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Re-defining teacher education of primary teachers of science in Hong Kong

This study arises from my personal interest as a lecturer in the Hong Kong Institute of Education with a responsibility to prepare student-teachers to teach science at the primary level. This study was conducted based on three concerns about science and science teacher education in Hong Kong. Firstly, there are concerns about the quality of science teaching in local schools. Secondly, other local studies concluded that the majority of both primary teachers and student-teachers come from an arts education background in their secondary schooling and that they lack the confidence to teach science topics. Thirdly, teacher educators are concerned about the low impact of teacher education programmes, as the school culture seems to have an important influence over classroom practice. In the present study, the researcher attempted to address these problems by finding out ways to better prepare the student-teachers for teaching primary science, and to understand more about the process of learning to teach, by describing the professional, personal and social development of the novice teachers. Drawing on the findings, science educators can be better informed about how to prepare the student-teachers professionally, and increase their confidence in science teaching. Furthermore, with a picture on teacher development, practices that are conducive to teacher development can be identified and hence better support for the novice teachers can be designed. In the present study, the constructivist view of learning was applied to inform science teaching in the primary classroom, and the sociocultural view of learning was used to explain the development of novice science teachers in the process of learning to teach. The literature on the sociocultural view of learning, teacher development, teacher socialization and knowledge about teaching provided a framework for the present study. Drawing on the literature about a sociocultural view of learning, learning in the teacher education programme had to be re-contextualised in the primary classroom. The teacher educator was seen to be an agent, with the purpose of mediating between the novice teachers and the teaching culture that is informed by a constructivist view of learning. Drawing on the literature about teacher education, teacher educators need to acknowledge the past learning experience of the learners, to practice what they preach and provide experiences that increase the learners’ confidence in teaching science. They have to be aware of the possible influences of the school context on the teachings of the novice teachers, and to provide continual support during the beginning teaching phase. They have to be knowledgeable about the various aspects of teacher development namely, professional, social and personal development. The novice teachers have an active role to play in the learning process and have to be involved in active discussions with their peers during the learning process. Instead of viewing novice teachers as passively adapting to the school requirements, they can be active agents that may lead to changes in the practice of the school or the experienced teachers. This was a two-year study that followed the development of the same group of student-teachers during the teacher education programme to the time after their graduation and continued until the end of their first year of teaching. This study included three phases. The first phase involved the implementation of the Curriculum Studies Module in the teacher education programme. The Module introduced a range of science teaching approaches in which there was an emphasis on teaching science based on a constructivist view of learning. The student-teachers were interviewed before and after the Module. These interviews were to find out if there were changes in the views of the student-teachers on science teaching and learning. The second phase was the teaching practice phase. During this period, the student-teachers were observed in their lessons and there were interviews to find out whether the Curriculum Studies Module had influenced their teaching and their views of learning. The third phase is the beginning teaching phase. This phase included interviews with the beginning teachers three months after they started their first teaching assignment. These interviews provide a background on how the support for these beginning teachers in the form of resource packs should be designed. The support included the provision of a resource pack, an introductory workshop and personal support from the researcher. The resource pack included suggested topic sequences, information about children’s preconceptions and suggestions for activities. During the implementation of the resource packs, the beginning teachers were observed in their lessons and were interviewed. These aimed to find out whether the support in the form of the resource packs, the interactions with the researcher, and the interactions with teachers in the school (if any) had an influence on their views of teaching and learning. The data in the three phases were analysed in order to build a picture about the professional, personal and social development of the student-teachers or the beginning teachers. Findings suggest that the student-teachers experienced a gain in their confidence in teaching science after the Curriculum Studies Module, and were able to teach with a constructivist view of learning in their teaching practice which was at the end of phase two. However, as the graduates started on their first teaching assignment in phase three, they were often unable to practice what was taught in the module in their science classes. With the support of the resource pack and the researcher, the science teaching of the beginning teachers was more consistent with a constructivist view of learning and some were even able to influence their colleagues to give more thought to their science lessons. It appears that these interventions had facilitated the novice teachers to teach science with intentions consistent with a constructivist view of learning; to perform the teacher actions that help to engage pupils in thinking in the lessons; to develop better learning outcomes and learning conditions as well as experience gains in their confidence in teaching science. Drawing on the findings, the study concluded with a dynamic model on teacher development that emphasizes the interactions between the novice teacher with the institutional culture and those with the school culture. From a sociocultural view of learning, teacher development is seen as a contextualised activity and recommendations for teacher educators were made.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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