Primary Connections: Stage 3: Interim research report No. 1: Case study teachers’ experience of Primary Connections
Australian Academy of Science
Place of Publication
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
School of Education
High quality teaching of both science and literacy in Australian primary schools is a national priority in order to develop citizens who are scientifically literate and who can contribute to the social and economic well-being of Australia as well as achieve their own potential. Student achievement in science is therefore being monitored through the national assessments of Year 6 students’ scientific literacy for which sample testing was undertaken in October 2003 and will be repeated in 2006. Parents rate science as the third most important subject for their primary school children after English and mathematics (ASTEC, 1997). The teaching of science in primary schools has been a cause for concern for some time and despite the recognition of science as a priority area of learning, science teaching has a low status in the primary curriculum. Science as a learning area, has the second lowest allocation of time in the primary school curriculum averaging 2.7% of teaching time (Angus et al., 2004). Many primary teachers lack confidence and competence for teaching science (Appleton, 1995; Palmer, 2001; Yates & Goodrum, 1990) and consequently score poorly on self-efficacy scales that measure the extent to which primary teachers feel capable of teaching science effectively (Riggs & Knochs, 1990). The 2001 national review of the status and quality of science teaching and learning (Goodrum, Hackling & Rennie, 2001) indicated that the teaching of science in primary classrooms is patchy and recommended that if primary teachers of science are to be effective in improving student learning outcomes, they need access to quality professional learning opportunities supported by rich curriculum resources. It also argued that to develop quality science education resources, collaboration between jurisdictions is essential and could reduce wasteful duplication in the preparation of resources. The Primary Connections programme was developed in response to these concerns. Recent national assessments of scientific literacy and international assessments of science achievement present a sobering picture of the health of primary science in Australia. Less than 60% of sampled Year 6 Australian students in 2003 attained the national proficiency standard in six of eight jurisdictions (MCEETYA, 2005). The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) shows that the science achievement of Australian Year 4 students has remained stable between assessments made in 1994 and 2002 at a level which was above the international mean, however, countries such as Singapore, England and the United States which scored at a similar level to Australia in TIMSS 1994, have improved their scores to the extent that in 2002 their average scores were significantly higher than those of Australia (Thomson, 2004). Primary Connections is an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Education, Science and Training. All Australian states and territories, government, catholic and independent school sectors, and science and literacy professional associations were represented on a project reference group that provided direction for the conceptualisation and implementation of the project. Primary Connections aims to improve science and literacy learning outcomes through providing an innovative programme of professional learning supported with high quality curriculum resources based on a sophisticated teaching and learning model. The Primary Connections project has been implemented in three stages. Stage 1, funded by the Australian Academy of Science sought and gained the support and involvement of all jurisdictions and sectors, and conceptualised the project. Stage 2 funded by DEST involved developing nine curriculum units and a professional learning programme and trialing the programme in 56 schools throughout Australia. The Stage 2 trial focussed on 106 trial teachers who participated in a five-day professional learning programme in January 2005 and three follow-up one-day professional learning workshops. These trial teachers taught units developed by the Academy of Science in Terms 1 and 3 of 2005, and they taught a unit developed by the trial teachers themselves using a Primary Connections template, in Term 2. In addition to these trial teachers who participated in a total of eight days of professional learning, there was a smaller group of case study school teachers who received only one day of professional learning as preparation for teaching two supplied Primary Connections units in Terms 1 and 3 of 2005. These case study teachers were based at four schools which opted for a whole of school implementation in 2005. The experiences of the trial teachers were the subject of a research study reported by Hackling and Prain (2005). This supplementary report focuses on the experiences of the cases study teachers who implemented Primary Connections in four case study schools in 2005.