Student Teachers' Beliefs about Science

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Birmingham]On: 20 November 2014, At: 00:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of In-Service EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rjie19

    Student Teachers' Beliefs about ScienceMargareta Wolf-Watz aa University of Ume , SwedenPublished online: 20 Dec 2006.

    To cite this article: Margareta Wolf-Watz (2000) Student Teachers' Beliefs about Science, Journal of In-Service Education,26:2, 403-413

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  • Journal of In-Service Education, Volume 26, Number 2, 2000

    403

    Student Teachers Beliefs about Science

    MARGARETA WOLF-WATZ University of Ume, Sweden

    ABSTRACT This study is part of a longitudinal research project following students from initial teacher education into their first job, to provide insights into how student teachers become novice teachers of science. This paper reports the results from the first part of the study focusing mainly on the beliefs that student teachers have about the teaching and learning of science. It draws on stmans three didactic typologies of science to show the popularity among student teachers of experiments, every-day science and constructivism. The findings of the study challenge teacher education to develop science teaching and learning as a more democratic, moral and cultural enterprise. This will later then have an impact on thinking about how and what students learn in science classes. The study reported here forms the background for future research on how stated values and knowledge about science (and mathematics) are enacted by novice teachers and put into their practice.

    Research that contributes to the understanding of pupil and teacher thinking about mathematics and science as well as other subjects, is to be much welcomed (Hiebert & Carpenter, 1992). The aim of this study [1] is to provide insights into the value systems of student teachers as they move to become novice teachers in science. I attempt to understand, describe, analyse and interpret their beliefs about their learning and teaching of science.

    Contextual and Theoretical Background

    Teachers in Sweden are expected to teach according to nationally agreed standards. Teaching and learning science in the Swedish curriculum has the same broad goal as most western countries, i.e. science for all (Fensham, 1988). It aims to provide citizens with sufficient scientific ability to participate in debates concerning science in society.

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    Significantly, pupils in schools are influenced by the emphases that teachers place on their teaching of science (Roberts, 1988). stman (1996) found the same kind of emphases in Swedish science textbooks. He discusses three didactic typologies for the teaching and learning of science: disciplinary, applied and moral. A disciplinary approach encourages pupils to learn science through concepts and theories as an introduction to science. An applied approach focuses on humans in natural settings and how science is learnt in every day life. A third moral approach encourages science teaching and learning to focus on Nature, and the actions that need to be taken for survival and preservation of Nature.

    The third, broader view of science teaching and learning is also picked up by Svein Sjberg (1995), who argues that political, ideological, philosophical and sociological aspects should be included. Science is thus placed in a broader societal context, for example, through courses linking science, technology and society (Sjberg, 1998). Sjberg argues that science education should give greater emphasis to cultural and democratic perspectives, rather than focusing mainly on disciplinary and economic issues as in the past. Science here becomes more interesting and relevant to all attractive to both men and women, as well as to different cultural and ethnic groups.

    The science curriculum in Sweden stresses that a main concern for teachers is to persuade both girls and boys [2] to be more interested in science (Utbildningsdepartementet, 1994a,b). Gisselberg (1991) found that girls and boys tend to develop their knowledge in science in different ways. Staberg (1992) argues that teachers (and student teachers, I suggest) need to be more aware of girls in science lessons. Nationally, there has been a suggestion that the compulsory school has not fully explored all possibilities of encouraging girls interest in science (Skolverket, 1993). Girls and boys, and their understanding of science has thus become an important focus for teachers.

    Swedish policy on curriculum emphasises the importance of constructivism across all subjects. (Utbildningdepartementet, 1994a,b). Constructivism is a view of learning in which learners are actively involved in the knowledge construction process and use their existing knowledge to make sense of any new experience (Hewson et al, 1998). Sjberg (1995) argues that constructivism has played an important role in the development of science teaching and learning. In the process of learning to teach, constructivist theory suggests that student teachers bring beliefs to their teacher education programmes that influence their view on teaching, learning, subject matter and students (Richardson, 1996). Belief research is a growing domain. There have been many definitions concerning beliefs (e.g. Thompson, 1992; Richardson, 1996). In trying to understand teachers underlying thoughts and decisions, I have drawn mainly from Lindgrens (1997) interpretation of beliefs as a

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  • STUDENT TEACHERS BELIEFS ABOUT SCIENCE

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    persons subjective, implicit knowledge of science and its teaching and learning. Beliefs are ideas that people are committed to. It is also important to look closely at prevailing beliefs or value systems of disciplines. Particularly in the education field, mathematics and science have long been viewed as bodies of established knowledge comprising facts that are true and that have been known for a long time. An alternative view of science and mathematics is that they are dynamic and human pursuits. This understanding of science and mathematics implies that these disciplines also provide processes by which scientists and mathematicians produce knowledge and make judgments (Loucks et al, 1998).

