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This study aims to contribute knowledge about obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical continuity in science across early childhood education. We use activity theory to analyse individual interviews and group meetings with teachers from preschool (age 1–5), preschool class (age 6) and grade 1–3 (age 7–9) in three Swedish school units. The teachers’ descriptions of their science teaching indicate both obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical continuity. For example, all teachers want to establish an interest in, and foster a caring attitude to nature, a similarity that facilitates continuity. However, some crucial differences indicate obstacles. There is a shift concerning ownership; from following children’s initiatives in preschool in bodily and play based experiences towards an emphasis on pre-planned content, verbal knowledge and written documentation in grade 1–3. Our findings also suggest that teachers lack knowledge about each other's teaching and curricula. Hence, the conditions for pedagogical continuity largely rest upon what children share in the science class. We argue that there is need for an in-depth exchange of experiences, regarding content, teaching methods and frame factors, between teachers from different school forms.
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International Journal of Early Years Education
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Teachers’ conceptualisations of science teaching
– obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical
continuity across early childhood school forms
Karin Due, Marianne Skoog, Sofie Areljung, Christina Ottander & Bodil
To cite this article: Karin Due, Marianne Skoog, Sofie Areljung, Christina Ottander & Bodil
Sundberg (2022): Teachers’ conceptualisations of science teaching – obstacles and opportunities
for pedagogical continuity across early childhood school forms, International Journal of Early Years
Education, DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2022.2107492
To link to this article:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Published online: 05 Aug 2022.
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Teachersconceptualisations of science teaching obstacles
and opportunities for pedagogical continuity across early
childhood school forms
Karin Due
, Marianne Skoog
,Soe Areljung
, Christina Ottander
Bodil Sundberg
Department of Science and Mathematics Education, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden;
School of
Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden;
Department of Applied
Educational Science, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden;
School of Science and Technology, Örebro
University, Örebro, Sweden
This study aims to contribute knowledge about obstacles and
opportunities for pedagogical continuity in science across early
childhood education. We use activity theory to analyse individual
interviews and group meetings with teachers from preschool (age
15), preschool class (age 6) and grade 13(age79) in three
Swedish school units. The teachersdescriptions of their science
teaching indicate both obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical
continuity. For example, all teachers want to establish an interest in,
and foster a caring attitude to nature, a similarity that facilitates
continuity. However, some crucial dierences indicate obstacles.
There is a shift concerning ownership; from following childrens
initiatives in preschool in bodily and play based experiences towards
an emphasis on pre-planned content, verbal knowledge and written
documentationingrade13. Our ndings also suggest that teachers
lack knowledge about each others teaching and curricula. Hence, the
conditions for pedagogical continuity largely rest upon what children
share in the science class. We argue that there is need for an in-depth
exchange of experiences, regarding content, teaching methods and
frame factors, between teachers from dierent school forms.
Received 2 September 2021
Accepted 24 July 2022
Early childhood education;
science teaching;
pedagogical continuity;
activity theory; teacherstalk
Recent studies concerning early childhood science education show that children can be
aorded rich science learning experiences in preschool (Areljung and Sundberg 2018;Fleer
2019). However, little is known about whether and how primary school teachers build on
andextendchildrens previous experiences in science. Studies regarding other school
subjects indicate that much of the knowledge and experiences children gain in preschool
are not considered in school (Skoog 2012;Ackesjö2014), and this lack of continuity may,
according to Dewey (1938/1997) have a serious impact on childrens learning possibilities.
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributedunder the terms of the CreativeCommons Attribution License (
by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
CONTACT Marianne Skoog Marianne Skoog, HumUS, Örebro University, SE-701 82
Örebro, Sweden
In this study, our aim is to contribute knowledge about pedagogical continuity in
science across EC school forms in Sweden. We start by analysing similarities and dier-
ences between teachersdescriptions of their own science teaching, in order to identify
obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical continuity. In doing so, we use activity
theory (Engeström 1987) to analyse individual interviews and group meetings with tea-
chers in preschool (children age 15), preschool class (age 6) and grade 13 (age 79) in
primary school.
Three dierent ECE school forms the Swedish context
In Sweden, early childhood education (ECE) is organised in preschool and compulsory
school. Preschool (age 15) is voluntary, but as many as 83 percent of all children are
enrolled. Compulsory school consists of preschool class (age 6) and primary school
(age 716), which includes grade 13, grade 46 and grade 79. Preschool class is a sep-
arate school form which aims to enable a smooth transition between preschool and
school, by oering playful meetings with school requirements.
