Definition of CKT

What is CKT?

Content knowledge for teaching, or what is commonly referred to as CKT, focuses on the content knowledge used by teachers to recognize, understand, and respond to the content challenges encountered in teaching (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008; National Academies, 2015; National Research Council, 2013; Shulman, 1986). CKT is a specialized form of knowledge that teachers use as they engage directly in the work of teaching and, as such, it is a form of applied knowledge. CKT goes beyond merely knowing the subject matter and includes professional knowledge that teachers draw upon as they engage in the work of teaching within a specific discipline.

Elementary science teachers draw upon their CKT as they engage in a wide range of content tasks (Phelps et al., 2014). These content tasks can occur both inside and outside the classroom to support their students’ learning. For example, they use their CKT when figuring out how to best interpret students’ thinking and probe for understanding about specific science ideas and misconceptions (Coffey et al., 2011; Forbes, Sabel, & Biggers, 2015; Levin, 2013); when using curriculum materials to determine which instructional strategies would be most beneficial to address specific science instructional goals (Davis, 2006; Davis & Smithey, 2009); and when evaluating the affordances and limitations of various science instructional activities for creating coherent content storylines (Roth et al., 2011).

CKT is one of the important factors that supports elementary science teachers in being able to engage successfully in critical teaching practices, such as interpreting students’ scientific ideas, constructing explanations of scientific phenomena for elementary students, and selecting and modifying resources (e.g., curriculum materials; science investigations; scientific models and representations; etc.) for instructional use within elementary science classrooms.    


Ball, D. L., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008). Content knowledge for teaching: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education, 59(5), 389-407.

Coffey, J. E., Hammer, D., Levin, D. M., & Grant, T. (2011). The missing disciplinary substance of formative assessment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(10), 1109-1136.

Davis, E. A. (2006). Preservice elementary teachers’ critique of instructional materials for science. Science Education, 90(2), 348-375.

Davis, E. A., & Smithey, J. (2009). Beginning teachers moving toward effective elementary science teaching. Science Education, 93(4), 745-770.

Forbes, C. T., Sabel, J. L., & Biggers, M. (2015). Elementary teachers’ use of formative assessment to support students’ learning about interactions between the hydrosphere and geosphere. Journal of Geoscience Education, 63(3), 210-221.

Levin, D. T. (2013). Becoming a responsive science teacher: Focusing on student thinking in secondary science. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Mikeska, J.N., Kurzum, C., Steinberg, J., & Xu, J. (2018). Assessing elementary science teachers’ content knowledge for teaching science for the ETS Educator Series: Pilot results. (Research Report No. RR-18-20). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2015). Science teachers learning: Enhancing opportunities, creating supportive contexts. Committee on Strengthening Science Education through a Teacher Learning Continuum. Board on Science Education and Teacher Advisory Council, Division of Behavioral and Social Science and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Research Council. (2013). Monitoring progress toward successful K-12 STEM education: A nation advancing? Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Phelps, G., Weren, B., Croft, A., & Gitomer, D. (2014). Developing content knowledge for teaching assessments for the Measures of Effective Teaching study (ETS Research Report No. RR-14-33). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Roth, K. J., Garnier, H. E., Chen, C., Lemmens, M., Schwille, K., & Wickler, N. I. (2011). Videobased lesson analysis: Effective science PD for teacher and student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(2), 117-148.

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