Early Childhood Teachers' Attitudes toward Science Teaching: A Scale Validation Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to develop a teacher-rating instrument, the Early Childhood Teachers' Attitude Toward Science Teaching. Based upon a pre-existing scale measuring elementary teachers' attitudes toward science teaching, the "Revised Science Attitude Scale " (Thompson & Shrigley, 1986), 22 items were newly modified for the early childhood teachers. Reliability and validity of the scale were examined by using Cronbach Alpha and factor analyses respectively. According to the results of data analyses, reliability was high (.92), however, construct validity of the scale was not fully supported by the factor analyses. Through discussion about validity of the scale, four new subconstructs emerged: 'comfort-discomfort', 'managing hands-on science', 'classroom preparation', and 'developmental appropriateness.' Given these new subconstructs, newly revised items are provided for future validation studies.

Teachers' attitudes toward science teaching have been understood as an important component for effective science education (Koballa & Crawley, 1985; McDevitt, et al., 1993; Stefanich & Kelsey, 1989). Research suggests that teachers' attitudes toward science teaching not only affects their understanding of science (Franz & Enochs, 1982; Tilgner, 1990), but also their thinking and classroom practices (Coble & Koballa, 1996; Richardson, 1996). Teachers' attitudes toward science teaching is not a mere affective factor contributing toward science teaching, but a critical component determining the quality of pedagogical practices (Gauthire, 1994; Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1994). Given these perspectives on science teaching, assessment instruments (e.g. Moore, 1973; Moore & Martin, 1990; Thompson & Shrigley, 1986) measuring teachers' attitudes toward science teaching have been developed and validated. However, scale development and validation have not been conducted with teachers at the early childhood education level. Due to the lack of appropriate measurement tools, empirical studies on teacher-related factors in early childhood science education are scarce, although the importance of teachers' attitudes in science learning with young children has been emphasized (Abruscato, 1992; Furman, 1990; Holt, 1989).

Teaching science in early childhood has been understood as helping young children to develop ways of understanding the world around them (Karlen, 1985; Lind, 1996; Perry & Rivkin, 1992). Specifically, science education for young children focuses on guiding them to enjoy active exploration with wonder, joy, and curiosity, instead of teaching difficult academic concepts (Kim & Cho, 1998). In line with understanding science education for young children, an early childhood teacher's main role in science teaching seems to be that of a facilitator; one who helps children to enjoy observation, trial and error, measurement, and experiments (Chaille & Britain, 1997). In early childhood science teaching, teachers are not expected to explain scientific principles or concepts, but to prepare suitable physical and social environments for children to engage in experiments (Perry & Rivkin, 1992).

In order to conduct effective science teaching for young children, it is essential for teachers to examine their own affective obstacles (e.g., fear, hesitency, uncomfort), rather than place priority on having sufficient knowledge in science. Holt (1989) specifically addressed this issue: "Do you have some hang-ups, some barriers within yourself that might affect the learning opportunities you arrange - or avoid - for children? Some attitudes in adults can certainly stop or slow down children's science inquires" (p. 102). In sum, it is the teachers' attitudes toward science teaching that significantly affects young children's science learning.

Although teachers' attitudes toward science teaching are a critical factor in science education for young children, it is very difficult to find an appropriate instrument to measure early childhood teachers' attitudes toward science teaching. …