Historically, preschool and school reect dierent educational cultures and goals
(Huser, Dockett, and Perry 2016). In Sweden, the educational culture of preschool
builds on a holistic approach in which care, development and learning are seen as inter-
twined, and are based on childrens interests, curiosity, and play (Sandberg et al. 2017).
The educational culture of the school is more subject-oriented and goal-driven (Pramling
Samuelsson and Asplund Carlsson 2008). The main task of the preschool class is to inter-
twine these divergent educational cultures (SOU 1997:21).
The preschool curriculum (Swedish National Agency for Education 2018) does not
state any individual goals to achieve for each child, but there are goals for the activities.
Preschool class and primary school are both covered by the curriculum for the compul-
sory school, in which preschool class has its own section (Swedish National Agency for
Education 2019). Subject specic knowledge requirements exist for each child, which
should be achieved by the end of grade 3.
Common to all three school forms is that childrens experiences, interests, and prior
knowledge should guide the science teaching. The children should be supported to
develop their ability to explore, describe with dierent forms of expression, ask questions,
and discuss science. In preschool, a caring attitude to nature is emphasised, as well as
relationships in nature, knowledge of plants, animals and simple chemical processes
and physical phenomena (Swedish National Agency for Education 2018). This content
is also found in the curriculum for preschool class and primary school, but it becomes
more extensive and detailed, and the explorations are expected to become more systema-
tic. In primary school, critical thinking is added, as well as an understanding that state-
ments can be evaluated by using scientic methods.
There are also dierences according to organisational conditions, such as group sizes,
regulation of time and space and the degree of voluntariness in participation.
Continuity between school forms
Previous research shows that the transition from preschool to compulsory school can be
crucial to a childsfurther education (Huser, Dockett, and Perry 2016; Ackesjö 2014;
Skoog 2012). Transitions involve physical and social changes, but also a movement
between dierent educational cultures (Ackesjö 2014). A central concept relevant to tran-
sition processes is continuity. According to Ackesjös(2014) continuity refers to the way a
school form relates to and builds on another school form, for the benet of the children.
Our study focuses on pedagogical continuity, a concept based on Deweys(1938/1997)
principles of continuity (see Theoretical considerations). In this concept we partly
include communicative, curricular, organisational, and cultural continuity. These are
dierent forms of continuity that have been identied as important to facilitate childrens
transitions (Ackesjö 2014). Communicative continuity refers to exchange of information
between teachers in dierent school forms; curricular continuity refers to knowledge
about each others curricula; organisational continuity concerns how education is organ-
ised in dierent school forms. Finally, cultural continuity refers to aspects underlying the
teaching, such as views of children, teaching, and learning (Ackesjö 2014). In practice, all
these aspects interact and may aect childrens transitions.
Similarities and recognition between dierent school forms is often put forward as
desirable and a key factor to facilitate continuity and childrens transition processes
(Dockett and Perry 2007; Ackesjö 2014). At the same time, similarities in terms of
more of the samecan be an obstacle for learning. Ackesjö (2014) also shows that dier-
ences, often regarded as problematic discontinuity, can be experienced as something
positive and inspiring by the children. The encounter with something new can mean
increased self-reection and growth, involving reconstruction of identities and roles in
the new context.
EC teachersconceptualisations of early science teaching
One of our points of departure is that teachersconceptualisations, in terms of how they
describe the nature of science and their science teaching, both mirror and have conse-
quences for practice, and accordingly for the opportunities for continuity in science
Most international research, based on surveys and interviews of EC teachers and
student teachers, pay attention to teachersnegative attitude and an expressed lack of
self-condence and knowledge when it comes to teaching science compared to other sub-
jects (Appleton 2002; Murphy, Neil, and Beggs 2007; Spektor-Levy, Keisner Baruch, and
Mevarech 2011). Attitudes towards science are thus well researched, while studies con-
cerning EC school teachersdescriptions of their own science teaching, which is the
focus of our study, are rare. Further, there are no studies that compare teachersconcep-
tualisations of science teaching across EC school forms.
