Towards effective teaching in primary science : an analysis of the evolving contribution of the SPACE Project to understanding the role of the teacher
The main aim of this thesis is to further understanding of primary science teaching through the analysis of a constructivist research project and its evolution into curriculum materia's. My analysis is underpinned with views on the nature of constructivism, the nature of primary science and research into effective teaching. In particular, I seek to locate the Primary SPACE (Science Processes and Concept Exploration) Project within the paradigm of constructivism; to explore notions of children's ideas as either theories or everyday ways of knowing; to chart the influence of constructivism in the Nuffield Primaa'y Science (NPS) curriculum materials and to observe case studies of classroom practice linked to both SPACE and NPS. My analysis locates SPACE in a form of constructivism particular to primary science (Harlen and Osborne, 1985) which has more in common with "good primary practice" than with other approaches to constructivism. The messages from the NPS Science Co-ordinator's Handbook are very similar to this, while the practice modelled in the Teachers' Guides relates more closely to "guided discovery". Observation of a teacher using NPS for the first time reveals practice very similar to that modelled in the Teachers' Guides in which the teacher is in control of the right answer. This is more successful than a SPACE teacher who tries to change the social dimension of classroom teaching and learning to give the children more ownership, according to constructivist principles. "Guided discovery" is acknowledged to be unprofitable for learning (Hodson, 1993) yet the children being taught using NPS had learning outcomes exceeding the teacher's expectations. I suggest reasons for the success of NPS based on research into effective teaching: that repetition of clearly stated key ideas leads to focused teaching in which learning activities are matched to intended learning outcomes. This approach does not view children's ideas as theories to be developed and is therefore not related to constructivism. I suggest that the way forward for primary science teaching is to embrace socio-cultural approaches so that the teacher's role corresponds more closely to society's norms for education in science, that children learn the accepted science view through supported negotiation, with their ideas viewed only as everyday ways of knowing.