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Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching

Practices: Swedish Upper-Secondary Physics

Teachers’Views

Lena Hansson

1

&Örjan Hansson

1

&Kristina Juter

1

&Andreas Redfors

1

Received: 8 October 2019 /Accepted: 3 March 2020/

#The Author(s) 2020

Abstract

This article addresses physics teachers’views about physics teaching in upper-

secondary school. Their views have been investigated nationwide through a web-

based questionnaire. The questionnaire has been developed based on several published

instruments and is part of an ongoing project on the role of mathematics in physics

teaching at upper-secondary school. The selected part of the results from the analysis of

the questionnaire reported on here cross-correlate physics teachers’views about aims of

physics teaching with their view of physics classroom activities, and perceived hin-

drances in the teaching of physics. Three hundred seventy-nine teachers responded to

the questionnaire (45% response rate). The result indicates that teachers with a high

agreement with a Fundamental Physics curriculum emphasis regarded mathematics as

a problem for physics teaching, whereas teachers with high agreement with the

curriculum emphases Physics,Technology and Society or Knowledge Development in

Physics did not do so. This means that teachers with a main focus on fundamental

theories and concepts believe that mathematics is a problem to a higher extent than

teachers with main focus on the role of physics in society and applied aspects or

physics knowledge development do. Consequences for teaching and further research

are discussed.

Keywords Curriculum emphasis .Mathematics and physics .Teaching strategies .Upper-

secondary physics

International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-020-10078-6

*Andreas Redfors

andreas.redfors@hkr.se

1

LISMA, Kristianstad University, SE-291 88 Kristianstad, Sweden

Introduction and Theoretical Framework

Science teaching, particularly chemistry and physics teaching, is subject to ongoing

discussions concerning aims, goals, relation to modern society and ways of teaching so

that more students find physics interesting and meaningful. In this article, we report on

upper-secondary physics teachers’views on aims, characteristics and challenges related

to physics teaching and their teaching habits, specifically in relation to their attitudes to

physics and mathematics.

Different science teaching traditions have previously been described in the literature.

A common tradition is ‘traditional school science’(Zacharia & Barton, 2004)inwhich

knowledge is transferred to learners through lectures and precisely planned experi-

ments. The goal of science teaching in this teaching tradition is that ‘students have to

memorize scientific knowledge and procedures within the structure that was

established’(pp. 203–204). However, there are also other teaching traditions such as

‘progressive school science’and ‘critical school science’in which the goals of school

science are more related to citizenship. In line with such different foci and aims of

school science, Roberts (1982,1988,1995) introduced the concept of ‘curriculum

emphases’defined as:

a coherent set of messages to the student about science (rather than within

science). Such messages constitute objectives which go beyond learning the

facts, principles, laws and theories of the subject matter itself—objectives which

provide an answer to the student question: ‘Why am I learning this?’(Roberts,

1982,p.245)

Roberts has described seven curriculum emphases which all give different rationales for

learning science. These seven emphases have been reduced to three by van Driel, Bulte

and Verloop (2008) in a survey of teachers’curricular beliefs. These authors combine

‘Solid foundation’and ‘Correct explanations’(Roberts, 1995) into ‘Fundamental

Chemistry’which describes an emphasis where fundamental theories and concepts

are taught as an essential basis for future understanding or further studies. Traditional

science teaching is characterized by these curriculum emphasis (see e.g. van Driel et al.,

2008, p. 109). The emphases ‘Science/technology/decisions’and ‘Everyday applica-

tions’(Roberts, 1995) were merged into ‘Chemistry, Technology and Society’due to

the interrelationship of applications of science and technology with students’everyday

lives and decision-making. Finally ‘Knowledge Development in Chemistry’(van

Driel et al., 2008), is a combination of the curriculum emphases ‘Scientific skill

development’,‘Structure of science’and ‘Personal explanation’(Roberts, 1995). van

Driel et al., (2008) argue that present-day chemistry teachers combine these emphases

in project-oriented work focusing on scientific processes, particularly the role of

chemistry and evidence-based argumentation in socio-scientific issues. These three

curriculum emphases described were later transferred and developed to encompass

also biology and physics by de Putter-Smits, Taconis, Jochems, and van Driel (2011)in

measuring secondary school science teachers’curriculum emphases.

