PREFERRED TEACHING / LEARNING ACTIVITIES IN SCIENCE: A VIEW FROM SWAZI ST UDENTS

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1 Buffler, A. & Laugksch, R.C. (Eds.) (2004). Proceedings of the 12th Annual Conference of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education. Durban: SAARMSTE. PREFERRED TEACHING / LEARNING ACTIVITIES IN SCIENCE: A VIEW FROM SWAZI ST UDENTS BETTY T. DLAMINI 1 & EUGINE DLAMINI 2 1 Faculty of Education, University of Swaziland, Swaziland 2 Somnjalose High School, Swaziland This study was motivated by experiences from previous studies which investigated the use of contextualised teaching in the science classroom. It is based on the constructivist view of learning which emphasizes student partici pation in their own learning. A total of 111 primary and 83 secondary school students completed a questionnaire requiring them to indicate learning activities they like most or least from a list of possible learning activities. They were then asked to give reasons for their responses. They were further asked to say what happened to help them understand a science lesson they felt they understood well. It was found that all activities were liked by some students and that primary school students liked activiti es relating to contextualisation more often than secondary school students. Their reasons for liking or disliking activities were mainly relating to the ability of the activity to facilitate or inhibit learning of science. Otherwise activities were liked b ecause they were easy to do or understand, enjoyable, or, they were perceived to have an impact on life or the future. The split among auditory and kinesthetic learners was almost equal, with more primary and more secondary students giving auditory and kin esthetic preferences respectively. Some students preferred motivational activities. INTRODUCTION Student learning is one of the greatest mysteries in science education to the extent that theories of learning come and go leaving insufficient understanding of how student learning might be improved. Paradigm shifts from concept learning of the pre 50s to the process approach of the 60s and 70s to the present constructivist view of learning bear evidence to the complexities involved. Take Gagnes idea of task analysis or Skinners stimulus response theory or Bruners idea of discovery learning as examples of describing the process of student learning. They each made sense in their own right and time and still continue to make sense in an evolutionary sense. For example whether you talk of discovery learning you still need some degree of task analysis to provide students with guidance in their discovery activity. The position of this study is that the learner holds the key to understanding learning based on the constructivist view to learning (Hewson and Hewson 1988) which purports that learning is a function of the learner. Therefore learner views about various classroom activities are considered to be especially important to inform change processes in classroom practice. It is particularly so in the case in Swaziland where the school science curriculum is changing to contextualisation. This study has therefore picked up a number of activities in students actually or potentially experiences in or outside science classes and asked students to comment on them with the view to revealing why students prefer activities and how they prefer to learn science. THE LITERATURE Effective learning, described by Byrnes and Johnstone (1988), emphasizes both cognitive learning an d attitude development. Using programmes like the Science and Technology in Society (SATIS) and the Science in a Social Context (SISCON) that link school science with student experiences, they show how this emphasis is achieved in the classroom. These prog rammes are contrasted to traditional classrooms where teaching follows a didactic mode by showing how students interact with both classroom and the environment. As a result students are engaged both cognitively and affectively in their learning. Furthermore, in a traditional classroom student achievement is often measured by their ability to answer 175

