Scientific literacy and science education in the early years: conceptions and actions of teachers

Education has been the focus of research and debate for many years, and no matter how it is discussed, there are always a myriad of things to discover, reflect on, and investigate. Among these aspects, the issues related to the teaching of science in the initial stages of schooling stand out. In a more specific way, it can be said that the theme involving the formation and the teaching performance, added to the present conception in the pedagogical practices, has been based on studies that show weaknesses and possibilities of changes.

To exemplify, the polyvalent training of the teacher who works in this stage of schooling is mentioned, that is, teachers trained in courses such as Pedagogy. This multipurpose training that occurs in Pedagogy courses is guaranteed by the National Curricular Guidelines for these undergraduate courses.
Such training refers to the discussion about the relationship between the deepening given to specific contents and the emphasis on didactic training. The presentation by the authors includes the need for training in citizenship in this polyvalent formation. Therefore, it is not enough to master the specific contents and their methodologies, it is also necessary to have a diversified view on the responsibility of the formation and of which subjects one wishes to form.

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The early years are an important and significant part of people’s school life. At this stage, children are thirsty for discovering new things, are extremely curious and creative. These characteristics end up reflecting on the teacher’s practice, which needs to keep an eye on them and cultivate them. In addition to teaching reading and writing, teachers in the early years need to develop and encourage (or maintain) critical, questioning, and observer-minded children, particularly tied to and favored by science. Therefore, it is up to the teacher to orchestrate a set of actions that contemplate contents and enable the development of forms of thought, leading to the full and integral formation of children.

This set of knowledges that the teacher needs to have in his professional performance stems from his training, but also from the practice of his practice. On this, Tardif (2014) mentions that the teacher must have a plural formation with different teaching knowledge: “It is possible to define the teaching knowledge as a plural knowledge, formed by the more or less coherent amalgam of knowledge coming from professional training and of disciplinary, curricular and experiential knowledge “(p.36). The author goes on to say that professional knowledge is the one transmitted by institutions responsible for teacher education, such as the faculties of education sciences. Experiential knowledge is based on the practice of the profession, its daily work and the knowledge present in its environment. The curriculum is characterized by the objectives, methodologies, contents, methods and discourses that the school institution organizes and categorizes, that is, they are school programs that the teacher must know how to apply.

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In addition, the author stresses that training for teaching is erroneously around disciplines that are isolated and fragmented throughout the course of training, and thus little impact to students. This type of training also receives an application model, that is, the students spend a certain number of years attending classes and then apply the knowledge acquired, and these were passed in a clearly expository form. When they finally begin to work alone, they realize through practice that this knowledge is badly rooted in day-to-day action (Tardif, 2014).

It is believed to be one of the main difficulties encountered by teachers in the early years when addressing science-related topics. Usually, Pedagogy courses give little emphasis to the contents of this area or, when they do, they are linked to Biology. Thus, if the teacher does not have contact with Physics and Chemistry and with the way he can contemplate these contents in the initial years, he is hardly going to do it. One of the reflexes of the lack of these contents in the formation of the teachers and, consequently, in the professional exercise of them, is in the wealth of aspects that the Science can offer to the students. According to Chassot (2000), in the field of sciences, the greatest responsibility is to make students become more critical and questioning men and women, who learn to be agents of transformation – for the better – of the world in which they live. The author goes on to mention that scientific literacy needs to be understood as part of the body of scholarly knowledge, and that it should be able to analyze the world using another language, the scientific language.

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The one mentioned by the author refers to the identification that, to contemplate knowledge in Sciences, favors a formation for the citizenship and for the understanding of the present events in the world. However, it also refers to the need for these contents to be in tune with the process of scientific literacy and not addressed in a way that privileges the memorization and accumulation of knowledge.

Lorenzetti (2000) mentions that science education should be guided by scientific literacy in the early years, and that it should be aimed at providing the student with the means to construct his first meanings on the world, expanding his knowledge, their culture and their ability to understand the world and to participate in a
critical and conscious in the society in which it is inserted. According to the author, literacy is focused on valuing scientific knowledge as an integral part of citizenship and the permanent education of people.

Sasseron and Carvalho (2008) argue that in order to contemplate scientific literacy in the context of the early years, science teaching should be based on allowing students to argue, debate and work on dilemmas and deadlocks related to natural phenomena, that is, that discuss occurrences that are happening around you in the context in which they occur.
In addition, it is necessary to speak also about the effects that this knowledge is capable of producing in society and, above all, in the environment, making them members of this process.

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For their effectiveness in the school context, the authors point out the need for school practices to be centered around three axes: basic understanding of terms, knowledge and fundamental scientific concepts; understanding of the nature of science and the ethical and political factors surrounding its practice; and understanding of the relationships between science, technology, society and the environment.

