My fundamental research interests involve studying how collaboration between universities and schools can affect science education classes, and developing best practices for the design of teaching method training for in-service teachers.
Collaborative efforts between American public schools and universities, corporate laboratories, museums, and other institutions have been successful in improving science teaching. New models for integrating science specialists into classrooms have received considerable study since 1999 in the USA.
However, researchers reported that differences between public schools and universities, corporate laboratories, museums and other institutions cause barriers against creating science education partnerships in the USA. Vocabulary, policies, and procedures followed by scientists and teachers are significantly different.
In Japan, the Center for Promotion of Science Education of the Japan Science and Technology Agency [JST], working with the National Institute for Educational Policy Research [NIER], reported that 78% of all elementary school class teachers majored in education, including 58% in non-science courses and 20% in mathematics and science education (2008).
The JST and NIER (2008) also reported that 57.8% of elementary school teachers answered that they feel their science skill level is low. In the report, 66.57% of the elementary school teachers said that there was no workshop for science teaching in their schools in the year proceeding the inquiry. Moreover, 52.81% of teachers answered that they receive no support for materials for science classes or for improvement of science teaching from outside of their schools. This study suggests that Japanese elementary school teachers need to improve their skill for teaching science classes, and that they do not have enough support or opportunity.
The purpose of this research focused on how to solve the above problems related to science education in elementary and middle schools. Part of the research project involved development and experimentation with a teaching and training method called the Kurogo Method. This method involves in providing workshops for science teaching in individual schools and attempting to increase the initiative of teachers toward collaborating with science experts in science classes.
To continue development of the Kurogo Method, it is important to communicate information not only about the research, but also about various diverse ways of teaching. In order to improve in-service teacher training, by referring to various programs abroad as well as in Japan, it is useful to focus on strategies used by various institutions and individual instructors to make the workshops and training more effective.
Research Methods and Objective
For this study, we conducted an on-the-job training program in the “Kurogo Method” for teachers currently teaching science classes. This study aimed to determine (1) the characteristics of the cooperative classes taught by these teachers and (2) the varied challenges faced by them. These two points were clarified by analyzing the emails exchanged among the teachers and by administering a questionnaire on the teachers.
(The first session was conducted from October 2012 to March 2014 for five people—two elementary school teachers (T1 and T2) and three middle school teachers (T3–T5)—who developed teaching materials for classes in cooperation with the Board of Education and the Science and Education Center, Ochanomizu University.
The second session was conducted from October 2014 to January 2015 for five people—three elementary school teachers (T6–T8) and two middle school teachers (T10 and T11)—who developed teaching materials for classes in cooperation with the Board of Education and the Science and Education Center, Ochanomizu University.
Data collection method
|(1)||From October 2012 to March 2014, a response form created by the author was used, and data were collected after the completion of each training session. Participants were assured that their anonymity would be preserved and were informed of the study’s objective; then, participants’ consent was obtained to gather the abovementioned data.
Questionnaire administered after the completion of the first cooperative class
The second questionnaire was created for the October 2014 – January 2015 session after narrowing down the focus of the survey based on the questionnaire survey results of the first session. Moreover, it was decided that the changes in teachers’ utterances would be shown through the email records.
Questionnaire administered after the completion of the second cooperative class
|(2)||The process of developing teaching materials was partly executed via email, and this information was recorded, after which protocols of the described content were extracted. The questionnaire responses and email records were studied in detail; then, the examination was focused on the data for the three time periods listed below, and this data was analyzed.
Results and Discussion
Summary of the questionnaire administered after the completion of the first cooperative class
For this session, the teachers reflected on the classes that they had conducted themselves. From the results of the questionnaire administered after the class, it was inferred that the Kurogo method of developing teaching materials was an effective method for reviewing one’s teaching method, focusing on the progression of the young students’ thoughts, and enhancing the composition of the class.
