THE SOCIETAL COMPONENT IN A MODEL OF RELEVANCE IN SCIENCE EDUCATION

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1 THE SOCIETAL COMPONENT IN A MODEL OF RELEVANCE IN SCIENCE EDUCATION Marc Stuckey 1, Jan Sperling 1, Rachel Mamlok-Naaman 2, Avi Hofstein 2 and Ingo Eilks 1 1 Dep. of Biology/Chemistry, Institute of Science Education, University of Bremen, Germany 2 Department of Science Teaching, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel Abstract: Relevance is one of the key terms in reform in science education. Teachers are forced to make their teaching more relevant to avoid a loss in interest and motivation. However, the term is not used coherently. An analysis of the literature shows that there are various meanings how the term is used in science education. From a thorough analysis of the literature of the last 50 years a definition of the meaning of relevance was derived and a model of dimensions of its understanding is suggested. From this model, relevance can be operated having three main dimensions: individual, societal and vocational relevance. For validation of the model focus group discussions with science teachers and student teachers of different stages of professionalism have been conducted. The results show a good degree of comprehensibility of the suggested model. However, most teachers, especially those still in the phase of pre-service training, interpret relevance more or less exclusively with a view on its individual dimension. The vocational and societal dimensions are less taken into consideration. Keywords: Science Education, Relevance, Curriculum, Science-Technology-Society INTRODUCTION For decades now the term relevance is used when it comes to reform in science education. Reform papers report that learners perceive science and science education as irrelevant for themselves as well as for the society in which they live and operate (European Commission, 2004). As a result many students show a lack of interest in science learning and they are not motivated by science subjects (European Commission, 2007). Science subjects turn to be not popular to many students especially secondary Physics and Chemistry (Hofstein, Eilks & Bybee, 2011). Both subjects are mainly considered as boring and too difficult to comprehend (Turner, Ireson & Twidle, 2010). As a potential solution, teachers are asked to make science education more relevant in order to motivate their students and making them curious in science subjects (Newton, 1988a). However, it is not always clear what is meant by making science education relevant and how to do it. Already 25 years, Newton (1988a) wrote: The notion of relevance is not a simple one. It seems at the least unhelpful and at the worst counterproductive to urge a teacher to be relevant in terms which are abstract and diffuse. It might be useful if some aspects of the notion of relevance were to be clarified. (Newton, 1988a, p. 8) An analysis of today s literature shows that there are still a lot of different meanings and concepts behind the term relevance when it comes to science education (Stuckey, Hofstein, Mamlok-Naaman & Eilks, 2013). Quite often the term relevance is used as a synonym for other concepts. For example the very popular Relevance of Science Education survey (ROSE) was called a study on relevance. However, in fact it was mainly focusing on student interests and it seems that the term relevance was randomly selected and without any clear concept behind it:

2 The term relevance was chosen We could have chosen other words, like meaningful, motivating, interesting, engaging, important, etc. Relevance should therefore not be interpreted in a narrow or precise sense, and we will not try to provide any operational definition of the term. It should rather be understood as an indication of an important dimension that underlies the project. Besides, we found that ROSE was nice and suitable acronym and that it calls up metaphors, analogies and mental images. (Schreiner & Sjøberg, 2004, p. 21) In science education there are various understandings of the term relevance. The term is used in the widely different contexts and with different meanings and intentions. E.g. relevance is used in the means of interest (Holbrook, 2008), as a perception of meaningfulness (Westbroek, Klaassen, Bulte & Pilot, 2003), or having positive consequences to promote motivation (Keller, 1987). It also is connected to different implications. The term is connected to individual interest, but also to future careers (European Commission, 2004) or having reallife impacts for individuals and society, e.g. in terms of growing prosperity and sustainable development (Knamiller, 1984). Sometimes, relevance is explicitly suggested as being multidimensional (Rannikmäe, Teppo & Holbrook, 2010) but without clearly outlining the dimensions. As there are different meanings in the use of relevance the term also has different textual dimensions. The key question regarding relevance is what is considered to be relevant, to whom, at what time, and/or who decides this (e.g. Aikenhead, 2003). Answering the question: Who decides what is relevant?, Aikenhead (2003) gives seven different heuristic categories of experts (that might overlap to varying degrees) which include academic scientists, curriculum policy makers and researcher, science-based industries and professions, mass media and internet, economics and health experts, experts in the area of cultural aspects and students. Answers for what should be considered relevant can be obtained from two areas: the area defining the general aims and orientation of education and the area of science education itself (Stuckey et al., 2013). Using more general theories like Allgmeinbildung or Activity theory (Elmose & Roth, 2005; Holbrook & Rannikmäe, 2007; Roth & Lee, 2004; Van Aalsvoort, 2004) as well as more science education specific theories like Scientific Literacy for All (Bybee, 1997; Holbrook & Rannikmäe, 2009) it is clear that relevant science education should encompass a societal dimension although this often is quite a neglected one (Hofstein et al., 2011). E.g. Holbrook (2005) suggested for understanding scientific literacy different important aspects to be taken into account that include the personal life of the students, the future workplace, but especially in respect to the society: The stress on conceptual understanding and the appreciation of the nature of science tends not to be relevant for functionality in our lives, i.e. relevant to the home, the environment, future employment and most definitely for future changes and developments within the society. (Holbrook, 2005, p. 1) These general thoughts on science education fit several concrete organizational schemes from the 1980 onwards. E.g. Schollum and Osborne (1985), Newton (1988a; 1988b), Kahl and Harms (1981), van Aalsvoort (2004) or Hofstein and Yager (1982) all made attempts to characterize the relevance of science education by suggesting different dimensions. All of them encompass beside an individual also a societal and sometimes a vocational dimension. This paper summarizes a coherent approach for understanding the term relevance. It discusses a definition and a model for its understanding. The paper also reports on study based focus group discussions whether the (hermeneutical derived) model is comprehensive and whether it mirrors educators understanding of the term relevance with a special view on the importance of a societal dimension of relevant science education.

