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Highlights From the TIMSS 1999 Video Study of Eighth-Grade Science Teaching

NCES 2006-017
April 2006

How Should Science Teaching Across Countries Be Described?

Conceptual Framework

Multiple approaches were taken to organize and prioritize study goals, research questions, and coding dimensions. First, analysis of field test lesson videos by an international team of researchers (the Science Code Development Team) led to hypotheses about important features of science teaching in each of the participating countries. Next, an extensive literature review, including analyses of research studies as well as standards and curriculum documents from each of the participating countries (American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 1990, 1993; Australian Education Council 1994; Czech Ministry of Education 1996; Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science 1998; Kolavova 1998; Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture [Monbusho] 1999; National Research Council (NRC) 1996; Nelesovska and Spalcilova 1998) provided an exhaustive list of features of science teaching that might be investigated in the study. 3 Five U.S. science educators serving as advisors on a steering committee to the project and a national research coordinator from each of the five participating countries then reviewed and prioritized the nominated research questions and coding dimensions. Finally, the Science Code Development Team, which included representatives from each of the participating countries, compared the important features of science teaching emerging from the literature review, the advisors’ recommendations of high priority lesson features to examine, and their own review of lessons from the data set to develop an overarching conceptual framework and a set of research questions that guided decisions about coding priorities as well as the organization of the presentation of the results in this report.

Figure 1 presents the conceptual framework for the TIMSS 1999 Video Study analysis of science lessons. The TIMSS conceptual framework emphasizes the centrality of the lesson as the unit of analysis in this study and emphasizes the importance of capturing aspects of all of Schwab’s four commonplaces of teaching—the teacher, the learners, the subject matter, and the social milieu (Schwab 1969, 1971, 1973). There was strong consensus among the study’s advisors and national research coordinators that the study not be limited to identifying teacher actions; there must also be an examination of the science content and the students’ actions and opportunities for learning. Thus, teaching is more than the teacher’s actions—it is an interaction among the teacher’s actions, the students’ actions, and the science content. In this study, cultural differences were not directly observed but may be reflected in unique country patterns that emerged from observations of the teachers, students, and science content in the lessons.

Figure 1. TIMSS 1999 Video Study: Science conceptual framework

Science conceptual framework

Guiding Research Questions

The main research question guiding the conceptual framework was: What opportunities did the lesson provide for students to learn science? This main research question was supported by three guiding questions to examine students' opportunities to learn in each of the three areas represented in the conceptual framework-teacher actions, science content, and student actions:

  • How did the teacher organize the lesson to support students' opportunities to learn science?
  • How was science represented to students in the lesson?
  • What opportunities did students have to participate in science learning activities?

Each guiding question was then explored through a set of four to fifteen more specific questions. Although this is a study of classroom teaching, the focus of analysis was placed on students and the ways in which teaching actions provided different kinds of opportunities for students to learn science. This focus on student opportunity to learn fits well with the research literature on student thinking and learning, and with one of the key stimuli for the study-the differences in student achievement as evidenced on TIMSS 1995 and 1999 assessments (Martin et al. 2000).


3 Of the five participating countries, three have national curricula (the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands ). Australia and the United States do not have national curricula; rather, decisions regarding curricula are taken at the state, provincial, or local level. Reference is made throughout this report to standards, curricular guidelines and reform documents from each of the countries. In the case of the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands, these are the official documents that guide classroom teaching and learning decisions. In Australia and the United States, these documents are produced by large national professional and scientific organizations that promote standards and improvement for science teaching and learning. However, these documents should not be construed as official or definitive statements of national, state, provincial or local governments in these two countries. Rather, they represent the most widely referenced and distributed curricular and standards documents available in these two countries.

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