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High-impact teaching for science

by Peter Hudson

Teachers generally enter the profession to 'make a difference' to students' lives, yet long-term impacts on students' iearning need to be considered to determine teaching practices that make a difference. This qualitative study analyses responses from 167 adults (pre-service teachers) aged between 19 and 51 about their memories of positive and negative primary science education experiences, and high-impact science iessons that infiuenced them. The resuits indicated that high-impact teaching for science inciuded: teacher's enthusiasm, targeting misconceptions, excursions, usabie and practical science, group work, handson experiences, and interactivity with life. Low or negative impact involved: disengaging activities such as sensory-repulsive tasks, unciear reasons for learning science, teacher's lack of enthusiasm, chalk and taik or copying teacher's work, and denigrating students' personal ideas. Implementing science iessons with one or more elements of high-impact teaching may lead towards making a difference, particularly if these teaching practices produce in students positive long-term memories about their science education.

eachers enter the profession to 'make a difference' to students' lives (Neal, McCray, & WebbJohnson, 2001). Some note teaching as a 'calling' {Hansen, 1995; Schwarz, 1998), and as a way to have positive effects on students' thinking for real-life learning (Alder, 2002; Noddings, 2001). Making a difference to students' learning may be linked to effective teaching (Knobloch, 2003); however the longterm effectiveness of teaching can be difficult to ascertain. Test results may indicate current levels of understanding particular knowledge, and other forms of assessment, such as observation of students' work and portfolios, can also present evidence of students' learning. Yet, 'making a difference' assumes going beyond immediate assessment results. Making a difference has more to do with long-term impacts on students' thinking and possibly life actions as a result of effective teaching (e.g. see Knobloch, 2003; Larrivee, 2000), which may not be evident from tests and assessments at school level. Defining the effective teacher is difficult; but effective primary science teachers

tend to develop their own lessons and 'make their own curricular decisions' (Ball & Feiman-Nemser, 1988, p. 421). Effective teaching evolves from experiences and beliefs about teaching (Wideen, Mayersmith, & Moon, 1998, p. 130), particularly as beliefs 'are part of the foundation upon which behaviors are based' (Enochs & Riggs, 1990, p. 694). The difficulties in defining effective science teaching are embedded in the numerous characteristics and roles of the classroom teacher. It is generally accepted by researchers and educators (e.g., Hanie, 2005; Loughran, Mulhall, & Berry, 2004) that effective science teaching requires an understanding ofthe subject matter, which needs to be taught in engaging ways. There is also empirical research and scholarly debate about what constitutes effective learning. Some of these theories include authentic learning (Herrington & Oliver, 2000), problem-based learning (Savery & Duffy, 1996), constructivism (Vygotsky, 1986), and the social cognitive theory of learning (Bandura, 1986). The quality of the teacher can make a difference to a student's education (Vogt,

2002; Wong, Britton, & Ganser, 2005). A teacher's unpretentious, caring nature can motivate students to work to their fullest potential (Alder, 2002; Easton, 2002; Knobloch, 2002; Noddings, 2001). Students have offered perspectives on describing good teaching, which mainly focus on teachers' interpersonal qualities and subject expertise. Research (Wright, 1984) on students' perspectives of good science teachers proffered positive stereotypical terms such as nice, warm, friendly, and interesting. When asked what makes an effective teacher, one study {Project 21, 1987) involving 6,645 Year 10, 11 and 12 students who had a range of teacher experiences (primary and secondary), listed the following characteristics and qualities: caring, understanding, encouraging, helpful, patient; communicates and makes learning enjoyable; fair discipline, unbiased; effective classroom management; knows the subject. Yet, teaching practices cannot assume long-term learning without linking it to research that aims to identify highimpact teaching practices. What are high-impact teaching
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practices? One high-impact factor on students' learning appears to be the teacher's affective domain. Knobloch (2003) states, 'effective teachers v^ho make a difference in the lives of their students are likely to be affectively motivated and caring teachers' (p. 1). High-impact teaching for learning about science may be better understood by exploring adults' long-term memories of their primary science education.

In this qualitative study, 167 adults (pre-service primary teachers) aged between 19 and 51 responded to a questionnaire that focused on Iheir positive and negative primary science education experiences, high-impact science iessons, and teaching practices that impacted on their learning. Apart from obtaining demographic information, the questionnaire requested these adults to reflect on their primary science education experiences: (1) As a primary student, was primary school science a positive experience? Why or why not? {2) State one primary science experience and state the effect this had on you. This questionnaire was administered at the beginning of tbe first lecture for learning about teaching primary science. Responses were recorded and coded to tabulate commonalities (Htttleman & Simon, 2002). The purpose of this research was to identify high-impact teaching for science and, in particular, analyse these pre-service teachers' memories of positive primary science lessons, tbe impact of primary science education, and teaching practices that appeared tt) have long-term effects. Data were collated into themes as they emerged.

