Crowding the Curriculum?: Changes to grade 9 and 10 science in British Columbia, 1920-2014

Date

2014-08-27

Authors

Sun, Cangjie

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Abstract

In recent years, educators and academics have argued that science curricula have become increasingly crowded, rendering it almost impossible for teachers to address the multitude of learning outcomes mandated in any given document (e.g., Fortner, 2001; Hacker, 1997). Unfortunately, an analysis of the research literature has failed to substantiate this claim with empirical evidence. The purpose of this study was to examine changes of British Columbia’s Science 9 and 10 curricula between 1920 and 2014 to determine if curriculum expansion – as an important indicator of an overcrowded curriculum- has happened over time. Additionally, this study investigated the relationship between science curriculum changes and societal and educational values and priorities. The research questions guiding this study were: 1) Have the Science 9 and 10 curricula in British Columbia (BC) expanded over time? That is, has the scope, size and depth of science material to be addressed increased over time? 2) If so, what accounts for this increase over time? 3) If not, what accounts for the claims in the literature that science curricula are increasingly crowded? This study used content analysis to examine, in detail, grade 9 and 10 science curriculum guides issued by BC’s government between 1920 to 2014. Content under examination included program goals and rationale; instructional suggestions; topics; subject matter goals and learning outcomes. Supplementary historical documents (government directives, circulars, newspapers, memos, secondary sources) were also examined in order to situate curricula in appropriate social contexts. Results showed that the only constant attribute of the investigated BC grade 9 and 10 science curricula is change, which is characterized by expansion and continuous reconfiguration of content, persistent attempts to respond to social and educational needs, and constant oscillations between student-centered and subject-centered teaching approaches. This study also illustrates that the crowding of the science curriculum has as much to do with changing educational theories and ideologies as with scientific developments. This study is important in that it fills a significant gap in the research literature. It is the first to address the questions of how and why science curricula have expanded and become more complex over time. Finally, this study is timely in that British Columbia’s government has proposed sweeping changes to current curricula with a broad goal of better preparing learners for demands of the 21st century (BC Ministry of Education [BCMOE], 2012). More specifically, BC’s government has proposed to replace the vast number of curricular learning outcomes with fewer more broadly conceived competencies that would enable learners to probe more deeply into areas of personal interest (BCMOE, 2013). This study provides evidence that such a move would reverse a longstanding trend in the opposite direction.

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Keywords

science curriculum, crowding, British Columbia

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