The basic understanding of terms, knowledge and fundamental scientific concepts stems from the indispensability of the social body, to know and understand crucial concepts, making it possible to conceive simple data and events, present in daily life. Understanding the nature of science and the ethical and political factors surrounding practice are based on the need for reflection and analysis on a given circumstance, on finding ways to examine issues surrounding scientific knowledge. The understanding of the relationships between science, technology, society and the environment aims at recognizing that every fact that occurs in society is influenced by science and technology, especially when one considers the goal of a sustainable and better future. all. (Sasseron and Carvalho, 2008)

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The authors continue to affirm that educational institutions should provide their students with the means to “do science”, analyzing and investigating real problems, so that they do not study only concepts and concepts, thus achieving one of the major objectives of scientific literacy: critical positioning (SASSERON and CARVALHO, 2008).

It is important, therefore, that in the beginning of elementary school science classes should be characterized as scientific investigation for the solution of problems: “[…] it is important for the beginning of the process of Scientific Literacy that students contact and knowledge of skills legitimately associated with the work of the scientist “(SASSERON, CARVALHO, 2008, p.337), that is, the reaction and action of the students are observed when faced with some problem during the classroom discussions . From the above, especially with respect to the understanding given by Lorenzetti (2000), Chassot (2000) and Sasseron and Carvalho (2008), scientific literacy is understood as something more than a term or a methodological possibility, but as a paper-related conception of science in the training of young people. This is the mission of scientific literacy: to prepare people to confront what the world holds for each of them. Therefore, the earlier you start this walk, the better, taking into account that assimilation will be more effective and meaningful.

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This reflection and the definition of the understanding of the meaning of scientific literacy lead to the search for understanding how the teachers of the early years operate with this perspective and how they operate it in the context of their pedagogical practices in Sciences. This is the theme of the research that will be presented in the next sections.

To answer the research problem presented by this study, a qualitative and exploratory study is developed. According to Minayo (2001), the qualitative approach analyzes more than the numbers presented, returning to the understanding of the meaning of these results and the way they were produced. For this, the qualitative research uses a universe of meanings, aspirations, values, attitudes, thus corresponding to the greater depth of relations, and can not therefore be reduced to mere numerical variables. The exploratory nature of the research, in turn, is associated with what Gil (2002) announces as a means of providing a general panorama of the subject being studied. Through the exploratory research, it becomes possible to know in more depth the question raised. The exploratory type aims at the greater familiarity between the interviewer and the study problem, aiming to make what was complex simpler and to make the analysis more successful.

These characteristics of the research were based on the methodology used, the definition of the study cut (subjects), the instrument for producing the data and how to proceed with the analysis of these data. As a study cut and establishing the universe of research, seven teachers of the initial years who work in the 4th and 5th years of elementary school are taken as subjects in a municipality in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul. This cut follows from the lived reality by the researcher and corresponds to the origin of the identification of the research problem. In addition, it is beyond the scope of the study to carry out a large-scale research, but rather to point out elements that may support discussions that contribute to the qualification of science teaching in the initial years.

The production of the data occurred through the use of a semistructured type interview, configured by thirteen items that guided the subjects’ speech. The items previously established by the researcher aimed to understand the understanding and practice of teachers regarding scientific literacy, as well as their professional training and history. The choice of semi-structured interviews was based on the understanding that it allows for less formal conversations that better inform the interviewee and provide greater freedom to include or withdraw issues that are considered pertinent. The semistructured interview, as Boni and Quaresma (2005) remember, has the advantage of its elasticity, that is, it provides a deeper coverage on the researched subject.

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The interviews were recorded in audio and transcribed in full, considering language adjustments. After being transcribed, the data produced by the research were considered and the speeches were read and categorized according to the three main aspects studied in the text: training and professional performance; description and design of science classes; and, understanding and
contemplation of scientific literacy. These axes constituted the categories of the study and sought their elaboration from the perspective of Bardin (2004). The author points out that the establishment of the categories is related to the interpretation of the data produced by the research and, when defined a priori, should have as reference what one wants to evaluate or the light of why one wishes to do it. In this sense, the categories were defined based on the elements that guided the preparation of the interview, which, in turn, was linked to the study objective.

The study aimed to analyze how the teaching of science and the process of scientific literacy are contemplated in the initial years, considering the speech of a group of teachers. This discourse, guided by semi-structured interviews, was analyzed with reference to the area studies, as well as the understanding of scientific literacy in Lorenzetti (2000), Chassot (2000) and especially in Sasseron and Carvalho (2008;

The interviewees’ statements were revealing that the teachers who work in this stage of schooling present a varied formation and, at the same time, that they need to act in the different areas contemplated in the initial years; that teaching science is considered important, but that it is associated with the feeling of identification with that area; which attach significant importance to the experimental activities, however, are little used; and who have limited knowledge in terms of scientific literacy, while at the same time seeking to favor it in the classroom, even if it is in isolated moments, or in a less expressive way.

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In this context, the study points out the need to include in the teacher training courses, especially those of Pedagogy, discussions involving scientific literacy. This need arises from what has been discussed in this text and from the conclusion that it must provide subsidies to the student for the construction of his first meanings on the world, expanding his knowledge, his culture and his possibility to understand the world and to participate critically and conscious in the society in which it is inserted. (LORENZETTI, 2000).

To conclude, it is pointed out as a continuity of the study, the need to analyze the curricula of the teacher training courses to act in the initial years, especially those of Pedagogy, to identify the conception of Science, Science and scientific literacy teaching.