Intentionally teaching or planning for play: Examining early childhood educators’ perception of early science pedagogy

Year: 2019

Author: Infantino, Suzanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper will focus on early childhood educators’ pedagogical practice of intentional teaching, specifically in relation to early science pedagogy. Intentional teaching is a pedagogical practice evident in current literature and a practice that underpins the national Australian early learning curriculum. However, the pedagogical practice of intentionally teaching early science concepts is less evident. This is despite the increased necessity for children to acquire scientific capabilities such as problem solving, critical thinking and hypothesising, to support their future as well as the future of the nation.

The Department of Education and Training in Victoria believes that early science learning is essential as it assists children in developing life skills including aspects of motor, behavioural, sensory, communication and mental functioning. The Australian Federal Government holds a similar view, investing $14 million over a four-year period (from 2016) to promote early learning science experiences for children in the three to five year age group. The technological revolution now at the forefront of the twenty-first century defines the importance of learning about science while children are in their early years. If opportunities for children to become involved in quality early science learning are limited or inadequate, inequities and disparities may occur. While the termqualityin early childhood educationis complex and subjective, there is a shared belief that intentional teaching is a contributing factor.

This study employs a multi-site case study. A mixed-methods, qualitative and quantitative evaluative approach is adopted for the research design. Qualitative data includes semi-structured interviews, video observations and document analysis. Quantitative data comprises two instruments; the Active Learning Environment Scale based on Vygotsky’s sociocultural pedagogy and an instrument titled the Science Concepts Assessment Tool (SCAT). This tool was developed for the present study to enable data to be collated relating to sociocultural science pedagogy. The author created, piloted and implemented the SCAT in this (ongoing) study.

The theoretical perspective engaged for the project is sociocultural theory specifically, Chaiklin’s interpretation of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Applying this lens enables the researcher to examine the ZPD from an opposing standpoint highlighting the educator’s pedagogy, rather than the child’s learning ability or outcome. Pedagogical intention in play-based contexts may increase the opportunities for all children to be involved in science.

This study adds to the philosophical debate of embedding quality and equity in early learning environments through intentional teaching, specifically intentionally teaching science concepts to early learners.