Teachers’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Mathematics and Science A Cross-Disciplinary Synthesis of Recent DRK-12 Projects

This review synthesized insights from 27 NSF-funded projects, totaling $62 million, that studied pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) in STEM education from prekindergarten (PreK) to Grade 12, split roughly equally across mathematics and science education. The projects primarily applied correlational/observational and longitudinal methods, often targeted teaching in the middle school grades, and used a wide variety of approaches to measure teachers’ PCK. The projects advanced substantive knowledge about PCK across four major lines of research, especially regarding the measurement and development of PCK.

Key Findings

  • DRK-12 projects most often defined pedagogical content knowledge as a teacher knowledge regarding instructional strategies and student thinking. Projects also focused on teachers’ knowledge of specific curricula and familiarity with assessment.
  • DRK-12 projects expanded the methodological toolkit for investigating PCK in PreK-12 STEM education, especially in mathematics and science. Projects built on existing measurement tools, developed new assessments for teachers’ PCK, and identified key affordances and challenges of various measurement approaches.
  • DRK-12 projects identified some common principles in developing teachers’ PCK through in-service professional development (PD) programs: programs should analyze student work, engage teachers in active learning, and situate the PD in classroom contexts.
  • Relatively few DRK-12 projects addressed the relationship between teachers’ PCK and teacher practice and student learning. However, projects that did investigate this line of research highlight that PD intervention developers must be intentional in connecting lessons about PCK to concrete plans for improving classroom practice.
  • Reviewed DRK-12 projects produced promising proofs of concept but limited causal evidence for improving teachers’ PCK. Future research may be primed for larger scale causal evaluation and work that considers how PCK fits into a complex system of broader teacher professional knowledge, teacher practice, and student learning.

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