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The effects of context-based and Science-Technology-Society (STS) approaches in the teaching of secondary science on boys and girls, and on lower-ability pupils

What do we want to know?

Courses adopting context-based and Science-Technology-Society (STS) approaches have attracted national and international attention as they are seen to have an important role to play in motivating pupils and developing their scientific literacy. This review looks in detail at two groups of pupils traditionally alienated by conventional approaches to science teaching: girls and low-ability pupils.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers; science teachers; those involved in teacher education; those creating science education resources

What did we find?  

There is reasonable evidence of the following:

  • Both boys and girls in classes using a context-based/STS approach held significantly more positive attitudes to science than their same-sex peers in classes using a traditional approach.
  • A context-based/STS approach to teaching science narrowed the gap between boys and girls in their attitude to science.
  • Generally, there was no difference between boys and girls in the enjoyment of context-based course materials.  Where a difference occurred, boys enjoyed materials significantly more because of the nature of the practical work included, whereas girls based their positive judgement on non-practical activities in the course materials. 

There is some evidence that

  • Lower-ability pupils in classes using a context-based/STS approach held significantly more positive attitudes to science than both high-ability peers in the same class and lower-ability pupils in classes using a traditional approach.
  • Lower-ability pupils in classes using a context-based/STS approach showed higher gain in conceptual understanding of science than both high-ability peers in the same classes and lower ability peers in classes using a traditional approach.

What are the implications?

  • A policy which embraces the teaching of science through linking it to the everyday experiences of pupils is likely to have a beneficial effect on their attitudes to science. However, it should be noted that there is a scarcity of high-quality research evidence on the effects of such an approach for different subsets of pupils, such as those of lower ability, those from cultural minorities, second-language speakers, or those using different learning styles or sense-making strategies.

  • It is highly desirable that students and tutors on initial teacher training courses should be made aware of the evidence on the effects of context-based and STS approaches on pupils' attitudes, as should those who produce resources for use on such courses.

  • In order to avoid the risk of pupils thinking that the learning outcome is about the understanding of the context rather than the underlying science concepts, a strategy of explicitly indicating learning outcomes to pupils should be used.

How did we get these results?

Fourteen studies were included in the in-depth review.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI-Centre

This report should be cited as: Lubben F, Bennett J, Hogarth S, Robinson A (2005) A systematic review of the effects of context based and Science-Technology-Society (STS) approaches in the teaching of secondary science on boys and girls, and on lower ability pupils. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

  
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