Review for wp6 Mälardalen University



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Literature review for WP6 – Mälardalen University

Margareta Enghag, Susanne Engström, Birgitta Norberg Brorsson, Jutta Lesell

Towards teachers’ professional development for dialogic inquiry-based teaching and learning

1 Introduction


MDU gives in this overview some basic ideas about how science education has developed in Sweden, and how some national projects and events have been influential for teachers’ attitudes, as we see this. Our ideas about teacher professional development, based on Education for Sustainable Development, will permeate the training module we will initially start up with, and we therefore briefly describe the main ideas. The MDU team will pay attention to students’ science writing abilities and we include our ideas about science writing as both parts of dialogue and as a separate enterprise. Our main idea is that inquiry based science teaching and learning need to be developed as dialogic inquiry based science teaching and learning.

2 Swedish Science Education Research (SER) related to pedagogical development


2.1 Swedish SER. The growth of Science Education Research SER (Forskning i Naturvetenskapernas och Teknikens Didaktik. SER= NT-didaktik) in Sweden is commonly seen as how research-informed teacher education came to influence the unification of two former educational perspectives; The academic – with teachers deep-rooted in the university science content-focused discourses, and the non-academic - with teachers from elementary-school teachers' training college having a fostering and pupil centred view towards education. This development is described by several Swedish authors, for example Andersson, 2001; Carlgren, 1999; Ekstig, 2002; Helldén, Lindahl, & Redfors, 2005; Wickman & Persson, 2008.

2.2 SER Graduate school. When teacher training was replaced by academic teacher education programs, SER also became a growing research discipline in Sweden. Subject didactics from Göteborg University and Curriculum Studies from Uppsala University and Stockholm University, now enlarged with The National Graduate School for Science and Technology, FontD, which was established as a network enterprise for seven Swedish universities and university colleges. FontD, with the goal to produce 25 Doctors of Science Education, used Linköping University as the centre for the network, and they still continue to educate doctors and licentiates within SER (Strömdahl, 2000). Today, Stockholm University has established a new graduate school for Subject Didactics, aimed at teacher professional development and teacher education carriers. The Centre for Educational Science and Teachers’ Research at Göteborg University had 2009 153 applicants for 6 positions as part-time PhD students (Centrum för utbildningsvetenskap och lärarforskning (CUL) vid Göteborgs universitet), which shows how popular teachers find this opportunity.

2.3 Dominant SER Institutions. The Institution for Subject Didactics at Gothenburg University have dominated the development of science education in Swedish compulsory school and with projects such as NORD-LAB, which have provided teachers with research based teaching material. They have, during the last 40 years, produced most of SER results in Sweden and numerous reports. Professor Björn Andersson’s impact on teacher education and teachers’ professional development is considerable throughout Sweden, and with his two new books, this dominance will persist for a long time. (Andersson, 2008a, 2008b). The team has adapted to new international trends towards a social constructivist view, and their focus on energy flow as a natural starting point in science education, also makes their research of interest for education for sustainable development, (See for example (Andersson, Bach, & Zetterqvist, 2002; Andersson & Wallin, 2000). Their contribution to the national evaluation of compulsory school can be exemplified by “Nationella utvärderingen av grundskolan 2003 (NU-03). Problemlösning [National evaluation of compulsory school (NU-03). Problemsolving]” (Kärrqvist & West, 2005).