Due to the dierent educational cultures in a Swedish context (Sandberg et al. 2017;
Pramling Samuelsson and Asplund Carlsson 2008), there are reasons to believe that tea-
chers in preschool and school conceptualise science teaching in dierent ways. In a study
that investigates how preschool teachers describe their own science teaching, the teachers
contrasted their pedagogy with the teaching in compulsory school (Due et al. 2018). They
emphasised that childrens ideas and initiatives were more frequently used in preschool
and regarded themselves as co-researchers when investigating science issues. They
pointed out that the activities were voluntary and arranged in time and space in a
dierent manner. One of their main aims was to oer the children to feel and explore
scientic phenomena with their own bodies. This was also noticed by Hellberg, Thulin,
and Redfors (2019) and by Gustavsson and Thulin (2017) in a questionnaire concerning
preschool teachersperceptions of science teaching, before and after a science develop-
ment project. Gustavsson and Thulin (2017) also noted that the teachers initially were
quite vague when expressing the science content. Science was mostly about nature and
values such as care and sustainability. The doing was in focus singing, playing, and
creating. Only a few teachers initially talked about science as a process-oriented
approach. This was also discussed by Eshach (2006), who states that science is not
only domain specic conceptual knowledge, but also a more general procedural knowl-
edge that concerns how to gain knowledge in science.
In Sweden, studies concerning primary school teacherstalk about science education
for younger children are rare. However, international research shows that school tea-
chers(grade 13) also highlight practical activities and want children to enjoy science
lessons. In his study, Appleton (2002) shows that Australian primary school teachers pre-
ferred hands-on activities, designed to arouse the childrens interests and curiosity. Lunn
(2000) shows that primary teachers in the UK highlighted scientic inquiry as an impor-
tant part of teaching science. Further, they wanted their students to enjoy science lessons
and to connect science to everyday experiences. However, the teachers talked about pre
planned science activities, not about following childrens initiatives.
Aims and research questions
Given the limited research on pedagogical continuity between EC school forms in the
subject of science, the aim of this article is to contribute knowledge about conditions
for pedagogical continuity in science across EC school forms. Starting by analysing simi-
larities and dierences in teachersdescriptions of their own science teaching we seek to
respond to the following research questions:
.How do teachers conceptualise science teaching in their own EC school form?
.What obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical continuity across EC school forms
emerge through teachersconceptualisations of their science teaching?
Theoretical considerations
The theoretical points of departure draw on Deweys principles of continuity of experi-
ence (Dewey 1916/1944,1938/1997) and Engeströms Activity Theory (Engeström 1987,
2001). These two theoretical frameworks are both consistent with a view of teaching and
learning as socially situated activities.
Pedagogical continuity
A central concept, relevant for smooth transitions between school forms, is pedagogical
continuity, based on Deweys(1916/1944,1938/1997) theories of childrens meaning-
making. Dewey points out that every new experience relates to previous experiences,
and in turn modies future experiences. We use old experiences to make sense of new
ones and the gap cannot be too big or too hard to bridge, otherwise the continuity of
learning opportunities will be broken. Recognition is then important for continuity
and similarities between childrens past and present experiences support recognition.
But the word pedagogical in the concept pedagogical continuity also asks for something
new to be learned, that the children are oered opportunities of new insights. According
to this, the challenge for teachers is to oer children experiences, which are both con-
nected to previous ones, and renew and deepen their knowledge. If the meaning-
making that occurs in this transaction also forms the basis for new experiences,
smooth transitions might be facilitated.
Activity theory as a lens on teachersdescriptions
In order to analyse the teachersdescriptions of science teaching, and to be able to
compare dierent aspects of teaching between school forms, we use Activity theory
(Engeström 1987,2001). Activity theory is based on a Vygotskian perspective of how
the cultural historical context both forms and is formed by the activities that take
place. Dierent types of culturally and historically formed languages, tools, documents,
perceptions, symbols, roles and rules implicitly or explicitly shape every practice, every
activity system. Activity theory oers a structure, which captures the teaching as a situ-
ated activity, where dierent aspects of teaching, nodes, that interact and shape the teach-
ing, become visible (See Analytical process for further details). By exploring these nodes
in relation to each other, one can sometimes identify tensions and thus get a clue as to
whether there are factors that limit the activity. Tensions can for example bring with
them that the teachersintentions with the activity, cannot be realised. Together, the
nodes and possible tensions form a broad picture of the activity, in our case the
science teaching described by teachers in dierent school forms.
We draw on the third generation of Activity Theory, developed by Engeström (2001),
which emphasises that activity systems are constantly interacting within a network of
other activity systems. This is another level that is important to include in our analysis.
