Susana de Souza Barros and Marcos F. Elia
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

A theory in education acquires scientific character if it can establish self-correction processes and value itself at the light of its own practices. (H. Putnam, in 'The primacy of practice', 1974).

I. Introduction

While it is true that there are teachers whose attitudes are positive towards the promotion of good science teaching- learning situations, for most students, in many countries, the reality of the school classroom consists of lessons where science is transmitted by their teachers, at best, as a set of facts, laws and data. The results brought about by physics education researchers' pedagogical experiments have good consequences only when rooted within the school as an institution (teacher, curriculum and defined pedagogical practices) and within a particular context (culture, program, country). So, we conclude that there are no universal methods to modify this situation. That is, there are a variety of science teaching styles as a result of the strong interaction existing between teaching attitudes and competencies, school and society, as suggested by the model shown below.

Model Diagram

In what follows we first give a description and make some comments about current science teaching attitudes and competencies, trying to clarify some issues and bring forward some ideas being tested in different parts of the world. Next, we discuss ways that could lead to changes towards adequate teaching attitudes through both the training of future teachers and the in-service teacher education programs.

The present discussion is mostly limited to secondary school physics (science) teachers (15-18 years old pupils), but it applies to primary teachers, without loss of perspective. At the university level research in science education has been less extensive.  Teachers have seldom been the object of studies in spite of wide recognition that there is room for improvement, as evidenced by the new proposals to improve teaching at the university introductory level ( i.e.Powerful ideas in physical science: a model course, AAPT, 1995). Fensham (92) mentions that secondary school teachers are more aware of their difficulties, seeking answers to cope with their and their students' problems, while university and college teachers have a naive standing in relation to what goes wrong in the classroom. Bliss (93) says that children find science learning difficult, and we may add that teachers also find science teaching difficult.

II. The role of teachers' attitudes

The word attitude (from Latin aptus) is defined within the framework of social psychology as a subjective or mental preparation for action. It defines outward and visible postures and human beliefs. Attitudes determine what each individual will see, hear , think and do. They are rooted in experience and do not become automatic routine conduct.

Attitude means the individual's prevailing tendency to respond favorably or unfavorably to an object (person or group of people, institutions or events). Attitudes can be positive (values) or negative (prejudice). Social psychologists distinguish and study three components of the responses: a) cognitive component, which is the knowledge about an attitude object, whether accurate or not; b) affective component: feelings towards the object and c) conative or behavioral component, which is the action taken towards the object.

We understand that in most situations the three components appear concomitantly to shape teachers' classroom postures, through a direct and indirect interaction between society, school and teachers, following the model presented above. Leite (94) raises questions about how does society see the need for change, what are its demands, what is considered modern, and how do these beliefs influence teachers' views and behavior in school.

Table I-A lists seven types of teaching attitudes, grouped into three classes (a, b and c) which may characterize teacher's traits as will be discussed in the results. Table I-B represents teacher's competencies, which combined in different ways and weights, could give an understanding of teachers' behavior(s) in the classroom. Teachers have a decisive role (+/-) in any educational reform and their competencies do not automatically insure positive attitudes towards the teaching process.

TABLE I: Teaching Attitudes and Competencies
Classes I -A Teaching Attitudes   I - B Teaching Competencies
  i. Lack of confidence about subject content .   1. The role of the physics laboratory
ii. Provider of established knowledge   2. The understanding of the nature of science
  iii. Prioritizing manipulation of mathematical symbols.   3. The role of history of physics.
  iv. Resistance to curricular and methodological innovations.   4. Psycho-pedagogical understanding of students' learning processes, cognition and mental models.
v. Lack of coherence between classroom practices and expressed educational beliefs.   5. Evaluation.
  vi. Lack of commitment towards good learning.   6. Actualization in Science, Technology and Society (STS) issues
vii. Make believe teaching: doing what can be done not what should be done.   7. Critical use of new and old technologies (printed, video, multimedia, software, WWW, etc.)
      8. Physics Academic New Curricula
      9. Knowledge of results obtained in the field of Research in Physics Education

III. Teaching attitudes affecting negatively the learning process

i. Teachers' lack of confidence due to poor conceptual and phenomenological physics foundations. In many countries around the world the number of lay science teachers is high, and many of those that have undergone formal education are not ready for the job.

