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International Journal
Learning, Teaching
Educational Research
p-ISSN: 1694-2493
e-ISSN: 1694-2116

Vol.14 No.1
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VOLUME 14 NUMBER 1 November 2015

Table of Contents
Head Start Pedagogy in an Era of Accountability .............................................................................................................. 1
Reva M. Fish, Ph.D., Laura Klenk, Ph.D., Julie Mazur, B.S. and Adena Sexton, Ph.D.

A Grounded Theory Study of Learning Patterns of Asian Students in Higher Education ......................................... 20
Abu Bakar

Caring for Persons with Spinal Cord Injury: A Mixed Study Evaluation of eLearning Modules Designed for
Family Physicians ................................................................................................................................................................ 39
Dr. Colla J. MacDonald, Dr. Jamie Milligan, Dr. Tara Jeji, Kaitlin Mathias, Dr. Hugh Kellam and Jane Gaffney

Saxon Math in the Middle Grades: A Content Analysis ................................................................................................. 63

Emma P. Bullock and M. Jill Ashby, Britney Spencer, Kaylee Manderino and Katy Myers

The Admiralty Code: A Cognitive Tool for Self-Directed Learning ............................................................................. 97

James M. Hanson

Investigating the way 5-years old children distinguish the concepts object and material Is the material
overshadowed by the object?......................................................................................................................................... 116
Evmorfia Malkopoulou, George Papageorgiou and Anastasia Dimitriou

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research

Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 1-19, November 2015

Head Start Pedagogy in an Era of Accountability

Reva M. Fish, Ph.D., Laura Klenk, Ph.D.,

Julie Mazur, B.S. and Adena Sexton, Ph.D.
School of Education
SUNY Buffalo State

Abstract. Head Start teachers were interviewed to determine their

approaches to teaching in the current early childhood education climate
where there is an increased emphasis on academic instruction to meet
learning standards. The grounded theory approach to data collection
and analysis was used for this study. The core category and basic social
psychological process that emerged from the data was facilitating
learning and was carried out by teachers in four ways: free choice play,
incidental teaching opportunities, play-like activities, and direct
instruction. The process included three other categories: choosing a
setting, deciding content, and addressing other viewpoints and
explains the pedagogical approaches Head Start preschool teachers use
to meet increasingly rigorous curriculum requirements and higher
expectations for student learning. The findings and their educational
implications are discussed.

Keywords: Head Start; preschool; accountability; pedagogy

Preschool teachers face a push to increase academic rigor in their classrooms
(Brown, 2010). This is a result of both the No Child Left Behind Acts press for
greater achievement across all grades and the ongoing shift of curricular content
to earlier grades. It has been intensified by the more recent Race to the Top and
Common Core Standards initiatives. Frost (2007) warned that we are facing the
perfect storm in early childhood education with 1) the standardization of
education; 2) the dissolution of traditional spontaneous play; and 3) the growing
specter of poverty in the United States and around the world. (p. 225). This
study seeks to understand the nature of early childhood pedagogy in Head Start
classrooms subsequent to the implementation of these education reform

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Literature Review
Head Start
When looking at the pedagogical approaches used by Head Start teachers, it is
important to understand the goals of Head Start preschools. Head Start is a
United States government-funded preschool program for children from low-
socioeconomic-status families. It was implemented in 1965 to help alleviate
social problems associated with people living in poverty and has since evolved
to be considered a program that provides school readiness skills to children in
the areas of cognitive and social/emotional development (Nemeth, 2011; Office
of Head Start, 2010). The Head Start learning framework provided to grantees is
comprised of eleven domains. The eight original domains were social and
emotional development, approaches to learning, language development, literacy
knowledge and skills, mathematics knowledge and skills, science knowledge
and skills, physical development and health, and creative arts expression. In
2011, three domains were added: logic and reasoning, social studies knowledge
and skills, and English language development. The latter applies only to
students who are dual language learners and who speak a language other than
English at home.

Grantees are expected to use the learning framework in developing curriculum

and assessments. While the emphasis is on school readiness, the Department of
Health and Human Services also requires that Head Start programs use
developmentally appropriate activities and that teachers consider the needs of
individual students in their classrooms when planning instruction (Office of
Head Start, 2010).

Clearly, Head Start preschool teachers face a particularly difficult challenge in

the current standards-driven climate because they are responsible for the
learning of children who are economically disadvantaged. Their students may
come from homes where parents can provide fewer educational resources, and,
as a result, the children start preschool with fewer academic skills than those
from more advantaged backgrounds. Further, Head Start students are likely to
thrive in an educational environment that is initially socially/emotionally-
supportive rather than academically-demanding (Ginsburg, 2007). They benefit
from time to adapt to the education setting and from positive educational
experiences that help them become confident learners who enjoy attending
school (Emfinger, 2009; Fantuzzo, Sekino & Cohen, 2004; Miller & Almon, 2009).

Head Start teachers also must be cognizant of the ongoing debate regarding the
amount of time children spend in play and playful activities versus teacher-led
instruction, and the types of teacher-led instruction that are developmentally
appropriate in early childhood (Gewertz, 2010; Graue, 2009; Nicolopoulou,
2010). When learning standards and the movement to increase rigor in the
classroom reached the early childhood grades, concerns were raised about how
teachers would meet the standards and still maintain methods of instruction that
are appropriate for the children they teach.

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Developmentally Appropriate Instruction

Developmentally appropriate instruction is an approach to teaching based on
professional standards that guide pedagogical practices in early childhood
classrooms (Coppel & Bredekamp, 2009). These standards address the
importance of research-based pedagogy that meets the individual needs of
young children and encourages intellectual growth. There is concern that
current early childhood curriculum and materials do not allow for the students
to have the open engagement with their environment that is needed for them to
develop an interest in learning (Armstrong, 2007). Time for these child-led
activities is often reduced when teachers are focused on meeting academic
standards and it is the activities chosen by the child that help them develop self-
regulation skills as they create and follow their own rules of play (Elias & Berk,
2002). Parents and school administrators, in particular, may not understand the
importance of play in developing skills that can lead to later success in school
(Graue, 2009). They generally worry about children passing tests rather than
having opportunities to learn skills. However, Head Start teachers report
understanding that social-emotional development is essential for academic
learning (Powell, Diamond, Bojczyk, & Gerde, 2008).

Some research conducted prior to the 1990s provided support for direct
instruction in preschool classrooms (Camilli, Vargas, Ryan, & Barnett, 2010).
However, there are few recent studies of direct instruction because the
movement for developmentally appropriate instruction in early childhood in the
1990s changed pedagogical practices. Camilli et al. (2010) report that researchers
have found that inquiry-based activities where children construct knowledge
with the guidance of a teacher result in greater learning than the use of direct
instruction where the teacher drills basic concepts until the students remember
them. Their meta-analysis also found that children who received instruction
individually or in small groups showed greater learning.

This study fills a gap in the existing literature by exploring the pedagogical
approaches Head Start preschool teachers use to meet increasingly rigorous
curriculum requirements and higher expectations for student learning. This was
accomplished through interviews with teachers to determine how they reconcile
adherence to developmentally appropriate classroom practices and the need to
meet established standards.

The grounded theory approach to data collection and analysis was used for this
study. Grounded theory is one of several qualitative research methods that seek
to understand the nature of human actions and interactions through nonnumeric
organization and interpretation of data (Glaser, 1978; Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
The purpose of the grounded theory method is construction or extension of
theory through exploration and description of data using principles of symbolic

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interactionism. This theoretical perspective assumes that people respond to

events based on their individual and socially-constructed shared meanings.

Investigators and Participants

The authors are members of a school of education at a large urban campus in the
Northeast United States. Our college, and in particular the School of Education,
is vitally interested in outreach to the urban community, especially to schools
and teachers who provide services to minority and disadvantaged children.
Further, recruitment of minority students into our programs has long been a

Recently, an initiative was undertaken by the college to accommodate Head

Start teachers who, for the first time, are facing stricter degree requirements to
stay in their jobs. These teachers are generally unable to attend college courses
scheduled during the day because of their full-time teaching positions, so the
college added evening, weekend, and summer sections of courses to enable
these teachers to continue working while they pursue a bachelors degree in
early childhood education.

The eight teachers interviewed for this study had from four to eighteen years of
experience in early childhood education, with an average of about ten years of
experience across the group. Five of the teachers reported having a Child
Development Associate (CDA) credential and four of them had an associates
degree. All of the teachers interviewed were female, were enrolled in the early
childhood education program at the college, and worked in local Head Start

Theoretical sensitivity of the investigators has been developed through review of

current and historical literature, classroom observations, conversations with
early childhood stakeholders, previous research experiences, and our teaching

Data Collection
For this study, semi-structured interviews lasting about one hour each were
conducted to explore how Head Start teachers teach their preschool students.
Specifically, we were interested in how they choose pedagogical methods that
are developmentally appropriate and would facilitate the type of learning
expected by established standards. We started the interview by asking
questions such as: Tell us about your classroom. Tell us about the classroom
schedule on a typical day. What activities take place in your classroom? Which
of those activities do you find the children enjoy most? We then asked follow-up
probing questions based on their responses. In addition to the interview, each
teacher was asked to complete a questionnaire asking for contact information,
the number of years of experience at Head Start, and credentials the teacher has

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Approval to conduct this study was obtained from the Institutional Review
Board. A consent form was signed by each teacher interviewed. It stated that
participation in the study was voluntary, the teacher could refuse to answer any
interview question, and that participation in the study could be discontinued at
any point.

Data Analysis
In the grounded theory approach, data analysis is performed by breaking down
and reassembling verbatim data through constant comparison in order to
describe a human process. This is accomplished by linking the key concepts
present in the data according to the properties and dimensions that exist in
discrete categories. This results in a collection of categories which are described
through statements of their relationships. The relationships explain who, what,
when, where, and how the process would be manifested. The final product is a
theoretical whole that explains and predicts how people solve the problem
addressed in the studya grounded theory. The theory is not considered to be a
definitive explanation of human behavior, but is instead a modifiable tool
available for use in future research.

All the interviews in this study were recorded and then fully transcribed,
verbatim. The transcriptions were reviewed for accuracy. During substantive
coding a systematic line-by-line review of the full transcriptions was conducted
using constant comparison to assign codes, develop conceptual categories, and
identify a core variable. Substantive coding was followed by theoretical coding
using coding families to relate substantive codes to each other in terms of their
properties and dimensions including strategies used by teachers, types of
instructional activities, classroom organization, instructional goals, and conflicts
teachers faced about their instructional practices. Memos were written
throughout the analysis process for later theoretical sorting.

Findings from the analysis of the interview data were confirmed in two ways.
First, the authors reviewed the identified codes and categories independently to
confirm that they had similar findings. Second, the authors invited the
participants to meet to discuss the findings. Three of the teachers attended the
meeting and agreed that the findings accurately explained their approaches to
instruction in their classrooms.

The initial conceptual categories identified during substantive coding included
Planning, Curriculum, Teaching, Learning, Play, Teachers role, Students, Parent
input, Administrator input, and Teacher Training. These preliminary categories
had clear connections to the topics addressed in the interview questions.

During theoretical coding, the core category and basic social psychological
process facilitating learning emerged. The process included three other
categories: choosing a setting, deciding content, and addressing other

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viewpoints and explains the pedagogical approaches Head Start preschool

teachers use to meet increasingly rigorous curriculum requirements and higher
expectations for student learning. Coding families were utilized to develop the
properties and dimensions of the categories and the connections between them.
Through a careful theoretical sorting of the memos, a rich non-linear integration
of the categories was achieved for this report of the research. The following
sections describe the findings, by category, and discuss the relationships among

Facilitating Learning
The Head Start teachers facilitated learning in four ways: free-choice play,
incidental teaching opportunities, play-like activities, and direct instruction.
These can be viewed along a continuum based on the degree of control the
students have in the activity and the amount of effort on the part of the teacher
to facilitate learning. The students had the greatest amount of control in free-
choice play and the effort by the teacher was limited to providing appropriate
and engaging materials. At the other end of the continuum, the students had
little control, if any, during direct instruction and it required the greatest effort
by the teacher who had to plan the activity, create any materials needed, and
lead the instruction.

Between those extremes were incidental teaching opportunities and play-like

activities. Incidental teaching opportunities were spontaneous occasions for
instruction that were generally unplanned by the teacher and during which
students typically had little control over the activity, but were willing to
participate. The students also had little control over, but were willing to
participate in, the play-like activities. The play-like activities required effort by
the teacher in creating materials and planning the action that would take place
during the activity.

Free-choice play. In free-choice play the children were generally able to move
around the classroom, choosing the area of the room in which they played, the
classmates with whom they would play, and the classroom materials they used.
Teachers reported three ways that they used free-choice play to facilitate
learning: to observe students skills, develop attachments with students, and
allow students to learn independently.

First, teachers observed the children during free-choice play to determine their
knowledge and skills in all areas of development to help design future
instructional activities. In this way, the teachers identified curriculum content
that the child was ready to learn or areas where she felt the child seemed to be
behind and could benefit from activities to move that development forward:
I stand off to the side and write down what I see and what I hear to find
out where their skill is and where their level of skill is. [Later] I teach
only through the small group. Now I sit back and let them play in
different areas and Ill just jot down what I see.

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Another way the teachers used observation of free-choice play was to determine
whether students had gained understandings from prior instruction:
Their play to me is just as important as their play to them because, again,
it allows me to see where they are, if any growth has taken place from
what Ive said to them as far as introducing things to them.

The second way that teachers reported using free-choice play to facilitate
learning was to play with the children to develop an emotional attachment and
sense of trust. Teachers believed that because of this bond, students would be
more willing to do the classroom activities that they enjoyed less, such as direct
So I think that bonding through play with your children is once you
bond with them you can get them to learn whatever you want them to
learn because they trust you even when they dont want to sit there and
dont want to do numbers. But if they trust you and you bring them over
to your small group and you make it like a game they are going to learn
from whatever youre putting in front of them.

The third way teachers used free-choice play to facilitate learning was based on
their belief that children can learn during independent activities without any
planning or control by the teacher:
When theyre playing, theyre learning so many other things. Theyre
learning to sort, theyre learning to put things in order, theyre learning
one-to-one correspondence. They learn to put pegs in, make patterns.
They learn a lot through playing.

Incidental teaching opportunities. During incidental teaching opportunities, the

Head Start teachers facilitated learning by integrating instruction into other
activities in the classroom. This was generally not planned ahead by the teacher,
but through her knowledge of the curriculum she could engage the child in
learning if the opportunity did arise. Teachers sometimes chose to use a play
activity they observed to teach a concept. In this way, they changed free-choice
play into an incidental teaching opportunity as control moved from the child
to the teacher.
If I was in the kitchen cooking I would be sitting at the table with them
and as they were cooking I would be talking about the color of the food,
the type of food we are eating. Or if I was in the math center with them I
would be counting with them or talking about what it is that they have. If
they had a snake Id be asking questions. What is a snake? How does a
snake crawl or walk? Does a snake have legs?
Incidental learning may also take place during day-to-day classroom
procedures. One teacher described an opportunity she had to practice counting
while putting materials away with one of the students:
We were putting the stuff from dramatic play away and he was putting
the bottles away. I go, Wait a second, how many do we have?

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Incidental instruction required that teachers have both an awareness of the

concepts in the curriculum and knowledge of topics which individual students
may be interested in learning more about:
They made a garage with the cars and everything, so we talked about
how an engine works, which way tires spin, how many tires are on a car,
how many tires are on an 18-wheeler.

Play-like activities. Play-like activities were used by the teachers to engage

children in learning in ways the teacher assumed the children would enjoy.
Play-like activities were different from free-choice play because they were
planned by the teacher to teach specific concepts and the student was not free to
choose how the action unfolded during the activity.
No, we dont do dittos, dont do worksheets. No, its all fun through
games. I might make a game out of the animals. Say I had the animals; I
would put it on a file folder game and the children will match those
animals. We would sit at a table with all the friends and say, Well what
kind of animal is this?
Teachers also used the planned play-like activities to assess student skills so they
could plan future instruction for the child in concepts or skills they lacked:
Some children have problems even in skipping and we want to allow the
children to be able to do all the physical things that they are supposed to
be doing at a certain age. So we will play a game just to see if the children
are able to skip, not with pulling them out and just saying, Can you skip
for me? because a lot of the children dont even know what skipping is.
But you know we will put on a song, a CD, if we want to see if the kids
are capable of doing this. Skip to my Lou, we will play that game. And
the children, they just think its a game, but were analyzing and
observing those children and we are looking at them to see what they can
do at this age.
The teachers found that the children enjoyed learning through the play-like
activities more than through direct instruction.
I put five or six sight words across the table and Ill say a sentence and
we have fly swatters that I put little characters on and Ill say when you
hear that word you need to swat that word and they love that one. So we
do that most often because I know thats what they love. But if I just say
come over, like we learned farm words this week so it was farm, cow,
there was chicken, and I wrote a list of it and we talked about the letters
and they just kind of sat there and I said we are going to see these
tomorrow. And they were like, Whatever.
Teachers viewed these play-like activities as a way to lead children to focus on
having fun while they were also learning.
We have this awesome game this year and its shapes and colors and we
have them sorting and they dont understand that they are learning their
shapes and their colors; theyre just playing a game.

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Direct instruction. In direct instruction, fully planned teacher-led activities were

used to facilitate learning. In these activities, the teachers controlled the
students actions and students had little choice in how they engaged in the
Sometimes you just need them to sit down and learn something that they
cant learn through play. If they just played all day long theyd be
running wild and, yes, they are learning through play, but they also need
to sit and listen to the teacher.
Teachers often used direct instruction to teach specific skills to students who
they had identified as lacking those skills:
I do call certain kids over. For the most part, I say, Okay this is what Im
doing in this small group today. Then Ill say, My first group Id like
to have this one, this one, and this one. So when youre done with what
youre doing over there will you please come over to my table? At the
beginning of the year if I want to work on a certain group with certain
skills it was more, Okay you have five minutes then you need to come
over. At this point they know they have their time to play and then they
are going to come over.
Direct instruction was more often used to teach the older students in the class.
The teachers reported that four year old students should know more than the
three year old students, particularly because they would soon be entering
I concentrate more on the cognitive development for my four year olds
than for my three year olds. Like I said, I always expose it to them but I
expect more out of my four year olds than I did my three year olds this
year. I do believe there should be some structure to get them ready for
kindergarten. They have to know to start sitting; that they cant just get
up and go all the time.
Teachers reported that the students did not enjoy direct instruction as much as
the other methods used to facilitate instruction during which the students had
more control, so they avoided forcing them to participate in direct instruction
If they turn it off, I usually just let them go. Im not going to force them
because if you force them, the next time you try again to do it theyre
going to turn it off.

Choosing Setting
The Head Start teachers facilitated learning by choosing the setting in which
instruction would take place in their classrooms. They had to decide whether
learning would be optimized by doing an activity with individual students, a
small group of students, or the whole class. Choosing the setting for instruction
primarily applied to play-like activities and direct instruction.

Individual instruction. In individual one-to-one instruction, the teacher, or the

classroom aide under the teachers direction, worked with one student. This
approach to teaching was most commonly used when a student had an

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Individualized Education Program (IEP), which required that specific goals be

reached with that student, or when a student had a unique gap in knowledge or
skills. The teachers reported minimizing individual instruction, when possible,
because other students might judge that individual as being less capable than
the rest of the class:
I dont like to do one-on-one unless I absolutely have to because
everybody knows why so and so is sitting over with the teacher. What
dont they know? The older kids know that if youre one on one, that the
child isnt understanding something.
One teacher said she chose a small group setting for instruction instead,
whenever possible, so that the individual child who has been identified as
needing the instruction did not feel singled out.
I do know that some of our children do need the one-on-one but if they
are comfortable with another child playing or interacting with them I
would prefer to do it like that because I dont really like putting children
on the spot, making them feel like this is something they have to do. But
again I do feel that children learn on different levels and I just think we
just have to pick and choose to do what is best for that child.

Small group instruction. The most common setting for facilitating learning in the
Head Start classrooms was small group instruction. Teachers often used play-
like activities with a small group of selected students, often chosen because there
was a concept that the teacher believed they all needed to learn.
Some things are better in small groups, some things arent. It just
depends on what it is. If the child is struggling, I find sometimes small
groups are a little bit better. If I have three kids that are struggling with
recognizing the color blue I find that if during play time I bring a small
group over and do an activity that concentrates around blue; then
sometimes thats a little bit better.
Teachers often reported conducting direct instruction in a small group setting
because it allowed them to confirm the students were learning something new
each day.
Each teacher will take a group and on a daily basis each teacher is
working with a small group of kids but one may be working with math
skills, another may be working with reading skills and so forth. We are
all working with different skills so in the run of the day we know that
those children have gotten more out of their day than just sitting on a rug
playing or going outside.

Whole class instruction. Learning was facilitated in the Head Start classrooms
through whole class activities such as circle time and reading to the children.
The teachers reported that circle time was an opportunity to share news with the
class, to supervise the development of social skills, and to review concepts:
In circle time we sing good morning to everybody, everybody says their
names. I have the Number Rock [song] which is kind of jazzy and fun
and I have a big chart and as they are all singing Im pointing to the

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numbers going from 1 to 20, and I have a couple parents there singing
along with us.
Teachers reported limiting the length of circle time to accommodate the
developmental needs of the young children.
That is about fifteen minutes. I cannot have a circle longer than fifteen
minutes. The children are too young; they get too antsy.
Teachers generally did not expect students to gain much knowledge during the
whole class activities, but they saw it as an efficient way to introduce concepts
that would be learned in more depth in a small group activity at another time:
We will touch on something in a large group circle and especially for the
ones that we see we will intervene with all the children in small group.

Deciding Content
Head Start teachers facilitated student learning by designing instruction to
address specific content. They used three sources of information to determine
the concepts they would teach the children. These include the Head Start
Creative Curriculum, their understanding of the childs current knowledge, and
the contents of the kindergarten readiness test that students typically take at the
end of their last year in preschool.

Creative Curriculum. The curriculum provided by Head Start gives teachers

very specific information about the concepts and skills the students should be
We have the Creative Curriculum and the Creative Curriculum has fifty
goals in there, and in those fifty goals there is three stages and its step
one, two, and three. Step one is the beginner, and thats usually when
theyre first starting out. If the child is coming in for the second or third
year then they would naturally be not at the beginning stages; they
would be at the more or less that second stage or the accomplished stage.
Teachers saw the Creative Curriculum as a resource to create developmentally
appropriate activities, rather than using direct instruction. At the same time,
they saw it as limiting their options to facilitate learning through means they
would like to use:
Creative Curriculum is only play, you dont instruct them, you dont
question, you dont ask them like Lets count to ten. With Creative
Curriculum I guess youre not really supposed to do that. We are not
supposed to teach them how to write their name by just giving them a
piece of paper and saying Okay write your name. But you never show
them the letters on how to write their names because were not really
supposed to teach them the alphabet.
The curriculum included assessments that teachers could use to identify the
specific skills to work on with each child.
We have progress and planning reports and we mark them on the
computer and we mark what stage they are and if they have not
accomplished the first stage then there is another set thats the
forerunners. We do ESIs through the year. Its called an Early Screening

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Inventory. I would take you in the room and its a fifteen minute
inventory. We would do the ESI on them and see the progress theyve
made. We see where they are and things we can work on the next time
with them.

Childs current knowledge. Teachers did not rely entirely on the Creative
Curriculum to choose the concepts and skills the students should learn. Their
estimation of the childs current knowledge was also important in facilitating
learning in their classrooms:
We have the opportunity to pick and choose our activities. Sometimes
the activities that are given in the Creative Curriculum, sometimes our
children are past that and we have to be creative to kind of use that same
curriculum, but in a more advanced way to meet the needs of our
The teachers knowledge of child development, in general, was combined with
their understanding of each childs individual ability when facilitating learning.
In particular, the teachers mentioned adjusting the instruction based on the
needs they perceived of different aged groups of students.
I think this curriculum is awesome for the twos and early threes, but
when youre talking about kids at four they need more structure and
more to challenge them. You cant challenge them if theyre just playing
and then they start to get bored and then you get behaviors.
When asked whether the expectations of the Creative Curriculum were
appropriate for her students, another teacher described how she uses her
familiarity with a child to individualize the curriculum:
Sometimes I think theyre a little bit too much. For a two year, nine
month I think it is a little bit high, but we have two year, nine months
that are Einsteins, so, I mean, I think it depends on the child. Okay, I
think you actually just individualize for the child and then give them a
chance. Were the teachers that are with them every day and even if
something in their assessments say well bring them to this level, I know
if theyre ready to go there or not. You know what I mean? And if theyre
not, Im not going to push them to something thats going to frustrate

Kindergarten readiness goals. The teachers were particularly concerned about

preparing their four year old students for kindergarten and reported that they
believed a students performance on a kindergarten readiness assessment was a
reflection of the quality of their teaching. This influenced the ways they
facilitated learning with their students:
So I always feel pressured because I make sure they learn what they are
supposed to learn. I ask every parent every year, How did they screen?
Did they screen higher? And if they did screen a little lower I worry --
Oh my God did I not teach them that? Did they not get it from me? I
really do think it is a reflection of my teaching.

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They used their understanding of the current expectations of students in

kindergarten classrooms to guide instruction of the older students in their
classroom. One teacher reported:
Ive developed my teaching the way that I know that they are going to
get the skills that they need for kindergarten. I know they are going to
know their ABCs, I know they are going to know their numbers, I know
they are going to see sight words and know how to read it because I have
my certain ways that I do that. Im hoping it sticks with them. And when
I have my parent-teacher conferences I tell them what I do and I give
them ideas, Here do this with them at home.
Another teacher said:
I am big on literacy and I know that literacy is big in the standards and
school now so I really want my kids to go to kindergarten with a big
variety of literacy skills.
Preparing the students for kindergarten resulted in the teachers separating the
younger students from the older students, so that those who would be entering
kindergarten could receive instruction in the specific skills they would need:
Sometimes we have three and four year olds, so we know the four year
olds are going to kindergarten so we try to do activities that gear the kids
to get to kindergarten separate. Then we do the other activities also, but
we dont do them all at once because the kids that are going to
kindergarten, they need to know how to write their name.

Addressing Other Viewpoints

The Head Start teachers reported that they consider the viewpoints of the
administrators of their Head Start center and the parents of their students when
they choose how they will facilitate learning in their classrooms. During the
interviews, several of the teachers mentioned receiving feedback from others
about their methods of teaching. Most frequently they mentioned differing
viewpoints about whether activities in a preschool classroom should focus
primarily on direct academic instruction or learning through free-choice play.

Administrators. Several teachers stated that their understanding about the

likelihood that children could learn through free-choice play differed from their
administrators viewpoint. Most of the teachers believed they valued learning
through play more than the administrators at their center.
I listen to what they have to say and then I explain my reasoning after as
to why I believe they should play. Then, honestly, when they leave I do
what I want, within reason obviously. A lot of times they say there is too
much but it fits into my routine, fits into the rules so I listen and I try to
explain and sometimes they are understanding and sometimes the
administrators, they dont understand and they come with their
philosophy and we just agree to disagree a lot of times.

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There were some teachers who reported their administrators encouraged them
to use more free-choice play, but they preferred to facilitate learning through
play-like activities or direct instruction:
They just think it is over their head, it is too much. But I dont think it is
because, you know, they are getting familiar with the days of the week.
We have songs for that, and okay maybe they are not grasping the
concept, but they are learning something. You know I am pointing and
they are getting familiar with the letters and the numbers.
A few of the teachers reported that due to a Head Start policy change, they were
discouraged from using the calendar as an instructional tool during circle time,
as they had in the past, because it was too abstract for the students and,
therefore, developmentally inappropriate:
Two years ago we got a thing in our mailbox explaining why you
shouldnt do calendar. One of the supervisors doesnt like it. They
havent ended it, but they dont like it. Our supervisors dont and they
put a thing in there claiming that the kids dont understand yesterday,
they dont understand today, and that some kids actually have a fear
when you get to the end of the numbers that there is no more. I guess
there have been studies on it that once they see the last number on the
calendar they get scared. They get confused because they dont
understand that there is actually another month and there is more
numbers. We actually got this pretty good article on it but
Parents. While parents do not set policies for Head Start classrooms, the teachers
felt obligated to address any concerns the parents raised. Unlike students in
other school settings, preschool students are brought to their classroom each day
by a caregiver, increasing the interaction between parents and teachers and,
thereby, the influence of parents on classroom practices. Many of the teachers
mentioned that parents wanted greater emphasis on direct instruction than the
teachers would generally include in their facilitation of learning.
Parents dont like when kids go home and they ask their kids What did
you do all day? and the kids say Play. Parents are like All they do is
play in here all day. You know what -- for a good part of the day, yes,
they do just play. Because the parents dont understand that kids learn,
they learn from play, they learn everything, every area that I told you
that we have to develop with them they learn during play. They learn it
from each other they learn it by themselves. They learn problem solving.
These are all steps towards higher skills and parents just dont
Teachers reported appeasing parents and attempting to increase the parents
engagement in the childrens education by providing them with worksheets to
use at home, even though they would not use them in the classroom.
The agency or administrators, they would prefer if we not even use a
worksheet. We want the childs idea and mainly thats what we do in the
classroom. Its just that sometimes the parents dont understand that we
allow the children to be creative because the parents are looking for that
more instructional activity thing. So we do it to kind of meet the needs of

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the parents and make them feel like they are getting involved. But what
we do in the classroom is based upon that childs creativity. It is really
based on the creativity of the child and really to tell you the truth the
worksheets are something we do just to get the parents involved.
Some teachers reported that parents pushed for more academic learning because
they were concerned about the children being prepared for kindergarten.
Parents today very much worry because school is hard now and the
standards in school are harder and theyre higher so they want their kids
going to kindergarten reading.
Teachers did not always meet parents requests for more emphasis on direct
instruction. Instead they explained to parents that some forms of instruction,
such as traditional worksheets which require specific answers, are not
developmentally appropriate.
I know we have a very difficult time explaining to the parents why we do
not do dittos. They want them to do dittos; they want them to sit down
and do more structure and we try to explain to them that you dont need
a ditto to know how to write your name, you dont need a ditto to know
your numbers and colors.