Enthusiasm from (he teacher Teacher enthusiasm for a subject can play a role in students' likes or dislikes of a subject and their memory of it. Before discussing this enthusiasm, the adults in this study had mixed feelings about their own primary science education, with seven specifically claiming they could not remember doing s( ience in primary school, which may have to do with the age of tho participants I e., six of these N'spondents were 40 years old). These participants, who could not I (-member a primary science lesson, responded accordingly, "I can't remember, but I'm sure it was OK - I haven't Context been turned off for This study comprised 26% males and life" (ftirticipant 74% females (n=167). Thirty-two percent 98). Others Graph 1. Frequency of responses for each of the high-impact of these adults entered pre-service asserted that teaching for science practices teacher education straight from high school, however, as this was the second science was more This study supporis research (Unal & year of pre-service teacher education "embedded into the KLAs |Key Learning C o j u , 2005) that has emphasised the for most participants, their ages varied Areas!". One participant stated without need to target students' misconceptions considerably, that is: 43% were between any context to the science taught, "Yes, about scientific concepts. The literature 19 and 22 years of age, 31 % between it was interesting, and no because it was (e.g., see California fourna! of Science 23 and 29, 17% between 30 and 39, repetitive" (Participant 39). Conversely, Education, 2005, which devotes Volume and 9% were over 40 years of age. They 16 participants acknowledged the 5 Issue 2 to 'Dealing with science all attended the same metropolitan teachers' enthusiastic nature for teaching misconceptions') highlights targeting university within the same Bachelor of science. Those who emphasised students' misconceptions as an effective Education degree and were involved in teacher enthusiasm highlighted positive science teaching practice. This study the same science education unit. experiences in science, while the reverse showed that challenging students' occurred for those who experienced understandings created an impact on unenthusiastic teachers. Results and discussion learning about science concepts. For The following three responses were example, ftirticipant 26 testified, "In The following results and discussion typical of positive experiences in primary about Grade 5, we did an experiment will occur under these subheadings: science education, and each emphasised to see if it was possible to blow Misconceptions are targeted, Enthusiasm teacher enthusiasm as key to the process triangular or square-shaped bubbles. from the teacher. Croup work. Usable of learning: "Although we didn't do
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and practical knowledge. Hands-on experiences. Interactivity with life. Purpose for learning, and Excursions for science understandings. There are also results and discussion for pre-service teachers' negative responses about their own learning of science. Graph 1 shows the frequency of responses i^rom these adults (n=167). All responses fell into one or more of the eight categories (i.e.. Misconceptions are targeted. Enthusiasm from teacher. Group work. Usable and practical knowledge. Handson experiences. Interactivity with life. Purpose clearly articulated. Excursions). Some adults responded with more than one practice (e.g.. Group work and Excursions). Nil responses were also recorded.

This was successful in proving me wrong because I thought it was possible." The experimental challenge to the misconception was indelibly printed on the learner's mind. Participant 50 wrote, "We learnt about the development of the egg to chick. I thought the egg yolk became the chick's internal parts and egg white became the chick's external parts." Further evidence for targeting students' misconceptions can be provided through concept mapping or asking students to write on a topic prior to commencing a science unit of work.


much science study, when we did it was always interesting and educational because of the teachers" (Participant 112); "I thoroughly enjoyed al! of the science investigation undertaken at primary school. The teachers and students were enthusiastic about science, and the science experiences were made relevant to life" (Participant 116); and "1 remember studying the solar system a number of times, but the most interesting time was when we studied it in Grade 6 and that was due to my creative, enthusiastic teacher who made learning a great adventure" (f^rticipant 14). A typical negative response indicated the experience to be: "Not positive because the teacher was boring and failed to get my interest. It made me feel like a failure" (Participant 159).

