of learning facts and laws by exploring them, and (3) knowledge is the transfer of knowledge from a reliable source to the learner, a transmissive perspective predominantly held by the youngest preservice chemistry teachers. Based on the results, the study identifies particular issues which educators need to be aware of during preservice, preparation studies.


Over the last few decades, the development of society has placed different demands on students’ knowledge. Teachers are now to create learning situations and opportunities for their students to develop skills and attitudes in order to understand, gain, and use knowledge. These goals are already expressed in many national curricula (Forsthuber et al., 2011; Kunter et al., 2013; NGSS, 2013; Roberts and Bybee, 2014; National Curriculum for England, 2015; SVP, 2015). Teachers have a tremendous influence on students’ educational achievement by setting the right goals for each lesson and by implementing how those goals are reached. Professional knowledge and personal beliefs about teaching and learning seem to be substantial predictors of a teacher's performance in the classroom and consequently of students’ outcomes (Calderhead, 1996; Richardson, 1996; Baumert and Kunter, 2013; Voss et al., 2013). They also influence students’ beliefs about the nature of knowledge and the nature of science (Voss et al., 2013).

Success in reaching the above-mentioned goals depends on teachers’ understanding and their belief in them (Penuel et al., 2009). Studies demonstrate that educational beliefs of preservice teachers also play a strategic role in the interpretation of pedagogical knowledge, the conceptualization of teaching tasks, and required teaching decisions (Stuart and Thurlow, 2000; King et al., 2001). It is therefore essential to know their structure in order to work with them accordingly. Learning starts with confronting one's own preconceptions and implementing instruction which actually addresses them (Driver et al., 1985) and the same has to be done when teaching potential science teachers. Curricula demands should not be presented to them as a set of principles laid down by an authority (Bryan, 2003).

Today's goals in science education and the means to reaching them

The ability to acquire knowledge from different domains, engage in critical and analytical thinking, and explore various hypotheses is the very skill needed to enhance a nation's economic competitiveness (Alverman et al., 1995; Crawford, 2014; Osborne, 2014). A global perspective as well as competencies are needed to live and work in today's world (Hilton, 2010; Treagust and Tsui, 2014). Scientific knowledge is a result of systematic and objective inquiry which engages a community of curious people. Inquiry process allows students to understand how knowledge is created and it examines the logic of arguments through discussion. Knowledge is constructed and reconstructed as new evidence emerges (Osborne, 2014). Knowing how science really works influences everyday life and stimulates further research (Durant, 1993).

Teachers’—and consequently students’—lack of inquiry understanding is attributed to the lack of experience with scientific investigation (Galagher (1991)) and reflection on it (Schwartz et al., 2004). As human life expands from personal to global, there is also a call for a new vision of scientific literacy. It embraces the above-mentioned skills and competencies, but emphasises character and values which can enable people to make wise and appropriate decisions considering moral and ethical justification. Such scientifically literate person can ensure sustainable planet, provide and guarantee human rights to all people, etc. (Choi et al., 2011; Zeidler and Sadler, 2011). It also embraces the recognition and understanding of the impact of science and technology on a society (Showalter, 1974). Duschl (2008) categorises characterised scientific literacy into three domains: (a) the conceptual domain involving facts and principles as well as seeing the more complex picture of connected concepts; (b) the epistemic domain expressing the nature of science, the means how knowledge is generated, and its instability in the sense that it is constantly changing in step with new research; and (c) the social domain of collaboration and mutual support in scientific research. Taconis et al. (2001) and Furtak et al. (2012) add to the characteristic of scientific literacy the procedural domain in which science process skills (SPS) enable performance.

The development of characterised scientific literacy expressed in numerous national curricula (NGSS, 2013; National Curriculum for England, 2015; SVP, 2015; and others) requires teachers to apply a constructivist approach to teaching and have experience and knowledge about the nature of science (Rocard et al., 2007; Marginson et al., 2013; Kennedy and Odell, 2014).

Teacher's educational beliefs and their role in teaching

Beliefs are understandings which are personally felt to be true (Richardson, 1996). They are described as traditional, passive, highly individual, deeply personal, and difficult to change. Beliefs drive a person's actions, and support decisions and judgments (Pajares, 1992; Schoenfeld, 2011; van Driel, 2014; Gess-Newsome, 2015). They are connected with personal, episodic, and emotional experiences (Nespor, 1987) and, although related to knowledge, they might lack rationale (Richardson, 1996). Educational beliefs might be influenced by a number of factors such as education, prior experience and pedagogical knowledge, requirements set in the curriculum and the assessment system connected with it, time, student behavior and ability, age, etc. (Cronin-Jones, 1991; Savasci, 2006; Savasci and Berlin, 2012; Hutner and Markman, 2016). Teacher's beliefs are strong predictors of what approach, methods, strategies, or assessment that teacher will use in his/her class (Pajares, 1992; Enderle et al., 2014; Hutner and Markman, 2016; Kleickmann et al., 2016) and what their students’ learning outcomes will be (Voss et al., 2013). The concept of teaching is related to how the teacher perceives learning (Boulton-Lewis et al., 2001). It can be perceived as increasing knowledge, memorizing and reproducing, acquiring and applying, understanding, seeing something in a different way, or changing as a person (Marton et al., 1993). Hoy et al. (2006) categorize beliefs as (a) beliefs about one's own skills as a teacher or about the role of the teacher, (b) beliefs about teaching and the learning context which includes subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986), and (c) beliefs about the educational system and social context. Beliefs are filters through which new experience gains its meaning and understanding (Pajares, 1992; Campbell et al., 2004).

Research conducted by Koballa et al. (2000) specifies that chemistry teachers perceive learning as gaining knowledge, problem-solving, and constructing personal understanding. They perceive teaching chemistry as transferring that knowledge, problem posing, and interacting with students. The concept of learning was considered reproductive and teaching was understood as facilitating reproductive learning. A number of studies show that the professional growth of teachers as well as the work and methods they use in classrooms are influenced by educational beliefs (Pajares, 1992; Bryan, 2003; Campbell et al., 2004; Hoy et al., 2006; Skott, 2015). Research distinguishes between two major beliefs about teaching and learning. Transmissive beliefs, which are connected more with a deductive way of teaching, comprehend teaching as the simple transfer of knowledge to students who passively accept it and focus on outcomes. Learning is understood as a linear process of accepting a sequence of simple pieces of knowledge and assimilating them (Marton et al., 1993; Osborne, 1996; Perkins, 2009; Kleickmann et al., 2016). On the other hand, in constructivist beliefs, learning is perceived as a process of the construction and reconstruction of personal theories and models associated more with an inductive way of teaching (Piaget, 1971; Glynn et al. 1991; Marton et al., 1993; Staub and Stern, 2002; Sawyer 2006). Transmissive teaching performed in the form of lecturing, reading, or following prescribed lab procedures is connected with a lack of interest in science among students, perceiving a decontextualization of learnt knowledge and its difficulty (Glynn et al., 1991; Moller, 2014; Sinatra et al., 2014), while constructivist beliefs help students to acquire a meaningful understanding of the surrounding world set in context, supported by critical thinking and learnt metacognitive skills (Prince and Felder, 2006; Held, 2014). Research shows that teachers who hold constructivist beliefs create a better learning environment which leads to better performance (Stipek et al. 2001; Staub and Stern 2002; Voss et al., 2013). The professional vison of instructional support in the classroom correlates positively with constructivist beliefs but negatively with transmissive beliefs. Teachers with constructivist beliefs more likely distinguish between events which foster or constrain learning and they can reason about events noticed in the science class. Transmissive beliefs are more strongly connected to professional vision which leads to often misinterpretation of relevant classroom situations (Blomberg et al., 2011; Voss et al., 2013; Meschede et al., 2017).

Preservice teachers

Preservice teachers have observed teaching for a number of years as students and developed their own convictions about what makes a teacher effective or ineffective based on their own classroom experience. Their beliefs relate strongly to the manner of teaching they have experienced (Pajares, 1992; Richardson, 2003; Fives and Buehl, 2012). The concept of teaching is influenced or closely related to one's concept of learning (Hewson and Hewson, 1987; Koballa et al., 2000). Strong personal beliefs that preservice teachers bring into teacher educational courses might be stumbling blocks to reforming classroom instruction. This transformation is required to shift from a transmission model to a more constructivist approach. Richardson (1996) identifies three major sources for such educational beliefs: personal experience, experience with schooling and instruction, and experience with formal knowledge—both school subjects and pedagogical knowledge. She points out that personal experience with schooling and instruction together with the real world of teaching “creates conditions that make it difficult for preservice teacher education to have an impact”.

