Constraints and social resources for prioritizing science instruction in school

By Suzanne Perin - May 2011


Maulucci, M. (2010). Resisting the marginalization of science in an urban school: Coactivating social, cultural, material and strategic resources. Journal of Research in Science Teaching47(7), 840–860.


Questions to consider:

  • What are some specific constraints in your local schools around teaching science? 
  • How can informal science education organizations—specifically yours—help address them?

What Is The Issue?

Education reform efforts often focus on material supplies and teacher knowledge of science, but this article points out additional constraints that teachers face within their schools and how the teachers overcame them. These constraints have implications for what the researcher calls “inertial forces” that may derail social justice efforts. An awareness of these issues can help ISE educators in their efforts to design and lead professional development programs that support teachers.

What Was The Study?

Focusing on their beliefs and practices, the author worked together with a group of teachers in an elementary school faced with material, social, cultural, symbolic, and strategic challenges to science instruction. Three fifth-grade teachers participated in two years of this study. The author was the director of a school district professional development lab, providing support to teachers as they implemented the district’s science syllabus.

What Were The Findings?

The teachers felt pressured to marginalize science instruction in a number of ways within their school environment. Collectively, the following issues created the message to teachers that science instruction was not important: literacy and mathematics instruction were prioritized by the administration due to the standards testing schedule; time allocated to science could be taken by special programs or for test preparation; supplies were not readily available in the classroom; teachers were not comfortable teaching science; there was little administrative recognition of efforts to teach science; and there was limited professional development opportunity. Yet, with the support of the author, the teachers attempted to overcome this situation.

The researcher found the strategies that most supported the teachers included helping them team together to co-plan and co-teach, to model lessons to each other, and to find flexibility in the class schedule for science time. Support from the author and student-teacher “fellows” was also important for assembling class materials and ensuring supplies were prepared. Findings in this paper show that teachers require support through access to quality material resources, ongoing professional development (to help them fill gaps between the kits, texts, science, and pedagogical knowledge and science teaching), classroom-based support, time to collaborate and develop curricula, and time to teach science. The nature of the collaboration and teacher support demonstrated in this article is one that helped change the culture in the classrooms to prioritize science.