Practical work in high school Biology and Geology: Study of official documents and of their recontextualization in teachers’ practices

University of Lisbon, Portugal

Supervisor: Professor Ana M. Morais

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The study was centred on practical work in the discipline of high school Biology and Geology. Its main aim was to understand the extent to which the Ministry of Education guidelines, present in official documents, the teachers’ conceptions about practical work and the school social context may influence pedagogical practices. The analysis of practical work was focused on the level of conceptual demand and on the nature of sociological relations between subjects, discourses and spaces, in both the transmission/acquisition and the evaluation contexts. The study is psychologically and sociologically grounded, particularly on Bernstein’s theory of pedagogic discourse.

The research followed a mixed methodology. A constant dialectics between the theoretical and the empirical was present in the analysis of various texts: the Biology and Geology curriculum for the 10th and 11th years of schooling, the assessment exams, teachers’ interviews and pedagogical practices. Four teachers of four distinct schools and respective 10th grade students participated in the study.

The results suggest the existence of discontinuities between the curriculum and the external assessment exams messages related to the level of conceptual demand of practical work, which showed to be lower in the external assessment. None of the practices revealed a high level of conceptual demand, approaching the message contained in the external assessment exams. The teachers’ conceptions about practical work in science education and the social context of the school seemed to have influenced the recontextualizing processes that were evidenced. The teachers from the schools which had been placed in the lowest levels of national rankings and whose students belong to social sectors with less resources implemented practices that were characterized by lower levels of conceptual demand and that are farer away from the modality of pedagogic practice that has been shown to be more favourable to all students’ learning.

Thesis reference:
Ferreira, S. (2014). Trabalho prático em Biologia e Geologia no ensino secundário: Estudo dos documentos oficiais e suas recontextualizações nas práticas dos professores. Unpublished PhD Thesis. Institute of Education, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Related publications:
Ferreira, S., & Morais, A. M. (2014). Conceptual demand of practical work in science curricula: A methodological approach. Research in Science Education, 44(1), 53-80.

Institute of Education,

University of Lisbon

Alameda da Universidade

1649-013 Lisbon, Portugal

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