In these previous studies on chemistry and science teachers’support for different

curriculum emphasis, the study by van Driel et al. (2008) shows that for Dutch

chemistry teachers, the strongest support was for the emphasis ‘Fundamental

L. Hansson et al.

Chemistry’, and the study by de Putter-Smits et al. (2011) shows that the Dutch biology

teachers gave most support to the curriculum emphasis ‘Science, Technology and

Society’while the physics teachers gave most support to the emphasis ‘Knowledge

Development in Science’. In addition, van Driel et al. (2008) show that for pre-

university education, the curriculum emphasis ‘Knowledge Development in Chemistry’

was viewed as more important than for senior general secondary education. de Putter-

Smits, Taconis, and Jochems (2013) in studying context-based science teaching found

that four of eight teachers believed that students actively can learn in an environment

strictly led by the teacher, which they state stands in contrast to prior research results

stating thata more student-centred teaching strategy is vital for students’active learning.

They discuss and advocate for further research into teachers’professional development.

In the science education research field and in policy discussions, there are ongoing

discussions related not only to the aims of school science but also to choices of teaching

strategies, and possible hindrances for meaningful learning for students and how they

could be overcome. One example is a recent report from PISA 2015 where

Mostafa, Echazarra, and Guillou (2018) discuss the relationship between various

science teaching strategies and students’science-related outcomes. They report on

relations between the different teaching strategies: inquiry-based science teaching,

teacher-directed instruction, adaptive teaching with teacher feedback, and students’

science performance, and attitudes towards science for the participating countries.

For upper-secondary school physics, previous studies describe the special role of

mathematics in the teaching and learning of physics (cf. Pospiech, Michelini, & Eylon,

2019; Uhden, Karam, Pietrocola, & Pospiech, 2012) that have to be considered when

discussing teaching strategies and hindrances in physics teaching. The study reported on

here continues this line of research that has a special focus on the role of mathematics in

physics teaching (cf. Hansson, Hansson, Juter, & Redfors, 2015,2019;Turşucu, Spandaw,

Flipse, & de Vries, 2018). Mathematics is often spoken of as a necessity for physics; e.g.,

mathematics is the language of physics (Pask, 2003). One strand of this line of research

focuses on students’problems in transferring mathematical knowledge to new and applied

situations during physics teaching (Kaiser & Sriraman, 2006;Krey,2014; Kuo, Hull,

Gupta, & Elby, 2013; Michelsen, 2006; Torigoe & Gladding, 2011; Uhden et al., 2012).

This is also emphasized in a Swedish study by Due (2009) where students state that to

succeed in physics, it is necessary to focus and practice mathematical solutions of physics

problems. However, there is also research not only focusing on problem-solving but

physics teaching in general, e.g. from the perspective of the role of mathematics skills

among students. Analysis of the TIMSS advance study (IEA, 2014) discusses the decrease

in students’mathematics knowledge as an explanation for the decline in Swedish students’

results in physics (Angell, Lie, & Rohatgi, 2011). Thus, mathematics has been reported as

one obstacle in the teaching of physics, but there are also other hindrances such as

curriculum overload. Angell, Guttersrud, Henriksen, and Isnes (2004)describethat

Norwegian physics’teachers view using mathematics to describe physical phenomena

as the most problematic issue in the teaching and learning of physics. After that come fast

progression and extensive curriculum in the courses, followed by using laws and math-

ematics in problem-solving. The pupils (grades 12–13) had a quite different view as they

regarded fast progression and extensive curriculum content the most problematic aspects

in school physics and they did not regard mathematics as such a major problem as the

teachers did.

Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching Practices: Swedish...

There is a need for further research on why science teaching is diverse and teaching

shows different curriculum emphases (cf. Belo, van Driel, van Veen, & Verloop, 2014;

Johansson, Andersson, Salminen-Karlsson, & Elmgren, 2018). The general picture is

that relationships between teachers’views, curriculum emphases, classroom practices,

problems and possible student shortcomings need further studies in order to generate

more knowledge about aspects that constitute teaching conditions in science class-

rooms. In this article, we extend this line of research by adding a special focus on the

role of mathematics in relation to the different curriculum emphases. In so doing, we

took a nationwide look on Swedish upper-secondary physics teachers’views to find

factors explaining diversities in science teaching in relation to curriculum emphases.

The study presented here is part of an ongoing project on the role of mathematics in

upper-secondary physics teaching. This article aims to describe how individual upper-

secondary physics teachers’curriculum emphasis relates to their teaching strategies and

views on shortcomings and problems in physics teaching, with a special focus on

mathematics. The research questions posed are:

&Which aims, in terms of teaching and learning physics, are viewed important by the

physics teachers?

&What, according to the teachers, characterizes their teaching?

&What do they view as hindrances for high-quality physics teaching?

Methodology

Context of the Study

Physics in Swedish upper-secondary school is almost exclusively studied by students

taking the Science and the Technology programmes. Most students who study physics

take one or two courses and very few take three courses.