More studies show ambiguous results when analysing preservice teachers’ beliefs. They show either more transmissive (Felbrich and Müller, 2007; Schmeisser et al., 2013; Meschede et al., 2017) or more constructivist beliefs (Lui and Bonner, 2016) when compared with in-service teachers’ beliefs. We could assume that both types of beliefs are present to varying degrees among preservice teachers. The differences are not extremely significant (Meschede et al., 2017). However, preservice teachers’ beliefs seem to be rather unstable, not anchored in personal teaching experience and therefore are more likely to be influenced and changed (Wallace, 2014). Murphy et al. (2004) state that preservice teachers’ beliefs about teaching are formed very early. Their study showed that beliefs of primary school pupils (second grade) and preservice teachers about good and effective teacher were quite similar. Such teacher is organised, clear, soft-spoken, he/she is not shy, etc. Beliefs about a good teacher were similar also between preservice teachers and in-service teachers. They stated that the teacher should be patient and polite. He/she should not be boring or ordinary. Beliefs of pupils and in-service teachers about effective teaching were obviously different having only one characteristic in common. The preservice teachers possessed beliefs that mirrored both, the second graders and in-service teachers.

Studies show that preservice teachers have less pedagogical content knowledge. They notice and interpret relevant classroom situations less when compared with experienced teachers (Kleickmann et al., 2013; Meschede et al., 2017). However, differences between preservice and in-service teachers’ professional visions, pedagogical content knowledge, and beliefs do not differ significantly (Meschede et al., 2017). These findings should be seen as the natural results of preservice teachers’ previous experiences in primary and secondary school and at university as well. The notion of teaching and learning at these institutions is predominantly reproductive (Koballa et al., 2000; Rocard et al., 2007). The difference between in-service teachers and preservice teachers as identified by Schmeisser et al. (2013) seems to be in a conviction about the effect of receptive learning from examples and demonstrations. This conviction is reduced when gaining more teaching experience. In-service teachers also display a stronger belief in learners needing to be independent in order to achieve understanding.

Regarding the expected change of approach to science education, research brings the alarming finding that prospective teachers do not possess the tools such as creating meaningful graphs or building evidence-based arguments to understand the curriculum material. They do not understand the nature of scientific inquiry and diverse methods used by scientists (Southerland et al., 2001; Crawford et al., 2005; and others). Learning demands and various other opportunities during teaching studies seem to be filtered through existing beliefs and probably hinder expected changes in their approach to science education (Wideen et al., 1998). Studies focusing on possible conceptual change among preservice teachers during their pedagogical studies bring various, positive or more reserved results. Some studies have found that transmissive beliefs at the beginning of teacher education program changed into more constructivist after university education. However, results also show that pre-service teachers hold to their beliefs about teaching derived from their own experiences as students and they remained unchanged during the program. They influenced and guided their practical instruction (Brookhart and Freeman, 1992; Richardson, 2003; Krauss et al., 2008; Boz et al., 2019, Voss and Kunter, 2019).

Research question

The influence of instruction from previous schooling on preservice teachers’ beliefs is noticeable (Fives and Buehl, 2012). In order to work with potential teachers on promoting an approach which enables the development of scientific literacy in today's world we need to identify and analyse those beliefs and work with them intentionally. Keeping the characteristics of scientific literacy in mind, attention needs to be paid to how knowledge and its nature are comprehended. Chan and Elliott (2004) identified the close relationship between epistemological beliefs and beliefs about teaching and learning among preservice teachers. As Hofer and Pintrich (1997) point out, beliefs about the nature of knowledge include beliefs about its simplicity, certainty, source, and justification. Knowledge might be understood as the accumulation of isolated facts or highly interrelated concepts. Its certainty might be comprehended as absolute truths or a relativistic concept which changes and depends on its context. The source of knowledge might be seen in the pure accumulation of established truth or as a process of social construction. Finally, justification and validation can be done through objective procedures, or multiple theories can coexist.

A teacher with a constructivist view perceives learning as a process when the students’ prior knowledge is ascertained and confronted. In this context, the teacher's function is that of a mediator who creates a learning environment which promotes active and independent construction of knowledge by supporting and scaffolding students’ learning process. Development of science process skills is connected with developing higher order thinking which are transferable benefits across many subject areas. The ability to engage in critical and analytical thinking is the very skill needed to truly understand phenomena in the surrounding world and contribute to development of the whole society (Crawford, 2014; Osborne, 2014).

A transmissive view understands learning as passing transferred, pre-processed and unchangeable information from the teacher to students. It is done by telling (explaining), showing (demonstrations of typical examples), and repetition. Teachers present isolated facts and expect that a whole picture will be created (Perkins, 2009). The teacher focuses on content as it is seen as a fixed collection of facts and procedures which needs to be learnt (Savasci and Berlin, 2012; Voss et al., 2013). Students are asked to replicate the knowledge. However, such teaching does not lead to deep understanding.

Slovak national curriculum emphasizes scientific literacy comprising aspects of scientific knowledge, science process skills and attitudes (SVP, 2015). However, in Slovak schools, the traditional deductive teacher-centred teaching concentrated on knowledge and depending on textbooks (Vallová, 2012), demonstrations or confirmatory activities is still dominant (PISA, 2015; Matušíková, 2017; Lištiaková, 2018).

As suggested by Koballa et al. (2000), university science education programs must take into consideration preservice beliefs about learning and teaching and base their instruction on the theory of conceptual change (Strike and Posner, 1992). Learning is not a matter of adding new information or correcting incorrect knowledge by telling students that they are wrong. There are requirements that need to be fulfilled for expected change to take place. Students need to become dissatisfied with the prior vision or conception and intelligible alternative must be available. The alternative must be viewed as plausible and must be more fruitful than the prior conception.

Following research questions were formulated:

(1) What do prospective chemistry teachers consider to be the goal of chemistry (science) education?

(2) What would prospective chemistry teachers modified or focused on in students’ learning?

(3) How do prospective teachers comprehend knowledge, as something unchangeable or always developing and changing?

(4) What do prospective chemistry teachers consider to be the role of a teacher in science education?



We applied Q-methodology, an effective methodology for understanding the diversity of perspectives across any given field, to identify and characterize participants’ perspectives about effective science education. As Watts and Stenner point out (2012), Q-methodology is a useful research tool if the opinion of participants matters and the revelation of their viewpoints makes a difference. Its predominantly exploratory character enables patterns of views to emerge from collected data. It cannot prove hypothesis. The revealed series of shared viewpoints enables pointing to some issues connected with the formulated research questions and suggests further steps. The advantage of the method is that it forces participants to make a choice, thus creating the need to prioritize some beliefs over others, which limits reporting bias. Persons with the same beliefs are grouped together in emerging factors. Q methodology provides perspective on how people understand a concept and contextually process decisions (Watts and Stenner, 2012). The final distributions represent functional decisions, not just opinions of factors (van Exel and de Graaf, 2005). When using questionnaires, commonly used in this kind of research (Hermans et al., 2008), teachers tend to view themselves in a positive light and rank more highly what might be expected as a positive result. With Q methodology, such an approach is more unlikely because teachers rank beliefs relative to one another as opposites being unaware of that construct (Stephenson, 1980).

Q-methodology is a semi-qualitative methodology developed as an adaptation of factor analysis (Watts and Stenner, 2012). Though the data collected are quantitatively analysed, their interpretation is extensively qualitative (Ramlo and Newman, 2011). At the beginning, so called concourse, heterogeneous group of beliefs, is created. The representative set of statements is developed (Q-set) and it is sorted (Q-sorting) by participants (P-set). Collected data are analysed by creating a correlation matrix for factor analysis. Finally, the emerged factors are interpreted.

Participants (P-set)

P-set consisted of 69 preservice chemistry teachers (65 women and four men reflecting prevailing representation of women in education in Slovakia) from all over the country doing their bachelor's (BA) and master's (MA) studies at the same university (Table 1). Students take various compulsory courses in educational subject areas during their studies (in addition to chemistry courses). More courses connected with education are required as students progress through the programme (Table 2). Students have to complete the master's program to become chemistry teachers.
Table 1 Distribution of P-set
University year N
BA – bachelor's, MA – master's.
1 BA 14
2 BA 16
3 BA 12
1 MA 13
2 MA 14

Table 2 Compulsory subjects in educational areas for preservice chemistry teachers
Year of studies Subjects taken in educational area
1 BA Somatic development of children
Information and communications technology (ICT) in education
History of institutional education
School politics
2 BA General and developmental psychology
Theory of education (general didactics)
3 BA School visits – observations (general)
1 MA Theory of chemistry education
Teaching and observing praxis
Methodology of pedagogical research
2 MA Theory of chemistry education
Teaching and observing praxis

Pedagogical preparation of preservice teachers incorporates strategies aimed at promoting professional learning. We implement the following strategies into the programme: (a) a focus on preservice teachers’ initial knowledge, beliefs, and concerns, (b) opportunities for preservice teachers to experiment in their practice via seminars, microteaching, and with students in chemistry classes, (c) collegial co-operation, evaluation, or exchange of suggestions and opinions among in preservice teachers, and (d) analysis of observed chemistry lessons with a teacher coach and a lecturer from the university as suggested by van Driel (2014) of student teaching they have been observed doing.