ii. The fact that most teachers most of the time behave as information providers (Brown, 82). The basic model of teaching in this case is: a) spontaneous ; (b) belief that all students are identical and ready to follow same type of instruction; © acceptance of models the teachers were taught; and (d) lack of readiness about students' forms of learning and thought, (Hallbawchs,75).

iii. Physics teachers have a tacit understanding, strongly shared by the students, that the important aspects of physics have to do with manipulation of mathematical symbols. At primary and secondary levels this is done at the expense of a better treatment of phenomenology and intuition, seldom treated with (when adequate and possible) formal theory. There is an epistemological separation between theory and practice and the teachers' performance in the teaching of science and mathematics, as the result of their training at the university, as discussed by Ciscar (90) and Ryu (87).

iv. Teachers do not carry out innovations of new curricula and methodologies. Partly due to entrenched beliefs about teaching science as telling science, instead of teaching as a process, science as a way of thinking.  Good practices in physics teaching are expected to promote critical thinking (Arons, 90), problem solving abilities and readiness for data interpretations as well as good communication skills. Via non-explicit forms of action, teachers' attitudes indicate the lack of confidence to implement new projects and passively reject new methods and technologies. Reay (75) says that one of the reasons for this attitude could be due to the little time allowed for preparation within the teacher's working day. Another explanation could be the teacher's personal style in the interpretation of curricula, content and pedagogy (Sacristan, 89, Gallard and Gallagher, 94). Studies carried out in Brazil (Garrido et al., 91) indicate that teachers show little interest and lack of compromise towards innovation in school.


v. The lack of coherence between the teachers' classroom attitudes and their expressed belief on active methods of interaction. Black (89) reported a study made in a physics classroom were the teacher strongly believed in his ability to conduct an interactive science class. When observed, he was talking to the class 90% of the time. Activity dominated learning situation studies show that students listen to the instructor more than 50% of the laboratory time.(Hegarthy-Hazel, 90). Bliss and Ogborn (77) did a naturalistic study and reported 43 stories about the science laboratory. More than half of the students had bad recalls from their laboratory work. Carvalho (92), mentions the dichotomy between the liberal discourse in opposition to repressing action that dominates the teacher training courses. A study of the beliefs and opinions of science teachers (physics, biology and chemistry and mathematics) about the nature of science and science education (Souza Barros et al., 87) indicated that though physics teachers were less dogmatic about the nature of science and approved curricular modifications and active methods in the classroom, their standing in the classroom indicated otherwise. Koulaidis (87) found that science teachers' pedagogical positions are  quite traditional, giving great emphasis to presentation of knowledge and pupils' abilities to think in abstract terms.

vi. Teachers tend to see school failure as a result of the socio-psychological deprivation due to social conditions of child and family. Low expectations for these students generate poor teaching practices. Therefore, the tendency to put the responsibility of their (teachers) ineffectual performance on the students (Silva et al, 87; Carvalho and Gil- Pérez; Alves, 93; Mazotti, 94).

vii. Last, but not least, the conditions under which teachers work. Professional and social status; school infrastructure, poor libraries, laboratories, safety conditions, etc., create new variables that (re)define the attitudes of even the most devoted and well prepared teacher. The analysis made by a secondary teacher (Cedrez, 93) that comes from a country that enforces the implementation of official curricula via regular inspections of the classrooms) presents a good picture about what goes on in the classroom, - ... the official physics curriculum cannot be accomplished with the basic mathematics foundations the students bring from early school years. So, I need to train the students to do problems, instead of helping them to understand phenomena and learn physics.

IV. Teaching Competencies

Pointing out some of the negative aspects, allows defining actions to change the general picture. There is good agreement (Baird et al, 91) that teachers who are seldom asked to reflect upon their own teaching could be no more than mere repetitors of book material. Since teachers have a major role in any education reform they should be solicited to understand new proposals and to participate in their formulation, to analyze their performance and modify their behavior, their personal conceptions on how to teach and what to teach. Most teachers, influenced by how they were taught tend to replicate the model.

The set of competencies presented below, necessary but not sufficient to insure good teaching -learning procedures, is by no means complete, but there is high consensus about it within the community of scholars.

1. The role of the physics laboratory (objectives, processes, outcomes). In spite of much that has been said and the perception that practical work has a priority role for the teaching-learning process of sciences its effect is not well established, mainly because many teachers are technically incompetent and lack fundamental components related to points 2), 3) and 4) discussed below. Science objectives at the fundamental level cannot be separated from laboratory science objectives (Nedelsky, 65; Elia, 81).

