This research exercise, employing an action research model for school-wide science curriculum improvement, explores the factors influencing science program delivery in a multicultural elementary school in Northwestern Canada. Using a validated science program delivery evaluation tool, the Science Curriculum Implementation Questionnaire (SCIQ), as a foundation for data collection, staff discussion and collaborative decision-making, a school embarks on a self-review process to, first of all, identify factors influencing science program delivery and, secondly, identify strategies for improvement of science delivery. Implications of this self-review process on science program delivery improvement are discussed, especially within the context of the adequacy of teacher pedagogical content knowledge within a multicultural context. As well, recognizing the limitations of the SCIQ within the context of study, modifications to the SCIQ are also presented.
elementary (primary) science delivery, evaluation instrument,
professional science knowledge
Because of the many complex and interrelated factors identified as impediments to effective science program delivery, it is not surprising that some authors regard primary science education internationally to be in a parlous state (Mulholland & Wallace, 1996). This perilous, ‘hard to put a finger on it’ situation arises from the fact that, as Fullan (1992) affirms, the success of curriculum implementation and improvement efforts is influenced by several system elements and that no one single factor can be targeted alone to effect change in curriculum delivery. Fullan (1993) asserts that curriculum interventions tend to leave the basic policies and practices of schools unchanged. These interventions tend to ignore the fact that changes in the core culture of teaching require major transformation in the culture of the school. Often the primary school culture is typified by ambivalence towards science education (Harlen, Holroyd & Byrne, 1995; Tilgner, 1990; Weiss, Matti & Smith, 1994). For this reason, curriculum reviews, policy changes, and overall reformation in the arena of primary science education are largely seen as empty rhetoric. International efforts indicate that although primary science curriculum reviews and reform efforts are admirable, the outcome of the reviews is primarily limited to increased teacher awareness and not teacher change (Harlen, 1997).
Stewart and Prebble (1985) suggest that effective curriculum implementation and improvement come from a systematic, sustained effort at changing learning conditions in the classroom and other internal conditions within the school. Understanding the context in which change is to occur is at the heart of school development (Stewart & Prebble, 1993). This understanding is established through the gathering of high-quality information that provides insight into the forces at work within the school. In turn, this information becomes the foundation from which discussion, reflection and deliberate focused change can begin (Stewart & Prebble, 1993). Because of the role this foundational data can have in informing strategic school development, the diagnosis or systematic assessment of the school environment is seen as an essential means by which the forces that are at work in a school impeding or contributing to curriculum implementation can be identified.
Stewart and Prebble (1993) describe a variety of strategies for systematic data gathering, one of which is the use of validated standard instruments. The study and systematic analyses of learning environments and educational climates using standard instruments is a well-developed area of educational research (Fraser, 1994; Fraser & Tobin, 1998). The systematic analysis is conducted through the use of measurement instruments that are able to assess the participants’ perceptions of the various attributes of the educational environment. For schools not wishing to invest the considerable amount of time and energy needed to complete more formalized and extensive school reviews, the use of standard instruments is seen as a time efficient, accurate but somewhat superficial means of understanding the forces at work within the educational context (Stewart & Prebble, 1993). When the data collected from the instrument application are coupled with narrative, they provide a foundation for increasing collective knowledge and understanding of organizational procedures and problems (Stewart & Prebble, 1985). As stated by Owens (1995), the employment of the good diagnostic tool becomes the starting point for the articulation of a reasonable prognosis.
The primary purpose of this research exercise was to use a validated curriculum delivery evaluation tool as a vehicle for focused and collaborative science delivery improvement at an urban elementary (Year 1-6) school in northwestern Canada. The study explores strategies for curriculum delivery improvement, through collaborative discussion and decision-making based on the collection of data, and thus subscribes to an action research model of school improvement. Furthermore, the study involves the application in a Canadian context of a curriculum delivery evaluation instrument developed, validated and used extensively in New Zealand (Edmonds & Lewthwaite, 2002; Gulliver & Lewthwaite, 2002; Payne & Lewthwaite, 2002). Since the application exercise assesses how well the questionnaire measures the breadth and depth of factors influencing a content area i.e. science curriculum delivery in a multicultural school where all teachers teach science as part of their professional duties, this instrument application study is also regarded an assessment of the questionnaire’s content validity (Gay, 1996).
The SCIQ exists in two forms, Actual and Preferred, which are both completed by the entire school teaching staff. The Actual form indicates the way things are and the Preferred indicates how teachers would prefer things to be. By completing the Actual and Preferred forms discrepancies between the actual and preferred environment are evident. The information is processed by following a specified, straight-forward procedure of analysis. Mean (average) calculations can be performed to identify general trends in perceptions for each of the scale and, if desired, each item and standard deviations can be calculated to determine the degree of consistency amongst respondents for each scale and again, if desired, each item.