The sample of respondents in Q-methodology does not need to be large or representative of the population, but it has to be diverse and strategic. These characteristics are represented by the various years and field of the participants’ studies. In Q-methodology, the whole person with his/her complex views, not only particular characteristics, is taken into consideration when analysing the data. It intends to identify subjectivities and main viewpoints favoured by a particular group in the studied area, but not necessarily to find out how those subjectivities are distributed across the population. On the contrary, if the P-set is too large (over 70), factors which occur would contain too many people. As a consequence, important detailed characteristics and viewpoints can be lost (Brown et al., 1999; Watts and Stenner, 2012; Zabala, 2014).

The study was performed in compliance with University's policy on ethics. All participants signed a consent letter prior to completing the Q sort or filling out the questionnaire. All data were used in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).


Participants’ perspectives are collected by having them rank and sort a series of statements (Q-set). Statements represent the full range of views regarding the topic of interest. First, so-called concourses were created by collecting a range of representative views and ideas from the literature, various responses from interviews with preservice teachers and in-service teachers, consultations with experts, and participant observations. These collections of common knowledge statements were further categorized through repeated reading and the most eloquent statements were then selected. The process met the demands placed on content, face, and Q-sorting validity in Q methodology (Miles et al., 2014). Formulated statements cover the whole spectrum of possible opinions and attitudes of participants with which they can agree, disagree or feel neutral about. To assess the content validity of statements, we reviewed the literature on inquiry-based, constructivist and transmissive approach to science teaching. The statements were also based on our experience and familiarity with pedagogical reality, interviews with teachers and CPD trainings for teachers. With respect to face validity, the statements were assessed by three experts from the field of the methodology and theory of science education. The Q-sorting validity and reliability was tested and retested after a month with four preservice teachers and four in-service teachers (Kotul'áková, 2019).

The Q-set, consisting of 51 statements covering four areas, was developed to elicit chemistry preservice teachers’ subjective points of view. The set contained constructivist inductive (No. 1–25) and transmissive deductive (No. 26–50) statements about science education (Fig. 1) (Kotul'áková, 2019).

image file: c9rp00190e-f1.tif
Fig. 1 Areas of Q statements.

Statement 51 expressed the importance of money as an external factor. It might be considered to be a factor influencing possibility to reach the goals of science education through availability of various sources of information, equipment for doing inquiry or mere hands on activities, etc. (Ginns and Watters, 1999).

The statements and questions in the questionnaire were presented to participants in their first language (Slovak) and translated to English for publishing purposes. A translator, an interpreter, translated them into English. The translation was checked by English native speaker and discussed among translators and the researcher.

Procedure and data collection

Participants were asked to rank all 51 statements in a fixed distribution (continuum scale, Q grid) based on their viewpoints from strongly agree (e.g. +5) to strongly disagree (e.g. −5). Participants were forced to assign only a certain number of statements to each ranking position in order to stress their views and convictions (Table 3). A decreasing number of statements was assigned towards both ends of the scale with most statements placed in the middle of the scale expressing neutrality (value 0). So-called “forced distribution” shows strongly preferred and strongly rejected views of preservice teachers about science education. It also indicates what statements were less or not important at all to the participants (Brown, 1980).
Table 3 Q-sorting distribution
  Value of the statement  
Maximum disagreement −5 −4 −3 −2 −1 0 1 2 3 4 5 Maximum agreement
  1 2 3 5 8 13 8 5 3 2 1  
Number of statements assigned to ranking position

Supporting information from participants was gathered via a questionnaire after sorting the statements. Preservice teachers were asked (a) if they had any comments especially about the statements to which they assigned extreme values, (b) if there were any additional statements they would include in their own Q-set, (c) why they chose to study chemistry education, (d) what their primary and secondary school chemistry teachers were like offering them some descriptions and options, (d) if they think their views and convictions about teaching and learning science had changed since they started studying chemistry education, and (e) if they wanted to teach as chemistry teaching was the second choice for many of them and only 48% of 2018 graduates work in the field they had studied (in Slovakia) (see Appendix 1 Factor matrix with indicating sorts and interview results, Trendyprace, 2019). Those answers later helped with the interpretation of the sorting of each emerged factor (Watts and Stenner, 2012).

Data analysis

The analytical process in Q-methodology employs the correlation of the respondents in order to elucidate the relationships between them. The data then undergo factor analysis. The final result represents a set of sorted statements (Factors) and summarize the perspectives existing among the respondents. Participants with similar rankings of statements load significantly on the factor. Final distribution represents functional decision, not just opinions, and enables analysis of the holistic picture of the sorting (van Exel and de Graaf, 2005; Watts and Stenner, 2012; Zabala, 2014).

The arrays of scores for all the statements sorted by respondents, called Q-sorts, were analysed using PQMethod, a statistical program fulfilling the requirements of Q methodology (Schmolck and Atkinson, 1997). A correlation matrix was developed to determine inter-correlations of each sort with the other sorts. It provides a measure of the nature and extent of the relationship between any two Q sorts and hence a measure of their similarity or otherwise (Watts and Stenner, 2012).

PQMethod produced seven unrotated factors, clusters of participants with similar sorts, which were examined. The eigenvalues of all unrotated factors were greater than 1.0. To determine the strength of each factor, the emergent factors were rotated through the varimax rotation (Watts and Stenner, 2012). First three factors were chosen for rotation because of their high eigenvalues, correlation and support of consensus statements. This rotation increased the saturation of data by altering the vantage point of the researcher (McKeown and Thomas, 2013). The varimax rotation provides each sort a correlation score for each factor. In Q factor analysis persons or, more generally, sorts load on factors and statements have scores on factors.

Factor analysis was completed to explain the relationships between each sort. It provides the opportunity to view participants as groups of individuals who sorted the cards in a similar manner (Watts and Stenner, 2012).

The second part of the analysis consists of flagging the Q-sorts that will define each factor, calculating the scores of statements for each factor (Z-scores), and finding the distinguishing and consensus statements. Automatic flagging, which we used, is based on two criteria: that the loading is significantly high, and that the square loading for a factor is higher than the sum of the square loadings for all other factors, i.e. eigenvalues (Brown, 1980). The flagged sorts are aggregated into one statement scores. As PQMethod manual states (2014), “the exact computational procedure consists in first z-standardizing every sort, and then applying different weights for every sort depending on the sort's factor loading, and computing the weighted average. Finally, every factor score is z-standardized again, i.e. every factor score has the same mean (0) and standard deviation (1), and hence scores are directly comparable across factors.” The Z-score (Z) of statements shows the extent and direction to which the statement deviates from the distribution mean (0).

The selection of factors for interpretation was based on standard requirements: eigenvalues exceeding 1.00, at least two Q sorts that loaded significantly upon it alone, and distinguishing statements in the factor. A distinguishing statement on the factor is a statement which was ranked by a respondent significantly different from where all the participants who loaded on other factors placed it. The significance of these statements for the factor is p < 0.01. When none of the differences between any pair of factors is significant, then the statement is considered a consensus statement (Watts and Stenner, 2012). Q sort values (Q-SV) are based on the rank ordering of statements factor Z-scores which range from −5 to +5.


The analysis found preservice teachers tended towards three types of subjectivity concerning the teaching of science: 33 participants stressed the importance of active students doing inquiry and were grouped in Factor 1, 15 participants grouped in Factor 2 consider as important learning facts and laws by exploring them, and 11 participants in Factor 3 agreed that knowledge is simply transferred (see Appendix 1 Factor matrix with indicating sorts and interview results). The person with the highest factor weight in each factor was used as a prototype, representing typical and ideal distribution of statements for any particular factor.

Factor 1 explained 23% of the variance, Factor 2 explained 13% of the variance, and Factor 3 explained 11% of the variance (42% explained variance by all three factors) (Table 4). The characteristics of prospective science teachers about teaching science were analysed based on the placement of extreme and neutral distinguishing statements (Q-SV = +5, +4, 0, −4, −5 or even +3 and −3) belonging to the particular factor (p < 0.01). Statements with extreme placements “Q-SV = +5” and “Q-SV = −5” were taken into consideration for analysis even if they were not distinguishing ones. Statements with Q-SV = 0 indicate indifference and neutrality. However, the ranking of these statements has to be interpreted in the context of all other statements and their ranks. We searched for connections among all those statements.