3 THE MEANING OF RELEVANCE IN SCIENCE EDUCATION In 2013, Stuckey et al. based on a broad analysis of the literature covering almost 50 years suggested a definition for the term relevance. This definition is connected to the idea of consequences and fulfilling personal needs, as for example found in Keller (1987), Knamiller (1984) and Stolz, Witteck, Marks & Eilks (2013): Science learning becomes relevant education whenever learning will have (positive) consequences for the student s life. Positive consequences can include: o (I) Fulfilling actual needs related to a student s personal interest or educational demands (of which learners are aware), as well as o (II) The anticipation of future needs (of which students are not necessarily aware). Relevance in science education covers both intrinsic and extrinsic components. The intrinsic dimensions encompass student s interests and motives; the extrinsic dimension covers ethically justified expectations of one s personal environment and the by the society in which they operate and live.- Relevance can be considered to consist of three different dimensions: individual, societal and vocational. For science teaching this means that relevant education must contribute to pupils intellectual skill development, promote learner competency for current and future societal participation and address learners vocational awareness and understanding of career chances. Each of the three dimensions encompasses a spectrum of present and future aspects. (Stuckey et al., 2013, p. 19) The analysis revealed also several aspects within the textual dimensions of the meaning of relevance in science education (e.g. Kahl & Harms, 1981; van Aalsvoort, 2004). Encompassing almost all aspects found in the literature the three dimensions were suggested covering: (I) Individual/personal relevance includes the matching the learners curiosity and interests, providing students with necessary and useful skills for coping with their everyday lives today and in the future, and contributes to the development of intellectual skills. (II) Vocational/professional is composed of offering orientation for future professions and careers, preparation for further academic or vocational training, and opening up formal career chances (e.g. by having sufficient achievements to enter into any given higher education program of study). (III) Societal relevance focuses on preparation of pupils for self-determination and a responsibly-led life in society by understanding the interdependence and interaction of science and society, developing skills for societal participation and competencies for contributing to society s sustainable development. (Stuckey et al., 2013, p. 18) An illustrative model was also suggested encompassing the three dimensions of relevance in science education: (I) individual, (II) societal, and (III) vocational relevance with each covering extrinsic and intrinsic components as well as a range from present to future relevance of learning science (Figure 1).

4 The three dimensions of the model on relevance in science education are not solitary or hierarchically arranged. The dimensions are overlapping and many aspects might contribute to more than one dimension with respect to how they are interpreted and operated. For example, career orientation can be part of vocational relevance, but it might match also with personal curiosity, or can respond to a demand for more scientists enabling prosperity for the society s future. Figure 1. Model of relevance in science education (Stuckey et al., 2013) METHODOLOGY Validating the model described in Figure 1 was implemented based on focus group discussions with science education experts in different degrees of professionalism. The discussions were made with six groups: Bachelor of Science student teachers, Master of Education student teachers, trainee teachers, teachers, leading teachers, and science education researchers. Leading teachers in this case characterizes a group of teachers having been involved in curriculum development, textbook writing and teacher in-service training for up to 15 years. The group of science education researchers consisted mainly by PhD students in science education with limited teaching experience in schools (all in Germany). The discussion focused in the first phase on open associations of the participants to the term of relevance when it comes to science education. Debate about different understandings was initiated in a group discussion format. Thereafter, a definition and dimensions from the hermeneutical model were presented for starting a second phase of discussion. For the third