In addition, the descriptions confirmed that there were a variety of interpretations regarding how to interact with the university lecturer and that further clarification was required concerning the different roles performed by each person. Based on these findings, it is considered necessary to provide guidance via email and refine the support given by the university lecturer prior to the actual development of teaching materials.
Summary of questionnaire survey administered after the completion of the second cooperative class and email records
A detailed explanation was provided regarding the role of the university lecturers, which could not be clearly identified from the responses of the first questionnaire (Table 1). Next, we noted the fact that the teachers conducting the class “observed” the young students’ actual situations during the class. For example, teachers made several observations such as “It seems like it is very difficult for the students to imagine the sensation of seeing things from earth” or “The process of wrapping the coil when constructing an electromagnet is lengthy, especially when wrapping the enameled wire, and it was very difficult for the students as some of them lost track of how many times they had wrapped the coil.”
|Teacher A: (January 7, 2015)
I was thinking of teaching Chapter Two in Unit Three (Electric Current and Its Uses), which concerned static electricity and electrons and included the following : (1) investigating the nature of static electricity using a straw; (2) lighting up a neon tube using static electricity and confirming static electricity and the flow of electricity (the electric current); and (3) examining the nature of electric current and understanding electric current and the flow of electrons by having students observe the electrical discharge in a vacuum. I am planning two–three hours of class on static electricity and electrons, progressing from (1) to (3). I would appreciate it if you could assist me for the detailed parts of the experiments or inform me about a good method.
|Teacher B: (December 25, 2014)
This is my first time being a fifth-grade (elementary school) class teacher, and I don’t really know much about it yet. I spoke with a more experienced teacher and found out that in this school, the activity of wrapping the coil when constructing an electromagnet is a lengthy process when wrapping the enameled coil. It is also very difficult because children often lose track of how many times they have wrapped the coil. Thus, I thought that I should have a class that focuses on “making something that uses an electromagnet.” I think it would be helpful to have some appropriate teaching materials for the creation of the initial electromagnet.
|Teacher C: (October 15, 2014)
Regarding the Kurogo method, I was wondering if you could offer me some advice on teaching the third-year middle-school teaching unit “The Earth and Space.” In this teaching unit, it seems that the students will have hard time thinking in a three-dimensional manner and inferring about how the sun and stars look from the earth. Are there any good teaching materials to solve this problem?
|Teacher D: (January 16, 2015)
I was considering explaining, in detail, about the difference between water vapor and steam. In this year’s fifth-grade class on the weather, when I asked the children about the true nature of clouds, many children answered that they were “water vapor” and not “water droplets.” I gained the impression that they lacked an adequate understanding of the difference between water vapor and steam, which they had learned about in the previous grade. I would be grateful if you could help by informing me about some good techniques of teaching this topic.
In addition, the teachers conducting the class were asked the following types of questions by the university lecturers (Table 2), and the teachers conducting the classes prompted the students to verbalize their knowledge and opinions and assisted them in accomplishing these tasks. The university lecturers discussed a variety of methods through which the teachers conducting the class could create appropriate teaching plans and implement them in class with the students. It became apparent that this was an effective plan to promote the skills of the teachers conducting the classes.
The elementary and middle school teachers’ understanding of the actual state of the children’s knowledge and cooperation with university lecturers as a plan for improvement were directly connected to the second and third questions (“Describe the students’ behavior in this class” and “Were you able to implement your teaching plan (outline of what you wanted to teach) while teaching the class (through teaching materials)?”) from the post-class questionnaire. This indicated correctly that the cooperation had the function of determining the factors important for the development of teaching materials.
Conclusion and Future Challenges
The results of this study clarified how the plans for the classes were changed and further described the process of the change that occurred through interactions between the teacher conducting the class and the university lecturer via the Kurogo method. Comparing these study results with the Cognitive Apprenticeship learning process of Collins (2006), the Kurogo Method seems to correspond to the sociological and methodological viewpoints. To further improve the Kurogo Method and verify its results by comparing it with the assessment methods followed for young students, an analysis should be conducted of the changes in the teaching plans created by the teachers conducting the classes.