Table 4 Factor characteristics
  Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3
Eigenvalue 15.87 8.97 4.14
Variance (%) 23 13 6
Cumulative percentage (%) 23 36 42
Average rel. coefficient 0.80 0.80 0.80
Composite reliability 0.99 0.98 0.98
S.E. of factor Z-scores 0.09 0.13 0.15

Factor 1 showed the biggest gap between Z-scores of inductive and deductive statements in favour of inductive statements as did Factor 2 but with a smaller gap. In Factor 3, the average Z-score for inductive statements was a negative digit while its value for deductive statements was positive (Table 5).

Table 5 Average Z-score for constructivist and transmissive statements in identified factors
  Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3
Z-Score of constructivist statements 0.79 0.30 −0.11
Z-Score of transmissive statements −0.76 −0.27 0.14
Difference 1.55 0.57 0.25

Factor 1: active students doing inquiry

Thirty-three preservice teachers loaded on Factor 1 from which twenty were master's students (see Appendix 1 Factor matrix with indicating sorts and interview results). They assigned the highest and the lowest score to the statements from the content versus process domain concentrating on the process of how students learn. The greatest agreement was on the statement that knowledge gained from doing inquiry is more stable than that learnt from different sources (No. 3, Q-SV = +5, Z = 2.43). They expressed that students can think hypothetically and can do inquiry (No. 44, Q-SV= −5, Z = −2.10, not a distinguishing statement for Factor 1). They also assigned rather high importance to the statement that the systematic exploration of the surrounding world can be applied at any age when done in an appropriate way (No. 7, Q-SV = +3, Z = 1.15).

Distinguishing agreeable statements stressed the importance of student discussion, finding and presenting evidence, and formulating meaningful and relevant questions about studied phenomena (No. 14 and 19, Q-SV = 4, Z = 1.81 and 1.31 respectively, and also No. 13, Q-SV = 3, Z = 1.28). This collection of positive statements expresses the importance of the development of knowledge by their potential students. In this context, we need to look at the statements to which participants loading on Factor 1 assigned the neutral position (Q-SV = 0). The final outcome of learning seems to be correctly-understood basic science knowledge needed for further study (No. 43, Z = 0.26) which can also be reached by direct teacher help (No. 50 and 27, Z = 0.09 and −0.05, respectively) and the use of various sources of information (No. 10, Z = 0.20). The common acceptable practice also provides enough examples which illustrate the studied phenomena (No. 35, Z = 0.43). They accept their roles as examples for their potential students of how to think and inquire (No. 20, Z = −0.09) by preparing suitable learning situations and presenting new information which obliges students to re-evaluate their understanding and opinion about the surrounding world (No. 22, Z = 0.23). They reject the teacher's role as providers of correct and exact knowledge for their students so they would not need to change it anymore (No. 29, Q-SV = −3, Z = −1.58). They agree with the idea that students develop a concept gradually, meaning incorrect conclusions at a certain stage of its development are possible and a normal part of the process (No. 25, Q-SV = 0, Z = 0.13). The neutral position was also assigned to the external factor of money which could raise the level of science education (No. 51, Z = −0.17) (see Appendix 2 distinguishing statements for Factor 1 expressed by Q sorts and Z score values).

Preservice teachers loading on Factor 1 stressed the importance of concentrating on the way students learn (the highest Z-scores are from area 1 constructivist statements) as a goal of science instruction. They are not sure what they need to focus on in order to modify pupils’ knowledge (distinguishing statements from area 2 have neutral Z-scores). However, they understand that it is good if students keep asking questions about studied phenomena (high Q-scores of constructivist statements from area 2 and 3). They see knowledge as something dynamic and tested by discussion (distinguishing constructivist statements from area 3). Perspective teachers did not specify their role in the teaching process but they oppose the statement that they should provide correct and exact knowledge for their students (distinguishing transmissive statement from area 4 Q-SV = −3).

Participant No. 26, a second-year master's student, had the highest factor weight and was selected as a prototype for Factor 1 (see Appendix 3 Factor 1 prototype sorting). This is a student who has been interested in chemistry since primary school and her academic results are outstanding (primarily A's and B's). She considers chemistry studies to be demanding but manageable. She sees subjects connected with the theory of education as even more difficult but manages them as well. She described her chemistry teachers at primary and secondary school as fun and strict. Participants loading on Factor 1 described fun teachers as active, using various methods, or interesting activities (videos, demonstrations, worksheets, etc.). Strict teachers were characterized as systematic, demanding, and traditional (explanation, taking notes, working with textbooks, exams, etc.). Participant No. 26 (the prototype) claimed that her opinion about teaching science has changed. She sees much potential in an inquiry-based approach to teaching science (despite not experiencing it herself as a student in primary or secondary school) and would like to use it when she starts teaching.

Factor 2: importance of learning facts and laws by exploring them

Fifteen preservice teachers loaded on Factor 2 (see Appendix 1 Factor matrix with indicating sorts and interview results). Five participants were in their master's studies, and seven in their second and third year of bachelor's studies. They stressed the importance of learning facts and laws in science (No. 47, Q-SV = +5, Z = 1.97) and disagreed that it could be done only by observing teachers and studying textbooks (No. 48, Q-SV = −5, Z = −2.19, not a distinguishing statement for Factor 2). They acknowledged that knowledge gained from doing inquiry-based activities is more stable than learnt from different (secondary) sources (No. 3, Q-SV = +4, Z = 1.77) and that students should have the opportunity to verify the correctness or validity of the studied scientific laws, various natural phenomena, or their own ideas about the surrounding world through a variety of information sources (No. 12, Q-SV = +4, Z = 1.74), not only using textbooks or counting on the teacher (No. 49, Q-SV = −3, Z = −1.69). This also stresses the importance of the process of learning. On the other hand, participants loading on Factor 2 see the potential for learning when the teacher provides enough examples which illustrate the studied phenomenon (No. 35, Q-SV = +3, Z = 1.32). However, they believe in students and their ability to present arguments and discuss (No. 36, Q-SV = −4, Z = −2.08).

Participants grouped in Factor 2 consider as a matter of course that students start learning when they find out that they lack an explanation or understanding after which they create the knowledge by inquiring about phenomenon (No. 4 and 1, Q-SV = 0, Z = −0.01 and −0.14, respectively). An essential part of that should be the development of science process skills (No. 8, Q-SV = 0, Z = 0.16). Participants seem neutral about discovering students’ misconceptions as a good source for a teacher to learn about the reason leading to it (No. 24, Q-SV = 0, Z = 0.30). Their task as teachers would be to prepare learning situations, present or just mediate new information. This obliges students to re-evaluate their understanding and opinions about the surrounding world (No. 22 and 26, Q-SV = 0, Z = -0.21 and 0.03, respectively) (see Appendix 2 Distinguishing statements for Factor 2 expressed by Q sorts and Z score values).

Preservice teachers who loaded on Factor 2 stress importance of facts and laws as goals in science education (distinguishing statement in area 1 with the highest Q-SV = +5) which are learnt through inquiry-based activities (distinguishing constructivist statement with Q-SV = +4). They consider development of science process skills important (distinguishing constructivist statement with Q-SV = +4). However, they think that the main goal, learning unchangeable facts and laws, can be reached when a teacher provides enough examples which illustrate the studied phenomena (distinguishing transmissive statement with Q-SV = +3). Perspective teachers believe in students’ ability to present arguments in discussions (distinguishing transmissive statement with Q-SV = −4) but as the context suggests, arguments and evidence eventually have to lead to expected knowledge. Factor 2 preservice chemistry teachers did not specify their role as teachers in chemistry (science) education.

Participant No. 41, a second-year bachelor's student, had the highest factor weight and was selected as the prototype for Factor 2 (see Appendix 3 Factor 2 prototype sorting). He is interested in both chemistry and teaching. He is a good student with a C average who considers subjects connected with theory of education more difficult with its need to be memorized in contrast to chemistry which needs to be understood. His teacher at primary school was traditional and strict. He provided some basic knowledge but did not make any special impression. His secondary school teacher was more innovative and there was much more fun with her despite the fact that she was always rather strict. She listened to her students, tried to involve her students, and used various sources (internet, textbook, etc.). Participant No. 41 stated that when his teacher found out they did not understand, she explained everything step-by-step. The majority of participants loading on Factor 2 stated that their former chemistry teachers were mostly traditional. Traditional in the context represented explanation, taking notes, working with textbook, and taking exams.

