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Continuum of pre-service and novice science teachers’ beliefs related to teaching ethics in science

Dawson, V. and Taylor, P. (1997) Continuum of pre-service and novice science teachers’ beliefs related to teaching ethics in science. In: 12th Annual Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum (WAIER) 1997, August 1997, Notre Dame University, Fremantle



Although science can be viewed by some as objective, analytical, rational and unaffected by personal morals and values (Charlesworth, Farrall, Stokes & Turnbull, 1989), I believe that science is a social endeavour, and its application is inevitably influenced by our political, cultural, religious and ethical values (Capra, 1983; Kuhn, 1970). School students need to be equipped with appropriate decision making skills if they are to contribute (as adults) to public debate about the ethics of problematic issues such as population growth, food and health resource allocation, environmental degradation and control of information technology (Frazer & Kornhauser, 1986; Rubba & Harkness, 1993). Thus science teachers whose subject impinges on many areas of ethical debate have an obligation to help students develop the abilities to recognise and evaluate ethical issues (Armstrong & Weber, 1991; Skamp, 1986.

During 1996, I interviewed 20 preservice and novice (less than one year of teaching experience) science teachers. The primary purpose of these semi-structured interviews was to determine teachers' beliefs about the importance of teaching ethics in science. This data was used to guide the development of a short ethics course for preservice science teachers. Teachers were asked about their perceptions of the nature of science, their teaching goals and the types of teaching strategies they had found to be effective in achieving their goals.

The evidence presented in this paper arises from 'grounded theory' (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). That is, as I collected evidence from teacher interviews, I began to categorise the evidence generated and develop hypotheses. I acknowledge that I entered this study with a firm belief that all science teachers should include a consideration of ethics in their science programmes. I was thus taken aback when the first teacher I interviewed, John (see below), disagreed completely. Furthermore, his definition of science as "a set of facts" differed significantly from mine.

Merriam (1988) states that 'Speculation, however, is the key to developing theory in a qualitative study' (p.141). At this point, I speculated that perhaps there was a relationship between a teacher's belief about the nature of science and their views about the importance of teaching ethics in science. For example if a teacher perceives that science is a search for truth and knowledge, does this mean that they would consider the teaching of ethics to be inappropriate?

A preliminary evaluation of the interviews has led to the development of a six-step continuum of beliefs related to the importance of teaching ethics in science. The continuum provides a framework in which to categorise the beliefs of the novice and preservice science teachers who were interviewed. Each of the positions is outlined initially in a brief statement that encompasses a particular view of ethics in science. Each position is illustrated further through an example of a teacher who holds that view. The teacher's views of the nature of science are also described.

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