1

Upper-secondary physics in

Sweden is outlined by a national curriculum (Swedish National Agency for Education,

2011) which specifies aims, core content and knowledge requirements. The section

‘Aim of the subject’in the curriculum ends by specifying that:

Teaching in the subject of physics should give students the opportunities to develop

the following:

1) Knowledge of the concepts, models, theories and working methods of physics, and

also understanding their development.

2) The ability to analyse and find answers to subject-related questions, and to identify,

formulate and solve problems. The ability to reflect on and assess chosen strate-

gies, methods and results.

3) The ability to plan, carry out, interpret and report experiments and observations,

and also the ability to handle materials and equipment.

4) Knowledge of the importance of physics for the individual and society.

5) The ability to use a knowledge of physics to communicate, and also to examine

and use information. (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2011)

1

Statistics for school year 2018 from www.skolverket.se.

L. Hansson et al.

Core content contains both concepts and models (e.g. concerning ‘Motion and force‘),

but also content referring to ‘The nature, working methods, and mathematical methods

of physics’. Regarding mathematical methods the curriculum says that in Physics 1 the

teaching should cover the core content “Identifying and studying problems using

reasoning from physics and mathematical modelling covering linear equations, power

and exponential equations, functions and graphs, and trigonometry and vectors’.A

similar formulation is present in the core content for Physics 2 (but with slightly

different mathematical concepts): ‘linear and non-linear functions, equations and

graphs, and derivatives and vectors’(Swedish National Agency for Education, 2011).

The Swedish curriculum is goal oriented and does not state how core content and aims

should be combined, how much time should be allocated to specific aims or core

content, or how to work with aims and/or core content. This means that views and

decisions by the local schools and the teachers are important for the emphasis of the

teaching.

Instrument and Method

A web-based questionnaire was constructed with 154 items to answer the research

questions. It opened with background information of the respondent (15 items) includ-

ing age, gender, work experience, education, what subjects and courses the respondents

teach. The questionnaire was then divided into three parts related to:

A) views of curriculum emphasis of physics education at upper-secondary school (39

items),

B) views of the nature of mathematics and physics (46 items), and

C) teaching strategies in physics and the role of mathematics (54 items).

In these parts, altogether 19 questions were posed, each with 1–23 items to

respond to, adding up to a total of 139 items appraised through a 5-point Likert

scale. Questions from previously published studies were translated, adjusted and

combined to cover the scope of this study together with new questions.

Part A of the questionnaire is based on van Driel et al.’s(2008)aforemen-

tioned adaptation of Roberts (1982,1988,1995)‘curriculum emphases’with

additional questions from de Putter-Smits (2012). Part B of the questionnaire is

about physics teachers’views about the nature of mathematics and physics

influenced by Grigutsch and Törner (1998),andasetaboutscienceinsociety

andresearchasdepictedinChen(2006). Part C of the questionnaire is about

physics teachers’views on teaching strategies, shortcomings and the role of

mathematics in physics teaching and it was generated based on TIMSS Ad-

vanced (IEA 2014) and other published instruments (Angell et al.,

2004;Buabeng,2015). Various competences, concepts and areas of mathematics

relevant to physics were addressed. The analysis presented here uses responses

to questions from parts A and C of the questionnaire, see Tables 1,2and 3.

Table 1contains items analogous to those by de Putter-Smits (2012)andvan

Drieletal.(2008), adapted to physics. The curriculum emphases used for

physics teaching in this study are Fundamental Physics (FP), Knowledge

Development in Physics (KDP) and Physics,Technology and Society (PTS).

Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching Practices: Swedish...

Table 2relates to classroom practices and teaching approaches adapted from

Buabeng (2015). Table 3relates to problems and the quality of physics teaching

adopted from Angell et al. (2004)andBuabeng(2015), respectively.

Table 1 Question and 23 items from part A of the questionnaire, adapted from de Putter-Smits (2012)andvan

Driel et al. (2008). The items are related to the curriculum emphases Fundamental Physics (FP), Knowledge

Development in Physics (KDP) and Physics, Technology and Society (PTS)

To what extent do you agree with the following statements on physics teaching?

I think it is important to learn to perform physics calculations because the students can use it to solve physics tasks. FP

I think that physics students should start by learning abstract formulas as a basis for developing physics knowledge. FP

I think that during laboratory work, such as when measuring speeds, it is important that the students focus on getting

good measurements.

FP

I think that the main reason why knowledge about forces is important for the students is that it is such a fundamental

concept in physics.

FP

*I think that knowledge of the conservation of energy is important because it enables students to understand several

physical phenomena.

FP

I think it is important to use variables and units to show the internal coherence between physical concepts. FP

I think that the primary task of physics teaching is to prepare students for further studies in physics, science or

technology.

FP

I think that students should develop basic skills before they can work with applications. FP

I think it is important that current social issues that concern physics are discussed during my lessons. PTS

I think it is important during my lessons to address pros and cons for society with the development of new products

(such as mobile phones).