5 phase the groups had to weight or balance the different dimensions related to science education. The discussions were audiotaped and transcribed. The length of each discussion is about 30 to 45 minutes. Evaluation was done by qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2000). Main categories were formed with respect to the suggested model of the meaning of relevance in science education by Stuckey et al. (2013). FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION In the group discussions, the student teachers and teachers became involved in different utilizations of the term relevance in science education. Their utilizations were aligned with those found in the literature. Some groups considered an alignment with concepts such as interest or motivation, while others with needs matching and consequences. Overall, in none of the groups there was any clear and unanimous understanding of the word relevance and how to use it in the context of science education. After presenting the suggested definition, the concept was considered to be concise, although in some groups the previous understanding of connecting relevance mainly to the individual dimension and intrinsic aspects hindered a spontaneous understanding of the vocational and societal dimension within the definition. At this point, the more mature teachers and especially the leading teachers were better able to adopt the broader view on the meaning of relevance intuitively and to freely comment on it. In the end, all the groups reached the point that needs matching and having consequences would be more appropriate concepts for the meaning of relevance in science education than just meeting interest or initiating the perception of meaningfulness only. All the three dimensions described above were mentioned (in different strengths) by the participants in most of the discussion groups. All the groups came up with many aspects to be found in the three dimensions of the relevance model. The model seems to be comprehensive; no further aspects were suggested to be added. Anyhow, it was always the individual dimension that was mentioned first and mostly emphasized. In all groups, especially among the student teachers, the strongest emphasis from the beginning was addicted to the individual dimension of relevance and kept until the very end of the discussion (Table 1). Among the BSc student teachers reference to the societal and vocational dimensions was almost nonexisting without giving them external impulses. The more mature the teachers were the more aspects from the vocational and societal dimensions were suggested in the first phase of the group discussions, especially among the leading teachers. Among these groups more balanced discussions of the three dimensions were kept until the very end. Table 1. Indications of the different dimensions during the open phase of the focus group discussions Dimension Indications (of all groups) Individual 43 Societal 15 Vocational 11

6 After presentation of the three relevance dimensions in the suggested model, all the three dimensions were unanimously agreed to be important in all groups. After the societal component was mentioned its importance was agreed upon, however the right emphasis and place in the curriculum was under debate. In many phases of the discussion the societal dimension was suggested coming up quite late, near to the end of secondary schooling, since aspects of learning for societal participation was considered to be extremely difficult to teach and to learn. Here the view of the societal dimension of science education was reduced to the learning of how to behave in a society at large. Learning how to find one s own place and how to behave in one s personal societal surrounding was not considered as a societal focus in science education. Based on that the various groups also discussed that differentiating between the dimensions is not always easy and that overlaps and interrelations between them exist. Nevertheless the groups unanimously agreed that the societal dimension in many science curricular is the most neglected one and the most difficult to come up with for a science teacher. The groups see a need to strengthen the societal dimension. In all groups the question of balancing the different dimensions was discussed. Discussion suggested taking a view into account to consider age and interests of the students when balancing the three dimensions, as it was already suggested by Newton (1988b) for balancing between the individual and societal dimension. In all interviews the participants claimed that if they have to weight these dimension the most important one for the younger students should be the individual dimension (to make them curious and manage everyday-life questions). The vocational dimension was mentioned becoming important later for students career. All the groups discussed about a balance between the different dimensions, of which the societal dimension might be placed between the other two dimensions. Also here it became clear that the societal dimension was the domain in which student teachers and teachers were most unsettled with and insecure where and how to operate it. In the end most groups reached a point that the individual dimension is very important for younger students while the recognizing the societal and vocational dimension should increase during the students school career (Figure 2). Figure 2. Emphasis of the three dimensions of relevance inspired by a figure from Newton (1988b).