3 Science Education School projects and activities related to Teacher professional development


3.1 The NOT-project. In Sweden the national projects NOT (Naturvetenskap och Teknik [Science and technology]) and ITiS (IT i Skolan) [ICT in Schools]have been of special importance. NOT was aimed to increase young people’s interest for science and technology, and to enhance science education in schools. Children and students were expected to get a positive view of S&T through interesting science education, parental influence and activities in collaboration between school, communities and, trade and industry. The second phase of the NOT-project, carried out in Sweden 1998-2003, was a cooperative project between The Swedish National Agency for School Improvement and The National Agency for Higher Education. The aim of the project was to stimulate the interest for science and technology, and to develop the teaching of these subjects. Many professional development courses were arranged over one or two days, consisting of presentations by university teachers or best-practice examples from schools. The activities aimed at enhancing science teaching, providing science teachers with material, and increasing motivation and energy in science classrooms in Sweden were given within the NOT projects. Also, resource centers and organizations such as The National Resource Centres for Physics, Chemistry and Biology and CETIS, Centre for Technology in School were built up. In total 17 MSEK were used into the project. These organizations still exist and CETIS in particular, is a centre for activities and for developing technology in school, a compulsory subject under development. This influential project has been evaluated in several reports and in the final report, a leading theme is, how important science and technology are for economic growth in a knowledge society, and continuous teacher professional development is prescribed. See (Backlund & Fröborg, 2005). In the evaluation of the project, teachers and teacher educators were pleased and positive about the courses, seminars and conferences, but they also expressed a wish for more reflective discussions and local seminars and activities (Gisselberg, Ottander, & Hanberger, 2004).

3.2 The ITiS-project. The national project – ITiS (ICT in Schools) – was introduced at a national level between 1999-2002 and offered professional development to 75 000 teachers. Here the main idea was to give teachers knowledge of ICT, but at the same time change content and working methods in schools towards problem-based learning strategies. At the same time, all teachers in the project were given the opportunity to have a computer of their own sponsored by the project. The number of computers in the classroom was increased to one computer for three teachers in schools during the project time (Delegationen-för-ITiSkolan, 1999).

3.3 Current trends. After the NOT-and ITiS-projects, more interest has been given to mathematics education, and national efforts for basic knowledge in writing, reading and calculating have been emphasized. During 2007, (the 300 year anniversary of Linné), a collaboration between the National Linnaeus Commission and The Swedish National Agency for School Improvement resulted in The Linnaeus Schools Project, which was principally targeted at teachers working in primary schools, compulsory secondary schools, upper secondary schools and adult education. The main goal of the initiative was to stimulate learning, further education, research education, and research. See http://www.linne2007.se.

During 2008-2009 , Dr Britt Lindahl from Kristianstad University leads a national series of seminars for NT-didaktik (SER). These seminars are successful as a forum for teachers and researchers to meet and discuss. Teachers and researchers with an interest in compulsory school science education have met for discussions on themes such as; formal assessment or ICT in schools. International researchers (for example Svein Sjöberg, Shirley Simon), and new Swedish PhD students have presented their research projects.


3.4 Lärarlyftet “The growth of teachers”. The national investment during the year 2007–2010 in teachers professional development in subjects, and subjects didactics, are planned to cost around of 2,8.109 SEK. Teachers can work part-time and receive salaries for their participation in projects. The investment is meant to raise teachers’ status and competence. The project name is Lärarlyftet “The growth of teachers”. The government has also arranged for investments for science and technology education and science museum during 2009 -2011. (Utbildningsdepartementet, 2009)

3.5 The NTA-project. The NTA program (Science and Technology for All) started in 1997 as a project by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science (KVA), and the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Science (IVA) in cooperation with municipalities throughout Sweden. In April 2007 the participation had increased to 70 municipalities and 10 independent schools (a total of 66000 students and 4000 teachers).


NTA provide teachers with 14 units developed in US, and another4 units developed in Sweden. Each unit provides a teacher book, a pupil book and laboratory material for an entire class. To be able to use the “boxes”, the teacher has to attend two general education meetings and two specific training sessions for every thematic area; this is mandatory for teachers wishing to use NTA. The units are adapted versions of the Science and Technology for Children, STC, curriculum, developed by the National Science Resourses Center, NSRC, and Carolina Biological Supply Company, CBS. NTA is based on the Swedish national curriculum and syllabuses, but does not satisfy all the goals specified. Teachers a free to develop the NTA material further on, and can take part in additional development work within NTA. See www.nta.se.


4 Inquiry-based science teaching/learning IBST/L in a Swedish context


4.1 Many variations of IBST/L. The Swedish school-system was influenced by problem based learning in the 80s. Flexible learning, portfolio and storyline are educational concepts most teachers have come across. The website “Multimediabyrån[ TheMultimedia Bureau]” , supported by The Swedish National Agency for Education (www.skolverket.se), describes these instructional strategies, and provides material for enhanced variations of teaching and ICT skills. Probably most teaching in compulsory school still is “traditional”, which is to say: the teacher is in control, and series of smaller teacher defined tasks are organized within separate subject disciplines. Learning takes place in the classroom, and the content is the most important aspect. Students’ master knowledge through drill and practice and content is not necessarily learned in context.