PTS

I think it is important during my lessons to clarify the relationship between societal issues and physics areas. PTS

During my lessons, I want to highlight the role of products based on physical applications in the students’everyday

lives.

PTS

I think that it is an important task for physics teaching that students learn to use physics knowledge when they make

personal decisions about e.g. food, health and energy use.

PTS

I think that it is an important task for physics teaching that students learn to use physics knowledge as a basis for

personal opinions on societal issues such as fossil fuels.

PTS

I think that it is an important task for physics teaching that students learn how economics (rapid and large-scale

production) is associated with environmental and safety concerns.

PTS

I think that itis an important task for physics teaching that the students learn that the problem-solving strategies used by

physicists, chemists and biologists are similar.

KDP

I think that it is an important task for physics teaching to ensure that students learn that physicists design and use

models as tools for solving theoretical and practical problems.

KDP

I think that it is an important task for physics teaching to ensure that students understand that physical knowledge is

never definitive, but can always change.

KDP

I think that an important goal of physics teaching is that students learn how physicists develop knowledge. KDP

I think it is an important taskfor physics teaching to ensure that students understand how modern research leads to new

knowledge in physics.

KDP

* I think it is an important task for physics teaching that students can develop insight into the socio-historical

development of physics.

KDP

I think that it is an important task for physics teaching that students can learn to see overarching constructions and

contexts in physics.

KDP

I think it is an important task for physics teaching that students realize that human qualities, such as creativity and

ambition, play an important role in the development of physics knowledge.

KDP

*Item excluded in the analysis (see below)

L. Hansson et al.

Data Collection

The aim was to countrywide let as many physics teachers at upper-secondary

school as possible respond to the questionnaire. In order to manage this, we

contacted the communication unit at the Swedish National Agency for Education

which sent us a register of all active upper-secondary schools in Sweden that had a

science programme. The register was last updated in June 2016 and based on the

information provided by the study counsellors at the respective upper-secondary

school to the Swedish National Agency for Education. Email addresses of physics

teachers at the schools were obtained via the school’s administration or the

schools’websites.

A link to the questionnaire was initially sent to 866 teacher addresses. If

teachers receiving the questionnaire were not physics teachers, they were asked

to inform us in order to be excluded from the project. The sum of the

remaining invalid addresses after the complementary search and addresses to

teachers who were not teaching physics was 27, and these were deducted from

the 866 addresses initially sent to. Eight reminders were sent during the three

and a half months the questionnaire was open and the resulting count was 845

recipients. The total number of completed questionnaires eventually received

was 379 rendering an answering frequency of 45%. All teachers responding to

the questionnaire were offered a lottery ticket.

2

2

A digital lottery ticket ‘Triss’from the state-owned company Svenska Spel with opportunities of high

winnings.

Table 2 Question and associated 12+2 items from part C of the questionnaire, adopted from Buabeng (2015)

and TIMSS 2015 (IEA, 2014) respectively

How often do the following practices happen in your physics classroom?

I present new materials on the whiteboard

I demonstrate problem-solving on the whiteboard

I lay emphasize on mathematical presentation of concepts

* I lay emphasize on qualitative thinking and presentation of concepts

I use demonstrations and discussions to illustrate concepts/ phenomena

I use students’suggestions and ideas in teaching

I engage students in context-based activities

Students work with physics problems individually

Students work with physics problems in groups

Students have opportunity to explain their own ideas

Students do experiment by following instructions from the teacher

Students plan and do their own experiment

Students memorize facts and principles

Students use scientific formulas and laws to solve routine problems

*Item excluded in the analysis (see below)

Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching Practices: Swedish...

Analysis and Results

Curriculum Emphases

Teachers’views concerning curriculum emphases were measured with 23 items on the

questionnaire with the three scales FP (8 items), PTS (7 items) and KDP (8 items), as

depicted in Table 1. Based on a dimension reduction by factors (PCA, with varimax

rotation, KMO= 0.83), two items were excluded (one from the FP scale and one from

the KDP scale) from the further analysis since their main contributions were in relation

to another scale than theoretically expected. The corresponding item to the first

excluded item was also excluded by de Putter-Smits (2012). The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin

measure of sampling adequacy (KMO) was 0.83 and thus, the data set was deemed

suitable for factor analysis.

Each of the three scales was then subjected to an analysis of internal consistency

based on the value of Cronbach’s alpha for each scale. Based on the Cronbach alpha

values (0.66 for the FP scale, 0.84 for the PTS scale and 0.72 for the KDP scale) and

due to the item-to-total correlation, we decided to keep all the remaining items.

