On Radio National yesterday, there was a segment looking at the teaching of Science in Primary schools in New Zealand. You can hear it at:
(The blurb states: “The NZ Association of Science Educators, the Education Review Office and the Teachers Council have all raised serious concerns about the quality of science teaching in our primary schools.”)
It’s not really a new discussion (and it doesn’t surprise me – I saw how nervous the majority of trainee teachers were about their maths and science papers at T-col).
Theory relevant to this discussion
Anna Traianou wrote an article relevant to this discussion, which might be of interest to those making changes/organising PD (Anna Traianou (2006) ‘Understanding teacher expertise in primary science: a sociocultural approach’ Research Papers in EducationVol. 21, No. 1, March, pp. 63–78).
Traianou writes: “In recent years a lot of emphasis has been placed, both by researchers and by policymakers, on the role that subject knowledge plays in the classroom practice of primary school teachers. This knowledge has come to be seen as a major component of teacher expertise, one that underpins the ways in which teachers help children to develop understanding of the content of science as well as their ability to inquire. Within UK research in primary science education, this emphasis on subject knowledge arose, to a large extent, from the growing influence of constructivist perspectives on learning and teaching. These perspectives are by no means homogeneous, but they do share some important features in common. Above all, they treat the knowledge that expert teachers need in order to bring about children’s learning of science in relatively abstract terms: as being defined by curricular decisions about what should be selected from the body of scientific knowledge as relevant for primary age children, partly in terms of what is understandable by them and their teachers, along with psychological theories about how children learn. In this paper, I want to explore a rather different approach to studying teacher expertise, drawing on sociocultural approaches to the study of learning. These perspectives stress the situated nature of knowledge and the complex interdependence of knowledge, learning and action (Wertsch, 1985; Brown & Palinscar, 1989; Collins et al., 1989; Newman et al., 1989). Perhaps the most significant difference between sociocultural and constructivist approaches is that rather than seeking to pre-define what counts as primary science expertise, the methodological procedure adopted is to identify practice that is recognized as expert by primary science practitioner communities and to study it in depth (see Lave, 1988; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Putman & Borko, 2000). These two approaches are not necessarily in conflict or incompatible (see Sfard, 1998). However, they do provide rather different perspectives on expertise in primary science.” (63-64)
Is this part of the problem here in NZ? Is science teaching by primary teachers shaped by curricular decisions? What theories underpin how primary teachers are ‘taught’ the ‘teaching of science’ (given that they are predominantly non-experts in the field of science)? Even Secondary school science teachers don’t get much time in the Science classroom while they are student teachers… so what principles underpin (Science) teacher training?
Note, (above) reference is being made to: Lave, J. (1988) Cognition in practice: mind, mathematics, and culture in everyday life (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press). Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press). Putman, R. & Borko, H. (2000) What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher learning?, Educational Researcher, 29(1), 4–15.
FYI, the abstract to Traianou’s article states: “In recent years much emphasis has been placed, both by researchers and by policy-makers, on the role that subject knowledge plays in the classroom practice of primary teachers. Within UK research on primary science education, this emphasis is often linked with constructivist ideas about effective teaching. In this article, I explore the implications of applying a rather different approach, based on sociocultural theories of cognition and learning. These stress the situated nature of knowledge and the complex interdependence of learning and action. Above all, these perspectives treat expertise as defined in action by relevant communities of practice. Thus, in this article, I draw upon data from an in-depth qualitative case study of one primary science teacher who is recognized in her local environment, and more widely, as an expert practitioner. I examine her views about subject knowledge, and her beliefs about the learning and teaching of science. I also investigate her practice. One outcome of this study is the conclusion that teacher expertise is eclectic in character, drawing on a variety of pedagogical strategies and theories of learning in dealing with the contingent situations faced in the classroom. I conclude by suggesting that this aspect of primary science practice is particularly important today, given that currently influential views configure teaching in terms of abstract standards concerned with level of subject and pedagogical knowledge.”