We interviewed Head Start teachers to determine the approaches to teaching
they used in their classrooms. We wanted to know how they helped their
students learn in the current early childhood education climate where there is an
increased emphasis on academic instruction to meet learning standards. The
core category and basic social psychological process that emerged from the data
was facilitating learning. We found that the primary goal of all the teachers was
to make sure their students were learning the skills and concepts they were
expected to gain in preschool. They used free-choice play, incidental teaching
opportunities, play-like activities, and direct instruction in their classrooms to
help the children learn. In the play-like activities and direct instruction, the
teachers conducted planned lessons with individual students, small groups of
students, or the whole class. They chose the concepts and skills to teach the
students using Head Starts Creative Curriculum and their familiarity with the
gaps in the students knowledge and skills. The teachers facilitation of learning
was also influenced by the expectations of their Head Start center administrators
and the parents of their students.

In general, the findings from this study show that the teachers interviewed used
empirically and professionally recommended practices (Ashiabi, 2007; Hanley,
Tiger & Ingvarsson, 2009; Lee, 2006). For most instruction, teachers planned
lessons that used play-like activities. Occasionally they facilitated learning
during childrens free-choice play, changing those child directed activities to
incidental teaching opportunities. These approaches to teaching are appropriate
because they allow preschool students to engage in activities they enjoy as they
construct knowledge (Gronlund, 2001).

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Utilizing play and play-like activities as the primary means of preschool
instruction can provide more enjoyable learning experiences for the students. In
order to do that, and avoid resorting to didactic methods, the teachers must feel
confident that this approach provides children with everything they need to
learn and teachers must have the pedagogical skills to implement learning
though play (Nicolopoulou, 2010; Trawick-Smith & Dziurgot , 2010). Further,
while all of the Head Start teachers reported valuing developmentally
appropriate classroom practices, they did not always feel they had the option to
structure classroom activities exactly in the way they believed best served the
developmental needs of their students. Their own concerns about their students
performance on kindergarten readiness assessments, along with comments from
parents and directives from supervisors, pushed them to include direct
instruction of academic skills rather than allowing learning to unfold through
the mechanism most natural to the children they teach play (Brooker, 2011;
Emfinger, 2009; Ginsburg, 2007; Miller & Almon, 2009).
Research about the influence of administrators and parents on Head Start
teachers classroom pedagogical practices is clearly an important next step.
Studying the conflicts among preschool stakeholders about what are appropriate
instructional methods for young children can reveal the reasons behind them
and lead to effective ways to address them. It may be found that administrators
and parents are less aware of appropriate preschool teaching methods (Stephen,
2010) and may need information about best practices with young children so
that they can provide more informed feedback to teachers and influence
instruction in ways that support childrens enjoyment of learning. This is
particularly critical as children start their formal education.

Overall the findings from this study may not be unexpected, but they are
important. This study, uniquely, looked at Head Start teachers perspectives on
instruction across the Head Start learning framework. While it was not the intent
of this study to develop a typology of Head Start classroom activities, the
findings can provide teachers with some guidance in designing instruction.
Figure 1 provides a conceptual construct based on our findings that summaries
the strategies teachers can consider as they organize learning opportunities in
their classrooms. Teachers are provided with a framework for planning
instruction that includes facilitating learning, choosing instructional settings,
and deciding lesson content. As they identify the skills and knowledge they
want their students to gain, they can consider the types of activities and settings
that would be most effective to meet those goals. Should a particular skill be
gained through discovery within free play or through a teacher-led play-like
activity? Should small groups be used for instruction? If so, how should those
groups be formed, and, specifically, which students should work together? This
type of planning exemplifies intentional teaching, a current movement in
education which encourages early childhood teachers to share responsibility for
learning with their young students and to both plan for organized learning
experiences and recognize unplanned opportunities for teaching in their

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classrooms (Epstein, 2014). Through this mindful planning, teachers can develop
effective, fun, and developmentally appropriate instruction that addresses the
needs of individual students and prepares them for the classroom structure and
instruction they will encounter in later grades.

Finally, it is important to note that although the teachers interviewed for this
study typically used professionally recommended practices, some of them
revealed a lack of awareness of the subtle ways learning changes as children
move from free-choice play, where the children have control of their activities, to
incidental teaching led by the teacher, and then to play-like activities entirely
planned by the teacher. While the teachers recognized that most students do not
like direct instruction, some of them assumed that children were not bothered by
the interruptions of their free-choice play for incidental instruction as well as the
play-like activities. Even though these are designed by teachers to be fun and
play-like, they must be sensitive to students reactions to teacher-imposed
activities. If they are not, student degree of engagement, and thereby the amount
of learning, is reduced. Teachers must consider whether children can learn more
by being immersed in uninterrupted free-choice play instead (Gray, 2013).

Basic Social Psychological Process
Greater student
influence on activity
1. Free-Choice Play

2. Incidental Teaching Opportunities

3. Play-Like Activities

4. Direct Instruction Greater teacher effort

to plan activity

How does the teacher decide how the students will learn?

Individual Student
Small Group
Whole Class

How does the teacher decide what students will learn?

Creative Curriculum
Current Knowledge
Kindergarten Readiness Assessments

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Who influences the teachers choices?


Figure 1. Approaches to teaching used in Head Start classrooms.

Relevance and Limitation of Findings

Head Start policies, curricula, teacher training, and the role of parents are
generally uniform across the country, so interviews of other groups of Head
Start teachers may have findings similar to those from this study. While our
participants were enrolled in a teacher preparation program at our institution,
they had a number of years teaching experience and had established beliefs
about effective instruction of their own. Also, they volunteered to participate in
this study and were not chosen based on their philosophies about teaching in
their classrooms.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research

Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 20-38, November 2015

A Grounded Theory Study of Learning Patterns

of Asian Students in Higher Education

Abu Bakar
Institute of Education, University of Worcester,
United Kingdom

Abstract. A large chunk of studies has focused on variations in

students learning approaches and issues in higher education (HE). The
issues to learning in HE have been extensively investigated from
perspective of Chinese students. However, the question is to what
extent studies exist which can identify the patterns in which other
Asian students alongside those with a Confucian Heritage Culture
(CHC) find themselves comfortable when learning in HE in the United
Kingdom (UK). The current study examines the learning patterns of
Chinese (CHC), Indian and Pakistani (non-CHC) students from their
prior learning (PL) experiences, the major academic issues they face,
and how differently they consider the very process of learning in the
UK. Data was collected through 3 phases of semi-structured in-depth
interviews (and interpreted with personal narratives) from 24 students
from the three sample countries, currently studying in the UK.
Qualitative-narrative analysis of data using Grounded Theory (GT)
revealed that Indian and Pakistani students along with other Chinese
face similar challenges in coping with learning (patterns)
independently in the UK. Similarly they equally feel the need towards
lingual inadequacy and lack of academic writing support, surrounding
their learning patterns. Asian students also consider HE learning as
part of a process that require essential teaching. The key to the study is
based on students own perceptions of the learning patterns they find
significant in HE in order to promote the process of learning.

Keywords: Confucian; higher education; language; independent

learning; learning patterns.

A record number of international students have entered the UK to study in the
past few years (Coughlan, 2011). An overwhelming number of these
international students arrived from Asian countries (HESA, 2010) where
Chinese, Indian and Pakistani form the overall majority of Non-EU students
(2011). The HESA statistics (2011) indicate that during the year 2009/10, the
number of Chinese students in the UK was 56,990 and increased to 67,325 in

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2010/11, while the number of Indian students was 56,990 and increased to
67,325 in 2010/11. At the same time, the number of Pakistani students was 9,815
in 2009/10 which increased to 10,185 in 2010/11. Hence this proportion made a
total of Asian students population of 105,305 in 2009/10 out of 280,760 and
116,600 out of 298,110 non-EU students (39.11%) in 2010/11.

With these figures in perspective, the identification of learning patterns among

Asian students and their PL history is significant in relation to their learning
experiences in the UK. Although most recently, research studies mainly focused
on Chinese and East Asian students of Confucian Heritage Culture (CHC) (Wu,
2008; Tian, 2008; (McMahon, 2011)), it is increasingly becoming vital to bridge
the gap in CHC and non-CHC Asian students patterns of learning in the UK.

Indeed, various factors (Fleming, 2007; Tian, 2008) and issues (Caruana &
Spurling, 2007; Spronk, 2004) influence the way overseas students learn in HE,
however the question about Asian students as one identity is yet unclear in

In the past decade, institutions in the UK have consistently struggled to recruit

students with adequate language and learning skills. This was because many of
the arriving students were initially facing language and learning issues. In
response to these difficulties, United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) moved to
tighten the immigration rules for overseas students (Home Office, 2011), even
establishing rules to refuse entry to students with inadequate language skills at
airports (Lotbiniere, 2012). These efforts coincided with a period of major
funding cuts for universities by the UK Government. However, in order to
attract overseas students, universities had to loosen the English language
requirements and even set English language scores below the recommended
standards (Mathews, 2012). Clearly there is/was tension between the need for
universities to compensate for funding cuts and the need of students who value
British HE to cope with the demand for academic rigour (Brooks & Walters,
2009). Instead of raising the entry standard to enable students to cope better with
learning, the reverse has actually happened and the problem is likely to grow
rather than decline. The current study adds to assess this issue by providing a
better understanding of the students learning patterns in the UK higher

The Context
The platitude, that quality education is essentially designed to generate learners
who can promote theirs learning experiences, begs the question about the
quality of that education and the support those being educated receive to enable
them to gain maximum benefit from education. Universities in the UK benefit in
many ways, not least financially, from the presence of students from many
countries, with a majority from Asian countries (HESA, 2011). However, studies
largely report the learning experiences of Asian students without seeking
students perceptions to build a consensus on how they benefit from the learning
experiences in the UK. To enable students to benefit more from quality

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education also begs the question whether the nature and extent of the learning
process is felt different among CHC students than Pakistani and Indian (non-
CHC) students and what issues are of utmost importance which can support
their process of learning in the UK.
Identifying learning issues among overall Asian students who have been
generalised as surface and rote learners in HE (Li, 2004: p.12; Huang, 2008)
requires a research setting, involving both CHC and Non-CHC student where
students perceptions are heard in informal settings. The way to involve the
practicing (learners) and the practiced (learning patterns) would add more value
to the current research questions.

A similar idea has narrowly been looked at in numerous studies. The majority of
such studies have sampled Chinese and other east-Asian students (Wu, 2008;
Tian, 2008; McMahon, 2011) ignoring perceptions of South Asian (non-CHC)
students. Sovics (2008) suggestion, that learners must be looked at from
educational backgrounds in order to minimise the risk of arising
misunderstanding, fits in context of the current study. This study adopts a
generic approach to identify students perceptions as what they say about the
learning issues they find in context of studying in British HE and what lesson/s
can be learnt from CHC and Non-CHC students history of PL in order to
facilitate the learning process for those students at need. Taking the above
studies in context, a better understanding of students perceptions would help to
explore their learning patterns in a diverse learning environment in the UK and
reflect on a framework that will help in the development of a learning process.

The aims of the study were two-fold in nature. First to explore how CHC and
Non-CHC students consider learning in the UK and prior HE learning, and the
issues of major concern in relation to aspects of academic and cultural settings;
and secondly to identify a common ground for students issues of major concern
to facilitate the learning process in which they are currently involved.

Literature Review
The existence of learning issues stands in contrast to some studies that indicate
the majority of Asian students are deep learners (Bilgin & Crowe, 2008) who
prefer a student-centred approach to learning. In relation to a style of learning
Kolb and Kolb (2005) illustrate that students can easily adopt their independent
style within the initial two to three month period of their studying in an alien
learning environment. While the common perception, that Asian students are
more rote and passive learners, is also controversial (Exley, 2005; Hall, 2008;
Siddiqui, 2006; Valiente, 2008), and has been disputed by many researchers
including Biggs (1999 & 2003) and Tian (2008) etc. Cooper (2004) generalises the
issue of a process of learning development to overall students in universities.
Given these views, the increasing demand of testimony of students might
convey a variety of messages about themselves; it might even suggest that the
real problems have not yet been correctly explored or else have been

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particularised to a specific group of students from CHC (Biggs, 1999); or else

Asian students have been branded surface learners on the basis of their
identities or else do not consider learning a process at all because learning is fed
to them rather than taking the spoon to feed themselves (Smith, 2008).

Whilst previous studies have looked narrowly at learning issues in relation to

overall Asian (Pakistani, Chinese and Indian) students studying in the West
(Adeeb, 1986; Carroll & Ryan, 2005). Some studies have only listed particular
problems of overseas students in the UK (Merrick & Robinson, 2006; UKCOSA,
2006); others have only investigated similar challenges of East Asian students in
another English-speaking country (Wu, 2008; Tian, 2008). Similarly Heijne-
Penninga et al. (2008) and Valiente (2008) have narrowly looked at coping issues
among overseas students in western countries.

The extent to which studies might exist with reference to learning patterns, one
might argue that they have not previously been studied in relation to the current
sample in UK-based institutions. Some genuine attempts have been made by
Tian (2008), Wu (2008), McMahon (2011), Siddiqui (2006), Pritchard (2008),
Prosser and Trigwell (1999), and Felder and Brent (2005) and many others.
However the literature is still scattered in respect of identifying the core issues
which undermine the very process of learning development among overall
Asian students.

Although teaching and learning (both) have considerable influence on the way
in which students start and develop learning in HE (Kember et al., 2008; Reid et
al., 2005 cited by Pritchard, 2008), there is a general agreement that different
students adopt different ways of learning in different learning environments
(Musa & Wood, 2003; Zeegers, 2004) and use different learning styles
(Houghton, 2004) or else have different interpretations of the learning in
different learning environments. However the perception that Asian students
are highly influenced by a prior history of education is rooted in the conception
of learning paradigms they inherit from their previous education settings
(Mukhtar et al., 2011). Hence, adaptations of a certain learning style might arise
as a result of PL patterns which could be encompassed by many other aspects.
For example, Kolb and Kolb (2005) note; that Many students enter higher
education conditioned by their previous educational experiences to be passive recipients
of what they are taught (p.209).

The understanding students having about a different learning environment, as

claimed in numerous prior studies (Kember et al., 2008; Entwistle & Smith, 2013;
World Bank, 2000), may also have different connections in context of those
students who find similar prior educational challenges (Wakeling, 2008). Such
significance may be rooted in Lius (2012) findings who claim that the aims of
HE are not only to meet the assessment requirements but to learn and process
information more effectively (Brownlee et al., 2009); and are bound to be studied
from other social and educational aspects of other Asian students.

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The context of academic issues, i.e. lingual incompetence, PL patterns, and

dependence on teachers, can be surpassed by the ways in which students
approach their learning. For example, Barron et al. (2007) found lingual
incompetence as a major factor in international students discontinuation with
their studies. Forland (2008) explains to the point that that many studies outline
that educational differences, cultural, lingual and social of international students must
be looked at in order to enable them to gain maximum benefits from their achievement
(p.205) but very few studies come up with what needs to be done to end the gap
in students prior history of learning and current education to promote learning
as a process in HE.

One way to start with the academic aspects may be to identify how students
approach their learning in contrast to what style they adopt, and what they see
as issues in HE. This debate, over learning approaches/styles, has been active
for the last forty years where Kolb (1984), and Honey and Mumford (1992) tend
to dominate. While some authors use them interchangeably, as Hinkel (2011)
uses reading and literary with respect to the way students learn, others are
more specific as Franzoni & Assar (2009) specify learning styles to subject-
specific courses like linguistics and physics. Similarly Nicholls (2002) point out
certain skills and mentions that students approaches to learning encompasses
intellectual skills (knowing how rather than knowing what); verbal skills
(communication); cognitive skills (thinking and memorising); attitudes
(concerned with emotions, social and cultural approaches to learning); and
motor skills (required for physical tasks of learning) (pp.22-23). The case of CHC
(in this case Chinese) with regard to such skills, on the ground of common
practice in UK universities, is too vague (Edwards & Ran, 2006: p.4). Similarly
the scenario of other Asian students (non-CHC type) is not viewed differently.
As a result, a common perception that Asian students as rote learners has widely
prevailed. This perception has jeopardised the learning process undertaken by
overall Asian students, despite the notion of a high ratio of successful
completion of studies by Asian students (Wakeling, 2008).

Although the perception of surface learners is in itself widely controversial. For

example, Gordon & Debus (2002) suggest that change in the current teaching
and assessment methods will result in students acquiring deeper understanding
of learning. This would mean that even surface learners can soon become deep
learners, by gaining adequate English and study skills, enhancing the learning
experiences of students (UKCOSA, 2006), through some institutional changes.
The lack of lingual and other issues concerning less-developed study skills
(academic aspects) are likely a result of alienness towards the requisite of
language skills and cultural understanding (Sovic, 2008; Tan, 2011). However,
similar problems originate from historical education of PL (Yorke & Longden,
2008) where students, according to Valiente (2008), simply accept the teacher
authority and knowledge. Teachers authority may also dominate the traditional
conception of teacher as a hub of knowledge, often practiced in the form of
spoon-feeding (Smith, 2008), and the result of such spoon-feeding teacher-

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centeredness is seen in the shape of variant issues hindering the learning

process among Asian students.

Wakeling (2008) questioning the surface-learner label, during a study, found that
overseas students were more critical than UK students in their first year of
study, leaving a gap for further research to identify similarities, differences and
educational background across intercultural group of students. It is vital that the
overall number of students, in the first year, consider learning as a process of
creating links with prior learning (Brownlee, et al., 2009) which, in the context of
Asian students as teacher-centeredness (Valiente, 2008; Huang, 2008), is still
disputed in the literature. Similarly, Cooper (2004), exploring the learning
perceptions of Chinese students and Australian students, mentioned that
Chinese students come from different educational and social environment and
hence they cannot be expected to show similar patterns of learning (p.295) as
western students. Cooper found that there are clear differences among Chinese
students on their educational backgrounds (p.296). These differences may be
similar to those of other non-CHC backgrounds. To understand this
phenomenon of CHC and non-CHC on the grounds of PL history, it is vital to
seek students voices about the learning process development through the lens
of issues and history of learning when studying in the UK.

Theoretical Framework
A grounded theory approach was used in this study, and a constructivist
framework (Charmaz, 2006) informs our findings as data was coded, analysed
and themised (refer to Glaser & Strauss, 1967). A number of studies have drawn
insights about the way Chinese students learn in HE (e.g. Tian, 2008; Wu, 2008
etc.), however there is no existence of grounding the data to locate a sample of
diverse Asian, CHC and non-CHC, students studying in British HE institutions.
This as a matter of conceptual categorisation did allow us to apply coded data to
sensitise the emerging concepts underlying Asian (students) specific
understandings of learning habits and coping mechanism of the learning issues.
Given this, Charmaz (2006) points out that Coding is the pivotal link between
collecting data and developing an emergent theory to explain these data and define what
is happening in the data and begin to grapple with what it means (p.46).

In this way the emerging theory, in this study, is grounded in the data when
theoretical sampling reached a point of saturation resulting from reflection and
revisiting the theory and thus refining it. The transcription of data was coded
through NVIVO software which gave rise to further categories (see A.2) and
concepts (again revisited in further phases), leading to a formation of theory. A
brief graphical representation of process is shown below.

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Diagram 1.1: Process of Grounded Theory used in the current study

Given our Grounded Theory approach, this study constructs the reality from
within the data obtained from learners own understandings of learning and
relevant academic issues.

Chinese, Indian and Pakistani students were recruited, based on convenience
sampling, in three British universities studying different programmes at
undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) levels.

The overall number of students, who were interviewed in the first phase,
studying at University of Worcester, University of Edinburgh, and University
College Birmingham, is shown in the following table 1.1.
Table 1.1: List of interviewees with level of study in the UK

Origin Male Female Male Female Male Female Total

(UG) (UG) (PG) (PG) (Research) (Research)

India 1 0 0 1 1 0 3

China 1 1 1 1 0 0 4

Pakistan 1 0 1 0 1 0 3

Total 3 1 2 2 2 0 10

In phase-two, a total of 8 students were probed from the above sample and were
selected based on their availability. While in the last phase-three, only 6
participants from the above table were interviewed for the purpose of
clarification of issues identified in first and second phases.

In accordance with the sample, this study draws on qualitative data obtained
from students perceptions of learning in the UK which combines semi-
structured in-depth interviews with a three phase formula (Kvale, 2007), and
personal narratives (Elliott, 2006) using a grounded approach, originally used by
Glaser and Strauss whilst locating its sphere within its constructivist version

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(Charmaz, 2006). This multi-method was designed to help the researcher

combine personal experiences with those obtained from students opinions. To
obtain a portion of preliminary understanding of students views about learning
issues some generic questions were designed as an effective and useful way of
data collection (Twigg, 2006: p.45). From this point the interviews sessions
revolved around broader academic and learning aspects of studying in the UK.
All interviewees consented voluntarily for all three phases of interviews.

Phase-one was aimed to establish a consensus of how Asian students view

learning in HE and the issues they encounter during a transitional period. This
was then followed by two more phases of interviews designed to explore the
emerging theory (Corbin & Straus, 1990) to gain a fuller picture of the issues in
order to explore the nature of learning, seen as a process, and issues in CHC and
Non-CHC students, if they exited.

The original principle of this study was based on evaluating the data obtained
from semi-structured in-depth interviews through the help of personal
narratives, to develop, refine and present a basis of learning development
(theory) and the major concerns the sample students encounter during this
process development.

In this context-based setting, qualitative methods of interviews and personal

narratives seem realistically closer in a naturalist paradigm. Grounded theory
research was thus used which allowed construction of knowledge rather than
relying on pre-existing ideas (Strauss & Corbin, 1998: pp.12-15). The use of
personal narratives allowed reflecting on the issues faced by sample students.

The Process
Previous studies have merely looked at the academic dimensions directly
affecting the learning behaviours of Chinese students (i.e. Tian, 2008) and
adjustment and language issues of East Asian students studying in a single
university in the UK (i.e. Wu, 2008; Tian, 2008 etc.). Hence, the current study
looked at a bigger picture of issues undermining an overall population of Asian
students learning and the key issues by linking theirs PL experiences to those
in the UK and focusing not only on academic issues but also those aspects
hindering students approaches to learning and the very process of learning.

In this study, for the purpose of identifying similarities and differences, all codes
were constantly compared with each other. As a result, themes started to emerge
from the combination of data, codes, categories and sub-categories. Initially,
there were 120 refined codes, which decreased to 44 codes when integrated into
common categories (see A.1 & A.2). This paved the way for the later
development of 12 axial codes (see A.1). Each emerging concept was coded and
each code was constantly compared with overlapping codes to identify
similarities and differences. The emergent themes from the coding process
facilitated making logical connections with the research aims. The emerging
themes were gradually moved from a low level to more sophisticated categories

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which were based on selective coding, providing support for the evidence of the
literature review, the stage when theoretical composition, saturation (Charmaz,
2006), was complete.

Analysis and Discussion

A constructivist tradition of Grounded Theory approach was used to develop
codes, categories and learning patterns across sample students transitional and
later period of learning experiences. This study used some pre-planned
questions during interviews to probe the issues in generic way and then develop
and probe the questions further on the basis of initial data. After coding the data
(open coding), that lead to the thematic codes, axial coding was conducted to
combine some overlapping codes. As a result the core categories emerged
through analytical process. The core categories were further regrouped,
compared and refined on the basis of central point IL development.
Throughout this process, writing memos, and conducting a constant comparison
of data, codes and categories was key to constructing the reality from within the
data (Charmaz, 2006).

During three consecutive sessions of interviews with the current sample

students, I developed a sense of cultural sensitivity which helped in sensitising
concepts during the data analysis process. My experience with Asian students
helped me to establish a trustworthiness of data obtained. First, I ensured to get
access to those Asian students who were keen to discuss their learning
experiences and issues. This gave me more confidence to draw upon a
convenient pattern of discussion than structured interview. Second, as a result,
confidence building measures were developed to revisit the same students for
further clarification that would establish authenticity (Cousin, 2009). Last, the
timing of each interview was set not to exceed an hour.

In phase-one the study attempted to explore academic issues in detail from both
CHC and non-CHC students. In phase one, the analysis of the data identified the
existence of some issues in common with those identified in the literature review
(see Tian, 2008, Wu, 2008; Edwards & Ran, 2006; Ahmed, 2011). As a result of the
analysis of the data at phase-one, students found it difficult to cope within the
learning culture in the UK at early stages of learning. The reasons for this
difficulty were language barriers, lack of IL skills, difficulty in social adjustment,
and dependency in learning as a result of prior educational history. The
expression of students concerns about the lack of IL skills which was
identified as an issue of prior educational learning (students were found to be
too dependent on their teachers) is an early indicator of learning dependency.
Therefore the assumption that IL patterns are significant among students in HE
was noted for further elaboration because it also matched the researchers initial
experience in studying in the UK. The theme of dependent approach to learning
was identified among overall students for further exploration and clarification,
though its nature was differently experienced by the researcher itself.

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In addition to the issue of learning dependency, students views about learning

experiences in the UK revealed certain interconnected issues, including language
issue as a source of difficulty in adaptation to a different learning environment.
Linking the issues in learning in both prior and UK-based learning, two major
codes, likes and dislikes, (as used in NVIVO 9) were identified. In relation to
likes and dislikes, students expressed their liking for IL and the availability of
learning resources, particularly libraries, IT facilities, and internet speed and
availability in the UK. They also expressed their dislike for less support from
teachers; whilst in the case of their home country; students liked the extra
support from teachers but disliked dependency and the lack of resources. The
study also noted the significance of dislike for dependency in the home country
as a shift in educational approach among selected students. A clear dichotomy
was apparent in both prior and UK learning experiences and in that of the
researchers one. Differences in views about preference for learning patterns, i.e.
from dependent (prior) to IL (current), were noticed as a clear change in
approaches to learning from dependent (traditional) to independent (non-
traditional) and may lead to the development of successful independent
learners. A question as to whether support is vitally important in HE in the UK
and whether support is required for certain subjects was sought for further
clarification. In comparison to the previous comments in phase-one and
comments made by students in phase-two, there was a clear inclination, among
students, towards the possibility of impact of language over IL.

Given that language issue exists in multiple shapes, the analysis shows that
academic writing (AW) and communication skills, at level of competence to
convey and receive ideas effectively, are two major lingual problems. Both
academic writing and oral communication the level of oral skills required for
learning, were probed to examine the extent of lingual issues among students in
HE. Although the researcher experienced a different form of lingual
incompetence than the sample students but as theirs perceptions were central to
this study, it emerged from data that these students consider English language
skills crucial to becoming independent learners.

Students also viewed support as a key requirement, vital for kick-starting the
process of learning in HE at the initial stages of their studies, confirming
previous findings (see McMahon, 2011; Wu, 2008) and it matches the
researchers own experience of starting the learning process. Questions arise
whether the importance of language skills to students is limited to competence
in interactive speaking and academic writing abilities, and whether the same
language skills are required for all students or whether language expertise is
required for certain subject areas (subject-specific).

Given that language issue have other dimensions, the issues examined related to
IL and the effects of dependency on IL, and the features students liked and
disliked in both their prior and current learning were explored further. When
themes of likes and dislikes were compared in both prior and UK learning, it

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became apparent that students liked IL patterns because there were enough
resources in the UK in contrast to the ones in their PL and they were in a sense
forced to adapt to IL patterns, a sense of behavioural approach (refer to Pavlov
& Skinner) to teaching learning interaction was found. The level of studying
support was appreciated in PL in contrast to concern for lack of available
support in the UK. In other words, we can assume that behavioural approach to
learning existed in the UK, and not in PL. Therefore, liking for support in PL
while liking for availability of resources and use of IL skills in the UK were
noted as the main themes. Dislike of a lack of resources dependency on prior
learning, and the level of support provided in the UK were categorised as

The overall population of students consider support vitally important for IL

skills and the same practice was felt by the researcher during a doctorate degree.
It appears, from students perceptions in phase-two, support is mainly felt only
in certain fields of study and the amount of support tends to vary according to a
field of study, for example the one which was noted in students of petroleum
engineering. Students also considered IL difficult to acquire at the beginning but
possible through support, and difficulties only vanished gradually. A different
view, in comparison to the one in phase-one, emerged as a result of the
importance of support for learning in HE and students differentiations in
between the teachers in the UK and those in their home countries in terms of the
support they provide. An example of such support might be that teachers
provide more intensive support in theirs home countries than in the UK. Hence,
there is a clear gap of understanding among students when they judge teachers,
both in the home countries and UK, on the basis of the nature of support
teachers provide. At first it appeared that all students desired greater support
but differences emerged as a result of in-depth probing. Chinese students
indicated more openness towards discussion about the importance of support
while Indian and Pakistani students refrained from doing so despite their
tendency towards learning support.

