Teaching about Science Teaching and Learning through an Experimental Inquiry Approach

Article excerpt

This study investigates the effect of a science teaching approach--the experimental inquiry approach--on preservice student teachers understanding of the teaching and learning of science in primary schools. This understanding might be influenced by their prior science learning experiences in schools and in teacher education. In this study, the experimental inquiry approach was implemented in the teaching of two exemplary science units in a teacher education module. Pre-tests and post-tests about their views of the teaching and learning of science were conducted and analysed. Their views, expectations and limitations of teaching science in primary schools in ways congruent to the experimental inquiry approach were also probed, as was the feasibility of implementing the experimental inquiry approach in primary schools during their teaching practicum.

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I started my career in education as a science teacher in the mid 1970s in Hong Kong. From early on as science teacher to the present as science teacher educator at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, my teaching has been driven by an imperative derived from the question: How can I help my students become better learners? This question has, at its root, similarities with the catalyst for self-study described by Whitehead (1993) where he asks, 'How can I better help my students to learn?' and 'How do I live up to my values more fully in my practice?'. However, in contrast to Whitehead, my work is firmly based in the teaching and learning of science. Therefore, for me, one way of resolving this question has been to develop teaching strategies and procedures that facilitate learners' approaches to constructing science knowledge personally and effectively. This paper examines how I have attempted to influence my student-teachers' understanding of, and approaches to, science teaching through challenging the traditional approach to primary science teaching so prevalent in Hong Kong and so often inadvertently reinforced through approaches to teaching in teacher education programs.

Context of primary science teacher education in Hong Kong

Most primary school teachers in Hong Kong are graduates of either the former colleges of education (before 1994) that were run by the Hong Kong Education Department or the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) that was established in 1994 to replace the colleges of education. These teachers mostly graduated with a Certificate in Education (CE) but, from 2001, the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree from the HKIEd became the major primary school teaching qualification. In either the Certificate in Education (Primary) program or the Bachelor of Education (Primary) program offered by HKIEd, science was not offered as an elective or as a major or minor subject in the curriculum frameworks. Science was not taught as an independent subject in local primary schools, but only as a component subject in the General Studies curriculum which is an integrated subject comprising science, social studies and health education (Education Commission, 1990).

In effect, there was only one compulsory module, entitled 'Science for Primary Education' for all students of the Certificate in Education (Primary) program. There was also only one compulsory module, entitled 'Foundation Science' before 2002, and one optional module, entitled 'Exploring Science' after 2002 in the Bachelor of Education (Primary) program. Those students who took General Studies as an elective (CE) or major or minor (B.Ed) studied more science modules; but non General Studies students, who are the majority of the student population, take either one of the above modules. Moreover a majority of the students in HKIEd are Arts-stream students, who have studied science only up to the level of (high school) Secondary 3. Therefore most of the HKIEd students who become prospective teachers in primary schools do not receive any intensive training in teaching science. …