Participant No. 41 does not think that his view of teaching has somehow changed, and he wants to teach because there are not enough chemistry teachers and even fewer good ones. Older participants loading on Factor 2 mentioned that they realized that chemistry can be much more interesting than it was for them at primary or secondary school. They want to make it interesting and fun for their potential students by involving them in the process.

Factor 3: knowledge is transferred

Eleven preservice teachers in bachelor's studies loaded on Factor 3 (see Appendix 1 Factor matrix with indicating sorts and interview results). Eight of them were in their first year. They stressed most that students learn the best from the explanation provided by a teacher and from opportunities to practice what they have learnt by doing appropriate exercises (No. 37, Q-SV = +5, Z = 2.53). They rejected the idea that students would create their own understanding of studied phenomena by doing inquiry (No. 1, Q-SV = −4, Z = −1.75). They believe that students learn when a teacher provides enough examples which illustrate the studied phenomena (No. 35, Q-SV = +4, Z = 1.97), not by identifying the unknown or lack of explanation (No. 5, Q-SV = −3, Z = −1.18). They do not see the teachers’ task as preparing learning situations and presenting new information which would oblige students to re-evaluate their understanding of studied phenomenon (No. 22, Q-SV = −3, Z = −1.20). On the other hand, they refuse to acknowledge teachers as providers of correct and exact knowledge for students so they would not have to change it (No. 29, Q-SV = −5, Z = −2.35). They consider students’ mistakes as important indicators for a teacher because mistake show him/her how students think about a studied issue (No. 23, Q-SV = +4, Z = 1.74). This identification is important as they need to be corrected immediately and do not persist (No. 28, Q-SV = +3, Z = 1.54). Participants in Factor 3 seem to consider it common practice for teachers to tell students what to do and what they need to know, and for students to not only use textbooks and listen to the teacher (No. 31 and 49, Q-SV = 0, Z = 0.20 and 0.15, respectively) but to also search for evidence and use it in argumentation with classmates (No. 15, Q-SV = 0, Z = −0.31). The idea that students would be able to use arguments in discussions with their classmates seems to be unclear as participants think it should be common practice (No. 18, Q-SV = 0, Z = 0.01), yet still believe students are not able to do it (No. 36, Q-SV = 0, Z = −0.24). Preservice students also believe that systematically exploring the surrounding world as a way to learn at any age is the same as any other kind of activity in science class (No. 7, Q-SV = 0, Z = −0.30) (see Appendix 2 Distinguishing statements for Factor 3 expressed by Q sorts and Z score values).

Preservice chemistry teachers who loaded on Factor 3 stress the importance of the content in science education (distinguishing transmissive statements from area 1 with positive Q-SV and constructivist statements with negative Q-SV). They do not specify what should be modified or focused on in students’ learning. These participants comprehend knowledge as stable and unchaining and as such it needs to be presented to their potential students (distinguishing transmissive statements from area 3 with the highest Q-SV = +5 and +4). They stress their important role as correctors of students’ mistakes (distinguishing transmissive statements from area 4 with positive Q-SV and constructivist statements with negative Q-SV).

Participant No. 59, a first-year bachelor's student, had the highest factor weight and was selected as a prototype for Factor 3 (see Appendix 3 Factor 3 prototype sorting). She is “fascinated” by chemistry, having very good marks (mostly A's). She said she had met only very good chemistry teachers at primary and secondary school. According to her, they were strict—they maintained order in class with everyone listening to them and respecting them because, despite their strictness, they could explain chemistry very well. Her teachers were also traditional which means they had their traditional ways and rules. Despite her opposing them at first, she realized that they were very effective, and she learned a lot. Fun in chemistry class meant watching interesting videos. Another participant loading on Factor 3 also mentioned an innovative teacher at her secondary school. Innovation in the context meant having a good system of how to teach. Participant No. 59 (the prototype) thinks she would like to teach and that it would be fulfilling for her.

A strong positive correlation was identified between Factor 1 and 2, a moderate positive correlation between Factor 2 and 3, while small correlation was found between Factor 1 and 3 (Table 6). Factor 1 shows strong constructivist beliefs while Factor 3 shows dominant transmissive beliefs. This explains a small correlation between these two factors. Participants loading on Factor 2 hold multidimensional structure of educational beliefs with dominant constructivist visions. This explains stronger correlation with Factor 1 and weaker correlation with Factor 3.

Table 6 Correlation between factors
Factor 1 2 3
1 1.00    
2 0.68 1.00  
3 0.25 0.42 1.00

The statements on which participants in all three factors agreed were in the neutral zone and seem to be acceptable or common techniques in science class (see Appendix 4 Consensus statements among all three factors). They are working with relevant information and discussing studied issues as evidence of correct understanding. In the context of factor descriptions, discussion might be simply answering teachers’ questions.

Discussion and implications

The study aimed to identify groups of preservice chemistry teachers with identical perceptions of science education and to describe those perceptions. We wanted to find out (1) what prospective chemistry teachers consider to be the goal of chemistry (science) education, (2) what should be focused on in students’ learning, (3) how prospective teachers comprehend knowledge, as something unchangeable or continually developing and changing, (4) and what the role of a teacher is in science education. We concentrated on two distinctive views on teaching and learning: constructivist and transmissive educational beliefs.

Q methodology identified three groups of preservice teachers with identical beliefs about science education: (1) active students doing their own inquiry, (2) learning facts and laws by exploring them, and (3) the transfer of knowledge. The interpretation of each perspective is based on the Q-sort reconstructed from the factor scores. The relation of respondents to one of the identified perspectives is determined by its loadings on particular factor. We looked at the relative position of statements within the grid (particularly those at the extremes), the position of a statement in a perspective versus the position of the same statement in other perspectives, and the distinguishing and consensus statements.

Factor 1 participants stressed the importance of how students learn and gain knowledge no matter at what age. This finding is in contrast to their own experience as students at primary or secondary school. They describe their former teachers as traditional and strict (or their characteristics have a negative connotation). The finding contributes to thus far rather inconclusive research about the possible change of educational beliefs among preservice teachers showing a persistence of beliefs (Brookhart and Freeman, 1992; Richardson, 2003), but also their change towards an expected constructivist perspective (Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2006; Krauss et al., 2008; Boz et al., 2019; Voss and Kunter, 2019). Preservice teachers in their progressive stage of teaching preparation discover new approaches to education and implement them into their belief structure. Stressing the importance of discussion, confrontation, and formulating questions among classmates about studied phenomena might be a point illustrating how they comprehend knowledge and how they want to communicate it to their potential students. For these students, knowledge as constantly develops and changes. Such a vision is highlighted by accepting the fact that students do not have to grasp a correct concept immediately. It develops and is elaborated on at various levels and at various stages during their studies. This is not obvious but rather courageous for prospective teachers to acknowledge (Matewos et al., 2019). The described approach also illustrates that they do not see themselves in the centre of the class. Such an approach presents a promising change in science education and the development of scientific literacy (Christodoulou and Osborne, 2014; Rocard et al., 2007). That constructivist shift in perceiving science education might have been encouraged by supplying preservice teachers with sufficient related knowledge and arguments which could be connected with their personal experience in classrooms, social support, pedagogical content knowledge, and a growing familiarity with and confidence in the requested change (Veal, 2004).

These prospective teachers are mostly in their final years of teaching preparation, therefore they have the chance to discuss and solve various teaching situations among their peers, try out various approaches in real classrooms, and then come back and analyse them. Students loading on the Factor 1 had the chance to observe classes, discuss, and analyse what they saw with an expert. Such a programme seems to give a chance to change their conceptions (Strike and Posner, 1992; Voss et al., 2013) as is documented by some of the participants’ comments:

Chemistry can be taught differently than we were taught. Students’ own attitudes and experience are more than just theory” (Participant 15).

I saw that we can teach differently and more effectively. It requires much more preparation from a teacher, but it is worth it” (Participant 18).

Students need to think more, and it is more difficult that way” (Participant 20).

I realized that chemistry cannot be taught only about chemistry” (Participant 22).

My concept of teaching has changed. I realized at school that students do not understand a lot about chemistry. We need to teach differently. Students need to experience things” (Participant 34).

It seems that opportunity for self-reflection also contributes to the change in perceptions of teaching and learning:

There are many methods how to teach chemistry, many experiments. It is not easy to be a chemistry teacher. I had a lot of misconceptions and only ‘memorized’ things without understanding” (Participant 25).

I can imagine much more practical lessons than I had when I was a student” (Participant 34).

Prospective teachers loading on Factor 1 realized that teaching is not only about the explanation and note-taking they experienced back at school:

I consider it very important to develop scientific literacy” (Participant 14).

