Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 11, Issue 2, Article 6 (Dec., 2010)
Gulcan CETIN and Seda Hilal NISANCI
The effectiveness of the new 9th grade biology curriculum on studentsí environmental awareness

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Introduction

Environmental Education

Environmental education is an ongoing process in our lives and is influenced by family, school and society factors. The major aim of environmental education is to increase individuals’ environmental awareness and sensitivity; this can improve one’s standard of living by fostering a healthier and safer environment (Altin, Bacanli, & Yildiz, 2002).

There has been a variety of research on environmental education. For example, Kuhlemeier, Van Den Bergh, & Lagerweij (1999) studied more than 9.000 ninth grade students in 206 individual Dutch secondary schools about their environmental knowledge, environmental attitudes and environmentally responsible behaviors. Students were generally willing to make financial sacrifices and apply environmentally responsible behavior in their daily lives. While nearly half of the students had a high level of positive attitudes toward the environment, all students had incorrect and/or insufficient knowledge about environmental problems and inadequate environmentally responsible behavior in general. Similarly, Pe’er, Goldman, & Yavetz (2007) examined the attitudes, knowledge and environmental behavior of 765 first year students in three teacher training colleges in Israel. They reported that students’ attitudes toward environment were positive, but their environmental knowledge was limited.

Students environmental attitudes may differ based on several variables such as grade level, gender and socioeconomic level, though there does not appear to be a consensus (Sama, 2003; Erol & Gezer, 2006; Ulucinar Sagir, Aslan, & Cansaran, 2008; Carrier, 2009; Coertjens, Boeve-de Pauw, De Maeyer, & Van Petegem, 2010). For example, Sama (2003) stated that the university students’ grade levels, whether their first year or final year, did not have any impact on their environmental attitudes; yet, there was a significant difference in the attitudes of the students in the department of foreign languages.

The study results of Uzun & Saglam (2005) revealed that there was a significant difference in the average environmental consciousness among the socioeconomic status of 258 high school students: The middle socioeconomic group showed more environmental consciousness than the high and low socio­economic groups. Erol & Gezer (2006) illustrated that 225 prospective elementary school teachers often had weak attitudes toward the environment and environmental problems. Students’ environmental attitudes changed with age, and girls had better attitudes toward to environment than boys. Students’ environmental attitudes did not change with their fathers’ occupation, parent education level or their socio-economic status. The study of Ulucinar Sagir et al. (2008) reported that there was no significant difference between males and females or among the students’ environmental knowledge with regard to their parents’ education levels.

Toili (2007) found that few students within 22 secondary schools in Kenya participated in civic activities dedicated to improving the quality of their communities’ environments. Many students expressed that insufficient environmental awareness contributed to their lack of enthusiasm or even to their ability to make a difference. Therefore, an environmental education curriculum that promotes environmental knowledge and environmental issues and/or problems would be quite beneficial in meeting the needs of its students and their communities.

An effective environmental education requires qualified teachers with adequate knowledge. If the teacher lacks sufficient knowledge and responsibility, then environmentally illiterate students cannot be trained (Cabuk & Karacaoglu, 2003; Denis & Genc, 2007).

Campbell, Medina-Jerez, Erdogan, & Zhang (2009) made a comparison among 171 seventh and twelfth grade science teach­ers from the U.S., Bolivia and Turkey, according to their attitudes toward environmental education and instructional practices. They concluded that while the teachers’ knowledge about global environmental issues and the teachers’ rationales related to environmental education in their science classroom instruction showed a significant difference among three countries, technological and/or environmen­tal problems in science classroom instruction did not show any significant differences among three countries. Therefore, teachers should be well-trained regarding environmental issues as they are a model to students of how to protect the environment for tomorrow; in addition, it would be best to integrate the importance of education for sustainable development in teaching of biology in schools (Noziran, 2010).

In order to raise environmentally-aware individuals, who can take responsibility to overcome environmental problems, students from the preschool level and above should be educated about these issues. Students could acquire the necessary awareness and responsibility about the environment by implementing instructional approaches, which make students more active, saves them from an unnecessary knowledge burden and improves their brain power (Sahin, Cerrah, Saka, & Sahin, 2004; Turkish Environmental Atlas, 2009).