Childrens transitions between dierent school forms can be understood as moving from
one activity system to another and activity theory may serve as a tool for comparing these
activity systems. When dierent organisations are struggling for a common object (for
example opportunities for childrens science learning) an analysis that includes and com-
pares all aspects of their activities can give a clue to whether they will succeed or not. The
focus is then on identifying tensions between systems to understand how change and
development could be achieved. In our study, we start by analysing similarities and
dierences between teachersdescriptions of their own science teaching in dierent
EC school forms, in order to identify obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical
Research design, sample, and data
The study presented in this article is part of a larger research project, concerning
obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical continuity across school forms in early
childhood science education. Data was collected in three public Swedish school units (A,
B, C), comprising four preschools, four preschool classes and four grade 13 classes. In
total, 21 teachers participated. All but one, were graduated teachers. For a majority of the
school teachers, science was included in their teacher education. The preschool teachers
and preschool class teacherslevel of science education varied from upper secondary
school to university level.
The design of the larger study was a cyclical intervention process, with individual
interviews, group meetings and classroom observations. In this study, we focus on a sub-
sample of the data consisting of the initial interviews, in total 21, and the rst group
meeting within each school unit, in total three. This choice is based on our interest in
the teachers starting position regarding their own science teaching, i.e. before the
research interventions started. All researchers in the project participated in the data col-
lection. The interview questions were guided by the questions connected to the nodes in
the activity triangle (Figure 1) and concerned the teachersexperiences of and thoughts
on science and science teaching. The discussions at the group meetings focused on simi-
larities and dierences regarding curricula and science teaching in the dierent school
forms. All interviews and group meetings were audio- or video recorded and transcribed
verbatim, in total 30 h of recordings.
Figure 1. Triangle model showing interdependent nodes, inspired by Engeströms(1987) model of
activity systems.
The study has followed the ethical principles outlined by the Swedish Research Council
(2017), regarding informed consent, right to withdraw from participation and use of
data. All participants are anonymised to protect their identities.
Analytical process
The central tool in our analysis is the activity triangle with its nodes, concerning dierent
aspects of the activity of an organisation, in our case the science teaching in dierent
school forms (Figure 1) The node object in the triangle is the teachersintentions with
the activity. The other nodes in the model are the subject, i.e. the teachers that initiate
and lead the activity, the tools used, both material and cognitive, the rules, both formal
and nonformal, the division of labour, i.e. who is doing what, and nally, the community.
The community is, according to Engeström (1987), all the people involved in the activity.
However, in our analysis, we choose to understand the node community as the prevailing
educational culture, in terms of teachersviews of science, teaching and childrens
Two of the researchers were responsible for the analytical process and started by
reading the transcripts several times. In the rst step, the initial coding, we searched
for utterances that responded to the dierent nodes in the activity triangle. We con-
structed three triangle models, one for each school form, hence including teachers
descriptions from all preschools in one triangle, all preschool classes in one and all
school classes in one. In a second step, both researchers separately analysed the
content of the teachersdescriptions for each node and then compared their interpret-
ations. This resulted in a generalisation based on utterances common to the teachers
within each specic school form. As an example, the generalisation Start from chil-
drens interestsconnected to the node Community in the triangle for preschool, was
based on utterances like: Whatdotheywanttodo?Thenwedoitinpreschool
(P2/B); Therewillbedierent focus areas based on what the children are interested
in.(P1/C). We also took notice of utterances that opposed what the majority
argued, and these were noticed in the analysis as a sign of possible tensions within
the nodes. Tensions between the nodes were also noticed. An example is the identied
tension between the nodes Rules and Community that appears when frame factors
counteract the teachers desire to let the childrens interests guide the teaching in pre-
school class.
The three triangle models gave a multifaceted picture of how teachers in dierent
school forms conceptualised their science teaching. In the third step, to ensure trust-
worthiness, all researchers were involved in comparing the triangles, looking for simi-
larities and dierences, in order to understand what conditions that could have an
impact on the obstacles and opportunities for pedagogical continuity between the
school forms. In the result section, we mainly describe similarities that may promote ped-
agogical continuity and dierences that may imply obstacles to continuity. In the discus-
sion section, however, we suggest that dierences between school forms under certain
circumstances may benet childrens learning, and that similarities between school
forms can in some cases mean an obstacle to pedagogical continuity and development.
