Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 34 Number 2
Winter 1995

IMPORTANCE OF AMERICAN INDIAN CULTURE IN TEACHING SCHOOL SCIENCE: A FOLLOW-UP STUDY

Gerry D. Haukoos, Leland Bordeaux, Dorothy LeBeau, & Shirley Gunhammer

The purpose of this study was to examine teachers' retention of science content and pedagogy one year after an inservice education program. In the initial study of outcomes from the inservice training activities, participants demonstrated their need to increase integration of science and native culture, decrease their use of content/teacher-centered teaching strategies, and increase their use of hands-on/student-centered teaching strategies (Haukoos & LeBeau, 1992). In this follow-up study, however, years of education in Eurocentric and didactically taught science classrooms took their toll on participants once they returned to their own students. Study results showed participants retained a degree of understanding that science was to be taught using hands-on/student-centered strategies, but initial gains in integrating science and native culture and moving away from content/teacher-centered teaching strategies lost much of their earlier momentum. The dilemma of educational reform, in school science, and teachers returning to educational settings that lack support systems and history of incorporating American Indian culture are discussed.

Inservice education programs to strengthen the skills of practicing teachers are a common practice in education. In fact, most inservice programs are based on the assumption that learning new concepts and teaching skills will enhance the quality of education in the classroom. Such confidence in the process has lead to unprecedented interest in inservice education at all levels of schooling (Evans, 1987; Richardson, 1990; Spector, 1987). Additionally, the ongoing national advocacy for educational reform has brought about a constant stream of new curricula and strategies for classroom teachers. In spite of ongoing inservice practices, there is limited empirical evidence to demonstrate that teachers change their content and pedagogical knowledge or their teaching behavior as a result of inservice training (Berliner, 1989; Clermont, Krajcik, & Borko, 1993; Shulman, 1988). Cruickshank (1990) contends these circumstances arise from a lack of agreement among educational leaders on which variables constitute effective teaching.

More recently educational researchers have endorsed conceptual change theory for altering inservice teachers' knowledge and behavior (Hewson & Hewson, 1988; Wilson, Shulman, & Richert, 1987; Stofflett & Stoddart, 1994). Principles of this relatively new construct are based on Piagetian constructivism which emphasizes the role of personal experience in knowledge development. Through direct experience the learner has an opportunity to construct conceptual perspectives about the world through which new content can be filtered and combined with preexisting knowledge structures. When applied to inservice education, science teachers need an opportunity to develop new knowledge from personal experience, and then construct conceptual perspectives from which to confront their beliefs about the way they teach science. Constructivists argue that change will occur when teachers learn through authentic experiences that challenge their beliefs about the content or pedagogy being taught (Stoddart, Connell, Stofflett, & Peck, 1993; Stofflett & Stoddart, 1994).

The study described here is a follow-up study to assess long-term changes in content and pedagogical knowledge and teaching behavior that may have resulted from inservice education (Haukoos & LeBeau, 1992). Shulman (1986, 1988) referred to this combination of professional skills as pedagogical content knowledge-a blend of knowing how subject-matter topics are organized, adapted to student needs, and presented for instruction. The initial training and study were based on principles of conceptual change that challenged teachers in the way in which they taught science to American Indian children. More specifically, it confronted teachers with the need to (a) integrate science with culturally relevant materials and activities from American Indian culture, and (b) teach the newly integrated content using an inquiry approach with hands-on manipulatives. The initial study focused on integrated content knowledge and persuading teachers; the follow-up study examined classroom practices one-year later to determine if conceptual change had occurred as a result of the initial training. It was hypothesized that if teaching behavior could be changed through inservice training, then classroom practices would exhibit those behavioral changes one year later; that is, there would be a positive directional relationship between initial training and follow-up behavior variables.

