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Engaging middle school students in context-based science : One teacher's approach

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Queensland University of Technology ePrints Archive
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Abstract

In Australia, there is a crisis in science education with students becoming disengaged with canonical science in the middle years of schooling. One recent initiative that aims to improve student interest and motivation without diminishing conceptual understanding is the context-based approach. Contextual units that connect the canonical science with the students’ real world of their local community have been used in the senior years but are new in the middle years. This ethnographic study explored the learning transactions that occurred in one 9th grade science class studying an Environmental Science unit for 11 weeks. Data were derived from field notes, audio and video recorded conversations, interviews, student journals and classroom documents with a particular focus on two selected groups of students. Data were analysed qualitatively through coding for emergent themes. This paper presents an outline of the program and discussion of three assertions derived from the preliminary analysis of the data. Firstly, an integrated, coherent sequence of learning experiences that included weekly visits to a creek adjacent to the school enabled the teacher to contextualise the science in the students’ local community. Secondly, content was predominantly taught on a need-to-know basis and thirdly, the lesson sequence aligned with a model for context-based teaching. Research, teaching and policy implications of these results for promoting the context-based teaching of science in the middle years are discussed.

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