Most pedagogical influences in Sweden have been taken from US pedagogy. John Dewey’s influence on the Swedish curriculum cannot be overestimated and his books are still as source for pedagogical discussions. In spite of the fact that “learning by doing” has been criticized since the 70s, research finds that many inductive investigations without guidance still remain in schools; This was noticed and debated when Bergqvist (1994) as a non- science pedagogue entered the optics lesson in a physics classroom and shared the pupils’ confusion when they were supposed to discover for themselves the law of refraction, and to understand the teacher’s analogies in this area(Bergqvist & Säljö, 1994). Recently Andrée (2007) has discussed inductive discovery still continuing in Swedish classrooms. Much focus has been placed on work methods and projects and “the seven steps” have been implemented in teaching. In primary education learners’ own planning of activities has gone far beyond what the older students do, in fact the independent planning of learning decreases rapidly with age! Few teachers go so far in using the inquiry process, that they become a facilitator or guide for the learner's own process of discovery and creating understanding of the world. Many teachers use parts of the new pedagogical “methods” and design a learning environment which is a compromise or vary their teaching strategies. But, despite the freedom in the curriculum, many teachers follow a text-book driven instruction. The pressure on time, and perhaps the lack of evaluation and appreciation, makes it easy to do as “always”. ICT is perhaps the reason for teaching to change; assessments in the form of student powerpoint presentations are commonly used. We find that the Swedish curriculum empowers teachers to use IBST/L, but that educational development since the 70s has involved many steps:



First the higher education problem based learning “movement” gave increased interest towards inquiry as such. Secondly, increased computer density for teachers and students helped teachers to implement a variety of project based instructions into their classrooms. Many influences came from language learning and social sciences, and science education is seen as slow to adapt to new technology and to new educational paradigms. However, the entrance of education for sustainable development has given science education a “new chance”.

5 Education for Sustainable Development


UNESCO leads the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) during the decade 2005-201. ESD promotes Interdisciplinary and holistic learning rather than subject-based learning. Further on ESD emphasizes Values-based learning and Critical thinking rather than memorizing as well as Multi-method approaches: word, art, drama, debate, etc. ESD will also promote Participatory decision-making and Locally relevant information, rather than national.

The founding value of ESD is respect: respect for others, respect in the present and for future generations, respect for the planet and what it provides to us (resources, fauna and flora). ESD wants to challenge us all to adopt new behaviours and practices to secure our future.” (See www.unesco.org/en/esd/).

In Sweden, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has become an issue and a driving force for teacher education as well as teaching in schools. Several dissertations have recently been produced in this area. Björneloo’s dissertation is used as the course book in several teacher education programs, as teacher education focuses on ESD for all teachers ((Björneloo, 2007; Lundegård, 2007; Sund, 2008; Öhman, 2006). At Mälardalen University student teachers meet ESD during the first year of general courses, but they are also given opportunity to take special courses. A national mapping of environmental education was conducted in 2001, and included strategic work for sustainable development within the Baltic Sea region. The Agenda 21 for the region was called Baltic 21. The basis of the survey was to establish a picture of where the countries were on a scale of three generations of environmental education; 1) The environmental education (EE) as factum - based, 2) The EE as normative, providing action competence to the learners, or 3) The EE as ESD.

The overall mission was to describe the situation and implement an action plan for education for sustainable development (Öhman & Östman, 2001).