Study Description and Methods

In the initial study, 154 teachers participated in a two-week science and mathematics education institute on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, Kansas (Haukoos & LeBeau, 1992). The institute was jointly sponsored by the Office of Indian Education Programs; Sinte Gleska University, Rosebud, South Dakota; and Haskell Indian Nations University. Participants were elementary teachers, kindergarten through 8th grade, representing Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and BIA funded tribal schools from 23 different American Indian nations. Efforts were not made to distinguish national origins of either native or non-native teachers in this study. In addition, institute activities made no pretense of teaching language and culture or defining what science might mean to native peoples from the 23 different nations represented. It did however present science as a problem solving and inquiry-oriented enterprise used by all peoples. Novak (1964) described it best this way, "inquiry is the [set] of behaviors involved in the struggle of human beings for reasonable explanations of phenomena about which they are curious" (p. 25). Although teachers may interpret this process differently as they engage their students, the training process emphasized that it was necessary to involve students in the collection and interpretation of information in response to their wondering and exploring (Haury, 1993). Also, training activities emphasized that relevant cultural problems and materials of local interest be used to educate children about the problem solving and inquiry process of science. The science training portion was followed by a curriculum development phase where cooperative groups of participants constructed conceptual thematic unit plans which brought science and native culture together for their students.

Teachers in the original training session were asked to participate in an assessment process using the instrument, Toward a Philosophy for Teaching Science to American Indian Children (see Note 1). The instrument consisted of 30 different instructural strategies participants might use in teaching science to elementary children. Among the items the participants had to respond to were seven which specifically integrated science and American Indian culture. Items like:

  • Community elder resource people are an integral part of the science curriculum where they engage students in cultural inquiry and problem solving.
  • Medicine Men are appropriately used to reinforce the integration of health, nutrition and spirituality.

Their purpose was to assess current practices and attitude regarding integration of science and native culture among participating teachers.

In the overall assessment process, participants were asked to appraise the value of each instructional strategy in light of their commitment of resources to the strategy (e.g., time, energy, money). The process consisted of physically distributing 60 value dots (small, red-punched pieces of card-stock paper) among 30 instrument items. All items were to receive at least one value dot, and none could receive more than five. A more comprehensive discussion of assessment procedures appears in Haukoos and LeBeau (1992).

One-year later, each institute participant was mailed an assessment instrument and again asked to assess the value they placed on the instructional strategies presented in the initial assessment. The purpose of the follow-up study was to determine the degree to which changes in teaching behavior had been sustained over a one-year period. Data from all instrument items (30 different instructional strategies) were grouped into three primary categories for analysis: (a) integration of science and cultural strategies, (b) content/teacher-centered strategies, and (c) hands-on/student-centered strategies. Remaining items were then combined to provide two separate benchmarks from which to contrast the primary categories. Those groups consisted of non-culturally-related strategies and all instrument strategies together.

Data analyses reported in the initial study focused largely on identifying pre-assessment to post-assessment changes in individual assessment items, and also grouped items-integration of science and cultural strategies, content/teacher-centered strategies, and hands-on/student-centered strategies. This study focused exclusively on changes in grouped items since they provided a more favorable measure for determining change in teaching behavior, and also effectiveness of the inservice training. Moreover, since the study used a causal-comparative analysis method rather than a cause-and-effect experimental method, these grouped items provided the primary elements for making comparisons (Borg & Gall, 1989). Change was determined by establishing a significance level of probability at p < .05. Additional follow-up analyses were completed at p < .10 level. In other words, observed differences between means would not have occurred by chance alone if they fell below this rejection region. Data were treated using descriptive statistics and Bonferroni multiple-comparison t-test to control for alpha values (Maxwell & Delaney, 1990).

Results

Study results from the institute's initial pre-assessment and post-assessment observations showed that participants made important shifts in two of the three primary study categories (Table 1) (Haukoos & LeBeau, 1992). For example, grouped items related to integration of science and native culture changed from a mean point value of 1.73 to 2.78. These gains were contrasted with statistically insignificant changes in nonculturally-related strategies (2.15 to 2.35) and all strategies together (2.05 to 2.45) (Table 1). Such findings showed that institute activities were successful in persuading participants to change their understanding of how science and native culture could be integrated through relevant hands-on activities. Similarly, grouped items for hands-on/student-centered strategies showed mean point value gains from 2.48 to 3.25 while content/teacher-centered strategies showed off-setting declines (1.67 to 0.81). These data demonstrated that participants were persuaded to move away from teaching science using lecture-discussion and memorization strategies, and moved toward student inquiry and exploration activities using hands-on materials.

When data from the three assessment periods (pre-assessment, post-assessment, one-year later) were combined and analyzed in this study, mean point values for four of the five study categories returned to near pre-assessment levels (Table 2). For instance, grouped strategies pertaining to integration of science and native culture showed statistically significant gains between pre-assessment and post-assessment observation periods (1.73 to 2.78); however, mean point values one-year later were 2.04 (Tables 2 & 3). Similar changes occurred for both content/teacher-centered strategies and hands-on/student-centered strategies.

