Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Associate Professor Mark Hackling


Many studies have investigated learning in science classes, examining various influences on the understandings that students develop. The purpose of this study was to investigate the interactions that took place in upper primary science lessons, and the teacher and student behaviours affected these interactions and the opportunities for learning. The three classes that were selected for the study were similar and the teachers were all experienced primary teachers. The teachers were supplied with a set of science lessons on the topic of electric circuits. The resources included background information for the teachers and suggested activities, demonstrations, analogies and focus questions that the teachers could use to develop scientifically valid understandings. The student activities were designed to allow the students to investigate and solve problems related to electric circuits and to then discuss the activities in their groups to develop understandings. Whole-class discussions were used to further develop the understandings and then the students, in their groups, used their new Knowledge to solve theoretical problems. The data collection was broad to ensure that as much information as possible was obtained. The students participated in pre and posttests, with one group of students from each class also interviewed prior to and alter the series of lessons about their understandings. All the teacher interactions with the class and with groups of students were audio-recorded, and one group of students, the group that was interviewed, was video and audio-recorded. The researcher also attended all the science lessons and recorded anecdotal records of the activities during the lesson, and any blackboard work that occurred. The data analysis examined the types of teacher and student behaviours that occurred; the quantity and types of interactions that occurred in the whole-class and group discussions; the management of the task and behaviours in whole-class and group activities; the way the lesson time was used by the teacher and by the students in their group work; the use and understanding of scientific vocabulary; and the understandings that were developed by the students. The analysis revealed important differences in the teaching behaviours of the three teachers and in the ways that they related to their students. The teachers changed the curriculum materials, sometimes purposefully, but sometimes inadvertently, resulting in changed learning opportunities for the students, and often used scientific terms incorrectly and/or did not explain them. The teachers’ management of time, student behaviour, tasks and discussions affected the flow of lessons and opportunities students had to develop understandings. The students' level of attention and responsibility for task management also varied between students and between the classes. Students' group work skills were generally found to the inadequate to manage group relationships and tasks. Because of the scope of the data, which encompasses many variables, it was not intended nor possible to establish any direct causal relationship between particular teaching/learning variables and the learning outcomes, but it was possible to suggest links between aspects of the learning environment, opportunities for learning and changes in the students' understandings. From the data, specific assertions were generated and these were collated to produce general assertions, which were again aggregated to produce the overarching assertions, the findings of the study. These findings are consistent with those from many previous studies of classroom interactions and behaviours. However, they also indicated that the classroom ethos; the management strategies and styles of the teachers; the teaching style of the teacher; the ways that discussions were conducted; the level of involvement, responsibility and independence of the students; and the way time was used had an impact on the learning opportunities during the lessons and the development of acceptable, scientific understandings. This study, which provides an in-depth analysis of the complexity of the teaching-learning process in primary science lessons, offers insights which may be useful in other learning areas, as many of the findings are not specific to the science aspects of the lessons studied.