As explored in detail, the emerging theory was built upon the core indicators
derived from categories and included both academic (language writing and
expert communication; learning support impact of support on IL; likes and
dislikes, and IL from exam-oriented learning to IL) and adjustment issue. It is
noted that language skills as a whole influence IL in contrast to previous
understanding which shows that IL influence language skills (see Tian, 2008;
Tan, 2011). Alongside, learning support influences both language and IL skills.
This present a cyclical process of learning competency and the key for gradual
change lies with the nature of learning support that steers the learning process
as a whole.

In the course of investigating the impact of language skills on IL, it was found
that students initial enthusiasm towards their studies in the UK mislead them at
the point of assessment, when they found themselves trapped in a learning

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culture beyond their comprehension at the early phases, as they realised at later
phases of their studies. Another indication given by students is about the need
for support towards learning patterns that arise from a lack of knowledge about
the practicing learning patterns in the UK. Students find out about learning
patterns in the UK only upon their arrival in the UK. Students indicated that
additional generic learning support has a positive impact on their learning in the

The student perceptions also indicated that liking in prior and UK-based
learning for support and liking for IL and availability of resources in the UK lead
to successful adjustment in the academic environment in the UK, which is
considered by students as a guarantee for successful learning development. This
is often called widening participation which the researchers realised at later
stage of studies.

Students perceptions also revealed that upon abandoning the mono-ethnic

concept of communication (see Brown, 2008) and students restricted access to a
wider community, in which English is spoken in daily life, the process of
adjustment could be achieved. In other words the wider use of English and the
emancipation from the mode of translation a mode in which students try to
translate ideas from their 1st language (L1) to English - to a more natural use of
spoken English would facilitate the adjustment process, which also leads to
successful learning in the UK developing IL patterns. Important to note that
the impact of the issues is equally found among both CHC and non-CHC

Reiterating that students perceptions were central to this study, the Grounded
Theory process explored students voices, additive to the researchers personal
narrative, which are likely to replace some of the existing perceptions about
CHC and non-CHC students in relation to their learning patterns, the adaptation
issues they find in the UK, and the variance in issues among theirs learning
experiences. The process involved in developing ideas from already prevailed
perceptions to more fundamental ideas forms the basis of issues of urgent need
and the differences between these students, relevant to learning encounters.

Though, the literature highlights that cultural and social differences are most
evident among Asian and Western students (Twigg, 2006) because different
students have different cultural and social needs (Wu, 2008). This current study
negates previously held perceptions about Asian students on the basis of socio-
cultural understanding and learning experiences. Students with educational
ambitions are less prone to socio-cultural habits and aspirations; and their socio-
cultural values are only liable to represent their history of prior social
backgrounds; which might be the only way to see diversity in HE (Ahmed, 2011;
Spronk, 2004), this has nothing to do with their academic journey in the UK but
it does provide us more freedom to explore their learning adaptations and
learning abilities.

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One example might be worth mentioning that Asian students expressed that
they are the ones respecting their teachers and not their western counterparts.
This does not mean that western students do not respect their teachers but it is
simply a matter of how one culturally perceives the kind of respect. The way
Asian students perceive respect may be differently perceived by western
students (Bakar, 2013). These socio-cultural perceptions are similarly found
among CHC (Tian, 2008) and non-CHC students (Ahmed, 2011) which means
that Asian students as whole, from both CHC and non-CHC backgrounds, share
a range of socio-cultural similarities.

Crucially important is the students socio-cultural aspects that integrate them

into one single Asian identity which informs us to formulate similar teaching
and learning strategies for them. Hence the label of CHC and non-CHC students
is not relevant anymore, and we find no difference in Asians socio-cultural
understandings; a strength that may be used to explore the needs of Asian
students under one cultural umbrella. Thus a dichotomy in CHC and non-CHC
students apparently does not exist.

On a similar note, steering academic aspects are the ones to sustain the basis of
students academic journeys. For example, student revelations, about IL as a
solid learning approach, will encourage and ease formulating teaching
strategies but what really constitutes and sustains this approach is also
important. For one to continue IL, it appears vital to have adequate language
skills, in particular academic writing and expert level of oral skills through
which students enable themselves to transmit ideas more effectively (Bakar,
2013). The level of incompetent language skill (particularly written) originates as
a result of different interpretation students conceive and convey. Indeed
students with inadequate language skills are less likely to demonstrate coherent
argumentations during demonstrations and presentations etc. Similarly, the
ability of coherent analytical approach to argumentation in particular might be
important in academic writing skills for all students in some subject studies
while oral communication skills are already acknowledged as different among
Asian students on the basis of different subject studies (see Entwistle, 2005). The
reason for difference in communication skills requirement in different subject
studies might be that some subject areas do not require competency in speaking.
Hence, the level of required competency in spoken language varies from
discipline to discipline because some subject areas may require intensive spoken
skills for the purpose of demonstration while others dont, and this trend may
not be limited to Asian students. Hence, language skills in respect of academic
disciplines force students to seek alternatives to meet the demand of academic
language skills. Currently students perceptions have revealed the implications
of support from within the learning environment, i.e. from teachers and this was
seen a facilitating factor to overcoming language issues in general. However it is
vital to note that students both multi-ethnic approach to learning and language
enable them to experience a successful transition. This is seen to turn the trend
towards IL skills.

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Theory into Practice

As previously noted, it was suggested that raising the required level of English
language competence (i.e. IELTS scores) would be necessary to meet the
growing demands of internationalisation (Quality Assurance Agency, 2012), in
which language was picked as a major constraint (Hinkel, 2011). It was also
suggested that in this way, universities would be able to recruit competent
students (BIS, 2010) even if English language ability remains one of the major
problems among students in higher education (Dees et al., 2007; UKCOSA,

At large, to continue recruiting Asian students, they would need to be made

aware of the need for early stage-preparation as well as intermingling in multi-
cultural learning environment. This practice is vital as students are often mis-
sold a dream of British qualification whilst they have not aware of the
implications of IL in the real sense. If universities are really serious about
educating these students, then they need to act in collaboration to ensure a range
of learning support is available for them so that they can make successful
transition to UKs institutions.

Similarly, the levels of English measured through IELTs etc. cannot be

considered the only criteria because it gives a very crude picture of the students
capability of learning adaptation. Preparation for IL in the UK is currently
underdeveloped and very worrying (see Cartwright, 2007; Nieto, Dimitriadou &
Davy, 2008), causing anxiety (Coutu, 2002) and sometimes failure and
discontinuation (see Biggs, 2003). Unless different structured approaches to
preparation for IL (perhaps in the home country as well) are not considered, it
would be unenlightened to expect a successful process of learning in the UK,
leave alone a successful IL experience.

As a common practice of research not every issue can be probed in a single
study, nor all aspects of an issue, but those which affect participants more can
realistically be explored (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). Hence in the current study, it
was thought necessary to identify perceptions of both CHC and non-CHC
student in relation to issues they face. It is possible that multiple issues may exist
among sample students, as Tian (2008) and Wu (2008) found among Chinese
students but this study only focused on how different Asian students consider
learning as a process in HE and the related issues they encounter during this
time. Thus the current study forms the basis for HE learning in the UK,
extending the nature of inquiry from Chinese towards Indian and Pakistani
students. The sample was not cohesive in number but was sufficient for the
three-phase interviews, supported by the researcher personal narratives. The
study did not consider concerns other than academic nor sought identify in
broad national (identity) interpretation. Similarly students perceptions
regarding different subject-studies in relation to learning issues were not
explored in detail as it would not have been feasible in a single study, leaving a

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gap for further investigation using different analytical and data collection

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A. 1: Codes at later phase

Type Name References
Node 1 Social Connections 37
Node 2 Learning with socialising 19
Node 3 Independent Learning 11
Node 4 Learning Experiences 19
Node 5 Communication 57
Node 6 Preferences of learning 56
Node 7 Unattractive aspects 52
Node 8 Learning Support 47
Node 9 Learning from teachers 29
Node 10 Resources 35
Node 11 Lingual Influence 43
Node 12 Cultural Similarities 32

A. 2: Categories
Type Name
Cat 1 Teacher Centeredness
Cat 2 Likes
Cat 3 Dislikes
Cat 4 Independent Learning
Cat 5 Translation Period
Cat 6 Interactive Learning
Cat 7 Multi-ethnic Approach
Cat 8 Learning Support
Cat 9 Learning Guidance

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research

Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 39-62, November 2015

Caring for Persons with Spinal Cord Injury: A

Mixed Study Evaluation of eLearning Modules
Designed for Family Physicians

Dr. Colla J. MacDonald

Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Jamie Milligan

The Centre for Family Medicine FHT Kitchener-Waterloo, Faculty of Medicine,
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Tara Jeji

SCI Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Kaitlin Mathias
The Centre for Family Medicine FHT
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Hugh Kellam

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Jane Gaffney
M.Ed Student, University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Abstract. Family physicians often do not feel comfortable or have the

knowledge or experience to adequately treat and manage the needs of
persons with Spinal Cord Injury. An eLearning resource was designed
to provide family physicians with accessible information to facilitate
their treatment of persons with Spinal Cord Injury. Methods: This study
evaluated the effectiveness of eLearning modules with regard to
meeting the learning needs of family medicine residents treating
individuals with spinal cord injury. A mixed methods approach,
involved collecting and analyzing data from post module quantitative
surveys and qualitative interviews. The constructs of the W(e)Learn
framework guided data analysis. Findings: Family medicine residents
reported they enjoyed the learning experience, learned new information

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and raised their awareness of specific health care needs with regard to
treating and managing persons with spinal cord injury. Residents
confirmed designing the resource to be accessed anytime and anywhere
will enable them to retrieve information on a need to know basis. A few
residents provided examples of how they applied information they
learned as a result of completing the resource. Conclusion: Effectively
designed eLearning modules that address learner needs can be a viable
approach to providing information to physicians regarding treating and
managing persons with spinal cord injury.

Keywords: spinal cord injury; eLearning; family medicine; residents;


* This research was funded with a grant from the Ontario Neurotrauma
Foundation and the Rick Hansen Institute. The authors would like to
thank them for their support.

1. Introduction
Individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) face many challenges in maintaining
health and wellness. Barriers to health care include environmental factors such
as the lack of wheelchair ramps, inaccessible doctors office space to maneuver
or transfer to an examination table and lack of appropriate equipment such as
height-adjustable examination tables and grab bars (Guilcher, Munce, & Couris,
2010; Hwang, Johnston, & Tulsky, 2009). Additional complications to
appropriate health care include physicians and health professionals negative
attitudes toward disability (McColl, 2006), limited health professional
knowledge regarding care needs (McColl, Forster, & Short, 2008; McMillan et al.
2014) and health system disincentives for providing care to persons with SCI
(DeJong, 1997; Marks, & Teasell, 2009). Many primary care physicians are not
knowledgeable about SCI and its effects on all body systems and therefore may
be reluctant to assume care for SCI patients (Donnelly et al. 2007; SCIRE, 2010).
Due to the lack of accessible knowledge and services, the primary care for many
individuals with SCI is in the emergency room (Guilcher et al., 2010). Persons
with physical disabilities often have many unmet health needs and are a
population that may have high health care costs due to complex secondary
conditions and higher utilization of emergency departments and hospitals
(Guilcher et al., 2010; McColl et al., 2009). Surprisingly, medical school and
residency training usually includes little, if any, experiences with physical
disability (Long-Bellil, et al, 2011). Some providers are said to lack disability
literacy or disability competence akin to the notion of cultural competence
when providers do not fully understand the issues at hand or do not relate to the
patient in an appropriate manner (Special Interest Group on SCI Model System
Innovation, 2010).

Access to primary care for those with SCI is vitally important as they are at
higher risk for comorbid health conditions such as obesity, diabetes,
cardiovascular disease and other secondary complications such as pressure
ulcers, autonomic dysreflexia, fractures, neurogenic bladder and bowel
complications and pain (Krassioukov, Furlan, & Fehlings, 2003). Middleton

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(2008) argues that family physicians are well positioned to identify and manage
some conditions associated with SCI by systematically reviewing health care
concerns and preempting more serious problems this population experiences.
Calls for health care reform aimed at improving access to care for individuals
with SCI have recommended a coordinated and integrated care model that
includes community-based primary care that is patient-focused and ensures
capacity building for health care professionals (Hwang et al., 2009; McColl,
Shortt, & O'Brien, 2006; Lee, Milligan, Hillier, & McMillan, 2013; Lee, Milligan,
Hillier, & McMillan, 2014). There is a critical need to address the lack of
awareness and education of resident family physicians with regard to SCI in
order to facilitate access to primary care for persons with SCI (SCIRE, 2010).

Designing and delivering training in convenient and accessible eLearning

modules was proposed to be a viable approach to providing relevant specific
information in this small, high need patient population. In previous studies with
health care workers, learners recognised and appreciated the flexibility and
convenience online learning afforded and found eLearning to be a successful
approach in helping them achieve the learning objectives the resource was
designed to meet (MacDonald et al., 2011; MacDonald et al., 2010; MacDonald,
Stodel, Hall & Weaver, 2009; MacDonald, Stodel & Chambers, 2008; MacDonald,
Stodel & Casimiro, 2006; MacDonald, Stodel, & Coulson, 2004).

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the Caring for Persons with Spinal Cord
Injury eLearning resource and answer the following research question: How
effective are eLearning modules with regard to meeting learning outcomes of
family medicine resident physicians treating spinal cord injury?

1.1 Context
The Caring for Persons with Spinal Cord Injury eLearning resource was designed
specifically for family physicians who care for or are considering providing care
for, persons with SCI in their practice. Design took place over a 12-month period
(December 2011- November 2012) and involved a team of subject matter experts
(three family physicians; two physiatrists with expertise in SCI, a psychiatry
resident with expertise in SCI, and an advanced practice nurse with expertise in
SCI); an instructional designer, a curriculum and evaluation expert, eLearning
and medical educational researchers; a computer programmer; a graphic
designer; and two administrators in SCI who also are persons with SCI. The
completed program was beta tested by six family physicians. Suggestions were
incorporated and identified problems were rectified and the program made
freely available on the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation Website and at
http://eprimarycare.onf.org/. The resources consists of the following six modules
identified by SCI content experts to be relevant for family physicians in treating
persons with SCI: Module 1 Autonomic Dysreflexia; Module 2 Neurogenic
Bladder; Module 3 Neurogenic Bowel; Module 4 Pressure Ulcers; Module 5
Respiratory Complications; Module 6 Health Promotion and Maintenance.
Each module includes the following sections: definitions, prevalence,
pathophysiology, signs and symptoms, causes, management and
recommendations, follow-up and references.

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2. Methodology
2.1 W(e)Learn Framework
The W(e)Learn framework (MacDonald, Stodel, Thompson & Casimiro, (2009);
Casimiro, MacDonald, Thompson & Stodel, 2009) was adopted to guide the
evaluation of the six eLearning modules. Developed through collaboration
between educators, academics, health care professionals, and industry,
W(e)Learn reflects expertise in curriculum design, psychopedagogy, and
evaluation methods. W(e)Learn outlines four critical dimensions of online inter-
professional educationstructure, content, media, and serviceand is
grounded in socio-constructivist theories and inter-professionalism (see Figure
1). W(e)Learn is intended to elicit four levels of outcome, the pinnacle of which
is organizational change and the resulting improvement in care delivery that
promotes patient well-being (for an interactive version visit

Figure 1: W(e)Learn Framework

2.2 Mixed Methods

A mixed methods design was used to evaluate the eLearning training resource
for the reason of combining the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative
studies (Pluye, Gagnon, Griffiths, & Johnson-Lafleur, 2009). In this mixed
methods approach, quantitative and qualitative data were collected concurrently
to obtain a full understanding of the research questions. This method offset the
weaknesses and complements the strengths of the quantitative and qualitative
research approaches (Bryman, 2007; Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007; Johnson &
Onwuegbuzie, 2004). The mixed methods approach was used as no single

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explanation can account for the feasibility of the program (pluralism), as these
training modules were established from a complex real-world practice.

2.3 Post Module Survey

The W(e)Learn quantitative post module survey was adapted for this project
(see Appendix A). Each participant was asked to complete one survey that
encompassed their experience in completing all six of the eLearning modules.
The survey took approximately 5-10 minutes to complete.

2.4 Semi-Structured Interviews

The purpose of the interviews was to gain a greater insight into the personal
learning experiences of residents with regards to the eLearning modules.
Residents were invited to take part in the semi-structured interviews following
the completion of the online modules. Ten residents were interviewed, with the
duration of the interviews varying from 10-20 minutes, with an average length
of 15 minutes. The interviews were guided by a set of open-ended interview
questions based on the W(e)Learn Framework and module learning objectives
(see Appendix B for the interview protocol). The interviews were audio recorded
(with residents permission) and transcribed verbatim. The interviews took place
at a location convenient to the residents on an academic half-day. Lunch and
snacks were provided as a sign of our appreciation for participants time and

2.5 Data Analysis

It was critical for the qualitative researcher to ensure that data analysis
accurately corroborates the opinions and experiences of the study participants.
Stainback and Stainback (1988) describe corroboration as important since it
increases the probability that a studys findings will be thought of as important
and credible by others. According to ODonoghue and Punch (2003), an excellent
method to determine corroboration is by utilizing triangulation analysis, which
they define as a method of cross-checking data from multiple sources to
search for regularities in the research data (p.78). This can provide a more
accurate and detailed picture of the situation that is being studied (Altrichter,
Posch & Somekh, 1996). Denzin (1978) defines several types of triangulation, one
of the most reliable of which is the convergence of multiple sources of data. This
involved the collection and comparison of several forms of data at different
times during the research process.

In order to validate the findings of this study via the triangulation of qualitative
and quantitative data, results were compared from the post-module survey, and
the individual interviews. Inductive and deductive reasoning were used to
interpret the interview data. The writing adopted a narrative tone in order to
best capture the experiences of the residents, and direct quotations were
included when relevant.

Ethics approval was attained through McMaster University Hamilton Integrated

Research Ethics Board (HiREB).

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2.6 Qualitative Analysis

Qualitative data analysis was guided by Merriam (2001) and Bogdan and Biklen
(1998). The interview transcripts were checked for accuracy by the researcher
listening to the audio recording (mp3 file) and comparing them to the
transcribed text. Open coding of the text was performed by hand. After a
preliminary list of codes was developed, the transcripts were coded a second
time to group common codes together to form themes. The coding was reviewed
several more times to ensure that no new codes emerge from the data. The data
was assigned to categories to provide rich, detailed, and comprehensive
information that answered the research questions. A draft report was sent to two
additional researchers in this project along with the transcripts to in order to
verify the findings.

Relevant information from the emerging themes was used to weave a story from
the residents perspectives portraying current strengths, practices, barriers,
enablers and challenges, with regards to the eLearning modules. Direct
quotations were used throughout to allow participants voices to be heard and to
obtain objective evidence regarding the residents perceptions of evaluating the
eLearning modules. Residents were provided an opportunity to adapt, remove
or elaborate on any quote or text that misrepresented their perspective.

2.7 Quantitative Analysis

The constructs of the W(e)Learn framework (content, delivery, service, structure
and outcomes) guided the data analysis of the Post Module surveys. Descriptive
statistics and response frequencies were used to assess the learners experiences
with the eLearning modules.

The validity of this research was primarily supported by the triangulation of two
different forms of data: post-module survey, and individual interviews. Patton
(2002) states that triangulation strengthens research by combining different
types of methods or data. As well as the triangulation of the data, any
disconfirming information was included in the research report in order to
confirm validity.

2.8 Recruitment
Participants included in this study were family physician residents from the
Kitchener-Waterloo campus of the McMaster Department of Family Medicine
Program in Ontario, Canada. It is a two-year program and residents from both
years were invited. The reason we targeted this audience was twofold. Firstly,
family medicine residents likely represent a relatively homogenous group of
practitioners with similarly limited experience and exposure to individuals with
SCI; as entry-level practitioners it would seem logical to target this group in
terms of appropriateness and value of the eLearning modules.

Also, by providing this information to residents while still in training it is hoped

that it will have a long-term effect by filling a needed gap in their medical

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A total of 34 resident family medicine physicians were invited to be involved in

this evaluation project from the Kitchener-Waterloo campus of the McMaster
Department of Family Medicine. A 30-minute lunch presentation was given to
the residents during the week of December 17, 2014 during Block 7 of their
training. The presentation described the rationale for the study and an invitation
to participate, plus scenarios/cases were provided to help guide through the
modules. Participants were informed of this presentation by email and it was
included as an option in their schedule. Residents who volunteered to
participate were provided with information regarding the study and informed
that they would be expected to complete the modules and a survey. A gift
certificate for $15.00 was issued upon completion of the survey. There was also
an invitation on the survey (tear off box to tick with email or phone number so
their surveys remained anonymous) for residents to indicate their willingness to
participate in an interview. During the interview lunch was provided as well as
a $15.00 dollar gift card as a sign of our appreciation for residents time and

Prior to completing the survey, residents were required to read and sign an
Informed Consent form with a Principal Investigator as a witness. Residents had
the opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification about their participation
prior to signing the form. Residents were informed (both verbally and in
writing) that their participation was strictly voluntary, and that they could
withdraw from this project at any time, refuse to participate, and choose not to
answer any questions.

3. Qualitative Findings
Ten family physician residents volunteered to participate in an individual
follow-up interview. The findings from the ten interviews are chronicled in
the ensuing sections. The findings are organized under facets of the
W(e)Learn framework: structure, content, service, media, and outcomes.

3.1 Structure
Residents responses regarding the Structure of the Caring for Persons with Spinal
Cord Injury online learning resources emerged into three themes: Learner and
Context, Pedagogical Strategies, and Reusability. These themes are discussed in the
following sections.

3.1.1 Learner and Content

When asked about their interest in SCI, seven of the ten residents interviewed
specifically stated that SCI was an area in the curriculum not adequately covered
and the resource addresses a learning need and gap in medical education. One
resident stated, SCI are common, chronic, and often dealt with in family
medicine. I want to be comfortable managing them and know how to do it
effectively. A second resident commented, It is an area we dont get a lot of
training in and it does have a lot of specialized knowledge that you need to
know as a family doctor. One resident acknowledged the gap in formalized
teaching on SCI in medical training. He went on to say, The needs of that
population are unique. The challenges they face are not what you regularly see.

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Finding a resource that has everything in one spot definitely piqued my


When asked about their experience with persons with SCI, several residents
reported they had been exposed to their supervisors patients in a Mobility
Clinic. One resident stated, I have seen a few [persons with SCI] in the Mobility
Clinic and emergency department but I am only six months in [to my residency
program]. One resident shared that when she began her residency, she was
intimidated by acquired brain and spinal cord injury. She elaborated:
We didnt get a lot of training in medical school. I had a patient in our
office who had acquired a SCI from a traumatic accident 15 years ago. It
was amazing seeing what she has done. She is now walking short
distances with assistive devices. I really need to know a lot more about

3.1.2 Pedagogical Strategies

Residents identified several pedagogical strategies used in the learning resource
that took advantage of new technologies and utilized scenarios drawn from real-
life situations. When asked what their favorite part of the resource was, several
residents communicated that they were affected by the scenarios. In the words
of one resident, I could really imagine myself as a physician in those situations
and seeing patients from that perspective. It affected me on a professional level
and I could definitely relate to those experiences. Several residents stated the
resource was full of relevant information. One resident stated, The checklists.
The pictures were also nice because they broke up the text a little bit. Another
resident identified algorithms as his favorite pedagogical strategy. There were a
lot of really good algorithms throughout giving a stepwise approach and
making sure you follow guidelines. Another resident had a list of pedagogical
strategies she felt enhanced the resource, The summary boxes, the take home
points, the cases were also helpful, charts. When asked what their least favorite
part of the resource was, one resident also highlighted, All of the stuff in-
between and the repetitive definitions.

3.1.3 Reusability
Several residents commented that in addition to treating persons with SCI, the
information on pressure ulcers, constipations and degenerative disk disease
make the resource valuable to use in several medical situations and with a
variety of patients. One resident explained: I have seen people with pressure
ulcers when I am in community and hospital rotations. They dont necessarily
have SCI, but having that handy tab for pressure ulcers to go back to is useful.
Another resident agreed with the fact that the information provided in the
resource is reusable beyond its intended scope. Another resident suggested the
resource was versatile and had applicable information for treating a variety of
patients. I have at least one patient who has a traumatic issue and I see tons of
elderly patients with a degenerative disk disease or degenerative spinal disease
from arthritis causing them symptoms of reduced mobility. Similarly, another
resident commented on the value of the resource with the elderly, My
preceptors practice doesnt have many people with SCI. There are a huge
number of elderly patients that have spinal issues. Finally, another resident

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suggested that he too would not limit his use of the SCI resource to SCI patients:
The stool chart is something I will use, even for patients without SCI.

3.2 Content
Residents responses regarding the content in the Caring for Persons with Spinal
Cord Injury online learning resources emerged into three themes: Authentic,
Comprehensive, and Engaging. These themes are discussed in the following

3.2.1 Authentic
All residents stated the content in the resource was authentic. One resident
shared, The content was very clinically relevant. It was organized so you could
tap into things that were most relevant. I have tried to use it with a few
patients. Similarly, a second resident communicated:
I was really impressed with the program. The information was very
clinically relevant. It definitely raised awareness. I have a better chance
of guiding a conversation with someone with these injuries.
When asked if they felt the content in the online modules were authentic and
relevant to their practice, one resident stated:
Especially for the patient I saw six months ago for a physical. I had a
letter from the physiatrist that said what her injury was and her level of
function. At the time I didnt know what any of those things meant. It
would have been really helpful to have done this before. At the same
time, I am going to see her again.
Another resident commented on the authentic information the resource
provided on diagnosing and managing a person with SCI. It had things that we
should know in terms of management and recognition. This is something a
person with autonomic dysreflexia is going to present withthe hypertension.

3.2.2 Comprehensive
Residents consistently said they found the content in the resource inclusive and
comprehensive. One resident stated, The explanations of pathophysiology were
very good. Almost all had a picture and it was basic but detailed enough that I
felt like I could explain it to a patient. It made sense to me. Another resident
elaborated: I thought it was well put together. It was one of those things where
you didnt even know what you didnt know. I was like Oh I need to know
about this. Another resident voiced, The objectives overall were to give us an
exposure to what these things are and some of the pathophysiology behind it. It
was really well done. Finally, a resident shared: It was very straight forward
and basic enough for me to understand. I didnt have any unanswered

3.2.3 Engaging
When asked if the learning modules kept their interest, most residents indicated
they did. One resident stated, They [the modules] kept me motivated.
Everything seemed clinically applicable and I could see myself working through
these problems. They kept me interested in learning throughout. Another
resident commented: I didnt know this is something that I need to watch out

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


for in this type of patient. It makes you kind of scared as a doctor. Did it keep
me motivated to learn? Absolutely.

Some residents suggested one of the reasons the resource was able to keep their
interest was because it didnt take too long to go through. I was happy in the
way it was laid out and how everything seemed to move easily and quickly, no

3.3 Service
Residents responses regarding the Service in the Caring for Persons with Spinal
Cord Injury online learning resources emerged into three themes: Organized,
Accessibility, and Resources. These three themes are discussed in the following

3.3.1 Organized
When asked what they thought of resource, residents consistently commented
that it was organized. One resident stated, It was really well organized. That
was really great. I thought it was good and clear. A second resident stated,
The content was comprehensive, clear, and well organized. Obviously a lot of
time was spent making sure that it had everything it needed and was really
focused and clear. Lastly, a resident explained her experience with the SCI
learning resource, Overall it was very positive. If I was going for a certain topic,
knew it was there, and wanted to brush up, I would go to the areas I wanted.

When asked if the content followed a logical progression, a resident said, Yes, I
wouldnt change the order of anything. Another resident specified: It seemed
logical. I split it up over a couple of nights, but it made sense. Another resident
also commented on the logical lay out of the resource. The information was
really well laid out and thought out. I found the diagrams helpful for my basic
understanding. It was really practical. One resident reiterated, It was very
user-friendly. If I have a patient or a question about autonomic dysreflexia I
could go back and find the information quickly.
Lastly, a resident asserted her appreciation for the organization of the SCI
resource; The way it is laid out is not too intimidating. I could just click on the
hyperlinks that I thought were most relevant to whatever patient I am seeing.

3.3.2 Accessibility
The most common theme that emerged was that residents were adamant the
resource addressed an important topic omitted in medical school and they
expect they will access the resource in the future. One resident commented, It is
nice to go back to something that says this is the presentation, this is how you
manage it, this is when you refer, and these are the tests you do. However,
residents clarified that because SCI is not something they expect to see often,
having an online resource will allow them to access relevant information when
they need it.

Residents justified that there are hundreds of medical conditions to cover during
family medicine residency, many of which are not covered or adequately
covered in their training and some they do not even experience during their

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


program. Several residents commented this resource would allow them to access
the information on SCI in a just-in-time manner. One resident clarified, This is
a handy tool that I can go back to. Another resident reported the resource
would be valuable to access in the future, In the event of a patient with a spinal
cord injury who presents with a cough, cold, pressure ulcers, any kind of
constipation, I will definitely use this in the future. Another resident agreed,
These are skills I would like to have in my back pocket so I can refer to when I
have a patient with a spinal cord injury comes in. Finally, a resident affirmed
that she too sees the SCI resource as a valuable source to access relevant
information on a need to know basis. There were some tabs that were content
heavy. In real life what is going to happen is I am going to have one patient with
a specific concern and I am going to go that tab.

