Students' experiences, perceptions and performance in junior secondary school science: An intervention study involving astronomy and a remote telescope

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Both national and international research raise concerns about science education in primary and secondary schools where a declining interest in, and less positive attitude towards, science are reported (e.g., Goodrum, Hackling & Rennie, 2000; Osborne & Collins, 2000; American Association for the Advancement of Science [ AAAS], 1990). An Australian national report (Goodrum et al. 2000) notes the difference between the intended (ideal) and the implemented (actual) science curriculum. The report contrasts the two pictures of science education and recommends transforming pedagogy, learning experiences and curriculum to reflect more the ideal picture. The clear implication is that the ideal will enhance the teaching and learning of science in schools. The research reported here investigates the impact of an educational program, based on astronomy that involves using a remotely controlled telescope over the Internet and which employs five aspects of the ideal picture of science education (Goodrum et al. 2000), on students' perceptions of science at school and the knowledge outcomes generated. The program was introduced into 101 junior secondary science classes drawn from 30 schools located in four Australian educational jurisdictions. This thesis examines the impact of the educational program on: students' perceptions of the science they encounter at school; their knowledge of certain astronomical phenomena; and the relationship between the perceptions of students and their teachers concerning the science they experience or teach in junior secondary school. A concurrent nested mixed-method approach involving a quasi-experimental non­randomised pre-test/post-test design complemented by qualitative techniques is used to gain insights into participants' thoughts concerning their experiences in science before, during and after the program. Specifically, data were collected using: student and teacher questionnaires; an astronomy diagnostic test; and student and teacher interviews. Results show that on the pre-diagnostic test students displayed extremely low levels of astronomical knowledge and knew little of the content that was supposed to be covered in primary school or in the first year of secondary school. The post-diagnostic test data revealed a highly significant increase in students' knowledge of astronomical phenomena. Different trends were observed, however, across year levels in relation to students' ability to explain their answers and in the quality of their responses. In addition, the results indicated that students exhibited negative perceptions of science at school prior to the commencement of the program, demonstrating that little has changed since the 1999 data collection period conducted by Goodrum et al. (2000). Comparisons of the pre- and post-occasion responses showed that there were highly significant differences in students' perceptions of science and in the use of technology. There was considerable variation across groups of teachers and students, in their respective classes, in relation to their perceptions of science at school. To illuminate this variation, interview data were collected from participants in six schools. These data highlighted commonalities across groups of students and teachers in their experiences of junior secondary science, for example, the selection of the content to be covered, access to computing facilities and the excitement generated in preparing to use the remote ­telescope. Yet, the data also portrayed distinct features unique to each school associated with the implementation of the program, including the method of introducing the program, relationships between teachers, and the approaches adopted to incorporate technology. This study found that exposure to a science program incorporating five aspects of the ideal picture (Goodrum et al. 2000) had a highly significant impact on students' perceptions of, and knowledge in, science at school. The research recognises, however, that the way in which science is implemented is crucial to the success of teaching and learning experiences in science education. The findings appear to have significant implications for both practice and future research. Additional support for science teachers to employ appropriate pedagogies and assessment procedures in the implementation of secondary science curricula, coupled with access to high quality equipment that can be used for student-initiated investigations are essential if positive dispositions and knowledge outcomes are to be engendered. Further research on the impact of such approaches on the perceptions and knowledge outcomes of pupils in junior secondary school science is required. Specific attention needs to be devoted to the pedagogies employed in implementing secondary science programs that are characterised by the relevant features of the ideal picture and the extent to which these are effective in catering for the diverse learning needs and interests of the students whom teachers are required to teach.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • McKinnon, David H., Principal Supervisor, External person
  • Bain, Alan, Principal Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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