When analysing teachersconceptualisations of their science teaching, looking for simi-
larities and dierences between school forms, in order to identify obstacles and oppor-
tunities for pedagogical continuity, it becomes obvious that the similarities prevail.
However, there are also some crucial dierences. In Tables 1 and 2, we summarise
these similarities and dierences between the school forms, related to the dierent
nodes in the activity triangle. Our results indicate that preschool class holds a special pos-
ition. Table 1 illustrates that there are similarities between preschool class and preschool
at some points (marked grey), which dier from descriptions made by the school tea-
chers. Table 2 shows similarities between preschool class and school (marked grey),
which dier from the descriptions made by preschool teachers.
Below, we present the results in relation to our two research questions. Each subhead-
ing is a synthesis of several, closely related, generalisations of the teachersdescriptions,
shown in the table above. Quotes from the teachers are coded as follows: P =Preschool
teacher, C = Preschool class teacher, S = Primary school teacher. 1, 2, 3 etc. refer to
dierent teachers in the respective school form. A, B and C refer to the dierent
school units.
Teachersconceptualisations of their own science teaching
A personal engagement in nature
All teachers express a personal interest in nature and regard science as accessible in the
sense that science is everywhere. However, when they provide examples of science
activities they mainly relate to biology, and particularly to being in the forest(C1/A).
Several teachers express that they lack knowledge and interest in physics and chemistry,
which aects their teaching and require more planning and preparation:
Because you do not have it [chemistry and physics] around you in the same way [as biology].
Sure, we have seesaws, swings, scissors, and all this, but you dont think about it in the same
Table 1. Teachersconceptualisation of their own science teaching in relation to the nodes subject,
object, and community in the activity triangle.
Nodes Preschool
class Grade 13
The teachers
Personal interest in nature
Primarily comfortable with teaching biology, whereas physics and chemistry are
perceived as more dicult
The purpose of the teaching
To prepare for the next school form
To learn science
To enjoy and care for nature
Focus on childrens
experiences of science/
natural phenomena
Focus on childrens conceptual knowledge in
Views on the subject of science.
Views on teaching and learning
Practical learning, preferably outdoors.
Pleasurable, engaging and involving all senses
Learning science is learning a specic language
Play and learning regarded
as integrated
Play and learning regarded as separate activities
Start from childrens
Arouse childrens interests
way as you think about the leaves and the wood-louses you must think once again to
remember physics and chemistry (P1/C).
There is one exception to this attitude towards physics and chemistry. One of the pre-
school teachers (P1/A) tells, very enthusiastically, about a project concerning the verb
y, which include experiments around physics concepts such as gravity, thermodyn-
amics, and air resistance.
The teacherscommitment in nature is also reected in how they view the purpose of
their science teaching. They want the children to develop an interest in science, but also
learn facts. In addition, an ambition is to foster a sense of wonder in the approach to
science. The teachers encourage emotions such as empathy and caring for nature by fos-
tering a feeling of being a part of the whole thing, but also to feel that you are a guest in
some way(S2/A).
Practical experiences, play and/or verbal knowledge
When describing their views on science teaching, all teachers agree that practical experi-
ences, preferably outdoors, is important for the childrens learning. These are seen as
pleasurable, engaging, explorative and involving all senses. Both preschool teachers
and preschool class teachers point out that one ambition is to oer the children oppor-
tunities to be close and feel things(P1/C). The school teachers also stress the importance
of practical experiences but tend to be more focused on verbal knowledge and facts,
although some teachers are concerned about the childrens gradually increasing
Table 2. Teachersconceptualisation of their own science teaching in relation to the nodes division of
labour, rules/frame factors and tools in the activity triangle.
Nodes Preschool Preschool-class Grade 13
Division of labour
What are the teachers doing?
What are the children doing?
Teachers: asks questions, revisits, and reminds, expands knowledge, challenges the
childrens thinking
Children: listen, ask, and answer questions, explore, draw, write, create, inspire,
and help each other
Teachers are co-researchers
Children initiate activities, teachers catch the
Teachers are not described
as either a co-researcher
or an authority
Teachers initiate and lead
activities, but is responsive
to childrens interest
Rules/frame factors
What implicit and explicit rules
The curriculum is the basis for teaching
Several goals can be reached simultaneously (social, subject-related)
Science activities mostly voluntary Science activities mostly
Flexible plans Firmer plans
Curriculum not detailed, no science knowledge
Curriculum more detailed,
science knowledge
requirements for grade 3
Smaller groups, higher stadensity Larger groups, lower sta
What mental and physical tools are
Outdoor environments
Materials for creative activities
Books and digital resources
Reminders of past experiences
More of songs, games, play and creative activities More of childrens
documentation through
writing and drawing
anxiety of giving the wrong answer. In addition to their enthusiasm for practical activi-
ties, all the teachers stress that learning science is closely related to learning a specic
subject language, and consequently they consider it important to be consistent in their
word usage and to use these words over and over again(S1/B).