2 questions (Darling 1994) fooling teachers believing that a lesson was understood. Thus teachers often make assumptions that their teaching approach or learning a ctivities are effective whereas students may have only learned to be skillful in the use of words. Byrnes and Johnstone (1988) claim the SATIS and SISCON programmes differ because measuring achievement goes beyond verbal responses. Various studies that have attempted to study contextualized approaches, for example, Campbell et al. (1994) in the United Kingdom through The Salters Project at the senior secondary level, Lubben et al. (1995) through the Matsapa project at junior secondary level, and Dlamini (2000) at primary school level in Swaziland focused on curriculum development. They all have reported motivational gains in the classroom. Furthermore, Dlamini et al. (1996) reports findings from a study similar to the present one but with students who had been involved in the Matsapa project. They found that students liked teaching activities that help them understand subject matter and that certain activities were not perceived to do so. Contextual activities were favoured for their motivation, however, further research was found necessary in order to establish the nature of contextual activities that appeal to students. THE PROBLEM AREA Firstly, Swaziland is currently involved in reforming the science curriculum to make it more meaningful for students through contextualization. Currently curriculum materials are developed, activities are suggested to contextualize lessons yet not enough research information is available to guide the process. Studies that have been done on contextualised teaching such as, for example, the Matapa project (Lubben 1995) and the Linking School Science and Technology (LISSIT) project (Putsoa 1998), did not focus on individual teaching strategies. Secondly, the only similar study carried out in the Swaziland by Dlamini et al. (1996) was with students who had been taught two units of science through a contextualized approach. Findings indicated that certain classroom activities were favoured because they were perceived to lead to understanding while some activities were contentious in the sense that they were both most favoured and least favoured by students for the same reason. However, not all possible activities were included in that study and only secondary school students who had been exposed to contextualized teaching were involved. Therefore there is no information about other activities not used in the initial instrument nor from those learners who had had not experienced contextualized teaching nor from primary school students. Hence the need to carry out the present study. AIM The aim of this study is to document students preferences of learning experiences both inside and outside the science classroom. It will attempt to answer the following questions Which learning activities are favoured by students? What reasons do students have for favouring certain types of activities? Do these reasons differ among students from primary and secondary schools? What implications do these reasons have for the change towards contextualised teaching of science that is proposed for Swaziland? DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS A stratified sample of two Primary and two Secondary schools selected purposefully to include rural and urban schools was used in the study. Schools were selected on the basis that they were willing to participate in the study. All Grade VII pupils from the primary and all Form III students from the secondary schools, a total of 111 and 83 students respectively responded to a two -page questionnaire that was developed for the study. The first page containing a list of possible teaching/learning activities in a learning situation and was adopted from Dlamini et al. (1996). In order to answer the first research question, students were asked to tick those activities they most and those that they least liked in the appropriate columns. To answer the last three research questions students were asked to write reasons for their choices. Based on the findings from Dlamini et al. (1996) that students tended to favour activities that facilitate their understanding of subject matter, a further question asked students to describe what had 176

3 happen during a specific lesson they had understood well that helped them understand. The questionnaire was piloted with three groups and modified appropriately. It was then teacher administered in all fou r schools. Data analysis was done through frequency counts on the ticked responses while open coding was applied to the reasons. FINDINGS Responses to the first question show that all learning activities were favoured by at least some students as shown in Table 1 below. Activities that provide hands on experiences, discussions and a clear input from the teacher were among the commonly favoured. However, all activities listed were ticked in the liked column resulting in a frequency count range of 19%, (obser ving a teacher demonstrating) to 59% (listening to a teacher explaining) by Primary and 18% (identifying science in daily life) to 45% (doing experiments) by secondary school students. Teacher explaining and group work (both in doing experiment or group discussion) were among the most popular activities at both primary and junior secondary. Meanwhile the most disliked activities by primary and junior secondary students were observing a teacher demonstrate (liked by 19% and disliked by 37%) and talking to adults about science (liked by 18% and disliked by 34%), respectively. Those activities that would specifically relate to contextualisation were consistently liked by more primary than secondary school students. Activities such as talking to adults about science (25% primary and 18% secondary), learning about science in your life (41% primary and 31% secondary), identifying science in everyday life (34% primary and 18% secondary), reading a story in a science lesson (43% primary and 22% secondary) were ticked. Differences between primary and secondary students views exist with regard to disliked activities. Table 1 below presents the results. Table 1. Liked and disliked activities by primary and junior secondary school students. Activity Primary (n=111) J. Sec. (n=83) Total (n=194) liked disliked liked disliked liked disliked a. Listening to a teacher explaining b. Reading from a book c. Discussing in groups d. Doing an experiment in groups e. Observing teacher demonstration f. Talking to adults about science g. Learning about science in your life h. Labeling diagrams i. Identifying science in everyday life j. Reading a story in a science lesson k. Planning your own method for exp l. Discovering sol. to pract. problems m. Recording exp results n. writing reports Reasons for liking or disliking learning activities When asked to give reasons why they liked or disliked learning activities they had ticked in question 1, students were consistent with Dlamini (1996). They favoured mainly those activities that were perceiv ed to facilitate learning and understanding of subject matter. As shown in Figure 1, the most popular reason from students in both primary and junior secondary school (a total of 51%) for liking or disliking an activity was to have teacher explain to them. They believe that it is not enough to discuss or even do experiments if no explanation is forthcoming from the teacher and that they themselves are capable of making mistakes during group discussions and no one would correct them. Reasons given for either liking or not liking the learning activities were coded under as follows: 177

