Review of " Beginning science teaching " by Chris Dawson.
Reviewer: W. P. Palmer
Right at the start I should say that I believe this to be a most useful book for both prospective and also for practicing secondary science teachers. So, having started with a conclusion, I had better explain the way in which I arrived at it. Firstly it is necessary to look at the alternatives, which are either for lecturers to recommend a text for science teachers in training or not to do so. There are those who believe for philosophical reasons that no single text should be prescribed, since this may limit the amount of enquiry new teachers will make on their own. I would suggest that such lecturers add this book to the list of useful materials that their students should peruse. Those who recommend texts for their students should certainly compare this book with others available. Possible alternatives might be Tisher, Power and Endean (1972) the STEP Materials(1974), the ASTEP Materials (1976), Gunstone, Northfield and Fensham (1980), Trowbridge, Bybee and Sund (1981), Foster and Lock (1987) or White (1988).
Although these or perhaps other alternatives are possible I will explain why I now favour this book. I liked this book because it was Australian and mainly uses Australian examples and local research, which, I think, without being unduly chauvinistic, is important for our students: perhaps I am a little sensitive to this in that previously I had been recommending an American text (Trowbridge, Bybee and Sund, 1981) to our students as a best available buy, as it is an excellent book in many respects, but my students did not feel it relevant to them. Although Australian, Dawson's book is not insular as reference is made to projects and research from U.K., U.S.A., Netherlands, Israel and N.Z. amongst others.
I also like the fact that most of the research referred to is recent and also that the list of references at the end of each chapter is not too daunting. In one new edition of an existing primary school text for trainee teachers that I looked at recently (Jacobsen and Bergman, 1987) the vast majority of references were prior to 1980. The text under review is a completely new work, so does not suffer from this disadvantage. Most references should be easy to obtain and the reviewer was pleased with the selection of references, but I have some doubt if some from the South Australian Department of Education will be easily accessible, though I intend to seek them out.
I certainly felt that this work had been condensed from a large amount of reading of current science education research, and had been synthesised in simple language so that relationships between different areas of research became clearer. The style is distinctly "chatty" with frequent use of the first and second persons singular. Because it is so readable, I think it will allow students to get an overview of science education early on in the course.
There are other good features in that it is directed specifically towards secondary science teachers and its price is less than twenty dollars for which one should commend the publishers, as it can only have a limited market. It is a paperback, but well-bound with a good clear print, 225 pages long, generally well-laid out, though it makes no use of colour and has only a limited number of black and white illustrations. I only found one small "typo" on p.179 ('you' instead of 'your'), though there may be others that I have missed. However the book is good value for money, and I am sure my students will appreciate this.
Overall, the point of view from which the book is written would be labeled 'constructivist', but this label can probably be attached to the majority of those in science education at the present time, and the author very carefully allows the reader to chose their own position between the supposedly antagonistic stances of transmissive and constructivist teachers. The book is split into four sections, and a total of ten chapters unevenly divided between the sections, and these are listed below. A novel feature of the book that I liked was the use of concept maps early on which give ideas of alternative ways in which the book can be used.
PART 1 The context of science teaching
1. What is science? 2. What sort of science for schools? 3. Learning in science. 4. Teaching approaches - possibilities and constraints.
PART 2 Making a start
5. Science in the classroom - strategies for non-laboratory teaching. 6. Science in the laboratory - a selection of strategies. 7. Managing the science room.
PART 3 Putting it all together
8. Planning units and lessons 9. Are students making progress?
PART 4 Now where?
10. Changing emphases... and professional development
I have been very positive about the book so far; what are its faults? Only the obvious ones; one cannot write a short, low-priced text, comprehensible to the beginning teacher and at the same time incorporate the mass of detail that I and others as specialists feel is not included. For example, the final chapter on changing emphases gives less than two pages on gender issues, about two lines on aboriginal issues and no space to handicapped / exceptional children. One can criticise this, but I feel it is more practical to accept the book as a good base and to give students additional materials where needed.
I would like to discuss with Chris Dawson sometime the diagram and the explanation given on page 23 of his text. Chris quite rightly points out that most text books describing the floating candle, burning in a gas jar, gave an incorrect explanation for the rise in the water level. The explanation given in his book is similar to that given by Stocklmeyer (1988) in Australian Science Teachers' Association (ASTA) Journal, but the true explanation of the results of this experiment must be more complex (see later issues of the ASTA Journal, eg Webb (1989), Davies (1989) and Stanhope (1989).
However, in spite of these small niggles, I judge this book to be a worthwhile read for science teachers old and new.
ASTEP (1976) Australian Science Teacher Education Project, A Project in Teacher Education (Directors - P.J. Fensham & D.R. Driscoll), Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne.
DAVIES, A. 1989 The two candles riddle. The Australian Science Teachers Journal, No. 35, No. 1, pp.51-52.
FOSTER, D. and LOCK, R. 1987 Teaching Science 11-13. Croom Helm Ltd., Kent, U.K.
JACOBSON, W.J. and BERGMAN, A.B. 1987 Science for Children, A Book for Teachers (second edition). Prentice Hall Inc., New Jersey, U.S.A.
OATES, C., GUNSTONE, D., NORTHFIELD, J. and FENSHAM, P. 1980 Science Education - Australian Practices and Perspectives, Culture and Curriculum Series. The Curriculum Development Centre, Canberra.
STANHOPE, R.W. 1989 The oxygen content of the air. The Australian Science Teachers Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp.50-51.
STEP (1974) Science Teacher Education Project (A set of eight books) (Co-ordinators John Haysom & Clive Sutton), McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, U.K.
STOCKLMAYER, S. 1988 Casting a Little Light on Some Candle Experiments. The Australian Science Teachers Journal, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp.39-40.
TISHER, R.P., POWER, C.N. and ENDEAN, L. 1972 Fundamental Issues in Science Education. John Wiley & Sons Australasia Pty Ltd. The Griffin Press, Adelaide.
TROWBRIDGE, L.W., BYBEE, R.W. and SUND, R.B. 1981 Becoming a Secondary School Science Teacher, third edition. Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.
WEBB, M. 1989 Casting some calculations on candles. The Australian Science Teachers Journal, No. 35, No. 1, p.52.
WHITE, R. T. 1988 Learning Science. Basil Blackwell Ltd., Oxford, U.K.
Originally reviewed in STANT Newsletter, April/May, pp.10-12, 1991.