Curriculum, learning and effective pedagogy: A literature review in science education

Publication Details

This review of research on effective science education is aimed at informing the broad area of "teaching and the dynamics of learning". The review covers the significant international and New Zealand research (including teacher research) on effective pedagogy and the links between student learning, curricula, pedagogy and assessment in science education across the compulsory sector.

Author(s): R Hipkins, R Bolstad, R Barker, A Jones, M Barker, A jones, M Barker, B Bell, R Coll, B Cooper, M Ferret, A Harlow, I Taylor, B France and M Haigh, University of Waikato and New Zealand Council for Educatonal Research with Auckland College of Education.

Date Published: 2002

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This review was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to report on significant international and New Zealand research on effective pedagogy and the links between student learning, curricula, pedagogy and assessment in science education across the compulsory sector. The review seeks to answer the following question:

How does the national and international literature on science education inform our understanding about effective teaching practice/pedagogy on student achievement in science education for the diversity of students in New Zealand?

Chapter Two outlines the methodology and framework adopted in this review. It describes the review team and the collaborative process through which the review was developed and outlines the review's objectives, intended purpose and audience. Details about the literature searches and the analysis and writing process are described and the overall framework for the review is illustrated. The final section of Chapter Two presents a short analysis of the learning outcomes that are specified by Science in the New Zealand Curriculum.

The remainder of the review is structured into four parts. The structure and content of these parts are described below.

Part I: Background

(Chapters Three and Four)

Chapter Three, "New Zealand Student Achievement in Science - Evidence from National and International Studies" describes two nation-wide assessment projects which provide extensive data on New Zealand students' achievement in science during the review period 1991-2001: the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) and the Third International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS). Chapter Three describes the assessment approaches used in both TIMSS and NEMP and then gives a detailed report on New Zealand students' TIMSS and NEMP achievement results in overall terms, and in relation to factors including: gender and ethnicity groupings; students' attitudes to science; home resources; home language; and other factors related to schooling and teaching. The detailed analyses of TIMSS and NEMP given in Chapter Three indicate some of the major issues apparent in New Zealand students' science achievement, and indicate areas which need investigation in order to develop more effective and equitable pedagogies to raise achievement and reduce disparity in New Zealand science education for all New Zealand students.

In Chapter Four, Bell provides an historical backdrop for research and curriculum developments in New Zealand science education during the review period. In this chapter, "The Learning in Science Projects and Associated Thesis Research", Bell describes five research projects at the University of Waikato conducted between 1979 and 1996. These projects were funded by the Department of Education and later the Ministry of Education. One of their major goals was to research, develop and evaluate effective pedagogies to improve learning in science in New Zealand classrooms. Chapter Four describes each of the Learning in Science (LISP) projects including the major research findings, and the uptake and impact (or lack of impact) of these findings on subsequent New Zealand science curriculum and classroom pedagogy.

These two chapters provide a background for the literature reviewed in chapters Five to Nine. A diagrammatic overview at the end of Part I serves as a point of reference for the remaining review chapters. The overview is intended to assist readers who are unfamiliar with recent science education literature to identify the significance of trends and developments in research, curriculum development, and policy; and some of the relationships between research, policy, practice and student outcomes in New Zealand science education.

Part II: Evidence from Classroom research in Science Education

(Chapters Five, Six and Seven)

Chapter Five, "Pedagogy to Support the Achievement of `Content' Learning Outcomes" introduces recent international and New Zealand classroom research that has sought to evaluate the conceptual learning outcomes that are actually achieved by students when various pedagogies are used. Many classroom studies reported during the review period 1991-2001 provide evidence for teaching approaches that can lead to enhanced student science learning, engagement and achievement. Chapter Five reviews international and New Zealand research relating to: pedagogical approaches intended to enhance students' metacognitive and higher-order thinking skills; pedagogical approaches based on the role of models, modelling, metaphor and analogies in science; and the role of group work discussions in the science classroom. Chapter Five also explores three internationally significant longitudinal research projects that have sought to combine aspects of these various pedagogies into learning programmes.

Chapter Six, "Learning to `do' science" investigates pedagogies to support students' engagement and learning through practical work and science investigations. Three different pedagogical approaches are described and compared. These are "recipe" practical work, "open" investigations and "fair testing" approaches. In this chapter some of the evidence from the classroom based research points to non-achievement of intended outcomes, in particular when either "recipe" practical work or "fair testing" is the predominant pedagogy employed. However the chapter also discusses ways in which the possible or intended outcomes of practical work could be better achieved with some modification to existing practice.

Chapter Seven, "Literacy and Science Learning", reviews classroom-based research where the focus has been on improving the communication of science ideas. Data reported in Chapter Three raise issues concerning the relationship between "reading literacy" and achievement in science. Similarly LISP findings reported in Chapter Four raise issues concerning the role of language in the communication of science ideas. The issues raised are relevant to all students at some points in their learning, but pose particular challenges for students who are not learning science in the language that they speak in other settings, or who have poorly developed reading literacy skills for their age. Classroom-based research that informs the issues raised is outlined, and the features of pedagogy that have been demonstrated to improve communication during science learning are identified.

Part III: The Integration of Science Pedagogy with Rich Student Experiences

(Chapters Eight and Nine)

Chapter Three indicates that New Zealand students exhibit a wide spread in science achievement, and this spread has been linked to factors including ethnicity, home language, socio-economic status, and home and family resources. There are many possible reasons for the achievement gap that some pupils experience in science classrooms. Factors of significance appear to include: students not learning in their first language; barriers to full engagement where the culture of school is different from the culture of the student's social and family groups; and a lack of rich background experiences on which new learning builds. Chapter Eight, "New Approaches To Science Education In The New Zealand Cultural Context", addresses new dimensions of the challenge to help all students engage and achieve in science in New Zealand's increasingly multicultural classrooms. The use of narrative pedagogy introduces a future-focused element to the discussion, although some evidence of effectiveness from classroom-based studies is reported. Chapter Eight notes significant gaps in the research base concerning the success of bicultural and/or multicultural approaches to learning science in New Zealand classrooms and suggests some areas for policy debate.

Research findings reviewed in Chapters Four to Eight indicate the importance of teaching science in real contexts in order to engage students' interest, to increase relevancy of science to students' lives, and to help students develop better understandings in science and about science. Chapter Nine, "Curriculum Integration And Experiences Beyond The Classroom To Enhance Science Learning", further investigates the idea of science learning in real contexts, reviewing research in the areas of: curriculum integration; environmental education and science education; and out-of-school experiences. While specific Ministry of Education policy statements exist in each of these areas, we have found relatively little New Zealand classroom (or "beyond-the-classroom") research that investigates the implementation and effect of these policies on New Zealand students' science learning in practice. This chapter reviews available New Zealand research and international research in these areas to provide indications about the kinds of policies and practices that may enable the incorporation of integrated and/or out-of-class experiences to promote effective and engaging science learning for a wide range of students.

Part IV: Summary and Policy Implications

(Chapter Ten)

Finally, Chapter Ten "Summary, Synthesis and Implications" synthesises the outcomes of all the review chapters and provides a number of recommendations for future policy directions in New Zealand science education.

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