As shown above, the teachers consider doing scienceas important. However, on a meta
level, the teachersview of science as inquiry is not fully articulated. Although the teachers
descriptions reveal that they all consider practical activities and experiments as a signicant
part of teaching science, they do not explicitly talk about systematic inquiry as a part of the
concept of science. One exception is a preschool teacher who talks about science, not only as
content, but also as a way to gain knowledge aboutthe world through systematic inquiry, for
example by designing experiments and making hypotheses.
Practical experiences can also be gained through play, but the role of play is described
in dierent ways by the teachers. The preschool teachers and the preschool class teachers
consider play and learning as integrated processes,where play can provide desirable
experiences of science phenomena. Although some teachers in preschool class posit
that their teaching is more at play level(C1/A), their descriptions of the practice
suggest that they gradually increase the use of documentation while processing the
science content. The school teachers, on the other hand, often describe play and learning
as separate activities and focus on verbal communication and writing.
To start from or to arouse childrens interest in science
Asignicant dierence between preschool and preschool class on one hand and primary
school on the other, concerns the teachersview on childrens initiatives. Both preschool tea-
chers and preschool class teachers emphasise childrens ownership meaning that science
teaching should be based on the childrens interests and initiatives. They want to capture
the momentand pay attention to when the children show curiosity or initiate an activity,
because when you work based on their own interests, they become enthusiastic(P2/C).
The school teachers also stress the importance of childrens interests, but they see it as
their mission to arouse the childrens interest in a pre planned science content, rather than
picking up on childrens expressed interests. One school teacher says that When you oer
new knowledge that they have not encountered before, they become very interested(S1/B).
However, the extent to which the planning is xed or adaptive to childrens initiatives
varies between the school forms. In preschool the teachersview on how childrensinter-
ests initiate activities align with how they describe their practice. They pay attention to
the childrens preferences and curiosity and act as co-researchers during the activities,
following the initiatives of the children.
When you see what they are doing, you must capture their interest at once. At the very
moment (P1/C).
The preschool class teachers express a similar view concerning childrens initiatives, but
when describing their practice, a tension is revealed. The guidance from the teachers in
preschool class is more pronounced, and they stress that they must relate to factors such
as curriculum, schedule, and group size. One preschool class teacher says:
I like to be guided by the children to some extent, at the same time looking at the current
framework, so that you dont do something that does not t. (C1/B).
10 K. DUE ET AL.
The preschool class teachersutterances concerning their roles as leaders in the classroom
are thus closer to the ones of the school teachers. In school there is, according to the tea-
chers, even less room for the childrens initiatives and the teachers lead the pre-planned
activities. They do not talk about themselves as co-researchers though considering the
childrens questions and suggestions.
Opportunities and obstacles for pedagogical continuity
In this section, we present dierences and similarities between the teachersdescriptions
that may have an impact on opportunities and obstacles for pedagogical continuity in
Teachersviews on science
As shown above, the teachers share the view that science is about nature and almost
merely about biology. Physics and chemistry, as well as science as systematic inquiry,
are not articulated to the same extent. According to the teachersdescriptions, learning
science is also about emotions; to wonder at, learn to care for, feel safe in, and enjoy
nature. The consistent view on the content of science education suggests that children
encounter similar content in all school forms. This may promote pedagogical continuity,
provided that the content is deepened and broadened in the next school form.
To look forward and backward
All teachers, regardless of school form, express that it is important to prepare the children
for the next school form. They strive to lay a foundation for future studies, especially when
it comes to understanding and using scientic concepts, and they try to use all the right
concepts and everything, so they [the children] have something in their backpacks when
they come to school(P3/C). The teachers also look backwards when introducing a new
science content, asking the children about activities and experiences in previous school
forms. One teacher exemplies how she began a lesson on the life cycle of an apple: At
rst they had to think for themselves, then write down and draw what they thought
to see what they knew(S2/B). The teachersrevisits and reminders have a bearing on ped-
agogical continuity as it makes it easier for children to connect their previous activities and
knowledge to new phenomena and experiences. When the children share their previous
experiences this also, according to the teachers, provides them with a foundation to
build upon and opportunities to challenge the children.
