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A case study of science in a 1:1 middle school: The bling and the underbelly

Bejah, Kristi-Lee (2015) A case study of science in a 1:1 middle school: The bling and the underbelly. Professional Doctorate thesis, Murdoch University.

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VVC is a regional Australian middle school with an established one-laptop-per-student program (1:1). 8 years ago as a science teacher at VVC, I was part of the science education crisis (Tytler, 2007a), struggling to understand why 1:1 wasn’t working as a bandaid for my teaching problems. Many students at VVC are ‘students at educational risk’ (SAER), and nearly 30% are Indigenous Australians. Non-mainstream students present a challenge to traditional science teachers whom the literature profiles as lecture-philic characters keen to produce future scientists (Aikenhead, 2010; Bryce, 2010). I wanted to understand the pedagogical manifestations occurring in VVC science, and examine the underbelly of our 1:1 program.

Within this context, the study examines cultural intersections between elements of the learning environment. The methodology utilises the work of Angelides (2001) and Tripp (1993) who analyse school culture through critical incidents. Grounded in naturalistic inquiry and interpretivism, my role was to document the lived experiences of students and teachers, and interpret them with the emic lens of a teacher-researcher. Data collection occurred across two years, including students’ first and last science lessons with laptops. My participants were three science teachers and their two classes, with forty-three students contributing to observation and interview data.

The study reveals that although VVC may be the most established public whole-school 1:1 in Australia, at the time of fieldwork, its science teachers and students were not successfully participating in the transformative practices that 1:1 is believed to afford (Weston & Bane, 2010). At VVC, 1:1 cloaks the traditional science classroom in high-tech bling. During the study period, VVC science aligned to the where-not-how model of middle schooling, and glitches in the laptop program contributed to negative perceptions of, and experiences with, computers in science. Teachers struggled to engage their learners, bolting laptops onto existing traditional science pedagogy. Attempts at student-centred learning proved difficult to manage because of barriers related to the cohort, technical issues, digital literacies, and teacher pedagogy.

This research provides a case study of the science education crisis in a 1:1 middle school context. Key recommendations are that the school must create conditions for collaborative reform in science, including minimising barriers that contribute to negative experiences. Science teachers must embrace the ‘science for all’ philosophy that underpins contemporary science education, using innovative pedagogies and digital tools to engage ‘at-risk’ Millennials, while also supporting the development of digital literacies and learner dispositions suited to a ubiquitous computing environment. To do this, science teachers require professional learning to challenge and transform their beliefs about the teaching and learning of science.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Maor, Dorit and Norris, Lindy
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