6 Teachers’ professional development


Global perspectives on teacher learning: Improving policy and practice. This title comes from the UNESCO report; see (Schwille, Dembélé, & Schubert, 2007). This international review of teacher education organization and teachers’ professional development (PD) contains more than 160 references (no Swedish). In the summary (pp 97 -129) a clear message about PD is that:

In contrast to one-shot workshops or top-down cascades training, effective professional development are characterized by



  • Programs conducted in school settings and linked to school-wide efforts;

  • Teachers participating as helpers to each other and as planners with administrators, of in-service activities;

  • Emphasis on self-instruction with differentiated training opportunities;

  • Teachers in active roles, choosing goals and activities for themselves;

  • Emphasis on demonstration, supervised trials and feed-back;

  • Training that is concrete and ongoing over time; and

  • Ongoing assistance and support available upon request

This view has been refined and elaborated (Villegas-Reimers, 2003).

Two key dimensions are identified: core features and structural features. Core features include focus on content, active learning and coherence. Structural features include duration, form and participation. Schwille, Dembélé and Schubert (2007) pay great attention to Japanese lessons studies and to Chinese teachers’ research groups. They especially mention the way in which to use teachers’ own classrooms as laboratories for professional development, the public nature of teaching, the importance of teachers working together, and the “bifocal nature of lesson studies”. Other issues are action research as a means for professional development, emphasis on understanding student thinking, cumulative impact through writing and dissemination of reports and balance between teacher initiative and outsider advice and guidance. Also the Swedish researcher Ference Marton has emphasized the content oriented nature of teaching/learning; it is not about methods– it is to be able to discern critical aspects for learning, and recommends Learning Studies for PD (Marton & Ling, 2007)


7 The MDU/S-TEAM view of Teachers Professional Development


Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Wenger, 2004)

We find that our interest in developing teaching and teachers’ interest to get access to research informed strategies makes us a natural “community of practice” for teaching development.

By inviting teacher teams and developing teaching activities around topics (energy for example), we intend to engage and explore the possibility to interact as a network and a community of practice. We argue that every teacher should have a supporting and observing researcher related, who is willing to discuss and develop the teaching and evaluating results on a safe and interest-based level. The frequency of this communication has to be economically viable. We plan in cycles of 1) meeting in dialogue – mentoring ideas 2) classroom work 3) visit with field studies 4) final visit with evaluation.

In the same way that participation and inquiry has become important in education in general, we think that this is also the situation for teacher education and teachers’ professional development (PD). A way to include teachers as participators and owners of their PD, is to ask for best-practice experiences, and with this as starting-point together develop teaching further with input from research based ideas and results. At MDU we intend to reach teams of teachers at schools who are willing to work together with us, by presenting some of our ideas in seminars, arranged in cooperation with our regional developing centres.



  1. The Regional Development Centre (RUC) is a link between the teacher education department of each Swedish university and school communities.

  2. NTA-meetings. NTA (Science and technology for all) is a national project in which teachers without science education, during three days of education for each experimental box, gain confidence to use these boxes in their teaching. During these education days we also have the opportunity to have four 20 – 30 minutes talks from us on different specialties (dialogic teaching, education for sustainable development, new energy systems, writing in science. Our Training module TM, will be arranged based on our view of teachers PD as a network enterprise between teachers, teacher educators and researchers. Three steps will be characteristic;

First, teachers will get to know about us in our presentation in the RUC seminar series, or at the NTA start-up education days, where we will give short presentations about 1) dialogic teaching/ communicative approaches, 2) ESD and the importance of teaching for sustainable energy, and 3) how writing is a part of dialogue and a way in which to learn.

Secondly, we will meet teams of teachers who are interested to work with us at their school, and have a productive conversation with them about their experiences of teaching, and how they look upon the situation in their classrooms today. We will ask for resource- sheets and their reflections on their teaching in the light of ESD. We will decide about joint activities, literature to read, and main ideas to focus upon. This important part of sharing ideas will be the basis for PD to take place.

Thirdly, we will map the activity in the classroom at the beginning of this TM, both regarding activities going on and the communicative approaches used. An action plan will be set up. Some lessons will be followed and we will come back and listen to teacher and learner experiences after six weeks.

Finally, we will return for a last mapping and for the evaluation of teacher and learners’ experiences. Questionnaires and interviews will be used.



This TM is set up individually for each school-teacher team for the duration of one semester. We hope to follow four – eight teams during 2009/2010.

Figure 1: MDU Training Module for each teacher team with the duration of one semester (4 months)




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