Teachers' lived experiences of contextualised interventions, and its affordances for their professional development and for self-directed learning in physical sciences
South Africa, with its cultural diversity, rich indigenous fauna and flora, cutting-edge science enterprises, and socio-economic inequalities, sets a unique table for a science teacher, who needs to ensure that diverse learners are adequately prepared for a complex 21st century. South Africa hosts some of the most advanced science and technology in the world, namely the square kilometre array (SKA) in the Carnarvon district. This area in the Northern Cape is also home to the oldest indigenous knowledge system in the world, that of the San. The picture provided at the end of this abstract, juxtaposes this contrast, namely 21st-century knowledge and skills, versus indigenous knowledge, and this creates a challenge for the South African science teacher, who needs to navigate the tensioned space between these two epistemologies. Research studies of the last decade have shown that most science teachers are not sufficiently equipped for such epistemological border-crossing. The intervention which is described in this study attempted to assist Natural Sciences teachers to accomplish such epistemological border-crossing in the classroom. A community of practice (CoP) was established, and since the intervention was based on self-directed learning principles, learning activities that were provided in the CoP were conceptualised based on the teachers' actual needs. The leitmotif underpinning this research was therefore that teachers should take ownership of their own learning. Based on teachers' needs, a professional development programme was developed for 10 teacher participants from the greater Potchefstroom area, mostly teaching in ‘township’ schools in the suburbs of Ikageng and Promosa (mostly quantile 1 schools). These teachers engaged in diverse learning activities, e.g., a short learning programme on indigenous knowledge, a two-day immersion laboratory-work opportunity at the African Centre for DNA Barcoding at the University of Johannesburg (to develop a better understanding of the tenets of science), workshops on frugal (science-on-a-shoestring) science, where teachers explored how low-cost materials could be used to foster inquiry learning in an under-resourced classroom, a workshop on utilising ICTs (such as the PhET simulations) in the science classroom, and general workshops on pedagogies and learning strategies, e.g., problem-based and cooperative learning. Teachers also commented on high stress levels, and a psychologist was employed to present a workshop to teachers on how to practically manage stress. This mixed methods research utilised qualitative data-gathering methods such as individual interviews, focus group interviews, open-ended questionnaires, classroom observations, and studying artefacts (e.g., teacher professional development portfolios). The quantitative data included the Self-Directed Learning Instrument (SDLI) that was developed and validated by Cheng et al. (2010). Pre- and post-intervention data were collected, and I have utilised a revised Profile of Implementation to map each of the teachers' professional learning. This heuristic (the Profile of Implementation) consisted of five domains, namely (a) classroom interaction, (b) practical work and the nature of science, (c) science-in-society approaches (and the contextualisation of curriculum themes), (d) assessment practices, and (e) self-directed learning. Third-generation Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) was used as a research lens, during a second level of data analysis. This lens provided insights into factors that either supported or impeded transfer to the post-intervention classroom. The seven themes that emerged from this research were: 1. The intervention helped teachers to develop more nuanced understandings of the nature of science, yet little evidence of transfer and acknowledgement of the tenets of science (transformed teaching) were observed in the post-intervention classroom. 2. The intervention assisted teachers to develop more nuanced understandings of the nature of indigenous knowledge, yet little evidence of transfer of such indigenous knowledge (transformed teaching) was observed in the post-intervention classroom. 3. Despite the fact that teachers showed greater sensitivity towards contextualising curriculum themes through indigenous knowledge, the majority of them have challenges to implement contextualised problem-based learning (PBL) in the Natural Sciences classroom. 4. Evidence exists of nascent self-directed learning, but this does not yet direct transformed teaching practices or the development of teacher agency in overcoming systemic barriers. 5. Despite teachers' enthusiasm about frugal science and PhET simulations, very little transfer took place in the classroom, and little evidence of the use of science-on-a-shoestring approaches or ICT approaches was observed. 6. Despite experiencing the ‘world of a scientist’ at the ACDB at UJ, none of the teachers portrayed such tenets of science in the post-intervention classroom, probably because of their lack of knowledge and skills of laboratory protocols. 7. A longitudinal professional development programme, fostering a supportive community of practice, could enhance teacher learning but should involve all stakeholders during the planning phase.
- Education