Need for Mathematics and Science Education

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Chapter 3 Research design

Background and Overview


It is clear from the preceding chapters that designing a South African model for the professional development for science teachers is a complex task. Although there are challenging common critical issues related to the “big picture” of Mathematics and Science education reform internationally, unique circumstances exist in South Africa which needs to be carefully considered in the development of a local model. Taking the South African context into consideration, goals and plans were formulated in order to develop a professional development model. After the initial application of the model, results were analysed and were used to redesign elements of the model, therefore engaging in a continuous cycle of feedback and reflection. The final result of the iteration process is the Holistic Professional Development (HPD) model described in this study.

Overview of Chapter

In Section 3.2 the motivation for using the design framework by Loucks Horsley et al. (1998) is given as well as an outline of the features of the design framework described by these authors. In Section 3.3 a reflection on my views is given on the features of a framework for the South African situation.

A framework for designing Professional Development

The motivation for using the design framework for Professional Development for mathematics and science education suggested by Loucks Horsley et al. (1998) is that it is important to draw upon “practitioner wisdom” when developing a model for professional development (Loucks Horsley et al. 1998, p. 16). According to Loucks Horsley et al. (1998, p. xiii) their design framework emerged from discussions with prominent professional developers on programmes for both mathematics and science teachers. They emphasised that what they had to offer were not “models” that others could follow unaltered. Their framework combines elements of different models that evolve and change over time.
I used as guidance the professional development design framework for Mathematics and Science education reform described by Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p. 16 – 24). The framework is presented in the form of a figure (see Figure 3.1). At the centre of the framework is a generic planning sequence which consists of four elements – goal setting, planning, doing and reflecting. This is referred to as the implementation process. In the next three chapters it will be shown how this process was applied in the development of the HPD model.
The circles (see Figure 3.1) represent important inputs into planning and goal setting. These help to facilitate informed decisions by pointing professional designers to the wide repertoire of existing professional development strategies as well as the critical issues that mathematics and science education reformers are most likely to encounter. Both the goal setting and planning processes are influenced by the programme designer’s understanding of the unique features of his/her own context and the knowledge base (knowledge and beliefs) (p 16).
Finally, Figure 3.1 indicates multiple feedback loops from the “reflect” stage to illustrate how design continues to evolve as practitioners learn from doing. Reflection can influence every input which, in turn, affects the creation of a new and better design. This is elaborated in Chapters 5 and 6 which deal with the changing of the design and retrialling of the programme.
In the sections below the views of Loucks-Horsley et al. (1998, p. 16 – 24) on each of these elements are discussed as a prelude to my views on them (see 3.3).

Knowledge and Beliefs

It is unnecessary for designers of professional development models to start blindly and make costly mistakes in doing so. They can take advantage of existing knowledge about effective professional development for mathematics and science education which is based on the results of years of research and practice (p 38 & 42) (see 2.5.2 & 2.6).
The following two categories, knowledge and beliefs, comprise the programme designer’s knowledge base that can help him or her to make informed decisions. They will be discussed separately.


The work of the programme designers is informed by five distinct but related knowledge bases, namely knowledge about:
learners and learning in general
teachers and teaching
the nature of the disciplines of science
the principles of effective professional development
change and the change process
Based on research done on each of these knowledge bases, consensus on what is known in each of these domains is growing. More detail on these knowledge bases is given in sections 3.3.1 and 3.3.2.


Beliefs are pieces of knowledge embraced by professional developers as their own. Thus it is the ideas people are committed to, also referred to as “core values”.
If designers clarify and articulate their beliefs, these beliefs become the “conscience” of the programme which “shapes the goals, drives decisions, creates discomfort when violated and stimulates ongoing critique”. Beliefs are regarded as a critical input into goal setting and planning (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p.18).


Programme designers are in a much better position to come up with a workable strategy or combination of strategies after a repertoire of strategies has been considered. In order to help planners to match strategies to their own context, the authors listed fifteen different strategies and recommended a set of conditions required for success and implementation.


The context in which the research is undertaken must be made very clear. Designers of a programme must make sure that they understand the context in which they are working. The authors feel that skilful designers have to have one foot planted firmly in theory (knowledge, beliefs and strategies) and the other in reality. “They must be influenced by their vision of what science teaching, learning and professional development should” ideally be but they are also part of a community within which they have to design a program (p 20).
“Context is also complex, composed of many interconnected and dynamic influences” (p 20). Firstly, planners should clearly determine who the learners and teachers are. They must be sure they are well informed with the state of practice including curriculum statements, assessment and the learning environment. They must be well acquainted with current policies, and the state of available resources such as time, money, the expertise of the professional designers and community support. A description of the context within which the programme has to be designed is not enough. Critical issues which mathematics and science reformers are likely to encounter must also be addressed (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p. 20).

