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

NCES 2006-017
April 2006

How is Teaching Science Approached in Each Country?

Each of the countries has an observable pattern of science teaching.

Based on the analyses conducted for the study, the following observations can be made about the typical pattern of eighth-grade science teaching in each of the five countries.

Czech Republic: Talking About Science Content

The data suggest that eighth-grade science lessons in the Czech Republic can be characterized as whole-class events that focused on getting the content right. Instruction time focused on review, assessment, and development of canonical science knowledge, with relatively little time allocated for students to work independently on practical activities. Review and the public oral assessment of students was a prominent feature of Czech science lessons. The main topic areas addressed in science lessons were life science, physics, and chemistry. The content of Czech science lessons was judged to be challenging, dense, and theoretical, and also was found to be organized more often around acquiring facts and definitions than making conceptual connections. Perhaps because of the high density of ideas and the high percentage of lessons organized as discrete bits of information, half of the science lessons were found to have weak or no conceptual links that tied ideas together. On the other hand, half of the science lessons were found to be connected with strong conceptual links and the frequent presence of goal and summary statements also may have contributed to content coherence. Main ideas in Czech science lessons often were developed with the use of visual representations. In fact, all of the main ideas in the majority of science lessons were supported by multiple visual representations. Czech eighth-grade students were engaged actively in the work of learning science primarily through frequent whole-class discussions, opportunities to present their work in front of the class, and oral quizzes on science content in front of their peers.

Netherlands: Learning Science Independently

Eighth-grade science lessons in the Netherlands focused on students’ independent learning of the science content. During independent seatwork activities, students read from the textbook and generated written responses to questions (beyond selecting answers) about life science and physics topics. Homework was typically assigned and was often observed to be the focus of either independent work in the lesson (working on assignments in class) or whole-class work (going over homework together). Students worked on homework assignments outside of class as well as during class. Students were expected to pace themselves on a long-term schedule of assignments, to check their own work in answer books, and to keep organized science notebooks. When Dutch science lessons included independent practical activities (30 percent of lessons), students were sent off to work on their own for most of the lesson, with their only direction being procedural guidelines. Public discussion of the results of independent practical activities was infrequently observed. Whole-class time in Dutch science lessons included going over homework assignments together. Dutch students also demonstrated responsibility for their own learning by initiating their own content-related questions during whole-class interactions.

Japan: Making Connections Between Ideas and Evidence

Japanese eighth-grade science lessons typically focused on developing a few physics and chemistry ideas by making connections between ideas and evidence through an inquiry-oriented, inductive approach in which data were collected and interpreted to build up to a main idea or conclusion. Based on observations of the videotapes, Japanese science lessons were found to be conceptually coherent with an emphasis on identifying patterns in data and making connections among ideas and evidence. Independent practical work played a central role in the development of main ideas. Before carrying out such activities, Japanese eighth-grade students were usually informed of the question they would be exploring in the investigation, and were sometimes asked to make predictions. During and after practical work, Japanese students were guided by the teacher or textbook in manipulating and organizing the data into graphs or charts and then interpreting the data. Discussions after independent practical activities typically led to the development of one main conclusion—the main idea of the lesson. Few public canonical ideas were presented in Japanese science lessons, and these ideas were not judged to be challenging or theoretical. However, all of the main ideas in Japanese science lessons were developed with the use of data and/or phenomena. In fact, all main ideas were often supported by more than one set of data or more than one phenomenon. Thus, it appears that few ideas were developed in Japanese science lessons, but each idea was treated in depth, with multiple sources of supporting evidence.

Australia: Making Connections Between Main Ideas, Evidence, and Real-Life Issues

Like the Japanese eighth-grade science lessons, Australian lessons tended to focus on developing a limited number of ideas by making connections between ideas and evidence. Ideas were developed through an inquiry, inductive approach in which data were collected during practical activities carried out independently by the students. During and after the practical work, Australian students were often guided in manipulating and organizing the data and in interpreting the data. All of the main ideas in Australian science lessons were supported by data or phenomena in at least 45 percent of lessons.

Australian science lessons used real-life issues (69 percent) and first-hand data (56 percent) to support the development of science ideas, most often in the area of physics. In addition, students in Australian lessons typically participated in two or more types of activities likely to be engaging to students (real-life issues, independent practical activities, and motivating activities). Thus, Australian lessons appeared to have a strong focus on developing ideas through an inquiry, inductive process and supporting canonical ideas with examples of real-life issues while also providing multiple types of activities that had the potential to engage students’ interest.

United States: Implementing a Variety of Activities

The data suggest that U.S. eighth-grade science lessons can be characterized by a variety of activities that may engage students in doing science work, with less focus on connecting these activities to the development of science content ideas. In terms of student activities, U.S. eighth-grade science lessons kept students busy on a variety of activities, with a roughly equal emphasis on involving students in independent practical activities (e.g., hands-on, laboratory), independent seatwork activities (e.g., reading, writing, small-group discussions), and whole-class discussions. In addition, U.S. science teachers attempted to engage students’ interest and active involvement through the use of real-life issues and motivating activities (e.g., games, puzzles, role play). Twenty-three percent of U.S. instructional time was spent on motivating activities.

Variety was found in science content topics as well, with lessons spread across the areas of earth science, life science, physics, chemistry, and other topics (nature of science, and interactions of science, technology, and society). Students in U.S. eighth-grade science lessons had the opportunity to encounter some challenging content in the form of laws and theories, as well as some exposure to various forms of evidence (data, phenomena, visual representations, and real-life examples). These various sources of evidence, though, were not frequently linked to larger science ideas to create coherent, connected, in-depth treatment of science content in the lessons. Instead, the various pieces of content were typically organized as discrete bits of factual information or problem-solving algorithms rather than as a set of connected ideas. For example, real-life issues were more often mentioned in U.S. lessons as interesting sidebars rather than being used as an integral part of developing science content ideas. In addition, the content of 44 percent of lessons included weak or no conceptual links while 27 percent of the lessons did not develop science content ideas at all, but instead focused almost completely on carrying out activities.