Table 1
Changes in Pre-Assessment and Post-Assessment Grouped Item Value Points**
Grouped assessment items
Pre-assessment mean
Post-Assessment mean
Culturally related
1.73
2.78*
Nonculturally related
2.15
2.35
Content/teacher-centered
1.67
0.81
Hands-on/student-centered
2.48
3.25*
All assessment items
2.05
2.45
* p < .05
** From "Inservice activity that emphasises the importance of the culture in teaching school science" by G. Haukoos and D.LeBeau, 1992, Journal of American Indian Education, 32 (1)

To illustrate, initial pre-assessment to post-assessment values for content/teacher-centered strategies showed significant mean point value declines (1.67 to 0.81), but one-year later mean point values were 1.58. Over the same period, mean point values for hands-on/student-centered strategies showed significant gains (2.48 to 3.25), but in the follow-up study those values were 2.88 (Tables 2 & 3). Only point values for nonculturally-related strategies remained the same.

Table 2
Changes in Pre-Assessment to One-Year Follow-Up Grouped Item Value Points
Grouped assessment items
Pre-assessment mean
Post-assessment mean
One-Year later mean
Culturally related
1.73
2.78
2.04 *
Nonculturally related
2.15
2.35
2.35
Content/teacher-centered
1.67
0.81
1.58
Hands-on/student-centered
2.48
3.25
2.88 *
All assessment items
2.05
2.45
2.28
* p < .05 using Bonferroni adjusted alpha multiple comparison of means procedure

If however the level for rejecting the implied directional hypotheses was set at p < .10, analyses would have shown that participants made meaningful pre-assessment to one-year later assessment gains in implementing hands-on/student-centered classrooms (p =.099). Similar gains under the adjusted rejection region would not have been attained for either culturally-related assessment values (p = .458) or content/teacher-centered assessment values (p = .873).

Analyzed data from the initial study showed that participants changed their pedagogical content knowledge as a result of institute training. However, follow-up study data indicated that gains in knowledge were not translated into statistically significant long-term changes in teaching behavior.

Discussion and Conclusion

Data provided in this extended study showed that teachers could become constructivist learners through carefully planned training in science and American Indian culture (Haukoos & LeBeau, 1992). Yet, as a result of spending years in Eurocentric content and didactically taught science classrooms, the same preassessment misconceptions about content and pedagogy reemerged among participating teachers after one year. In essence, becoming a constructivist learner as a teacher differs from becoming a constructivist teacher. Research has shown that teachers' own experiences as nonconstructivist learners have a powerful overriding influence on teaching behaviors and practices (Stofflett & Stoddart, 1994).

Table 3
Statistical Values for Changes In Pedagogical Content Knowledge Categories
Through Study Periods

Culturally-Related Assessment Values
Observation Period
Pooled items
M
SD
SE
t
Pre-assessment
7
1.73
0.70
0.27
6.54
Post-assessment
7
2.78
0.73
0.28
10.05 *
One-year later
7
2.04
0.66
0.25
8.06
Nonculturally-related Assessment Values
Pre-assessment
23
2.15
0.73
0.15
14.00
Post-assessment
23
2.35
1.22
0.25
9.25
One-year later
23
2.35
0.80
0.17
14.15
Content/Teacher-Centered Assessment Values
Pre-assessment
6
1.67
0.83
0.34
4.92
Post-assessment
6
0.81
0.47
0.19
4.24
One-year later
6
1.58
0.91
0.37
4.27
Hands-On/Student-Centered Assessment Values
Pre-assessment
9
2.48
0.58
0.19
12.77
Post-assessment
9
3.25
0.44
0.15
22.37*
One-year later
9
2.88
0.35
0.12
24.86
All Assessment Item Values
Pre-assessment
30
2.05
0.74
0.13
15.23
Post-assessment
30
2.45
1.13
0.21
11.91
One-year later
30
2.28
0.77
0.14
16.21
* p < .05 using Bonferroni adjusted alpha multiple comparison of means procedure