Participant 27 affirmed, "Learning about the human body, growth and reproduction I always found fascinating and 1 think helped me understand what makes human beings so similar (scientifically)" [parentheses included! and Participant 33 stated, "Simple electric circuit - conceptualized the way electricity works and gave an understandingof the delivery of electricity to our home." Even more difficult science concepts can be presented in practical ways and assist students to remember their learning of science. To illustrate, "Pulleys and levers introduced me to the notions of physics and instilled in me a great interest in the cause and effect of physics" (Participant 130) and "Studying inertia/friction experiment in Year 5. Such a complex concept on paper but once we played Group work with ramps and cars it all made sense. As science knowledge is socially This is when I understood the need constructed (e.g., Vygotsky, 1986), for practical experience" (Participant group involvement seemed to have an 131). Integrating science with other key impact on these participants' long-term learning areas also demonstrated usable memories. The discovery or investigation and practical science, "Making paper of science with peers provided airplanes and learning and calculating its opportunities for social interaction speed etc. (tied in with maths). It helped and an element of fun. For instance, me get my head around it because it was Participant 120 wrote, "Experimenting fun, I wanted to learn" (Participant 161). with magnets. It was a fun group These three participants (Participants activity". Participant 72 also highlighted 130, 131, and 161) were males; her experience of interacting with however females were also encouraged her peers with the science behind the by experiments that led to practical activity, "Standing on an upside-down knowledge. Participant 78 explained, table on top of balloons and adding "Creating a cage to protect an egg when more people until the balloons popped. dropped five metres taught us more It was the first time I'd thought about than just science - it was enjoyable, pressure and the spreading of weight interesting and worthwhile - application to achieve balance". One participant recognised group experiments in primary in life - not just science" and Participant 102 stated, "We were studying leaves, science as a foundational experience plants, flowers. We were able to exit for secondary work, "We used to do the classroom, find flowers and point a lot of group experiments that were out the name and parts of them. It was simplifications of experiments I did later at high school and uni. They created an enjoyable experience." Connecting the building blocks of my knowledge" experiments to real-life scientific (F^rticipant 131). Group involvement knowledge appeared to have long-lasting provided opportunities for independent effects on these adults, particularly as discovery, "Doing an experiment on it was between seven and 38 years electricity. We were actually allowed ago when these participants (n=167) to do it on our own. So because we attended their primary schools. could conduct it ourselves it made it Hands-on experiences more enjoyable" (Participant 77). Once The literature frequently highlights again, science concepts were uncovered the need for hands-on experiences as a result of high-impact teaching for learning about science concepts. that facilitated group involvement, "In Participants in this study commented on Grade 4 we used straws to construct a hands-on activities such as "Creating bridge together. The aim was to see how mini-greenhouse inside water bottle strong we could make the bridge and [as] exciting and fun" (Participant 123), figure out what shapes were needed and "learning about different Australian in the bridge construction to give it native plants and where they grow best. strength" (Participant 164). From this we designed and planted a garden in the school and looked after it Usable and practical science for the year." (Participant 8). Whether Usable scientific knowledge was the hands-on activities are "planting valued by learners, who noted potential seeds and watching them grow over practical applications. For example, teachingscience

a period of time" (Participant 25) or "making mousetrap cars and racing them in the school" (Participant 9), participants emphasised that "science can be fun" (l^rticipant 9) and remembered these as positive experiences. Hands-on science education experiences can have lasting and personal effects on students. For example. Participant 154 (nine years after primary school education) built and shaped a boat from a rectangular block of wood to test its buoyancy. She wrote, "I still own the boat as it's special to me and I was proud of my efforts". It was claimed that hands-on experiences needed to be purposeful with links to scientific knowledge. Yet, some adults in this study remembered certain hands-on activities but did not understand the relationship to scientific knowledge. For example, Participant 117 stated, "Volcano eruption was fun but the teacher didn't provide any scientific knowledge" and similarly, "We used light bulbs and made circuits and series. We experimented with switches for them. Not sure of the effect on me - I guess it helped me learn about electricity, power sources. I remember it today, so it must have been positive" (Pariicipant 114) Scientific concepts that have little relationship to a designated experiment may be misleading. For example, the exploding volcano using bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, and red dye may prove to be visually effective but this chemical reaction may not provide accurate information on volcanic eruptions. The scientific purpose of the experiment needed to be explained clearly. Interactivity with life These adults remembered science activities that had an element of interactivity with life, as illustrated by the following three comments: Life cycles of chickens - hatching and growing in an incubator in the school classroom. I was fascinated to watch them grow. It was the most interesting bit of science that I could relate to. (Participant 13) The study of tbe tadpole changing into a frog. My teacber let us eacb have our own tadpole in a jar, wbicb we fed daily. We bad to draw pictures of our tadpole every few days and note any bodily transformations -1 was amazed and excited and I felt like I had discovered tbi^ phenomenon. (Participant 100)