4 A. Routine: some students said that they liked the activities because that was how they should be taught or they disliked it because that is not the way to do it. For example I like it most because you ask an adult to help you if you dont understand something. P143 Less than 10% from both primary and secondary school children fell in this category. B. Mechanical: a higher percentage of students from both primary and junior secondary school gave reasons that the ability to handle the method. They found it easy to do them or they understood what to do. If they did not like it, it was because they found it difficult or did not understand or it was too much work or they just didnt know it therefore they felt it was likely for them to make mistakes. For example I like the activities I have ticked because they are easy when doing them. P112 I like the activities I have ticked because it is simply (sic) to do things in groups J436 because it is the only thing we have done in class J431 I least like those activities because they are difficult to do those activities. P115 C. a large number of students at both levels valued learning activities that enabled them to learn or understand subject matter. This was by far the largest category. The activities were said to be helpful in facilitating learning or understanding or enabled them to learn many things or to pass test and examinations. If they did not like the activities it was because they were perceived to fail in those respects. For example Because it help me to understand better science lessons when I follow it J384 I like them because when we are helping each other we all get to know or understand the lesson we do even though who did not know end up knowing. P103 It is because I learn a lot and it also help me when I am writing a test because I recall J423 D. Some students liked or disliked activities for affective reasons. They (12%) said that the activities were fun or enjoyable them or that the activities were uninteresting (21%). They actually like them for various reasons that depended on the activity in question. For example group activities are liked because they provide opportunity for them to reinforce each others knowledge or they do n ot like it because some people do nothing during group work, they either play or just laze around. They even said that it is hard to concentrate when you are working in a group. Some activities were said to be just boring or uninteresting. One student said that it is for better minds. It is because I enjoy doing those activities a lot P130 It is because I like finding out more about something or experimenting. J450 I least like the activities because I end up (sic) boring. J407 It is because when I am disc ussing in groups I usually found myself discussing things not about the science. J458 Learning about science in our lives is not important. P125 E. A number of students (12%) referred to usefulness of these activities outside the classroom even in projection to the future or the lack of it (8%). They said the activities they liked most would help them in the future or in their daily lives or even when they have careers. Meanwhile those activities they did not like did not seem useful in any way to them. For example Because it helps me as student in future J405 I like the activity because it encourages me to know more about my environment. J

5 I love them because they are helping my life P 111 I least like the activities because they are not helpful in life. J4 46 F. A further category for those responses that did not seem to fit in any category described was necessary. These students liked or disliked activities because they apparently appreciate the fact that those activities are done only in class and not out of it. Or they did not like them because those activities were done at home and therefore they should not be done again at school. A very small percentage (2%) overall of students fell into this category. Figures 1 and 2 below present the results from primary and secondary school students responses, and illustrate several points. Learning Activities Number of Students A B C D E F N U Liked Unliked Categories of Responses Figure 1. Responses from primary school students. Learning Activities Number of Students A B C D E F N U Liked Unliked Category of Response Figure 2. Responses from junior secondary students. Firstly, contrary to common belief that children lack interest in their schoolwork, they do want to learn and understand subject matter. That is shown by their preoccupation with understanding subject matter and to pass examinations. They were however, much less concerned with development skills and scientific abilities. E, for example, constitutes a very low percentage of the students from both primary and junior secondary school who appear to view their education from a fut uristic perspective. This raises some concerns about the present education system, as to how far it has deliberately prepared students for their future. Or how successful has been in raising awareness and concern for the future among students? More research is needed to answer these questions. Secondly, the data in Figures 1 and 2 illustrate that nearly 10% of students in the classroom are concerned with ability to carry out the activities and often find some of them too difficult or unfamiliar. Thirdly, only a slight difference in favour of the primary school students with regard to the applicability of science to life in general exists. This difference is consistent with a much clearer difference between students selecting activities of this nature in ques tion 1 where 179

