Engaging with controversial science issues - a professional learning programme for secondary science teachers in New Zealand
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Internationally there is concern that many science teachers do not address controversial science issues in their science classrooms, and there is a perception amongst many science teachers that science is about the delivery of facts, and that it is value-free. However with the increasingly complex, science-based dilemmas being presented to society, there is a growing call for future citizens to be more scientifically literate and to be able to make informed decisions on issues related to these dilemmas. There have been shifts in science curricula internationally, and in New Zealand, towards a focus on scientific literacy, but changes in teachers’ pedagogical practice have not been widespread. The demands and challenges for teachers are high and to make such changes requires support and guidance.Because of the paucity of literature available about teaching controversial science issues in New Zealand science classrooms, the purpose of this project was to firstly establish the current status of the teaching and learning about issues and to identify the support that teachers felt they required to address this in science classrooms. This information then informed the development of a professional learning programme to provide support for teachers. The project took a mixed method approach and proceeded in three phases, with Phase One involving the development and administration of a survey to secondary teachers in the North Island of New Zealand, with follow-up interviews with some survey participants. The qualitative and quantitative data gathered enabled the current scene to be established. Phase Two involved the use of data from Phase One, together with information obtained mainly from the literature review, to design a professional learning programme, the focus of which was the development of a model for ethical inquiry. Phase Three involved two workshops, separated by eleven weeks, in which four teachers critiqued, trialled and evaluated the model in the classroom. A series of case studies was developed from each trial, with a cross-case analysis made to validate the usefulness of the model.The findings of the survey and interviews indicated that to address controversial issues, there was a need to move New Zealand teachers away from a focus on content, towards a pedagogy that focused on ethical inquiry and the appropriate use of strategies and approaches to support this. The findings from the professional learning programme confirmed that teachers had been supported in addressing controversial science issues by the use of the model for ethical inquiry and positive outcomes were reported for both teachers and students.The project provided current information about how controversial science issues are addressed in New Zealand secondary science classrooms and validated the model for ethical inquiry in supporting teachers to address controversial science in the light of impending and changing requirements of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) towards informed citizenry and scientific literacy. The project also supplements the very small amount of research that has been carried out in a New Zealand context on addressing controversial science issues in secondary science classrooms.
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