3.3.3 Resources
Residents conveyed they appreciated having the information they needed on
SCI conveniently located in one place. Residents repeatedly commented they
found the links providing access to numerous resources beneficial. One resident
explained, I clicked on a few of them [resource links] and they looked really
useful. Access to all relevant resources collected in one place. Likewise, another
resident commented on the resources provided in the links, There were a lot of
good links. There was an American Source link that I found very good and
bookmarked as well.

3.4 Media
Residents responses regarding Media in the Caring for Persons with Spinal Cord
Injury resources emerged into two themes, Navigating, and Technology. These
themes are discussed in the ensuing sections.

3.4.1 Navigating
Every resident reported they found the resource user-friendly and easy to
navigate. When asked how they found navigation one resident responded,
Piece of cake. It was really clear and easy to go through. A second resident
stated, They were easy to navigate. Compared to some other eLearning
modules, these were very easy to get through. Another resident elaborated;
Whoever you paid to develop your website did a good job. I was impressed
with all the graphics. You communicated the ideas effectively. It is nice too
because you can use it on a phone. Similarly, a resident commented, I opened
a few links to find more information and I found that was user-friendly. Finally
a resident specified, When I went on I knew exactly what to do.

Several residents stated they appreciated the fact that the Caring for Persons with
Spinal Cord Injury resource was online. In the words of one resident, I liked that
it is online so I can refer to it whenever I want. Although a few residents stated
they glanced at the resource on their phone, most reported they had completed
the resource on their desktop computer. One resident revealed, There was no
technical difficulty. It would have been nice to try this on different mediums
than just my laptop. A second resident shared, I looked through it on my
phone once.

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


Several residents explained they access the Internet several times a day to obtain
medical information. In the words of one resident, I use my phone or the
computer to guide my learning ten or fifteen times over the course of the day. I
dont know how people trained in residency before things like Up-To-Date and
other Internet resource were available.

3.4.2 Technology
When asked how the resource could be improved, most residents had little to
say. For example, one resident stated, I dont think you need to do that [make
improvements]. It is well laid out and when I actually need it, it will be there for
me. When asked if anything could be done differently that would have kept
interest, any suggestions made were with regard to using more interactive
technology. In the words of one resident, If we could incorporate some videos
and interactive quizzes, that would encourage you to keep going and motivate
you some more. Another resident suggested adding videos to change it up. I
dont know if some videos would be handy. It wasnt necessary because all of
the information is there and readable, but sometimes to change up the way you
are learning. Another resident communicated, Maybe going through some
case discussions in a video format.

Two residents suggested the resource could be improved by reducing the

number of drop down menus. A couple of learners suggested implementing
quizzes. Maybe doing an interactive quiz after each module to see if you have
retained the information.

A few learners suggested more diagrams and animation. One learner suggested,
The content was great. There are a few things I think could benefit from an
animation for the visual learner. A second learner testified, Anatomical stuff
would have benefited from a little animation or more pictures to showcase. I am
not a visual learner so it was not a big thing for me. I can see a lot of people
wanting something like that. A third resident stated, More pictures and
animation would be an improvement, but I dont think there was anything that
was a glaring concern or omission. I thought it was well done.

3.5 Outcomes
Residents responses regarding outcomes from the Caring for Persons with Spinal
Cord Injury online learning resources emerged into six themes: New Knowledge,
Bookmarked, Raised Awareness, Sharing with Colleagues, Application, and Increased
Comfort. These three themes are discussed in the following sections.

3.5.1 New Knowledge

Residents stated they learned new knowledge as a result of going through the
resource. Several residents commented on the value of learning about autonomic
dysreflexia. One resident specified, I definitely gained new knowledge,
especially regarding autonomic dysreflexia. And then I gained a deepened
knowledge around respiratory issues. A second resident also confirmed they
attained new knowledge from participating in the resource; The autonomic
dysreflexia one was really huge. Every module brought it back up again as the
major life threatening complication with SCI. You mustnt miss it. This is

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


important. A third resident confirmed what they learned was, Things to

watch out for, testing patients creatinine every year and autonomic dysfunction
with regard to blood pressure. Similarly, a resident shared; The wound care,
the dysreflexia just understanding the classifications of functional ability. It is
going to make me much less afraid of how to approach the issues with patients
with SCI and much less of this nebulous black box. Other residents commented
their learning addressed a knowledge gap, It really did address a big gaping
hole in my knowledge and approach to things, particularly in spinal cord
injuries. Some learners suggested the learning research broadened their
knowledge. Others said the SCI resource increased their knowledge of
respiratory complications:
The thing I didnt appreciate before is that people with SCI are
susceptible to a lot of respiratory infections. That is something that I will
now keep in the back of my mind and will make sure that I am doing
frequent checks. If they come in with any kind of cough or cold I dont
want to tell them not to worry and it is viral. I will probably do some
more investigations.

3.5.2 Bookmarked
One indication that residents plan to access the modules in the future is that
several reported they booked marked the resource. One resident stated, I
bookmarked it. I am going to use it soon for studying for the CCFP exam
(certification exam). It is something I am going to use for the foreseeable future.
Another resident commented, I bookmarked it on my browser because I
thought it was really useful. Another resident shared that he felt the resource
was worth bookmarking. It was easy access and then I bookmarked it so I can
go back. Lastly, a resident shared why she bookmarked the SCI resource:
I was very impressed. I found a lot of information that I didnt
previously know a lot about. I thought the layout was really good
separating it into topics as well as breaking the topics down. There were
some good images. I bookmarked it so I can keep coming back to it.

3.5.3 Raised Awareness

One consistent outcome residents reported was a raised awareness of the
treatment of SCI. One resident shared, It just gave me some context so if I do
come across it [SCI] I wont be totally out of the water with knowing what to
do. Another resident stated; The pathophysiology part is very useful, because
it explained concepts. I didnt know how lacking my knowledge was. A second
resident shared he gained an awareness of medical complications regarding
persons with SCI; I wasnt aware that spinal cord injury patients are susceptible
to respiratory infections. That opened my eyes. I would have probably missed it
if I had not gone through the modules. Another resident shared how she
became a lot more aware of the needs of persons with SCI as a result of
completing the resource. In her words:
When I was younger I used to teach skiing. I met people with SCI. The
resource provided me with a lot more depth to what I have seen in the
past and not really understood. I have a well of information to draw.
Another resident agreed and stated, Yes, I am more aware of things that need
to be discussed on regular follow-up visits. Finally, a resident revealed that

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


being more aware of issues related to SCI will make her change to being more
proactive when treating persons with SCI in the future; Knowing and being
aware about autonomic dysreflexia. I am going to be more thorough in
examination with skin changes and be more active in trying to prevent that.
Little practice changes and being more proactive.

3.5.4 Sharing with Colleagues

A few residents stated they discussed the resource with other residents or their
supervisors. One resident said that after completing the learning resource she
realized areas where she could have managed things better in the past. I have
talked over some of these topics with my supervisor in the clinic about patients
we have seen. Reflecting back maybe I should have approached some of those
situations differently. Another resident discussed her roommates reaction to
the resource; My roommate is an Obstetrical/Gynecology resident. He looked
over my shoulder and commented on how helpful it looked and was asking
questions. He thought it was pretty cool. Another resident reported she shared
the learning resource with her mother who is a family physician. She is a family
physician in town and I told her it is a really great resource to have in your back
pocket. She also liked that checklist at the end. One resident considered posting
it on twitter to let others know it is available and valuable; I am on Twitter and
have a lot of followers that are in medicine. I use it as a knowledge translation
tool. I could post it and say it is a good resource to check it out. Finally, one
resident stated he hoped his colleagues could see the resource, I hope that all of
my colleagues go to look at. I thought it was a really great resource and am
going to use this.

3.5.5 Application
Several residents reported that after completing the resource, they realize they
could have managed the treatment of SCI patients better in the past. They went
on to say they intend to apply their new knowledge next time. One resident
Autonomic dysreflexia, looking back I have seen it before and didnt
recognize it. That module stuck in my mind as something that is going to
be on my differential for certain patient presentations. Being able to
effectively counsel patients around what they might be experiencing and
how to have better prevention.
Another resident discussed how he intends to implement what he learned as a
result of completing the resource; Before this module, those things didnt cross
my mind. I actually saw a patient [since doing the module] and approached
them differently. He had some of the symptoms so I was more comfortable
talking to him about it. One resident reflected:
Looking back I had two patients that I had seen that I should have asked
about things or been more aware about blood pressure or checking for
ulcers. Now seeing patients it changes what questions I ask and how
long I speak to them.
Finally, a resident stated, Talking with the patient after I had done the module,
he was very aware of the things I learnt. So just reminding myself that most of
those patients are very knowledgeable.

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


3.5.6 Increased Comfort

Several residents commented on how the resource increased their comfort
regarding treating persons with SCI. One resident explained:
I feel so much more prepared. This is something I didnt know before. If I
encounter a person who has SCI in the emergency department who is
feeling unwell at all, check the bladder, check about pain, constipation,
bedsores, any sort of skin breakdown. It helped me develop a good
approach. It could be something just as simple as a full bladder. That was
really helpful.
One resident also concluded that as a result of what she learned she too is more
comfortable treating persons with SCI. The algorithms, especially in some of
the emergency management in autonomic dysreflexia is what comes to mind. I
found that resource was excellent and laid out very clearly. I would be much
more comfortable dealing with many of these issues. Another resident
admitted he went into the module knowing this was an area that he had a
knowledge gap. I came out of it feeling much more comfortable in the topic and
much more engaged that there is a lot more to learn here. That is definitely
going to be something to look into in the future.

4. Quantitative Survey Results

Details of the survey results for the module can be found in tables 1.1-1.5 of
Appendix C. Twenty-eight participants completed the evaluations for the
modules Caring for Persons with SCI. Overall, all participants were pleased with
the modules, and they found them to be authentic, relevant and interactive.
Scores for all the constructs were extremely high, with the vast majority of
responses being either agree or strongly agree. It should be noted that the
constructs of service, media and content had the highest responses.

4.1 Structure
With regards to the structure of the modules, the majority of responses from the
participants were positive. All 28 of the completed surveys indicated residents
felt the resource met their needs with regards to content, that the resource was
relevant and that the resource engaged them in the learning experience. Twelve
out of 28 participants disagreed that the modules provided opportunities for
problem-solving experiences and 11 out of 28 disagreed that the module
provided opportunities to apply material learned. Eight out of 28 participants
indicated in the open-ended question regarding structure that problem solving
or case studies would be a useful addition in order to make the modules more

4.2 Content
With regards to content, the residents opinions were also positive. Twenty-eight
out of 28 felt the content was of appropriate depth and breadth, and that the
content included information that would help them in their personal or
professional lives. Twenty-seven out of 28 indicated that the content was
accurate and free of errors, was well-organized and that the resource included
sufficient online resources. In the open-ended question regarding content,
residents indicated that while the resource was a bit repetitive, it provided
useful treatment recommendations, helpful hyperlinks and diagrams, and that

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


the illustrations and pop-ups were effective methods of presenting treatment


4.3 Media
Responses related to media were also extremely strong, in particular with
regards to the accessibility of the content. Twenty-eight out of 28 residents
responded that the resource was easy to navigate, provided relevant and
appropriate use of technology, facilitated a meaningful learning experience, and
allowed them to learn using their preferred learning style. Several residents
indicated in the open-ended question on media that videos would be useful
tools to present cases, and that the vertical scrolling could be reduced on some

4.4 Service
Residents gave the highest marks for service, particularly with regards to the
expertise and level of knowledge presented. All 28 residents indicated that the
resource respected their experience and knowledge, and that the subject matter
experts were qualified and experienced in the industry. Twenty-seven out of 28
responded that there was easy access to support tools, information and help. In
the open-ended question on service, several residents indicated that the
numerous linked resources (particularly the patient handouts) were useful
additions that they would utilize in the future.

4.5 Outcomes
The responses to the outcomes of the module were positive like the other four
constructs. Twenty-eight out of 28 residents said that the resource was
interesting, valuable, and that as a result of their participation in the modules
that they understood new principles. However residents did not respond as
favorably when asked if they had acquired proficiency in new techniques (8
disagree, 4 not applicable) or when asked if they would initiate new ideas
and/or projects in the workplace (4 disagree, 6 not applicable). Several residents
indicated in the open-ended question on outcomes that while the modules were
an informative resource tool, it did not give them proficiency in techniques.

5. Discussion and Conclusion

The strongest finding that emerged from this evaluation was that residents were
convinced Caring for Persons with Spinal Cord Injury is a valuable, accessible
online resource addressing an important topic not adequately covered in
medical training. There is so much information to cover in a two-year family
medicine program, that curriculum priorities are often established by conditions
seen most frequently. Most residents admitted the reality is they dont expect to
remember the content in the SCI learning resource but will remember to access
the resource when they need the information in a just-in-time manner.

Understanding the needs of the audience is a prerequisite to effectively planning

any learning event (MacDonald et al., 2004). When designing online learning
resources, being aware of and adhering to the needs of the audience is important
to ensure that the resource will be effective (MacDonald et al., 2001). Because
family physicians are generalists who treat patients with a broad spectrum of

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


medical conditions, the reality is they are unable to know everything they need
to know on every condition and situation. Residents in this study confirmed that
by designing the SCI resource so it can be accessed anytime and anywhere there
is an Internet connection will enable them to retrieve information from it on a
need to know basis.

Several residents commented that in addition to treating persons with SCI, the
information on pressure ulcers, constipation and degenerative disk disease make
the resource also valuable to use in several medical situations and with a variety
of patients. Designing quality online learning experiences requires considerable
resources in terms of time, effort and money. Creating a resource that is
adaptable to different situations is a sign of quality eLearning design and critical
in the healthcare economic climate. Residents reported the resource was
versatile and had applicable information for treating a variety of patients.
Reusability, generativity, and adaptability are important characteristics of
quality learning resources and a value-added component of any quality-learning
event (MacDonald et al., 2001).

Residents identified several pedagogical strategies used in the learning resource

that took advantage of new technologies and utilized scenarios drawn from real-
life situations. It is therefore important to revisit teaching practices to take
advantage of the possibilities offered by new technologies (Mejias, 2006). In this
study residents acknowledge the content was authentic, comprehensive and
utilized pedagogical strategies incorporated in scenarios drawn from real-life

When asked what they thought of the resource, residents consistently

commented that it was organized, followed a logical progression, and was filled
with useful knowledge, resources and links. Residents conveyed they
appreciated having the information they needed on SCI conveniently located in
one place and repeatedly commented they found the links providing access to
numerous resources beneficial.

Every resident reported they found the resource user-friendly and easy to
navigate. Several residents stated they appreciated the fact that the resource was
online. Although a few residents stated they glanced at the resource on their
phone, most reported they hadnt tried to access the resource on their phone but
completed the resource on their desktop computer. Several residents explained
they access the Internet several times a day to obtain medical information.

When learning resources contain relevant information integrating clinical

experiences and learning activities they tend to be motivated to access and
complete a learning resource (MacDonald et al., 2001). When asked if anything
could be done differently that would have kept interest, suggestions included
using more interactive technology.

Residents stated they learned new knowledge as a result of going through the
resource. Several of these residents commented specifically on the value of

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


learning about autonomic dysreflexia. Other residents commented the SCI

resource increased their knowledge of respiratory complications, and wound
care. One indication that residents plan to access the resource in the future is
that several reported they book marked the resource.

One consistent outcome residents reported from participating in the resource

was a raised awareness of the treatment of SCI. Residents revealed that being
more aware of issues related to SCI will help them become more proactive when
treating persons with SCI in the future. A few residents stated they discussed the
resource with other residents, their supervisors, residents in other disciplines
and family physicians.

In addition to raising awareness and knowledge regarding what to look for and
how to treat issues related to SCI, several residents reported that after
completing the SCI resource, they realized they could have managed the
treatment of a SCI patient better in the past had they completed the resource
earlier, and they intend to apply their new knowledge next time. Several
residents commented on how the resource increased their comfort regarding
treating persons with SCI.

There are limitations to this study. The sample group was 28, which may
influence the range of responses; however there was great consistency in the
themes that emerged. The residents participating in this study were from one
particular location of a single family medicine residency program. Residents
might be considered to be more technologically astute then more experienced
family physicians and therefore might have different opinions. Lastly, more
clinically experienced family physicians may have different learning styles and
needs and therefore more research with this group may be necessary.

In conclusion, residents reported they enjoyed the SCI learning experience and
learned new information and raised their awareness with regard to diagnosing,
treating and managing persons with SCI. Residents confirmed that by designing
the SCI resource so it can be accessed anytime and anywhere there is an Internet
connection will enable them to retrieve information from it on a need to know
basis. Therefore, in response to the research question, structuring and designing
a SCI resource that can be accessed conveniently online is a viable approach to
providing relevant authentic information to physicians and/or residents
regarding this vulnerable patient population.

By sharing critical information in a convenient online format we hope to reduce

the number of hospital emergency visits and secondary complications that occur
in persons with SCI by increasing the comfort level and knowledge of family
physicians who care for this unique population.

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Appendix A: W(e)Learn Post-module Survey

For the following questions, the available response options are: Strongly disagree,
Disagree, Strongly agree, Agree, Not applicable
1) The content is of appropriate depth and breadth
2) The content is well organized
3) The content is accurate and free of errors
4) The content includes information that will help me in my personal and/or
professional life.
5) The content includes information I will be able to use in my personal and/or
professional situations
6) The content includes sufficient online resources
7) In this resource it was easy to "navigate" through the content.
8) Website features provide relevant and appropriate use of technology
9) The instructions are divided into clear and logical sections
10) Presentation of material utilizes aesthetically pleasing graphics
11) Presentation of material utilizes effective pop-up menus and windows
12) The choice of technological tools facilitates a meaningful learning experience
13) The choice of technological tools allow me to learn using my preferred learning
14) The resource respects my experience and knowledge
15) The subject matter experts are qualified and experienced in the industry
16) There is easy access to support tools, information, and help
17) There is easy access to related web-sites
18) The resource meets my needs with regards to content
19) The resource meets my needs with regards to media
20) The resource kept my interest
21) The resource motivates me to learn
22) The resource is relevant
23) The resource engages me in the learning experience
24) The material follows a logical progression
25) The modules provides opportunities for problem-solving experiences
26) The modules provide opportunities to apply material learned
27) The material challenges and supports my ideas
28) Engaging in this resource minimises or eliminates travel expenses related to
furthering my professional education
29) The resource is interesting
30) The resource is valuable
31) As a result of my participation in these modules I understand new principles
32) As a result of my participation in these modules I have acquired proficiency in
new techniques
33) As a result of my participation in these modules I will initiate new ideas and/or
projects in the workplace
Please complete the following statements:
1. The most valuable aspect of the resource is
2. The design or delivery of this resource could be improved by
3. What, if anything, did you learn in this resource that you will apply in either
your personal or professional life?

2015 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


Appendix B: Semi-Structured Interview Questions

1. Why are you interested in this topic?

2. Can you describe your overall experience using the online Caring for Persons
with Spinal Cord Injury learning resource?
3. Did the module address the learning objectives stated at the beginning of the
4. How did you find the content)?
5. Was the content relative to your personal and/or professional life?
6. How did you find the navigation through the content of the learning resource?
7. Did the resource features provide appropriate use of technology?
8. Did you find the choice of technological tools facilitated a meaningful learning
9. Where you able to identify with some of the scenarios presented in the module?
If so, how did their experiences affect you?
10. Was the program easy to access?
11. Were the modules easy to navigate through? Were there any technical
difficulties that you encountered?
12. Was there easy access to support tools, information, and help?
13. How did you find the access to related web-sites?
14. Did the resource address your learning needs?
15. Did the modules keep your interest?
16. Did the module(s) follow a logical progression?
17. Did the modules keep your interest and keep you motivated to learn?
18. Did you gain new knowledge and skills that have learned through participating
in this resource? If so, can you give an example of this?
19. Have you changed your understanding of the topic as result of taking the
modules? If so, have you shared what you have learned with your
20. What, if anything, did you learn in this resource that you will apply in either
your personal or professional life?
21. Will you use this resource in the future? If so, why/how?
22. What was the best part of the module?
23. What was your least favourite part of the module? What, if anything, was
missing from this learning experience? Please give examples.
24. How could the modules be improved?

Appendix C
Table 1.1: Trainees Responses to the Structure Items for Caring for Persons with SCI
Program Evaluation (N=28)

Response Options
# Answer Options Strongly Disagree Agree Strongly Not
Disagree Agree Applicable
The resource meets my needs
1 0 0 12 16 0
with regards to content
The resource meets my needs
2 0 3 13 12 0
with regards to media

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3 The resource kept my interest 0 1 17 10 0

The resource motivates me to 13 13
4 0 2 0
5 The resource is relevant 0 0 8 20 0
The resource engages me in
6 0 0 0
the learning experience 18 10
The material follows a logical
7 0 1 0
progression 6 21
The modules provide
8 8
8 opportunities for problem- 0 12 0
solving experiences
The modules provide
8 9
9 opportunities to apply 0 11 0
material learned
The material challenges and
10 0 1 17 9 1
supports my ideas

Table 1.2: Trainees Responses to the Content Items for Caring for Persons with SCI
Program Evaluation (N=28)

Response Options
# Answer Options Strongly Disagree Agree Strongly Not
Disagree Agree Applicable
The content is of appropriate
1 0 0 11 17 0
depth and breadth
2 The content is well organized 0 3 11 17 0
The content is accurate and
3 1 0 0
free of errors 18 9
The content includes
information that will help me
4 0 0 0
in my personal and/or 12 16
professional life
The content includes
information I will be able to
5 0 0 1
use in my personal and/or 12 15
professional situations
The content includes
6 0 1 0
sufficient online resources 12 15

Table 1.3: Trainees Responses to the Service Items for Caring for Persons with SCI
Program Evaluation (N=28)

Response Options
# Answer Options Strongly Disagree Agree Strongly Not
Disagree Agree Applicable
The resource respects my
1 0 0 11 17 0
experience and knowledge
The subject matter experts are
2 qualified and experienced in 0 0 14 14 0
the industry
There is easy access to
14 13
3 support tools, information, 0 0 1
and help
There is easy access to related 13 13
4 0 1 1

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Table 1.4: Trainees Responses to the Media Items for Caring for Persons with SCI
Program Evaluation (N=28)

Response Options
# Answer Options Strongly Disagree Agree Strongly Not
Disagree Agree Applicable
In this resource it was easy to
1 "navigate" through the 0 0 9 19 0
Website features provide
2 relevant and appropriate use 0 0 14 14 0
of technology
The instructions are divided
3 0 1 9 19 0
into clear and logical sections
Presentation of material
14 13
4 utilizes aesthetically pleasing 0 1 0
Presentation of material
11 14
5 utilizes effective pop-up 0 3 0
menus and windows
The choice of technological
15 13
6 tools facilitates a meaningful 0 0 0
learning experience
The choice of technological
17 11
7 tools allow me to learn using 0 0 0
my preferred learning style

Table 1.5: Trainees Responses to the Outcome Items for Caring for Persons with SCI
Program Evaluation (N=28)

Response Options
# Answer Options Strongly Disagree Agree Strongly Not
Disagree Agree Applicable
Engaging in this resource
minimizes or eliminates travel
1 0 0 15 8 5
expenses related to furthering
my professional education
2 The resource is interesting 0 0 18 10 0
3 The resource is valuable 0 0 8 20 0
As a result of my
13 15
4 participation in these modules 0 0 0
I understand new principles
As a result of my
participation in these modules
5 0 8 4
I have acquired proficiency in 9 7
new techniques
As a result of my
14 4
participation in these modules
6 I will initiate new ideas 0 4 6
and/or projects in the

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research

Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 63-96, November 2015

Saxon Math in the Middle Grades: A Content


Emma P. Bullock
Utah State University
Logan, Utah

M. Jill Ashby, Britney Spencer, Kaylee Manderino

and Katy Myers
Mountainville Academy
Alpine, Utah

Abstract. This paper discusses a content analysis of the Saxon Math curriculum
in the middle school grades of 6th to 8th grades. Researchers reviewed the Saxon
math programs philosophical and pedagogical intent in light of common
curriculum ideologies and the adoption of the Common Core State Standards
across the United States. Data were gathered and analyzed in the areas of clarity,
comprehensiveness, accuracy, depth of mathematical inquiry and mathematical
reasoning, organization, and balance. Strengths of the program include
comprehensiveness, accuracy, and organization.

Keywords: mathematics education; curriculum; content analysis; Saxon Math;

middle grades.

Public education is a complex struggle between competing cultural interests,
hard practical and bureaucratic realities, and the needs of various stakeholders.
The political and social conditions of any given time and geographical region,
greatly influence what society deems important, and thus, what should be
passed along to the rising generation. In nothing are political, economic,
religious, social, and educational interests more controversial than what should
or should not be included in the public school curriculum. With the Russian
launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the ensuing passage of the National Defense
Education Act of 1958, the specific development of more rigorous mathematics
curriculum took on a greater urgency in the United States of America. However,
what defines rigorous continues to be, and has only become, more
controversial over time.

In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) published its

pioneering Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. A
subsequent revision of this landmark publication under the new title, Principles

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and Standard for School Mathematics, followed in 2000. These, along with the
passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 and the adoption of the
Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) (Common Core State
Standards Initiative, 2010) by the majority of the states, contributed to an even
higher level of accountability in mathematics, with its accompanying emphasis
on high-stakes testing for all groups of students. As such, it became of great
importance to many interest groups from parents, to legislators, to textbook
companies at federal, state, and local levels to determine what constitutes a
rigorous and effective mathematics curriculum.

It is beyond the scope of this project to consider all the mathematics curriculum
available in todays vast offerings. However, it may be of help to various
stakeholders, decision makers, and researchers for systematic content analyses
of particular mathematics programs. Therefore, the purpose of this project is to
provide a thorough content analysis of one specific mathematics program in the
middle grades: the Saxon math middle school sequence consisting of the
curricular resources associated with Course 1, Course 2, and Course 3.

Review of Relevant Literature

Three areas influenced the design and implementation of this content analysis:
current common curriculum ideologies, the Saxon math program philosophical
and pedagogical intent, and previous research on the effectiveness of the Saxon
math program.

1. Curriculum Ideologies
While many curriculum researchers have given labels to past and current
interest groups (Apple, 2004; Kliebard, 2004; Noddings, 2013), Eisner (2003)
identified six current overarching curriculum ideologies that will be referenced
in this paper as a way to describe the complexities found in the current political
and economic climate in the United States: religious orthodoxy, rational
humanism, progressivism, critical theory, reconceptualism, and cognitive
pluralism. Kliebard (2004) also introduced the concept of social efficiency as an
ideology that will be added to Eisners list. A brief definition of each ideology

Religious orthodoxy refers to the ideological stance associated with a belief in

the importance of Gods word in defining the content, aims, and conditions of
education practice (Eisner, 2003). Thus, the objective of an orthodoxy is to mold
others perspectives so they are consistent with the views contained in the
orthodoxy. However, dogmatism can also be thought of as an orthodoxy. This
can include both liberal and conservative dogmatism. Any curriculum ideology
that attempts to develop unquestioning true believers could fall under this
category. It is an interesting side note that many private schools, including both
secular and non-secular, choose Saxon math as their math program. In addition,
Saxon math started out as a home school curriculum that expanded first to
private and then to public school (especially public charter schools).

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The rational humanism ideological perspective advocates for all children to

receive equally superior content; or, the very best the culture has to offer, as
determined by societal norms. As such, electives are undesirable and vocational
studies should only be attempted after the general education of a child (Eisner,
2003). Progressivism as an ideology advocates for the emotional and social life of
the child with an emphasis on improving the social order. Many of John
Deweys ideas are associated with progressivism even though he often
advocated for a blending of ideological perspectives (Dewey, 2003). Critical
theory as an ideology advocates for the acknowledgement of the implicit values
that fundamentally control the educational enterprise. Thus, the revealing of the
hidden curriculum along with whose interests are being served is essential
(Eisner, 2003). Reconceptualism as an ideology promotes a deep appreciation for
personal meaning, lived experience, creative expression, and for qualitative
ways of describing and measuring phenomenon (Eisner, 2003). Cognitive
pluralism focuses on the plurality of meaning and intelligence (Gardner, 1993)
and the need to expand the idea of literacy to be all ways in which human being

The final ideology considered for this analysis is that of social efficiency.
Kliebard (2004), which emphasizes the creation of a coolly efficient, smoothly
running society. While this ideology had its beginning at the turn of the 20 th
century, aspects of this ideology are so embedded in American culture as to be
almost unconscious. While it is not one of Eisners six current ideologies, and is
unpopular with current researchers, it nonetheless permeates the bureaucratic
and organizational structure of schools to such a degree, there really is no other
ideology that encompasses the current state of accountability.

In the current political climate with the implementation of CCSSM and the high-
stakes testing environment, the rational humanism and social efficiency
ideologies seem to dominate the landscape of mathematics curriculum in the
United States; although aspects of reconceptualism and cognitive pluralism can
be found in the CCSSM as part of the mathematical practices (NCTM, 2000,
2014). Saxon math programs seem to resonate with those interest groups that
have religious orthodoxy, rational humanism, and social efficiency ideological
tendencies. From this researchers experience those with progressive, critical
theory, reconceptualistic, and cognitive pluralistic leanings tend to criticize the
Saxon math program.

