The context of science teaching : some case studies
The purpose of the research reported in this thesis was exploratory: to identify prominent features beyond, but related to the processes of science teaching; defined as the context of science teaching. A preliminary study indicated a lack of consensus among teachers in reporting aspects of their context. After further consideration of theoretical issue, case studies using participant observation were carries out on science teachers in three Scottish secondary schools. Nearly five hundred hours were spent observing and interviewing science personnel. General descriptions of the three schools and their proximal environments indicated salient issues for teachers resulting from actions of senior school staff, pupil grouping, limited contact with non-science teachers, and inputs from outside the schools. An analysis of ways that science teachers worked together and the activities of technicians and promoted science teachers provided insights into the nature of science departments. They were used as part of the communicative and administrative framework in the schools, but science teaching itself was sub-contracted. Although there was some mutual support there was little collaboration on teaching tasks except where this was imposed. An important function of departments was to provide a supportive framework for logistic purposes. A description of day-to-day activities of science teachers revealed contextual features that impinged on lessons and lesson preparation. Two themes were posited as a way of generalizing about contextual effects: 'control' and 'uncertainty'. It was proposed that these phenomena pervaded all facets of the context and that they provided useful concepts for understanding teachers' patterns of thinking and action. Three orientations of the teachers in the case study schools were described: 'doing-a-basic-job', 'individualism' and 'presentism' and relationships were suggested between these orientations and experienced controls and uncertainties.