Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

An Australian Science Curriculum: Competition, Advances and Retreats

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

An Australian Science Curriculum: Competition, Advances and Retreats

Article excerpt

Background

As a child of the 1950s, I've learnt and taught science as well as lecturing and researching in science education through a period punctuated by significant perturbations in curriculum. All have been well intentioned. Yet, it seems axiomatic that curriculum change in itself cannot cure whatever it is that ails school science. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. This article considers the extent to which these hopes are well placed, first through a brief and necessarily selective consideration of the historical context of science curriculum development and then through an analysis of the views of experts.

Successive science curriculum developments, once led by the USA, were driven by national doubts about scientific superiority, motivated by economic and military concerns (Lieberman, 1982). Post-Sputnik curricula began with the Physical Sciences Study Committee Project (PSSC) in 1957 and a scientific habits movement that emphasised the teaching of process skills, initiated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1961, which led to the development of Science--a process approach (AAAS, 1968/ Proposed reforms that emphasised access to science for all included Science, technology and society (Bybee, 1986) and Science for all Americans (AAAS, 1989). More recently, scientific literacy (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2006) has become an entrenched, almost universally accepted goal of science education. These trends were perhaps most prevalent in the USA but their impact was felt throughout the English-speaking world (Goodrum, Hackling & Rennie, 2001).

From the 1970s to the early 1990s, there were major shifts in thinking about science learning and teaching. Practical teaching approaches were generated to make connections between learning as a construction and classroom learning and teaching practice (Biddulph & Osborne, 1984). Research on children's science and constructivist views of learning provided the impetus for new curriculum goals that take into account learners' cognitive frameworks (Osborne & Freyberg, 1985; White, 1991). Consistent with the shift from behaviourism and Piagetian stages of development to generative views of learning, curricula responded--somewhat. The construction of personal and science knowledge was evident in Australia (Curriculum Corporation, 1994), in the UK National Curriculum (Millar & Osborne, 1998) and in the USA (AAAS, 1989; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990). Scientific habits no longer dominated. They were retained as sections of curricula, such as 'working scientifically' in Science--a curriculum profile for Australian schools (Curriculum Corporation, 1994) and teaching 'scientific habits of mind' in Science for all Americans (AAAS, 1989; Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990). Interestingly, and despite growing evidence that children learn science through psychological order rather than through a predetermined logical order (Driver, 1981), the notion that student learning is best organised according to immutable stages continued to be reflected by strict logical sequencing of learning in many curricula.

The trends briefly identified so far have been played out in a series of curriculum developments both locally and overseas. It is reasonable to ask how the most recent national curriculum attempt, the Australian curriculum: Science (ACS) (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2011), builds on these and whether dated fashions have been entirely jettisoned. Building on this history, there are recent points of emphasis in Australian science education that have become prevalent in the lead-up to and during the 21st century and that are evident in the national curriculum paper Shape of the Australian curriculum: Science (National Curriculum Board, 2009a) and the curriculum itself--a detailed discussion of these is provided in Goodrum, Hackling and Rennie (2001), Goodrum and Rennie (2007) and Tytler (2007). …

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