7 CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS The term relevance is one of the most often used terms when it comes to reform in science education. This paper summarizes a suggestion for a definition of relevance in science education and provides a model for its understanding that both were derived from a broad analysis of the science education literature form almost the last 50 years (Stuckey et al., 2013). Inthe focus groups study the definition and model were discussed with science teachers and student teachers of different degree of professionalism. The definition and model proved to cover almost all of the participants spontaneous associations regarding the term relevance. It should be noted that in general none of the aspects related to relevance were overlooked, nor were there any aspects in the group discussions that were not represented in the definition of relevance and regarding the suggested and the model. The analysis of the focus group discussions showed that the individual/personal dimension of relevant science education is considered by a vast majority of teachers and student teachers to be the most intuitive one compared to the societal and vocational dimension. The student teachers and practicing teachers initial consideration is that the individual dimension should have a high priority for students to make them curious and skillful for coping everyday-life questions. However, the teachers and student teachers perceived the societal and vocational dimensions will become important in a later stage of students' career. Among all the three dimensions the teachers perceived that the societal dimensions is the most neglected one and the most difficult aspect to be incorporated in science education. For several years, the approach of socio-scientific issue-based science teaching offers an opportunity to extend the social dimension and its applications for science classroom teaching (Bodzin & Mamlok, 2000; Sadler, 2004). Within authentic and controversial socio-scientific issues and debates from current social affairs should be implemented to promote interest and motivation among students (Marks & Eilks, 2009). In teachers discussion about relevance in science education, the student teachers and especially the teachers suggested that such kind of a model of the meaning of relevance in science education can be a beneficial tool to reflect on their curriculum, textbooks, or teaching practices. It became clear that such a model can help to reflect the role and emphasis of the frequently more neglected societal and vocational dimensions in science education. Maybe it is helpful to take up the model of relevance in pre- and in service science teacher education and support the teachers finding an approach for implementing all the three perspectives into their science curriculum in a more balanced way. To sum-up more research is needed to explore the issue of relevance especially in an era in which scientific literacy for all becomes one of the most important goals related to science teaching and learning. REFERENCES Aikenhead, G. S. (2003). Review of research on humanistic perspectives in science curricula. Paper presented at the ESERA conference, Nordwijkerhoud, The Netherlands. Bodzin, A. M. & Mamlok, R. (2000). STS issues-based approach simulations. The Science Teacher, 67(9), Bybee, R. W. (1997). Toward an understanding of scientific literacy, In W. Gräber & C. Bolte (Eds.), Scientific literacy an international symposium (pp.37-68). Kiel: IPN. Elmose, S., & Roth, W.-M. (2005). Allgemeinbildung: Readiness for living in a risk society. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37,

8 European Commission (2004). Europe needs more scientists. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities: Luxembourg. European Commission (2007). Science Education Now A renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe. High level group on science education. Brussels: Belgium. Hofstein, A., Eilks, I., & Bybee, R. (2011). Societal issues and their importance for contemporary science education: a pedagogical justification and the state of the art in Israel, Germany and the USA. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 9, Hofstein and Yager (1982). Social issues as organizers for science education in the 80 s. School Science and Mathematics, 82, Holbrook, J. (2005). Making chemistry teaching relevant. Chemical Education International, 6 (1). Holbrook, J. (2008). Introduction to the special issue of science education international devoted to PARSEL. Science Education International, 19, Holbrook, J., & Rannikmäe, M. (2007). The nature of science education for enhancing scientific literacy. International Journal of Science Education, 29, Holbrook, J., & Rannikmäe, M. (2009). The meaning of scientific literacy. International Journal of Science and Environmental Education, 4, Kahl, S., & Harms, N. (1981). Project synthesis: Purpose, organization and procedures. In N. Harms & R. E. Yager (Eds.), What Research says to the science teacher (vol 3). Washington: NSTA. Keller, J. M. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10 (3), Knamiller, G. (1984). The struggle for relevance of science education in developing countries. Studies in Science Education, 11, Marks, R., & Eilks, I. (2009). Promoting scientific literacy using a sociocritical and problemoriented approach to chemistry teaching: Concept, examples, experiences. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 4, Mayring, P. (2000). Qualitative content analysis. Forum Qualitative Social Research, 1 (2). Newton, D. P. (1988a). Relevance and science education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 20 (2), Newton, D. P. (1988b). Making science education relevant. London: Kogan Page. Rannikmae, M., Teppo, M. & Holbrook, J. (2010). Popularity and relevance of science education literacy: Using a context-based approach. Science Education International, 21, Roth, W.-M., & Lee S. (2004). Science education as/for participation in the community. Science Education, 88, Sadler, T. D. (2004). Informal reasoning regarding socioscientific issues: A critical review of research. Journal of Research Science Teaching, 41, Schollum, B. & Osborne, R. (1985). Relating the new to the familiar. In R. Osborne & P. Freyberg (Eds.), Learning in science. London: Heinemann. Schreiner, C. & Sjøberg, S. (2004). Relevance of science education: Sowing the Seeds of ROSE. Oslo: Acta Didactica.

9 Stolz, M., Witteck, T., Marks, R., & Eilks, I. (2013). "Doping" for chemistry education The use of socio-scientific issues for learning about chemical analytics. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technological Education, 9, Stuckey, M., Hofstein, A., Mamlok-Naaman, R. & Eilks, I. (2013). The meaning of relevance in science education and its implications for the science curriculum. Studies in Science Education, 49, Turner, S., Ireson, G. & Twidle, J. (2010). Enthusiasm, relevance and creativity: could these teaching qualities stop us alienating pupils from science?. School Science Review, 91 (337), Van Aalsvoort, J. (2004). Activity theory as a tool to address the problem of chemistry s lack of relevance in secondary school chemistry education. International Journal of Science Education, 26, Westbroek, H., Klaassen, K., Bulte, A., & Pilot, A. (2003). Characteristics of meaningful chemistry education. Paper presented at the Fourth International Conference of the European Science Education Research Association, August 19-23, Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands.

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