Case Study of Teacher Beliefs in Contemporary Science Education Goals and Classroom Practices Case Study

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teacher beliefs in contemporary science education goals and classroom practices. Fischer-Mueller, J. & Zeidler, D.L.

The participants in the study included nine science teachers at the Souhegan High School (SHS) in Amherst, New Hampshire. However, three "typical case" teachers chosen for the qualitative data analysis as they were willing to allow an observer in their classroom and participate in multiple interviews.

There are three major research questions being addressed: (1) What is the extent that the science teachers a SHS support the contemporary goals of science education? (2) What is a SHS science teacher's degree of conviction concerning their beliefs about particular goals? (3) How is a teacher's belief in contemporary goals translated or expressed by their actual classroom teaching?

The methodology included surveys and interviews (Contemporary Goals of Science Education Survey; Zeidler & Duffy, 1994) but for question three it is predominately qualitative in that it uses observation, coding of observations, and interview data of the three teachers in conjunction with their responses on the survey to address its main questions. The interviews were recorded on an audiotape and were semi-structured using the Newmann et al. (1995) (Standards and Scoring Criteria for Classroom Instruction and Assessment Tasks) as a guideline, but were obviously not fully standardized.

The data collection procedure is quite complex for a qualitative study and will be briefly addressed here. The researchers support the data collection method by adhering to Lincoln and Guba's (1985) criteria for trustworthiness with adherence to credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability of the data. To make sure the data was credible the researchers employed a number of techniques including prolonged engagement, persistent observation, triangulation, and member checking. Interviews with the teachers were used as a means of checking the coding and observations. A reflexive journal was used to attend to dependability and confirmability to rule out the effects of personal bias and experimenter effects of the investigator.

While the data analysis for three teachers, their classroom observations, and interviews is qualitative in nature all nine teachers completed the Contemporary Goals Survey. Teachers generally demonstrated a conviction to contemporary goals over past goals (research question one). However, there was a mild discrepancy in the conviction of contemporary over past goals (the research question two). The results indicated that in one area the difference in the strength of the conviction between a corresponding past and contemporary goal was inconsequential. Weighted means for the conviction to the past and contemporary goals were calculated from the survey and the difference between the weighted means determined. Here the authors are a bit vague in their explanation, but as it turns out if the difference is less the .15 the strength of the conviction between past and contemporary goals is inconsequential (Zeider & Duffy, 1994). For the pair in question: "Science education should focus on knowledge acquisition and process skill unrelated to the interactions of science, technology and society" (past goal) and "Science education should stress the interactions among science, technology, and society" (contemporary goal) the difference was -.17, indicating overall no difference in the strength of conviction. The authors spend considerable time analyzing the responses of all nine teachers, and surprisingly conclude that it is hard to believe that those that expressed a conviction in the past goal did so with the same strength as they did for the contemporary goal-despite their earlier findings based on accepted standards. I think this is an interesting conclusion and it reflects the very bias that the investigators purport to be trying to control with their reflexive journal during the qualitative analysis. The fact that the group demonstrated no overall difference in the strength of the past and contemporary goal conviction says just that, there is no overall difference. Instead of trying to fit the result in with the hypothesis, a thorough follow-up analysis, re-questioning, and discussion with the participants is in order so that the researchers can fully understand this result in much the same manner that the researchers address potential problems with their qualitative analysis of the classroom behavior of the three teachers. When a researcher begins to try to explain a quantitative result away we can sense their own bias and also can become suspicious of other findings. Furthermore,…

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