Summary in English
Two quantitative surveys and 12 qualitative case studies will be conducted in the research project ARK&APP (2013–2015). The present study is the first of three case studies in school science. Three research questions guide this case study:
- How are educational resources used in teaching practices?
- How do various educational resources function in interactions between students and teachers?
- How do educational resources foster engagement and learning among students?
The study was conducted in spring 2013 in an upper secondary school in Akershus County, north of Oslo. Ten boys and five girls aged 15 and in their first year in a vocational track participated. The teaching topics focused on sustainable development in the curriculum (Kunnskapsløftet, LK06). Classroom observations of teacher and student activities were conducted and supported by sound and video recordings. Altogether, 13 lessons were observed. In addition, data collected pre- and post-tests focused on types of power plants, energy use, definitions and examples of sustainable development and conflicts of interest. Teachers and students were also interviewed; the focus was on use of educational resources. Methods from case studies in previous research were used in the analysis, i.e., discussions from research groups and memo writing constituting inductive and deductive movements between datasets and within datasets. Key issues found during observations have guided the analysis of recordings.
Key concepts in this teaching unit were sustainable development, conflict of interest and the precautionary principle. Environmental problems explored in sustainability education are complex because they are both local and global. They may be ill-defined in terms of the knowledge domain, they have an ethical and political dimension and they are significantly part nature and part society. Established scientific knowledge tends to be problematic in such complex issues when risk and uncertainty come to the forefront. The teaching design in this case had three main components: a design experiment with the simulator game Energispillet.no (energy play), an assignment with worksheets and film as learning resources and group work where students produced a PowerPoint presentation on a specific topic assigned by the teacher. Energispillet.no is a pedagogical single player simulation game, intended to offer students an opportunity to learn about the environment and energy supply. The students played in groups of two or three. Short films, various internet resources and the textbook were also used as learning resources. Use of handouts was prevalent. These sheets enabled connections to be made between the assignments and the different learning resources being used, facilitating a space for student-centred talk and structure-focusing concepts and issues. During student work, the teacher reminded them to focus on the worksheet (handouts) and supported them in making connections between educational resources in thematic development. In particular, this mediating activity was important in the energispillet.no sessions. However, the teacher said in interviews that she found making students pause to reflect during play challenging.
In the two groups selected for observation, we identified two different playing styles. One group of boys shifted between concentrated play and off-task activities but managed to systematically solve problems that occurred by drawing on information made available from the play. Their somewhat frantic mode of play indicated the ‘action’ aspect of playing. The other group had a more reflecting and questioning style of play. They even worked on the worksheet while the play was ticking in the background. Our observations suggest that all students found it an engaging experience, and that they were confronted by the complexity that the teacher and the researchers intended. This finding is consistent across observations and interviews. It also stands in marked contrast to a more traditional group work in the case study where students were off task more often.
The extensive use of worksheets is related to the fact that students worked in groups half of the time. The work sheets were important for mediating between different educational resources and learning goals and between talk and writing. However, the learning goals were seldom made explicit to students. There were very little teacher-led whole class interactions where the subject matter or issues related to sustainable development were taught. Additionally, there was little focus on whole-class interactions, summing up or clarification of students’ work. Thus, the main interaction between the students and teacher was during group work. Although the students showed substantial gains from pre- to post-test, we suggest that they would have gained even more if whole-class introductions and summaries had been more prevalent.
This case has similarities and differences with previous research on classroom practices in school science. We saw less whole-class teaching structured by the textbook and fewer students solving textbook assignments that in previous studies, notably PISA+. However, this case study support previous research that found that little time was used in summing up and commenting on students’ work. Additionally, the teacher seemed to be more focused on and more comfortable with her role of shifting between bringing in a more authoritative voice and allowing students to make their own sense, which contrasts with PISA+ findings.
We conclude that this case study has shown some good teaching practices for teaching sustainable development, i.e. allowing ample space for students to discuss and make sense while supervising them and helping them make connections between heterogeneous learning resources. Digital media is important for making the science classroom permeable to current local issues from various perspectives and for allowing for complexity. The textbook still has a role in exemplary, structured learning in school science practices.