The teachers’mean scores per scale (FP, PTS and KDP) were calculated. The higher

the mean value is, the stronger the individual has marked agreement with the scale. The

Table 3 Questionsand associated 18 items from part C of the questionnaire,adapted from Angell et al. (2004)

and Buabeng (2015). Authors’translation of the Swedish questionnaire

What do you think is particularly problematic for students who are studying physics at upper

secondar y school? (Angell et al., 2004)

*Learn many new concepts

Understand reasoning and deductions involving mathematics

Use laws and theories in computational tasks

Use mathematics to solve physics tasks

High pace

Much to learn

*Laboratory work

See the connections between physics theories and the real world around us

Discuss physics qualitatively

Sometimes it is seen that the following limits the quality of physics teaching. To what extent do you

agree? (Buabeng, 2015)

*Students’perception of physics as a subject

Students’lack of mathematics knowledge

Parents’view that physics and mathematics are difficult

Society’s view that physics and mathematics are difficult

The connection between mathematics and physics

A too extensive curriculum

Not enough teaching time

Inadequate laboratory equipment

Lack of technical support

*Item excluded in the analysis (see below)

L. Hansson et al.

results are presented in Table 4. Generally, the teachers were positive to all three

curriculum emphases. Concerning the FP and the PTS scale, the teachers agreed to

the same extent. However, the support for the KDP curriculum emphasis was substan-

tially higher than for the other scales.

Teaching Strategy

Teachers’teaching strategies were measured with 14 items (see Table 2). A dimension

reduction by factors was conducted (principal component analysis, PCA, with varimax

rotation). The KMO was 0.73 and the data set was deemed suitable for factor analysis.

The factor analysis together with a qualitative analysis resulted in one item being

excluded as it was the only item with no clear contribution to a single factor. We

decided on the two-factor solution to the factor analysis due to a qualitative analysis.

The items in factor 1 (6 items) were used as a scale measuring Student-centred teaching

(Active students and focus on understanding), and the items in factor 2 (7 items) were

used as a scale measuring Teacher-centred teaching (follow teacher and focus on

routine problems), see Table 5.Each of the two scales was then subjected to an analysis

of internal consistency based on the value of Cronbach’s alpha for each scale. Scale 1

had a Cronbach alpha value of 0.70 and scale 2 had a Cronbach alpha value of 0.65.

Based on the item-to-total correlation, we decided to keep all the remaining items.

Thus, the focus when scoring high on the scale Student-centred teaching is on

students being active in the learning situations and an emphasis on understanding, e.g.

in terms of explaining ideas and context-based activities. The teacher uses the students’

ideas and the students work in groups, design their own experiments and discuss.

Opposite, when scoring high on the scale Teacher-centred teaching, the teacher

describes new areas of physics and solve problems at the whiteboard. The students

work individually following the teachers’instructions. They work with routine prob-

lems and learn facts and principles by rote.

Mean values for each teacher on the two scales measuring teaching strategy were

created, see Table 5. The table shows the means and standard deviations of the teachers’

responses. The teachers’answers indicate that they have a teacher-centred practice to a

higher extent than a student centred. The results do however not point to any extremes,

indicating that the teachers seem to strive for a combination of teacher- and student-

centred teaching.

Shortcomings and Problems in the Teaching of Physics

The teachers’perceived problems for students when learning physics and issues

constraining the quality of physics teaching were measured with 18 items on the

Table 4 Mean score (min 1, max

5) and SD per scale. See Table 1

for items in the scales

Scale Mean SD

FP 3.71 0.50

PTS 3.74 0.57

KDP 4.22 0.44

Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching Practices: Swedish...

questionnaire (see Table 3). A dimension reduction by factors was conducted (principal

component analysis, PCA, with varimax rotation). KMO was 0.72 and thus, the data set

was deemed suitable for factor analysis. Based on the factor analysis and a qualitative

analysis of the items’contributions to the factors, two items were excluded (with an

additional item requiring further analysis) and the five-factor solution chosen. The five

factors were used as scales measuring shortcomings and problems perceived by the

teachers. Cronbach alpha values for the five scales were in the span 0.73–0.86 (in

Table 6) after removing the further analysed item from scale 3 due to the item-to-total

correlation and the qualitative analysis based on the items’contributions to the factors.

The teachers’mean score per scale were calculated, see Table 6. The results indicate,

even though the differences are not substantial due to the distribution in the material,

that the teachers thought the main problem in the physics teaching was too much

content to cover in too little time and that practical issues were not as big a problem.

Mathematics knowledge and views of mathematics and physics were equally, but not

alarmingly, problematic in relation to physics teaching and student learning.

