Science teachers designing context-based curriculum materials: developing context-based teaching competence

Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands

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The intended new context-based curriculum for four science subjects (ASMaT, biology, chemistry, and physics) in senior general secondary education and pre-university education has been the subject of numerous research and teacher professionalisation efforts in the Netherlands for the last seven years. Following international forerunners, the context-based approach was chosen to counter falling interest in future education in science among students. The governmentally instituted innovation committees were committed to have input from teachers as well as university experts as to what the various curricula should contain. In the discussions on context-based education the focus has mainly been placed on the details on what a context-based approach should entail for each science subject. The committees were prepared to test the new curriculum in years 10-12 in secondary education, including the national exams, for which they needed new context-based curriculum materials.

These context-based curriculum modules were made by teams of teachers and academic experts, although the actual line-up of the teams varied, from one teacher working alone and testing the material in the own classroom, to several teachers and experts working together with the final product being edited by a professional editor. The teachers working in these design teams for context-based curriculum material are expected to have learned more about the context-based approach than their peers without this experience.

The learning of teachers in design teams for context-based materials was the topic of this thesis. The aim was to construct an optimal professional development programme for science teachers based on the experiences of these designers.First a definition of context-based education that would do justice to the national and international literature needed to be constructed. Then a translation from this definition to the teaching practice was made, by defining five teaching competences important for teaching context-based education. These competences were context handling, regulation, emphasis, design, and school innovation. The general research question in this thesis was: How does the participation of teachers in context-based design teams (ASMaT, biology, chemistry, and physics) contribute to their professional development towards context-based teaching, and which factors concerning the design experience hinder or facilitate this development?

A composite instrument able to measure the five context-based teaching competences was constructed and tested in a pilot study. Quantitative parts of the composite instrument were evaluated further in two national studies. The composite instrument was found to be valid and reliable for measuring the context-based competence of teachers. The validated instrument was used in a larger study amongst teachers who designed curriculum materials for the context-based innovation and teachers who were not involved in designing. Designers were found to have acquired more context-based competence than non-designers. An inuence of the material used in class on context-based competence was also discovered.

Using a combination of context-based curriculum modules and a standard textbook in class resulted in more context-based competence. The designers were interviewed on their design experience. The answers were analysed to find that some kind of structure should be used when designing curriculum materials. This structure could be a learning continuity pathway, a project planning and task division, or rules of thumb to ensure the designed curriculum material contained everything it should. The context-based teaching competence of the designers was also correlated with characteristics of their design experience. Inuencing factors were participants in the team, time spent on designing materials, and use of context-based materials in the own class.

A professional development programme was designed and executed with six teachers using these factors and factors identified from literature onteacher professional development. The programme was successful in changing teachers context-based competences.

The general conclusions include the confirmation of the five teaching competences in demand in context-based education as well as suggestions for additions to these competences. As stated above, not only has designing curriculum materials been found to inuence context-based teaching competency, but also the use of a combination of standard textbook with context-based curriculum modules has a positive inuence. For a professional development programme success factors have been identified, both general and specific to context-based education. These findings can be useful to the teaching practice, textbook publishers, institutions for teacher professional development and teacher training.

Journal articles

De Putter-Smits, L. G. A., Taconis, R., Jochems, W. M. G., and Van Driel, J. (2011). De emphases van docenten biologie, natuurkunde en scheikunde en de gevolgen voor curriculum vernieuwingen (science teachers' emphases and consequences for curriculum innovations). Tijdschrift voor Didactiek der bètawetenschappen, 28 (1), 32-48.

De Putter-Smits, L. G. A., Taconis, R., and Jochems, W. M. G. Mapping context-based learning environments - the construction of an instrument. Learning Environments Research, in press.

De Putter-Smits, L. G. A., Taconis, R., Jochems, W. M. G., and Van Driel, J.H. An analysis of teaching competence in science teachers involved in the design of context-based curriculum materials. International Journal of Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2012.656291

Reference to full-thesis

De Putter-Smits, L.G.A. (2012). Science teachers designing context-based curriculum materials: developing context-based teaching competence. Eindhoven University of Technology.


Lesley de Putter

Heerbeeck College

PO Box 184

5680 AD Best

The Netherlands

Phone: 0031 (0)6 18885709

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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