Critical issues

When the authors examined professional development programmes in the USA, common issues which seemed to be critical to the success of such programmes regardless of the context, were identified. These issues are: (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p 21) :
Equity and diversity
Professional culture
Capacity building for sustainability
Scaling up
Public support
Effective use of standards and frameworks
Time for professional development
Evaluation and assessment.

The Implementation Process

In the centre section of Figure 3.1 the four aspects of the generic planning process are shown. These elements, goal setting, planning, doing and reflecting will be referred to as the implementation process.
Before starting to develop a professional development programme, designers need a structure for planning and decision making. In general, they must determine who will make the decisions, who has input into the decisions, what decision makers need to know and be able to do effectively to carry out their role, how decisions are to be made and how designers will communicate with stakeholders and build support for the plan.

Set Goals

Once the structure of decision making is in place, goals can be set. If professional development is to be linked to learner achievement, two kinds of goals are necessary – goals for students and goals for teachers.
If designers set their goals for student learning, they
must have knowledge about teaching and learning as well as knowledge about the nature of science treated explicitly in the national and some state standards Horsley et al. 1998, p 22).
In the South African context this would correspond to the outcomes outlined in the National Curriculum Statement (Department of Education 2001b).
Goals for teachers flow directly from goals for learners. If learners have to “develop a set of understandings, skills and predispositions”, teachers need to know what to do to accomplish those outcomes for learners.
Goals for teachers are also informed by referring to the standards and data about teacher performance, needs and supports available (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p. 22).
In the South African context it is given, amongst others, in the Norms and Standards for Educators (National Educational Policy Act 1996).

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To plan is to “sketch out your design”. All the other inputs including critical issues, knowledge, beliefs and strategies “come into play in the planning phase”. In this phase “planners scan their context”. They uncover important factors which they considered as they “tailored their program to their own circumstances”. They may even decide to do more research on learning, teaching, mathematics or science, professional development and change. They can also “revisit and clarify the beliefs that underlie the program”. Planners have to consider how to confront critical issues such as scaling up, evaluation or leadership. Furthermore, “during planning, professional designers think strategically about which strategy or combination of strategies” to use (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p. 23).
After making decisions, programme designers, according to Loucks-Horsley et al. (1998, p. 23) move from the “sketching” to “painting” – the actual implementation of their plan. In this phase, they draw on their skills as change facilitators and knowledge about implementation and the change process What programme designers know is that in order for fundamental change to happen, “teachers need to experiment with new behaviour and gain new understandings and that takes time” (p. 23). Teachers will “move through predictable developmental stages in how they feel and how they are using new approaches” (p. 23). However, the teachers’ feelings, which can be unpredictable, have to be taken into consideration.


It is rare that an entire programme is carried out exactly as planned. “As the action unfolds, designers discover what works and what does not”. The designers can “go back to the drawing board” after some feedback has been given. Programmes change when a better way has been figured out or when conditions change. “None of the inputs remains static over time. The knowledge base is constantly growing. As professional designers learn from their experiences, they become active contributors to the knowledge base”. As “their needs and interests change they look to research for new ideas”. Beliefs can also change while “critical issues are just as dynamic”. New issues can arise as deeper understandings are gained on the issues being struggled with.
After designers have reflected by using the feedback they received, they can refine the programme, and start with revised goals, planning, doing and reflecting again. Therefore designing professional development is a continuous iterative process (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998, pp 23 – 24).

My own interpretation and application of the framework

I followed a constructivist orientation mainly because presently it is the dominant learning theory in science education. In the constructivist theory of learning, teaching focuses on the learners’ understanding, while keeping in mind that knowledge is a network of conceptual structures which cannot simply be transferred by the use of words. It cannot exist in some complete form outside the learner and be internalised, stored and reproduced at some later time. Knowledge has to be constructed by each individual. Teaching is a social activity which involves others whom the teacher intends to influence. Although learning is a personal activity, in the sense that it has to take place in the learner’s own mind, teachers have to guide learning and will have to have some notion of the concepts the learners already have and how they are related (Von Glasersfeld 1992, p. 33).


In the following sections I will give my view on my knowledge about learners and learning; teachers and teaching; the nature of science and mathematics; principles of effective professional development and the knowledge base of change and the change process. Some of these views are in line with the views of the authors Loucks-Horsely et al. (1998).

