Primary Connections: Stage 3: Interim research and evaluation report 16: Trial teachers' perceptions of the implementation of Primary Connections at their schools in Term 1/2 of 2008.
Australian Academy of Science
Place of Publication
Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
Trial Teachers have had sufficient professional learning and teaching experience with Primary Connections to provide highly informed opinions about the implementation of the program in their schools. Given the relatively small sample size and return rate for the 2008 survey of Trial Teachers the data should be interpreted with caution (KF 1). The science topics taught by Trial Teachers appears to have been strongly influenced by their responsibility for trialling new units (KF 2). Most of the Trial Teachers taught science in most of the terms in which they were teaching and most of the topics taught were drawn from the Primary Connections program (KF 3). There was an increase from 2006 to 2008 in the proportion of science units taught that were Primary Connections units and this may reflect the increasing availability of units (KF 4). The Trial Teachers indicated that almost all would teach two or more Primary Connections units per year when more units are available. About half indicated they would teach two units per year (KF 6). It would be expected that teachers and schools with a lower level of commitment to teaching science than trial schools may teach less units per year. The Trial Teachers also reported on the science teaching of their colleagues. They indicated that most teachers were teaching whole Primary Connections units will little modification, however, some teachers were modifying units and others were developing their own science units based on the Primary Connections teaching and learning model (KF 5). Given the wide range of school contexts and science teaching confidence, there is likely to be a wide range of approaches to teaching science with Primary Connections. The approaches to implementation of Primary Connections in trial schools varied. Almost half of trial schools had moved to whole-school implementation and in more than half of trial schools Primary Connections had replaced the previous science program whilst in other schools Primary Connections had supplemented the existing science program (KF 5). One would expect as more Primary Connections units are published and more schools recognise the alignment between Primary Connections and mandated curriculum frameworks, a greater proportion of schools will frame their science programs around Primary Connections. Surveys of Trial Teachers conducted in 2006, 2007 and 2008 indicate an increasing commitment by trial schools to implementation of Primary Connections (KF 7) and the most common reasons for this relate to: the move to whole-school implementation; matching the school’s scope and sequence chart; science being a focus of the school; success from trial teaching; and, provision of professional learning to staff (KF 8). Data from the 2008 survey indicate that factors that are inhibiting the implementation of Primary Connections include resistance from other staff, time, units arriving later than anticipated and new staff at the school requiring professional learning support to implement the program (KF 9). Moving to whole-school implementation requires school principals and science coordinators to overcome resistance from teachers in the school who are either not teaching science or not teaching with Primary Connections units and this requires these teachers to commit additional preparation time and be supported by a science coordinator. With the transient nature of school staffing there will be an ongoing need to provide professional learning support to those teachers who transfer to schools that have adopted Primary Connections and this may be an important role for science coordinators. Factors enhancing successful implementation of Primary Connections at trial schools in 2008 and earlier years were: the support and enthusiasm of teachers; having a science coordinator; ease of use of Primary Connections curriculum units; good support from administration; and a range of other factors linked to a whole school implementation such as systems for organising resources and whole-school planning (KF 10). The role of the science coordinator is pivotal to successful implementation of a science program and the data from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 surveys suggest that aspects of coordination have improved progressively over the last three years in trial schools, particularly those related to planning and organising (KF 11). Given the increased pressure for accountability through assessment and reporting of students’ achievement it is not surprising to find that the aspect of coordination rated most positively by the Trial Teachers is linking the science curriculum to the assessment and reporting schedule of the school. This report paints a picture of the level of implementation of Primary Connections in the classrooms and schools of the Trial Teachers who responded to the survey. The overall impression is one of a progressively increased commitment to Primary Connections and increasing amounts of science being taught, and taught using Primary Connections units. An increased proportion of trial schools have moved to whole-school adoption while some, as yet, have not reached this level of implementation. More than half of the schools are replacing an existing program with Primary Connections and other are supplementing an existing program with Primary Connections units. Research conducted in 2006 indicated that the difficulty of working out how to integrate Primary Connections with an existing program appeared to be a barrier to implementation (Hackling, 2007). There would be value in communicating information about Primary Connections, its alignment to curriculum frameworks and the availability of units to primary schools throughout Australia as these two factors are likely to influence Principals’ decisions to adopt the program, and to adopt the replacement model of implementation rather than the supplementation model of implementation. Strong leadership within schools, effective coordination of science and ongoing professional learning are required for effective implementation of a science program (Bronfenbrenner, 1989; Lewthwaite, 2006; Peers, Diezmann & Watters, 2003) which highlights the importance of the role of science coordinator if the teaching and learning of science is to be improved and achieve the goal of scientific literacy for all of our children. Further collaborations between the Academy and jurisdictions to train additional science coordinators would enable more schools to have the curriculum area leadership required for the implementation of effective teaching and learning of science.