However, previous personal school experience is not entirely rejected which suggests their thoughtful consideration about what might work: a sufficient number of examples or the teacher's help in the form of an explanation of certain, perhaps complicated, issues. They also stress the importance of motivation:

I would like to show students different methods, not just explanation. I would like to attract them to chemistry by various experiments, etc.” (Participant 12).

Findings indicate that perspective teachers need to have experience with constructivist way of learning in the first place. Courses during their teacher program preparation should create challenging but safe environment for them to “rediscover” chemistry phenomena. Personal experience matters. These courses should offer opportunities to discuss their experience with such learning and subsequently with constructivist way of teaching.

However, described approach requires time and continual opportunities to discuss new situations, hesitations and questions emerging in science classes. Such support especially for novice teachers seems to be important.

Preservice teachers loading on Factor 2 seem to hold a multidimensional structure of educational beliefs as described also by Woolley et al. (2004), Hermans et al. (2008), and many others. Their results suggest that progressive (constructivist) and traditional (transmissive) beliefs can be held at the same time in relation to the goals of primary education, the nature of education and knowledge acquisition. Koballa et al. (2000) states that a preservice teacher holds more than one belief of learning and teaching chemistry, but one seems to be dominant. Prospective teachers in our study stress the importance of learning facts and laws as the goal of science education. However, they believe that cannot be done by mere observation or the study of them. Students need to interact with studied phenomena, and verify and discuss them, making the gained knowledge more stable. The findings could relate to prospective teachers in the Bryan (2003) study. Bryan identified the belief that learning science meant mastery of factual knowledge and knowing the truth. It was represented by a series of steps, correct vocabulary, and definitions. The goal was met if students found the “correct answer” through a series of prepared activities. Koballa et al. (2000) identified such activities, corresponding with our findings, as solving chemical problems where students need to “figure out” something or “look for something”. A chemical problem might be textbook exercises requiring application of some algorithm or inquiry-oriented activities. Another activity serving to gain knowledge was identified as constructing personal understanding. This takes into consideration what learners already know but then constructs new understanding from outside sources. Preservice teachers with such an understanding of learning described it as making revision of chemical understanding to form new knowledge. Science teaching is then comprehended as stimulating students’ thinking in order to learn. That could be done by demonstrations, solving textbook problems, etc. Posing chemical problems might have two purposes: to verify or reinforce understanding and to facilitate the students’ construction of new knowledge. The role of a teacher is perceived as a questioner or/and encourager.

Findings point out to the importance of stressing and experiencing all aspects of scientific literacy during teacher preparation programs – constructing knowledge through inquiry, developing science process skills and attitudes toward science.

Another vision of preservice teachers in Factor 2 applicable here could be when the teacher interacts with students in order for students to be active and motivated. It is important for a teacher to individually know his/her students. The teacher is to provide them with opportunities. Preservice teachers holding these beliefs stated that it is important for a teacher to familiarize themselves with students’ prior knowledge because enhances teachers’ interaction with students and would lead to learning chemistry in a meaningful way for individual students:

Science lessons can be more effective by involving students in the science class through an inductive approach, making them solve problematic tasks, using various tools and materials. It is important for them to find out what will happen and why.” (Participant 24).

We could raise the question about the purpose of students’ involvement if the final goal is an expectation of discovered correct facts, relations, and laws. There is no guarantee of such results when students learn to do their own inquiry. We could again mention Bryan's inference (2003) that such a vision is related to the end result rather than the process of learning. Consequently, the teacher wants to be in control of students’ learning. As mentioned in the study, “a more accurate conception of what it means to have control of learning includes opportunities for learners to monitor, regulate, and reflect on what they understand (or do not understand), how they know, which questions are important to ask, and what information they need”. The hint of such a vision is in the neutral zone of the grid. It presents commonly accepted practice as such as paying attention to students’ misconceptions, their lack of knowledge, and developing certain science process skills. However, a receptive and reproductive vison of teaching and learning can also be found in that area. Bunting (1985) describes this dimension of teachers’ beliefs as cognitive, posing instructions and techniques in order to involve students and keep them active. Samuelowitz and Bain (2001) re-evaluated their previous research (Samuelowicz and Bain, 1992) where they identified three groups of teachers based on their orientation towards teaching and learning. Teachers with “intermediate” orientations towards teaching and learning were described as facilitating learning, teaching-centred teachers as imparting information and transmitting knowledge, and learning-centred as changing students’ conceptions and supporting student learning. In their revised study, intermediate orientation which corresponds with ours, mixed constructivist-transmission beliefs towards teaching and learning are missing. The authors state that providing and facilitating understanding actually describes teaching-centred orientation since the desired learning outcome would be reproductive understanding, the nature of knowledge is externally structured, and the content is controlled by a teacher. We could assume that their characteristics of two orientations match constructivist and transmissive beliefs as described in this paper. A highly valued activity of students ranked by Factor 2 preservice teachers followed after assigning the highest priority to learnt facts and laws, indicating that such activity is supported in order to merely remember better and cover the needed content. Therefore, we assume that Samuelowitz and Bain's distinction (2001) characterizes our Factor 2 preservice teachers better.

Koballa et al. (2000) states that teaching as problem-posing may promote either reproductive or constructive learning. Reproductive learning is more likely to be expected if students’ answers and findings are expected to match those in the books or expected by a teacher. Constructive learning is promoted if logical thinking and personal creativity of students is taken into consideration.

Based on language used in answers to open questions, Factor 2 preservice teachers valued system, correctness, order, and “good explanations” in their former chemistry teachers, expressing reservations about lack of student involvement. Such judgement strengthens a transmissive vision which expresses willingness to involve students. Its purpose is not necessarily the development of science process skills. The reason they want to teach chemistry might just stress that vision. It makes chemistry interesting, improves missing knowledge, and shows it to be an interesting subject.

Prospective teachers loading on Factor 2 were from all levels of pedagogical studies, with only two first-year participants. During the progressed phase of teacher training which focuses on their conceptual change concerning teaching and learning some researchers point out that belief in receptive learning declines while process orientation increases (Felbrich and Müller, 2007; Schmeisser et al., 2013). Voss et al. (2013) stress that support of a constructivist approach must be accompanied by a reduction in transmissive visions. Mixed conceptions of teaching and learning as constructive and transmissive owned by preservice teachers can be explained by exposure to methods of teaching, predominantly lecturing, and ideas of constructivism in the context of their university studies. They did not experience it in their own personal learning or as a teaching strategy (Koballa et al., 2000). Exposing preservice teachers to an environment where they can discuss and experience how science works (the nature of science and their own inquiry), construct knowledge solely based on obtained data and collaboration might bring the expected experience, confrontation, and potential change in approaches to teaching (Crawford et al., 2005). Such approach focuses on the process of learning rather than results. Another suggestion which seems to work is involving preservice students in science teaching, helping them to confront or develop procedural and practical knowledge (Richardson, 2003).

The vast majority of preservice teachers loading on Factor 3 were in their first year of chemistry teaching study. All but one characterized at least one of their chemistry teachers as traditional, having either a positive or negative connotation. Such a characterisation is not exclusive to participants grouped in Factor 3. It is actually the common feature for all the participants. However, these prospective teachers suggested using methods in their prospective teaching as those they had experienced in their former chemistry classes—explanation, examples, demonstrations, and doing exercises, all under the teacher's supervision. They expressed dominant transmissive beliefs about science education, rejecting the idea that students might be able to construct their own understanding without direct teacher's intervention. This vison corresponds with findings summarised by Wideen et al. (1998) who state that young people enter pedagogical studies with dominant transmissive and teacher-centred beliefs. Voss et al. (2013) state that teachers with transmissive orientation have lower values of constructivist visions and vice versa. Koballa et al. (2000) identified one prospective teachers’ conception of learning as gaining knowledge from credible sources which are represented by a teacher, book, film, or computer. This conception presents chemistry knowledge as an additive quantity. Preservice teachers who held these beliefs were not sure if learning is an active or passive process. In our study, they described learning as working and adapting introduced knowledge through various exercises. They rejected the idea that the teacher would present the knowledge in a form that would not need any more elaboration. We assume that student activity in chemistry class is perceived as such.

Participants loading on Factor 3 seem to be sensitive to students’ mistakes as they are considered to be important indicators for teachers of how students think about a studied issue. They again suggest a purely transmissive solution—an explanation given by the teacher—in order to eliminate that mistake.

The role of the teacher as a guarantee of correctness seems to be important and natural here. Koballa et al. (2000) identified one of the prospective teachers’ conceptions of teaching as chemical knowledge transformation from teacher to students by telling. An important aspect of this belief is that it guarantees the correctness of information. Teaching chemistry as transfer of knowledge is likely to expect and support learning that is reproductive. Beliefs expressed by preservice teachers in Factor 3 could belong to a so-called directive dimension expressing a traditional approach to education as described by Bunting (1985). The teacher is the decision-maker in the classroom who needs to help students as they lack skills and abilities to proceed more independently.

