Primary Teachers' Understandings Of The Nature Of Science And The Purposes Of Science Education

Lunn, Stephen Andrew (2000). Primary Teachers' Understandings Of The Nature Of Science And The Purposes Of Science Education. PhD thesis The Open University.



With the introduction of the National Curriculum in English primary schools in the late 1980s, the status of science changed from discretionary option, taught to the teacher’s strengths, to mandated core subject with tightly defined curriculum.

During the first few years, teachers’ initial uncertainty gave way to growing feelings of competence and confidence, which local, national and international evidence from the mid- 1990s onwards shows were not entirely misplaced. Meanwhile, however, a series of studies consistently showed apparently severe gaps in primary teachers’ science knowledge – so what was it that was changing?

Teachers themselves hold the key to understanding how science has been accommodated into primary practice: this research looks at some teachers’ views of the nature of science and the purposes of teaching it, the manifestation of such views in planning and teaching; changes in views over time: and the accommodation of science teaching into their professional identities.

Drawing on a 1996 pilot study, the research involves case studies of five teachers - biographical and semi-structured interviews, protocol analysis, and lesson observations, over eighteen months from early 1998, a questionnaire survey of a broader sample; and triangulation between case studies and survey.

Various factors that may underlie a teacher’s view of the nature of science are proposed - scientism, naive empiricism, new-age-ism, constructivism, pragmatism, and scepticism. It is suggested that teachers’ accommodation of science into their practice can involve its structural and organisational interweaving into the fabric of their professional identities. A tentative hypothetical model is outlined, of the emergence of professional identity from an autopoietic network involving auto-biography; values; dispositions; beliefs; personal theories; self-image; knowledge of and relationships and discourse with children and colleagues; curriculum, subject and pedagogic knowledge: images of teaching and learning; the exercise of agency in practice; and reflexive connections between, and reflection upon, these.

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