In this study, teachers showed they retained a degree of understanding that science was to be taught using hands-on/student-centered strategies, but at the same time they seemed unable to fully integrate science and cultural content or move away from content/teacher-centered strategies. Explanations for these outcomes emerge from different sources. First, in light of constructivist principles, which are the center of conceptual change theory, inservice teachers in training needed to (a) construct new science knowledge around their personal experiences, and (b) develop a conceptual perspective through which future content could be introduced and understood. Activities within the institute's training sessions consistently emphasized these principles through integrated science and cultural activities and a follow-up conceptual thematic unit plan to bring science and culture together. However, these experiences may not have been of sufficient duration for moving all participating teachers toward the institute's conceptual change goals. In fact, Wilson, et al. (1987) reported that knowledge growth related to change dynamics in inservice teachers is relatively slow, and greatly influenced by other factors within the individual.

Secondly, aspects of these findings are similar to current research in pedagogical content knowledge. For example, Clermont et al. (1993) found that teachers' pedagogical content knowledge was enhanced through intensive, short-term, content-specific training in science, but that growth of teachers' knowledge in evaluating learning conditions and selecting appropriate instruction to match those conditions lagged behind other forms of knowledge gained. Other investigators have reported similar pedagogical content knowledge findings in their studies of inservice education (Bethel, 1985; Joyce, Showers, & Bennett, 1987; O'Brien, 1987). In related studies, Smith (1987) and Tilgner (1990) have independently shown that teachers who are not subject-matter specialists with strong content knowledge in science have a tendency to use teacher-centered strategies and rely on expert sources such as textbooks or a known curriculum. Together these findings and this study show us that inservice teachers, like their students, need increased knowledge of science and cultural content. Such increased knowledge will: (a) allow them to see the roots of scientific knowledge in American Indian culture, (b) provide a foundation for personal experience and developing a conceptual perspective, (c) eliminate misconceptions related to knowledge development in both science and American Indian culture, and (d) allow them to build their own content knowledge base with confidence, rather than depend on outside expert sources for knowledge.

Success in moving teachers away from content/teacher-centered classrooms toward more culturally integrated content in hands-on/student-centered settings was achieved through the training activities described here. Teachers responded positively to the array of intercultural experiences which ultimately moved them toward understanding that it was possible to integrate science and American Indian culture through classroom activities. Moreover, anecdotal evidence recorded from participants during training also suggested they understood that it was important for children to see a connection between science and culture early in their education. This is especially important for children of color because researchers have shown that personal identities and perceptions of science are well defined before children reach adolescence (Clark, 1988; Damnjanovic & Kahle, 1993; Sumrall, 1995). If those perceptions haven't been structured around conceptions that accommodate for both science and culture in their early educational experiences, research has shown those students will lack the confidence to make decisions necessary for subject selection in secondary school and career choices that may include science (Barba, 1993; Eccles, 1987).

In conclusion, although long-term changes in pedagogical content knowledge and teaching behavior were not as discernible as had been expected, substantial underpinnings were provided so teachers could return to their communities with new content, a conceptual perspective on what needed to be done in the classroom, and an integrated thematic unit to share with colleagues and use with their students. Further study is needed, however, to go beyond the initial successes of the causal-comparative design methods used in this study. Although a relationship existed between training and certain follow-up outcome behaviors, other factors need to be identified that would more clearly point to persuasive mechanisms in the training that would change teachers' behaviors over time.

Note
  1. Toward a Philosophy for Teaching Science to American Indian Children, is an unpublished instrument developed by Gerry D. Haukoos, in 1990.

Gerry Haukoosis Professor of Science Education at Illinois State University, Normal. He has conducted various research studies and institutes on changing the perceptions of science among teachers of American Indian children. Gerry served as instructor in the Science Education Training Project at Sinte Gleska University, Rosebud, SD.

Leland Bordeaux is Director of the Science Education Training Project and other nationally funded science and mathematics education programs at Suite Gleska University, Rosebud, SD. In addition, Leland serves as instructor in science and mathematics and Chair of Secondary Education.

Dorothy LeBeau is Director of Title Programs for Todd County School District, Mission, SD. She serves Sinte Gleska University, Rosebud, SD, as instructor in the Science Education Training Project, and also as instructor in the graduate and undergraduate education programs.

Shirley Gunhammer is a second grade teacher at Rosebud Elementary School, Rosebud, SD. She serves Sinte Gleska University, Rosebud, SD, as instructor in the Science Education Training Project, and also as instructor in the graduate and undergraduate education programs.

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