Learners and learning

When learners’ conceptions are investigated, insight is gained into their ways of thinking about and their understanding of science and mathematics. Learners and learning are therefore entities which are difficult to separate (Duit, Treagust & Mansfield 1996, p. 17).
In order to understand learners’ ways of thinking, the following aspects are distinguished.
Learning is influenced by what learners know
What learners know influences what they learn. According to Ausubel
The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows.
Ascertain this and teach…… accordingly (Ausubel 1968, p. v)
For example, if a learner has a specific picture in his mind about the concept electric current, this picture influences any additional learning about this topic, even if his/her conception is inconsistent with accepted knowledge. Learning is therefore influenced by the learners’ existing knowledge and it is often difficult to change his/her conception and to build a new understanding.
Knowledge is constructed by learners
Learners construct their knowledge using their own processes. The process of creating meaning is the construction of links between new ideas and what the learner already knows. This could be done by creating ideas for the first time, making sense of their intuitive ideas or extending existing views. No one can do it on their behalf.
In addition, personal reflection is also an aspect of the process of learning. Learners must be “able to monitor their own ideas”. This can be done through processes such as comparing or contrasting their views with other views, or providing reasons why one viewpoint is more acceptable than another. Thus, learning is a “personal activity” “embedded” in “social interaction” (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p. 28).
The construction of new knowledge is a process of change
Hewson (1996, p. 132) describes learning as a process in which a person changes his or her conceptions by capturing new conceptions, restructuring existing conceptions or exchanging existing conceptions for new conceptions.
Only dissatisfaction with existing conceptions can prompt a learner to change them. Learners must have reason to believe that their current knowledge is inadequate. Therefore learning is a process of construction not only involving additions to knowledge but sometimes involving remodelling of existing knowledge.
New knowledge comes from experience
There are different types of experiences which contribute to the construction of a learner’s knowledge, for example dealing with problematic situations, reflecting on one’s own ideas and thoughts and indirectly using resources like books, television, radio, or by having a conversation. Therefore, learning is greatly influenced by others and is not self-contained (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998, p. 30).
All learners are capable of understanding and doing science
All learners have the capability to understand and do science “regardless of race, culture and gender”. This ability is rooted in their curiosity about natural phenomena and their desire to inquire into and making meaning of science (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998, p. 30).
Reflective practice and Metacognition
Learners actively construct knowledge. However these learning processes need to be facilitated. Reflective practice helps learners to develop metacognitive strategies which promotes the understanding of the learning process and the development of responsible lifelong learners. According to Gunstone and Northfield (1994:526) metacognition means having an informed and self-directed approach to recognizing, evaluating and deciding whether or not to reconstruct.
Learning of science can be promoted when laboratory experience are integrated with other metacognivie learning experiences such as “predict-explain-observe” demonstrations and when they incorporate the manipulation of ideas instead of simply
materials and procedures (cited in Lunetta 1998, p. 251).

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Teachers and teaching

In order to break away from the view of teaching in a typical classroom where teachers “provide authoritative explanations and expect learners to memorise” a broader view on teachers and teaching is captured under the following concepts: (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998, p. 30)
Teaching must facilitate learning
All over the world emphasis is being shifted from teacher-centred to learner-centred approaches. “Changes from previously implemented practices to those required for constructivist teaching/learning approaches do not take place all at once” (Hand 1996, p. 212).
When teaching is based on a constructivist view of learning, the teacher is a neutral facilitator who does not intervene or tell the students any science….In teaching based
on a constructivist view of learning, the teacher interacts with the students’ thinking and facilitates the students’ thinking and learning (Bell & Gilbert 1996, p. 55).
The teacher is involved in ways such as explaining the science to learners but does not tell the science to learners immediately. He/she would rather ask questions or suggest some activities in order to stimulate them to think.
Therefore, learning lies at the heart of teaching. This implies that teachers must know on what level the learners are, where to start, ensure that the work they teach is in line with the present curriculum and presented in such a way that the learners can grasp it. On the other hand, learners also have a responsibility to make the connections between where they are and where they intend to be. Learning is the sole responsibility of the learner, and if he/she does not intend to learn, no learning will take place. For this reason, teaching does not imply learning and it cannot be said that “without learning teaching did not happen” (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998, p. 31).
Professional teachers have specialised knowledge
Loucks-Horsely et al. emphasised the following:
Excellent science and mathematics teachers have a very special and unique kind of knowledge that must be developed through their professional learning experiences. Pedagogical content knowledge – that is, knowing how to teach specific scientific and mathematical concepts and principles to young people at different developmental levels – is the unique province of teachers and must be the focus of professional development. Knowledge of content, although critical, is not enough, nor is knowledge of general pedagogy. There is something more to professional development for science and mathematics teachers than generic professional development opportunities are able to offer. (Loucks-Horsely, et al., 1998, p. xviii)
Furthermore, Shulman has outlined categories of knowledge from which teachers draw during their teaching:
Content knowledge
General pedagogical knowledge with specific reference to those broad principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that appear to transcend subject matter
Curriculum knowledge, with particular grasp of the material and programs that serve as “tools of the trade” for teachers
Pedagogical content knowledge, that special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teacher, their own special form of professional understanding
Knowledge of learners and their characteristics
Knowledge of educational contexts, ranging from workings of the group of classroom, the governance and financing of school district, to the character of communities and cultures
Knowledge of educational ends, purposes and values, and their philosophical and historical grounds (Shulman 1987, p. 8).
However, teachers as professionals should realise that their learning about teaching does not stop after they have obtained their teaching qualification. They are expected to learn continuously throughout their teaching career through participation in appropriate professional development learning opportunities. Only then would they succeed in achieving an uninterrupted improvement of their teaching capabilities (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998, p. 32).