    Here, I describe and try to understand the beliefs that student teachers hold of science teaching and learning towards the end of their period of teacher training.

    Research Questions

    The research questions raised by the issues above include the following:

    What beliefs do student teachers have about the teaching and learning of science?

    How do student teachers understand knowledge? How does this understanding relate to the construction of teaching and

    learning of science?[3]

    Method

    The study was largely qualitative, although a range of different research methods were used. First, a short questionnaire was distributed among all students with mathematics and science as major subjects in their initial teacher education. This was followed by in-depth interviews of selected individuals. Sixteen students with different backgrounds were chosen for interview. Each interview took place in a quiet room in the university and lasted around 90 minutes. The reason for choosing interviews as a methodology is that they provide nuanced descriptions of different qualities of the interviewed persons conceptions about the world (Kvale, 1997)

    The interviews were semi structured and provided the student teachers with space to talk about their views on mathematics and science, teaching and learning. They were asked to reflect on their school experiences and to talk through a mathematics and science teaching/learning situation. They were also asked to think aloud about their responses to the questionnaire, and also to add any other opinions they had about the teaching and learning of science. After each interview, as researcher, I noted down my impressions. All the interviews were

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    taped and transcribed. Then the data were reordered into categories or themes as outlined below.

    According to Kvale (1997) the analysis of interviews involves several stages: description, identification, interpretation during the interview, and analysis of the text afterwards. Initially, two interviews were analysed to see what categories emerged from the data and these were used as a basis for analysis of the remaining interviews. During this process, as might be expected, the categories needed to be revised yet again. What is reported here reflects the stated and intended[4] beliefs about science, and the teaching and learning of a particular student teacher group.

    Findings

    The results are reported in different categories or themes, which in turn are divided into sub-themes. Individual or less popular points of view that are not easily fitted into the main sub-themes are reported in the text that follows each table.

    Subthemes: the nature of science

    Representations (phrases, words)

    Number of mentions

    as experimental

    Experiments; practical; to do and learn; try and learn; exciting and thrilling

    11

    as integrated Increasingly integrated at school; all together; floats into each other; a unit; all disciplines

    8

    as separate disciplines Big chunks; not in a unit, separate subjects

    5

    Table 1. The nature of science (n = 16).

    As we can see in Table I, the nature of science as experimental had most significance for 11 out of 16 student teachers.[5] This experimental view of science involves the pupils engaging in hands-on activities, where they learn by doing in order to understand the world. This is an applied typology according to stman (1996). Experiments are essential to this approach to science (as are other specific methods, techniques), and accordingly, to science teaching and learning. Students reported positive feelings about science, such as, its fun, it touches me, interesting, miracle and wonder.

    A disciplinary typology of science emerges when the student teachers reported that science is abstract, academic and theoretical. The different subjects within science (physics, chemistry, biology) were viewed as based on definitions, models and concepts. Those who held this belief framework thought that each subject is different. Their

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    perception was that biology is more theoretical than physics, you just read [chemistry] in books and biology is not fascinating. Physics was seen as closely related to mathematics and chemistry and as mainly dealing with formulae.

    Most student teachers expressed positive feelings about science [6], although one reported largely negative experiences when she was at school, where she felt stupid and not clever at all. Other statements about the nature of science concerned the opinion that science is not structured in steps like mathematics, while one student claimed that the same cognitive and logical ability is needed to understand both science and mathematics.

    Science as essential

    Representation (phrases, words)

    Number of mentions

    in every day life

    To connect science to real life; easy to find associations; to know what happens around; how it works in everyday life; the use of applications; to cope in everyday life; to understand and explain everyday life

    8

    in society put in a context; to cope with life in society; knowledge about environment to survive; our role on earth; for our own good

    5

    Table II. Science as essential (n = 16).

    We see from Table II that half the student teachers interviewed held a perspective on science as essential and everyday, for example, everything around, absolutely everything around us is science. Whilst this is a clear example of stmans applied component of science, there was also some evidence of students looking at science within a moral framework, for example, knowledge [is needed] about environment to survive. The main sub-themes to emerge here show how student teachers saw science as a part of life as exemplified by work on energy, environment, ecology and health in fact, as utilised in the STS approach.

    Table III shows that just under half (seven) of the student teachers thought that pupils should have more experience of open-ended experiments in order to increase their engagement in the process of scientific inquiry, planning and carrying out experiments, as well as in drawing conclusions. This open-endedness, they suggested, gives pupils more of an opportunity to think for themselves and construct their own knowledge. According to Andersson (1989), a debate about the need for greater openness in experiments is necessary if pupils are to become more involved in their own scientific learning. Student teachers reported their own experiences in school of closed experiments, where expectations were that they should write on the dotted line. Nevertheless, they said they had been encouraged to take a more open

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