Sustainability Education for Future Science Teachers - Toward the overcoming of students’ fragmentary knowledge

University of Turin, Italy

Supervisor: Elena Camino

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This thesis was set within an ongoing program of research on science education for sustainability which has been pursued over many years by the Research Group in Science Education at the University of Turin. The purpose of this work was to look at the nature of beginning teachers’ scientific knowledge and how it interplayed with their understanding of issues and problems of sustainability. In particular, I focussed my attention on the knowledge-production processes which were generated through the use of reflexive, interactive and interdisciplinary approaches to science learning as part of an action-research based approach.

The research focused on a small sample of trainee teachers attending a course of “Didactic of Life Sciences” as a part of the two-year teacher training school in natural sciences. Students enrolled in the teaching degree for lower and upper secondary school hold a science degree (i.e. natural sciences, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, mathematics etc.). The proposed teaching and learning approach was characterized by the use of a series of reflexive, interactive and interdisciplinary activities, devised and tested for a variety of purposes: such as promoting a reflexive and critical attitude toward one’s own knowledge, different way of knowing, teaching and learning methods and complex socio-environmental issues; promoting a dynamic idea of science enterprise, a sense of inclusion into the socio-environmental systems as heterotrophic living beings and also an interconnection between science and everyday life; helping beginning teachers to tackle the fragmentation and compartmentalisation of disciplinary knowledge. All these aims are pursue by means of activities focused on Life Sciences topics such as complex relationships between living beings and ecosystems, life processes – photosynthesis, cell respiration, matter cycle and energy flow – different temporal and spatial scales involved by life processes, biosphere’s regenerative capacity, etc.

The course was led by a senior member of the Science Education Research Group who was also my research supervisor. In this occurrence, I have worked closely with the lecturer embedding my research within an action-research based approach to teaching and research.

By attending the course during two year, I could recognize the limits of my own knowledge and deepen understanding of the aims and educational methods of the proposed didactic approach. At the same time, I collected products from the learners which constituted my experimental data, which were elaborated both during the activities and at the end of the course (i.e. the final essay). Part of the research consisted in bringing the products of the learning process back to the attention of the learners, as a means of supporting their awareness of the nature of their own knowledge. For such purpose, the analysis of the data was carried out with a preference for qualitative means, which could be used to stress the variety of answers in order to highlight their complementary features, rather than pointing out their accuracy or inaccuracy. That means promoting a collaborative learning environment where everyone can offer his own knowledge as a result of formal and informal educational experiences.
With the regard of the original purpose, that was looking at the nature of student teachers’ knowledge, the findings consisted in the identification of four kinds of fragmentary knowledge, during the second analysis of data, by which individual, collective products and observations were integrated. This sample of future science teachers of secondary school display fragmentary knowledge as a compartmentalisation of: a) different scientific disciplines, b) different biological approaches – descriptive, functional, historical and systemic – c) organizational levels and life functions and processes, d) scientific notions and personal everyday experience. Data also display how learners developed an on going on awareness of limits and strengths of their knowledge, and usefulness of supporting and continuing the integration which had been just started since the beginning of the course.

The integration of fragmentary knowledge starts when awareness is developed by the learner, and consequently, it would make for a more coherent acquisition of new knowledge, along with a more efficient use of such knowledge for understanding oneself, natural processes and socio-environmental problems. Such abilities are part of a wider range of competencies described by the literature as desirable aims of sustainability education.

Marchetti, D. (2008) Sustainability Education for Future Science Teachers - Toward the overcoming of students’ fragmentary knowledge. PhD thesis, University of Torino (in Italian).

Camino E, Barbiero G. & Marchetti D. (2009) Science Education for Sustainability. Teaching and Learning Processes with Science Researchers and Trainee Teachers. In Gray D., Colucci-Gray L. & Camino E. (Edited by) Science, Society and Sustainability. Education and Empowerment for an Uncertain World. Published by: Routledge, ISBN: 978-0-415-99595-5, Publication Date: 02/06/09.


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 University of Turin – Department of animal and human biology – Science Education Research Group

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