6 primary school students favoured activities which related to their lives and their future. This raises a question about the effect teaching process have on student attitudes. How classroom practice helps student learn Responses to the question asking students to name a lesson they had understood and to describe what happened that helped them to understand it produced five main categories. Analysis of response to this question was done with respect to learning styles, that is, Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic (AVK). However, it was not possible to fit all the reasons within these categories so motivation i.e. the nature of content and student effort learner related, were added to the list of categories as shown in Figure 3. Note the following: A Auditory; those who said something relating hearing information from the teacher, other students or the media. For example First the teacher taught and I did not understand, I asked her and she answered and explained again. P110 I understood because we discussed in groups and we presented it to the class P181 They teach with IDS (sic) in the radio and T.V. P114 Because my teacher sometimes sing with the lesson while he was teaching. P188 M Motivational reasoning was based on a perception that the sub ject was of interest or to the student. This was often because it was something students always wondered about or the content was about something familiar to them. For example It is because the teacher explaining with something to me with what I have in my body P118. V Visual: reasoning was based on seeing something while the teacher explained It is because there are some pictures and it is easier to understand if there are diagrams P198 P Practical experience or (Kinesthetic): students were involved in doing something during the lesson. This category included doing experiments, field trips or acting out a lesson in play or song. For example I understand because when doing an experiment I see what happen P135 Because when doing group experiment when someon e is wrong we correct him or her of what happens in the experiment so it is helpful because we correct each other J451. S Student effort. A very small percentage of students (6% primary and 4% secondary referred to what they themselves did to help them understand. Learning No. of Students A M P S V N U Primary Secondary Category Figure 3. How activities were helpful. 180

7 Figure 3 shows that in the primary school more students prefer auditory learning than secondary school students while more secondary school students prefer visual and kinestheti c (P) learning. Figure 3 also indicates a fair distribution of preferred styles of learning though primary school students tended to give uncodable answers mainly by simply repeating the question. in which case the common idea that an integration of teaching method is desirable. However, the low number of student who is helped by the appeal of the content and method may mean that current teaching practice does not entice students and thus the need for strategies that are known to be motivational. CONCLUSIONS Students favour teaching activities mainly for their value in facilitating understanding. The study has show that at least those activities listed in the questionnaire were favoured by an appreciable number of students from both primary and secondary school. It also shows that more primary school children favour those activities that are directly linked to contextualised teaching than secondary school children. It is thus concluded that contextualising science teaching might better be strongly implemente d in primary school than at the higher levels of schooling. However, more research is needed in this area in order to inform decision about the level of contextualization at each level of schooling. REFERENCES Byrne M. & Johnstone, A. (1988). How to make science relevant. School Science Review, 70(251). Campbell, B., Lazonby, J., Millar, R., Nicolson, P., Ramsden, J. & Wadington, D. (1994). Science the Salter s Approach. A case study of the process of a large-scale curriculum development. Science Education, 78, Dlamini, B. T. (2000). The impact of promoting an STS approach to teaching science on the classroom practice of primary school teachers in Swaziland. Unpublished thesis. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand. Dlamini, B., Lubben, F. & Campbell, B. (1996). Liked and disliked learning activities: Responses of Swazi students to science materials with a technological approach. Research in Science and Technological Education, 14(2) Lubben, F., Campbell, B. & Dlamini, B. (1995). In-service support for a technological approach to science education. A report to Overseas Development Administration (ODA). Putsoa, B. (1999). Using a local resource base to teach science and technology: Lessons from Africa. In M. Savage & P. Naidoo (Eds. ). pp Hewson, P.W. & Hewson, M.G. (1988). An appropriate conception of teaching science: A view from studies on learning science. Science Education, 72 (5), The Government of Swaziland. (1999). Ministry of education paper. Mbabane, Swaziland. 181