2. The understanding of the nature of science (the construction of scientific knowledge) and the conceptual mastery of content in classical, modern physics and information about frontier physics.

These two aspects cannot be separated, as is done in most courses. Both require emphasis and should be integrated from the beginning. They are recognized by the teachers as major aspects in need of much improvement. One aspect that needs research is the role that teaching theory plays in learning (private discussions, J. Ogborn and I. Martins). Several studies point out that the physics taught and the physicist 's physics have little in common (i.e.Hallbwachs,75; Vianna, 93).

3. The role of history of physics. As Jenkins (94) puts it: a radical appraisal of science education is necessary. Nowadays it has become an international phenomena to introduce historical and philosophical insights into science education. This topic is discussed in the first part of this chapter.

4. Cognitive and social psychology, linguistics and anthropology . What is the effect on teaching strategies of theories learned in the education courses at the university ? The present domination and the acceptance of constructivism, as the only correct teaching paradigm; the scarce understanding of the true meaning of the word (Moreira, 91) as well as the framework of learning theories as applied to real classes, only adds to the confusion that has permeated the teaching process along the last 20 years. Zanarini (92) discusses what conceptions of knowledge are basic to the performance of scientific activities, exploring the complexity of the processes by which scientific knowledge is built and their relationships with the effective domain of common-sense knowledge. He examines the implications for totally constructivist perspectives of science learning, especially in the first years of schooling. Derek (90), in discussing the relations between language, knowledge and psychological development that deal with shared building knowledge, mentions three aspects: a) power and control of the teacher in the construction of knowledge by their students; b) contextualization of language in the school and c) relations between discourse in the classroom and knowledge.

5. Evaluation . There is a need to understand and apply both qualitative and quantitative evaluation modes. Since many teachers have not had formal studies on the subject they mainly evaluate their students for promotion. Little conceptual knowledge is verified. Poorly constructed and mainly not validated instruments, that mostly reflect the knowledge as passed by the teacher in factual form, are used. The consequence is that many students do poorly in external evaluation as evidenced by the results obtained in university entrance examinations, science literacy surveys, etc. Qualitative evaluation as presented by White and Gunstone (92) propose the use of instruments developed for researches in science education, as probes for the teacher to follow the learning that is taking place along instruction.

6. Actualization in Science, Technology and Society (STS) issues. New curricular approaches are needed to discuss the significance of science and technology for the citizen of our times (Souza Barros, 91, Dal Pian, 91, Krasilchick, 91). Excellent programs have been devised and applied, so far in small scale, like PLON (Holland), GREF (Brasil) , SISCON, SATIS (England). Most of the latest editions of current physics textbooks introduce the discussion of STS. Popular science publications provide interesting and useful information.

7. Critical use of new and old educational technologies (laboratory, printed, video, multimedia, software, WWW, etc.). Many teachers do not have access to didactic materials and modern educational technologies. In many instances, the way innovations are introduced does not contribute to acceptance. The modernization of the school does not necessarily mean acquisition of new materials, last generation educational technologies, etc. This aspect belongs to actuality and because of the exponential growth of knowledge, the implementation in large scale should be based in careful research of the educational impact of new technologies. For Mitchell and De Jong, (90) and Thornton (93), good learning requires constant variation in the purposeful intellectual activities of the learner and a wide range of pedagogical strategies.

8. Physics Academic New Curricula. In the present world, dominated by a scientific and technological culture, the debate over informal and formal (academic) curricula should be thought in terms of : a) the introduction of modern physics and new ideas to deal with classical physics; b) new approaches to contextualize old curricula in the light of new methodologies and c) making better profit of the information obtained via informal sources : video, television and radio broadcast; books and journals, software's and multimedia, museums, exhibits, etc.

9. Knowledge of results obtained in the field of Research in Physics Education. Probably this is the area that offers the richest of possibilities to modify current teaching practices. Many teachers do not have access to the specific literature; there is a need for publication of journals, bulletins specifically designed to divulge results and instruments used in research, summaries of new books, courseware, video, multimedia, experiments, etc. Is expected that the availability of computer networks in the future could help partially to solve this problem.

V. Actions for teacher's attitudes change

We stress once more a teacher's profile as an active agent, constructing perspectives and taking action. He/she should be encouraged to strengthen his/her capabilities to make good educational decisions. The physics teacher could not solely be responsible for the (in)significant learning of physics that goes on in many schools.