In Grade 4 we incubated chicken eggs and watched four chicks hatch. We raised the chicks, taking them out to play on thv scbool oval everyday. This experience was a prominent one for me, as we learnt a
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lot about tbe life cycle of chickens though real-life experiences. (Participant lib) Keal-life interactivity with fauna and/ or flora provided stronger focuses for learning, as students appeared genuinely interested in living things. Facilitating learning opportunities where students discover for themselves the unique characteristics of living things appeared as a high-impact teaching strategy. This study showed that interactivity with living things can also facilitate life-changing experiences that lead to employment prospects or understandings for sustainable living. For example. Participant 88 stated, "I remember studying the science of plants - I went on to study agriculture/ biology at high school and left at end of Year 12 - continuing to get a trade certificate in horticulture - nursery. "I love plants" and "Growing plants in different environments. I think this (plus the support of my parents) has had a lot to do with my ability to grow vegies and flowers in the garden. It provided a stariing point that I've built on Ihroughout the years" (Participant 97). In other cases, simple real-life experiments provided a greater appreciation of living things and an avenue for developing recreational activities, "Growing a seed in a cup with cotton balls and water. Its effect has been, I suppose, that I enjoy plants and gardening" (Participant 103). Purpose for learning is clearly articulated Comments from several adults about their science education pointed to the need to have clear reasons for learning science content. Five participants claimed that the purpose for learning a science concept made the activity meaningful. On the other hand. Participant 86, who could not state the purpose of a science lesson, reflected on her primary school science: / remember an experiment wben we dropped food dyes in milk then drizzled washing detergent into the bowl tbe milk was in. to watcb tbe coloured dyes swirl around. I'm not sure wbat I learnt but I will always remember tbat. I think it was in tbe topic of 'cbanges' perhaps. Por some adults, practical experiences in learning about the weather and measurement instruments (e.g.. thermometer, rain gauge, and barometer) prompted positive and purposeful responses. However, when reasons were not clearly articulated for learning about the weather there was a distinct sense of "why do I need to do this?" (Participant 4), to illustrate, "Basically I remember the life cycle of frogs because I really liked frogs
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at the time. I thought it was fun but didn't really think too much about it" (Participant 51) and "Teaching me about photosynthesis in Year 6, the teacher only drew a diagram but never really told us how it worked properly" (Participant 96). Excursions for developing science understandings Many of these adults had strong memories of their science excursions while attending primary school. Visits to a planetarium, science centre, and museums provided "enjoyable and great experiences" and showed "how fun [sic] science can be". Participant 128 stated: Going to the science museum was very exciting as we learnt a lot about science wbicb motivated me to want to study science. I now believe that hands-on experiences and field trips are an integral part of kids' learning about science. Thoughtfully-organised excursions can provide students with memorable science investigations. There were several adults who remembered camping in bushlands to investigate flora and fauna. Others remembered exploring the Earth and beyond. Participant 110 claimed he "started looking for and collecting fossils after an excursion to Shorncliffe to study fossils and sedimentation". Another commented on a 'space night' sleepover at school "where we got to look through a telescope at a few planets and the moon and stars. It was the most exciting school experience I have ever had" (Participant 37), Negative responses The aim of the questionnaire was to determine memorable, positive experiences in primary science education to uncover possible highimpact teaching strategies. However, 19% of these pre-service teachers remembered negative experiences. Although an adult may have positive memories about a science experiment, another may find the same experiment uninteresting or even repulsive. For example. Participant 6 reported that nurturing bean sprouts in cotton wool provided a "thrill of growing and participating in the science of 'created life'", while Participant 18 claimed, "growing seeds in cotton wool BORING!" [emphasis inc[udedl. This indicated that some teachers may not be informed about their students' interests. Rectifying the situation would require a needs analysis before commencing a science unit of work. In fact, there were particular activities these adults reported that disengaged them from science. Such activities included those