2. Program Philosophy and Pedagogical Intent

The Saxon mathematics educational philosophy is very different from most
traditional and reform mathematics programs. This difference is most felt in the
organizational structure of the program. Instead of units grouped around
specific big ideas, Saxon math breaks apart these units and distributes and
integrates the concepts across the year. The philosophical foundation behind this
is the belief that the mastery of standards happens at different rates for different
students, a reconceptualist idea. However, the philosophy proposes students
need time to interact with mathematical ideas and to process these ideas to
achieve long lasting mastery, or automaticity, of each part of every standard,

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more of a rational humanist idea. Within this distributed and integrated

structure, content is supposed to be mastered through small increments, called
lessons, followed by daily, cumulative and integrated practice, and strategically-
placed assessments every five lessons (Saxon math, 2013); a socially efficient
idea. Because of this organizational structure, the intent for the teacher is to
teach every lesson, without skipping lessons (rational humanism and socially
efficient). While lessons can be combined to quicken the pace or enriched with
various internal or external materials, the developers do not intend for teachers
to skip lessons or alter the order of the lessons.

In 2007, Saxon math, as a subsidiary of Harcourt publishers, underwent major

revisions to their standard middle grade texts. Previously known as Math 76,
Math 87, and Algebra , these texts were redesigned to give more emphasis to
problem solving, inquiry, technology, manipulative use, and to enhance teacher
resources. These revised texts were renamed Course 1, Course 2, and Course 3
and are intended for grades six through eight. In 2010 and 2012, Harcourt added
Standards Success Books with additional materials and topics to help align the
texts to the new Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM). These
additional materials included extra topics with instructions for when to teach
them in the organizational structure along with additional student and teacher

3. Discussion of Previous Research

As a result of these new revisions, there are no research studies using the new
Course 1, 2, and 3 texts. However, there are many studies which looked at the
older Saxon math sequence. These research studies show mixed results in
effectiveness. For example, in an experimental study comparing students using
Saxon math 87 to a group using the KeyMath Teach and Practice program,
students using Saxon performed better on math computations (Greathouse,
1997). In analyzing the effects of Saxon math on middle school students in Texas,
California, and North Carolina, using their respective standardized tests,
researchers found small to large positive effect sizes for all students, regardless
of demographics, although not significantly different from other math programs
(Resendez & Azin, 2007; Resendez, Fahmy, & Azin, 2005; Resendez, 2008; What
Works Clearinghouse (ED), 2010). Since these predate the implementation of the
CCSSM, research on the effectiveness of these new revisions will need to be
done as assessments aligned with the CCSSM become available. However, to
begin this process, the purpose of this paper is to provide a thorough content
analysis of the Saxon math middle school curriculum comprising Course 1,
Course 2, and Course 3 in light of the CCSSM. It is hoped this content analysis
will help inform future researchers interested in the effectiveness of the revised
Saxon curriculum.

In conducting this content analysis, the criteria are taken from the
recommendations outlined in On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the
Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations (2004). First, from the disciplinary
perspective, this analysis will look at Saxon maths clarity, comprehensiveness,

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accuracy, depth of mathematical inquiry and mathematical reasoning,

organization, and balance. These are defined as follows:
1. Clarity of mathematics content: Are there too many disjointed and
overlapping mathematics topics? Are there objectives or an identification of
the major conceptual ideas?
2. Comprehensiveness: Are the CCSSM completely covered? Do they prepare
students for the next level?
3. Accuracy: Are there errors?
4. Mathematical inquiry: What are the elements of intuition necessary to create
insight into the genesis and evolution of mathematical ideas, to make
conjectures, to identify and develop mathematical patterns, and to conduct
and study simulations?
5. Mathematical reasoning: Formalizations, definition, and proof, often based
on deductive reasoning, formal use of induction, and other methods of
establishing the correctness, rigor, and precise meaning of ideas and patterns
found through mathematical inquiry.
6. Organization: Is there a logical progression of concept development?
7. Balance: What is the relative emphasis among the choices of approaches used
to attain comprehensiveness, accuracy, depth of mathematical inquiry and
reasoning, and organization? What curricular choices were made to enact the
curriculum in real time?

Second, from the learner perspective, this analysis will look at the programs
engagement, timeliness and support for diversity, and assessment, defined as
1. Engagement: How do the materials capture a variety of aspects of attention
to students participation in the learning process that may vary because of
considerations of prior knowledge, interests, curiosity, compelling
misconceptions, alternative perspectives, or motivation?
2. Timeliness and support for diversity: How does this meet the needs of all
students, in terms of the level of preparation (high, medium, low), the
diverse perspectives, the cultural resources and backgrounds of students,
and the timeliness of the pace of instruction?
3. Assessment: How do these materials determine what students know?

Finally, from the teacher perspective, this analysis will look at the programs
intended pedagogy, resources, and professional development (National
Research Council, 2004), again, defined as follows:
1. Pedagogy and resources: How do the materials pay attention to the abilities
and needs of teachers? Do the materials help strengthen teachers content
knowledge? How are children expected to be filtered (grouped)? What
resources do teachers have to deal with various situations?
2. Professional development: What are the expectations of the designers for
professional development? How are teachers expected to develop deeper


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While considering these questions, the researcher met with a group of 4 middle
grades mathematics teachers at a suburban, public charter school to
systematically review every lesson to identify which CCSSM standard(s) were
covered (see Appendices A, B and C for coverage tables). The researcher
discussed the best placement with the teachers and came to consensus before
moving to the next lesson. However, sometimes the group decided to go back
and reassess their decisions as future lessons were considered. In all about 50
hours were spent in this analysis.

1. Disciplinary Perspective
Clarity of mathematics content. The philosophy behind the Saxon math
organizational structure does not allow for the identification of major conceptual
ideas in the traditional sense of a unit. While objectives are listed for every
individual lesson, teachers would need to create an awareness of the big ideas of
the CCSSM for their students. There is only minimal help for this in the teacher
materials. Also, because of the distributed and integrated approach, various
standards from third through high school are covered in Course 1 and Course 2.
In Course 3, various standards from 4th through high school are covered. In
addition, topics are arranged in a distributed way. For example, in lessons 66-70
of Course 2, the standard 7th grade text, the following topics are covered with the
corresponding CCSSM standard in parentheses: Ratio Problems Involving Totals
(6.RP.3), Geometric Solids (7.G.3), Algebraic Addition (7.NS.1a, 7.NS.1b, 7.NS.1c,
7.NS.1b), Proper Form of Scientific Notation (8.EE.3), and Volume (6.G.2). While
all of the standards from the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade core are covered in each
respective course if all the lessons are taught with the additional topics from the
Standards Success Books, the depth required by the core would need to be
consciously developed by the teacher. While resources exist to do this, it is not
necessarily laid out for the teacher.

As further examples, in Course 2, only 62 out of the 132 lessons specifically cover
7th grade CCSSM standards. The other 70 lessons include content from 6th grade
(35 lessons), 8th grade (17 lessons), 5th grade (15 lessons), 4th grade (9 lessons),
high school (5 lessons), 3rd grade (3 lessons), and not in the CCSSM (3 lessons). In
Course 3, only 57 out of the 160 lessons include content specifically from the 8th
grade CCSSM standards, the other 103 lessons include content from high school
(45 lessons), 7th grade (33 lessons), 6th grade (32 lessons), not in the CCSSM (7
lessons), 5th grade (2 lessons), and 4th grade (3 lessons). It should be noted that
lessons sometimes cover content from multiple grade standards. It would be
easy for an inexperienced teacher to skip the level of preparation needed to
highlight the big ideas expected by the CCSSM and have students experience a
disjointed collection of various topics. Thus the clarity, expected by the CCSSM,
is the major weakness in the Saxon math middle school offerings.

Comprehensiveness. The CCSSM standards are completely covered in each of

the Courses (see Appendices A, B and C for coverage tables) if used in
conjunction with the Standards Success Books. If all the lessons are taught, each
course builds on the next so students are prepared for the next level. A

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comprehensive review of previous levels is part of the first 20-30 lessons to

ensure all students are prepared before moving into more complex topics. Thus,
comprehensiveness is a strength in the Saxon math middle school curriculum.

Accuracy. With the new revisions there are some errors in the solutions
manuals. In some instances, entire blocks of questions are different from the
problems in the student textbooks, especially in Course 2. The problems are less
in the solutions manuals of Course 1 and Course 3. The errors are mainly in the
solutions to the problem sets (homework). There are rare errors in the test
solutions. However, the problems and answers are always correct in the
teachers manual highlighted in red. The examples in the teacher and student
texts and resources are also always mathematically correct. Thus, accuracy for
these materials is a strength if the solutions manuals are disregarded and other
resources are used to grade assignments.

Mathematical inquiry. The new revisions included a much heavier emphasis on

inquiry, technology use, and problem solving. Every lesson includes problem
solving activities and exercises. In addition, every 10 lessons there is an
investigation encouraging mathematical inquiry and depth. Performance tasks
and activities are available every five lessons to allow students to explore topics
in the real world and to explain their thinking with open ended questions.
However, the performance tasks are additional resources and could be skipped
easily if a teacher were not aware. Thus mathematical inquiry is a slight
weakness for this program.

Mathematical reasoning. The elements of formalizations, definition, and proof

are found scattered throughout the lessons and especially in the investigations.
As the courses progress, there is more of an emphasis on this in Course 2 than in
Course 1 and even more in Course 3 than in Course 2. Mathematical reasoning is
a slight weakness for this program.

Organization. There is a logical progression of concept development. Concepts

are carefully developed, integrated, and practiced to create a foundation for
more complex topics. Especially taken across the full three years, students are
very well prepared by the organization to be successful in high school courses.
This is a strength for the Saxon math program.

Balance. The Saxon math philosophy is centered on the concept of automaticity,

or that students can look at a problem and know how to approach it with rapid
ease. The program does not expect mastery when a topic is first introduced. The
program carefully spirals to allow students time to process concepts and practice
them to promote long-term retention. As such, clarity and depth of
mathematical inquiry and reasoning are partially sacrificed for
comprehensiveness, accuracy, and organization. The Saxon math program does
what it says it does. It promotes long-term retention through distributed practice
and integrated topics.

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2. Learner Perspective
Engagement. The program has a built in review period at the beginning of each
level. The first 20-30 lessons allow for a review of previous concepts that could
be used to help students that may lack prior knowledge, or these lessons could
be rapidly covered for those who do not. In addition, early finishers in the
written practice offer the opportunity to deepen mathematical learning with
problem solving, cross-curricular, and enrichment activities. Extensions in the
investigations allow students to expand their knowledge of the investigation
concepts, work on their higher-order thinking skills, and explore more
connections. The teacher also has access to Extend the Problem suggestions for
more ways to engage the advanced learner. Performance Tasks and activities
also allow for real-world connections. Graphing calculator activities, online
activities, and manipulative kits are available for greater depth of
understanding. If teachers choose to use these materials, there are multiple ways
to appeal to students with various differentiated needs. However, the materials
are not designed to explore issues of power or social justice. Teachers would
need to supplement such materials if this were a goal of their school or district.

Timeliness and support for diversity. While the developers generally expect
teachers to cover one lesson a day, adaptations are available for faster and
slower paces as needed. Adaptations are available for special education or self-
contained resource classrooms, Title I resources exist for pullout programs, and
a test and practice generator is provided to create individualized worksheets. In
addition, throughout the student text, ESL/ELL students have structures to help
them acquire mathematical understanding through visual models, hands-on
activities, and mathematical conversations and language prompts. Teacher notes
in this area focus on language acquisition, not on re-teaching or simplifying the
mathematics. If social justice issues are not a primary, or even secondary goal,
this is a strength of the Saxon math curriculum.

Assessment. During instruction, opportunities for assessment include practice

sets and the daily written practice. Re-teaching masters are also available for
every lesson. Every five lessons there is a Power-Up test to assess basic facts and
skills, as well as problem solving strategies, and a Cumulative Test to check
mastery of concepts from previous lessons. Two test versions are provided for
retake opportunities. Again, teachers can make individualized assessments, as
needed. Every quarter, there is a multiple choice benchmark test. A final
multiple choice exam is also available. Performance tasks with accompanying
rubrics are available every five lessons for alternative ways to assess mastery. A
deficiency is assessment in the use of technology. The assessments are all paper
and pencil tests.

3. Teacher Perspective
Pedagogy and resources. Teacher materials list the objectives of each lesson, the
materials needed, the math language introduced or needed (including ESL
specific vocabulary), and the technology resources and adaptations available. In
addition, teacher tips referring to ways to use manipulatives, think about
concepts, and anticipate student errors are embedded in the teacher text. Specific
prompts are given to encourage mathematical discourse, develop problem

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solving strategies and tie in to past and future concepts. There are many
resources to help teachers with limited abilities including partial scripts, if
desired. Specific sections in the teacher materials help teachers to make
connection to other subjects such as geography, history, science, and sports.
Every ten lessons, possible big ideas are listed such as algebraic thinking,
probability and fractions, equivalence, measurement and geometry, and spatial
thinking. However, teacher learning through inquiry is not explored explicitly.

Professional development. Professional development is available through

Harcourt Publishers however it is sparse and not required. Advanced
Implementation Workshops and webinars such as Response to Intervention:
Supporting All 3 Tiers, Getting to Know the Common Core, and Classroom
Observation Best Practices for Administrators are available although somewhat
generic. These offer some instruction to teachers; however, the program was
designed to be implemented with minimal professional development. The
developers do not push for schools to purchase professional development
packages as part of implementation. This is a weakness of the program.

As a comprehensive K-12 program, Saxon math provides a unique choice in
todays curricular offerings. Due to its unusual organizational structure
constructed of distributed units of instruction, integrated strands, and
incremental learning, no other program looks or feels like Saxon math. In
keeping with the developers philosophical and pedagogical intent, the program
has strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered before adoption, as
well as features that may appeal to certain ideological leanings.

The strengths of the program include comprehensiveness, accuracy, and

organization. This is consistent with the developers intent to foster long-term
mastery and automaticity. While mathematical inquiry and reasoning have been
greatly enhanced from previous editions, it is still not a central goal in the
middle school courses. Teachers would need to consciously and purposely
integrate this aspect of the program. While resources exist, they are not as easily
integrated into the teacher materials and could be overlooked by less
experienced teachers.

Student engagement, resources for diverse needs, and assessment are also
strengths of this program rational humanism and socially efficient perspectives.
Teachers have access to a wide variety of formative and summative paper and
pencil assessments. Many ways to track student progress are embedded in the
program. Teachers also have access to many different ways to engage students,
enrich and enhance learning, and reteach as necessary.

The greatest weakness of the program is clarity of mathematical content due to

its lack of organization around big ideas. Other weaknesses include integration
of technology and professional development. While technology use has been
added to the new revisions (previously technology was completely absent),
there is still a general lack of technology use to explore and expand on concepts.

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Teacher professional development is also generally lacking. It appears the

developers feel a teacher should be able to read the materials and know how to
teach the program. While professional development is available, it is only
vaguely program specific and generally comes across as an afterthought.

Recommendations for Improvement

In future revisions, the developers could keep true to their philosophical and
pedagogical intent and still integrate technology and socially justice focused
activities or investigations more pervasively throughout the lessons. This could
also be a way to organize the content around big ideas and thus address the
clarity of mathematics content weakness. In addition, professional development
needs to be developed specifically for Saxon math. As a program so unique, it
would increase the validity of the program to ensure implementation is
happening across classrooms in line with the programs foundational principles.
This program could easily devolve into a less rigorous, rote learning
environment without adequate, continuous professional development.

The Saxon math middle school curricular offerings consisting of Course 1,
Course 2, and Course 3, offer a comprehensive, organizationally strong choice to
schools across America. With recent revisions and additional resources ensuring
a complete coverage of the CCSSM, schools can feel comfortable that all relevant
mathematical topics with be introduced. However, schools may hesitate to adopt
the program because the clarity of the mathematics content of the program is a
major weakness due to its lack of organization around big mathematical ideas.
In addition, unless teachers receive specific professional development, it is
possible the program can become more about breadth than depth as intended by
the CCSSM.

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Apple, M. W. (2004). Idealogy and curriculum (3rd ed.). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common core state standards for
mathematics. Washington, D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best
Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Dewey, J. (2003). My pedagogic creed. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The
Curriculum Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.
Eisner, E. (2003). Curriculum ideologies. In The Educational Imagination: On the Design and
Evaluation of School Programs (pp. 202249). Upper Saddle River: Merrill-Prentice
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice. Basic books.
Greathouse, D. (1997). Utilizing Keymath Teach and Practice to improve middle school
students arithmetic skills. Psychological Reports, 81(3), 13611362.
Kliebard, H. M. (2004). The struggle for the American curriculum (3rd ed.). New York:
National Research Council. (2004). On evaluating curricular effectiveness: Judging the quality
of K-12 mathematics evaluations. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies
NCTM. (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Charlotte, NC: Information
Age Publishing.
NCTM. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all. Reston, VA:
National Council of Teachers in Mathematics.
Noddings, N. (2013). Education and democracy in the 21st century. New York: Teachers
College Press.
Resendez, M. (2008). The relationship between using Saxon Math at the elementary and middle
school levels and student performance on the North Carolina statewide assessment.
Retrieved from
Resendez, M., & Azin, M. (2007). The relationship between using Saxon Elementary and
Middle School Math and student performance on California statewide
assessments. Retrieved March, 15, 2010.
Resendez, M., Fahmy, A., & Azin, M. (2005). The relationship between using Saxon
Middle School math and student performance on Texas statewide assessments.
Jackson, WY: Pres Associates. Retrieved from
Saxon math. (2013). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved November 23, 2013, from
What Works Clearinghouse (ED). (2010). Saxon math. What works clearinghouse
intervention report. What Works Clearinghouse.

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Appendix A
Table 1: Course 3
Lesson # Content Standard

1 Number Line: Comparing and Ordering Integers 6.NS.6c; 6.NS.7a, 6.NS.7c

2 Operations of Arithmetic 6.EE.3

3 Addition and Subtraction Word Problems 6.EE.6; 6.EE.7

4 Multiplication and Division Word Problems 6.EE.6; 6.EE.7

5 Fractional Parts 4.NF.2

6 Converting Measures 6.RP.3d

7 Rates and Average; Measures of Central 6.RP.2, 3b; 6.SP.5c


8 Perimeter and Area 6.G.1

9 Prime Numbers

10 Rational Numbers; Equivalent Fractions 6.NS.6c; 6.NS.4

Test 1

Inv. 1 The Coordinate Plane 6.NS.6b

11 Percents 6.RP.3c

12 Decimal Numbers 8.NS.1

13 Adding and Subtracting Fractions and Mixed 5.NF.1


14 Evaluation; Solving Equations by Inspection 8.EE.7

15 Powers and Roots 8.EE.2

Test 2

16 Irrational Numbers 8.NS.1, 8.NS.2

17 Rounding and Estimating 4.OA.3

18 Lines and Angles 7.G.2, 8.G.5

19 Polygons 8.G.2

20 Triangles 6.G.1, 8.G.5

Test 3

Inv. 2 Pythagorean Theorem 8.G.6, 8.G.7

21 Distributive Property; Order of Operations 6.EE.3

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22 Multiplying and Dividing Fractions 6.NS.1

23 Multiplying and Dividing Mixed Numbers 6.NS.1

24 Adding and Subtracting Decimal Numbers 6.NS.3

25 Multiplying and Dividing Decimal Numbers 6.NS.3

Test 4

26 Transformations 8.G.1a, 8.G.1b, 8.G.1c,

8.G.3, 8.G.4

27 Laws of Exponents 8.EE.1

28 Scientific Notation for Large Numbers 8.EE.3, 8.EE.4

29 Ratio 6.RP.1, 6.RP.2, 6.RP.3

30 Repeating Decimals 8.NS.1

Test 5

Inv. 3 Classifying Quadrilaterals 7.G.2

31 Adding Integers; Collecting Like Terms 7.EE.1

32 Probability 7.SP.5

33 Subtracting Integers 7.NS.1c

34 Proportions; Ratio Word Problems 6.RP.3a

35 Similar and Congruent Polygons 8.G.2, 8.G.5

Test 6

36 Multiplying and Dividing Integers; Multiplying 7.NS.2a; 7.EE.1, 8.EE.2

and Dividing Terms

37 Areas of Combined Polygons 6.G.1, 8.G.7

38 Using Properties of Equality to Solve Equations 8.EE.7b

39 Circumference of a Circle 7.G.4

40 Area of a Circle 7.G.4

Test 7

Inv. 4 Drawing Geometric Solids 7.G.2

41 Functions 8.F.1, 8.F.2, 8.F.4, 8.F.5

42 Volume 6.G.2

43 Surface Area 6.G.4

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44 Solving Proportions Using Cross-Products; Slope 6.RP.3; 8.EE.5

of a Line

45 Ratio Problems Involving Totals 6.RP.3

Test 8

46 Solving Problems Using Scientific Notation 8.EE.4

47 Graphing Functions 8.F.1, 8.F.2

48 Percent of Whole 6.RP.3c

49 Solving Rate Problems with Proportions and 6.RP.3b; 7.RP.2


50 Solving Multi-Step Equations 8.EE.7b

Test 9

Inv. 5 Graphing Transformations 8.G.1a, 8.G.1b, 8.G.1c,


51 Negative Exponents; Scientific Notation for Small 8.EE.1,8.EE.3


52 Using Unit Measures to Measures to Convert 6.RP.3d

Measures; Converting Mixed-Unit to Single-Unit

53 Solving Problems Using Measures of Central 6.SP.3, 6.SP.4, 6.SP.5d,

Tendency 7.SP.4

54 Angle Relationships 7.G.5, 8.G.5

55 Nets of Prisms, Cylinders, Pyramids, and Cones 6.G.4

Test 10

56 The Slope-Intercept Equation of a Line 8.F.3

57 Operations with Small Numbers in Scientific 8.EE.1, 8.EE.3, 8.EE.4


58 Solving Percent Problems with Equations 7.RP.3

59 Experimental Probability 7.SP.6

60 Area of a Parallelogram 8.G.3

Test 11

Inv. 6 Collect, Display, and Interpret Data 8.SP.4

61 Sequences F.BF.2

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A61 Simplifying Equations with Decimals 7.EE.1

62 Graphing Solutions to Inequalities on a Number 7.EE.4b


63 Rational Numbers, Non-Terminating Decimals 8.NS.1; 8.EE.1

and Percents; Fractions with Negative Exponents

A63 Simplifying Equations with Fractions 7.EE.1

64 Using a Unit Multiplier to Convert a Rate N.Q1

65 Applications Using Similar Triangles 8.G.5, G.SRT.1b

Test 12

66 Special Right Triangles 8.G.7, G.SRT.6

A66 Writing the Equation of a Line Given the Slope 8.EE.6

and a Point on the Line

67 Percent of Change 6.RP.3a

68 Probability Multiplication Rule 7.SP.8a

A68 Finding a Slope from Two Given Points 8.F.4

69 Direct Variation 7.RP.2b, 8.EE.5

70 Solving Direct Variation Problems 7.RP.3

Test 13

Inv. 7 Probability Simulation 7.SP.8c

71 Percent Change of Dimensions 8.G.3, 8.G.4 this is even

more complex

A71 Finding the Equation of a Line Given Two Points 8.F.4

72 Multiple Unit Mulipliers N.Q1

73 Formulas for Sequences F.IF.3

A73 Graphing Sequences F.IF.7

74 Simplifying Square Roots 8.EE.2, 8.G.7, N.RN.2;

Honors topic in Sec. 2

75 Area of a Trapezoid

Test 14

76 Volumes of Prisms and Cylinders 6.G.2

77 Inequalities with Negative Coefficients 7.EE.4b

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78 Products of Square Roots N.RN.2

79 Transforming Formulas A.CED.4

80 Adding and Subtracting Mixed Measures; 5.MD.1; A.APR.1


A80 Adding and Subtracting Polynomials A.APR.1

Test 15

Inv. 8 Scatterplots 8.SP.1, 8.SP.2, 8.SP.3,

8.SP.4, S.ID.6a

81 Central Angles G.C.5

82 Graphing Equations Using Intercepts F.IF.7a

83 Probability of Dependent Events 7.SP.8a

A83 Proportions with Unknown in Two Terms 7.RP.3

84 Selecting an Appropriate Rational Number 6.RP.3c

A84 Adding Radical Expressions N.RN.2

85 Surface Area of Cylinders and Prisms 7.G.6

Test 16

86 Volume of Pyramids and Cones 8.G.9

87 Scale Drawing Word Problems 7.G.1

A87 Solving Equations with Two Variables Using 8.EE.8b


88 Review of Proportional and Non-Proportional 7.RP.2a, 7.RP.2b,7.RP.2c,

Relationships 8.EE.5

89 Solving Equations with Two Unknowns by 8.EE. 8a, A.REI.11


90 Sets

Test 17

Inv. 9 Sampling Methods 7.SP.8c

91 Effect of Scaling on Perimeter, Area, and Volume 8.G.4 is more complex

92 Areas of Rectangles with Variable Dimensions; A.APR.1

Products of Binomials

A92 Solving Systems of equations by Substitution, 8.EE.8b

Part 1

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93 Equations with Exponents 8.EE.2, A.REI.4

94 Graphing Pairs on Inequalities on a Number Line 7.EE.4b

95 Slant Heights of Pyramids and Cones 8.G.7

A95 Products Equal to Zero A.REI.4

Test 18

96 Geometric Measures with Radicals 8.G.7

97 Recursive Rules for Sequences F.BF.2

A97 Writing Equations with Two Variables 8.EE.8c

98 Relations and Functions 8.EE.1, 8.EE.2, 8.EE.3,

8.EE.4, F.IF.1

A98 Function Notation F.IF.2

99 Inverse Variation GPE.3

A99 Solving Systems of Equations by Elimination, 8.EE.8b

Part 1

100 Surface Area of Right Pyramids and Cones 6.G.4

Test 19

Inv. 10 Compound Interest 7.RP.3

101 Geometric Probability 7.SP.6

A101 Factoring Quadratics A.SSE.3a

102 Growth and Decay F.BF.2

A102 Solving Systems of Equations by Substitution, 8.EE.8b

Part 2

103 Line Plots; Box and Whisker Plots S.ID.1

104 Volume, Capacity, and Mass in the Metric N.Q1


A104 Solving Systems of Equations by Elimination, 8.EE.8b

Part 2

105 Compound Average and Rate Problems F.IF.6

A105 Solving Quadratic Equations by Factoring, Part 1 A.SSE.3a

Test 20

106 Reviewing the Effects of Scaling on Volume 8.G.4 more complex

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A106 Graphing Linear Inequalities on the Coordinate A.REI.12

Plane, Part 1

107 Volume and Surface Area of Compound Solids G.GMD.3

108 Similar Solids 8.G.4 more complex

A108 Graphing Linear Inequalities on the Coordinate A.REI.12

Plane, Part 2

109 Consumer Interest 7.RP.3

110 Converting Repeating Decimals to Fractions 8.EE.7b

A110 Solving Quadratic Equations by Factoring, Part 2 A.SSE.3a

Test 21

Inv. 11 Non-Linear Functions 8.F.5

111 Volume and Surface Area of a Sphere 8.G.9

112 Ratios of Side Lengths of Right Triangles G.RST.6

A112 Graphing Systems of Inequalities A.REI.12

113 Using Scatterplots to Make Predictions 8.EE.1, 8.EE.2, 8.EE.3,

8.EE.4, S.ID.6a

114 Calculating Area as a Sweep

A114 Solving Systems of Inequalities from Word A.REI.12


115 Relative Sizes of Sides and Angles of a Triangle

Test 22

116 Division by Zero PreCalc, Obj.3c

A116 The Quadratic Formula, Part 1 A.REI.4b

117 Significant Digits

118 Sine, Cosine, Tangent G.RST.6

A118 The Quadratic Formula, Part 2 A.REI.4b

119 Complex Fractions 7.NS.3

A119 Finding the Equation of a Line Parallel to a Given G.GPE.5

Line through a Given Point

120 Rationalizing a Denominator N.RN.2

A120 Finding the Equation of a Line Perpendicular to a G.GPE.5

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Given Line through a Given Point

Inv. 12 Proof of the Pythagorean Theorem 8.G.6

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Appendix B
Table 2: Course 2
Lesson # Content Standard

1 Arithmetic with whole numbers and 7.NS.2b

Money Variables and Money

2 Properties of operation 6.EE.3

3 Unknown numbers in Addition, 7.EE.4a

Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division

4 Number Line 6. NS.6c


5 Place Value through Hundred Trillions 5.NBT.1, 5.NBT.4

Reading and writing whole numbers

6 Factors 4.OA.4, 4.NBT.6


7 Lines, Angles, and Planes 4.G.1

8 Fractions and Percents 6.RP.3c

Inch Ruler

9 Adding, Subtracting, and Multiplying 7.NS.2c

Fractions Reciprocals

10 Writing Division Answers as Mixed 5.NF.1, 5.NF.3

Numbers Improper Fractions

Test 1

Inv 1 Investigating Fractions and Percents with 6.RP.3c


11 Problems about Comparing 7.EE.3, 7.EE.4a

Problems about Seperating

12 Problems about Comparing 7.EE.4a

Elapsed Time Problems

13 Problems about equal groups 7.NS.3, 7.EE.4a

14 Problems about parts of a whole 7.EE.4a, 7.SP.5, 7.SP.6

Simple Probability

15 Equivalent Fractions 4.NF.1; 5.NF.1

Reducing Fractions, Part 1

Test 2

16 U.S. Customary System 5.MD.1; 6.RP.3a

Function Tables

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17 Measuring angles with Protractors 4.MD.6

