Thank you for having decided to be a science teacher. I hope you are enjoying the job, which really is a great deal more than half the battle.
I wish to first inform you that to date, countless desperate calls have been made towards improving our science education but surprisingly there is still no noticeable improvement in both student achievement and interest towards science learning. You might have seen this from 1997 & 2003 TIMSS reports. The reports clearly indicate that our students lack creativity, curiosity and are not critical thinkers and that our students still lag behind their peers by international standards.
You might also have realized that the nature of our society is changing mainly due to technology and as such this brings a challenge in achieving scientific and technological literacy. Have in mind the fact that there is a minimum level of literacy in science that has to be maintained in the country’s citizens if it is to grow economically. This therefore calls for clear practical goals regarding what individual teachers offer to their students; that is, whether science teachers are preparing students to be able to contribute positively to scientific related fields hence bring about economic growth or they want learners to just acquire a certificate. This is fundamental. By your own assessment, do you think your students would have comprehended what science is all about by the time they leave your classes?
You might have seen the just reviewed syllabi for primary and secondary school science and I believe you familiarized yourselves with the documents as it is the right thing to do. The syllabi are so tempting to the point that such elements as the scientific method can easily be ignored and more emphasis put on memorizing content for the sole purpose of passing examinations. You would agree with me that there is so much pressure regarding content to be presented to the learners.
Be aware that the temptation that can be brought by the syllabi can easily lead to classroom learning that is very superficial and as such leave students unaware of the connection between classroom material and their own realities. It is a fact that your classroom environment would therefore be such that students find it difficult to realize the relevance of science to their lives. More content means less time for syllabus completion as your target will be examinations, and as such poor techniques to empower the learners with the knowledge of science.
Important as you are to the economy of this country, reconsider your approach to the teaching of science. Your teaching should not be a process of “filling” the brain with knowledge but a process of brain development. During your days at college or university you might have learnt that the development of the brain requires that the cognitive process undergo an intensive practice. The practice that will surely change the thinking of the learners such that it is more of experts when solving problems and making decisions relevant to the discipline.
Your experience as a science teacher should inform you that practice is key in acquiring of expertise as it allows learners the opportunity to solve tasks. I have for several years demonstrated to my professional studies classes that practice is a process accompanied by internal reflections within learners, and feedback from teachers as they will compare achievements with standards and be able to analyze progress. The more practice the learner is exposed to, the expert-like performance the learners will achieve. Enough time and resources are therefore critical for one to reach the standard level of performance, and it is you who provide such.
I believe you are mindful of the fact that learning of science does not result from listening to lecture, doing many easy, repetitive tasks or practicing irrelevant skills. It does not result from being presented with words in isolation and students tested on the words alone without application of concepts. Engage your learners cognitively with effective practice activities and provision of effective feedback. I assure you, students will be motivated as they will have a sense of ownership of the learning and therefore the subject will be interesting and relevant.
Time is now to start supporting quality inquiry based “hands on” science teaching. It is vital to start supporting open ended experiment based approach. This needs an extensive materials support system and very little of demonstrations and nothing of “cook – book’, which are designed to assure that every learner gets the same right answer to problems. Focus on having practical outcomes as science teaching cannot be improved by just changing textbooks, buying computers or adding new topics on the syllabus. Move away from the habit of same right answer approach. Teaching for tests, and as such allowing tests to define your teaching will make very little impact to your students as to them, it will be “knowledge” imposed.
Bear in mind the fact that children need not to memorize facts since information changes almost daily. A scientifically educated person does not need to know all the right answers. After all, internet and other sources can provide the facts whenever individuals need them. What matters most is not the fact, but how we arrived at the fact.
You need to start designing strategies which are more practical, which will result in the skills of scientific enquiry being key factors in promoting pupil’s engagement, learning and progress. The whole process will promote strong development in the knowledge and understanding to be applied to science activities throughout schooling, college career, training and employment. This is the only way in which you can be sure of the scientific knowledge having been acquired by your learners, and the continuation and the passing on of that part of the heritage.
Duncan D. Segabo
Biology Senior Lecturer - Molepolole College of Education