04 SES 11 D, Different Learners, Teaching Practices, and the Curriculum
The challenge of diversity in the field of science education has been recently highlighted in Europe (European Commission, 2015): education policies and systems should address socio-economic, gender and cultural inequalities in order to widen access and provide everyone with the opportunities to pursue excellence in learning and learning outcomes. One of the suggestions of the European Commission (2015) for further science education research is to study “how to improve the participation and inclusion of all individuals, of all talents, in science learning in diverse contexts (addressing socio-economic and gender inequities)”. In addition, for instance, Warren et al. (2001) have earlier argued for the importance of taking seriously the ideas and ways of talking and knowing that children and students from diverse communities – linguistic, racial, and ethnic – bring to science classrooms.
We have earlier studied student teachers’ conceptions on different learners and their views on what kind of support students need (Authors 2017): Finnish student teachers’ definitions of different learners were merely categorised into students’ special education needs (SEN; cf. Villanueva, Taylor, Therrien & Hand 2012) and to the orientation of students. Only a few of the student teachers paid attention to the diversity of learners (cf. Lee & Buxton 2010), to which one reason might have been the low rate of immigrants and refugees in Finland. Special education needs cover, e.g., intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities (LD), gifted, emotional or behavioural needs, physically dependent, deaf/blind, deaf or hard of hearing, visual impairments and chronic health impairments (Villanueva et al. 2012). The orientation category in our study consisted of students’ learning styles, variation of students’ prior knowledge, and their motivation and interest. A few of the student teachers referred to immigrant students, their linguistic abilities and cultural background; this diverse learners’ category covered only a part of its definition by, e.g., Lee and Buxton (2010): student diversity includes race/ethnicity, culture, language, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES).
Villanueva et al. (2012) argue that science can serve as an effective tool for students with SEN to engage in disciplinary understandings as most students and to develop an awareness of, and interest in, themselves and their immediate surroundings and environment through science. Additionally, they see that the practical and social aspects of the discipline, e.g. hands-on activities and working with peers, provide students with opportunities to illustrate ideas through investigations. According to McCarthy (2005), science education offers good opportunities to students to utilize their everyday life experiences in science learning. For culturally diverse learners, for instance, Lee and Fradd (1998) have emphasised that hands-on, inquiry-based science education provides all students, including so-called English language learners (ELL), with opportunities to develop scientific understanding and scientific communication skills simultaneously. Furthermore, Piliouras and Evangelou (2012) have found that establishing environments that promote collaborative inquiry learning conditions, especially in multicultural classrooms, help students with a smoother cultural border crossing during science lessons.
We think that science education as a multi-faceted educational context can offer to different learners a platform for positive learning experiences. Our research question thus is what science education can offer to different learners according to Finnish student teachers.
Our study follows the principles of action research and it aims to develop student teachers’ understanding on supporting different learners in science education. The context of the study was Inquiry-Based Science Education course (3,5 ECTS) in a Finnish teacher education department. Two of the researchers were science teacher educators and the third one had expertise in special education. The data was gathered in the very beginning of the course, in a form of an open-ended e-questionnaire presenting the question: “How and why could science education support different learners? Give your arguments and examples.” There were 163 primary student teachers, 85 special primary student teachers, and 45 secondary student teachers in 2015 and 2016. We applied qualitative content analysis as a research method. The aim of the content analysis was to provide a detailed description of the data. Firstly, in the analysis process, the data was carefully read through in order to obtain the sense of whole. Secondly, preliminary categories were formed, and thirdly, the final main categories (n=3) and subcategories (n=9) were organised with the help of the peer triangulation.
The student teachers considered that the advantages of science education for different learners are 1) different learners’ inherent interest in nature and natural phenomena, 2) characteristics of school science, and 3) characteristics of science. First, learners’ inherent interest motivates and stimulates to study science; interested learners have usually prior conceptions and knowledge, which supports learning. Second, characteristics of school science included versatile contents, diverse teaching methods, materials, and learning environments that support learning according to the student teachers. This category consisted also of mentions related to practical, concrete, phenomenal, experiential, illustrative, multichannel, functional, communal, and integrative nature of science teaching, assessment practices that pay attention to skills, and the use of ICT in teaching. Third, vide-ranging areas and phenomena of science, language (symbols, various representations, and models) and structure (its logic, cause-effect-relations) of science can support different learners. Seeing the importance and relevance of science in every-day life and society support learner’ learning according to the student teachers. The student teachers’ perceptions were versatile and they offer fruitful starting points to consider science education as a tool for supporting different learners. It would be important in teacher education to see science education for different learners from positive perspective instead of focusing in learning difficulties and challenges.
Authors. (2017). A paper presented in the Conference of the European Science Education Research Association, Dublin, Ireland, 25-28 August, 2017. European Commission. (2015). Science Education for Responsible Citizenship. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Lee, O. & Buxton, C.A. (2010). Diversity and Equity in Science Education. Research, Policy, and Practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Lee, O. & Fradd, S.H. (1998). Science for all, including students from non-English language backgrounds. Educational Researcher, 27, 12–21. McCarthy, C.B. (2005). Effects of Thematic-Based, Hands-On Science Teaching versus a Textbook Approach for Students with Disabilities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 245–263. Piliouras, P. & Evangelou, O. (2012). Teachers’ Inclusive Strategies to Accommodate 5th Grade Pupils’ Crossing of Cultural Borders in Two Greek Multicultural Science Classrooms. Research in Science Education, 42, 329–351. Villanueva, M.G., Taylor, J., Therrien, W. & Hand, B. (2012). Science education for students with special needs. Studies in Science Education, 48, 187–215. Warren, B., Ballenger, C., Ogonowski, M, Roseberry, A.S. & Hudicourt-Barnes, J. (2001). Rethinking Diversity in Learning Science: The Logic of Everyday Sense-Making. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 529–552.
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