Relations Between Curriculum Emphasis Orientation and Teaching Strategies

A comparison of means concerning the teaching strategy scales for teachers with a

mean below respectively above the mean value for each of the three curriculum

emphasis scales was performed. Concerning the relation between agreement with FP

and teaching strategy, the result shows that teachers having mean values above the

mean on the FP scale have higher mean values also for Teaching strategy Scale 2

(teacher-centred teaching) than other teachers have (see Table 7). This difference is

statistically significant (ttest, level of significance 0.01).

Table 5 Mean score (min 1, max 5) and standard deviation (SD) per teaching strategy scale

Scale Items Mean SD

Scale 1: Teaching strategy:

Student-centred teaching

- I use demonstrations and discussions to illustrate

concepts/phenomena

-Iusethestudents’suggestions and ideas in the

teaching

- I engage the students in context-based activities

- The students work with physics problems in groups

- The students have opportunities to explain their own

ideas

- The students plan and conduct their own experiments

3.39 0.46

Scale 2: Teaching strategy:

Teacher-centred teaching

- I go through new content at the board

- I solve problems at the board

- I emphasize a mathematical exposition of concepts

- The students work individually with physics

problems

- The students do experiments by following my

instructions

- The students learn facts and principles by rote

- The students use physical formulas and laws to solve

routine problems

3.66 0.38

L. Hansson et al.

The results were opposite for teachers agreeing to a high extent with a PTS emphasis

(above the mean on the scale) have higher mean value (ttest, level of significance 0.01)

for Teaching strategy Scale 1 (student-centred teaching),seeTable8. The same is valid

for teachers agreeing to a high extent with a KDP emphasis (ttest, level of significance

0.01), see Table 9.

Relations Between Curriculum Emphasis Orientation and Shortcomings

and Problems in the Teaching of Physics

A comparison of means for teachers with a mean below and above the mean value for

each of the three curriculum emphasis scales concerning their perceived problems for

students when learning physics and issues constraining the quality of physics teaching,

i.e. the five scales from the ‘Analysis and results’section, have been performed.

Significant differences for the FP scale, with levels of significance below 0.05, were

found concerning scales 1 (mathematics is a problem) and 3 (views of mathematics and

physics are a problem) (Table 10). Teachers with a high agreement with FP tend to view

Table 6 Problems and shortcomings as related to five scales

Scale (Cronbach’s alpha) Items Mean SD

1: Mathematics (0.75) - Students’lack of mathematics knowledge

- Understand reasoning and deductions involving

mathematics

- Use laws and theories in computational tasks

- Use mathematics to solve physics tasks

- The connection between mathematics and physics

3.47 0.62

2: Curriculum overload (0.74) - A too extensive curriculum1

- Not enough teaching time

- High pace

- Much to learn

3.76 0.68

3: Views of mathematics and

physics (0.86)

-Parents’view that physics and mathematics are difficult

- Society’s view that physics and mathematics are difficult

3.46 0.84

4: Qualitative understanding

(0.73)

- See the connections between physics theories and the real

world around us

- Discuss physics qualitatively

3.56 0.79

5: Practical issues (0.73) - Inadequate laboratory equipment

- Lack of technical support

2.83 0.96

1If the item were to be removed, the Cronbach alpha value is raised by 0.01. The item was nevertheless

decided to remain in the scale after a qualitative evaluation

Table 7 Teaching strategies in relation to curriculum emphasis FP

FP mean NMean Std. deviation

Scale 1: Teaching strategy: Student-centred teaching ≥3.71 197 3.39 0.47

< 3.71 163 3.39 0.45

Scale 2: Teaching strategy: Teacher-centred teaching ≥3.71 199 3.74 0.37

< 3.71 164 3.57 0.38

Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching Practices: Swedish...

mathematics as a problem in the physics teaching. Also views on mathematics and

physics are viewed as problems by these teachers. Table 11 shows significant differ-

ences between teachers with agreement below and above the mean on the PTS scale

concerning problems and shortcomings. Teachers with a high agreement with PTS

think that the views of mathematics and physics and practical issues are the most

problematic issues for teaching physics. There were two significant differences in the

comparison of agreement with KDP and the scales measuring perceived problems and

constrains, see Table 12. A high agreement with KDP means that the main problems for

physics teaching are too much content and too little time and students’qualitative

understanding. No other significant differences were found in the data.

As Tables 10,11 and 12 show, the only scale occurring twice is scale 3, i.e. views of

mathematics and physics, in Tables 10 and 11. The rest of the scales is spread over the

three curriculum emphasis scales implying different aspects of importance in the

physics teaching.

Discussion and Implications

In previous literature, different teaching traditions and curriculum emphasis have been

described. The ‘Traditional school science’tradition is characterized by the curriculum

emphasis ‘Foundational physics’and teacher-centred lectures, and the goal for students

is ‘to memorize scientific knowledge and procedures’(Zacharia & Barton, 2004). For

upper-secondary physics, this kind of teaching often means a focus on solving standard

physics problems (often appearing at the end of a chapter in physics textbooks) (see e.g.