The role of the course instructors in teacher preparation programs seems to be strategic here. Their instructions and reactions to preservice students‘ actions, questions, mistakes, etc. might have an important influence which could lead to the potential change of transmissive vision or, on the contrary, to its confirmation. Their task is to provide new experience.

The vast majority of preservice teachers grouped in Factor 3 want to teach chemistry. The vocabulary used in answers of open-ended questions suggests that they do not even consider any other methods of teaching other than finding the correct language to explain the topic to students at any particular level:

I do not think that the quality of a good teacher is about how much he/she knows but in his/her ability to get on students’ level. Besides the knowledge we learn, we should also learn how to explain it to students” (Participant 67).

I want to teach. I want to transfer my knowledge to others” (Participant 5).

These preservice teachers do not know what abilities students really have and what they can do (which is expressed by the contradictory statement in the neutral area). This illustrates their unfamiliarity with pedagogical content knowledge.

Q methodology results are not considered to be effective for generalization purposes. A small number of participants, purposeful sampling, and a small site selection restricts the results to being applicable only for identical situations. In order to determine if the findings are relevant to other environments, further research must be completed. Possible limitation could be the predetermination of the statements which may limit the number of accounts available to respondents (Militello and Benham, 2010).

Respondents in the study were preservice chemistry teachers from one university in Slovakia. The sample did not include students from other teacher preparing institutions. However, the sample represented rather heterogeneous and diverse group of beliefs which is important in the Q study. Also, we could monitor the effect of one teacher preparation program on potential change of beliefs.

Preservice teachers in Slovakia have very limited or no experience with constructivist learning and inquiry from lower levels of schooling. This limitation makes the sample rather specific. Conclusions and implications of the study are based on this situation.


This study showed the spectrum of beliefs held by preservice teachers at various stages of their teaching preparation. Knowing these are important for effective instruction because some might hinder the implementation of curricula requirements which focus on the development of particular inquiry skills, using evidence and strategies in various contexts and processes rather than learning facts and laws. Unless preservice teachers’ beliefs are exposed and confronted, and unless support is provided in the form of theoretical and practical instruction, it is unlikely there will be any shift in teachers practice towards constructivist beliefs and the development of scientific literacy.

We identified three Factors displaying three sets of beliefs about the goal of science education, issues to be modified in teaching, the nature of knowledge, and the role of a teacher in the whole process. Factor 1 preservice teachers, predominantly in the second part of their teaching studies, perceived science education as the process of students actively doing their own inquiry. This was despite their own experience as students with predominantly transmissive teaching. They exhibited constructivist beliefs which are most likely able to fulfil goals expressed in curricula. Factor 2 preservice teachers hold more transmissive beliefs as, according to them, the most important goal in science education is to learn facts and laws, and to do so by exploring them. The feature to build on is their conviction that students have to be involved and active which, although not the only the way to acquire knowledge, is perhaps more importantly the goal in science education today. Preservice teachers in the initial years of their teaching studies loaded on Factor 3 and held predominantly transmissive beliefs, believing that education is the mere transfer of knowledge from the source to learners. The process of confronting those beliefs, challenging them, providing multiple learning opportunities for potential teachers to become aware of them, and becoming familiar with new challenges that today's society brings makes us believe that this could be the key to the gradual revision and changing of those beliefs.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest to declare.

Appendix 1

Factor matrix with indicating sorts and interview results

Factor No. of participant Factor weight Sex UNI year1 Reason for studying chemistry What were your chemistry teachers like? Any change of view about teaching? Do you want to teach?
1BA – bachelor's studies, MA – master's studies, number indicates the year of studies; Interest in Ch – interest in chemistry, Interest in S – interest in science, Interest in T – interest in teaching, Interest in I – interest in inquiry, Te – a good chemistry teacher, Compensation – not first choice of study; Fun – fun teacher, S – strict teacher, T – traditional teacher, In – innovative teacher, “?” – I do not remember, I do not know, Other – 1no authority, 2kind, 3doing other things besides chemistry, 4passionate about chemistry, 5moody, 6individual approach, 7boring, 8not an expert, 9indifferent, positive (+) or negative (−) connotation, “/” – divides characteristics of primary and secondary school teacher.
Factor 1 (n = 33) 26 0.85 F MA2 Interest in Ch Fun, S/Fun, S Yes Yes
23 0.80 F MA2 Interest in T T, S/T Yes Yes
28 0.77 F MA2 Interest in Ch/Te T, Fun/T Yes Yes
42 0.77 F BA2 Interest in T T, Other1 (−)/T, S, Other2 (+) Yes ?
27 0.77 F MA2 Interest in Ch/Te T, S/T Yes Yes
50 0.73 F BA2 Interest in Ch T/T ? ?
21 0.73 F MA1 Need for change T (−)/Other3 (−) Yes ?
52 0.71 F BA2 Interest in Ch T/T ? ?
34 0.71 F MA2 Interest in I/S/T In (−), Fun/T, S, Other4 (+) Yes Yes
20 0.67 F MA1 Interest in Ch T (−)/Fun (+) Yes No
15 0.67 F MA1 Compensation T, S/S, Other5 (−) Yes No
22 0.66 F MA1 Interest in Ch/T T/T Yes Yes
33 0.66 M MA2 Interest in S Fun/T, S Yes ?
14 0.64 F MA1 Interest in S T, S (−)/T (−) Yes Yes
36 0.63 F MA2 Compensation T, S/T (+), Fun, S (−) Yes Yes
29 0.62 F MA2 Interest in S T (−)/T (−) Yes Yes
48 0.62 F BA2 Interest in Ch T/T ? ?
18 0.61 F MA1 Compensation T (+)/S Yes Yes
25 0.61 F MA2 Interest in Ch/T T (+,−), S/T (+,−), S Yes Yes
39 0.60 F BA3 Interest in Ch T/T Yes Yes
4 0.60 F BA3 Interest in Ch In (+), Fun/T Yes ?
43 0.59 F BA2 Interest in Ch T/T ? ?
10 0.59 F MA1 Compensation ?/T (−), S (−) No No
46 0.58 F BA2 Interest in Ch ?/T ? ?
8 0.58 F BA3 Interest in Ch ?/T ? ?
19 0,57 F MA1 Interest in Ch/T T/T, S, Other4 Yes Yes
12 0.56 F MA1 Interest in Ch/T/Te T/In (+) No Yes
30 0.54 F MA2 Interest in Ch S (−,+)/Fun Yes Yes
9 0.53 F BA3 Interest in Ch T, S/T ? ?
40 0.46 F BA2 Interest in Ch/T Fun/Other6 Yes Yes
44 0.40 F BA2 Interest in Ch T/T ? ?
13 0.44 F MA1 Interest in Ch S/T Yes Yes
60 0.36 M BA1 Compensation T/Fun Yes Yes
Factor 2 (n = 15) 41 0.71 M BA2 Interest in Ch/T T, S/In (+), Fun, S Not really Yes
3 0.69 F BA3 Interest in Ch T/T, S (−) Yes Yes
54 0.63 F BA2 Interest in Ch T/T ? ?
47 0.62 F BA2 Interest in Ch ?/T ? ?
64 0.62 F BA1 Interest in Ch Other7/Other8 No ?
32 0.57 F MA2 Interest in Ch/Te T (−)/S, T (+) Yes Yes
35 0.54 F MA2 Interest in Ch S (+)/S (+) ? Yes
16 0.53 F MA1 Compensation/Interest in T T/T, Other9 Yes Yes
58 0.51 F BA1 Interest in Ch ?/T No Yes
37 0.49 F BA3 Interest in Ch/Te T, S/T, S Yes Yes
24 0.48 F MA2 Compensation/Interest in Ch/T T (−)/T Yes Yes
1 0.46 F BA3 Interest in Ch ?/T (−) Not really Yes
17 0.46 M MA1 Interest in S T/T Yes Yes
38 0.43 F BA3 Interest in Ch T, Fun, S/In, Fun, S Yes Yes
65 0.43 F BA1 Interest in Ch S (+)/T Yes ?
Factor 3 (n = 11) 59 0.60 F BA1 Interest in Ch/Te Fun, S (+)/T (+), S (+) Yes Yes
61 0.58 F BA1 Interest in Ch T (−)/In, Fun, S Yes Yes
63 0.52 F BA1 Interest in Ch T/T ? ?
56 0.51 F BA1 Compensation T (−)/S (−) Yes ?
5 0.48 F BA3 Interest in Ch T (−)/S Yes Yes
67 0.44 F BA1 Interest in Ch T, Fun/S Yes Yes
49 0.37 F BA2 Interest in Ch ?/T ? ?
69 0.37 F BA1 Interest in S Fun, S/In, S No ?
57 0.36 F BA1 Interest in Ch T, In/S No Yes
68 0.35 F BA1 Interest in Ch T/S No ?
53 0.33 F BA2 Interest in Ch ?/T ? ?

