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Exploring how Science Teachers Engage in Curriculum Innovating in Environment and Sustainability Education

Life Sciences and Natural Sciences teachers are expected to adapt and to implement curriculum changes that are designed by the Department of Basic Education. The new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) for Life Sciences and Natural Sciences stipulates that teachers are expected to integrate environment and sustainability content knowledge in their science teaching. In order for this to materialise, a specialised multipronged approach is necessary. It is argued that teachers work in diverse contexts and need to be innovative in order to teach science that is relevant to the lives of learners. I argue that effective professional development incorporating innovation can enable teachers to successfully teach environment and sustainability education. This study was located within a critical paradigm which was underpinned by a qualitative approach. This study involved ten practicing Life Sciences/Natural Sciences teachers who were purposively selected to form the research sample. These participants were part of the Science and Mathematics Education Honours programme and studied a module which required them to engage with the idea and practice of curriculum innovating, as part of the programme. The study was conducted at a teacher training institution in Kwa-Zulu Natal. This qualitative case study sought to explore the experiences and challenges of participants as they engaged in curriculum innovating in environment and sustainability education. The factors that enabled or constrained participants’ efforts to engage in curriculum innovating were also examined. This study also focused on the role of professional development in capacity building for the purpose of curriculum innovating. Drawing on the theoretical constructs of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), Rogan’s Zone of Feasible Innovation (ZFI) and Vygotsky’s Engagement Theory the experiences and challenges of participants were analysed. Multiple data generation strategies were employed, namely: individual interviews, reflective journals, photo narratives and document analysis. Content analysis was used to analyse the data sets that emerged from the data generation strategies. The use of coding was employed to develop categories and patterns within the data sets. The findings included challenges and experiences of curriculum innovating in environment and sustainability education. A key finding was that participants expressed a need for the inclusion of innovating in more of the modules of the Honours programme. Findings from this study also revealed that the individual school context, resources and support from Heads of Department (HODs) were factors that enabled or constrained participants in their efforts to engage in curriculum innovating. The study provides insights into how a professional development module can provide teachers with strategies for critically appraising their context, thinking deeply about the type of support they need and how this can be leveraged, planning lessons in order to prepare for curriculum innovating, engaging more knowledgeable others to critique their lesson plans, implementing new strategies and reflecting on their experiences. The participants reported feeling renewed, refreshed, re-invigorated and intrinsically motivated to experiment with new ideas in order to engage in curriculum innovating. Recommendations from this study will be significant to curriculum designers, higher education department officials involved in teacher professional development, teacher education institutions and school teachers.

Full Name
Dr Raeesa Ismail