Middle schooling and scientific literacy : bringing the students to science

Copping, Warren (2012) Middle schooling and scientific literacy : bringing the students to science. Professional Doctorate thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This study is about young adolescents' engagement in learning science. The middle years of schooling are critical in the development of students' interest and engagement with learning. Successful school experiences enhance dispositions towards a career related to those experiences. Poor experiences lead to negative attitudes and rejection of certain career pathways. At a time when students are becoming more aware, more independent and focused on peer relationships and social status, the high school environment in some circumstances offers more a content-centred curriculum that is less personally relevant to their lives than the social melee surrounding them. Science education can further exacerbate the situation by presenting abstract concepts that have limited contextual relevance and a seemingly difficult vocabulary that further alienates adolescents from the curriculum. In an attempt to reverse a perceived growing disinterest by students to science (Goodrum, Druhan & Abbs, 2011), a study was initiated based on a student-centred unit designed to enhance and sustain adolescent engagement in science. The premise of the study was that adolescent students are more responsive toward learning if they are given an appropriate learning environment that helps connect their learning with life beyond the school.

The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of young adolescents with the aim of transforming school learning in science into meaningful experiences that connected with their lives. Two areas were specifically canvassed and subsumed within the study to strengthen the design base. One area that of the middle schooling ideology, offered specific pedagogical approaches and a philosophical framework that could provide opportunities for reform. The other area, the construct of scientific literacy (OECD, 2007) as defined by Holbrook and Rannikmae, (2009) appeared to provide a sense of purpose for students to aim toward and value for becoming active citizens.

The study reported here is a self-reflection of a teacher/researcher exploring practice and challenging existing approaches to the teaching of science in the middle years of schooling. The case study approach (Yin, 2003) was adopted to guide the design of the study. Over a 6-month period, the researcher, an experienced secondary-science teacher, designed, implemented and documented a range of student-centred pedagogical practices with a Year-7 secondary science class. Data for this case study included video recordings, journals, interviews and surveys of students. Both quantitative and qualitative data sources were employed in a partially mixed methods research approach (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2009) dominated by qualitative data with the concurrent collection of quantitative data to corroborate interpretations as a means of analysing and developing a model of the dynamic learning environment.

The findings from the case study identified five propositions that became the basis for a model of a student-centred learning environment that was able to sustain student participation and thus engagement in science. The study suggested that adolescent student engagement can be promoted and sustained by providing a classroom climate that encourages and strengthens social interaction. Engagement in science can be enhanced by presenting developmentally appropriate challenges that require rigorous exploration of contextually relevant learning environments; supporting students to develop connections with a curriculum that aligns with their own experiences. By setting an environment empathetic to adolescent needs and understandings, students were able to actively explore phenomena collaboratively through developmentally appropriate experiences. A significant outcome of this study was the transformative experiences of an insider, the teacher as researcher, whose reflections provide an authentic model for reforming pedagogy. The model and theory presented became an adjunct to my repertoire for science teaching in the middle years of schooling.

The study was rewarding in that it helped address a void in my understanding of middle years of schooling by prompting me to re-think the notion of adolescence in the context of the science classroom. This study is timely given the report "The Status and Quality of Year 11 and 12 Science in Australian Schools" (Goodrum, Druhan & Abbs, 2011) and national curricular changes that are being proposed for science (ACARA, 2009).

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ID Code: 63597
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Supervisor: Watters, James & Kidman, Gillian
Keywords: middle years, science teaching, classroom learning environment, teacher research, student-centred learning, student engagement, science content
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 21 Oct 2013 06:32
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2015 04:00

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