Science and theatre education: A cross-disciplinary approach of scientific ideas addressed to student teachers of early childhood education

Tselfes, V. and Paroussi, A. (2009). Science and theatre education: A cross-disciplinary approach of scientific ideas addressed to student teachers of early childhood education. Science & Education,18 (9), 1115-1134.

Abstract:

This study followed 57 early childhood education student teachers in a theatrical applications and physics education course to explore how theatre benefited the teaching and learning of scientific ideas. Study subjects created various theatrical works based on their reading of Galilean texts. While researchers draw mixed conclusions about the results of the program, they determined that the program was effective in connecting the student teachers to in-depth scientific ideas and practices through theater.

Key Findings:

  • Theatrical narrative texts revealed student teachers’ understandings of the scientific venture as described in the science text.
  • The student teachers’ early theatrical performances reflected only surface understandings of texts, but successive performances revealed deeper understandings although the theatrical pieces did not achieve the level of narrative hoped for by the researchers.
  • Study participants were able to interpret conflicting hypotheses and creatively depict them within their theatrical works.
  • The student teachers successfully understood the basic goals of scientific enterprise, ideas about conflicting hypotheses, observations, and the relationship between scientific knowledge and authority.
  • Study participants’ science understanding was more about scientific practice, such as developing hypotheses and testing them, and less about topics such as formulas and laws.
  • Researchers conclude that deeper narrative reflections in theater offer greater chances for student teachers to gain more refined understanding of scientific issues.

Significance of the Findings:

This study provided evidence that interdisciplinary practice is possible for theatre arts and science in teacher education, and can also translate into interdisciplinary classroom instruction for the two subjects. Also, theatre arts may be a way to build understanding of scientific practice concepts that are applicable to all scientific disciplines.

Methodology:

Study subjects were 57 early childhood student teachers at the University of Athens in Greece, enrolled in a theatrical applications and physics education course. Using Galileo’s texts, students presented on Galileo’s ideas using shadow theatre, improvisation, and a slide presentation during the first half of the study. In the second half, the student teachers created a short theatrical piece based on their prior work. Video recordings of the theatrical presentations and audio recordings of oral presentations and class discussions were the primary data for the study. The researchers evaluated qualitative data to determine: issues of content and methodology, dialogue and central ideas, and the actual theatrical performances to determine both the effectiveness of the theatrical course, and also ways that science and theater can be used to educate educators of early childhood.

Limitations of the Research:

Findings would have been stronger had the study incorporated more data from classroom observations and discussion to accompany the theatrical and oral presentations. The study does not discuss how the theater-science program for early childhood educators could be translated into school classrooms. The study also does not evaluate the artistic components of the theatrical productions.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How can interdisciplinary science and theater be translated from post-secondary, teacher-preparation classrooms to early childhood classrooms? Could early childhood exposure to such integrated instruction lead to increased academic gains in science and if so, how does this unfold?