Freedom and ownership or restrictions connected to frame factors
Acentraldierence between the preschool teachersdescriptions on the one hand,
and the preschool class teachers and the school teachersdescriptions on the other,
is how the childrens interest and initiative are treated, and become or do not
become part of the teaching. In preschool, the childrens interests are the starting
point for science teaching, while in preschool class and in school the teachers seek
to arouse the childrens interests in pre-planned science content and activities. This
shift concerning learning ownership is perhaps the most prominent gap and discon-
tinuity in this study.
In parallel with this shift in ownership, there is a change concerning frame factors. The
teachers are aware of several dierences between the curricula in the dierent school
forms, and their consequences for teaching and learning. Here, preschool teachers
experiences that We have no knowledge requirements in preschool(P2/A), stand in
stark contrast to the preschool class teachersexperiences that We have to think about
grade three all the time. We look at the goals and search for What do we have in line
with third grade?”’ (C1/B). One of the primary school teachers says that I can sometimes
feel jealous of preschool, or not jealous, it is the wrong word, but the fact is that some
children do not t into this form(S1/A).
The teacherstalk also points at signicant dierences concerning the childteacher
ratio. In preschool class and school there are larger groups and lower stadensity com-
pared to preschool. Further, the childrens participation in science activities is often com-
pulsory. In total these frame factors, according to the school teachers, give less space for
the childrens initiatives and for the teacher to consider the interests of each child. One
school teacher says:
At school, it is stressful and we have a schedule to follow, maybe its the sports lesson or
they have the music lesson. We are more governed by such things organisational frame-
work that governs a lot (S1/C).
In contrast, the preschool teachers refer to their open curriculum, as well as to organis-
ational conditions, when describing their planning as exible, enabling them to follow
childrens initiatives.
Discussion and conclusions
This study aims to contribute knowledge about obstacles and opportunities for pedago-
gical continuity in science across early childhood education. Our ndings align with pre-
vious research concerning teachersviews on the content and teaching methods of
science education. A partly new approach and a strength of this study is our focus on
continuity in science teaching, that the study includes three dierent EC school forms,
and that we use activity theory as an analytical tool to provide a broad picture of teachers
descriptions of their own science teaching. Some limitations of the study are worth men-
tioning. First, the number of participating teachers from each school form is somewhat
limited. Thus, generalisations cannot be made based on the sample. Secondly, our results
build merely on interviews and group meetings. If we had added classroom observations,
this would probably have provided a more comprehensive picture of science teaching in
practice. Despite these limitations, we argue that our study, whose credibility is con-
nected to the readers recognition, and how they can link the results to their own experi-
ences in similar contexts, provides new knowledge and also raises further questions
regarding conditions for pedagogical continuity in science EC education.
Important ndings
The teachers in our study express similar views on the science content. This is an impor-
tant nding, which implies good opportunities for pedagogical continuity, provided that
the children are oered new insights (Dewey 1938/1997). Similarities support
12 K. DUE ET AL.
recognition, and recognition is according to Dewey (1938/1997) an important factor for
continuity. The teachersambition to link science teaching to the childrens previous
experiences and to prepare the children for future studies also implies pedagogical con-
tinuity. Other important ndings, which on the other hand indicate obstacles for conti-
nuity, are associated with the change in childrens ownership, as well as a risk that the
children become carriers of continuity in transitions between school forms.
Dierences obstacles for learning or a desirable part of childrens growth?
Some of the dierences between the school forms, emerging from the teachers
descriptions of science teaching, may create obstacles for learning, and some may
not. The most prominent dierence is the shift from following childrensinitiatives
in bodily and play-based experiences in preschool towards an emphasis on pre
planned content, verbal knowledge, and written documentation in primary school.
These dierences create a risk for discontinuity, as children seem to move from
having much, to having little, personal inuence on the inquires that guide science
teaching (cf. Andersson and Gullberg 2014). Childrens sense of ownership and inter-
est in science may suer from this discontinuous transition from preschool to a goal
driven school, but the changes in science teaching also oer new opportunities,
including a broader general education in science, and learning to use tools such as
writing and documentation to understand and communicate science. However, our
results illustrate that it is dicult to combine students learning ownership with a
goal- and result driven school.