Students’ environmental knowledge and/or attitudes could be increased by several instructional techniques. For example, while instruction based on a conceptual change approach increased students’ environmental understanding, it did not increase students’ attitudes toward the environment and biology (Cetin, 2003). Students’ environmental knowledge and attitudes could be increased by computer-assisted instruction (Aivazidis, Lazaridou, & Hellden, 2006). Paleoecology, the study of ancient ecosystems as a teaching tool can be used in a science curriculum to teach global environmental education quite effectively (Raper & Zander, 2009). Outdoor activities can also be useful to increase students’ environmental awareness (Carrier, 2009).

The New 9th Grade Biology Curriculum in Turkey and Conscious Individual-Environment Unit

To increase students’ achievement and attitudes, problem-solving skills, etc., the Turkish Ministry of Education began to revise the curricula of many courses from 1st to 10th grade after 2003-2004 academic years. For instance, the Turkish Ministry of Education made some changes to the 9th grade biology curriculum, and that curriculum was implemented in 2008-2009 (Secondary 9th Grade Biology Curriculum, 2007). The new 9th grade biology curriculum was mainly developed by taking the following into consideration: Biology literacy of students, constructivist learning approach, spiral approach, students’ mental and physical development levels and individual differences, parallelism and coherence between the curricula of biology and other related courses, and performance-based assessment and evaluation approach. The new 9th grade biology curriculum also required that teachers apply several instructional methods and techniques like constructivist approach, brainstorming, computer-assisted instruction and project-based instruction.

In the new 9th grade biology curriculum, the last unit is entitled ‘Conscious Individual-Environment’. It has sub-units about environmental problems and Ataturk’s approach toward nature and environment. The main goals of this unit include: to recognize the adverse effects of human activities on the environment; to develop solutions to these problems; to understand the impact of environmental problems on human health; to become biology literate (Secondary 9th Grade Biology Curriculum, 2007). Furthermore, this unit includes goals regarding science-technology-society-environment relations, scientific research and scientific process skills, communication skills and attitudes and values (See Appendix A). The basic concepts in the unit related to the environment were to be integrated with the subject content in accordance with a spiral approach by following the principles of moving from general to particular and from the known to the unknown.

The new 9th grade biology curriculum requested that teachers implement their instruction based on the new curricula so that all the curricula goals could be reached. When we interviewed with some teachers regarding the new curricula and its implementation in schools, they stressed that the new 9th grade biology curriculum could not be completely applied in schools.

The main reasons were because the new curricula required too many goals to be accomplished. In addition, biology textbooks were full of activities that were taking too much time to be completed by the end of the term. Finally, students would take the Student Selection and Placement System Exam, and the teachers’ discovered that the curriculum and the exam did not complement each other entirely.  Therefore, the activities were deemed to have lost valuable time were not seen as effective for improving students’ achievement on their exams.

Although plentiful materials could be found regarding the new 9th grade biology curriculum on the Web, many teachers mentioned that was insufficient instructional support of the course implementation so that the course to be executed effectively.  In other words, the teachers did not feel prepared to teach the new curriculum.  Many of the teachers resolved their own traditional strategies in the classrooms because they believed the new 9th grade biology curriculum could not be applied effectively; thus, if they received adequate support, perhaps they could have modified their teaching strategy to better deliver the curricula to their students.

In summary, although the Turkish Ministry of Education mandated a student-centered constructivist approach to the changes inherent within the 9th grade biology curriculum during the 2008-2009 academic years, many teachers have still taught biology courses in a traditional manner, applying a teacher-centered instructional approach instead. Therefore, this study aimed to examine the effectiveness of the new 9th grade biology curriculum on students’ environmental awareness, comparing a teacher-centered traditional instructional approach and a student-centered instructional approach in high school.

Problem

What was the effectiveness of the new 9th grade biology curriculum on ninth grade students’ environmental awareness?

 

 


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