Due, 2009). This teaching tradition has been found problematic for different reasons;

for example, students can often solve such problems without understanding the con-

cepts and theoretical models used (Hobden, 1998).

Table 8 Teaching strategies in relation to curriculum emphasis PTS

PTS mean NMean Std. deviation

Scale 1: Teaching strategy: Student-centred teaching ≥3.74 180 3.49 0.44

< 3.74 184 3.30 0.46

Scale 2: Teaching strategy: Teacher-centred teaching ≥3.74 183 3.67 0.39

< 3.74 184 3.66 0.37

Table 9 Teaching strategies in relation to curriculum emphasis KDP

KDP mean NMean Std. deviation

Scale 1: Teaching strategy: Student-centred teaching ≥4.22 178 3.46 0.45

< 4.22 185 3.33 0.46

Scale 2: Teaching strategy: Teacher-centred teaching ≥4.22 177 3.69 0.40

< 4.22 189 3.64 0.36

L. Hansson et al.

In this article, we have reported from a study on Swedish upper-secondary physics

teachers’support for the three curriculum emphases ‘Fundamental Physics’(FP),

‘Knowledge Development in Physics’(KDP) and ‘Physics, Technology and Society’

(PTS) (cf. van Driel et al., 2008). It was found that the teachers overall were positive to

all three curriculum emphases. However, the support for the ‘Knowledge Development

in Physics’curriculum emphasis was substantially higher than for ‘Fundamental

Physics’and ‘Physics, Technology and Society’, with which the teachers agreed to a

similar extent. It is interesting that ‘Knowledge Development in Physics’and not

‘Fundamental Physics’is the one with the highest degree of support, as ‘Fundamental

Chemistry’was for the Dutch chemistry teachers (van Driel et al., 2008). This result is

however in line with the results by de Putter-Smits et al. (2011)wherethephysics

teachers supported the ‘Knowledge Development in Science’emphasis.

The results from this study of Swedish upper-secondary physics teachers might be

an indication of a shift away from traditional science teaching traditions, where teachers

have developed support also to other aims of physics teaching. Both ‘Science Tech-

nology Society’and ‘Socio-scientific issues’approaches (with similar goals as the

curriculum emphasis ‘Physics, Technology and Society’) and ‘Nature of Science’

approaches (with similar goals as the curriculum emphasis ‘Knowledge Development

in Physics’) have reached increasing support in international science education research

and in policy documents. This study shows an almost equal support for PTS and FP and

most support to KDP. KDP might be a smaller step away from traditional physics

teaching and might therefore function as a bridge between FP and PTS approaches to

science teaching. The KDP emphasis includes ‘Nature of Science’(Erduran & Dagher,

2014;Lederman,2007; McComas, 2017) aspects, and such knowledge could be valued

both in the perspective of educating future scientists and in relation to a more citizen-

oriented teaching. It could also (though this is seldom the case) be coupled to labwork

and to a teaching focused on concepts and models (see e.g. Hansson & Leden, 2016). It

might be natural for science teachers to couple KDP to the preparation of future

Table 10 Significant differences between scales 1–5 and agreement with FP

FP mean NMean Std. deviation Sig. (two-tailed)

Scale 1: Mathematics ≥3.71 193 3.53 0.67 0.04

< 3.71 164 3.40 0.54

Scale 3: Views of mathematics and physics ≥3.71 199 3.56 0.81 0.02

< 3.71 163 3.35 0.86

Table 11 Significant differences between scales 1–5 and agreement with PTS

PTS mean NMean Std. deviation Sig. (two-tailed)

Scale 3: Views of mathematics and physics ≥3.74 180 3.59 0.86 0.05

< 3.74 186 3.35 0.81

Scale 5: Practical issues ≥3.74 181 2.94 0.99 0.03

< 3.74 186 2.72 0.93

Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching Practices: Swedish...

scientists, which is in line with the results from the study by van Driel, Bulte and

Verloop (2008) who found that KDP had more support in respect to the course

preparing for university studies than in respect to the general course. Thus, the support

for KDP among Swedish physics teachers might be due to the fact that the teachers in

our study teach at the science programme and/or the technology programme, both

preparing for university studies in science/technology. The fact that KDP received more

support than PTS indicates that this can be the case and that ‘Nature of Science’

perspectives, which are in focus in many of the KDP items, are viewed as a means to

prepare for future science studies, rather than as a means to become an active citizen.

