What It Takes to Help Teachers Teach Science

There are two types of classrooms in basic education. One type has children as students. The other has teachers as students. In the Philippines, overcrowding and insufficient learning resources continue to hound classrooms where children learn. The travesty is that the same actually holds for rooms where teachers are trained.

Above copied from the Division of City Schools, Quezon City
Almost a thousand teachers are trained on a new curriculum in two batches, each one covering a period of five days. In addition, five hundred private school teachers are given a one-day orientation on the implementation of the new curriculum in grades 3 and 9. Seeing this piece of news and its accompanying photos makes it quite clear how much (or how little) thoughtfulness and attention DepEd gives toward the implementation of its new curriculum.

To illustrate how inadequate this mass training is, a recent study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology captures what it really takes to help teachers teach a new curriculum. The paper entitled "The Effects of Expert Scaffolding in Elementary Science Professional Development on Teachers’ Beliefs and Motivations, Instructional Practices, and Student Achievement" and authored by German researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education and the University of Muenster describes the results of a training that involves eighteen teachers and takes place over 38 hours (6 days) on a single topic in Grade 3 science, floating and sinking. The training not only involves emphasis on content, but also includes student's possible misconceptions, how students think, and instructional strategies. With active learning in mind, the teachers during the training are likewise given ample opportunity to experience what their students would experience with the new curriculum. The study essentially demonstrates what is needed to help teachers move into a curriculum that is constructivist, one that considers how a child learns by experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. Constructivism is one of the highlights of DepEd's K+12 curriculum so this particular study which illustrates what is essential in teacher training really warrants attention.

Above copied from Dimaano's presentation
Assessing the effectiveness of a constructivist curriculum is not a straightforward test in which a student is simply required to provide the correct response. The test must take into account students' prior misconceptions and demonstrate a student's adoption of new scientific explanations. Such an assessment measures a student's integrated conceptual understanding (ICU). A student gets a point only if the student shows evidence of adhering to a scientifically acceptable conceptual framework that does not simultaneously include misconceptions. The possible range for a student's ICU scores in this study is 0 to 14. The results of the study are summarized in the following graph of students' ICU scores:

Above figure based on data provided by 
The Effects of Expert Scaffolding in Elementary Science Professional Development on Teachers’ Beliefs and Motivations, Instructional Practices, and Student Achievement.
Kleickmann, Thilo; Tröbst, Steffen; Jonen, Angela; Vehmeyer, Julia; Möller, Kornelia
Journal of Educational Psychology, May 11 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000041
In the above graph, "No Expert Scaffolding" corresponds to students taught by teachers who only received the educative curriculum materials but were not specifically trained by an expert in science teaching. The above difference is significant. It displays an effect size of 0.78 (Students whose teachers are properly trained score on average 0.78 times a standard deviation higher).

One should note that the educative curriculum materials used in this study have been extensively piloted, reviewed and have subsequently gone through iterations or improvements. For a taste of what is usually inside these curriculum materials, a page from Kathleen Roth's "Foods for Plants" is reproduced here:

With the above example, educative curriculum materials are clearly not just plain textbooks or modules. Educative curriculum materials intrinsically need to be based on research and data from classrooms since these materials seriously take into account how students actually learn. With regard to the topic of "sinking and floating" the German researchers specifically mention that "Teachers’ satisfaction with the materials concerning usability, comprehensibility, and congruence to teachers’ learning needs was high."

DepEd's materials, on the other hand, are often unavailable and of course, if available, have never been piloted nor reviewed. The average pre-test score (before being taught) in the study is 3, which is only one standard deviation lower from the score of students taught by teachers who have received the curriculum materials. Add training from a science teaching expert, the scores go up by another standard deviation. Excellent curriculum materials and adequate teacher training therefore are the factors that can contribute to better learning outcomes. Thus, there is really not much to expect from what DepEd does. Lack of materials and inadequate training can only mean a waste of taxpayer's money with no gain in student learning. It is not the curriculum that will improve education, it is only the proper implementation that can.

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