Nature of Science

Acquiring scientific knowledge about how the world functions does not necessarily lead to an understanding of how science itself works. Neither does knowledge of the philosophy and sociology of science alone lead to a scientific understanding of the world. The challenge for teachers is to integrate these different aspects of science in such a way through creative planning of their teaching that they reinforce one another.
Science is dynamic due to the fact that our understanding of the world is constantly changing. For example, the structure of the atom has not changed; what have changed are our models or ways of thinking about the atom. Through the practicing of science, it is attempted to build a picture of the real world in terms of concepts, principles, theories or constructs that can be used to explain what has been observed and predict what has not.
In the science classroom, the question does not stop at “what do we know?”, but “how do we know it?” This can stimulate dialogue between learners, between learners and teachers, between learners and the natural world, with the ideas of experts as well as within themselves. Through dialogue the learners can construct new meanings and formulate arguments which contribute towards their development as critical thinkers (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1998, p. 34).

Principles of Effective Professional Development

The Professional Development Project of the National Institute for Science Education in the USA set about to explore whether the science, mathematics, and professional development communities share a common understanding of what effective professional learning experiences look like and how teacher development should be nurtured (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1996). According to their shared vision, the best professional development experiences for science and mathematics educators include seven principles (see section 2.5.2).
In Chapter 7 it will be shown how these principles have been addressed in the HPD model.

Chapter 1 Background and Outline
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Need for Mathematics and Science Education
1.3 Problems in Mathematics and Science Education
1.4 The need for Professional Development
1.5 Objective of Study
1.6 Research Methods
1.7 Outline of Chapters
Chapter 2 Literature Review
2.1 Overview of the Chapter
2.2 Definition of Terms
2.3 Overview of Selected Professional Development Approaches
2.4 Comments on these Professional Development Approaches
2.5 General features of Professional Development
2.6 Recommended features of Professional Development Programmes
2.7 Summary of Chapter
Chapter 3 Research design
3.1 Background and Overview
3.2 A framework for designing Professional Development
3.3 My own interpretation and application of the framework
3.4 Summary of Chapter
Chapter 4 Baseline study
4.1 Background and Overview
4.2 Implementation Process
4.3 Goals of Baseline Study
4.4 Plan
4.5 Do
4.6 Results: Teacher A
4.7 Results: Teacher B
4.8 Results: Teacher C
4.9 Reflection: Goal 1
4.10 Reflection: Goal 2
4.11 The Way forward
Chapter 5 Initial development and testing of the model
5.1 Introduction and Overview
5.2 Implementation Process
5.3 Goals of the initial development and testing of the model
5.4 Plan
5.5 Do: The Intervention Program
5.6 Improvement of Teachers’ Content Knowledge
5.7 Improvement of Teachers’ Teaching Approaches
5.8 Improvement of Teacher’s Professional Attitudes
5.9 Improvement of learners as a result of intervention
5.10 Reasons for unprofessional attitudes held by teachers
5.11 Reflection: Revising the model
5.12 Summary and way forward
Chapter 6 Further development and testing of the model
6.1 Introduction and Overview
6.2 Implementation Process
6.3 Goals of development and testing of the model
6.4 Plan
6.5 Do: Intervention Program
6.6 Improvement of Teachers’ Content Knowledge
6.7 Improvement of Teachers’ Teaching Approaches
6.8 Improvement of Teachers’ Professional Attitudes
6.9 Interview with a Teacher
6.10 Improvement of learners as a result of the intervention
6.11 Reflection: Final model
6.12 Conclusion
Chapter 7 HPD Model: Structure and evaluation
7.1 Introduction and Overview
7.2 Structure of the Programme
7.3 Kahle’s requirements for successful Professional Development
7.4 National Research Council’s Standards for Professional Development
7.5 Professional Development Activities by Desimone et al.
7.6 South African Vision
7.7 Summary of Chapter
Chapter 8 Conclusion
8.1 Overview of the Study
8.2 Limitations of the Study
8.3 Constraints of the Study
8.4 Significance and Application of the HPD model
8.5 Possibilities for Future Research
8.6 Conclusion

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