Wednesday, 5 Apr 2006

MEDIA RELEASE Released Wednesday 5 April 2006 Study endorses the quality of Australian science teaching The quality of Year 8 science teaching in Australia has been strongly endorsed by the findings of a new international study released today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 1999 Video Study investigated and described Year 8 Science teaching in Australia, Japan, The Czech Republic and The Netherlands, all of which achieved relatively highly in the TIMSS 1995 and 1999 written assessments, and The United States, which achieved at average level only. In Australia the study involved 87 Australian teachers and around 2000 students from a national random sample of schools representing all regions and school sectors. Lessons were videotaped between June 1999 and May 2000 to identify common features as well as distinctive characteristics across the countries involved. Altogether, 439 lessons were videotaped from the five countries. ACER conducted the Australian component of the study on behalf of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. Internationally, researchers observed that there is more than one way to teach science successfully, supporting the proposition that teaching is culturally based. Teachers in the participating countries used a variety of teaching methods and combined them in different ways. A high level of coherence was observed in the Australian lessons, which typically involved gathering and analysing data through independent practical activity, followed by interpretation of results to develop ideas. Real-life experiences and issues were often used to help students connect ideas. In addition, Australian teachers were well trained and mostly well resourced. “The Australian lessons observed for this study provided students with good opportunities to achieve the stated goals of the science curriculum and to develop aspects of scientific literacy. It is also interesting to see how similar the approaches to Year 8 science teaching are in Australia and Japan,” ACER’s chief executive Professor Geoff Masters said. “But despite these largely positive findings, there are areas where improvements could be made.” Concerns were raised in the report regarding a low emphasis placed on student directed investigations and the generally basic level of content covered in the lessons. Fifty-seven per cent of Australian lessons focused on content that was generally at only a basic level for Year 8 and would have offered limited challenge for students, particularly more able students. Thirty-three per cent of lessons provided a mix of basic and challenging content and a further 9 per cent focused on predominantly challenging content. “Australian Year 8 students would benefit from more opportunity to learn and practise higher-order inquiry skills such as designing their own investigations and taking part in class discussions about the results of their practical activities,” Professor Masters said. More information about the study and additional findings are contained in the full report, Teaching Science in Australia, (TIMSS Australia Monograph No 8) by Jan Lokan, Hilary Hollingsworth and Mark Hackling. The report is available from the ACER website at www.timss.acer.edu.au ******* ENDS ********