As shown, many of the teachers focus on biology and avoid physics and chemistry (cf.
Gustavsson and Thulin 2017). This nding raises questions about pedagogical continuity
in relation to the next stage, i.e. after grade three, if physics and chemistry then become
more prominent parts of science teaching. However, an extended science content may
not necessarily imply discontinuity, if the teaching methods are similar to the ones the
children have encountered before. For example, we suggest that teachers can support
continuity by building on childrens previous experiences and engagement (Dewey
1938/1997), including emotions, caring, joy and wonder as a part of the content (cf. Gus-
tavsson and Thulin 2017). In addition, from the childrens perspective, the introduction
of a new content can be experienced as an exciting challenge and an opportunity for
growth (cf. Dockett and Perry 2007; Ackesjö 2014).
The teachers in our study do not explicitly highlight systematic inquiry, as part of the
science content, although it is included in the school curriculum. This can increase the
risk of discontinuity in relation to future schooling. The teachersvaguely articulated
view on science, for example a conation of inquiry as a teaching method and as a
specic science content, is also noticed in earlier studies (Eshach 2006; Gyllenpalm
and Wickman 2011; Gustavsson and Thulin 2017). This conation may decrease the chil-
drensopportunities to appropriate science as inquiry to explore the world.
The preschool class dilemma
Preschool class is a unique Swedish school form, but the preschool class dilemma is rel-
evant to an international reader as it illustrates a gap between preschool and school
(Huser, Dockett, and Perry 2016). Our results indicate that preschool class teachers cul-
turallyidentifywiththepreschoolwhileorganisationally belonging to the school. This
aligns with previous research (e.g. Ackesjö and Persson 2016)whichshowsthatpre-
school class teachers are positioned in an area of tension between two educational cul-
tures. The way they want to conduct science teaching, their cultural identity, is closer to
that of preschool teachers, but they are subject to several frame factors, which they
often share with school teachers (Tables 1 and 2). As an example, the preschool class
teachers wish to base their science teaching on childrens interest and initiative, and
integrate play and learning, but in practice they experience that this is not possible,
due to organisational factors.
Pedagogical continuity as a part of the teachersmission
The teachers emphasise the curriculum as a central tool in teaching, which points to the
potential of the curriculum as an instrument that can promote continuity. But for curri-
cular continuity to be realised in practice, it presumes that teachers are familiar with both
forthcoming and preceding curricula. Since in practice there is a great variation in
science teaching, both within and between the school forms (Areljung and Sundberg
2018; Fleer 2019), there is also a need for direct exchange of experiences between teachers
in the dierent school forms.
The importance of communication across school forms is also stressed by the fact that
a lack of knowledge concerning earlier school forms can bring that the connection to
childrens previous science experiences largely rests on the children themselves, i.e.
what they choose to tell (Author forthcoming). This is quite a fragile construction,
which might lead to continuity built on experiences of just a few children (cf. Elm Fris-
torp 2012). Rather, a more solid opportunity for pedagogical continuity should rest on
teachersown knowledge about previous science education.
A deepened knowledge of each others science content, teaching methods and the
organisational framework that governs the teaching, calls for communication, meetings,
and visits across school forms. Such encounters can contribute to increased understand-
ing, inspiration, and knowledge about what the children have experienced and will
experience in the future, i.e. promote pedagogical continuity and enable teachers to
adapt their teaching. It is thus not just a matter of looking forward, for example preschool
teachers adapting their teaching to school, but also for primary school teachers to look
backward in terms of paying attention to the preschool pedagogy.
Many of the dierences in teaching between the school forms are products of political,
cultural, and organisational conditions and may as such be perceived as dicult to
change for an individual teacher. However, we argue that teachersknowledge about
each others activities, educational cultures and frame factors, and how these factors
are related to each other, is a key factor for bridging the gaps between the school
forms. We conclude that a transition work is needed, in which the tensions are high-
lighted, concretised, and verbalised.
This transition work must be supported by principals, who acknowledge the impor-
tance of arenas for pedagogical discussions across school forms in order to promote ped-
agogical continuity.
14 K. DUE ET AL.
Our wholehearted gratitude goes to the Swedish Research Council and to the participating teachers
for sharing their thoughts and experiences with us.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
This work was supported by The Swedish Research Council [grant number 2016-03868].
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