Teachers' styles, and mainly their attitudes, are strong context outcomes, rooted in experience and do not become automatic routine conducts, in the sense that they are developed via very slow interactions (action/reaction) and become well established constructs for each individual only after some time. In that sense attitudes can be modified only by each individual, when he/she becomes aware, via elements and evidence, that new postures would be better to deal with the world around. We agree with Carr's (90) statement that professional change and educational change are two strongly related problems.

So we could argue about the possibility to modify teaching attitudes by means of teaching programs, as we believe to be true when we teach specific competencies in the pre-service courses. On the other hand, we need to worry about teachers' negative attitudes since they affect a large number of the student population. As quoted by Lederman (95), science illiteracy is very high, ranging up to 90% (developed and developing countries).

According to Nemser-Feinman and Floden (in Wittrock, 86) teachers go through three stages when they start teaching: adequacy, mastery and impact awareness of the effect of their teaching on the students. Pre-service courses should prepare the future teacher for adequacy and mastery. In-service programs should help the teacher to actualize their knowledge with the acquisition of adequate instruments and methodologies to solve problems. Solomon et al. (95) state that science teachers more than most, require an entitlement to regular re-training in school time, this in addition to pre-service training.

In order to discuss the possible functions of pre- and in-service training programs for teachers we will refer to the classification about attitudes and competencies, given in Table I.

In our opinion, the teachers belonging to group c are obviously a missing case, as far as the teaching programs are concerned, since the system has injured them deeply and the efficiency of actions taken to retrieve their interest in teaching is frequently low and wasteful. Most experiences show that individuals in this group do not believe in the educational system, are skeptical in relation to the students and tend to drop out of actualization programs, when they, voluntarily or not, engage in them. Paradoxically, those teachers that belong in this category are either very conscious or very naive in political terms, but the fact is that only structural and professional conditions define to a large extent their attitudes and beliefs, reflecting in negative teaching practices and their consequent behavior in the classroom (Sacristan, 89, Leite, 94).

Teachers belonging to group (a) are sensitive to training programs, because those attitudes are closely related to the lack of some specific teaching competence. If pre-/in-service teaching programs are to be successful providing such competencies, then teachers would likely either not show negative attitudes or would modify them as required .

Group (b) presents a challenge for the in-service course. Teachers in this group are generally mature and have good teaching ideas and beliefs, together with unsystematic practices. These teachers need refreshing for competence rebuilding, so their attitudes may be modified by the appropriate in-service programs which take into consideration these favorable conditions. The existence of group (b) indicates the necessity to pay more attention to pre-service teachers education (Elia, 93). As pointed out by Krasilchik (79), pedagogical practices of the pre-service courses do not modify significantly pedagogical practices in primary and secondary schools. Ryu (87) conducted a survey among Japanese teachers, about their opinion of the pre-service educational programs they had at the university in preparation for their future professional performance. The majority of the teachers indicated that the pre-service teachers' programs (courses, procedures and models) were, at best, of some use to prepare them for teaching.

On the other hand it is necessary to pay attention to what the in-service programs have to offer. Most of them run pilot courses, didactic materials are constantly reinvented, financial support is mainly temporary, depending on funds and projects. On the positive side it can be mentioned that they provide teachers with new approaches and methods, present current literature and educational technologies and lead the teachers to reflect upon their practices. More efficient models of in-service programs involve cooperative research in the classroom (see, for example Carvalho and Gil -Pérez, 93).

As already stated in the introduction we do not believe in drastic changes and universal recipes. Effective actions to solve the problem of teachers' inadequacies are relative to given contexts and begin by the professional recognition of the teacher. One basic aspect to improve classroom practice is simple: to allow the teacher to identify and reflect about the aspects in their practice that need change. Teachers should be directly involved in defining priorities about what are their real problems and able to select appropriate solutions. (Tobin, 88, Hewson and Hewson, 88). It is easy to establish objectives and policies in education but the implementation of real change teaching strategies in order to put into practice contemporary school reform involves high risks for the teachers and financial costs for the schools (Bybee, 95). It is also important to analyze the consequences of teachers' attitudes. Pre-service courses can benefit from that knowledge and guide the selection of courses and methodologies to insure a good foundation for the future teachers. One possible way to permit a critical evaluation could be putting together the two groups (teachers and students) during the undergraduate training period of the future teachers.


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Section D2, Physics teacher's attitudes: how do they affect the reality of the classroom and models for change?  from: Connecting Research in Physics Education with Teacher Education
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