The analysis of the investigated physics teachers’views of teaching strategies gave

that the teachers on average could be said to marginally favour teacher-centred teaching

compared with the other scales of student-centred teaching. The fact that both strategies

came out quite similarly in not radically favouring teacher-centred teaching is in

concurrence with Swedish students’responses to PISA 2015 questions, which places

Swedish science teachers below, but only marginally so, and close to the OECD

average for teacher-centred teaching (Mostafa et al., 2018,p.43).Concerningper-

ceived shortcomings and problems, the study shows that teachers view curriculum

overload related to allotted time as the main problem in physics teaching. Knowledge of

mathematics and views of mathematics and physics were less problematic and practical

issues were not a problem at all. It concurs somewhat with the results for physics

teaching in Norway (Angell et al., 2004), where the fast progression and the physics

curriculum were put forward as problems to be looked into. The Norwegian teachers

found using mathematics to describe physical phenomena the most problematic issue,

whereas the Swedish teachers found it less problematic.

The result of the study reported on here points to relations between teachers’support

for the different curriculum emphases on the one hand and on the other hand their

reported teaching approaches and views upon shortcomings and problems in the

physics teaching. As discussed above, the teachers on average could be said to

marginally favour teacher-centred teaching compared with the other scale of student-

centred teaching. However, the results show differences coupled to teachers’agreement

with different curriculum emphases. Teachers with high agreement with ‘Fundamental

Physics’(FP) tend to view mathematics and views on mathematics and physics as

problems in physics teaching (Table 10). These teachers also agree to a higher extent

with items implying teacher-centred teaching strategies (Table 7). Teachers with a high

agreement with ‘Physics, Technology and Society’(PTS) think that views of mathe-

matics and physics and practical issues are the most problematic issues for teaching

physics (Table 11). These teachers agree to a higher extent with student-centred

Table 12 Significant differences between scales 1–5 and agreement with KDP

KDP mean NMean Std. deviation Sig. (two-tailed)

Scale 2: Curriculum overload ≥4.22 179 3.88 0.67 0.003

< 4.22 184 3.67 0.67

Scale 4: Qualitative understanding ≥4.22 179 3.71 0.84 0.001

< 4.22 188 3.43 0.72

L. Hansson et al.

teaching strategies (Table 8). Finally, high agreement with ‘Knowledge Development

in Physics’(KDP) means that the main problems for physics teaching are curriculum

overload and students’qualitative understanding (Table 12). These teachers agree to a

higher extent with items implying student-centred teaching strategies (Table 9). Thus,

this study shows relations between the curriculum emphasis supported by teachers,

their teaching approaches and the hindrances perceived in their teaching.

Mathematics has often been reported a problem in the teaching of physics. In this study,

mathematics is still viewed a problem, but not the biggest problem. It is also the case that it

is mostly a problem for teachers with a high agreement with FP, whereas teachers with

high agreement with PTS and KDP did not view mathematics as an equally big problem.

The reason why mathematics is viewed as a bigger problem by FP teachers is open for

further investigation. However, the traditional physics teaching culture most often means a

focus on calculations. For upper-secondary physics, Due (2009) has reported on a focus on

mathematical solutions of physics problems, and similar, but in a university physics course

on quantum physics, Johansson et al. (2018)showhowa“‘shut up and calculate’-culture”

is being reproduced with the result that discussions on epistemology and on science’srole

in society are excluded (p. 222). It might be that in classrooms led by teachers emphasising

PTS and KDP, the role of mathematics becomes different. Thus, the possible shift away

from traditional science (physics) teaching including its dominating focus on a FP

emphasis, that this study might be an indication of, might also have as a consequence

that mathematics is not viewed a problem to the same extent anymore. Such a possible

shift is supported by the difference between the results from the Swedish teachers in this

study and the Norwegian teachers in the study from 2004 (Angell et al., 2004), since these

two countries have similar teaching traditions (Mostafa et al., 2018,p.43).

An interesting question then becomes how mathematics is used and handled by

teachers and students in classrooms with a KDP or PTS curriculum emphasis. Another

interesting question is how differences on teaching and attitudes among the teachers

affect the actual physics teaching and students learning of physics. Hence, the results

reported on here calls for further and detailed analysis of practices in physics class-

rooms, with detailed qualitative investigations of relationships between curriculum

emphasis, teaching strategies (including how mathematics is used and handled by

teachers and students) and students’learning outcomes. Such research is ongoing and

will be published by the authors in future publications.

Funding Information Open access funding provided by Kristianstad University. This project is financially

supported by the Swedish Research Council (721-2008-484).

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which

permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give

appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to theCreative Commons licence, and

indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the

article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise ina creditline to the material. If material is not

included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory

regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.

To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Curriculum Emphases, Mathematics and Teaching Practices: Swedish...

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