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Does the discussion of socio‐scientific issues require a paradigm shift in science teachers' thinking?

Day, Stephen P. and Bryce, Tom G.K. (2011) Does the discussion of socio‐scientific issues require a paradigm shift in science teachers' thinking? International Journal of Science Education, 33 (12). pp. 1675-1702. ISSN 0950-0693

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The purpose of this study was to characterise secondary school science teachers' conceptual models of discussion, against the background that a number of researchers have found that discussion of socio‐scientific issues in science classrooms is rare, somewhat discomforting for teachers and its purpose unclear. Recent research indicates that when science teachers do engage in socio‐scientific discussion, the quality is poor and is teacher‐centred where pupils' views do not figure prominently (far less be clarified and integrated with their scientific learning). This has led to calls for such dialogue to be conducted by humanities teachers. The question arising from such thinking is: Do science teachers hold different conceptual models of discussion from their humanities colleagues? Using semi‐structured interviews, three groups each of six teachers (experienced science teachers, experienced humanities teachers, and newly qualified science teachers) were interviewed in‐depth in order to characterise their conceptual understanding of discussion as a teaching strategy. Analysis of the interview transcripts utilised the constant comparison approach of grounded theory. Five conceptual models of discussion emerged from an analysis of the data—discussion: (1) as a teacher‐mediated discourse; (2) as open‐ended inquiry; (3) for the development of reasoning skills; (4) as mediated transfer of knowledge to real‐life contexts; and (5) as practice for democratic citizenship. The results confirmed that the science teachers' emphasis tended to stress practice for democratic citizenship whereas the humanities teachers' emphasis was more towards open‐ended inquiry and for the development of reasoning skills.