18 Polygons 5.G.2; 8.G.2

Similar and Congruent

19 Perimeter / Creating Formulas for 3.MD.8; 4.MD.3

Perimeters of Polygons

20 Exponents 6.EE.1; 7.G.6; 8.EE.2

Rectangular Area, Part 1
Square Root

Test 3

Inv 2 Using a compass and Straightedge, Part 1 SM1.G.CO.12

21 Prime and Composite numbers 4.OA.4; 6.NS.4

Prime Factorization

22 Problems about a Fraction of a group 7.NS.2c, 7.NS.3

23 Subtracting Mixed Numbers with 5.NF.1


24 Reducing Fractions, Part 2 7.NS.2c

25 Dividing Fractions 7.NS.2c

Test 4

26 Multiplying and Dividing Mixed Numbers 7.NS.2c, 7.NS.3

27 Multiples 6.NS.4; 6.RP.3a

Least Comon Multiple
Equivalent Division Problems

28 Two-Step Word Problems 7.RP.2c, 7.NS.3

Average, Part 1

29 Rounding Whole Numbers 4.OA.3

Rounding Mixed Numbers
Estimating Answers

30 Common Denominators 4.NF.2

Adding and Subtracting Fractions with
different Denominators

Test 5

Inv 3 Coordinate Plane 6.NS.6b; 6.G.3

31 Reading and Writing Decimal Numbers 5.NBT.3a

32 Metric System 5.MD.1,

33 Comparing Decimals 5.NBT.3b, 5.NBT.4, 6.NS. 3

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Rounding Decimals

34 Decimal Numbers on a number line 5.MD.1, 6.NS.6

35 Adding, Subtracting, multiplying and 7.NS.2c

dividing decimal numbers

Test 6

36 Ratio 7.SP.5, 7.SP.6, 7.SP.7a

Sample Space

37 Area of a triangle 7.G.2, 7.G.6

Rectangulat Area, Part 2

38 Interpreting Graphs 6.SP.5a, 3.MD.3

39 Proportions 6.RP.3

40 Sum of the angle measures of a triangle 7.G.5

Angle Pairs

Test 7

Inv 4 Stem-and-leaf Plots 7.SP.5, 7.SP.6, 7.SP.7a

Box-and-whisker plots

41 Using Formulas 7.G.2, 7.G.6

Distributive Property

42 Repeating Decimals 6.SP.5a, 3.MD.3

43 Converting Decimals to Fractions 6.RP.3

Converting Fractions to Decimals
Converting Percents to Decimals

44 Division Answers 7.G.5

45 Dividing by a decimal number 7.NS.2c, 7.NS.3

Test 8

46 Rates 7.RP.1, 7.RP.2b

47 Powers of 10 5.NBT.2, 6.EE.1

48 Fraction-Decimal-Percent Equivalents 7.NS.2d, 6.RP.3c,

49 Adding and Subtracting Mixed Numbers 5.MD.1, 4.MD.2

50 Unit Multipliers and Unit Conversions 6.RP.3b, 6.RP.3d

Test 9

Inv 5 Creating Graphs 7.SP.1, 7.SP.2, 7.SP.3

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51 Scientific Notation for large numbers 8.EE.3

52 Order of Operations 6.EE.2c

53 Ratio Word Problems 7.RP.1

54 Rate Word Problems 6.RP.3b, 6.RP.2

55 Average and Rate Problems with Multiple 7.RP.2c


Tets 10

56 Plotting Functions 6.EE.9

57 Negative Exponents 7.RP.2c

Scientific Notation for Small Numbers

58 Symmetry 8.G.3

59 Adding Integers on the number line 7.NS.1a, 7.NS.1b, 7.NS.1c,


60 Fractional Part of a number 7.RP.3

Test 11

Inv 6 Classifying Quadrilaterals 7.G.2

61 Area of a Parallelogram 7.G.6

Angles of a parallelogram

62 Classifying triangles 7.G.2

63 Symbols of Inclusion 5.OA.1

64 Adding positive and negative numbers 7.NS.1a, 7.NS.1b, 1.NS.1d

65 Circumference and Pi 7.G.4

Test 12

66 Ratio Problems Involving Totals 6.RP.3

67 Geometric Solids 7.G.3

68 Algebraic Addition 7.NS.1a, 7.NS.1b, 7.NS.1c,


69 Proper Form of Scientific Notation 8.EE.3

70 Volume 6.G.2

Test 13

Inv 7 Balanced Equations 6.EE.5

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71 Finding the Whole Group

When a Fraction is Known

72 Implied Ratios 6.RP.3

73 Multiplying and Dividing Positive and 7.NS.2a, 7.NS.2b, 7.NS.2c

Negative Numbers

74 Fractional Part of a number, Part 2 5.NF.4

75 Area of a Complex Figure 7.G.6

Area of a trapezoid

Test 14

76 Complex Fractions 7.NS.3

77 Percent of a number, Part 2 6.RP.3c

78 Graphing Inequalities 7.EE.4b

79 Estimating Areas 5.NF.4b

80 Transformations 8.G.1, 8.G.2, 8.G.3

Test 15

Inv 8 Probability and Odds 7.SP.5, 7.SP.6, 7.SP.7a, 7.SP.7b,

Compound Events 7.SP.8a, 7.SP.8b, 7.SP.8c
Experimental Probability

81 Using Proportions to Solve Percent 6.RP.3


82 Area of a Circle 7.G.4

83 Multiplying numbers in Scientific Notation 8.EE.4

84 Algebraic Terms 7.EE.1

85 Order of operations with positive and 6.EE.2c, 7.NS.2a, 7.NS.2b,

negative numbers 7.NS.2c

Test 16

86 Number families 6.NS.6

87 Multiplying Algebraic Terms 6.EE.1, 3

88 Multiple Unit Multipliers 6.RP.3d

89 Diagonals 8.G.5
Interior Angles
Exterior Angles

90 Mixed-Number Coefficients 7.EE.1, 7.EE.4a

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Negative Coefficients

Test 17

Inv 9 Graphing Functions 7.RP.2a

91 Evaluations with positive and negative 6.EE.2c


92 Percent of Change 7.RP.3, 7.EE.4a

93 Two-Step Equations and inequalities 7.EE.4b

94 Probability of dependent events 7.SP.8a

95 Volume of a right Solid 7.G.6

Test 18

96 Estimating Angle Measures 7.EE.1

Distributive Property with Algebraic Terms

97 Similar Triangles 7.G.1

Indirect Measure

98 Scale 7.RP.2d
Scale Factor

99 Pythagorean Theorem 8.G.7

100 Estimating Square Roots 8.NS.2

Irrational Numbers

Test 19

Inv 10 Using a compass and Straightedge, Part 2 G.CO.12

101 Translating Expressions into Equations 7.EE.2, 7.EE.4a

102 Transversals 8.G.5; 8.EE.7b

Simplifying Equations

103 Powers of Negative Numbers 8.EE.1

Dividing Terms
Square Roots of Monomials

104 Semicircles, Arcs, and Sectors G.C.5

105 Surface Area of a right solid 7.G.6

Surface area of a sphere

Test 20

106 Solving Literal Equations A.REI.3; A.EE.2

Transforming Formulas
More on Roots

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107 Slope 8.EE.5

108 Formulas and Substitution 6.EE.5

109 Equations with Exponents 8.EE.2

110 Simple Interest and Compound Interest 7.RP.3; A.SSE.3c

Successive Discounts

Test 21

Inv 11 Scale Factor in Surface Area and Volume 7.RP.1, 7.G.6

111 Dividing in Scientific Notation 8.EE.4

112 Applications of the Pythagorean Theorem 8.G.7

113 Volume of Pyramids, Cones, and Spheres 7.G.6

114 Volume, Capacity, and Mass in Metric 7.G.6


115 Factoring Algebraic Expressions 7.EE.1

Test 22

116 Slope-Intercept Form of Linear Equations 8.F.3

117 Copying Geometric Figures 7.G.2

118 Division by zero 7.NS.2b

119 Graphing area and volume formulas 6.EE.9

120 Graphing Nonlinear Equations 6.EE.9

Inv 12 Platonic Solids 6.G.4

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Appendix C
Table 3: Course 1
Lesson # Content Standard

1 Adding Whole Numbers and Money, Subtracting

Whole Numbers and Money, Fact Families, Part 1
2.MD.8, 3.MBT.2
2 Multiplying Whole Numbers and Money,
Dividing Whole Numbers and Money, Fact
Families, Part 2 6.NS.2

3 Unknown Numbers in Addition, Unknown 6.EE.2a, 6.EE.2b,

Numbers in Subtraction 6.EE.5, 6.EE.6, 6.EE.7

4 Unknown Numbers in Multiplication, Unknown 6.EE.2a, 6.EE.2b,

Numbers in Division 6.EE.5, 6.EE.6, 6.EE.7

5 Order of Operations, Part 1 5.OA.1

6 Fractional Parts 4.NF.1, 4.NF.4a

7 Lines, Segments, and Rays, Linear Measure 4.MD.1, 4.MD.5a, 4.G.1

8 Perimeter 3.MD.8

9 The Number Line: Ordering and Comparing; Ext. 6.NS.7a, 6.NS.7b;

Writing, Solving, and Graphing Inequalities 6.EE.8

10 Sequences, Scales 3.OA.9, 2.MD.6

Test 1

Inv. 1 Fequency Tables, Histograms, Surveys 6.SP.2, 6.SP.4, 6.SP.5a,


11 Problems About Comparing; Problems About

Separating 6.EE.2a, 6.EE.6

12 Place Value Through Trillions; Mulistep Problems

(Ex. 5) 4.MBT.3, 5.OA.1

13 Problems About Comparing; Elapsed-Time

Problems 6.EE.2c, 4.OA.3

14 The Number Line: Negative Numbers; Ext. 6.NS.5, 6.NS.6a,

Understanding and Comparing Absolute Values 6.NS.6c,6.NS.7a,
6.NS.7b, 6.NS.7c,

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15 Problems about Equal Groups 6.EE.2a, 6.EE.6, 6.EE.7

Test 2

16 Rounding Whole Numbers; Estimating 4.MBT.3

17 The Number Line: Fractions and Mixed Numbers 3.NF.2a, 3.NF.2b,


18 Average; Line Graphs 6.SP.5c, 6.EE.9

19 Factors, Prime Numbers 4.OA.4

20 Greates Common Factor (GCF); Ext. Using the

GCF and the Distributive Property 6.NS.4

Test 3

Inv. 2 Investigating Fractions with Manipulatives 4.MF.1

21 Divisibility 4.OA.1

22 "Equal Groups" Problems with Fractions 4.NF.4c

23 Ratio, Rate 6.RP.1, 6.RP.2, 6.RP.3b

24 Adding and Subtracting Fractions that Have

Common Denominators 4.NF.3a

25 Writing Division Answers a Mixed Numbers;

Multiples 5.NF.3, 4.OA.4

Test 4

26 Using Manipulatives to Reduce Fractions, Adding

and Subtracting Mixed Numbers 4.NF.3c

27 Measures of Circles 7.G.2

28 Angles 4.G.1

29 Multiplying Fractions, Reducing Fractions by

Dividing Common Factors 5.NF.4

30 Least Common Multiple (LCM); Reciprocals 6.NS.1, 6.NS.4

Test 5

Inv. 3 Measuring and Drawing Angles with a Protractor 4.MD.6

31 Areas of Rectangles 4.MD.3

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32 Expanded Notation, More on Elapsed Time 4.MBT.2, 5.MD.1

33 Writing Percents of Frations, Part 1 6.RP.3c

34 Decimal Place Value 5.MBT.4

35 Writing Decimal Numbers as Fraction, Part 1;

Reading and Writing Decimal Numbers 5.MBT.3a

Test 6

36 Subtracting Fractions and Mixed Numbers from

Whole Numbers 5.NF.1

37 Adding and Subtracting Decimal Numbers 6.NS.3

38 Adding and Subtracting Decimal Numbers and

Whole Numbers, Squares and Square Roots 6.NS.3; 6.EE.1, 8.EE.2

39 Multiplying Decimal Numbers 6.NS.3

40 Using Zero as Placeholder; Circle Graphs 6.NS.3; 6.EE.9

Test 7

Inv. 4 Collecting, Organizing, Displaying, and

Interperting Data; Ext. Recognizing a Statistical
Question, Describing Patterns in Statistical Data;
6.SP.1, 6.SP.2, 6.SP.4,
Displaying Data in Box Plots 6.SP.5a, 6.SP.5b

41 Finding a Percent of a Number 6.RP.3c

42 Renaming Fractions by Multiplying by 1 4.NF.1

43 Equivalent Division Problems; Finding Unknowns

in Fraction and Decimal Problems 6.EE.5

44 Simplifying Decimal Numbers; Comparing

Decimal Numbers 5.MBT.3b

45 Dividing a Decimal Number by a Whole Number 6.NS.3

Test 8

46 Writing Decimal Numbers in Expanded Notation;

Mentally Multiplying Decimal Numbers by 10 and
100 5.MBT.3a, 6.NS.3

47 Circumference; Pi 6.RP.1

48 Subtracting Mixed Numbers with Regrouping,

Part 1 5.NF.1

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49 Dividing by a Decimal Number 6.NS.3

50 Decimal Number Line (Tenths); Dividing by a

Fraction 6.NS.1, 6.NS.6c

Test 9

Inv. 5 Displaying Data; Ext. Using Measuring of

Variability; Describing the Distribution in a Set of
6.SP.1, 6.SP.2, 6.SP.3,
Data 6.SP.5, 6.SP.5

51 Rounding Decimal Numbers 5.MBT.4

52 Mentally Dividing Decimal Numbers by 10 and by

100 6.NS.3

53 Decimals Chart; Simplifying Fractions 6.NS.1, 6.NS.2, 6.NS.3

54 Reducing by Grouping Factors Equal to 1;

Dividing Fractions 6.NS.1

55 Common Denominators, Part 1 6.NS.4

Test 10

56 Common Denominators, Part 2 6.NS.4

57 Adding and Subtracting Fractions: Three Steps 5.NF.1

58 Probability and Chance 7.SP.5

59 Adding Mixed Numbers 5.NF.1

60 Polygons 4.MD.3, 5.G.1

Test 11

Inv. 6 Attibutes of Geometric Solids 6.G.4

61 Adding Three of More Fractions 6.NS.1

62 Writing Mixed Numbers as Improper Fractions 4.NF.3c

63 Subtracting Mixed Numbers with Regrouping,

Part 2 5.NF.1

64 Classifying Quadrilaterals 5.G.2

65 Prime Factorization, Division of Primes, Factor

Trees 4.OA.4 more complex

Test 12

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66 Multiplying Mixed Numbers 5.NF.3

67 Using Prime Factorization to Reduce Fractions

68 Dividing Mixed Numbers 6.NS.1

69 Lengths of Segments; Complementary and

Supplementary Angles 7.G.5

70 Reducing Fractions Before Multiplying 6.NS.1

Test 13

Inv. 7 The Coordinate Plane; Ext. Finding Distances on

the Coordinate Plane 6.G.3, 6.NS.8

71 Parallelograms 6.G.1

72 Fraction Chart; Multiplying Three Fractions 6.NS.1

73 Exponents; Writing Decimal Numbers as

Fractions, Part 2 6.EE.1; 6.RP.1

74 Writing Fractions as Decimal Numbers; Writing

Ratios as Decimal Numbers 6.RP.1

75 Writing Fractions and Decimals as Percents, Part 1 6.RP.1

Test 14

76 Comparing Fractions to Decimal Form 6.RP.1

77 Finding Unstated Information in Fraction

Problems 6.RP.1

78 Capacity 5.ND.1

79 Area of a Triangle 6.G.1

80 Using a Constant Factor to Ratio Problems 6.RP.3a

Test 15

Inv. 8 Geometric Construction of Bisectors G.CO.12

81 Arithmetic Units of Measure 5.MD.1

82 Volume of Rectangle Prism; Ext. Finding Volume

of a Prism with Fractional Edge Lengths 6.G.2

83 Proportions 6.RP.2

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84 Order of Operations, Part 2 5.OA.2

85 Using Cross Products to Solve Proportions

Test 16

86 Areas of Circle 6.EE.1

87 Finding Unknown Factors 6.EE.2b, 6.EE.7

88 Using Proportions to Solve Ratio Word Problems;

Ext. Using Tables to Compare Ratios 6.RP.3a

89 Estimating Square Roots 8.EE.2

90 Measuring Turns 8.G.1

Test 17

Inv. 9 Experimental Probability 7.SP.6

91 Geometric Formulas 6.EE.1. 6.EE.2c

92 Expanded Notation with Exponents; Order of

Operations with Exponents, Powers of Fractions 6.EE.1

93 Classifying Triangles 5.G.2

94 Wrting Fractions and Decimals as Percents, Part 2 6.RP.1

95 Reducing Rates Before Multiplying 6.RP.2

Test 18

96 Functions, Graphing Functions; Ext. Analyzing

the Relationship Between Dependent and
Independent Variables 6.EE.2c, 6.EE.9

97 Transversals 8.G.5

98 Sum of the Angle Measures of Triangles and

Quadrilaterals 7.G.5

99 Fraction-Decimal-Percent Equivalents 6.RP.3

100 Algebraic Addition of Integers 6.NS.5, 6.NS.6a,


Test 19

Inv. 10 Compound Experiments 7.SP.8b

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101 Ratio Problems Involving Totals 6.RP.3a

102 Mass and Weight 5.MD.1

103 Perimeter of Complex Shapes 6.G.1

104 Algebraic Addition Activity 6.NS.5, 6.NS.6a

105 Using Proportions to Solve Percent Problems 6.Rp.3a

Test 20

106 Two-Step Equations; Ext. Indentifying Parts of

Expressions and Generating Equivalent
Expressions; Identifying Equivalent Expressions 6.EE.4, 6.EE.5, 6.EE.7

107 Area of Complex Shapes; Ext. Finding the Area of

Trapezoids and Regular Polygons 6.G.1

108 Transformations; Ext. Analyzing the Relationship

of Points on a Coordinate Plane 8.G.3, 8.G.4, 6.NS.6b

109 Corresponding Parts; Similar Figures 6.RP.1

110 Symmetry 4.G.3, 8.G.1

Test 21

Inv. 11 Scale Factor: Scale Drawings and Models 6.RP.1; 6.NS.8

111 Applications Using Division 6.NS.1

112 Multiplying and Dividing Integers 5.MBT.5

113 Adding and Subtracting Mixed Measures; 5.MD.1, 5.MBT.2,

Multiplying by Powers of Ten 4.MBT.4

114 Unit Multipliers 6.RP.3d

115 Writing Percents as Fractions, Part 2 6.RP.3c

Test 12

116 Compound Interest A.SSE.3c

117 Finding a Whole When a Fraction is Known 6.RP.1

118 Estimating Area 6.G.1

119 Finding a Whole When a Percent is Known 6.RP.1

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120 Volume of a Cylinder 8.G.2

Test 13

Inv. 12 Volume of Prisms, Pyramids, Cylinders, and 6.G.1, 6.G.2, 6.G.4,

Cones; Surface Areas of Prisms and Cylinders 8.G.9, G.GMD.1

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research

Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 97-115, November 2015

The Admiralty Code:

A Cognitive Tool for Self-Directed Learning

James M. Hanson
University of New South Wales
Sydney, Australia

Abstract. This article introduces The Admiralty Code a cognitive tool,

used by police investigators and intelligence analysts, which can also
assist learners in evaluating information and distinguishing it from
potential misinformation or disinformation. One reason for using
inquiry-based learning methods in education, is that they develop
students capabilities for engaging in self-directed inquiry, throughout
their personal and professional lives. But the carefully-designed
information environments in which students conduct inquiry-based
learning in schools or colleges are much more benign than the ones in
which they will conduct their self-directed inquiries, later on.
Information environments such as the internet or the mass media present
the inquirer with an excess of information, as well as misinformation and
even disinformation. The challenge of distinguishing essential from non-
essential information and of evaluating its trustworthiness is not
addressed sufficiently by inquiry-based learning methods in benign
education environments. Use of The Admiralty Code has the potential to
correct this shortcoming. Application of The Admiralty Code is
illustrated by an analysis of the evidence surrounding the mysterious
loss of HMAS Sydney in 1941.

Keywords: Learning; Inquiry; Evidence; Cognitive Tools

Inquiry-based learning methods have been adopted in education for two main
reasons: (i) many educators and researchers believe that they help students
develop a deeper understanding of conceptual knowledge (Learning Goal 1)
than is typically attained via traditional teaching methods (Bransford, Brown &
Cocking, 2000; Brown & Palincsar, 1989; Rogoff, 1998; Webb & Palincsar, 1996)
and (ii) inquiry-based learning techniques model the norms and methods of
inquiry in a profession or discipline and therefore develop students capabilities
for engaging in such inquiry for themselves, throughout their personal lives and
professional careers (Learning Goal 2) (Barrows, 1990; Bereiter, 2002a, 2002b;
Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2000, 2003; Feltovich, Spiro & Coulson, 1997;
Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996, 2006; Schon, 1983,1987; Wells, 1999, 2000, 2002).
Those capabilities are built by mastering the skills in conducting inquiry-related
tasks, by developing an understanding of the principles underpinning inquiry

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and by adopting norms or attitudes that promote critical, but constructive,


Inquiry-based learning activities in education are usually structured and guided

by more experienced others teachers, tutors, supervisors, professors and are
focused on questions that are determined in advance and driven by the
requirements of a curriculum. Beyond education, however, personal or
professional inquiry is more often self-directed and focused on questions that
arise in an ad hoc manner, driven by the inquirers desire (or perceived need) to

Inquiry-based learning techniques in education do help students develop many

of the cognitive tools that will be useful for self-directed inquiry beyond
education, but perhaps not all.

The information environments of inquiry-based learning in education can differ

in important ways from those often encountered by self-directed inquirers
beyond education. The main learning objective of inquiry-based learning in
education is to help students develop a deeper and more applicable
understanding of those theoretical principles which are the main focus of the
curriculum. This objective is more likely to be achieved when the information
environment is carefully structured and managed to remove irrelevant or
misleading content and when the students inquiry is guided (or scaffolded) to
limit the potential for developing misconceptions or pursuing investigative dead
ends. As a result, educators dramatically reduce the need for learners to cope
with excess information, misinformation and even disinformation. Yet these are
three characteristics of the information environments in which we conduct self-
directed inquiry in our personal and professional lives (eg. the internet).
Learning how to operate effectively in (mis)information-rich environments is an
essential aspect of Learning Goal 2. So, by structuring and simplifying the
learning environment to optimise the development of conceptual knowledge
(Learning Goal 1), educators may also be impeding or limiting the attainment of
Learning Goal 2 developing students capabilities for engaging in self-directed

The cognitive toolbox developed for students by inquiry-based learning

techniques in education may be in need of some additional tools. After
explaining the concepts of self-directed inquiry and misinformation-rich
environments, this article will introduce The Admiralty Code a cognitive tool
which has proven its effectiveness in professional practice and which would be a
valuable addition to the self-directed learners toolbox.

Self-Directed Learning
Self-directed learning, whether conducted individually or in collaboration with
others, is an activity in which the conceptualisation, design, conduct and
evaluation of the learning project are directed by the learner. (Brookfield, 2009)
Although humans have presumably been engaging in self-directed learning
since time immemorial, the term is now most closely associated, in the English-

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language literature, with andragogy a model of adult learning articulated by

Malcolm Knowles (1970). Although the term has earlier, European uses,
Knowles characterised andragogy the art and science of helping adults learn
as being quite distinct from pedagogy the art & science of helping children
learn (Knowles, 1975). Knowless original model of andragogy proceeds from
four assumptions which he used to distinguish adult learners from children:
the adult learner is more self-directed and less dependent than the child
the adult learner has a greater reservoir of experience to draw upon as a
resource for learning
the adult learners readiness (or motivation) to learn is closely related to his or
her current social role.
the adult learner has a more problem-centered orientation to learning, in
contrast to the subject-centeredness of pedagogy.

Today, of course, many researchers and educators will recognise self-

directedness, problem-centeredness, personal relevance and the importance of
prior knowledge as features of some constructivist-inspired approaches to
pedagogy. Knowles, himself, acknowledged, in later years, that his andragogical
principles could be applied to the education of children and pedagogical
principles could be applied to adults (Knowles, 1990). Nevertheless, he regarded
self-directed learning as the epitome of adult learning and facilitating self-
directedness as a key goal of adult education.

Inquiry-Based Learning
Inquiry-based learning, in education, challenges students with questions,
problems or scenarios which are intended to motivate learning. The learning is
achieved by inquiry, which might include such activities as investigation,
experimentation, debate or discussion, to discover or construct answers or
solutions. It often culminates with the learner having to present and explain his
or her findings to others. The learning, so achieved, may be problem-specific or
it may be more general. Inquiry-based learning, in which learners are presented
with questions and assisted to discover or construct answers (ie. concepts), is
often contrasted with direct instruction, in which learners are presented with
concepts directly. In direct instruction, it is the instructor who presents a
concept, explains it and elaborates upon its relationships with other previously-
presented concepts. The learner learns by observing, listening and, hopefully,
thinking about what is being presented. In inquiry-based learning, it is the
learner who does the explaining and elaborating and, although this may require
more time and more effort from the learner, it forces the learner to think
carefully about what is being learned and thus leads to deeper understanding
than might be achieved by direct instruction.

One feature that is absolutely crucial to the success of inquiry-based learning

methods in education is guidance. All inquiry-based learning methods in
education involve guidance: either guidance through a complex information
environment by a tutor or teacher or guidance via a simplified information
environment which has been carefully designed in advance to lead the student
toward the intended discovery (eg. structured learning materials, computer

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simulations, etc). Inquiry-based learning activities in which students appear to

be engaged in self-directed inquiry, without a teachers supervision, are
generally of the latter type in which the guidance has been built into the learning
materials. The learning environment is usually designed to make the inquiry
task easier by excluding materials which are irrelevant or misleading. The
process of inquiry asking sub-questions, selecting lines of investigation,
proposing hypotheses, evaluating information, making decisions, exploring
relationships is also carefully guided, either via instructions or questions in the
learning materials which scaffold the inquiry process or by a teacher or tutor
who actually participates as a co-inquirer.

A number of inquiry-based learning methods emphasise the role of knowledge

elaboration using computer-based cognitive tools, such as mind maps or
influence diagrams. This approach makes the process of knowledge
construction visible in the form of models or diagrams which are under
construction by the learners. They also facilitate collaboration several learners
can work together to build a representation of their shared understanding of an
issue as that shared understanding develops. Collaboration, especially if it
involves a more knowledgeable teacher or tutor, allows developing
misconceptions to be identified and challenged early. As the learners construct
these external knowledge representations, they are also constructing their own
knowledge internally. The cognitive tools, themselves, can help to guide
learners thinking by focusing their attention of the particular functions of the
tools, such as depicting causal directions among concepts.

The last decade has witnessed a debate about the conditions under which
inquiry-based learning might be superior or inferior to traditional direct
instruction for the development of students conceptual knowledge (Hmelo-
Silver, Duncan & Chinn, 2007; Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006; Kuhn, 2007;
Tobias & Duffy, 2009). But inquiry-based learning methods also serve another
purpose which is perhaps the main reason for their growing popularity: they
teach students how to engage in systematic inquiry. They place students in the
guided and supported role of young scientist or young social scientist. The
intention is to foster positive attitudes, in students, toward questioning and open
inquiry, and to develop their skills in using analytical techniques (comparing
hypotheses, designing experiments, collecting and analysing data) and engaging
in discourse patterns (debating, offering causal explanations, questioning
assumptions, etc.) which, it is hoped, will enable them to engage in systematic
inquiry throughout their professional and personal lives (Scardamalia &
Bereiter, 2006).

Self-Directed Inquiry in (Mis)Information-Rich Environments

However, engaging in systematic inquiry in ones professional or personal life
often does not necessarily mean following the research methods of the natural
sciences or even the social sciences. In our personal lives, even those questions
that are related to the natural sciences must usually be addressed by means
other than controlled experimentation or systematic data collection and analysis.

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In societies characterised by division of labor and specialisation, we have to rely

heavily on information provided by others.

Learning via self-directed inquiry means conducting an investigation, alone or in

collaboration with others, to try to answer a question of personal relevance. The
question motivating the inquiry is often related to a professional or personal
decision confronting the inquirer, at the time, so finding timely answers or
solutions is often a priority. While self-directed inquiry might not be an optimal
pedagogical approach for learning curriculum content within an educational
institution, there are many important learning situations, in life, for which self-
directed inquiry is the only viable option. It may be the only available option
within time constraints. It may be the only affordable option.

Questions motivating self-directed inquiry are often expressed in the first

person. Some examples are:
1. If I want to gain strength and muscle mass, without harming my health,
should I use anabolic steroids or should I not?
2. If I am concerned about climate change, which partys policies should I
3. If I want to maximise my lifespan and optimise my health, should I eat
foods containing saturated fat or should I not?
4. If I want to lose body fat, which particular combination of diet and
exercise will be most effective?
5. If I want to earn a good financial return over the next 10 years, should I
invest in residential real estate or should I not?
6. Was the judges verdict that Oscar Pistorius was not guilty of murder a
reasonable verdict? Should I campaign for an appeal or a retrial?

These are the types of personally-relevant questions that motivate learning via
self-directed inquiry and learners often begin by searching for relevant
information provided by informants whom they believe to be knowledgeable.
Today, this process often begins with an internet search. The internet contains
an abundance of information relevant to each of the six questions, listed above,
and many others. The mass media, too, runs regular stories on each of these
topics and many others. What makes these topics media-worthy is that they are
personally-relevant to many people and the answers to these questions are hotly
debated. On topics such as these, the distinction between information and
misinformation is not easily drawn.