Professional Science Knowledge
Table 1: Science Curriculum Implementation Actual and Preferred Profiles for Northwest School (n=12)
Science Curriculum Implementation Actual and Preferred Profile for Northwest School
Following a model of school development endorsed by Stewart and Prebble (1985) whereby data collection and presentation become the foundation for discussion and collaborative decision-making, the intent of the SCIQ and meanings of the scales and collected data were explained by the author to the staff. Some of the general trends identified from the data presented to staff included:
The results from the Actual SCIQ indicate that teachers at Northwest School perceive that the school is adequately resourced for the teaching of science. Not only is the school well resourced, the school’s facilities and system of managing these resources positively influences the teaching of science (Table 1: mean score 4.2). A standard deviation score of 0.2 indicates that this positive perception is consistent amongst staff. The Preferred SCIQ results indicate that the perceived improvements desired in the resourcing of science are minimal (Table 1: mean score 4.4).
Teachers at Northwest School perceive that the school places a high priority on science as a curriculum area and that this is reflected in the administrative decisions and actions of the school. The overall school ethos is seen to be contributing to the teaching of science (Table 1: mean score 3.9). The standard deviation score of 0.3 indicates that this positive perception is quite consistent amongst staff. Again, the Preferred SCIQ results indicate that teachers desire a slight improvement in the priority placed on science as a curriculum area (Table 1: mean score 4.2).
Teachers at Northwest School have reasonably positive perceptions of their ability to teach science. Teachers see themselves to be adequately prepared to teach science and are reasonably confident science teachers. They have positive perceptions of themselves as regards their ability to teach science. The mean score of 3.6 and standard deviation of 0.3 indicate that this perception is quite positive and consistent amongst staff (Table 1). Again, the Preferred SCIQ results indicate that teachers desire an improvement in their own capabilities as teachers of science (Table 1: mean score 4.2).
Teachers at Northwest School have neither strong nor weak perceptions of their professional science knowledge. Teachers see themselves as having neutral perceptions of the background knowledge necessary to teach science. Their knowledge of the subject and the strategies known for promoting effective learning are seen to be only adequate. The mean score of 3.2 and standard deviation of 0.7 suggests that this perception is not consistent amongst staff (Table 1). The Preferred SCIQ results indicate that teachers desire an improvement in their professional science knowledge (Table 1: mean score 4.4).
The author directed the discussion towards the teacher professional attribute or intrinsic factor data influencing science curriculum delivery. In particular, the discrepancy between the Actual and Preferred results for the Professional Adequacy and Professional Science Knowledge that had been identified by the SCIQ (Figure 1) were highlighted.
This staff discussion marked the end of the preliminary school self-review based on data collection and discussion and collective decision-making in the area of science program delivery. Although environmental factors such as school ethos, resource adequacy, time and professional support were seen to be factors contributing to effective science program delivery, intrinsic factors such as teacher professional knowledge were being identified as factors reducing the overall effectiveness of effective science program delivery. The staff discussion marked the end of the self-review process based on data collection and discussion. From there, the discussion as (Stewart & Prebble, 1985) suggest focused on collective decision-making in the area of science program delivery. Some staff recognized that they wanted to develop their professional science knowledge base within specific content areas of the curriculum. Of particular importance to others was developing their understanding of common pre-instructional views of learners, especially within an acknowledgement of cultural worldviews, and effective strategies for teaching science within a cross-cultural context. As well, some teachers expressed a concern for improving their professional capabilities in several physical science concepts such as light, magnetism, forces and changes to matter. Decisions were made to negotiate an appropriate professional development program to address these complex concerns through a local teacher consultant.
Overall, the SCIQ served to be a purposeful evaluative tool in assisting Northwest School’s science curriculum delivery review process. It had served as an efficient and accurate means to gather staff perceptions of both the environmental and professional attribute factors influencing science program delivery. As well, it had served as a foundation for discussing and identifying areas of concern and strategies for science delivery improvement. The discussion that accompanied the data presentation was also instrumental in identifying shortcomings to the SCIQ as a diagnostic tool for identifying factors influencing science program delivery. In consequence to these shortcomings, two additional items pertaining to knowledge of the curriculum and knowledge of learners (Items 36 & 43 respectively) have been added to the Professional Science Knowledge scale of the SCIQ to address the complex knowledge base required by teachers in the teaching of science. The amended SCIQ is included in the Appendix.
Although this study affirms that various extrinsic factors associated with the school environment, in particular those relating to the role of the principal as an instructional leader, are major influences on effective science program delivery, intrinsic factors such as the complex teacher knowledge base, beliefs and attitudes teachers possess, also compound the complexity of the delivery process. As well, it shows that the systematic analysis of factors influencing curriculum delivery can be conducted through the use of measurement instruments. Understanding the context in which change is to occur is at the heart of school development (Stewart & Prebble, 1993). This understanding is established through the gathering of high-quality information that provides insight into the forces at work within the school. For schools not wishing to invest the considerable amount of time and energy needed to complete more formalized and extensive school reviews, the use of standard instruments, such as the Science Curriculum Implementation Questionnaire, to collect foundational data when combined with narrative is advocated as a time efficient and accurate means of understanding the forces at work within the educational context and developing through collaborative discussion focused strategies for curriculum improvement.
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