Appendix 2

Distinguishing statements for Factor 1 expressed by Q sort values and Z score values

Q statement1 Q score Z score
1 Statements with Z-score above ±1.00 and statements with Q-SV = 0, p < 0.01.
3. Knowledge gained from doing inquiry-based activities is more stable than that learnt from different (secondary) sources. 5 2.43
14. Students learn best when they can discuss the issues studied, and when they present evidence and continue to ask each other questions. 4 1.81
19. It is important that students ask meaningful and relevant questions about studied phenomena. 4 1.31
13. It is good if students keep asking questions about studied phenomena. 3 1.28
7. The systematic exploration of the surrounding world can be applied at any age when done in an appropriate way. 3 1.15
23. Mistakes are important indicators for a teacher. They show how a student thinks about the issues studied. 2 1.04
12. Students should have an opportunity to verify the correctness or validity of the studied scientific laws, various natural phenomena, or their own ideas about the surrounding world through a variety of information sources (their own research, an encyclopaedia, the Internet, discussions with experts). 2 1.03
35. Knowledge of science develops when a teacher provides enough examples which illustrate the studied phenomena. 0 0.43
43. The students need basic scientific knowledge for their further study. 0 0.26
22. Teachers should prepare learning situations and present new information which obliges students to re-evaluate their understanding and opinions about the surrounding world. 0 0.23
10. One of the important goals in science education is to teach pupils to work with various sources of information. 0 0.20
25. The teacher can accept a pupil's incorrect concept (misconception, preconception) of science at a certain stage of the concept's development. 0 0.13
50. Scientific phenomena are complicated and, therefore, have to be explained well. 0 0.09
27. If a teacher finds out that a pupil does not understand the concept correctly, the teacher should explain it to him/her. 0 −0.05
20. The teacher is an example for the students of how to think and inquire about the studied phenomena. 0 −0.09
51. The quality of science education depends on money. 0 −0.17
30. The teacher's task is to provide non-contradicting facts. −2 −1.08
40. Students cannot select relevant information from various sources and, therefore, it is better to use textbooks and other recommended material. −2 −1.14
49. Students cannot learn science without a teacher and a textbook. −2 −1.26
29. The teacher's task is to provide correct and exact knowledge for students so they will not have to change it anymore. −3 −1.58

Distinguishing statements for Factor 2 expressed by Q sort values and Z score values

Q statement1 Q score Z score
1Statements with Z-score above ±1.00 and statements with Q-SV = 0, p < 0.01
47. In science, it is important to learn facts and laws. 5 1.95
3. Knowledge gained from doing inquiry-based activities is more stable than that learnt from different (secondary) sources. 4 1.77
12. The students should have an opportunity to verify the correctness or validity of the studied scientific laws, various natural phenomena, or their own ideas about the surrounding world through a variety of information sources (their own research, an encyclopaedia, the Internet, discussions with experts). 4 1.74
35. Knowledge of science develops when a teacher provides enough examples which illustrate the studied phenomena. 3 1.32
6. Learning is an active individual process when a student constructs new meaning from what he/she has read, heard or experienced. 2 1.19
27. If a teacher finds out that a pupil does not understand the concept correctly, the teacher should explain it to him/her. 2 1.17
24. If a teacher finds out that a student understands the studied phenomenon incorrectly (discovers misconceptions), he/she should learn about the reason leading to the misconception through the discussion first. 0 0.30
8. It is important to concentrate on the development of science process skills such as inferring, interpreting, concluding, etc. 0 0.16
26. The teacher's role is to mediate information and then presume the correct, though simplified, knowledge of the student about the studied phenomena. 0 0.03
5. Learning starts with identifying the unknown (a student finds out that he/she is lacking some information and/or explanation). 0 −0.01
1. The student creates his/her own understanding of studied phenomena by doing inquiry. 0 −0.14
22. Teachers should prepare learning situations and present new information which obliges students to re-evaluate their understanding and opinions about the surrounding world. 0 −0.21
49. Students cannot learn science without a teacher and a textbook. −3 −1.69
36. Students are not able to present arguments, and therefore they cannot really discuss the material. −4 −2.08

Distinguishing statements for Factor 3 expressed by Q sort values and Z score values

Q statement1 Q score Z score
1Statements with Z-score above ±1.00 and statements with Q-SV = 0, p < 0.01.
37. Students learn most from the explanation provided by a teacher and from opportunities to practice what they have learnt (by doing appropriate exercises). 5 2.53
35. Knowledge of science develops when a teacher provides enough examples which illustrate the studied phenomena. 4 1.97
23. Mistakes are important indicators for a teacher. They show how a student thinks about the issues studied. 4 1.74
28. A student's mistakes (preconceptions) need to be identified and corrected immediately, for instance by a clear explanation, so that they do not persist. 3 1.54
31. Teaching is effective when the teacher tells pupils what to do and what they need to know. 0 0.20
49. Students cannot learn science without a teacher and a textbook. 0 0.16
18. Students need to be able to discuss the studied phenomena. 0 0.01
36. Students are not able to present arguments and, therefore, they cannot really discuss the material. 0 −0.24
7. The systematic exploration of the surrounding world can be applied at any age when done in an appropriate way. 0 −0.30
15. It is good to learn about scientific concepts by searching for evidence and using it in argumentation with classmates. 0 −0.31
48. Students learn best by observing a teacher and studying textbooks. −2 −1.16
5. Learning starts with identifying the unknown (a student finds out that he/she is lacking some information and/or explanation). −3 −1.18
22. Teachers should prepare learning situations and present new information which oblige students to re-evaluate their understanding and opinions about the surrounding world. −3 −1.20
1. The student creates his/her own understanding of studied phenomena by doing inquiry. −4 −1.75
29. The teacher's task is to provide correct and exact knowledge for students so they would not have to change it. −5 −2.35

Appendix 3

Factor 1 prototype sorting

Maximum disagreement Value of the statement Maximum agreement
−5 −4 −3 −2 −1 0 1 2 3 4 5
Statements 1–25 are constructivist, statements 26–50 are transmissive, and statement 51 is about the financing of education. Distinguishing statements at p < 0.05 flagged with *, distinguishing statements at p < 0.0 flagged with **.
  44 41 27** 26** 11 7** 2 4** 1** 14** 3**  
    49** 31 29** 28** 9 5** 13** 8** 19**    
      48 32 30** 10** 6** 15 16**      
        34 38** 17 12** 21**        
        40* 42* 20** 18 25**        
          43** 23** 22**          
          45 35** 24**          
          46 36** 33          

Factor 2 prototype sorting

Maximum disagreement Value of the statement Maximum agreement
−5 −4 −3 −2 −1 0 1 2 3 4 5
Statements 1–25 are constructivist, statements 26–50 are transmissive, statement 51 is about financing of education. Distinguishing statements at p < 0.05 flagged with *, distinguishing statements at p < 0.0 flagged with **.
  36** 20** 22** 4* 9* 1* 2 12** 3** 5** 47**  
    44 31 11 15 8** 7** 18 6** 50    
      49** 14* 16 10* 13 27** 35**      
        24** 34 19 17 37**        
        48 38 21 28** 43        
          41** 23** 29**          
          46 25* 30**          
          51 26** 33**          

Factor 3 prototype sorting

Maximum disagreement Value of the statement Maximum agreement
−5 −4 −3 −2 −1 0 1 2 3 4 5
Statements 1–25 are constructivist, statements 26–50 are transmissive, statement 51 is about financing of education. Distinguishing statements at p < 0.05 flagged with *, distinguishing statements at p < 0.01 flagged with **.
  29** 16 1** 5** 3** 2 11 26** 4* 37** 51  
    41 21 7** 8** 6** 23** 27** 30** 50    
      44 10* 12** 9 35** 28** 31**      
        18** 13 14* 40** 43        
        39* 15** 17 42* 45**        
          24** 19 46**          
          25* 20** 47**          
          48** 22** 49**          

Appendix 4

Consensus statements among all three factors

Q statement Q-Score Average Z-score
Statements are non-significant at p > 0.01, statement flagged with an * is also not significant at p > 0.05.
11. The teacher should place sufficient emphasis on developing the students’ ability to select information from various sources of information. 0 0.06
17*. If a student cannot discuss the topic (scientific phenomenon), then he/she has not really understood it. 1 0.52


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