Guided, inquiry-based learning, conducted in education contexts, often takes

place in benign information environments which have been structured for the
purpose of learning. Instructors and educational designers select or design the
information resources that learners will encounter during their inquiry to give
students the best chance of constructing new knowledge in the form that the
teacher intended (ie. correct knowledge). While there may be some cases of
misinformation, in which a mistaken educator or textbook author will misinform
students, there are unlikely to be many cases of disinformation, in which
educators or textbook authors set out deliberately to deceive students.

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In contrast, learning via self-directed inquiry often requires learners to engage

with information environments that are poorly-structured (for the purpose of
learning) and which contain vast resources of information, as well as well-
intended, but mistaken, misinformation and even deliberately-misleading
disinformation. For example, a Google search conducted in Sydney, Australia, at
the time of writing, using the search term steroids, returned 36,600,000 results.
Of the top ten hits, 3 were strongly in favor of using anabolic steroids to build
strength and body mass, 4 were opposed to it, and 3 took a balanced approach,
listing pros and cons. Two of the pro-steroids results were websites selling
steroids online and the third was a discussion forum for people who used, or
were interested in using, steroids. Three of the anti-steroids results were news
stories in the mass media about individual cases of alleged steroid abuse by
three young men and the fourth was a website selling natural alternatives to
steroids. One of the balanced results was Wikipedia and the other two were
government health information sources. Only one of the top ten hits displayed
any results of medical studies of steroid use and it was one of the (pro-steroid)
online stores. It used those research results to challenge some anti-steroid
claims, made by others, which had purportedly been based on medical research
evidence, but which had apparently been exaggerated. The balanced sources
listed the potential effects of using steroids but did not indicate the typical
consequences of these effects or their probabilities.

The self-directed inquirer is in a quandary. Given their opposing

recommendations, these 10 information sources on steroids cannot all be
correct. A well-educated inquirer might begin to tackle this problem by drawing
upon some of the analytical techniques learned in school, college or graduate
school. Techniques for using information to inform ones judgments and
decisions are examples of cognitive tools.

Cognitive tools
Cognitive tools are constructed objects or learnable techniques designed assist
human cognition. They enable us to do more cognitively than we would be able
to do without them (Resnick, 1987). A map is a cognitive tool that enables a
skilled user to navigate through an unfamiliar landscape. A simple electronic
calculator is a cognitive tool that allows us to complete calculations more quickly
and with less effort. The technique of long division, learned in elementary
schools prior to the advent of the calculator, was also a cognitive tool which
enabled students to divide large numbers, using only their knowledge of
elementary multiplication tables, up to 10x10. Even scientific theories can be
regarded as cognitive tools which enable explanation and, in many cases,
prediction. Today, the term cognitive tool is most often associated with
computer-based objects & procedures (Jonassen & Reeves, 1996), since a
computer allows us to house a great variety of cognitive tools in a single device
(eg. apps on a smartphone), but computers are not essential to the concept.

Every profession and human pursuit has its own set of cognitive tools. In a
sense, it is skill in using the cognitive tools of ones profession that distinguishes

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the more skilled professional from the less skilled. Inquiry-based learning
methods are, quite properly, modelled on the investigative work of natural
scientists and engineers. Learners use some of the cognitive tools used by
scientists influence diagramming, causal model building, hypothesis testing
and so on. But the view of the scientific profession, assumed in inquiry-based
learning, is a purists view, unsullied by the possibility of self-interest or
financial motivations or political ideology. It is a view in which truth always
wins, nature doesnt deceive and, thanks to the scientific method, nor do
scientists. Indeed, in education environments, generally, students are supposed
to assume that textbook writers dont make mistakes and teachers dont set out
to deceive students. Given enough time and sufficient resources, the work of the
scientific community probably does eventually converge on the purists ideal.
Hopefully, questions 1-4 listed above, will eventually have clear answers, thanks
to the scientific work of health scientists and environmental scientists.
Economists and financial analysts express conflicting opinions about question 5,
but time & hindsight will eventually answer that question, too.

Meanwhile, however, people are faced with professional and personal decisions
of real consequence and those decisions cannot wait for hindsight or for well-
established answers from the scientific community. The designers of inquiry-
based learning would typically model this challenge as a scientific challenge to
be addressed by building a causal model, proposing and testing hypotheses and
they would be at least half right. But there is another aspect to this challenge
which tends to be ignored by educators. A well-resourced scientist can
investigate nature directly via experiment or systematic observation & data
collection. The self-directed inquirer can do this, to a limited degree (eg. by
trying out different weight-loss diets) but must depend, for the most part, on
informants. The inquirer, described earlier, will learn about the effects of
anabolic steroids from informants in a misinformation-rich environment.

Since the top ten hits on Google present opposing conclusions, some skepticism
is clearly in order. But universal skepticism, though it might seem like a safe
epistemological position, is utterly useless for practical purposes. Disbelieving
everything is no better than believing everything, when there are judgments and
decisions to be made.

The first judgments required, here, are judgments about the informants,
themselves. This challenge is quite similar to the challenges faced daily by
police investigators and intelligence analysts. These two professions, like all
professions, have developed or adopted cognitive tools to assist them in their
cognitive tasks. Police investigators use evidence, including the claims of
informants, to try to explain how a crime was committed and by whom. The
police explanation, if persuasive, will become the prosecutions account of how
& why the defendant allegedly committed the crime. Intelligence analysts use
evidence, including the claims of informants, to assess the risks of future crimes,
security breaches or acts of aggression. Their assessments and forecasts, if
persuasive, may lead to preventative action by police forces, defense forces or
security agencies. Both of these professions face challenging tasks especially

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the intelligence analysts, who have to deal with the future and both work in
misinformation-rich environments, where secrecy and deceit are commonplace
and where the claims of informants may be motivated by a range of factors:
public duty, remorse, greed, fear, loyalty, vengeance, ideology, ego, the desire
for special treatment, the cessation of mistreatment, or any combination of these
(Fitzgerald, 2006).

This article will now introduce The Admiralty Code a cognitive tool for
evaluating information or evidence which has proven sufficiently useful in these
professions to have become part of their standard toolbox of analytical
techniques. Use of The Admiralty Code is sufficiently straightforward to be
included in inquiry-based education programs without requiring much
additional teaching time.

The Admiralty Code: A Cognitive Tool for Evaluating Information or

The Admiralty Code is a relatively simple scheme for categorising evidence
according to its credibility. It was initially used by the British Admiralty for the
assessment of evidence used in naval intelligence, but it is now used in many
police departments, intelligence agencies and defense-related organisations,
including the US Army (US Army Field Manual 2-22.3, 2006)

In trying to answer a question or resolve a controversy, the inquirer will

ultimately be trying to build a theory or an explanation that is consistent with
all of the credible evidence. Before doing so, however, it is important to make
judgments about which evidence will need to be explained by the inquirers
theory and which evidence can probably be discarded due to lack of credibility.
The Admiralty Code can assist in this task.

The Code prompts the inquirer to rate each piece of evidence according to:
1. The expected reliability of the source in providing accurate information
on this occasion (rated from A to F). The source might be a person (eg.
the Captain of the Kormoran), a publication (ie. Nature, Wikipedia), a
method of information collection (eg. interrogation of prisoners of war, a
death-bed confession, DNA testing), or some other information source.
A sources reputation is typically based on its track record of providing
accurate information in the past, so one important aspect for assessing
the reliability of the source is its reputation. Another important aspect is
motivation why might the information source be providing this
information? The other major factor for assessing human witnesses is
their competence (proximity to the reported events, fatigue, sensory
limitations, potential for unintentional bias, and expertise in correctly
interpreting what they claim to have seen or heard).
2. The likely validity of the claim (rated from 1 to 6). How does the claim
compare with other evidence that has been shown to be valid? How well
does it fit with existing theories/explanations (eg. is it consistent with the
laws of physics? Is it consistent with the Australian navys standard
procedures in 1941?)

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Expected Reliability of the

A1 B1 C1 D1 E1 F1
Likely A2 B2 C2 D2 E2 F2 Credible accept
Validity A3 B3 C3 D3 E3 F3
of the A4 B4 C4 D4 E4 F4 Uncertain
Claim investigate/wait
A5 B5 C5 D5 E5 F5
A6 B6 C6 D6 E6 F6 Non-credible reject

Figure 1: The Admiralty Code for evaluating the credibility of evidence

The Code applies a letter (A-F) and a number (1-6) to each piece of evidence to
indicate its credibility. At the top end of the diagonal credibility scale, A1
evidence would be a claim, emanating from a highly-reputable source with no
plausible ulterior motive, which has also been verified by other means. At the
bottom end, E5 evidence would be a claim from a very dubious source which
seems inconsistent with other known facts. The letter F indicates a source with
unknown reliability and the number 6 indicates a claim whose validity cannot
yet be assessed, so F6 evidence should be treated as not yet on the scale. Dealing
with evidence along the diagonal is quite straightforward. A1 and B2 evidence
would be accepted as credible. D4 and E5 evidence would be rejected as non-
credible, with C3 evidence on the borderline. The more difficult judgments are
those that lie off the diagonal. E2 evidence would be a plausible claim from a
source known to have been untrustworthy in the past. It might be worth
looking closely at the sources motive for informing. B5 evidence would be a
very surprising claim from a normally-reliable source. This might require
caution and open-mindedness until it can be reassessed at a later time, when
more information becomes available. A later reassessment might upgrade its
likely validity or simply confirm that it was wrong, all along. A few more such
errors and our B source might have to be downgraded to a C. The inquirer who
uses the Admiralty Code can decide how many cells to color white (credible),
how many to color light-gray (uncertain) and how many to color dark-gray
(non-credible). Light gray cells often indicate that further investigation is
required to try to validate or invalidate this piece of evidence, but this would
require additional investigative work and resources, in addition to time, so an
inquirer has to make a type of cost-benefit decision when choosing to color a
square light-grey. An overly-cautious inquirer might choose to color all cells
light-gray, except for A1 and E5. By doing so, this inquirer can be confident of
never making an erroneous judgment. But, by doing so, this inquirer will also
probably never make a decision.

An illustration: Using The Admiralty Code to investigate the

mysterious loss of HMAS Sydney in 1941.
To illustrate the use of these three cognitive tools, the paper will apply them to a
major public controversy in Australian military history the loss of HMAS
Sydney in 1941. Many of the decisions and judgments faced by self-directed

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inquirers do not require all three of these analytical techniques just one, or
perhaps two. But the more challenging the information environment becomes,
the more useful all three of these techniques can be. This case has been chosen
because it shows how all three of these cognitive tools can be used to make
reasonable and defensible judgments even in the most misinformation-rich
environments those characterised by a shortage of evidence and a wealth of
conspiracy theories.

HMAS Sydney was a light cruiser which had an eventful and very successful
campaign in the Mediterranean in 1940. While operating with the British
Mediterranean fleet, she had, on one occasion, engaged two Italian cruisers and
defeated them in a two-on-one gunnery battle, sinking one of the Italian ships
and forcing the other to retire. With a glowing reputation now as the best ship
in the navy, HMAS Sydney returned to Australia in 1941, where she took up
patrol and convoy escort duties in the relatively peaceful waters of the Indian
Ocean (Gill, 1957). In November 1941, HMAS Sydney escorted a troopship,
carrying part of the Australian 8th Division, bound for Singapore, where that
Division was being posted to try to deter anticipated aggression by Japan. Half
way to Singapore, in late-November 1941, HMAS Sydney handed over escort
duties to another cruiser, as planned, and turned back toward Fremantle, its
home port in Western Australia. HMAS Sydney was never seen again.

Mysterious disappearances are open invitations to conspiracy theorists and the

loss of HMAS Sydney was no exception. Might a Japanese submarine have
started its war against the allies, 18 days earlier than scheduled, by torpedoing
HMAS Sydney? Might the Australian & British Governments have concealed
their knowledge of this Japanese attack, so as not to interfere with the upcoming
attack on Pearl Harbor, which they knew was coming and which they hoped
would bring the USA into the war on their side? Conspiracy theories work best,
when evidence is lacking or when the available evidence comes from a
questionable source. All of the initial evidence regarding Sydneys
disappearance came from such a source.

In the days following HMAS Sydneys disappearance, small groups of German

sailors were captured, floating in life rafts or washed ashore on the Western
Australian coast. They told their captors that they were the crew of the German
merchant raider Kormoran a cargo vessel that had been given guns, torpedoes,
mines and a German naval crew to prowl distant sea lanes sinking British and
allied merchant ships, while disguised as a Dutch merchant ship Straat Malakka.
The military purpose of German merchant raiders was to tie up British naval
resources (McQueen, 2011). If Germanys 10 raiders could create enough havoc
for merchant ships in distant parts of the globe and remain at large, they could
force the British navy to send valuable naval resources to those far distant parts
of the globe where they could not contribute to the main maritime conflict closer
to Britain. One German merchant raider, still at large, might tie up 10 or more
British and allied warships in convoy and escort duties in the Indian and Pacific
Oceans, at a time when they were needed in Europe and the North Atlantic.

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The German sailors from Kormoran, now prisoners of war, told their
interrogators that they had been sailing northward off Western Australia when
they saw a warship, directly ahead, steaming southward towards them.
Merchant raiders carried torpedoes which could sink a cruiser at close range, but
cruisers carried more accurate, longer-range torpedoes, more guns which were
accurate at a longer range and they had superior speed and combat systems.
Raiders were converted cargo ships which were never designed to fight
warships and their strategic purpose was to create and maintain a hazard for
merchant ships that would tie up British warships in convoy and patrol work. A
raider crews mission was to remain undiscovered for as long as possible. If they
were trapped by an allied warship, they were instructed to scuttle their ship to
prevent items of military value from falling into allied hands. Perhaps the most
valuable item carried by a raider was its enigma machine, used for encoded
communication with other German ships, such as the raider supply ships which
would rendezvous secretly with the raiders to replenish their supplies of fuel,
food and ammunition. A captured enigma machine would enable the allies to
break the German raider fleets code and mop up the remaining raiders and
their supply ships very quickly, freeing up naval resources for the main fight in
Europe and the North Atlantic.

Mindful of their mission, the Kormorans crew tried to evade identification by the
approaching warship. They changed course dramatically from due north to
southwest, turning their stern towards the warship and positioning themselves
between it and the setting sun so that it would be difficult for observers on the
warship to see the identifying details of their own ship. When the warship
changed course to intercept, the Germans increased speed to try to delay a visual
inspection from abeam until after sunset, when identification would be more
difficult. After dark, Kormoran might even have a chance to escape, since
Australian cruisers carried no radar in 1941.

Sydney developed a full head of steam and pursued at high speed, sending
persistent requests, via signal lamp, for the unknown ships name and
destination. After delaying for some time, the Germans eventually replied by
signal flags, but hoisted them deliberately in a position where they were
obstructed by a mast and difficult to see. The setting sun, behind those signal
flags, would have ensured that they were quite unreadable from the bridge of
Sydney. After a long pursuit, Sydneys great speed brought her alongside the
unknown ship before the sun had set and Kormorans options were running out.
But Kormorans captain saw one last chance the Australian ship was alone and
the Australian captain, for whatever reason, had brought HMAS Sydney much
too close, well within easy range of Kormorans torpedoes. If he had to scuttle
Kormoran to prevent capture of his enigma machine, he would do so those
were his orders but at this very close range the Germans might actually have
an even chance, if they chose to fight. At point blank range, the advantage of
surprise might allow them to inflict severe damage on Sydney, before the
Australians could respond with their superior longer-range weapons. If his
disguise failed, the German captain would first try to fight, leaving scuttling as
his last resort.

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Sydney asked again for the ships name and destination a clear sign that they
had not been able to read the Kormorans signal flags, earlier. The Germans
replied according to their Dutch disguise, Straat Malakka. Destination Batavia.
Evidently disbelieving, Sydney asked them to display Straat Malakkas secret call
sign, known only to allied ships. Realising that the game was up, Kormorans
crew replied by firing two torpedoes at Sydneys vulnerable hull, only 1,000
yards away. Rapid and accurate shellfire from her four 6-inch guns exploded
into Sydneys bridge, gunnery control tower and forward gun turrets.
Continuous machine gun fire killed the exposed crews manning Sydneys
torpedo tubes and secondary guns, preventing their use. Sydneys main guns
fired back, but when a torpedo struck the hull directly under the two forward
turrets, their four guns fired no more. Within a minute or two, Sydneys bridge
and other command spaces were completely destroyed, all senior officers killed
or wounded, all of her secondary weapon crews killed by machine gun fire and
half of her main guns knocked out by the torpedo blast. Sydney swung wildly to
port, straight towards Kormoran the Germans thought she was trying to ram
them, in a last attempt to take them to the bottom but the Kormoran increased
speed and Sydney just missed, passing close astern. One of her remaining gun
turrets had now jammed facing the wrong direction, leaving only the final
turret, with its two 6-inch guns, to face Kormorans continuing barrage. But those
two guns were enough to inflict fatal damage on a merchant raider. Shells
exploded in Kormorans engine room destroying her engines and starting fuel
fires that could not be controlled. As the burning Sydney steamed slowly away,
Kormorans guns fired shell after shell into her hull, until she was out of range.
Later, when Kormorans uncontrolled fuel fire was approaching her supply of
explosive mines, the German captain gave the order to abandon ship and set off
the scuttling charges to let the sea put out the fire before the crew could be killed
by exploding mines. The Germans reported last seeing Sydney, from their life
rafts, heading slowly south-southeast, toward her home port of Fremantle,
burning furiously from the bridge to the stern. Later, in the darkness, they saw
the orange glow of her fires, over the horizon. Then they flickered and went out.

So said the German informants, but many Australians, including the families of
the sailors lost on HMAS Sydney, found the German account unconvincing. At
best, some thought, the German merchant raider must have been operating in
cooperation with a Japanese submarine. Perhaps the German merchant raider
lured HMAS Sydney toward it to investigate its identity, from a safe distance,
while a Japanese submarine lurked nearby to torpedo the preoccupied warship.

Prisoners of war are not required to provide more than minimal information,
under interrogation, and the German sailors were initially reluctant to say
anything. But allegations had been raised that the German crew may have been
involved in some sort of war crime perhaps operating with a submarine from a
non-combatant nation (Japan) and then machine-gunning the Australian
survivors to remove all witnesses to their crime and some of the Germans had
been threatened with these allegations during their interrogation, in an attempt
to make them cooperate. But this threat of a war crimes charge gave them a

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motive to protect themselves if necessary, by lying. From that moment on, it

was impossible to know whether the German informants were providing honest
and accurate information, honest but inaccurate misinformation, or dishonest
disinformation intended to protect themselves from a war crimes charge.

In the late-1940s, with wartime feelings still fresh in peoples memories, it was
perhaps understandable that most of the Australian public rejected the
Germans account of what had allegedly happened to HMAS Sydney, but doubts
persisted well into the 1990s, even among generations born after the war.
Several searches were conducted for the wrecks of both ships, but the perceived
credibility of the German evidence was still so low, that those searches were
conducted far away from where the German captain had said his ship went
down. His report was treated as deliberate disinformation intended to lead
investigators away from the true location of the wrecks which might, it was
thought, reveal evidence of a war crime such as machine-gunning Australian
survivors in their life rafts. The one piece of wreckage that had been recovered
was an Australian life raft which was riddled with holes and this gave greater
credence to the war crime theory. Was this continued rejection (or, at least,
questioning) of the German evidence reasonable?

Using the Admiralty Code to rate the German survivors as information sources,
we will be interested in their reputations, their motivations and their
competence as witnesses. Reputation is difficult to judge, in this case, but in the
1940s, these German sailors may have had a reputation for untrustworthiness
thrust upon them, partly due to wartime prejudice and partly due to the
appalling actions of their Nazi government. In terms of motivation, the first
point is that these witnesses were not innocent bystanders. The account of the
battle that emerged would affect their reputations among Australians but, more
importantly, among their fellow Germans. By November 1941, all of Europe
was either defeated, neutral or allied to Germany, Britain had been isolated and
neutralised as a European land-power, and the German army was approaching
Moscow. These German sailors expected to be sent home as heroes, probably in
1942, as soon as Germany had defeated the Soviets, turned its forces back
towards the west, forced Britain to negotiate peace terms and won the war. One
of their motivations, we can reasonably assume, was to be loyal to their nation
and to their navy, which might be regarded as a reason to portray the events of
that day in a way that reflected well on the German navy and on themselves
brave German sailors fighting honorably against a superior ship and prevailing,
thanks to superior German tactics and leadership. Once they had been
threatened with a war crime charge, a new motivation came in to play self-
protection and self-preservation. The punishment for a war crime could be
severe, even execution. It was the Australian interrogators who gave the
German sailors this motivation, but once it was done it was done. They now
had a motivation to say whatever it took to save their own lives. On the
question of competence, the Australian interrogators were very thorough:
determining which sailors had been in a position to see and hear things directly
and which sailors were merely recounting claims they had heard later from their
crew-mates, as they floated in life rafts or sat in internment camps. But, in any

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case, the main doubt about these witnesses, as a source of information, arose
from the motivations that were assumed to be behind their story. It was thought
that they had made up a story, portraying themselves as innocent, to protect
themselves from an Australian war crimes charge. As a source, they might have
been rated D or E.

In rating the German account of events, many of their claims are quite plausible
and consistent with Australian and German naval procedures and the historical
record of previous naval engagements, but there are two glaring inconsistencies:

1. The German account claims that HMAS Sydney drew close alongside
them, which allowed them to torpedo her, but the Australian navy had a
clear procedure for identifying suspicious ships which involved standing
off at a safe distance where the warship would have an overwhelming
advantage in longer-range weaponry, and sending a small motor launch
in to do the close identification. The German account requires us to
accept that the best ship in the Australian navy completely ignored its
own navys procedures.
2. The German account claims that they last saw Sydney, on fire, heading
slowly over the horizon in a south-southeasterly direction, apparently
under control. The German ship was also on fire, yet the majority of the
German crew were able to abandon ship under controlled conditions and
survive in their life rafts until they reached the coast or were picked up at
sea. From HMAS Sydney, there were no survivors, no bodies and no
wreckage, except for one unmanned life-raft, riddled with small holes
(now on display at the Australian War Museum in Canberra). In the
history of modern naval warfare, only a tiny number of warships had
been lost with no survivors and those few had been blown apart when
their magazines exploded catastrophically. Sydney had not exploded.
Why, then, had none of her crew been able to abandon ship? The
German account requires us to accept that HMAS Sydney went down in a
way that was utterly unique in the history of naval warfare.

Many of the Germans detailed claims are plausible, but since they cant be
verified via other sources, they would be rated no higher than 3 on the
Admiralty Codes scale of likely validity. The two problematic claims, described
above, are crucially important to the German account but they are inconsistent
with other known facts. They present us with two incredible surprises: (1) that
Sydneys captain and other senior officers disregarded their navys procedures
not something that military forces are in the habit of doing, and (2) HMAS
Sydney did not explode, but somehow still managed to disappear suddenly and
catastrophically, leaving no survivors an event unique in modern naval
history. Those two claims would be rated very low on the Admiralty Codes
scale of likely validity.

It was the apparent implausibility of these two key German claims that opened
the door to some barely-more-plausible alternative theories, which formed the
basis of the war crimes suspicion. Kormoran had no weapons that could damage

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Sydney severely at the long range required by the Australian navys procedures.
Only a lurking submarine could have done that and, in that part of the world, it
could only have been a Japanese submarine. Apart from a few catastrophic
magazine explosions, no warship in modern history had gone down without
survivors, but the lack of survivors might plausibly be explained by a German
(or Japanese) decision to finish off Sydneys survivors with machine-gun fire as
they floated helpless on their life rafts a theory consistent with the one life raft
that was found, riddled with holes, and a ruthless decision which might have
been made to conceal Japanese involvement, 18 days before their planned attack
on Pearl Harbor.

For over 60 years, the Australian publics unwillingness to accept the German
eyewitness accounts as credible evidence, was probably quite reasonable. But
the meagre evidence supporting the conspiracy theories was no better and the
most reasonable position to have taken, before 2008, would have been to
acknowledge that we simply didnt know what happened to HMAS Sydney.
Only further inquiry might help resolve the controversy.

In 2008, another search was mounted for the wrecks of Kormoran and Sydney.
This search was funded by the Finding Sydney Foundation, an independent non-
profit organisation, and conducted by Blue Water Recoveries, a highly-reputable
British deep-sea search and salvage company, led by David Mearns, an
American-born marine scientist and deep-sea search expert. While conducting
background research in preparation for this task, Mearns had been shown a
German-English dictionary, by the nephew of the German captain, in which the
captain had encoded a secret account of the battle for his superiors in Germany,
based on Kormorans log book. When decoded and translated by Captain Peter
Hore RN, this account was almost identical to the German captains testimony
under interrogation in 1941 (Hore & Mearns, 2003). Although self-promotion
might still have been a motivation behind some aspects of the coded dictionary
account, as seems to have been the case in his published post-war narrative
(Detmers, 1975), self-preservation clearly was not, since the coded dictionary
was never seen by Australian authorities, during the war.

Mearns started the 2008 search by assuming that the German account of the
battle location might be correct. It was; the wreck of Kormoran was found just
where the Germans had always said it would be. Following the German
account, Mearns then searched in a south-southeasterly direction and found the
wreck of HMAS Sydney 11.4 nautical miles (13.1 miles or 21 km) away from the
wreck of Kormoran (Mearns, 2009). The German captains claim about the
location of the ships had now been verified by an independent source.

Mearnss expedition produced around 40 hours of video footage, closely

examining both wrecks. Validation or invalidation of the German accounts and
the main conspiracy theories was a priority. The Germans had claimed that
Sydney drew surprisingly close to their ship, despite the Australian navys
procedures, and that they were able to torpedo Sydney beneath her forward
main gun turrets. The video footage shows flat-trajectory shell holes on both

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wrecks, indicating a battle at point blank range. It also shows damage from
smaller guns and machine guns around Sydneys torpedo tubes and secondary
guns, just as the Germans had claimed, again indicating a very close range
battle. The video footage shows massive torpedo damage beneath Sydneys
forward main gun turrets and reveals, for the first time that Sydneys entire bow
section eventually broke off, as a result of that torpedo damage. A burning ship
breaking in two and sinking rapidly, while its only living crew members were
below decks, would explain the lack of survivors. The presence of small boats
and life rafts, some still attached to the wreck, show that few, if any crew-
members were able to abandon ship. Indeed, every German claim that was able
to be checked against physical evidence from the wrecks has now been verified.
Step-by-step, through the 40 hours of video footage, the track record and
reputation of those German informants gets better and better. Many German
claims remain untested, but none have been invalidated and those two big,
problematic claims that led so many to doubt the German testimony have now
been verified. David Mearnss video evidence from the sea floor would rate
very close to A1 and, since it verifies the most controversial German claims, the
Germans, themselves, must now be regarded as reliable informants their
verified claims are now rated as A1 or B1 and even their unverified claims as A3
or B3. Indeed, it might now be reasonable to rate one Germans claim as verified
if it is consistent with claims made by other Germans, during interrogation, since
they have now been shown to be very reliable eyewitnesses.

The HMAS Sydney case illustrates the value of The Admiralty Code as a
cognitive tool for guiding learners and investigators in evaluating claims and
evidence. In information environments characterised by competing claims from
a range of sources, the Admiralty Code (or NATO System) can assist an inquirer
to focus on two crucial factors for evaluating the credibility of those claims: the
competence and motivations of the informant, and the consistency of the claim
with what else is known.

Learning how to engage in self-direct inquiry is one of the main learning

objectives of inquiry-based teaching methods in education (Barrows, 1990;
Bereiter, 2002a, 2002b; Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2000, 2003; Feltovich, Spiro &
Coulson, 1997; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996, 2006; Schon, 1983,1987; Wells, 1999,
2000, 2002). But the benign information environments of most school- and
college-based education programs, do not require learners to deal with the
quantity of information, typically yielded by even a basic Google search. More
importantly, those benign information environments, designed and managed by
teachers, tutors and professors, do not expose students to large quantities of
misinformation or disinformation, so students are not often confronted with the
challenges of evaluating the credibility of claims, assessing the validity of
arguments or weighing up competing explanations. Yet, when they engage in
self-directed inquiry, beyond school, they often have to work in misinformation-
rich and even disinformation-rich environments. The Admiralty Code is a
cognitive tool which is relatively easy to learn to use. If its use was integrated
into inquiry-based education programs, it would help students to become better

2015 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


at engaging effectively in self-directed inquiry and, hence, improve the

educational effectiveness of those programs.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research

Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 116-131, November 2015

Investigating the way 5-years old children

distinguish the concepts object and material
Is the material overshadowed by the object?

Evmorfia Malkopoulou, George Papageorgiou and Anastasia Dimitriou

Democritus University of Thrace
Nea Chili, Alexandroupolis, Greece 68131

Abstract. This paper reports on a study of 5-year-old children ability to

distinguish the concepts material and object. The aim of this study is to
investigate how children of this age conceptualize these concepts along with
their communication ability, the criteria they use to identify object and material
and whether their criteria are relating to extensive or intensive properties. For
this purpose, three tasks of different complexity contexts were implemented by
using objects and materials of daily life. The sample of the study consists of 30
5-years old children. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews.
The analysis of the data revealed that the way children conceptualize object
and material is related with their communication ability, they have used
extensive or intensive properties as criteria to identify and distinguish objects
from materials. Moreover, when objects and materials were explicit children
were able to distinguish them. In reverse, when objects consists of various
characteristics material was overshadowed by the object.

