Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 1, Issue 1, Article 1 (July, 2000)
Teaching about Science Teaching and Learning:research should inform practice
It has been well documented in the Australian research literature that the perceived lack of science content knowledge of elementary teachers creates difficulties in both their teaching of, and attitude toward, science. For example, Appleton (1981; 1983; 1991; 1992) and Skamp (1987; 1989; 1991; 1992) in particular have conducted numerous and extensive studies exploring the relationship between elementary teachers' science content knowledge, skills and abilities in teaching science, their attitudes toward science teaching and learning, and interestingly, how the age and experience of student-teachers influences each of these (mature age students compared to 18 year olds directly entering teacher education from High School).
Jeans and Farnsworth (1992) conducted surveys whereby 1,000 questionnaires were mailed to 281 elementary schools. Their survey examined the strength of teachers' opinions about teaching science.
There was a general feeling that science education has a long way to go before it could stand alongside language and mathematics in matters of time and resources allocated, teacher knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm, and in matters of quality. Many thought that science was inherently exciting for teachers and pupils and that what they, personally, were doing was inadequate... it is also clear that very few individual teachers have the knowledge-base needed to construct an interesting, developmental science education program. (Jeans and Farnsworth, 1992, p. 221)
Appleton and Symington (1996) reviewed the development of elementary science teaching from the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's. They demonstrated that concerns related to these issues (above) were slowly being addressed in teacher education programs. This was partly due to the fact that the professional development initiatives designed to help practising elementary teachers better teach science took time to similarly influence the manner in which science teacher education for elementary teachers was being conducted. However, there have been important gains as programs such as PECSTEP (Primary and Early Childhood Science Teacher Education; Bearlin, 1990), LISP (Learning in Science Project; Bell, 1993) and Sci-Tech (Science and Technology in-service program; Napper and Crawford, 1990; Crawford and Zeegers, 1993) have become influential in helping Elementary Science Teacher Educators reconsider and reshape their curriculum and teaching. In fact, in many cases these programs were organised and conducted by elementary science teacher educators themselves intent on addressing the concerns related to science teaching in elementary schools. This is an important issue then for science education. Changes in teaching and learning in schools needs to be both fostered and supported by science teacher educators.
On the other hand, many prospective High School Science teachers enter their teacher education programs with somewhat different concerns to their elementary counterparts. For example, many pre-service science teacher educators have long felt that the approach to teaching science in under-graduate studies (Bachelor of Science) was not conducive to helping these candidates form appropriate views of science teaching and learning as they were the 'survivors', or most able absorbers, of science knowledge through what is largely regarded as a transmissive approach to science teaching.
Bucat and Williams (1989) particularly highlighted the problematic nature of the undergraduate approach to teaching science when they studied student note-taking in Chemistry lectures. In quite an eloquent study they worked with four Chemistry lecturers and 160 students across 80 lectures (of 45 minutes duration), as they attempted to examine the relationship between what the lecturers themselves considered to be the important information units being portrayed, and those which the students actually noted themselves. The reliance on chalkboard signals was significant, as was the quantity of information transmitted.
The number of pieces of information which students needed to process to make sense of the lecture was surprisingly high. In the case of lecturer C, these ideas were delivered at an average rate of one every 11 seconds. Lecturer C has a rapid delivery style, but even the more typical lecturers A and B developed separate ideas every 16 and 22 seconds respectively... Contrary to the beliefs of many lecturers, not all students record all that is written on the blackboard [chalkboard] (although all students did record at least half of the blackboard signals)... The number of student records originating from verbal signals other than those that re-stated blackboard signals was negligible... it seems that if the lecturer considers it important for students to record information, then it is insufficient to discuss this knowledge without the support of blackboard signals. (Bucat and Williams, 1989, pp. 42 - 43).
It is therefore not surprising that science teacher educators are often concerned about the views of science teaching and learning that their student-teachers 'arrive with' and are similarly concerned about how these views will influence their approach to learning to teach science.
One simple overview of the elementary and high school science teacher education dilemmas then is that elementary science teacher education concentrates more on processes of teaching and learning and does not adequately address the need for appropriate content knowledge, whilst high school science teacher education suffers from an overabundance of content knowledge to the detriment of understanding teaching and learning. One way of considering these differences is to place this knowledge in a context whereby students' learning of science needs to be better understood, hence the development of our understanding of 'alternative conceptions' or 'children's science' should be important in shaping the way we teach about science.
Copyright (C) 2000 HKIEd APFSLT. Volume 1, Issue 1, Article 1 (July, 2000)