Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Teacher Education and Leadership

Committee Chair(s)

Colby Tofel-Grehl


Colby Tofel-Grehl


Kimberly Lott


Max Longhurst


Kristin Searle


Sarah Braden


Because a teacher's confidence in their ability to teach science is associated with instructional methods and their persistence in the face of challenges, improving science teaching confidence becomes critical for improving science teaching of young children. Science teaching confidence also varies by discipline for elementary teachers: physical science teaching confidence tends to measure lower than life science. This discrepancy leads to elementary teachers engaging in less effective science teaching practices with physical science than life science. A teacher's subject matter knowledge influences their confidence in their ability to teach that subject. Subject matter knowledge impacts science teaching confidence because when teachers understand their content proficiently, they express confidence in their ability to provide students with accurate and meaningful instruction. Both subject matter knowledge and science teaching confidence are specific to disciplines. Understanding the relationship between discipline-specific knowledge and discipline-specific science teaching confidence will aid in developing teacher development training to improve levels of science teaching confidence by improving discipline-specific subject matter knowledge. However, there is currently little research on the relationship between discipline-specific levels of subject matter knowledge and science teaching confidence. This study sought to understand what, if any, relationship exists between discipline-specific subject matter knowledge and discipline-specific science teaching confidence across physical and life sciences for in-service elementary teachers. Teachers took an online survey to assess their knowledge of physical and life science subjects and their confidence in teaching those subjects. Following the survey, eleven teachers were interviewed to understand their perceived sources of discipline-specific science teaching confidence and how they taught life and physical science in their classrooms. Results show that physical and life science subject matter knowledge are predictive factors of physical science teaching confidence. Teachers tend to measure lower in physical science than life science for both subject matter knowledge and confidence in teaching physical science topics. Teachers with low science knowledge and science teaching confidence tend to rely more on district-provided resources and presentations than those with more knowledge and teaching confidence who adapt lessons to meet student needs. Highly confident teachers are also more likely to hold themselves responsible for student learning outcomes.