that were repulsive (e.g., dissecting a frog), which also implied a blurring between memories of primary science and secondary science, and another whose senses were assailed unpleasantly, "My 6th Grade teacher had the class burning Cheetos, Vicks Vapour Drops and napthalene [sic] flakes over candies, which certainly didn't build great respect for science amongst students" (Participant 90). Primary students' statements and responses to questions should be treated with respect. Denigrating or ridicu[ing students' ideas may have long-term negative impacts for learning scientific concepts and/or science topics. A teacher's need to respond quickly to students' questions and answers to secure credibility may lead to inaccurate and demeaning practices. For example, "In Year 1, when learning about chicken eggs, I could never understand why I was wrong when I said that the baby chicken ate the yolk. It was frustrating, and as a result, I disconnected myself from the situation" (Participant 19). This adult remembered her Year 1 science lesson because of a teacher's response, which made her feel humiliated in front of her peers. Furthermore, this Year 1 girl undermined the teacher's credibility by withdrawing cognitive engagement from science lessons. Low or negative effects may also have to do with lack of explanation for either conducting the activity or concepts underpinning the activity. "We made a circuit using wires, light bulbs and a battery. ! did not understand it, got it wrong and did not enjoy it" (Participant 155), which was not dissimilar to Participant 54's comment, "Who cares? Just flick the switch." This negative experience may have led Participant 54 to announce as a secondyear pre-service teacher, "1 will teach limited science if necessary." Primary students' Interests may be lost if purposes and explanations for conducting experiments are not clear: "Making a soda bubble rocket - I didn't know how to do it because it wasn't explained properly" (Participant 79). In addition, students may become disengaged if experiments are uninteresting. For example, "We had to try and separate water and oil, I didn't enjoy it because I didn't feel like it was science, it just seemed stupid to me" (Participant 41). Conversely, clear explanations can facilitate success and a keen interest in science: "The one primary science experience I can remember is making a rocket out of a Coke can/lrottle and watching it 'launch'. This was great! I found I learnt more from activities that were fun... and still do!" (Participant 81).


In summary, high-impact teaching for science may include the teacher's personal attributes (i.e., enthusiasm for teaching the subject). Importantly, group involvement provides the basis for sharing understandings of scientific concepts with usable and practical science lessons. Hands-on experiences were also highlighted by these participants, which further included interactivity with life and active participation on science-based excursions. Participants claimed that teachers who articulated clear purposes for conducting science activities motivated student involvement. Highimpact teaching for science has been summarised in Table 1. Conversely, teachers' lack of enthusiasm, being uninformed about students' interests, presenting disengaging activities that assailed the senses, lack of hands-on experiences with considerable 'chalk and talk', and denigrating students' ideas appeared as low or negative-impact teaching {Table 1).

or more high-impact science teaching practices may 'make a difference' towards influencing students' positive long-term memories about science and their science education. Although teaching approaches can vary between different educational levels, and an individual's preferred learning style may change with age and experience, these high-impact teaching practices have a student-centred focus that can be adapted to suit individual styles. Indeed, exemplary primary, secondary and tertiary teaching practices may be interchangeable and relevant to effective teaching regardless of tbe level. The high-impact teaching for science indicated in this study can have relevance at all levels of education. For example, targeting misconceptions and hands-on experiences are applicable to lower primary as much as tertiary science courses. Pre-service teacher education courses need to embed highimpact teaching strategies in their course designs and present ways of avoiding

Table 1. Higti-lmpact and Low or Negative-Impact Practices for Primary Science Teaching High-Impact Teaching for Science Low or Negative Impact Uninformed on individual interests Misconceptions are targeted Teachers' lack of enthusiasm Enthusiasm from teacher Reasons not articulated Group work Usable and practical scientific knowledge Chalk and talk or copying from OHT Personal ideas denigrated Hands-on experiences Disengaging activities Interactivity with life Purposes are clearly articulated Excursions for science understandings

This study investigated 167 adults' responses about their memories of positive (and negative) primary science education experiences that may lead towards developing highimpact science lessons. The highimpact teaching practices in this study have close correlations to models of effective learning such as authentic learning (Herrington & Oliver, 2000), problem-based learning (Savery & Duffy, 1996), and constructivism (Vygotsky, 1986). The results indicated highimpact teaching for science included: targeting misconceptions, teacher's enthusiasm, group involvement, usable and practical science, handson experiences, interactivity with life, purposes for teaching science are articulated, and excursions with sound science directions. Low or negativeimpact practices were also described by participants as involving: disengaging activities with sensory-repulsive tasks, unclear reasons for learning science, teacher's lack of enthusiasm, chalk and talk or copying teacher's work, and denigrating students' personal ideas. Implementing science lessons with one

negative practices. Considerations of positive and negative teaching practices can assist teachers and pre-service teachers to plan for high-impact science lessons as a potential way of making a lifelong difference to other students.

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About the author: Dr Peter Hudson lectures in science education at Queensland University oi Technology. His research interests include mentoring in primary science education, sustainable living, and leadership and management.
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