Keywords: Material, object, distinguish, early-childhood.

Students understanding of phenomena is one of the main targets in science education.
So the nature of the materials involved should be comprehensible to a satisfying
degree. Young children have experiences of their physical environment through
objects and the various materials they are made of. Thus, the way they identify and
distinguish them is considerable for preschool educator in order to organize science
and environmental activities involving appropriate materials and objects.
Johnson (1996, 1998 & 2000) and (Solomonidou & Stavridou, 2000) suggest knowing
materials presupposes the clarification of basic concepts. When, for instance, one
cannot evaluate whether a property is due to the substance or due to the object, then it
is not clear what the change of this property means, i.e. a change of substances during
the phenomenon means a chemical change, whereas a change of only the object (form)
means a physical one.
Moreover, lack of distinction between object and material is quite common; it begins
from early young ages with material and object being interlinked and still exists in
adolescence and beyond. As Piaget (1972) pointed out, concepts occur in children
through the development of the basic ontological categories cause, object, space and
time. So the classifications criteria which children use to define material and object

2015 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


seem to be important for the particular concepts development and further for their
science education.
Children experience objects putting them into groups according to their common
attributes (Spelke, Kestenbaum, Simons & Wein, 1995). Typically, these categories
could be ontologically distinct and they can form certain concepts (Chi, Slotta, & de
Leeuw, 1994; Keil, 1989; Slotta, Chi & Joram, 1995). The difficulty in making
distinction between materials and object is probably due to their limited ability to
work at the macroscopic level, studying macroscopic properties, whereas it can be
improved in older ages when their ability to work also at microscopic level has been
developed (Dickinson, 1987; Driver, Squires, Rushworth & Wood-Robinson, 2000;
Krnel, Watson, & Glazar, 1998).
In any case, age is one of the major factors affecting childrens ability to describe and
identify materials and objects, contributing in the distinction between them, although
education factors, such as school science curriculum and relevant instructions, could
also be significant (Krnel et al. 1998; Krnel & Glazar, 2003; Liu & Lesniac, 2006;
Michaels, Shouse & Schweingruber 2008; Slotta et al. 1995; Smith, Wiser, Anderson &
Krajicik, 2006). Other factors are the size of the object made by a material, the
childrens familiarity with a certain object and the form of a material (continuous form,
powder, etc). Younger children made relevant classifications using a mixture of
properties of objects and materials. On this basis when classification is applied on
solids, the concept of object is clear and distinct (Saxe, Tzelnic & Carey, 2006). Even
among solids criteria are posed easier on compact than on the flexible, powdered, or
non-rigid ones (Huntley-Fenner, Carey & Solimundo, 2002; Kalish & Gelman, 1992;
Kobayashi, 1997).
As far as criteria and change in the form of objects are concerned, the situation is even
more complicated. In particular, contradictory results were found for the infants
ability to identify the materials after cutting the objects into pieces (Dickinson, 1987;
Driver et al. 2000; Smith, Solomon & Carey, 2005). Infants of 4 years old when an
object was transformed could not see what did changed and what (Michaels et al.,
2008) remained.
Further to the above when such studies approach early ages, verbal communication is
also an important issue (Gelman & Bloom, 2000; Goswami, 1998; Keil 1989; Mitchell &
Riggs, 2000). The development of language makes this explicit. Krnel et al (2003) came
to the conclusion that initially children of early age classify easier than verbalize in a
sufficient way even though they confirm good communication skills by checking
parents education and mother language. The lack of knowledge of specific words
could be a significant factor affecting the validity and the reliability of what is
recorded and evaluated. While an argument is taking place is possible due to false
categorizations, difficulties in the use of appropriate words nave essentialism to
arise (Dickinson, 1987; Gelman & Bloom, 2000; Hicling & Wellman, 2001; Kobayashi,
1997). Additionally, it is also considered that children resist to suggestions and they
are suspicious to questions playing the game of right or wrong ones (Birbeck &
Murray, 2007). Consequently, all these make things even more complicated and
relevant research evidence should be examined as possibly insufficient or under
verification. In this paper verbal communication is tried to be measured by the
number of ontological categories recalled to childrens mind when specific pictures are
shown to them (Cole & Cole, 2000).
In this context and due to the complexity and the importance of this topic for the
understanding of further domains such as environment, physical and chemical
changes, sustainability, the matter concept, it was considered as very important to

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further study it, focusing on how five years old preschoolers think and argue when
objects made of specific materials are presented to them under certain circumstances,
asking for identification and classification.
This study aims to: a) investigate how five years old children conceptualize the
concept material and object and how they distinguish them, b) the criteria they use
to identify material and objects and c) whether the criteria they use are relating to
generally characteristics or to extensive or intensive properties of object and
material. The verbal communication ability of the children was also evaluated.

Research purpose
Although, the concept of object is related in fact to three other main concepts i.e., the
material from which is made of, its design and the amount of the material (Johnson
1996, 2000) we made a simplification: As it is about a preschoolers study, we focused
only on the shape (instead of the entire characteristics of a design) and on compact
objects, which means that the amount of the material could be replaced by the
simpler concept of the size (since, in that case, amount and size are analogous to
each other). As a result, we assume that the concept of object can be mainly
characterized by: a) The material b) the shape c) the size
Other characteristics or properties of an object made by a specific material were
considered as secondary additional characteristics. For instance, the color is in fact a
property of a material, which can differentiate the material (for example, different
colors in metallic objects indicate different metals, like silver vs. copper). However, for
simplicity reasons and taking into account the age of the children, we assumed that all
metals, independently of their exact composition (silver, copper, iron, etc) and thus
their color, they are considered as one material (metal).
In the above context the following research questions can be recognized:
How children of that age recognize and classify objects made of specific
materials. Which criteria do they use for such classifications?
How childrens classifications are affected by the complexity of the case
(number of the objects and the materials or transformation of the object)?
Whether verbal communication affects childrens answers.

The participants were 30 five-year-old children (15 boys and 15 girls). All children
were second grade preschoolers. The particular preschool center had five classes of 25
students each. So we interviewed six children of each class. Especially we picked
them up from every class by the alphabetic catalogue choosing the first, the forth and
the seventh girl and the same procedure for the boys. The sample described well social
and demographic data. All children lived in urban environment; spoke the official
language as mother language. They all had parents graduated of secondary and
higher education, aged of 22 to 41.
The collection of the data was based on a number of semi-structured interviews, which
in fact were conversations with the preschoolers in a semi-structured form (Mason,
Before the main part of the interview, the communication ability was evaluated. Five
photos were presented to the children, in each one of which, a particular item (without
any background) was pictured: a shark (photo 1), a parrot (photo 2), a tin of Cola
(photo 3), a fir tree (photo 4) and a boy playing with bubbles (photo 5). The children

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were asked to express what they see in the photo. However, in fact, for each one of the
items pictured in the corresponding photos, a particular number of ontological
categories were preset. In particular, they were as follows:
i) For photo 1: shark, fish, animal, carnivore
ii) For photo 2: animal, bird
iii) For photo 3: tin, refreshment, coke, beverage
iv) For photo 4: plant, tree, Christmas tree
v) For photo 5: joy, sadness
Thus, 15 ontological categories were preset for all the five items. For the evaluation of
the childrens verbal communication ability, we counted every expression that fits to
any of these preset ontological categories Slotta et al (1995). Any other irrelevant
description was rejected.
The main part of the protocol includes three tasks. In each one of the tasks 1 and 2, the
children were asked a) to recognize a number of objects made of particular materials,
b) to classify the objects explaining their criteria and c) to classify again the objects in a
different way if they could explaining again their new criteria. In task 3, the
children were asked to recognize similarities and differences between an initial object
and its pieces after cutting. All the objects, together with their materials, were
common and familiar to the children.

Task 1
For the implementation of task 1, the objects made of the materials that are presented
in Table 1 were used.

Table 1
The objects that are used in task 1

Spoon Plate Glass

Metal (metallic color)
Glassy (no color)
Plastic (white color)

All the nine objects were initially in a box. Each one of the children was asked to take
them out and to put them on the table before questioning. The protocol of the
interviews includes the following procedure:
1. Putting the objects into groups
2. Explain why.
3. After a disarrangement, putting again the objects into (new) groups
4. Explain again way.

Task 2
For the implementation of task 2, the objects made of the materials that are presented
in Table 2 were used. In this task, it is actually a study of twelve different objects, since
there were three different colors in each one of the materials. Thus, although the
overall complexity of the classification was increased, it was more possible for the
children to use the material as a criterion (due to material common characteristics),
since the objects were significantly different in their other main characteristics (the
shape and the size). However, apart from these main characteristics, other secondary
characteristic or properties could be criteria for classification of the objects by the
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children, like the color. The latter was common in a number of objects e.g., in a
wooden red wheel, in a plastic red baby rattle or in a red dolls t-shirt.

Table 2
The objects that were used in task 2






Metal (different colors)
Wood (different colors)
Plastic (different colors)
Cloth (different colors)

Also in task 2, all the objects were initially in a box. Each one of the children was asked
to take them out and to put them on the table before questioning. The protocol of the
interviews includes the same procedure as in the case of Task 1.

Task 3
In this task, two objects, namely a plastic glass and a paper plate, were presented to
the children before and after cutting into pieces. Children were asked to recognize the
materials after cutting and to state similarities and differences in comparison to the
initial objects.
Each interview lasted about 50 minutes and it was audio recorded. Data were
qualitatively analyzed, although they were also statistically elaborated after coding.

The final form of the research tool, including the objects and the materials that were
used, was designed after a pilot study. In the pilot study, two infants, a five-year-old
boy and a five-year-old girl, were interviewed. During the procedure it was clearly
noticed that some objects and materials had to be modified in order to record
responses that ensures data. After the necessary changes we proceed to the main
study. To be more specific the first metal plate was not recognized easy as a plate. The
round shape made it look more like a cover pan. We also changed the metal tin with
an empty one. The tin in the pilot was full as we had decided to use covered
materials. The content distracted the children and they seemed to be more interested
to find what is inside than focus to the groups they were told to make.

Results and Discussion

When interviewing five years old preschoolers, data collection could be tricky since
their answers cannot always express their thoughts. In order to minimize such a risk,
the ability of childrens verbal communication was examined, by the using the photos
described above. Although each photo pictured a particular item without any
background, a number of additional descriptions were emerged and recorded (further
to the expected ontological categories). Thus, for the first photo (a shark), childrens
descriptions included words like sea, water, big sharp teeth, color blue, it eats human
flesh, it looks like dolphins or whales, white shark, etc. In the second photo with the
fir tree, children described it as a Christmas tree and mentioned some characteristics
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like color green, Christmas balls, branches and leaves, soil and woods. The photo with
the refreshment was described as cola tin, refreshment, a metal box, soda, something
red, like beer, being cool, something that adults drink. In the fourth photo picturing a
parrot, children described it mainly as a bird and wild animal. Furthermore they
mentioned characteristics such as, it is like chicken, like pigeon, it talks, it is green, it
flies, it is a night bird and it has feathers and a beak. In the last photo (a boy playing
with bubbles) children described a boy who, is playing with the bubbles, is joyful, feels
good, laughs and likes what he does.
Apart from the above descriptions, children did express and describe the expected
ontological categories. They used the expected words which indicate the ontological
categories a fir tree, a cola, a parrot. Some of them used more than one word to
describe the photo: A shark, it is dangerous, it eats fishes, dolphins and men. Boy
No3 It is a parrot an animal like a chickenBoy No 4 A treea Christmas
treewith green leaves Girl No 21. The majority of them used the exact words we
expected to. They seem to handle ordinary ontological categories in a sufficient way
adding words strongly connected to the photos. Counting every childs description
that fits to a corresponding category, a total score was recorded for each one of them.
The results of the analysis indicated that two of the children were able to express and
describe 5, 7 or 8 ontological categories, while five of them did express and describe 9,
10 or 12. Seven children did describe 11 and only one of them express 13 or 14
ontological categories.
Based on the logic of the quartiles (25%, 50%, 25%) of the distribution of childrens
verbal communication ability, as it is presented in the Figure 1, we tried to distinguish
children in three main categories, Low Level category (LL), Medium Level (ML)
category and High Level category (HL). However, due to inconvenience in fitting
these percentages in the numbers expressing the childrens ability, it comprised 6
children in LL, 17 in ML and 7 in HL category respectively. The corresponding
childrens verbal communication ability is 0-8 for LL, 9-11 for ML and 12-14 for HL.

Figure 1: An overview of childrens verbal communication abilitys categories

Besides, the categorization of the sample in LL, ML and HL in that context did not
really help in clarifying the main question of this study. Although one can see
differences among them throughout the three recognition and classification tasks, we
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could not find any specific relevant correlation. For instance, maybe it is not random
that in all these tasks and subtasks, only one LL preschooler in one subtask (see last
Table 6) recognized an object made by a material whereas in all the other cases the
LL preschoolers of the sample recognized and categorized only either a material or
an object; however the picture is not clear also in the other two categories (ML and

Task 1
When the 9 objects of task 1 were put on the table (see Table 1), children were asked to
recognize them, naming every one of them. There was a variety of designations in
their responses, since many children designated in some cases only the material of the
object (e.g. this is plastic), in some other cases only the object (e.g. it is spoon) and in
some cases both of them (e.g. a glassy plate). In Table 3, one can see the number of
designations in childrens recognitions (object material object made by a material)
and one who gave no designation of any kind of recognition.

Table 3
The number of childrens responses in each of the cases of task 1 (recognition, 1st
classification, 2nd classification)

Recognition 1st Classification 2nd Classification

object made by a material

object made by a material

object made by a material








Number of 4 5 0 3 1 0 1 2 3 0 0 1 3
LL Children
Number of 12 11 2 7 6 1 4 12 10 1 1 4 8

Number of 6 3 1 1 2 0 3 5 5 0 0 2 3
Total 22 19 3 11 9 1 8 19 18 1 1 7 14
Number of

As one can see in Table 3, the designations are numerous, since many children used
more than one designation in order to recognize the 9 objects, i.e. in some cases they

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recognized them as objects, in some others as materials and in some others as objects
made by a specific material. Some relevant examples are given below:
These are plates and spoons [Boy No14], he recognises in a very clear way the
specific objects and insists on the plural of the words plate and spoon. A glass like a
mirror, a glass, a spoon, plastic spoon and a plastic plate [Girl No 2] this child seems to
recognize the objects based first on material, afterwards on object only and then
continues with both of them.
When children were asked to put the nine objects into groups, there was also a variety
of classifications in each case. Some of the children (one of the ML category and
especially three of the LL category), did not understand the procedure that is asked
and further instructions had been given. The final results of the childrens 1st
classification are presented in Table 3. As one can see there were four criteria that was
used by the children: The first included verbal references about material as: iron,
plastic, glassy, metal, bronze, paper, something like metal, tin. The second category
included verbal references about objects as plates, glasses, spoons. The third
category included verbal references about properties as: (color) white, grey, silver,
gold, dark, the same color, (hardness) hard, (fragility) it can break, (sparkle) shiny, like
a torch, like a mirror, (sound) they have the same noise, because they hurtle the same,
(scheme) is round, because they stand. The fourth category included verbal references
about utility as: because we eat food with the spoon, we can stir the coffee, we eat
cakes, we drink juices, I thought it was tea and we sip a little.
However, similarly to recognition, also in 1st classification, there were many cases
where the same child used more than one criterion. For example: When girl No 7 was
asked why she had put particular objects together firstly she said because they are
white and white focusing obviously on the property of color. Trying to explain the
other groups that she had made, she said they are plastic they are glassy they are
iron. Another child, Girl No15, made a group of three glasses and said that this one is
tough and the other one is tough, they are glassy and also they are making the same noise.
An overview of childrens criteria in this 1st classification shows that children use
mostly the criterion of properties for such a classification, whereas also the criteria of
material and object are used quite often. They used less the criterion of utility.
The next step of Task 1 was to rearrange the nine objects on the table and ask every
child to try again to put them into new groups so that they have something in
common. The results were different in this second attempt of classification (see Table
4). Although a number of children used again more than one criterion in order to
accomplish this 2nd classification, many children could not proceed to a new
classification. Comparing childrens criteria in this 2nd classification with those in the
1st classification, one can see that the criterion of material is used more often, whereas
the criteria of properties and object are used less.
The criterion of properties is the most frequent during both the classifications,
following by the criterion of material, whereas third is the criterion of object. Only
one child in each classification referred to an object made by a material, indicating
perhaps that such multiple criteria are quite sophisticated for them. It is also
noticeable that a half of the children remained steady in their preferences along the
classifications. Particularly, 7 children used the material as criterion of classification,
1 the utility, 7 the properties and 11 children used more than one. Some changes in
their preferences were: from object to material 2 children, from material to object 2,
from material to more than one 1. In addition, when the criterion in the 1st
classification was the material, the properties was in the 2nd one. When the criterion
in the 1st classification was the object, the utility usually follows in the 2nd one.

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When the above findings were related to those of childrens verbal communication
ability, some interesting relations were found (see Table 4). Since all the ML and HL
children had reported 9 to 14 ontological categories in their descriptions, it was
expected that they probably would follow this initial tendency also when they use and
define categories over recognition, 1st and 2nd classification. However, this did not
happen as they seem to be rather laconic. As for the use of the criteria, the criterion of
material was present over the three levels, although the children of LL also preferred
to use the criteria of utility and properties more often than the other two levels. In
addition, although we expect that the level of communication could also affect the
use of the criterion of object made by a material, the analysis showed that children
did not use it no matter the level they belonged (to), (with) the exception of five times.

Task 2
In this task, there were 12 objects on the table (see table 2) and children were asked
first to recognize them, naming every one of them, and then to classify them in two
attempts. Again, there was a variety of designations in their recognitions, as one can
see in Table 4.

Table 4
The number of childrens responses in each case of task 2 (recognition, 1st
classification, 2nd classification)

Recognition 1st Classification 2nd Classification

object made by a material

object made by a material

object made by a material








Number of 0 5 0 3 0 0 3 6 1 0 0 1 3
LL Children
Number of 1 14 6 5 0 0 8 10 5 0 0 7 9
Number of 0 7 3 4 0 1 4 12 1 1 0 2 2
Total 1 26 10 12 0 1 15 28 7 1 0 10 14
Number of

Since in this task, there were 12 different objects, this criterion (of the object) is
present in almost all childrens responses. They recognized all the given items as
objects. However, a number of children used the object made by a material criterion,
whereas one child referred to material. The object made by a material was
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recognized in cases of the plastic ball, wooden toy and the iron bottle, where the
material was more obvious to observe it and to combine it with the object. On the
contrary, the red wooden wheel was mostly recognized as a circle.
Although the same reason as previously in recognition, i.e. there were 12 different
objects, in the 1st and the 2nd classifications of this 2nd task, the criterion of object was
almost absent in childrens justifications. The massive use of criterion of the object in
recognition was not followed by a similar tendency afterwards in classifications. On
the contrary, the criteria that dominated were properties and utility. (See also Table 5)
In the 1st classification 15 childrens statements were with the utility of the objects.
Their answers included verbal references to how can objects be used. Such an extract is
following [Boy No1]:
- Put them into groups to have something in common. Why did you put these together (glove,
spoon, key, t-shirt, pencil and one left aside).
- We wear this t-shirt. We get something with this. This is a box to put things inside. This is a
toy and another toy.
The criterion of properties was used by 28 children, including verbal references about
color. They mentioned some colors and the word color itself. An extract is given
below [Girl No 5]:
- Why did you put these together? (Pencil, t-shirt, baby rattle)
- They are red.
- And why these? (Spoon key, tin)
- They have the same color grey.
- And why these? (Pencil, toy doll)
- They are like grey and like grey. Same color
- Why did you put these together? (Glove, cloth)
- Same color.
Generally, in their descriptions, children were using the exact words like wooden, wool,
glass, steel or plastic for material or particular colors for the property of color, as well
as they were using verbs like eat, keeps us warm, etc for utility. As for the procedure
that the children followed during the first grouping, this appears to have some
particular steps. Initially, they put the objects in numerous groups. They described
their reasoning, talking bout properties for every single object. Then they made
comparisons, managing to notice as more common characteristics as possible. The
resulting small groups had usually two objects in some occasions three and some
times an object was left to be the last one apart from the others. The properties that
had been referred by the children, mostly concerned the color, the hardness the
fragility, the sound or some characteristics of the design e.g. , they are hard [Boy
No27], the end of scissors will break [Girl No24], it is the same sound [Girl
No24] they have heads [Boy No30]. The utility was described for each one the
glove is used for the cold and the key to unlock the door [Girl No24]. When they
discussed about pairs they had reasoning like because scissors cut the cloth [Boy
No29], whereas when they discussed about triads or more, they began to make a story
A man wears the t-shirt, gets out of his home with his key and his suitcase [Boy
For the needs of the 2nd classification of task 2, we rearranged the objects on the table
and asked the children to try again to put them into new groups, thinking if they have
something in common. The categories were then similar to the first grouping i.e.,
object, material, object made by material, properties and utility as Table 5
shows. A new finding at this stage was that, 8 children did not make any groups. Even
though we gave instructions again, they could not make any progress. A careful look
at the answers of these children in their first classification of task 2 shows that they
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used more than one criterion. This means that they maybe used up all the possible
criteria they could think of and any further encouragement would be meaningless.
Furthermore, the grouping at this second attempt, followed the same pattern as in the
first one as for the distribution of the children into the categories. Thus, although the
majority of the children applied all the criteria, when the criterion of material was the
dominant one, the second choice was the properties; when the dominant criterion
was the object, the second was the utility. Generally, the number of criteria was
increased as the children moved from the recognition to the 1st and 2nd classifications
i.e., in both classification they used much more criteria even in cases of children who
were laconic in recognition. There were only two exceptions in children, who steadily
were choosing the material and the utility throughout the procedure.
Comparing the above findings to those of task 1, one can see that the criterion of
material is not the most preferable as it was possibly expected. Since the criterion of
object is constrained by the use of 12 different objects in this task 2, the use of
material could be more massive in comparison to the task 1. However, many of the
materials used in this task 2 were covered, as they were presented in the way they
appear to be in everyday life, e.g. colored wooden toy. This was maybe the reason for
a different procedure in their evaluation and classification and for the promotion of
other criteria such properties and utility. Simple forms of materials, such the metal
tin and the metal key facilitated its recognition and thus, in those cases the material
dominated as a criterion.
When the above findings for task 2 were related to those of childrens verbal
communication ability, no clear relations were found (see also Table 5). This could be
expected, as in this task 2 there were 12 different objects. Thus, all the children, no
matter their level of verbal communication, chose in first recognition the criterion of
object. During the grouping, they all chose properties and utility as criteria and
not material, object or object made by a material. In addition, the level of
communication seems to be in unexpected analogy with their choices. Children with
LL and HL chose firstly one criterion and steadily remained to one or two criteria no
matter their ability to use categories.

Task 3
Initially, a paper plate and the same paper plate cut to pieces were put on the table.
Children were asked to recognize them and to refer differences and similarities
justifying their responses.

Table 5
The number of childrens responses in case of paper plate of task 3 (recognition,
differences and similarities)

Recognition Differences Similarities

Pre- cutting Post- cutting Post- cutting

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Different due to new status

Different due to properties

Yes-differ (no justification)

Yes-same (no justification)

No-differ (no justification)

No-same (no justification)

object made by a material

Similar due to new status

Similar due to properties

Different due to material

Similar due to material



Number of 5 6 0 0 4 0 1 0 3 1 0 1 1
LL Children
Number of 14 15 2 0 6 1 4 6 1 5 2 2 5

Number of 7 7 0 1 1 1 4 0 0 2 0 2 3
Total 26 28 2 1 11 2 9 6 4 8 2 5 9
Number of

As Table 5 shows, the majority of the children recognized both, the paper plate and the
same paper plate cut to pieces as paper or plate whereas only few as paper
plate. As for the differences and the similarities between the paper plate and the same
paper plate cut to pieces, children were mostly responded without justifications. When
there were justifications, they were mostly due to the properties like the color and
less due to new status, i.e. children mentioned the words cut or piece. Only in few
cases, they were based on the material. The justifications were in general short and
some examples are given below:
Let me show you something else now. What is it?
It is a plate.
What is made off?
It is made of paper.
[We are cutting it] Have they anything in common?
Have they something different?
It is cut. [Girl No7]
What is it?
It is a plate.
What is made off?
It is made of plastic.
[We are cutting it] Have they anything in common?
They have.
This is cut. We can put it together.
Have they something different?
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No [Girl No9]
Further to the above, a plastic glass and the same plastic glass cut to pieces were put
on the table. Children were asked again to recognize them and to refer differences and
similarities justifying their responses.

Table 6
The number of childrens responses in case of plastic glass of task 3 (recognition,
differences and similarities)

Recognition Differences Similarities

Pre- cutting Post- cutting Post- cutting

Different due to new status

Different due to properties

Yes-differ (no justification)

Yes-same (no justification)

No-differ (no justification)
object made by a material

Similar due to new status

No-same(no justification)

Similar due to properties

Different due to material

Similar due to material



Number of 4 5 1 0 4 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 2
LL Children
Number of 10 11 4 1 8 0 7 1 1 7 0 3 5

Number of 6 6 1 0 2 0 5 1 0 4 1 3 2
Total 20 22 6 1 14 14 2 2 11 1 6 9
Number of

As Table 6 shows, the results are similar to the previous procedure with the plate.
Many of the children recognized both, the plastic glass and the same plastic glass cut
to pieces as objects or materials and less of them as plastic glass. As for the
differences and the similarities between them, again children were mostly responded
without justifications. May be it is difficult to answer this kind of questions in a clear
way. In general terms, similarities as color seem to be easier to be found. Color is the
most used characteristic in that case of similarities. In differences children only
mentioned that the object was afterwards cut in pieces. It was not found a straight
answer about the lost shape in a cut object; possibly, it is implied in answers like it is
cut or it is in pieces.
The cutting of the object did not really change the whole picture as it is formed so far.
Although the majority of the children could affirm the existence of differences and
similarities pre and post cutting, they could not give more information about them,
and words like it is the same material was not clearly recorded. Children rather
observed the changes in the form of the objects and in some occasions they talked
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about the new status (e.g. it is cut, it is a piece) in terms of new object characteristics,
advocating the priority of the object in such ages (Dickinson, 1987).
When the above findings were related to those of childrens verbal communication
ability, no significant relationship was found. The majority of the children provided
justifications in a similar way. (See Tables 5 and 6)

Children conceptualize material and object when they act on objects made of by
various materials. As far as the recognition of the objects made by specific materials is
concerned, it seems that preschoolers tend to recognize and name, either, objects or
materials rather than objects made by materials. When the possibilities are equal for
the two concepts, as in task 1 where there is in fact a combination of three objects by
three materials, children almost equally recognize the object or the material without be
able to specify any particular reason. A similar distribution between the two concepts
holds true for the recognition of task 3, although there are some children in that task
naming objects made by materials. On the contrary, when different object are present,
as in task 2, children focus on the objects at the first place, whereas material seems to
be a second option for them. As a result, children recognize the material only when
first have recognized the object and thus, there are children referring to objects made
by materials in this case. Maybe this originates from the young ages, where, as
Dickinson (1987) reports, children have already developed a primarily knowledge of
objects, in contrast to the material that even in the age of 9-10 is overshadowed by the
The same sense concerning an overshadowing of the material by the object one may
has when studying the results concerning the classifications of task 1 and 2. In task 1
where the possibilities for the two concepts are equal, children did use them equally,
although the dominant criterion is a mixture of properties of objects and materials, as
in the research of Krnel and Glazar (2003), following by the criterion of utility. The
material starts to take the advantage as criterion in comparison to the object in the 2nd
classification, when children were looking for alternative criteria, showing probably
that the material is not a priority for them as criterion. On the contrary, utility and
mainly properties still are intensively present although there is a fade in their
The above thoughts are also supported by the results of the task 2. In the first
classification of the task 2, where 12 different objects are under classification, it was
expected that material would be the dominant criterion. Although, children responses
reveal material as a significant criterion, indeed, properties and utility were again the
dominant criteria. In addition, properties of the material (mainly the color) seem to
take the advantage. Almost the same is the picture in the 2nd classification and,
although children had fewer choices in that classification, material did not take any
advantage. In sort, in accordance to other researches (e.g., Krnel et al. 1998; Krnel and
Glazar 2003), it seems that the material is not an easy choice as criterion for such
classifications by the 5 years old preschoolers.
The evaluation of the childrens verbal communication ability revealed many kinds of
expressions and descriptions related to the items pictured in the photos. Although the
childrens distribution of Figure 1 is in line with a number of researchers thoughts
(Dickinson, 1987; Gelman & Bloom, 2000; Kobayashi, 1997) about the existence of
childrens difficulties in the use of appropriate words, these difficulties seem to be
limited and the number of the preschoolers with low level of communication was
rather expected. On the contrary, the majority of them did express and describe the

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preset categories and in some cases, with more than the expected words. This could
positively affect the validity and the reliability of the study, although in such cases any
relevant conclusion should be under further investigation (Birbeck & Murray, 2007).
Nevertheless, it seems that the simplicity or the complexity of the whole context of the
tasks does not really affected childrens priorities in the criteria posed for such
classifications. The material appears to be overshadowed by the object in this age and,
in line with the relevant researches, it probably follows the cognitive development of
each child. However, if one thinks about the importance of these two concepts for the
understanding of many other topics in science education, the question that could pose
here is how science educators could help children to clear things up a question for
further investigation.

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