Science Teachers' and Senior Secondary Schools Students' Perceptions of Earth and Environmental Science Topics

By Dawson, Vaille; Carson, Katherine | Australian Journal of Environmental Education, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Science Teachers' and Senior Secondary Schools Students' Perceptions of Earth and Environmental Science Topics


Dawson, Vaille, Carson, Katherine, Australian Journal of Environmental Education


Earth and environmental science (EES) education is becoming increasingly important in school science education. With global issues of sustainability, climate change, threats to biodiversity, and dwindling energy and mineral resources, it is important that young people are scientifically literate with respect to the complex multidisciplinary science underpinning these issues. EES courses are being introduced internationally at all levels of schooling as countries attempt to produce environmentally literate citizens, capable of understanding both the daily discourse on such topics, as well as the consequences of actions they undertake in their everyday lives (e.g., Chang, Chang, & Yang, 2009; Chapman, 2011; Jenkins, 2000; Metz, McMillan, Maxwell, & Tetrault, 2010). An understanding of environmental science content by young people can improve their attitudes and subsequent behaviour regarding the environment (Ballentyne, Fien, & Packer, 1996; Bradley, Waliczek, & Zajicek, 1999).

Traditionally, Earth science has not had the same prestige as physics, chemistry and biology and indeed, a survey by Jenkins (2000) in the United Kingdom showed some teachers felt resentment at having to teach the subject. This lack of prestige was exacerbated by university courses not including Earth science subjects as prerequisites for their courses (Burg, 2003). Are view of the introduction of EES as a new senior school subject in New South Wales by Burg (2003) showed students also viewed this subject as 'easy science' and it often attracted weaker students. Mayer and Armstrong (1990) stated that 'the science curriculum is trapped in the century old curricular strait-jacket of biology, chemistry and physics. This seems to have ensured the neglect of the planet earth systems that are our home and govern our well-being' (p. 155). Such traditional and conservative views on science demonstrate that the introduction of EES as a new upper secondary science subject may be challenging.

In 1989, a new national curriculum for science was introduced in England and Wales for 11- to 16-year-olds, which included new aspects of Earth science. Ten years later, King (2001) surveyed teachers about their views and knowledge on teaching Earth science and found that although teachers reported their own Earth science knowledge and that of their students as moderate, in both cases it was actually poor. King believes this was partly due to a lack of professional development and ongoing support for teachers. When surveyed, most teachers reported obtaining their Earth science knowledge from student science textbooks (which contained little Earth science content) and from other teachers (whose Earth science knowledge may also be poor).

In 2004, in Taiwan the Earth Science curriculum was restructured to address students' increasing need of awareness of environmental issues (Chang, Chang, & Yang, 2009). The name was changed from 'Earth Science' to 'Earth and Environmental Science'. Over 1,000 Taiwanese secondary school teachers were surveyed on their views of teaching EES. Teachers were asked to rank certain statements according to their perceived importance. The results demonstrate that a high priority for teachers was to support students' scientific literacy so they could become interested in and understand the world around them.

The introduction of EES as a senior school subject in New South Wales in 2000 brought challenges for teachers. While most teachers felt the combination of Earth science and environmental science was appropriate, teachers also felt the course contained too much information to teach effectively (Burg, 2003). Students also faced challenges with the new subject. After the first year, 32% of students dropped the subject (the highest of any science subject). Nevertheless, the combination of Earth science and environmental science provided a subject with many attributes that potentially linked positively to student learning. …

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