A Case Study of Teacher Beliefs in Contemporary Science Education Goals and Classroom Practices

By Fischer-Mueller, Jennifer; Zeidler, Dana L. | Science Educator, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

A Case Study of Teacher Beliefs in Contemporary Science Education Goals and Classroom Practices


Fischer-Mueller, Jennifer, Zeidler, Dana L., Science Educator


Results are presented from an examination of teachers' beliefs in contemporary goals of science education and the degree to which these beliefs are embedded in classroom practices.

Introduction and Purpose

Since the Sputnik days of the 1960s, numerous research studies have revealed the need for necessary changes in science education, but few of the innovations and recommendations have been implemented (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study [BSCS], 1993; Fullan, 1993; Hart & Robottom, 1990). The research shows that much science curricula is still centered around teachers' lectures, textbooks, and student memorization of voluminous facts (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 1993; BSCS, 1993; Hart & Robottom, 1990; National Science Teachers Association [NSTA], 1992). This style of pedagogy is contrary to the way science is practiced and inimical to the central goal of science education for the 21 st century, science literacy for all students (National Research Council [NRC], 1996; NSTA, 1992; AAAS, 1993; Siebert & McIntosh, 2001).

Objectives of the Study

In order to continue reform in science education beyond the dissemination of new goals by the research community, some insight about the degree to which teachers believe in the contemporary goals and whether classroom practice is changing in support of these goals is indicated. This initial study investigating the connection between these two specific factors focused on Souhegan High School in New Hampshire. Consequently, a case study that involves a detailed examination of a single group or individual better serves the purpose of this investigation.

Surveying teachers' beliefs in contemporary science education goals, observing their classroom practice, reviewing forms of assessment, and interviewing teachers sheds light on the consistencies between classroom practice and stated beliefs in contemporary goals. Investigating the implicit link between teachers' beliefs in the contemporary goals of science education and classroom practice allows the science education research community to probe deeper into the dilemmas associated with educational change.

Rationale for the Context of the Study

Souhegan High School was established in 1992 with an ambitious mission statement: "Souhegan High School aspires to be community of learners born of respect, trust, and courage. We consciously commit ourselves: to support and engage an individual's unique gifts, passions and intentions; to develop and empower the mind, body, and heart; to challenge and expand the comfortable limits of thought, tolerance and performance; and to inspire and honor the active stewardship of family nation, and globe." Learning communities, as defined by McLaughlin and Talbert (1993), are groups of teachers working together in a conscious effort to adapt their practice to the learning needs of students. Accordingly, Souhegan High School has become a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) and prescribes to its ten Common Principles (Sizer, 1984).

The general direction of reform in CES schools is consistent with many of the specific recommendations offered by the science education community (AAAS, 1993; NSTA, 1992; NRC, 1996, Siebert & McIntosh, 2001). These recommendations include: engaging students in their own learning; changing the teacher's role from teacher-as-expert and giver-- of-information to facilitator of student centered activities; and, the mastering of skills and relevant knowledge to provide conceptual depth rather than memorization of many disconnected facts. These consistencies make a CES member school a viable place for an investigation of teachers' beliefs regarding the contemporary science education goals and teachers' routine classroom practice.

Research Questions and Corresponding Rationale

The aim of this study was to examine teachers' beliefs in contemporary goals of science education and to investigate the degree to which these beliefs are embedded in classroom practice.

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