Science teaching time and practice, and factors influencing elementary teachers' decisions about both in rural reservation schools
Jones, Richard Marshall
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An achievement gap exists between White and Native American students in Montana. Extensive research has shown that improving the quality of instruction for minority students is an effective way to narrow this gap. Science education reform movements emphasize that for science to be effective it must first be taught and that when taught, should use a variety of approaches, including inquiry. In Montana it is also essential that programs designed to improve science instruction include strategies recommended by the research that are effective for Native American students including contextualization within the culture, the use of modeling and demonstration, and collaborative engagement in learning. The ten teachers who participated in this study were engaged in such a program, the Big Sky Science Partnership (BSSP). This study investigates three questions. First, how much time are the teachers in the study teaching science? Second, what does this teaching look like in relation to the recommendations for best science practice found in the research? Third, what influences do the teachers feel drive their instructional decisions? The answers to these questions were based on both quantitative and qualitative measures including data from interviews, participant reflections, observations, and surveys. This study provides an in-depth description of the allocation of science teaching time for elementary teachers who work primarily with Native American students as well as providing valuable data regarding teaching practice. The study shows that both time and practice are influenced by many factors. The primary influence cited by the participants in this study was district focus on reading and mathematics instruction. Participants also indicated that their participation in the BSSP had a direct influence on the amount of time they devoted to science instruction as well as the content covered and the strategies used. Teachers' views about these influences provide insight into limitations that schools' physical structure, policy mandates, and culture can place on a teacher's ability to effectively teach science. In light of the results of the study, implications for educators and policy makers are addressed, and recommendations for future research are suggested.